Monday, November 16, 2015

Teaching One Thing but Practicing Another

I made two goals in July.  The first was to post at least once a month.  The second was to post my classroom creations when I created them instead of waiting forever.  Progress check?  I haven't been doing that great!  Yes, it's only been a couple of months, but still!  I put it out there, expecting that I would stick with it.  But then the year got started and I got busy and I was tired and I had planning to do and I came up with A TON of excuses.  Not ok. :)

I've always been a perfectionist.  I've striven to be the best I can be at everything I set my mind to for as long as I can remember.  I set extremely high standards for myself and I expect myself to reach them.  But the catch is, as great as high standards are, chances are that once in a while I might not reach them.  To most people, this would be completely reasonable.  To me, I've always been an all or nothing person when it comes to fulfilling my expectations of myself.  It's always been "perfection" or "failure".  The funny thing is, this mindset was created all on my own.  I grew up knowing that what really matters is not always reaching what I saw as perfection, but the effort and work I put into it in the process.  I was surrounded by a growth mindset.

Being a perfectionist, always taking on too much, and always giving my all to everything has been a great way to learn a hard lesson (more than once): there are some standards I will not reach when I expect to reach them.  Doesn't mean I don't still try though! ;)

This past weekend I realized how interesting it is that I spend my days trying to get my students to believe that doing their best is what really matters, and that getting 55% on a test is a great thing if they only got 35% on the last one, and that our "failures" only teach us, the list goes on and on.  How can I convince my students to listen to this and believe it, when even I am not listening to it?

So what's the point in all this?  I know our students don't see the behind the scenes aspect of our day-to-day school life, but they do see more than we think they do.  They know when we're having a hard day even when we're all smiles and pretend everything is great.  They can sense when we're really passionate about something and we aren't.  They can (sometimes) tell when we're making it up as we go along.  There are things they figure out without us telling them.  If we're really wanting our students to believe the life lessons we're teaching them, we need to start believing them as well.  I can't hold my students accountable for being ok with their best effort even if they haven't done as well as they wanted to when I know I wouldn't settle for that if it were me.

Some things are meant to be learned over a lifetime.  For me, it's learning to truly be ok with not always reaching every standard I set for myself within the time limit I expect.  But it sure has given me great stories to use as examples for my students!  It really helps when they're freaking out about a test score and I can say: "Trust me, I am a pro at freaking out about grades.  If I tell you there's nothing to worry about, then there really isn't anything to worry about."

Everyone has something they push their students to take to heart that they themselves haven't yet taken to heart.  Think about that next time you wonder why some students haven't figured out what you're talking about yet.  I mean, my students are 8.  I'm 24.  If I'm still working on it, they probably are too!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


I learned a great lesson last month: do not underestimate children.  Especially once they've set their minds to something.  A big something.

We've been enjoying starting our mornings off with Kid President each day; we've been inspired to talk together, write our ideas down, sing out loud, be day makers, and just be more awesome!  But one day, Kid President inspired us to do something more awesome than ever before.  Kid President gave us a way to help others.  (3 Questions that Could Change the World from Kid President)  The video hadn't even finished, but I could tell my Imagineers were already thinking about what they could do to help.  In the discussion that followed the video, we visited and my students set to work.  It started with "Socktober?  We can do that!" and "If we all brought 4 pairs of socks then we'd have 100 pairs already!" and it wasn't long before we had a Google Doc of ideas and were inviting our principal, Mr. Himaka, in to hear our plan.

*I read about Socktober (a sock drive to collect socks for homeless people to help
keep them warm over winter) when I read Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome
over the summer and I knew I wanted my students to participate, but I wanted them to
come up with the idea, not me.  I'm so glad they latched onto the idea when it came up
and decided to run with it!  Things like this mean so much more when they come
from the kids instead of the teacher!*

It's incredible what kids can come up with when you give them the chance.  They brainstormed ways to invite Mr. Himaka in to speak with them (a note on a sock!) and ways to invite the other 3rd grade teachers to participate with their classes.  They planned how they would advertise and where each sign would go.  They created their own posters and flyers to be sent home.  They dictated my tweets.  They even set to work designing a myriad of possible games for the Fall Festival.  This was 3rd grade Imagineering at its finest!  These kids knew what they wanted, and they couldn't be stopped.

Our school already has a lot of fundraisers going on in the fall, so Mr. Himaka helped us decide to have Socktober be a 3rd grade run event this year.  My class' original goal was 500 pairs of socks - if it was just us participating - or 1,000 pairs of socks - if the whole school was participating.

