Flash Back....it's late August...actually to be exact, August 28th...I just found out, I will be teaching first grade!  That was the BEST and maybe the worst day of my life...I may be exaggerating a bit, but...School was starting in a few days, new teachers had 3 days of orientation and I had a classroom that looked pretty much like this:

So...what did I do?  I sat down and cried and thought,"How am I ever going to turn this into the classroom of my dreams?" Then off I went to my first new teacher orientation.  

I came back to my bare classroom and noticed a handwritten note on my desk, which read,"From confusion comes wisdom!" (Confucius) Well...that did not really help much because I felt confused and overwhelmed the whole entire year.  Instead I  thought, "Confucius has never been a first grade teacher so what does he know???" 

But actually he did know something...in fact...he was absolutely correct from my confusion and lack of having time to organize correctly, I learned a ton and I was never, ever disorganized again during my entire teaching career. 

So, I would like to share with you a few important organizational "take aways" from my first year that stuck with me my entire career...with a few tweaks here and there!

1.  Always make a list of what you want to do or change, what worked, what didn't work and what you need to get together before school starts. My first year I was not able to do this and I felt like I was playing catch up the entire year! 

  • It really doesn't matter if you have to change things up a bit during the school year.  If you find that something is not working for your class, change it. That is OK! 
  • Remember each class is different and as teachers we have to adapt to the needs of our students. One year I changed my desk location about 6 times before the first trimester ended.  The kids had so much fun trying to guess where my desk was going to show up the next time they walked through the classroom doors.  It was like a scavenger hunt!

2.  Make sure your classroom supplies are organized before your kiddos come bouncing through the door that first day.

  • I am not saying that everything has to be in an obsessive order nor does your room have to look like a Pinterest promotion., but let's make sure that it does not look chaotic and cluttered. 
  • You need to leave some things for you and your class to do together so they feel welcome and take ownership of the classroom. 
  • I am talking about supply and material organization. Where do the pencils, erasers, paperclips and markers go?  These need to be ready and available without rooting through the piles of "stuff" in various places. 

For this reason, I always labeled EVERYTHING!

I put all these items in shoeboxes or baskets with labels and categorized accordingly. 

There was a space or place for everything:  games, supplies of all shapes and sizes, Guided Reading materials...you get the idea. I always added a label with a picture and word, which is two-fold; first, you can easily see where the supply is located and second, the room is labeled for emergent readers to read the room!

3.  How about those closets, shelves, math supplies, Phonics' games and all the "things" you need to get to quickly for a lesson or even when an idea pops into your head and you need a manipulative quickly as well as when your colleague sends a child with a note that says,"Do you have the Telling Time Bingo Game? Can you send it with Johnny?" These need to be ready and available without rooting through piles of "stuff" in various places or thinking, "I just saw that somewhere...now where was it?"

Organize the games according to categories 
on shelves or in a closet.      

These are math baskets before the labels were added!

Then cover the shelves with these colorful tablecloths.  The tablecloths are simply hung from a tension rod and tacked so you can lift them up and grab what you need and doesn't it look a bit clean and organized?  I think I heard...YES!!!

4.  Next up...organize your reading books or classroom library "nook."
Over the years, I have used different spaces for a reading area, but there is one common thread.  All of the books are in bins or baskets and organized into specific categories that meet the needs of MY STUDENTS.  The way you categorize your books can be completed in many different ways or you can use a few different ideas, but it is important that it works for your class.

Here are few ideas that I have used over the years:
This reading area looks extremely inviting and the kids love to read and work in it.  

To the left and right of the tables on the white shelves were the classroom library books, which were arranged and labeled in this way; ABC's, numbers, colors, easy readers, chapter books, specific popular authors, general nonfiction, animals, space, biographies, Dr. Seuss, insects, weather, seasons as well as popular book characters like Arthur, Clifford and other popular book characters. 

This worked best for my first graders because they had favorite topics and authors they enjoyed reading about over and over gain.   

FYI: The designated classroom "Helpers" cleaned this area up at the end of the day and this is a product of their great independent organizational skills.

The Shelves behind the table under our"reading buddies," housed our NightlyReading Books that the students took home each night to read.

5.  Room organization is one thing, but thinking about communicating with parents can also be classified as something important that you need to have organized and ready to use the first day of school. 

If a problem arrises, who wants to be shuffling through papers and looking for parent contact information...NOT ME...It is better to be proactive and ready!

It is also important to think about how you want to communicate with parents and keep an open positive line of communication between home and school.  There are plenty of apps out there created for parent communication, but not all schools are ready to use apps.

