Monday, June 27, 2016

5 Stages of Classroom Library Organization: Relatable GIFs for any Big Organizational Project

Anyone who has taken on a huge project has experienced the five stages of grief. You know: denial, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.

I recently reorganized my schools entire giant collection of guided reading books. As the collection was, none of the newest staff members ever used the books. We had tons of great children's literature for book boxes, reading groups, projects, and lessons. 

The problem was that the books were inaccessible, hard to find, and confusing to look through. Some books had levels on them that meant nothing to me. Does a "1" mean first grade-level or some other arbitrary thing based on the "system" the book came with?

The books in our guided reading collection were also unattractively and messily displayed. I am not sure about you, but when I go shopping, presentation matters. The same can be said for "book shopping" in a school reading resource collection. If the materials are messy, teachers can't be bothered to take the time to browse them.
Teachers are busy? No! (insert sarcasm font)

Below you will find my journey through the five stages of Library Organization. 

My denial came in two stages. Initially, I was denying that the resources in my classroom even needed organizing. "They are fine," I would tell myself. "If someone really needs something, they will come and find it." In reality, the idea of reorganizing the materials that had been accumulated over the span of a couple of decades was overwhelming. It never seemed like the right time. 

I would have likely continued to ignore the half of my room that held the reading and math resources if it hadn't been for the issues in our state budget in Oklahoma. Two revenue failures led to the reduction of all Instructional Coaching positions in my district. I would be heading back to the classroom in the fall as a fourth grade teacher in the same building in which I coached. There is nothing quite like changing jobs and classrooms that will send you into an organizational frenzy! That left me about a month to come up with a plan to leave the materials "better than I had found them." I also liked the idea of the materials being easy to find and return since we had been focusing on reading engagement in professional development a lot lately.

Books and games piled up like they are a display at Goodwill? No big deal. 

I had the rest of state test season to think about my plan to organize the reading and math resources. Math would be easy. We had cabinet space. I would just need to move it all and label the doors. Reading would be more difficult. We had multiple sets of outdated materials and several different leveling systems in place for the guided reading books. Luckily, actively monitoring gave me plenty of time to brainstorm. 

My second stint of denial came when I had a plan of attack. I had visions of Pinterest-worthy resource collections. Once the organizational tubs had arrived at school, I was telling everyone about how awesome it was going to be. 

It's going to be the guided reading book collection of your dreams!

The next stage of my process was anger. It may have been partially fueled by the fact that I had very little time to get the books sorted and weeded. A month seems like a lot of time for a project, but I was also doing my full-time job of coaching. It was also the last month of school. Gulp. My suggestion to you is that you choose a less stressful time to take on such a large project!

The last straw was when I started to make efforts to find the guided reading levels for many of the books. It had been years since many of the guided reading sets had been purchased. One of the sets of books had 1990 as the most recent copyright! I was actually IN elementary school in '90. Yikes!

Why are these thirty year-old books still in this room!?

For each book the process would go something like this: 
1. Look for bar code
2. If book has bar code, hope that it is the ISBN bar code
3. Scan book with two different apps. 
4. Google book
5. Look for book on random spreadsheets found via Google, sourced from schools who published their guided reading book library spreadsheet online for some reason
6. Still don't find a level for book
7. Throw book in discard pile
8. Feel guilt for discarding book. 

Repeat as necessary, or until someone finds you sobbing under a pile of level-less discarded site word readers via 1990. 

Merida has been trying to find guided reading levels

I finally gave in and vented all of this to my principal who gave me the blessing to discard the old sets without searching for each title. Why didn't I just do that in the first place?

I haven't read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, if that is what it is called. I do have an idea of how freeing it could be to release things that do not bring me joy. What is it about books and discarding them that sends me into the anxiety shakes? 

My technology doesn't bring me joy. I reject it. 

One additional thing that would come close to making me black out with rage was when someone would comment about if I had completed the project yet. 

No, I am not done yet. Keep walking. 

Bargaining mostly took the form of me begging people to come in after school or at their planning periods to help me put stickers on books. Luckily, my awesome future teammate volunteered (ahem, volun-told) her college-age daughter to come and help me. Without Shelby, I would still be at school labeling books! 

We also came up with a plan to make the discarded books available to teachers and to use them as resources for inside recess, home book bags, and early finishers. Having an idea of what we would do with books without a level made me feel less stressed about tossing them. 

I want YOU to come and help sort books!