Somehow, in all of their brainstorming and planning, someone suggested that a great way to advertise Socktober was for me to dress up as a giant sock.  No.  There was no way I was going to dress up as a giant sock.  No one does that!  We joked about it, but it was too unrealistic to actually happen.  Although I thought the idea had bright (and sneaky!) Imagineers threw the idea in while talking with Mr. Himaka!  Of course, he thought it was a fabulous idea!  He even gave me a name: #KefferTheSock!  Realistically, part of the reason I had been so against the idea in the first place was because I was worried about what the other teachers would say about it.  I didn't want to be seen as a distraction!  Once I had the go ahead from the principal, I agreed...on one condition: #KefferTheSock would only appear on the last day of Socktober IF we had 1,000 pairs of socks.  1,000 pairs of socks from our four 3rd grade classes...definitely thought it wasn't going to happen.  I set that goal high for a reason!

The kids did a great job and worked their little butts off all month long.  Socks came pouring in at the beginning, we got about 150 pairs in the first week!  By the end of the third week, we had just over 500 pairs of socks.  If it took us three weeks to get that many, how in the world were we going to get 500 pairs in ONE week?  We weren't.  As much as the adults talked (out of earshot of children, of course) about how we'd done such a great job for our first time even though we weren't going to hit the goal, the kids NEVER once said a word about not hitting the goal.  They talked about #KefferTheSock showing up.  They helped count socks.  They kept bringing socks.  But they NEVER doubted themselves.
Happy Socktober!
Our final push for socks came from Mr. Himaka: it turns out that phone calls from the principal work magic.  Especially when those calls include announcements about #KefferTheSock making an appearance at Friday dismissal.  Throughout the next four days, the socks came pouring in.  We hit 1,000 pairs of socks on Thursday night, and exceeded our goal on Friday.  It took us three weeks to get 500 pairs of socks; and then, in a matter of four days, we got 500 more pairs of socks.  I have never seen my students so dedicated and excited, nor have I ever seen them so capable of explaining the purpose of something they were doing.  They were proud, and I was proud of them.
Almost there!
The last day of Socktober was a BLAST: #KefferTheSock made her first public appearance.  Instead of waiting until dismissal, I wore the sock for most of the morning.  It was so much fun having kids ask to take their picture with me!  I even got to present my PeaceBuilder of the Month awards at our assembly...dressed as a giant sock (in front of parents!).  I spent the rest of the day switching back and forth between Miss Keffer and #KefferTheSock.  It was a really fun way to celebrate reaching our goal and my class was STOKED that I was finally dressed up as a giant sock.  We ended the day with #KefferTheSock out front during dismissal...LOTS of waving!  I loved seeing the kids and parents enjoying the fun together.  Lots of waving, lots of laughter, lots of pictures...
Before school - some of my amazing Imagineers
#KefferTheSock at our Red Ribbon Week Assembly 
#KefferTheSock enters the mummy race during the Room 14b class party...and ends up like this?
#KefferTheSock ROCKIN IT with a fabulous Mouseketeer from last year's class.
#KefferTheSock ROCKIN IT with a fabulous Mouseketeer from last year's class.
Mr. Himaka, #KefferTheSock, and a fabulous Mouseketeer from last year's class 
Friday, 10/30, total 
Final total - EXACTLY 1, 175 pairs!
Whew!  I had no idea that was going to be such a long post!  I am so thankful to have had this experience with my Imagineers and with our entire school community.  My kids set their minds to something and they didn't let anything stop them.  Although this was lead by the 3rd graders, the entire school got involved, and it was amazing to watch everyone come together for such an amazing cause.  Teamwork sure is an incredible thing.  Way to go Gators!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Little but Magical Changes

I may be in the minority here, but I am a firm believer that even if you don't change your classroom theme for the new school year, there should be something new.  I don't want my new students to just fall into the empty spaces left behind by my last students.  I want my new students to notice differences, be intrigued by the changes, feel like they matter enough for me to make changes.  Because they do.  I believe they deserve something they can call their own.

I didn't make any huge changes for this year, but there are small things here and there that I changed just enough to create wonder and excitement.

Flying ear hats!  My super creative mom helped come up with the idea and my handy dandy daddy did the hard work: hanging up my ear hats!  Last year they sat on top of my cabinets.  This year, they're flying above them!  It's fun when the air conditioning kicks in because the hats move like they're floating. :)

More pillows/rugs!  To help encourage my students to take advantage of my alternative seating arrangement and provide them with comfortable options, I bought more pillows!  I never realized how expensive pillows are, but I got lucky and found some fun, inexpensive, Disney themed ones.  The only problem with more pillows is a place to put them!  Last year my 7 pillows (and two rugs) fit perfectly on my low square table, but the additions took much more space than that.  I re-purposed my supply crates from last year and have now created an out of the way home for the pillows.  (If only the class could put them back as neatly as I do!)

