At my school we are only allowed to have two celebrations per year, once before Winter Break, and once at the end of the school year. However, I am all about sneaking in fun and celebrations wherever I can. I strongly believe in rigorous content and not filling my day with fluff.....but occasionally first graders need a chance to be 6 years old. Am I right?


So this year we are putting an educational spin on our Valentine cards! I teach in a Title 1 school and while some students can afford to bring cards in, many others can't. With this approach I can ensure that everyone takes home something special for less than $1 total! For the whole class! #teacherwin

I first began using Napkin Books years ago and it is one of my favorite ways to inspire my students to write. I have blogged all about them here. Today I am going to show you how to use simple decorative napkins as a meaningful way to spread kindness and celebrate the occasion.






First, you will need a pack of Valentine themed napkins. I like to buy my napkins at Dollar Tree or craft stores (with a 50% off coupon). I also like to stock up after each holiday when things are on clearance to save for the following year. Yes, I am a crazy lady napkin hoarder.


Pass out a stack of blank paper to each child, I use white copy paper. For example, if you have 18 students in your class, every child receives 17 pieces of paper. If you have 25 students, pass out 24 to each child. I pre-cut the paper to match the size of my napkins (or slightly smaller so I can fit two to a page).




Have each child write one student name per piece of paper. I find this process easier if I call out one name at a time, spell it out loud for students, and they write it as I spell. This way, all names are spelled correctly and we don't forget anyone.


Next, give students time to write one compliment on every piece of paper about the person whose name is on it. This could be something they love about that person, a strength that they see in them, or a general compliment.

This step may have to be broken down into small chunks throughout the week, especially if you have a large class.



Once everyone finishes writing their compliments, students will pass out the pages to the child they wrote about. At the end, everyone will have a pile of notes from every person in the class.

I simply staple the pages into a Valentine themed napkin and ta-daaaaa! Instant book!

These messages are much more personal than a box of pre-packaged cards. Plus, students have the opportunity to practice writing and being kind. Win win!

If you prefer to have lines already on your paper or a template for your struggling writers, I do have a set of Valentine Napkin Book writing prompts with over 45 prompts about love, kindness, friendship, Valentine traditions, and more! Just click one of the images below to see what's included.




What's your favorite way to spice up a classroom tradition like Valentine cards?

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We finally changed classroom jobs this month so I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me these last few years get rid of the headache that can be caused from the job chart! I know what you may be thinking....ummm...slacker! Isn't it the middle of the year?!? Yup!


When I began teaching I thought I had to have tons of classroom jobs and  I thought they had to be switched every week. That's just the way the whole job thing works right?

Well.... I had a love hate relationship with my job chart. I loved it because I knew who had what job (at least for the moment) and it was adorable. I hated it because it was just one more thing to spend time on and remember to do. Plus, there was always confusion on who had what job and arguing each week while choosing/assigning jobs. Teacher truth- ain't nobody got time for that! So, here is what I do now.


I know, it sounds crazy right? But believe me, its so much easier! When we begin the school year I spend a few weeks getting to know everyone. We discuss all of the different jobs that we may need  in order to have a clean, safe, and successful classroom. I teach EVERYONE what each job looks like (just the run down, not in depth). Then, we assign jobs. I'll get more to that process in a minute.

Each kid works on their job from the beginning of the school year until we return from winter break. They become experts. They all know their job and expectations. No more trying to remember who has what job and fighting over line leader every day!

I also love this idea because we are trying to help kids learn about responsibility, and realistically, I want them to know that being able to hold down a steady job is important. Switching careers every week may be less than ideal in the real world ;)

Side-note...if switching jobs works for you and your class each week- more power to you! It just didn't work for me.  If changing jobs once a year seems like not enough, maybe try once a quarter or once a month even. The longer stretches between switching jobs may help.


Okay, so this may make me sound like a jerk, but again, life lessons here! Once each child learns the expectations for their job, they are expected to complete the duties as assigned. If my line leader is running around while talking in line, well, that's not a role model and someone we should be following. If my table washer constantly leaves their place in the cafeteria a hot mess, then that may not be a good job for them either. If my computer helper keeps dropping computers because they aren't paying attention...well I can't afford that mistake!

Rather than immediately replace them, we of course have a discussion about it. I remind them of the duties for their chosen job and how their current choices may not be fulfilling them. We also take a vote of everyone else in the class who would be interested in having their job. Once they see that there is always someone ready to take their place, they start to see the importance of making the right choices in order to keep it. Isn't it true that someone who is more qualified or willing is always waiting to take our job if we don't do what is expected?

Now, I have never actually fired a child permanently from their job because I believe in learning from our mistakes. However children have been "laid off" for a day or two which has always resulted in them making better choices once hired back.


Since we only change jobs once a year, it is really important that we choose each job carefully. I take each child's strengths and weaknesses into consideration. I also take into consideration which job they prefer, even if I think they'd be a better fit somewhere (if at all possible).

