Wednesday, May 30, 2012


"If you follow you BLISS, doors will open for you that wouldn't open for anyone else."
{Joseph Campbell}

It's that time of year when we can all use some bliss.  When I think of bliss I just think of that special enchanting place within that feels so at peace when it's doing something that is just right--pure contentment without settling.

I want the doors to be flying open this summer as I follow my bliss!

That's part of why I'm working on creating the amazing online workshop, Visioning The Best Year Ever. It's all about following your bliss in your work place--where ever and whatever you may teach.

If that resonates with you, I hope you will sign up at the special Teacher Appreciation Rate of $29--only available until May 31.  {June 1 begins the regular rate of $49}

If you want to kick it into bliss overdrive, then join me in my backyard for the amazing day of Kick Start Visioning The Best Year Ever on June 21, in Barberton, Ohio.

I can't wait to share the BLISS with you!

Where is you BLISS taking you this summer?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Confession of a Focus Wall Dropout

I loved making my focus wall last August for Reading Street.

It looked great in my classroom!

I used in so faithfully for the first quarter of the school year!

Here's the confession:  It's a great idea, but practically it just didn't work for me.  More importantly, I did not see my students using it enough to feel like it was worth the time and space investment.  When I moved to the new room at the end of January, I never reassembled it. I did feel some guilt about this.

Next year I'm probably going to use a very modified version of it.  In my mind I just see 3 panels for each selection:

Panel 1:  Title, author, (illustrator), genre and picture of the cover
Panel 2:  Vocabulary words and definitions
Panel 3:  Big comprehension focus for the selection

Way more streamlined and way less space.

What didn't work out the way you planned this year?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finishing Well By Planning To Start Well

Here is perhaps my best tip or trick for the last full week of school:

One element that I am adding to every day is an activity that the students can do for next year's 4th graders.  They LOVE this.  They write book recommendations and attach them to a book mark that they make.  They also complete a "10 Things You Need To Know About 4th Grade" list.  I got this from Clutter Free Classroom TPT store, and it's FREE!   Oops, it isn't the free one, but it was so worth $5 for my sanity!  Here's the link.   {There's lots of other good stuff in the packet!}  This means that my first big bulletin board for next year will be ready to go by the end of the week.  {Above you can see a bit of this year's board.}  They make a welcome to 4th grade card, and they decorate a ziploc with permanent markers and foamies that I will fill with a few goodies next year.
This all makes my life easier--now and later.  It lets my students feel that they are contributing something valuable.  And next years students feel so good because they get so many personalized one of a kind gifts the first week of school!  Win--win--win!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Year End 4th Grade Fiesta

I first really saw the value of opening my home and life to my students and their families when I was teaching in a bush village in Alaska.  When I taught there, kids would stop over almost daily to drink kool-aid, sit on my couch, and watch me.  {I was not comfortable with this then.}

Mid-year I also had a "feast" where I fed my students and their families--extended, some lasagna.  {This was funny because most of the people in the room had never eaten lasagna!}  I started to see great value in opening up and offering hospitality to my students and their families.  There is an amazing and enchanting power in hospitality.

There have been years when I've had a party before school, but this year we just had a year end fiesta over the weekend.  After a few years, I'm able to focus more on what's really important with a more simple format.  If you're interested in experiencing the power of hospitality, here are my recommendations:

You don't have to host it at your house.  Maybe your school or a park or community center can be a good alternative.

1.  Don't worry about having a perfectly clean house.  {Even this year I worried about stuff that no one saw.}

2.  If possible plan the event for outside.  I ask people to bring blankets or chairs.  {I always have a few extras for people who might not bring anything.}

3.  Enlist help/support from one or more parents, if possible. {This year my amazing room parent suggested a theme and provided some of the food--she offered to do more, but this is unusual.  I am getting better at asking people for help.  They are more willing to give help than I am to ask for help!}

4.  Keep the menu as simple as possible.  This year we had walk about tacos--a small bag of Fritos with taco meat and a variety of taco toppings provided by parents.  Families were invited to bring a taco topping or side dish or dessert.  This was the smoothest option ever!  We provided lemonade and water in big coolers, too.

