Back to School "BE..." Rules

Whew! It's been awhile since I sat down to share about my life as a Kentucky primary teacher and while much about life has stayed the same... professionally-speaking MUCH has changed! 
After 3 years as a reading interventionist, I was asked by my principal to take a position back in the classroom. It was a bit of a two-edged sword. While I missed the relationships from working with a team and the sense of magic and community a classroom brings, I knew that going back to the classroom would mean more work after hours... taking time away from my own children.
Well, in a crazy turn-of-events I offered to teach second grade for the first time in my seventeen-year career. It was heartbreaking in a way I hadn't anticipated, because I feel such a true passion for teaching Kindergarten - I take the responsibility of being a child's first teacher very seriously. I take pride in making the effort to create the most positive and joy-filled first-school experience possible for my students and their families. I'm a Kindergarten mom for the third (and final) time this year... it MEANS something to me personally and it's still a bit gut-wrenching that I chose the greater good over my own professional passions and desires...
BUT... after teaching second grade for only 8 DAYS, I can say with certainty that things are going to be just fine. My 20 sweet students have already taught me more than they will ever know. 

As a part of my back to school routine each year I work with my students to develop our own class rules after reading Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Typically we keep it simple with only 3-4 rules that sort of "cover it all." This year's session on rules turned out a little differently as my students suggested rule after rule that began with the word "DON'T." 
"Don't stand on the tables."
"Don't run."
"Don't yell out without raising your hand."
"Don't hit."
I dutifully listed all of their rules on the board and could tell my students were quite proud of themselves, but their faces fell when I said, 
"We can't use any of these. They don't make me feel positive inside. With so many rules to worry about we will have to spend all our time making sure that none of them are broken and we will be overwhelmed with rules, just like Officer Buckle!
After a few moments of silence I said, "Is there one rule that would take care of any running, pushing, climbing in the classroom? Let's start with the word BE..." 
and I erased the board.

And then something beautiful happened...
20 hands shot into the air and I was hit with an onslaught of all the things that we should "BE..." in our class. We couldn't keep it to just 3 or 4 words because they just kept flowing and the words just kept getting better and better. Finally, when I thought we had them all, a quiet girl in the back raised her hand and offered, 

"Be Yourself." 
I felt a little teary as I added it to the list. I needed to hear that! I needed to BE MYSELF... my play-loving, project-starting, non-conforming, easy-going, question-asking, task-mastering, standards-based teacher-self... and that's just what I plan to do!

If you want to create a "BE..." Rules display, download this exclusive FREEBIE!! It includes the list of 20 words my students generated. I printed them and cut them apart then each student colored one to add to the display. I love that we can continue to add words as we grow together over the course of the school year, too!


Celebrating the ARTS!

How do you celebrate the Arts? I'm excited to share how my school works to celebrate the arts.  In response to new program reviews and standards a few years ago, we began holding an Arts Showcase for our primary students each spring.  

After reviewing the standards we found that while we provided more than adequate opportunities for experiences with visual art, music, dance, and drama in a learning/classroom-type environment we failed to offer our students the opportunity to create, collaborate, perform, critique and explore the arts in their own unique ways.  
So, we encouraged students (and their families) to choose anything creative for which they felt they had special talent or aptitude, and plan a way to present that talent to their classmates.  Then each class held individual performances and voted on which talent/presentation/performance they would like to represent their class in a school wide Create Arts Day Showcase.  No emphasis is placed on winning and losing or who is better/worse.  Our showcase isn't a talent show and very few parents attend. It is simply a way for students to share a way in which they are creative.

What resulted was more than any of our teachers could have ever imagined...

Our young students, as an audience, were respectful, encouraging, and thoughtful. Within each classroom a special story unfolded.   In a second grade classroom an athletic boy puts together a basketball dribbling routine and sets it to music for which the crowd cheers. In one third grade classroom a friend with special needs sings a Michael Jackson song and is unanimously voted into the show where she receives a standing ovation. In another class, a quiet boy shares his amazing computerized robot for which he wrote the programming and is voted into the show over the Broadway show-tune belted out by the girl who regularly participates in local theater performances. In my Kindergarten classroom a typically outgoing and boisterous girl quietly shares a memoir she wrote about her lost pet goldfish and she is hugged by her friends, many of whom are brought to tears.  My own daughter, when she was in second grade, was begged by her class to sing "Let It Go" for the school showcase, encouraging her to overcome stage fright and perform for an audience for the first time in her life. I watched her blossom before my very eyes and was touched to see her classmates give her encouraging looks and a loud, supportive ovation as she finished the song. Many more students played instruments, performed dance routines, and paraded visual arts pieces across the gym.  Each time the crowd of primary students would cheer and clap as if they were at a Grammy-nominated performance.