For example, I need to make sure someone who can be trusted to follow directions is one that I have as a messenger to send down the hallway. If a child is known to play in the hallway or gets into trouble as soon as my eyes aren't directly on them, being sent out of the classroom alone is just safe.

However, if my little one who can't read or write numbers to 20 yet wants to be calendar helper and write the date each day....great! She gets to gain confidence in her counting skills and the daily practice certainly helps. Yes it would be easier for me to not spend time doing her job with her each day, but those 5 seconds of my time far outweigh the benefits of having an experienced student do it.

Also, if I have a child that is extra squirmy in line but really wants to be line leader, I give them a chance. They may actually be able to use some self control to prove to me (and themselves most importantly) that they can do a great job.


We brainstorm a long list of jobs as a class. My students sometimes feel called to do something in our class that I may not think of as a job or as important, but they take pride in it and in the end that's what matters. We usually brainstorm the list and write in on a large chart one day, and assign jobs the next day once they've had a chance to think about their own strengths and what they would be good at.

Here are some of the jobs we have had:

- Line Leader/Door holder/Caboose

- Materials Manager (puts center materials away or helps pass things out)

- Energy Saver (Turns lights and smart board off when not in use)

- Technology Helpers (Set up computers each morning and logs us into RAZ Kids or the site we need)

- Trash helper (Helps make sure our floor is clean and reminds students to clean up their messes)

- Table washer/sweeper in the cafeteria

- Closet Helper (makes sure backpacks and coats are put away nicely and not all over the place)

- Desk Monitor (reminds students to tidy up desks and can occasionally put surprise treats inside the desks that look great)

- Chair Helper (pushes in chairs/takes them down each morning/puts them up if someone is absent)

- Class Dojo helper (looks for kids making good choices to reward points to)

- Bathroom Monitor (this is a job that I try to avoid assigning honestly because it's one more person in the bathroom at a time, but sometimes it can be helpful)

- Lunch card helper (pass out lunch cards)

- Calendar/Date Helper

- Messenger

- Teacher's Helper (pass out papers, help teacher with odd jobs as needed)

- Substitute (learn each job and fill in when someone is absent)


What other jobs do you have? What jobs make your classroom run smoothly? What jobs would you prefer not to assign?


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Hi there! Building a classroom community where students recognize each others strengths, support each other, and feel appreciated as individuals is what every teacher strives for. I have a quick activity today to help build this environment in your own class. The best part is, it takes less than a minute and has a huge impact! Note, you may have to model it the first time, maybe with another teacher, assistant, or volunteer.


Choose one student to sit in the "hot seat". You can have your student of the day simply stand in front of the room or can make things more elaborate by having a chair decorated for the occasion. You can randomly choose the child, choose one who has been having a hard time lately and needs a boost, or even go down your class list in ABC order. However you decide on the student of the day is fine, as long as everyone gets one turn before someone gets a second.


Pass out one sticky note to every person in your class, except the student of the day. I like to use different shaped and decorative sticky notes like the ones below to make things even more fun. Sometimes the kinds with lines make it easier for my young writers.


(Please note, these links are affiliate links which means I may receive some pocket change to help support this blog and fund teaching expenses when you make a purchase. Of course, all opinions are my own and I promise to only share what I truly love using. Cross my teacher's heart!)

                                      


The student of the day is not allowed to speak or respond during this next part (which may feel a little awkward for them at first but will become routine). Set a timer for 60 seconds. Every child writes down compliments about the "student of the day" while the student stands or sits in the front of the room. This can be anything from something they noticed them doing ("I liked how you worked hard solving math problems yesterday.") to the strengths they recognize ("You are good at reading chapter books. You can read with expression. You have neat handwriting.").



Next, have students read their compliments and observations aloud. The student who was in the "hot seat" then gets to keep all of the sticky notes about themselves. You could staple them together, glue them into a journal, or send them home as is.

Repeat each day (with a different child) during your morning routine, morning meeting, or when you have a spare minute between activities.


If you have students who are not able to write sentences yet, you could allow them each to draw a picture on their sticky notes. You can also have them call out their answers and record them on a big piece of paper that the student could take home as a poster.

This is also an incredible activity to use during your staff meetings or grade level planning time. For this version you first divide into small groups (ideally no more than 5 people per group). Then, have one person as the recorder, one person as the person in the hot seat, and the rest of the small group as those sharing answers for 60 seconds. Next, switch roles and repeat until each person has had a turn being in the hot seat. It is harder than it sounds to sit there silently and take in the compliments, but I am not going to lie, having that sticky note to go back to on challenging days is really comforting!

Give this 60 second community builder a try and let me know how it goes!

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Have you ever had one of those days/weeks/months where you just feel like you are not the teacher you always dreamed you'd be? Maybe you just had an evaluation and received less than desired scores? Maybe your students just took benchmarks and didn't make the growth you hoped for or expected and feel like its your fault? Maybe there's been a big change in your personal life and you aren't giving as much time or energy to teaching like you used to? Maybe your class is full of wild children, who despite being great one on one and your usually awesome classroom management....are a total hot mess when under the same roof?