  • To keep this at bay, it is important to have a Parent Communication Log that houses all important information about each child and their caretakers.  This one binder can be a life saver as you talk and chat with parents, you can print out e-mails, 3 hole punch them and keep all of these for future reference.  It can also be a place to jot down notes and reminders about conversations and dates these took place.
  • Newsletters are also a way to stay organized and keep the lines of communication open. These weekly or monthly newsletters will keep you organized as you think back on the week or next steps in your lesson planning. Parents LOVE hearing about what is happening or going to happen in their child's classroom.  These can be completed in a digital or written format.

Getting these ideas organized at the beginning of the school year will help you stay focussed and be present in your daily teaching life.

Here are three resources that support parent communication and will keep you calm and ready to go!

1.  Back to School Classroom Organization Binder Covers Letters and MORE  If this doesn't help you get organized for the Back to School Frenzy, I don't know what will.  

2.  Parent Communication Organizational Checklists  Easy to use and ready to go! 

3.  Editable Newsletters to Make Parent Communication Easy  These will make your life so much easier and organized!

I know I have only given you about 5 organizational ideas to start the school year off on the right foot and there are so many more, but as long as you have these 5 ideas and organizational strategies in place, you will be less stressed and have the best school year yet!

BTW: Did you notice a common thread throughout?  Labels, binders, checklists, containers and baskets...you can never have enough!

Have a great year and don't forget to ORGANIZE!!!

PS: Here is a link to some other resources you might like!  

Well...It's another week and another set of tips and ideas to help you get ready for school whether you are back or still have a few weeks left...(lucky you...enjoy it to the fullest). Here are some ideas to keep you connected to your parents and continue to work together for the success of each student you teach!! I think you will LOVE #3!

Well...It's another week and another set of tips and ideas to help you get ready for back to school...whether you are back or still have a few weeks left...(lucky you...enjoy it to the fullest)...here are some ideas to keep you connected to your parents and continue to work together for the success of each student you teach!! These are all ideas that I have used throughout my teaching career with a few tweaks here and there.

1.  Back to School Informational Brochure

No matter how you present this information to your parents, it is BEST to have it in writing.  I always used a brochure which included all of my classroom policies.                                                                                                       The brochure was an easy way to keep all information in one place and it can be placed right on the refrigerator or a cork board for quick reference.                                                                                          I have seen these done in many ways...flipbooks, minibooks, folders...and so on...but, over the years, I have found a brochure to be quick and easy and it is sure to be a hit with your parents!!!                                                                                                One quick tip: If you download this and use it cut the margins on side left and right using a paper cutter so it folds easier into the trifold!

2.  Newsletters or News and Notes

I know many teachers write newsletters for the month or News and Notes more frequently. These quick informational letters can give parents and idea of what will be taught or what was taught through the week or month.  

It is important when you write these to include ideas for parents or caregivers to chat about with their child.  You might include  something like; This week we learned how to count by 5's to 50. Have your child count to 50 by 5"s...the class loves to show what they know!! 

Parents LOVE getting tips because...let's face it, when kids are asked what they did in school...their standard answer is,"NOTHING!"                                                                                                                                                                                       Here is a link to these Editable Newsletter Frames and News and Notes

3.  Kids News and Weekend News

Kids News is a great way to integrate reading and writing.  On Mondays we would brainstorm ideas about what we did over the weekend.  I would then write them on the smart board for reference or sometimes depending on the level of each student I would write them on sticky note if copying from the board was too difficult.

My first grade students would create a sentence or 2 about their weekend and write it on their paper. In September one to three sentences is really an accomplishment from some kiddos.

After writing and editing an adult volunteer would type these writing pieces into a Newsletter format. When the "Kids News" was returned to the classroom, students would partner up and "read" their news to their buddy. Hit the chime and the kiddos would find a new partner.

The first graders LOVED sharing and reading their news not to mention those at home who happen to read our news!!!  parents and children alike were so proud and happy with this great integrated activity!

Weekend News is similar to "Kids News"  except parents are asked to read the "news" and write a comment back to their child in the journal.

This starts out with a frame like the green one in this image.  So in the beginning the class is simply writing about the week and a few happenings.  Anyone he students wishes to write to is perfectly fine...in fact parents loved when their child wrote to grand-mom, aunt, uncle or an older sibling!

It gives the parent important information about their child's social, emotional and academic growth in that they find out what their child likes to do and how they feel about school and so on.

As time goes on you would add another frame from which to choose. Students can choose either one and then you can add another more detailed frame until eventually the class can choose a frame or write their own piece.  

By this time you should be touching on and teaching topic sentence, details and conclusion.

So something like I played on the playground with Jim. We had fun... will hopefully transform into...I played with Jim on the play ground. We quickly ran around on the blacktop and noticed a beautiful yellow and black butterfly perched on the fence.  We watched it flutter across the yard and it quietly landed on the tippy top of the sliding board. The we heard the clang of the bell and jogged into line. I guess we will look for it tomorrow!