About 2 weeks in to the process, I hadn't seen the tops of my tables in days. Books were multiplying like rabbits. I had cracked hands from touching grit covered Amelia Bedelia titles.

I found myself dreading even going into my room. We are talking THOUSANDS of books. Would I finish? Is this even worth the trouble?

I don't wanna go in there,
The thing that got me over the hump was old rubber bands. Weird, right? Stay with me. 

Many of the book sets had been bound together with rubber bands. As I went through each bin of books, I kept noticing that sets of books had disintegrating rubber bands stuck to them. Gross.That means that for at least the last few years, not a single teacher had pulled those books for students to read. 

What is the point of having a room full of books that students can't access?  

While the process of touching each book, deeming it appropriate for students or worthy of being weeded, finding a level, labeling it, and then shelving it was daunting (to say the least), IT WAS WORTH IT.

I feel you buddy. 

Yes, I was still in for several weeks of hard work, but with the help of my teacher friends, we were able to get all books leveled, labeled, shelved, and moved into their new room. 

Don't ask me how I am. It makes it worse.
I can honestly say that I feel that teachers are going to be so much more likely to utilize the guided reading material collection that we have next year. As a part of the process, so many teachers helped me get the books finished up. Because everyone pitched in, they each know how to check out and return the books. 

Acceptance in this case is relaxing and accepting the compliments!

I can't wait to go book shopping next year!

It wasn't THAT bad. 
After all of the hard work, decisions, and stress, would I do it again. You bet! You are organizing your resources next week, you say? Ummmm, let me check my calendar and get back to you. 

Do I want to help you label your books?
If you have ever FINALLY gotten to the end of anything hard, you know exactly how it feels. I am not sure about you, but I was flooded with relief.

When nearing the end of a bog project I also do a terrible thing. I think about how I can make the project better, thus prolonging it. I am not sure why I do it. Anyone with me? This time I was unable to do that. The tight timeline I was working under kept me from seeking additional projects within my project. It was AWESOME to be done. Really done. I would be handing the collection off to another staff member, even. "Here is an amazingly organized and user-friendly system. DO NOT MESS IT UP." I am only partly joking about that last line. 

That feeling when you are REALLY done. 

Check back! I will share more about how I actually managed to get guided reading levels for the books and how they are organized to ensure that books are easy to check out and return. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

4 Bad Listening Habits to Avoid

Are you a good listener? Or do you just *think you are a good listener? Listening is an act that is so important to the relationships that matter to us. Teachers spend the majority of their day being listened to. It seems logical that so many of us are bad at JUST LISTENING to the people we work with. I made a specific and consistent effort to cultivate my skills as a listener this last year. I wanted the people that I work with to feel valued and trust that I feel that they are important.

Chances are that you are guilty of one or all of these unproductive listening patterns. I know I am! Even after a full school year of practicing, I STILL find myself doing all four of the patterns that you will read about below. Read on for examples and what you can do to promote good listening on your team, at meetings, and in all interactions at school. Being a teacher is stressful enough. These unproductive listening patterns can add unnecessary stress, wasted time, and hurt feelings to your school life.

Who knows?! If you make an effort to refrain from them and other bad listening habits (looking at your phone or computer while someone is talking to you) others in your school will follow and you will feel respected as a speaker. More about how you can spread good listening around your building below.

While these listening patterns are directly related to Instructional Coaching, if you are a classroom teacher, an administrator, or anyone who works with other people and not in a deep dark cave all by yourself, read on. I am sure you will find that the school examples could translate to many other venues.

Autobiographical Listening:
The story or situation that the speaker shares sparks an association in the listeners brain. The dangers of this unproductive pattern are that the listener's attention is now focused on their own recollection, that the listener's personal experience can influence them into judgment, and that the listener is now comparing their own experience instead of being immersed in listening to the speaker.

You are sharing a frustrating or wonderful classroom experience with colleagues. Your friend and mentor takes an opportunity to share a similar experience, taking the focus off of you. You are left to either find a way to bring the attention back to you or leave your story unfinished. Taking the focus off of the speaker sends the message that your story is more important, entertaining, or informative. The speaker can feel disrespected or undervalued.

Your teammate comes in for advice about a student. As she is sharing, you think of a similar student and then find that you have missed what she was saying. You were lost in your own thoughts. You have to either go off of only what you heard or ask her to repeat herself. Not giving your full attention to the speaker can leave them feeling disconnected with you. 

LOL SO TRUE POSTS - Funniest relatable posts on Tumblr.