5.  Plan a couple of simple activities.  We usually play charades--the kids guess and the adults put on the charade.  We also did a signature scavenger hunt that got everyone up and talking to each other.

6.  When the activities are done, I invite people to stay as long as they want, but I let them know there is nothing else planned--about 30 minutes after that everyone is gone.

14 of my 24 students were there with some family members--for a total group of 45.  That is a pretty normal turn out.

I realize that this might be to much of a stretch, but I know it's a great way to make a powerful and enchanting memory for kids.  As an added bonus I have flower beds that look pretty darn good in my backyard!!!

What do you do to make a year end memory for yourself and your students?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Year End Sanity Saver: String Games

When I was a kid I loved carrying a string in my book bag, and practicing string games for hours on the bus. Back in my day, most kids played string games. If anyone would have told me this would be so popular with my students, I would have been skeptical. They are LOVIN' string games!

Here is the background research I did: I did a little online research to see what I could find. I like THIS SITE because it has little videos to see how the string is supposed to move on the fingers.

I also looked through a few books and check some out of the library.  Public libraries can almost always provide a few books

 String Games by Richard Darsie

Cat's Cradle is one of several Klutz books

Super String Games by Camilla Gryski

Then I provided just one skein of yarn.  Kids have cut dozens, maybe hundreds of strings and there is still more left.  

I taught the students just a few of the moves I could remember.  They started teaching each other.  They practice at home.  Their parents showed them more games.  They play when they finish lunch.  They take strings out to recess.  I have to make rules about when you can have the strings out and when they must be away.  Both boys and girls are really enjoying the experience.

I also like that this requires sequencing and lots of practice to mastery.   I like that kids are learning to entertain themselves.   I like that I'm witnessing lots of problem solving and kids helping kids.  I also like that this is something that kids can do over the summer that does not cost money or involve electronics.

What sanity saving activities are you doing with your students at the end of the year?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tips And Tricks For Finishing Well With Kids

People have no idea how much stuff has to happen for teachers in the last few weeks of school.  I wish it was just hanging out with kids and doing fun stuff.  Instead I'm coaxing the last bit of work out of kids, grading papers, worried about all the stuff I wish I had gotten to teach or reteach this year,  starting to pack up so that I can hopefully find everything I need in August, completing inventories, filling out permanent records, taking classes, sorting tons of paperwork and all the unexpected stuff.

I'm also working on the summer online class for Brave Teachers, working around the house to get ready for a party this weekend, living with a three year old, and making plans for summer and fall.

On top of all of that I'm trying to finish well with my students.  They are so ready for summer and 5th grade.  They are ready to move on.  They do not have the language to express all of that, so behaviors escalate.  Yesterday I felt myself starting to take that personal.

So how do we finish well?  Here are my thoughts for myself and my students:

One of the best ways I know for finishing well is to not take it personally.  It isn't.

Talk about it.  We have been talking about this in our class meetings.

Talk to kids individually, too. I say to some kids that I think the reason they are acting this way is because they are going to miss me so much.  (I don't always know this is true, but. . .)

If you can't beat 'em, join them.  Yesterday we spent the last 30 minutes at the end of the day playing string games.  I taught some.  Kids taught some.  It was fun, and way less stressful than trying to squeeze in one more lesson.  Most days in these last few weeks of school, every day has some special little part to it.  I'm not talking big or expensive.  I'm teaching them how to play games or make crafts that they can do at home with few resources this summer.  I hope to share a few here!

Be kind to yourself and others.  I could probably spend all my waking hours at school and not get everything done that I think I need to do.  This will only making me an ogre.  I also need to be patient with myself.  When I'm gentle and patient with myself, it's so much easier to be gentle and patient with others.  I try to put myself in the shoes of kids who are ready for summer, and accept that they are not looking at these last few weeks from an adult teacher perspective.  I try to be generous with patience and kindness and grace.  (I do not always succeed, but I do try.)

