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Thursday, February 3, 2022

Mass Teaching Casualty of the Pandemic

Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.  

-Jay Danzie

Greetings Friends:

This is my first official blog post in ages and the first one since officially retiring from my 33 year teaching career in March, 2021.  Having spent many years as a reading intervention teacher, the onset of the pandemic set into motion a chain of events and I was faced with teaching second grade (for the first time) in a remote setting (by my request). My district was scrambling on how to meet the needs of their students and staff but there was much radio silence throughout the summer. In July of 2021, I sent a proposal to my district HR department outlining how I could be a Reading Intervention Teacher, manage the needs of my building's intervention caseload from home, and then all that was left was to determine how to do this technology wise. But they had other plans for me and truly gave me no choice regarding how I would be spending the last year of my teaching career.

While initially I wanted to dig in my heals resisting this position, I tried to look at this as an opportunity and a full circle moment, knowing full well that I was retiring at the end of the year. I did not know the full curriculum (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc.) and as a 54 year old, teaching from my basement, I definitely had technology challenges that were huge hurdles for me. Google Meeting, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Sign Up Genius, Document Cameras, Double Screens, sharing my screen...let alone, how do you engage young students for a full day of instruction when you can not stand beside them, put your hand on their back to encourage them, and trust me when I say the eyes on the back of my head do not work as well via the computer waves! This was certainly a huge undertaking and I wasn't quite sure the effort I was going to have to put forth was worth it for this one last year! 

Fast forward to October...I received a message that our head of HR wanted to meet with me. We met and it was determined that Intervention services were needed for the remote learners.  I was told that since this was in my "wheel house" they would like me to ponder moving back to an intervention position. (Yup...I was offered the very position I requested in July!) Here's the problem...I had fallen in love with my second graders and did not want to make that move at that time.  I had successfully built a community of online learners, I had jumped over hurdles that I did not think I could clear, and although I knew there would be many more hurdles to jump over, I felt I had been through the worst of it and didn't want to be faced with those challenges in my "old but new" position. As a 32+ year veteran in those 6-8 weeks, I had learned a ton of new things, was oddly rejuvenated by my new knowledge, connected with colleagues I hadn't previously worked with closely due to the new position, and found fun, creative, and new ways to teach my second graders and was really proud of myself. Here's the kicker...when I tried to decline the position, I was told that I HAD NO CHOICE AND HAD TO SWITCH POSITIONS.  

However, I did have a choice at that time. With all of this stress, I decided to take a medical leave in order to reach 120 days...the amount of days required by the state of Ohio to count as a year of service towards retirement. From early October-February 28th, I was on sick leave with my retirement date official on March 1st!

Now it is February of 2022.  I am on the other side of this, have gained some perspective, still miss being around "my kids" and coworkers too, and I am in constant awe of the fact that you, my colleagues, are still engaged with your students during this pandemic and it is SO HARD...SO DARN HARD! Some days I feel like I deserted my team on the battlefields, but on all days I am grateful enough to have the opportunity for this new chapter of being a full time Teacherpreneur who gets to create curriculum and materials to help my friends who are still in the battlefields. I can take the day off if I want, a snow day does not have nearly the appeal it once did, I can have as many bathroom breaks as I want, and any day can be a Jeans Day!

 I look forward to seeing this new chapter take shape and see what it holds for me in my "new normal". I hope you stop by and check out some of the great products I have added to my TPT store, with you...my friends and colleagues in mind! Stay the course and please know that you are making a difference, everyday!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Staff Lounge Makeover

The staff lounge in my school was just downright depressing. The furniture was over 25 years old and traveled with us to the "new building" which is over 15 years old if I'm not mistaken.  Staff members stopped eating lunch in there years ago. They go in to make an occasional cup of coffee, purchase something from the vending machines, or utilize the fridge for something. But overall, it was a dark, uninspiring space that we all just walked by several times per day. 

As the person in charge of our Sunshine Committee, I try to inspire and motivate our staff and keep morale high, as our job as teachers is already stressful and all encompassing enough. This is no easy task, and one that I don't take lightly. So I approached my principal, Leslie, about this and she was all on board for this. She asked me to spearhead this project, which I gladly accepted the challenge.

Now, you may be wondering WHERE DOES THE CASH COME FOR THIS TYPE OF PROJECT...right?  After all, we are a school and we never have enough money to do things that might be considered "extras" although I would argue essential. Our district office had initially agreed to fund this project. Unbeknownst to me, the other buildings had started re-doing their lounges and the district had coughed up the cash to fund parts of their projects.  Our building had some major renovations this past summer and over the summer, the district backed out of this project...at which point I was really disappointed. I had already begun looking at furniture with a representative and had really thought this was going to be a reality for our staff.  Luckily, Leslie suspected that this might be the case and put some funds aside so that the major things such as furniture would still be able to happen.