If any of these situations are ringing some bells, first, I want you to stop and think about these next few words carefully.


I have so been there...in EVERY one of those situations at some point in my career. Whether you are a first year teacher struggling to live out your dream job, or a veteran teacher who just can't get into the swing of things one day (or lots of days), know you are not alone. Teachers with all different years of experience and expertise have times when they feel this way. In fact, if you were to poll your staff, I'd bet at least a few hands would go up at every meeting.

Maybe there's a team mate you are close with and could confide in? Chances are, they would open up with you too. It's nice having someone to talk to who understands. If you don't feel comfortable talking to someone at school (and your family may just not get it), I have also found that there are some Facebook groups online dedicated to teachers. Try searching your grade level or specialty area to see what shows up and request joining. I promise, it's not creepy to ask to join- that's why they are there! Being able to relate to so many people helps to make the process not feel so lonely and overwhelming. Plus, you may find that you are even able to offer up advice from your own experiences.


Okay, so wanting to go home and cry everyday, or feeling so frustrated you want to quit really doesn't feel like a good thing or normal, believe me, I know! But if you can try to get to the root of the feelings, it may be helpful in the end and a good thing overall.

The feeling that you can and should do more for your students is one that every teacher feels. The fact that our teacher brains never turn off is often just part of the job. Our love for our students, our hopes for their success, and the pressure put on us is unmeasurable, especially for those not in the classroom trenches with us.

The fact that you are brought to tears over how much you want to do better, is often a sign of your commitment to the job and your students. You belong there. This is what you were meant to do.


Whenever I have a teaching breakdown I try to learn from it. Sometimes all I need is a little fix like to take better care of myself so I am not so tired/hungry/cranky the next day and life magically feels a whole lot better. Sometimes venting to someone really helps. Other times, I need a much bigger fix.

If you are feeling like you just can't get into the routine of things, ask your instructional coach to come spend some time in your classroom or to model a lesson. Ask your administration if you could go observe another teacher who seems to be excelling in a particular area. NOTE, when you do this, try not to get in your own feelings. Asking for help does not mean you CAN'T do it yourself, it just means you might find a different way of trying that could help. I'll be honest, asking for help is not my specialty. I pride myself on being the one people go to, but I ALWAYS get something good out of it when I do "cave" and ask. It's worth a try. Plus, when you request the help it looks better than it being forced on you, in my opinion anyways. (And if it is forced on you, see what you can learn from it and try to have faith that someone in your school sees your potential and wants to help you learn).

My usual answer to any problem or question I am having is "Google it!" For real though, google it! Search for tips online, products that may help, or blog posts from teachers who get it. Their advice could set you on the right track and help you make a plan.

Maybe you just need to set aside extra time to critically look at your data and reflect on it. Have faith that you have the skills to analyze the situation and make improvements when you dig deep and be honest with yourself.
What does it show you?
How could you implement a few skill groups or small groups to reach those kids?
Is reworking your schedule or routines (even mid year) going to help?
Could you partner with another teacher for some lessons?


Sometimes, you just get to the point where you know what's happening.... just isn't going to work for you anymore. You have talked to others, you've made changes, you've reflected....and it's still not working.

When I got to this point (after a year plus of feeling awful), I decided to leave my school and change counties. My change was a drastic one but I knew it was right for me.  It may or may not be right for you, either way you have to remember that your own well being is important and it's ok to follow your heart. All of the feelings of betraying my staff and former students flooded me with teacher guilt, the worst kind, but I had to get over them. Is the grass always greener somewhere else? Nope! But thankfully for me, the change is exactly what I needed. I had learned from my past experiences about what exactly I needed in a new school, specifically an admin that would be in the classrooms and was knowledgeable about curriculum, a supportive team with a family feel throughout the school, and opportunities to grow as an educator.

Now, I am NOT saying that when you have a bad day or even a few weeks, you should uproot everything and move. Like I said, teaching certainly isn't going to always be easier or better somewhere else. The job is hard!

Even at my new school I still have breakdowns, but at least now I have a supportive administration and incredible team to help me get through the tough times. In fact, last year was my most challenging class yet and I constantly questioned things. However, I vented, reflected, asked for help, and made small changes to help get through the year.

So what kind of change could you make?

Maybe the small changes to your classroom routines, venting to other teachers who understand, asking for help, and/or getting some Professional Development are exactly what you need to get back on track! Perfect! This is the ideal situation.

But if you are looking for a bigger change (and want to stay in the profession),

Maybe job sharing is an option if you are just really called to spend more time elsewhere?
Maybe try switching grade levels but staying at the same school?
Maybe try switching schools?
Maybe trying moving somewhere else?
Maybe try going back to school to add certifications like Special Ed, Reading Specialist, or something else if that's where you are lead?

However you decide to move forward, most importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone! EVERY teacher has felt less than perfect at some point in their career. Hang in there and know your commitment to your students is making a difference.

If I can do anything to help, I would love to be here to support you! Leave a comment or email me at ksclassroomkreations@gmail.com if you just need a listening ear.


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