Does this seem impossible?  Well...guess what? It is not impossible ...even from first graders. It is all in how you teach it and your expectations!!!

Oops...I almost forgot 2 extremely important steps.  Each time Weekend News came home, someone was expected to write back in response to what their child wrote.

The following Friday before we wrote our news, the children would partner up. ( I would use my partner sticks to choose buddies.)

They would then choose to read the current news they wrote or the response from their parent or whoever answered their news.

This choice was given so those whose parents could not write back from some reason could still share writing.

Again...reading and writing integrated and so much easier for YOU!!! The students are letting their parents know what is going on in the classroom and you have an informal assessment of their writing and can see what they need and what to teach small groups for differentiating instruction!!

It's a WIN WIN Situation!!

PS.  Here are some Frames that you may want to use to get started, but there is much more included in this Parent Teacher Conference Home & School Communication Forms & More resource.

Hope to see you next Tuesday, August 15th!!!

It is almost time for school to start and if you live in the south, you just might be back in school already. So with school starting or almost starting, you just might find these Tuesday Tips for Back to School helpful as you start back to greet those smiles and hear the chatter and giggles!

I know many schools in the South are having or just had their first day back to school. Others here in the Northeast section of the US, have a few more weeks.

That being said...I thought I would share out a few "tips" to help your year get started.  Tips that I have used throughout my teaching career with a few tweaks here and there.

 Classroom Decor

  • It is important to make your room look inviting...inviting enough that your students want to come bounding through those doors.  It does not have to look like a Pinterest Promotion nor should you have everything set up and ready to go, but you should have enough up to get started and to make your room look "kid friendly" and comfortable.                                                                                

  • Allow your students to take ownership of the classroom and make it feel like it belongs to them! Save some activities for your students to create! Some suggestions might be:Create the Birthday Bulletin board together having children decorate and make the icons for your board. Maybe even plan a lesson around it and allow them to fell proud about the creation. Happy Birthday to Me! 

  • If possible, do not hang your rules up before the children are in classroom community. Instead chat about each rule and have your kiddos draw pictures or fill in frames about why these rules are important. 

You can also have them sign their name on the rule poster or on a separate sheet under the poster/posters to make them feel important and a part of the classroom community.

  • Take pictures of each child in a theme based hat or something related to the theme of your classroom.  Then they can decide with you where to place these cute little faces.

  • This is a photo from a Fifty's theme we used: "Rock into Learning!"

  • It is a great idea to takes many pictures of "students in action" to use all year long.

  • I used them for attendance and made multiple copies for my own use, such as portfolios, end of year memory books as well as Mother's Day gifts.  All kids LOVE to see their pictures around the room! 

  • Don't forget to have your students write or dictate their "Hopes and Dreams" for the school year! These also make a great bulletin board...  ...not to mention how much the parents love seeing these on Back to School Night!  I send home a letter where the parents write their academic and social Hopes and Dreams and display it with child's.  If a parent cannot do this, I write my Hopes and Dreams for them!

Here are some Back to School ideas that you might want to check out!

Getting Parents on YOUR SIDE

  • I often tell parents that they are the most important person in their child's life and I say that in all sincerity.  They know their children better than anyone and They were their first teacher. 
  • I also say,"We need to work together as a team to ensure your child's success. Your child needs YOU and me to make growth and be their best self!" So just how do you show parents that you care about their child and you want them to succeed in school and life!

Here are a few ways that I have tried to show parents that I care!

  • If your school allows a "Meet and Greet" before schools starts, this is a great way to ease parents and children into the new school year.  They can meet you, take a peek at the classroom and if you teach K or first, it will cure "The First Day Jitters!"
  • The night before school starts or if that is not possible, a few days before the start of school, call each child on the telephone.  Just simply say" Hi, I am Mrs. Simpson and I am Jimmy's first grade teacher this year. I am so excited that he is in my class.  I can't wait to meet him on the first day of school. Don't forget to bring your smile!"  Now granted...that is the message you might leave on the voice mail, but you get the idea.  Sometimes you find out a little about mom, dad, Jimmy and siblings...but...that is OK!  You won't believe how excited your students will be knowing you called and I have to admit...sometimes parents have also put their child on the phone and that makes it even better!
  • Now this is not a "one night stand!"  I make sure that after the first week of school that I make
    another phone call or send an e-mail just to say how Jimmy is doing and adjusting to the first week of school and then I try to do this about once each trimester or quarter.
     This shows that you truly care and then later on in the month or year if something difficult arises, they know you want what is best for their child!

Here are a few ideas to support Parent Communication.

So...Happy Tuesday Tips' Day and enjoy the rest of your day, week or summer!
See you next time!!

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