The pillow crates are under the counter by the round table.
New seating options!  My last class LOVED my two big bean bag much so that both of them exploded in the last week of school. :( My classroom said goodbye to the bean bag chairs and my search for new seating began.  Lucky for me, my sister (also a teacher) switched grades this year and no longer had space in her classroom for this fun striped saucer chair!  And to top it off, the bench by the window is a toy chest/bench that we've had at home since I got my very first desk set (all of which is now in my classroom!).  Great storage, great seating, and free!

More fun decorations!  Disneyland is celebrating it's 60th anniversary right now and I would highly recommend you go if you can!  As part of the 60th celebration they are selling popcorn buckets shaped like the Mickey head balloons.  These are clearly a must have for my classroom!  I still need to get the third one (red), but I love how fun they look "floating" into the sky.

I also came across this awesome photo booth kit.  It came complete with two frames and six props.  These made for some great, fun first day of school pictures!

An expanded classroom library!  I'm not sure how, but I seem to have gained a ton of books over the summer.  YAY!  I bought the six square shelving unit from Target to house my series and LOVE it.  I like how organized it looks and being able to keep each series together.  I also bought more baskets like the ones on top of my shelves (Big Lots) for certain types of books and placed them on the shelves.  This is my effort to keep my classroom library as organized as possible...but then the kids attack! ;)

Ride posters!  I've been hanging on to my set of incredible Disneyland posters until I could find a good place for them to go...and I'm finally starting to get them placed poster by poster.  Last year I had maps of Disneyland and California adventure under the question, but with the placement of my chrome book cart there, there wasn't going to be enough space and I didn't want it to look cluttery.  I thought these three posters would be great with the question because each has to do with the question in some way: the wildest ride in the wilderness, the happiest cruise that ever sailed 'round the world, and the train that can take you all around Disneyland.  It's up to them how they want to start!

Awesome easel!  This might be my new favorite thing.  I bought this easel at Ikea ($14.99!) because I am going to need something for my chart tablets during my mini-lessons for writing (we're starting Lucy Calkins).  Now that I have it, I love how I can use it for everything!!  It has a chalkboard, whiteboard, roll of paper (for when I get super creative?), and a small shelf below the whiteboard.  We use it every day and it's fabulous!

Magnetic letters!  Ok, so this may not really have anything to do with classroom these magnetic letters are awesome!  They're a fun way to add some color to your whiteboard and create titles/labels/etc. that are purposeful and easy to see.

You know, Disneyland Tokyo, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Avo*! (*Abbreviated school name)

New chairs!  Found these puppies at Ikea as well.  Ten bucks!  I bought two and the kids LOVE them!  They are another fun alternative to sitting in a normal chair at a desk all day.

The most awesome chair I could've ever asked for!  I wanted a director's chair for my birthday so my family teamed up: my parents bought the chair and the canvas and my sister decorated it with her amazing artist skills!  Holy moly it's amazing and more than anything I could've imagined!  It's such a happy thing to have right up front in my classroom; a great reminder that even on the roughest days, I still have so much to be amazed by!

And of course: Cinderella!  One of my students gave this life size Cinderella to me at the end of last year...and she's AWESOME!  The only problem is that she kinda takes up a lot of space, and I don't want her to get banged up by children!  (Or me, since I tripped on her on the first day of school and she almost fell on a student...Cinderella attack!)  I've had her out for about a week, but I think it's time for her to go back to the castle for a bit.  I think she'll come visit once in a while as a special treat instead of being a permanent fixture.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Changing Gears

We have just finished our first full week of school and we are already in full swing!  I can tell this is going to be a great year with a class full of unique and wonderful personalities!  This being my second year of teaching, it's the first time I've parted with a class at the end of one year and started with a new class at the beginning of the next.

My first class was one for the books.  Holy moly.  My first year of teaching exceeded my expectations and left me feeling blessed.  We had something truly special: there was a level of trust I've never seen among a group of kids before, we laughed, we cried, we learned about ourselves, we learned how to just be.  And boy oh boy did that lead to a very difficult and very emotional end of the year for all of us!  My 23 Mouseketeers and I shared a very teary goodbye on a sunny afternoon in June.

Then all of the sudden, there were 25 brand new faces staring at me one sunny August morning.  And they are not last year's class.  They are this year's class.  (And last year's class was my first class, there will never be another one of those...just like this year's is my second class and there will never be another one of it!)  As we've gotten to know each other over the past week I've discovered that I am just as blessed to be learning alongside some incredible kids once again.  Notice the word learning: first I wrote teaching, then changed it to leading, and finally landed on learning.  No matter how much I teach my students, or how well I lead them, what matters most is that we learn together.