What tips to you have for finishing well?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Wonder Of Motherhood

My universe has been rocked by being a mom, and today seems like the perfect day to honor that experience.  It's one of those things that I did not think would be part of my.  Four years ago on Mother's Day I remember thinking I'm going to be okay never being a mom.  On that day I did not know I was already on the way.

I want to make time to see the way he sees the world and people.  Last weekend he was so excited about the super moon that he had to call his uncles to ask, "Have you seen the super moon, yet?"

And the humor he injects into my life, whether I want it or not.  I'm sure he is going to spend years in therapy because his mother laughs out loud at what he says or does almost every day.

For me the most amazing part of being a mom, especially an older mom, is that my child is often my most powerful teacher.  Here are some of the lessons I'm learning learning because of the wonder of motherhood:

1.  People are more important than schedules.
2.  Keep you eyes wide open so you don't miss anything.
3.  It is so important to laugh at myself, and don't take myself too seriously.
4.  Play is vital to doing work.
5.  Curiosity is a wonderful gift.
6.  Who I am is enough.
7.  I can make do and enjoy life with what I already have.
8.  It's human nature to express logic and rationalize what we want.
9.  Sometimes what grownups think is important is not the stuff that's really important.
10.  No matter how much we tantrum or manipulate, we should not always get what we want.

Samuel, you are the gift that lets me see more clearly what is important.  Thank you.

What are you learning from the children in your life?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brave Teacher Summer Bliss

"If you follow your BLISS doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else."
(Joseph Campbell)

Would you like this summer to be the one that changes everything?  Would you like to invite more courage, strength, and hope into your school life?

I am so pleased to announce an amazing opportunity for ALL teachers who want next year to be their best year ever.  Brave Teachers is presenting the first ever online workshop this summer, Visioning The Best Year Ever.

It's going to be an amazing 5 weeks of videos, emails, and printable lessons.  It's going to be based on the play book and plan book I released last summer (and more here), but it's going to have so much more--based on what I practiced and experienced and learned through the process of using that tool in my own life.

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, I am offering a super special price until May 31, of $29.00

I'm also offering a Visioning The Best Year Ever Kick Start Event.  It's going to be a great day!

I hope you'll follow your bliss this summer!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pass It On

So it's Teacher Appreciation Week, and I suspect there are many teachers who are feeling anything but appreciated.  That is even tougher in a week when there is supposed to be some appreciation.

So what can we do?  Let's start with expressing some gratitude and appreciation to ourselves--our minds, our bodies, our spirits.  Try some self care!  Be gentle with yourself.

So what do we do next?

WE PASS IT ON--pass on the kindness, the gratitude, the positive attitude.  Pass it on to your coworkers.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  It can be a kind smile or a genuine compliment.  Pass it on to other teachers who have had an impact in your life--past teachers, mentor teachers, your child's teachers, and anyone else who comes to mind.

I was on the receiving end of one act of teacher appreciation this week that was so simple but so powerful.  When I think about it, I want to express gratitude with the same level of authenticity.  It was a simple telephone call.  It also made me realize that we don't need to have loads of people expressing appreciation, one is enough.

So with whom can you and I pass on appreciation and kindness?

P. S.  I'm going to pass on appreciation here tomorrow.  Stop back for a little dose of appreciation for teachers!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Make It For Mom Or Anyone

Mother's Day is just around the corner.  Some years it comes and goes with little acknowledgement in my classroom.  It really depends on the lives of my students.  I always try to emphasize that we can honor everyone who loves us.

The next step is finding something to make that is not too difficult or too expensive.  This year my friend Kathy showed me these great paper and pipe cleaner flowers.  I thought they would make great pins.  So here is our flower pin project that we are making in stages this week.

All you need for this little gem is a piece of scrapbook paper, 4 pipe cleaners--12 inches and cut in half (8 that are 6 inches long),  one or more buttons, glue and a pin back

Twist the pipe cleaner so that it looks like a balloon with a string.

Glue all 8 of these onto the scrapbook paper.  Let dry overnight!

The next day cut out these paper petals.  Then choose the six you like the best and twist together to form a flower.  This step might need the most help!