We all learn a lot of valuable lessons during this week of the school year.

  • As teachers we are reminded that the "extra" stuff (about which we may grumble when it interrupts our comfortable school day routine) is worthy of our time.
  • As regular educators we are reminded that the arts programs are vital to our school and our students (and that the art, drama, music, and PE teachers have a hard job).
  • We learn to view many of our students in a new light... many of which are little diamonds in the rough or have secret talents about which we didn't know.
  • From our students we learn that a little bit of grace and humility can go a long way and that supporting each other by cheering wildly when someone else succeeds is just what friends should do.
  • Interested in starting your own Creative Arts Day?

We send parents a note one week prior saying all students are welcome to participate by preparing any creative presentation including, but certainly not limited to, any visual arts pieces, vocal/instrumental performances, creative writing, dance or other movement routine, anything involving creativity with technology, and dramatic performances or collaborations. Each teacher provides a little class time to discuss projects and ideas, and provides time for friends who may not ave time at home to prepare.  Each class plans a day for class performances and works together to choose one student to perform at the school wide assembly.  Administrators and arts teachers work together to make sure students have all they need and to set a schedule for the school showcase. Then on a Friday afternoon we all gather in the gym to simply celebrate creativity and the arts.

It's simple... after all, the best things in life always are.
Add the Arts to your Common Core instruction in grades K, 1st, and 2nd with this fun unit, "Talents," at 21st Century K on TpT.


Bust the BTS Blues with a New Bulletin Board!

I can't believe it's already BTS time! This summer has flown by and I'm ready to get the school year underway! So, I thought I would revive an old post about my Kindergarten classroom and share my classroom bulletin boards. Nothing snaps me out of that BTS-FUNK like a fresh bulletin board display!

I strive to run an organized and efficient Kindergarten classroom. (With room for play and fun, of course!)  This summer I added a few things to my management system that have made a big difference!
1. My whiteboard is the hub of communication and information in my classroom (aside from the Smart Board). My "CHAMP" icons and schedule cards are on magnets so that I can easily adjust them each day or each learning block.  My Daily 5 posters are kinder-friendly and easy to understand.  (Grab them for free here!)  I also have a set of mini posters just for me, "The 7 C's of Teaching," to remind me of my responsibilities to these 21st Century kiddos!  (Grab them for free here.)  The small red pocket chart is used to spotlight our learning targets as they change throughout the day.
2. I also have a bulletin board that runs the length of the room.  The largest section is for learning targets.  Small pocket charts hold the target/standard cards for the week (or unit) so that I can readily access and display them as we transition throughout the day.  Beyond the word wall and birthday displays is the job chart.  I have 24 students and 24 jobs.  (Sounds crazy, I know!)  Students have one job per week and we rotate throughout the year.  Giving each student a job has had such an impact on our classroom community!  Some jobs are small and others are more popular, but when all students have ownership over the way the classroom runs they learn to work together and take responsibility for the good of the group!
  3. My favorite bulletin board is the one next to my desk!  I created this tree a couple of years ago and have added to it each year.  It serves as a place to post important information, student gifts and drawings, and words of inspiration about education. 
Plus, it's super cute (if I do say so myself)!

Missing anything?
Wondering where my calendar board is?
When I realized my Kinders weren't engaging like I had hoped and my day was starting off BLAH instead of WOW, I knew I needed to make a change. I tossed my traditional calendar and created monthly interactive calendars for the SMART Board! Read more about that here!
Check them out at TpT!

Don't teach Kinders?
Then check out these first everyday calendars for any primary grade!

Not ready to invest?
Then download this FREE version... test it with your SMART system and try it with your students... I PROMISE THEY WILL LOVE IT!
(And you will, too!)