Now to the real inspiration for this post: changing gears from the end of one year to the beginning of the next.

This is something no one warned new teachers about!  You leave one class ready for the next grade.  Then you start the next class with students who just finished the grade level before yours.  Last year's third graders were basically 4th graders when school ended!  This year's third graders are basically 2nd graders right now!  Little 4th graders to big 2nd graders.  That's a BIG difference.  It may be a big difference, but it definitely is a fun adventure!  Although it was nice to have everything dialed in last year and know what to expect every day, a new group of kids is keeping me on my feet!  I get to do the beginning of the year again, but this time, I've actually done it before!  This year is for repeating what I loved, changing what I didn't, and taking notes for my third beginning of the year.

I'm really looking forward to what this year, and this group of kids, will bring.  Right now I have to keep reminding myself that we are learning how to be in 3rd grade right now.  We are learning new routines, how to use the classroom, how to be just a little bit older, we are learning a lot!  And we have all the potential of reaching the level of trust last year's class had, but it's only been 7 days.  There's a reason we aren't there yet.  But we will be.  Soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - Starting the Year

I decided to forgo the traditional idea of desks over Spring Break last year.  I had a perfect group of kids to try my new ideas out on, a group that was cohesive and well trained.  Which means next week will be the first time I'm starting a school year with an alternative seating arrangement.  Yikes?  Not sure.  So far, it seems manageable, so I'm just going to go with that. :)

While many people may look at this as scary (or even crazy), I'm seeing it as an opportunity to launch into an entire school year like nothing my students have ever seen before.  Can you imagine walking into your third grade classroom and, for the first time ever, being allowed (and encouraged) to work where you felt most comfortable.  You could sit on the floor and lean against the wall, you could find your own private sanctuary, you could sit in a chair at a desk, you could sit on the floor at a desk...the possibilities are endless!  (Well, endless to the world of a third grader!)

One of the things the Teacher Education Program at UCSB stressed (over and over again) was to always be able to justify everything we do in our classroom.  As long as you can explain your reasoning (and it's relatively legit),  you're basically good to go.  I'm glad I had this training, because I am heading into the school year prepared to explain my motives to every concerned parent who may come my way.  Let's face it, chances are there will be at least one parent who thinks this new teacher has gone crazy. :) But hey!  Although I am new in the grand scheme of things...I am no longer a first year teacher!  And I don't care what anyone says about me being "new"...I got to drop the "first year teacher" label!

A combination of trying alternative seating from the very first day (for the very first time) and making sure I can justify my so called crazy ideas led to lots of thinking and Pinteresting.  Here's some of what I came up with:

1.  Management: The picture below shows a management chart I came across on Rachel Lynette's blog (link in photo caption).  Although I didn't have anything created like this last year, my students understood that they would get one warning if they weren't using their learning space appropriately and, if the behavior continued, I would move them.  They were pretty used to hearing something along the lines of "if you don't choose wisely, I get to choose for you."  I really like this visible chart, especially since I'm starting from the very beginning.  Having something like this displayed will provide a constant reminder about the expectations and help the students remember their warnings.
Found on:

2.  Learning how to use each learning space: Since this will be the first time these students are exposed to learning spaces that are different from desks (and the occasional floor sit), it will be necessary to teach the students how to use each space appropriately.  My current plan is to take the first week-ish of school to talk with the class about the different learning spaces and their best uses.  I'm looking forward to giving the class the responsibility of discovering learning spaces without me telling them what/where all of them are (I trust that they will come up with a space I wouldn't think to introduce!).  Discussions will consist of: number of people that should be in the space at the same time, appropriate volume, what kind of learning could be best done in the space, etc.  For example, many students find it difficult to lie on their tummies when doing a lot of writing so it would be best to choose a space where they are sitting up and can write with ease.

3.  Subs: This is something my class was pretty good with last year, but once again, I had a dream class, so I want to make sure I'm ready for anything this year.  I'm participating in an NGSS Academy this year and will have 5 days out of my classroom; put that together with all those other days we get pulled out, and that's a lot of subs. :( The key here is *fear*.  Not really, but all you teachers know what I mean.  I found success last year because my class knew that I had very high expectations for them and that I meant serious business when it came to sub days.  Alternative seating is a privilege of sorts (someday, however, I hope it becomes more the norm) and breaking the rules leads to loss of privilege.  The day before I'm out, I go over all the expectations with my class so no one can claim the famous "I didn't know."  My sub plans are also extremely detailed: what spaces are options, how many kids can be in each place at once, etc.  Anything a sub may need to know, I write.  I also make it very clear to my class (and to my sub) that while there is a sub in my classroom THEY ARE THE TEACHER.  I don't want to come back to hear about the "but that's not how we do it..." kids.  The subs have the final call, they are the ones that have to survive all day! :) If worst comes to worst, my subs know that they can assign seats.  And an added bonus: name tags.  No assigned seats means no name plates AND kids moving around all day.  That makes it a lot harder for subs to learn names.  Name tags are very helpful!