Your friend is venting a frustrating situation with your administrator to you. The situation connects to a negative interaction that you previously had with the same administrator. You launch into that story. Your positive or negative emotions associated with your experiences can skew your perspective and lead you to take your focus from the person you are listening to.  


I am not saying to never share a story, but keep in mind that some of the above circumstances are real possibilities. Ask yourself, is this the right time and context to share this story? I can remember a year that a teammate of mine was very frustrated at being "trumped" by a colleague whenever she began to share. After I was paying attention, I noticed that she was, in fact, often cut off. She was hurt and I could see why. I am certain that the colleague wasn't intentionally falling into a autobiographical listening pattern. 

 I often find that sharing a story is something that is warranted during "bonding time" in a classroom after school while others are unwinding and sharing as well. I might not share a story if my role as listener, rather than speaker, is obvious. 

Solution Listening:
Solution listening is often intended to be helpful in nature. When someone shares with us, they are not always looking for ideas or solutions to their problems. Many times, we jump in with the solutions to a problem because we are eager to share and help. This can be a problem when the speaker isn't looking for ideas or in our haste to provide a "fix" we impair the higher-level thinking of the speaker.

You go to your principal to share a problem in your class regarding a writing unit. The provided curriculum that you used with students last year fell short of your expectations and you would like to try a different strategy that your teammate has had previous success with. Before you can get to the idea, your principal starts sharing a list of possible solutions to your writing unit. Not wanting to sound as if you disagree, you go back to your classroom and try to work out what just happened.

Your teammate is crying in her room. She has had a rough day in regards to classroom management and can't understand why the class is not listening. You start sharing ideas about how you think she could get the attention of the class. She could try some of the callbacks you use. She could make sure that the class knows the consequences of not complying. Instead of thinking about WHY her students are not listening herself, she tries your ideas the next day, fumbling through the strategies in turn, none of them quite hitting the mark.

Consider: Sometimes we are so eager to solve all of the problems of the world, we forget that listening can be exactly the solution that is needed. Our colleagues often just need an ear to vent frustrations. They might need someone to ask a question that helps them take the next step themselves.

This sums it up for me! Others might not want us to solve the problems for them...even if all of their sweaters are snagged.

Judgment and criticism both focus on the flaws in what the speaker is saying. Criticism is likely to stop a discussion before it can really start. Judgment implies that the speaker has the right answers.

You make a suggestion to help a student with organizational difficulties by providing them few materials to manage. Your teammate say that she has tried that with a previous student and it didn't work. The fact that she tried it and it failed implies criticism and that the idea is inferior, regardless of context.

As you are in a meeting discussing possible school-wide incentive programs, your assistant principal says that she likes Carol's idea. The message is sent that her judgment regarding the ideas shared is most important and is damaging to the self-confidence of others who shared ideas. Trust to share ideas freely can be lost.  

As you share with your teacher friend about a behavior issue in your classroom, she replies, "Why did you do that?" Using "why" questions can be negative and imply that the speaker should be defensive of her actions.

Judgement and Criticism Listening has a place. The problem is that when one becomes a PATTERN. Always poo-pooing ideas or saying that a strategy wouldn't work can be a sign that the listener is against trying new ideas before they are shared.

Using one person's idea over another's is inevitable. The key in this situation is to front-load what you like about each approach, or even better, gain buy-in from all members of the group, rather than stating "like" of one which could send the message that you dislike others.

Try using phrases that show your curiosity without the negative connotation of "why" questions. You could substitute a phrase like, "Tell me more about ______." One exception of using "why" questions could be using the 5 WHYs strategy in meetings. Watch this video to see more about it.

Inquisitive Listening: 
Curiosity can be a good thing, but it can also kill the cat... In the same way, asking questions that detract from the important part of what another is sharing can kill the share completely.  Inquisitive listening is what happens when asking questions about details can take away from the main idea the speaker is trying to get across.

okay, so if you click on the pic. it brings you to another page of gifs.. they are hilarious!!
You are sharing with your teammate about a negative parent conversation. All you want to do it get the situation off of your chest and out of your head, but she keeps interrupting with questions about the behavior incident that you were calling the parents about. When did it happen? What consequence did the student have? What was the name of the other student who was involved? You leave feeling unsatisfied and unheard.

Are you guilty? Know someone else who is? 

Where can  you go from here?

Start small. Choose one of the above listening patterns and create a goal. Share your goal with one person. Ask them to help you reach your goal by holding you accountable. As you are an example and you work on your goal, share it with others. Maybe your team or a colleague that you regularly interact with. Want to go big? Share your goal and these unproductive listening patterns with your administrator. The more good listeners in your building, the merrier!