I knew that I just didn't want a room of new, industrial furniture however. I wanted a room that was worthy of spending time in, a room that reminded us of our lives outside of the school, and a place that staff could take a break from the hectic pace of the day. I was going to need more money than just having the furniture expense covered.  I decided to use some of our Sunshine Funds to add some finishing touches.  A little surplus of cash in the account made this possible, but soon I realized that I would need even a little more so I didn't run the account dry.  I hit up our PTO president and she made a pitch for me to the PTO Board, who also decided to chip in $500.  This was agreed upon by our PTO and appreciated by not only myself but the entire staff.

I bet you are asking...what did this room look like to start?  And what were you working with that would dictate the outcome of the room? 

Here are some before pictures...

Icy Gray Blue Walls were a non-color!

A perfect nook for some soft seating.

You can get a glimpse of the light blue cabinetry
that had to stay put without alteration.

Entry to the room and just blah!
The chairs aren't even in there because
nobody came in to sit anymore!

What did I envision for the room?  

Teams of teachers typically include 5 grade level teachers, plus at anytime, there could be an intervention teacher and/or special education teacher joining the team for lunch, plus a few others.  I decided I wanted tables that could accommodate at least 8 people so entire teams could be together or even merge teams who overlap on lunch times.  Also, I was going for a coffee shop/Panera vibe in the room.  Tables of various heights, upholstered furniture that would be durable for the long run, and flexible seating for various staff preferences.

I chose 2 high top rectangular tables that could fit eight adults each, 2 low round tables that could fit four adults, and a couch and club chair, coffee tables and end tables, a conversational area to warm up the room just perfect for a break, not necessarily just for eating. The chairs are either royal blue or navy blue to tie in with the cabinetry.  The upholstered pieces were only available in gray or black from this company so I reluctantly went for the black.  (My car had light leather seats and I did not like when my jeans wore off on them. I was afraid that would happen with the gray upholstery.)  I decided it could all be warmed up with some throw pillows, a rug, and a fresh coat of paint.

Here are the results. Drum roll please.....

This picture does not show the walls freshly painted. This is the old color that at
time of print was not completely painted. Our amazing custodial staff is painting
a little at a time and these steely gray walls are being replaced by IVOIRE, a Sherwin
Williams color that is a buttery tan.

You can see that this room is not merely furniture, it encompasses way more.  I spent a lot of time trying to personalize it and make it feel homey.  I purchased things from IKEA, At Home, The Fabric Shack, Marshalls/TJ Maxx, Walmart, and a local book store.  Online purchases were made from Ruggable and Seventh Avenue.  Ruggable makes a very interesting product. The rug is more like a fabric that gets put upon a pad.  The rug passed our Fire Inspector and is even machine washable. I thought this would be perfect for maintaining the cleanliness of the room and any spills that may happen due to the nature of the space. The coffee tables were very reasonable from Seventh Avenue. I wanted low profile tables that had a lot of glass so they did not visually take up a lot of room in the corner. I purchased adorable salt and pepper shakers for each table with fun sayings on them, along with the bright place-mats for a pop of color.  A new microwave was purchased and the old one was thrown out as it had seen better days....so there are now 2 clean microwaves for staff to access.  There is a coffee station that is absolutely adorable, loaded with coffee pods and teabags, cups, sweeteners, a frequent stop for many staff members. There is a coat rack from IKEA so staff members who have duty after lunch can hang their coats out of the way while eating. There are puzzle books: crosswords, Sudoku, Word Searches, and Jumbles, along with pens for those wanting to zone out for a few and truly take a break. Throw pillows camouflage the black upholstery and add some fun colorful touches. The cornice above the window to the hallway was built by my handy colleague, Darren, out of wood and I upholstered it using batting and a fabulous fabric that ties into the rug and pillow colors.  The only thing you can't see in these pictures is the new paint on the walls, which is called IVOIRE, by Sherwin Williams which is a buttery tan, which also picks up the color in the fabric cornice. The icy gray is now almost gone, with only one wall to paint behind the vending machines. 

Take a closer look here: 

Ruggable.com is where I chose to purchase
the rug. It is machine washable and thought that
would be perfect for cleanliness and a great
pop of color to balance out the black upholstery.

We are stocked up on coffee pods, tea bags at
our coffee station. You can see the cute salt and
pepper shakers too that we have for each table.  The
cabinetry above is stocked with plates, cups, sweeteners,
and utensils. The goal is for those who use them to replace
them as needed. 

The end tables and coffee tables were ordered online
from a company called Seventh Avenue.  The set was less than
$200 for the three tables and they look great. Plus some cute
accessories to make it feel a bit cozier.