4. The understanding that there is SO MUCH MORE: As much time as I spend thinking and planning and working and perfecting this system, there will always be something to discover that hasn't yet crossed my path.  And that's ok, because that's what makes this crazy ride so amazing.  And anyway, like always, there's so much up in this head of mine that doesn't make an appearance until after I finish I'll add it as I think it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Google Adventure

I made the mistake of getting my class used to receiving an extra credit assignment every weekend last year.  Problem is, although they remembered, I often forgot!  Solution: Google Adventure!  I know that not all kids have access to the internet at home, but A) it is extra credit (optional) and B) technology is so easily accessible these days that it's not an unreasonable request.

The assignment asks them to pick a topic, Google it, and list 5 things they learned.  While it is short, I found that many students would turn it in with way more than 5 facts AND with pictures attached!  My students loved it!

You can find it in my TpT store (free):

And then it was July...

Ugh, this has happened to me so many times.  I get a journal, or a journal app, or a blog (in this case!), and write away!...until I stop.  For a long time. Every once in a while I think to myself, "I really should write something."  But, since it's been so long since I've last written, I have SO MUCH TO SAY.  And that is overwhelming.  Hours worth of writing.  Usually in the wee hours of the morning.  So I don't write.  It's easier to not!  And thus the vicious cycle continues...until I get a new journal, or app, or blog! :)

My goal for this coming school year is to post at least once (maybe twice) each month.  I'm also wanting to make sure that I post my creations WHEN I make them (instead of months later).  Creations are much better stored here for anyone who wants them than in my "classroom" file just for me!  All those random docs and PDFs we throw together, they want a bigger home!

Now, why is this deserving of a whole blog post?  Because now you know.  And if someone out there knows, I have to do it.  Well, I have to at least try.  The safety in it is that although all you people now know, chances are I don't know any of failing won't be that bad.  But I'm going to succeed. :)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - With Students!

Well, it's been a week...and I LOVE my new setup!  It is absolutely, 100%, the change I needed to get my students learning and me teaching in ways that are better for all of us!

One of the most important things I learned in my credential program last year is how much time and attention should be given to teaching new things (routines, etc.) in the classroom.  I knew this definitely wasn't going to be one of those times where I could quickly go over the new things and move on...that would lead to disaster!  We were going to need to talk about it.  A lot.  We were going to need to practice it.  A lot.  We were probably going to need reminders.  And that's ok!

On our first day back from Spring Break I sat the kids down before we even went inside the classroom to give them a little heads up of what was to come.  While talking through my ideas with people over break I heard a lot of "well, that sounds great, but in reality..."  I have a group of students who like a challenge and like to prove the naysayers wrong, so I addressed other people's concerns with my students before we even went inside.  I told them that there are people who think that our new setup means that they'll stop working and be really noisy but that I KNOW our new setup will allow them to work harder than they used to and actually be quieter.  Talk about suspense, my students couldn't wait to get inside to see the change and get to work!

The more prepared you are, the less time you're going to have to spend on it.  I came in ready to spend a lot of time getting this to work.  My students came in ready to learn and get going.  And it just happened!  I'm not saying we didn't have to practice, and that there weren't any bumps along the road, but my students picked it up way faster than I anticipated!

Although I have my ideas on which work spaces are best for different activities, I decided to let them try what they wanted and decide if it worked for them or not.  That way, my students are the ones choosing what's best for them instead of me telling them what's best for them.  As much as I'd like to think I always know what's best, it's their learning opportunity not mine, and they learn differently from me.  I can guide them, but I can't always do it for them (nor do I want to!).  We talked about how there are different places that work better for different types of work (individual, partner, group) and about how hard it is to write a lot if you're laying on your stomach but other than that, it was basically up to them.  They also know that if they aren't making a good choice, I get to make the choice for them.  However, they still have choice, it's just more of a "pick a spot other than that one" choice.  If I notice a student hasn't made the best choice of where to sit (talking, etc.), I have begun to hold back before stepping in to see if maybe they will change their minds on their own.  Many times, they do!

In talking about the different work spaces we also set a "maximum capacity" for different areas and different activities.  The class library is small so it maxes out at 2 (sometimes 1), the round table maxes out between 3 and 6 depending on where it is, the low square table maxes out at either 4 or 8 depending on the activity, and there is no max for the desks (because while they don't have to use one, I don't want them to think the can't).