Remember! Practicing good listening behaviors promotes trust and respect.

The book, Coaching Conversations, is an excellent resource to help you have growth conversations in your school.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Back to School Memes that You will {HEART}

I have been #obsessed with making memes. I blame Brooke Brown of Teaching Outside the Box.

With back to school upon us, all I can think about are the universal truths that we all face. How better to capture the human experience than with a meme! LOL!

Here are some funnies to help you keep your sanity during the most magical time of year, BACK TO SCHOOL!

Aca-believe it. Your summer is fading. Hey, at least you don't have nodes.

Every. Single. Summer. I don't regret the late nights of chatting with the hubs until the first full week of school.

I once had a school dream in which my class literally had to put our desks on top of another classes desks. It was like educational chicken. What is your worst school dream? 

I know you get this one, Teacher Friends! The struggle is real! All those little plastic scraps in your floor. Finding them later. In your couch. Stuck to your pants. At the grocery store. #truestory

Speaking of desks, it sure is nice to have some muscle in your back pocket to do the heavy lifting, especially if you are moving classrooms! 

 New teachers (and returning teachers) get it. My district is trying to maximize the time we get to actually set rooms up (and I am thankful). Is there ever really enough time?

 Just hand over the list and nobody gets hurt...Especially if you just wanna label stuff!

Back-to-school deals. Just keep me away from the dollar spot.

 That "first day over and nobody got lost" feeling.

Pop those collars. You did it!

Wishing you a happy and productive back-to-school season!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Makeover Mania: Battleship Games and 5 Reasons Why You Should Use Them **FREEBIE included!

I have been doing a big shop makeover. As I looked back at my first efforts on Teachers Pay Teachers, I saw so much room for improvement. First up on my list? Battleship Games.

I chose to start with Battleship Games for two reasons:

1. I have some new Battleship Games drafted and I want all of the formatting to be the same.
2. I created the original versions of these games in Word...with none of my favorite graphics. Yikes! Nothing against Word, but I am waaaay better at working in PowerPoint. I learned that after these games were up and running.

As I give my games a face lift, I starting thinking about why I love these games in the first place!

Before and after of Revolutionary War Battleship

5 Reasons Why You Should Be Playing Battleship Games in the Classroom

1. They Engage Every Single Student

Before Battleship, I was all about games that allowed my students to review content. My go-to was Jeopardy-style games. I would assign different point values to the content and create questions that student teams would "buzz in" to answer. My problem with these games was that certain students NEVER participated. No matter how I organized my teams, they slid into the background and let other members of their team do all of the heavy lifting and in turn, never practiced the content. As a result, they didn't have fun and made it hard for the rest of us to enjoy the game. These students were often the ones that needed the review the most.

Enter Battleship! Since all of the content work of the game is handled as a team, with everyone pairing the questions and answers or matching cards together, the students can help each other and have great conversations about the material while doing it. It is great to hear kids prompting a classmate. "Remember...synonyms are words that are the same." It also allowed me to circulate the room and really assist where needed. Students are not put on the spot to know all content. They are required to find the answer in notes or reference materials and we all get to help each other firm up our knowledge!

The way the game is set up allows for easy differentiation!

2. They Require Teamwork

In my experience, the best classroom games require students to work together. I always begin the game by explaining to students that the point of the game is to have fun and practice the material. Once students realize that the competition in the game is inconsequential and its only purpose is to have fun while practicing content, it is easier to allow teams to help each other. During the matching portion of the game, teams work together to get all cards matched and arranged for the next part of the game. Sometimes a team will need help. I often send members of teams that are finished to help other teams. It is a great way to hammer home that our class works together!

An addition to helping each other during matching, teams work together to effectively answer questions during the guessing portion of play.

All parts of the game promote working together!

3. Battleship games are Great to use with Reference Materials like Interactive Notebooks

Since the rules of Battleship can be adapted to many different subjects and topics, use of reference materials such as Interactive Notebooks are the perfect companion. If applicable, I usually require students to have reference materials available. If I need to provide assistance with a student or group, having the reference materials they need handy.

I have included a freebie to allow you to try the game with your class. Synonyms and Antonyms Battleship!

If you do download, don't forget to leave feedback:) 

4. They Promote Critical Thinking and Strategy

During the guessing portion of the game, teams will often hit roadblocks. You can expect to hear kids commenting to each other about how to distribute cards to all members of the team to ensure the fastest draw. I have also had teams of students who are systematic about their guessing to make the most of each correct answer.