Then glue on the button(s) and the pin back.  Let these dry overnight.

Then we are going to put them in decorated white lunch bags and make cards.

I wore the one in the top picture on Monday, and that made the students more excited to make these.

Are you making anything fun in your classroom these days

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stirring A Revolution of Kindness

I fully believe that kindness is a secret weapon--a super power of sorts.

I am stirring a revolution of kindness within my professional universe.

Are you with me?


Here's the thing.  At this time in the school year, it is so easy to be everything else besides kind.  It's as if familiarity has bred contempt.  It feels ugly and unsavory to me.

I'm the kind of person who REALLY want to change things for the good, but the job always seems so huge.  Here's the beautiful thing about a kindness revolution--it does not require lesson planning or any real planning.  It does not have to cost even a buck.  It can be totally free.  It does not require special talents.  It does not take extra time.  It really just requires showing up.  Showing up with the intention of being kind.  Of course there could be lots of resources involved, but it's not necessary.

Here is my intention--I want to show up the rest of the days of the school year to stir a revolution of kindness among my coworkers and students.  I intend to assign good intent to what people say and do.  I will not wallow in gossip or negative talk.  I will simply show up with kindness for others and myself.

This is revolutionary!

Will you join me?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Simply Finishing Well

Here is a recording of the coaching lesson I did on finishing your school year well.

You can also grab a poster and writing/thinking prompts over at Brave Teachers.

I truly hope your week has finished well, and I hope you are preparing to finish your year well.

Happy weekend!

Watch live streaming video from braveteachers at

Reminder: Live Chat This Evening

Just a reminder:

Tonight is the first ever Brave Teachers live chat coaching session.  It's going to be a great time of sharing thought, ideas, and stories about Finishing Well.  You can just watch and listen, or you can get involved in the live chat.

Why tune in?

It's a timely topic
It might just save your sanity!
It will be fun to spend a little time together.
There are some fresh ideas!
I'm going to give you a secret weapon to stir a revolution--dangerous and exciting--I know!

I hope you'll join us for this great little event at 9 pm. Eastern

Have a great day filled with courage and strength!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If You Blink

If you blink you might miss it.
Miss what?

The amazing stuff that other human beings do--especially our students.

In a moment a seeded dandelion can change from perfectly puffy to blown away.

That's how it is with the amazing things that kids do.  When I'm super busy or overwhelmed I completely miss extraordinary moments.

I don't want to let that happen in these last few precious weeks.

Here are some of the exceptional acts I've witnessed today because my eyes were open:

  • Today a boy apologized and then offered to make amends to a classmate
  • Our class meeting leader showed kindness and leadership
  • Instead of getting pushy at the front of the line, someone just quietly walked to the back of the line
  • Numerous students quickly offered supplies to other kids who needed them
  • Students were quick to collaborate in preparing for a math test {Some might think they were "cheating" on their study guide, but I was truly amazed.}
Today had many challenges with testing behaviors, but I'm glad I had my eyes open to the other parts, too!

What goodness do you witness at school because your eyes are open?

Just a reminder:  Brave Teachers First Ever Live Chat is happening Thursday, May 3, at 9 p.m. Eastern.  Your invited for more talk and tools on the topic of Finishing Well!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What knocked your socks off this year?

Sometimes it's hard to know where to begin with something like finishing well. Sometimes for me, if someone can point me in the right direction I can keep going. If you're wanting to finish your school year well, this little video gives you a starting point--


My knock your socks off moment was a process. We wrote a little grant to get funding for a program for the 4th graders in our school, called KidScripts, through a local theatre, The Magical Theatre. The first program was about writing really excellent stories, and then the students wrote their stories. We sent them to the theatre, where they turned 2 stories into plays. Those 2 plays then made their world premiere in front of our entire school. The knock your socks off part was that one of my students who really struggles academically and socially had his story selected. It was amazing! It was great for him and his family, but it was also great to have all the other kids recognize his amazing talent. I don't think I will ever forget this. What was you knock your socks off moment of this school year? {I'd love to have you leave it in the comments below!}