Here's what it looks like:
Partner/group discussion
Working together...but independently!
Working on a variety of things in a variety of places!
Making great use of all our work spaces!
A typical day with my new arrangement goes like this:
  • Students unpack and grab a seat at a desk when they first come in.  We fill out our agendas (they can move to a better spot if they can't see well).
  • They may choose to work anywhere while working independently on Front Row (GREAT math site:!) - ~30 mins
    • Although we are working independently, students are welcome and encouraged to help each other
  • Math groups: I work with one group at the low table in the middle of the classroom while the other group may choose to sit anywhere while working independently on ST Math (then we switch)
  • Independent Reading: students may choose to sit anywhere
  • Students take a seat at a desk when we come in from recess.  I give directions for our Guided Reading Rotations and then they move.
  • Guided Reading Rotations: one group works together at the low table (but students may work independently anywhere they choose), one group meets with me on the floor, one group works independently wherever they would like (then we rotate)
  • Students take a seat at a desk or on the floor when we come in from lunch for a short read aloud.
  • In those same spots I give directions/mini-lesson (they can sit on the floor if they'd like) for writing and then they can move and get started on their work.
  • Same thing happens for Social Studies/Science but there's more group work occurring.
  • PE
I've found that my students are sitting where they want to sit for a large chunk of they day, and that I'm actually able to teach more than I was because they are more engaged and paying attention.  There's more buy in now that they have a say in where they work.  I'm noticing that my students are more comfortable in class and it's showing up in how hard they are working, the quality of work they are producing, and the conversations they are having.  I've also noticed that they are leading so much more of what we do now.

Having the bookshelves has been great because they are easy to keep organized.  Instead of having one turn in basket for the whole class (which usually looked like a massive explosion of papers) I not have one turn in basket on each bookshelf (5 total) and my students always turn their work in to a specific one.  This has made collecting and checking work so much more manageable and less daunting.

Yes, this was a big change in my classroom, but it seems small compared to amount of change it inspired throughout the week.  It's nice to have your crazy ideas work out once in a while (so you feel a little less crazy!), but it's also nice to have the ideas that seem so idealistic at times work out.  Education isn't stuck.

(Not sure if I really got all my ideas down or not, but there's more to come someday!  Let me know if there's anything you want to know more about!)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - The Setup

I started Spring Break feeling excited about not needing to work in my classroom much and actually giving myself a break...but the longer I was home the more Pinteresting I did, and the more Pinteresting I did, the more I wanted to get back into my room!  It didn't take long before I decided that I was bored with assigned seats.  I loved my most recent desk setup, but having assigned seats just wasn't catering to the kind of learning I want to see in my classroom.  In my searching for something that felt right I came across two blogs (linked below) that were very inspiring but left me thinking my room wasn't big enough but that it was still something I wanted to try.

In making my first move toward creating this new setup, I discovered that I did have enough space in my classroom, I just had too much unnecessary furniture!  Relocating some extra furniture led me to a classroom that seemed bigger than it was when I moved into it last summer.

My main goal in changing my classroom setup was to create work spaces for my students and provide them with opportunities to choose where they wanted to work.  I kept enough desks for every student to have desk space if they needed/wanted it, but also created different areas for my students to work so they don't feel confined to their one desk.
  • None of the desks are assigned. 
  • I lowered a few tables so I now have some that are low enough for students to sit on the floor but still have a table to write on. 
  • Another small desk I have is now more accessible and students can use it without asking.
  • There is more space for students to sit on the floor and clipboards are even more accessible now than they used to be.
  • The bean bag chairs are open for use at all times and students no longer have to ask to use them.
Realistically, my students will be able to sit anywhere they want to in my classroom during work time.

I also let go of the idea that no student should have their back to the front of the classroom.  I don't want my classroom to be teacher centered, I want it to be student centered, and everyone facing the board is not promoting that.  And when I really think about it, I walk around while I teach so there's no reason to have an entire desk setup that caters to everyone facing forward at all times.  Yes, there are times where I need everyone's eyes on me and the board (direct instruction, etc.).  In those times, my students who are not facing forward know to turn their chair around and grab a clipboard (if they need to write).

Here's what it looks like now!

From the "front" of my room
From the back corner
From the front corner: class library on left
From other back corner: round table moveable workspace on left
Bookshelves across back of classroom
Wow, this is one of those times where I'm trying to write something I'm so excited about that my mind is jumping all over the place!  No assigned seats means no rat's nests inside our desks!!  But that also means...where in the world will we put our rat's nests?!  For the last few years my mom has used bookshelves like these in her classroom: each table group had their own bookshelf at their group to keep their supplies on.  One of the blogs I came across (Setting Up for Second) also utilized bookshelves but used them in the back of her room instead.  I love how neat and organized they look in the back of my room!  Although my students won't have the insides of their desks anymore, the bookshelves will allow an even more organized way for my students to keep their supplies and avoid rat's nests!