After each game, I always make it a point for teams to share what worked and what didn't for their team. They share dos and don't with each other, making each game after better and better!

5. They are FUN!

Battleship games are a great way to make sure that you review, preview, or practice content. They are a fun change from other academic games. They make the most of your valuable classroom time. All of those things are important, but... in my opinion, learning should be fun. I have students come back to visit me all the time. The thing that I hear the most is that they wish they could come back because we made learning fun. They will say, "I wish my new school played games like we did." or "Middle school is okay, but sometimes I wish that class was more fun."

Here is the link to my original Battleship post, in case you want to learn more about them.

I am also linking to the Battleship section of my Teachers Pay Teachers store here. You can find all of the games I currently have available. Check back often and follow me. I will be adding several more games in the coming weeks.

Comment if you have a suggestion for a Battleship Game!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TPT Seller Challenge Weeks 1 and 2

Hello Teacher Friends!

Big things have been happening around here lately. I had a baby, y'all! She is amazing and has fit right into our little family. Dahlia is the best big sister. Needless to say, I have been spending a lot of time awake in the wee hours. After binge watching season 3 of Orange is the New Black, I began to yearn for productivity. 

Here is my little beauty: 

After some midnight contemplation, I decided to makeover my oldest products this summer. It has quickly snowballed into Makeover Mania! It has worked out nicely that week one of the TPT Seller Challenge was to makeover an old product! 
Here is the Seller Challenge for the next four weeks: 

I am linking up for weeks one and two with Sparkling in Second

Week One: 
Here is a picture that shows the transformation of my Revolutionary War Battleship game. I haven't uploaded the refreshed version yet, but I am so excited to get every Battleship game in my store made over. They were the first products that I ever did. Man, were they in need of a new look! 

Week Two:

Debt: We have some medical debt, not to mention student loans and a mortgage. I would love to get all of it paid and be free to use more of my money to work for me! Teachers Pay Teachers has given me the ability to pay of some of the medical debt already. I am so thankful that my store makes things possible for us that would otherwise be a distant dream!

Travel: Dahlia keeps telling people that we are going to Disney World. I have to clarify that we have a DREAM to go to Disney World. How awesome would it be to be able to decide that we want to go somewhere like that and just go?! Another motivator for me to travel more is that my mom is in the process of having some procedures done that could make her asthma more manageable. With the possibility of her being well enough to travel out there, I can't help but think of all the adventures that we could have together! Speaking of travel... Vegas 2016 is a huge goal of mine!!

Dream Property: We live in town (a city, really). I am a country girl at heart. My husband and family are big outdoor people. Hunting, fishing, the while nine yards. I would love to be able to purchase a larger piece of property in the country to allow us to do all of the things we like to do as a family. The long term goal would be to build my dream home on the property! They said to dream big, right?!

Giving: Being generous. Treating my teachers to a lunch, fancy coffee, or Sonic drinks. Teaching is so stressful. I can't wait to help brighten the day of the people who make my day better. This goal ties into growing my relationships with the new people in our building. Good conversation is always easier with snackies, right!?This one seems small, but I can imagine that once I realize the goal of doing small things for people that my generosity will grow bigger and BIGGER.

Teachers Pay Teachers is more than a business for me. This challenge is evidence of that. I feel inspired to make this school year THE YEAR!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

FREEBIE: Treats for Teachers Tags: January

Hi Teacher Friends!

I did a little teacher appreciation surprise for my staff this week. Let's face it, coming back in January is hard to do. I knew by Wednesday we would all be dragging and struggling to re-acclimate to standing all day and not getting to pee when we need to.

Let's add that is has been brutally cold here in Oklahoma to the mix.

So, on Wednesday, I brought in some tea bags and lemons and homemade cookies and set them all up in the lounge with an urn of hot water. Here is what it looked like:

You can't see the cookies because those suckers were gone in just a few minutes! However, can you see the funny note my principal left? She attached it to the sleepytime tea that came in one of the variety packs. It says, "Do not drink this until you get home!" Isn't that hilarious?

My computer is also in the background. Just to be silly I added some festive polka music. January is National Polka Music Month, National Hot Tea Month, and National Soup Month to name a few. 

I went ahead and made a freebie of the tags and signs I created. I also already finished February! Click the link to take you to the FREEBIE. 

I think that later this month I will bring in some instant soup packets for teachers to have for lunch and attach these SOUPer tags to them. 

I appreciate all you do!