It's incredible what you can create when you let go of what a classroom is "supposed" to look like!

I am so looking forward to kicking off the last 10 weeks of our school year together with this huge change!  It is going to take practice for us to really get it all smoothed out, but I'm excited and I KNOW they have it in them to succeed!

Next post?  No Assigned Seats?! - With Students!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Day that London Arrived in California

Boy oh boy!  One of my favorite things about the technology we have available to us is the many many MANY totally amazing things we can do that we definitely could not do without it!  I had never used Skype in the classroom before, but came across a wonderful opportunity for my students on the Skype in the classroom website: skyping with a published poet/play write/author...IN LONDON.

Last Thursday we had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Coelho (Poetry Joe) via Skype.  As cool as it was that my students were talking with a published poet, the coolest thing was the fact that there was a person who was IN London, IN my classroom in Southern California.

We had just finished our district performance task on opinion writing and were getting ready to start a poetry unit, so this was a great way to kick it off!  Poetry Joe had an entire lesson prepared in which he shared poems with my class and got them involved every step of the way.  He was wonderful when it came to responding to questions my third graders thought of throughout the lesson; and even made up a poem on the spot for them!  I could see the confidence levels rising in my classroom as he asked them questions, they got to share their ideas, and they participated in his poems.  One of my students even came up with a monster poem (that rhymed) on the spot!

I was amazed by the amount of teamwork and support my students exhibited throughout the Skype session; from helping each other come up with ideas to waiting patiently and helping out when the internet connection failed (many times) they were fabulous, engaged, and awestruck!

After the Skype session I had my students do a quick write in which they could respond to the session with Poetry Joe in ANY (written) way they wanted too.  Some chose to write sentences that rhymed, some wrote about their thoughts in response to the new things they learned, and some wrote poems!  Everything that was written during our quick write time was thoughtful, creative, and deeper than anything my students had written before.

Being able to bring a poet in London to my classroom is one of the best experiences I have been able to provide my students this year.  I quickly saw a shift in my students' thinking from thinking poetry was hard, awkward, and not fun to thinking poetry is easy, natural, and very fun!  I even have a student who now plans on becoming a poet!  This was just our first experience with Skype in the classroom, but now that I've seen the positive impact it had on my students we will most definitely be skyping with many more professionals throughout the year!

Monday, March 2, 2015


First off, thank you to those of you who have already read my few posts.  This blog is new, new to the internet, new to me, just new all around; and I never expected this many people would read it or comment on it.  I decided to do it for me, hoping that someone would benefit from it along the way.  I'm starting with no expectations, because if I do set expectations I know I'll never stick with it.  When I have something to say or to share and I have the time, it'll show up here.  If I don't have the time, it'll get added to the already growing list of things I want to blog about someday (when I actually have time).

Secondly, I feel I need to clarify something I said in my very first post.  THANK YOU to those of you who have brought light to it.

From my first post: "I've been thinking of starting a blog, but have hesitated because who really wants to read what goes on in my head and in my classroom?"

I have received a tremendous amount of responses surrounding this one question, including an entire blog post (found here: which states:

That sentence really stuck out to me- how does our educational system complete its
task with someone coming out thinking their ideas are not worth reading about?

I know my ideas are worth reading about, it's more a matter of who the audience is and whether or not they are wanting to read them.  The Teacher Education Program at UCSB relies on teacher candidates sharing their ideas and building off others' ideas.  I am guilty of all too often finding a resource on Pinterest or Google, hopping on the person's blog, grabbing the resource, and not even looking at a word they wrote.  If I do it, I know there are others!  That doesn't mean their ideas weren't worth reading, I just didn't have the time.

People brought up a great point.  Although I do believe my thoughts and the happenings in my classroom are worth reading about, there may be many people who do not have that same feeling about themselves.  That's one of the great things about the technology we use in our classrooms now.  When I was in elementary school the things we wrote were shared with our teachers, our class, and our parents.  Google Drive wasn't a thing back then.  Now, the things my kids write have a SHARE button on them!  These thoughts and ideas and stories can be sent anywhere in the world with the click of a button.  I am a product of the school system that thinks my ideas are worth sharing/reading, and I know my students will definitely find themselves worthy of that same task.

I am excited to share ideas and learn from others along the way as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Creating Disneyland

One of my first thoughts after I found out I had been hired was: "Which one of my 100 classroom theme ideas am I going to pick?"  And once I'd picked one: "How in the world am I going to make this dream a reality?"

Disneyland.  I was going to create Disneyland.

Panorama of my room from the front
Divider in the back of my room in attempt to form a wall to block out the hallway

I finally found a good use for all my ear hats!

Literature to Disney films
Class library is closest to camera, looking into my classroom from hallway
Since setting to work and creating my dream classroom, I have found myself in many conversations asking how I picked Disney, why I did, when I started loving Disney, and the likes.  Yeah, I love Disneyland.  Some of my favorite memories are with my family and friends at Disneyland.  But the thing is, my classroom isn't Disney themed because I love Disneyland.  It's because of what Disneyland stands for: magic, imagination, youth, belief, fun, laughter, memories.

I believe learning should be everything Disneyland stands for.  My classroom environment encourages and reminds my students to use their imaginations, believe in the magic of life and learning, enjoy being kids, be creative, laugh, believe in themselves and their classmates, and have fun.  The decorations prompt conversations about how Walt Disney created Disneyland from just an idea and allow us to draw parallels to our own learning.

My classroom environment also provides a fun, safe place for my students to come and learn each day.  For some, it serves as an escape from their home life.

Your classroom is your students' home 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year.  As a teacher, you "live" there many more hours a day, 5-7 days a week, and definitely more than 180 days a year.  I believe you have to feel comfortable there in order for your students to feel comfortable there.  It needs to be a place you love to be.

What They Don't Tell You When You're a First Year

There are so many things that teachers know, or in a first year teacher's case, there are so many things that we need to know.  But no one tells us because they all already know.  It's no fault of theirs, teachers are busy, and teachers know these things, so they don't realize that we don't know.  This is by no means everything I've thought of this year, but it's what has come to mind today.

  • Fire drills, earthquake drills, and lock down drills!
    • You need to know where your class goes when they evacuate, where your emergency backpack is, and what the protocol is for lock downs.  For me, I teach in an open space school, which means there are other doors I need to lock in the event of a lock down.
  • Playground rules
    • It seems silly, but different schools have different rules!  Don't wait until you're on duty for the first time to realize that you have no clue what to do.
  • Where everything is
    • Yeah, that's a tough one.  You'll figure the basics out quickly, but if you don't ask where you can find things, you'll never know.
  • Who to contact for all your needs
    • Let's face it, a kid is going to throw up in your classroom's already happened to me.  And you need to know how to find the custodian.
    • When will you need your office staff?
    • What about PTA? - When it comes to fundraisers, PTA is usually who you'll need to contact for questions, extras, and basic information.
    • Health Office - A lot of schools/teachers have different opinions on when kids really need to go to the nurse.  Get a feel for the general opinion at your school, or else you're going to be the one who they'll say "from ___'s class again?"
    • Resource staff - You're going to have students who will need resources classes, and you will have students who already go to resource classes.  What they do in those classes, although helpful, is not as helpful for you if you are not in communication with the resource staff.  You want to know what your students are doing with them and how you can continue that in your classroom.
  • When report cards go out, and when they are due to your principal
  • Lunch
    • Where students with peanut allergies eat lunch (peanut free table)
    • Do you have to do a lunch count in the morning?  We never did when I was in elementary school, so I had no clue that was even a thing!  Also, your cold lunch kids may need a cold lunch slip.  Don't send them out without one!
  • Which students' photos can/cannot be posted online
There's obviously more, but to really list it all would make an exhausting read!  (Especially for those new teachers looking for what they need to know!)  Feel free to add what you wish you'd known during your first year of teaching in the comments.

About Me

My dream has been teaching for as long as I can remember.  I consider myself blessed that I knew from a young age what I wanted to do with my life and was able to stick with it and make that dream a reality.

I graduated with my teaching credential and Masters in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014.  Currently, I'm enjoying the crazy adventures of being a first year teacher.

My third graders bring so much laughter and joy to my life.  All of the late nights and hard work is worth it when I see my kids faces as they enter my classroom or begin a special activity.  As frustrating as teaching can be sometimes, my third graders serve as a wonderful reminder that this job is a blessing.

Outside of teaching, I love spending time with my family; cuddling with my chocolate lab, Gracie; singing; playing softball; and going to Disneyland!
I attended a mind blowing talk with Kevin Honeycutt last week and he made a very convincing point about teachers telling our stories.  I've been thinking of starting a blog, but have hesitated because who really wants to read what goes on in my head and in my classroom?  Kevin really made me think: if I don't put it out there, no one can read it.  And if I do just go for it and start posting, maybe, just maybe, someone will come across it and find something of use or some inspiration on a tough day.

Well, here it goes!