These "frames" were from IKEA. I bought three of them
then stalked my colleagues on Facebook to get pictures of
family and friends to clip up here. There are a ton more
clips and I hope they will add to and/or replace
the pictures that are currently hanging. A touch of our homes and
our hearts!  This was a total hit with STAFF and completely

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the transformation that has taken place in this room. While there are other options for places staff members can eat lunch and convene, there has been an increase in the amount of staff actually utilizing this space, and more importantly coming together, socializing, and bringing sunshine into the lives of colleagues and friends. I'd call that a win-win, and an overall success! Has your staff lounge been re-done? Is this a project you are working on?  I hope you got some great ideas from seeing what has been done in our building.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Find It....Letter Recogntion

Have you ever seen those "Find It" Games that are filled with lots of things for little people to find? I've adapted it for my emergent readers and I am absolutely IN LOVE with my latest edition.  If you teach little people, this could be a great activity to put at the top of your list when school is back in session for the Fall.  Now I am an intervention teacher and I have small groups of students usually in K and 1st Grade.  I'm not doing this with a full classroom of students so you can determine whether or not this activity would be cost prohibitive to you or not. Or perhaps you can be creative and get donations from parents or other sources in order to finance the activity. However, if you choose this is for you, then let me tell you ALL about it.

When I first started making "Find It" jars with my students, I collected baby food jars for each of my kiddos so they could take one home with them.  The positive was that I could always gather a bunch of baby food jars and they were really inexpensive...and in fact FREE.  Now I'm not a mom, but I think that perhaps baby food doesn't come in jars anymore or at least the moms in my building do not buy baby food in jars.  I have had a lot of difficulty getting my hands on the quantities that I need so this summer, I decided to go another route. I decided to see if I could purchase "jars" and while I was at it, I wanted plastic in case of those pesky falls caused by clumsy hands. This is what I came up with and I am really liking the solution.  Although they are about $1.50 each, they are so well worth it in my opinion.

In addition to the bottles/jars, you need alphabet letter beads. You can use one type or more than one type. This summer, I lucked out and found some beads at The Dollar Tree, so I wasn't shy with my purchasing there, as I've never found them so inexpensively.  I still have some leftovers from previous years, so I will use those as well. When using the letter beads, I want each student to have at a minimum, one of each letter in the alphabet.  But in edition, I have them spell out their name in beads and I include a bunch of extra letter beads that they did not know based on their initial letter screening assessment.  That way they will learn the letters that are important to them (their name letters) and the letters that are important to me (the ones they do not recognize).  If you are not able to find letter beads at your local dollar store, you can always find them at your local craft store. And just a side note....beads are usually capital letters, not lowercase, at least that's what I have found.

To fill up the jar the rest of the way so they look like an authentic "Find It" Game, you need  Ice Cream Sprinkles.  I'm from Ohio and we called them Jimmies growing up. Although perhaps Jimmies meant either the chocolate only or the rainbow only. I'm not 100% positive. Anyway, I purchased mine awhile back but they came from Gordon Food Service in 25 ounce jars.  But I have since found them online for cheaper.  And I would use what I needed and save the rest for the following year. I figure if they are expired, it's no big deal as we are not eating them right?

I also include a shiny penny in each jar.  I tell my students that is for good luck.  For whatever reason, they really like the idea.

I began using whatever alphabet strips I had in my room when students would sort through the letter beads. They were encouraged to find a bead that matched each of the 26 letters.  But I have since made a fun sorting sheet just for this activity and occasion.  I printed them on card stock and laminated them on my personal laminator, so they are extremely durable and will be good to use in years to come.  If you would like to download this SORTING SHEET FREEBIE, you are more than welcome to do so by clicking on the link below.


Once your students have found all the letters you require or suggest, you can use a funnel and start pouring in the sprinkles into the jar.  Mix in the beads so they are spread throughout the layers of sprinkles, alternating sprinkles and beads, as well as the penny.  Leave a little space at the top of the jar so the sprinkles and beads can rotate through the jar. And this is what the final product will look like. 

So good luck with your project. If you use some different materials, I'd love to hear how you adjust this activity to meet your needs.  Comment below and let me know how it goes.  

And for more great letter and sound activities, please check out the link up below so you can see what some of my favorite TPT teacher author's have up their sleeves.  

Until Next Time, 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Word Work For the Whole Year, Meet Ziggy, and Final Wednesday Linky of the Year

One of my favorite things to teach during Language Arts is "Word Work".  As an intervention teacher, so often my struggling readers do not realize there are similarities between known words and unknown words. I love a good word work session to point this out to my Intervention Students, but used this task a ton when I was in the classroom as well. I also love using it as a sight word review, for all of my students but especially the youngest. So this activity is truly versatile.

All you truly need to do this activity is a set of letters- could be letter cards, letter tiles, or my personal favorite, magnetic letters as I love doing this activity on a magnetic board that hangs on the classroom wall.  My favorite magnetic letters are from Educational Insights. They come in a variety of sizes so I have a ton of the small ones, and a few sets of the big one for my magnetic board.  This is what they look like in case you want to take a peek.  The thing I love about them the most is that they are blue(consonants) and red(vowels). You can visually see the color pattern in the words, and your students can start to see that EVERY SINGLE WORD HAS AT LEAST ONE VOWEL.  This is key information for a student to realize.

I also love having my students sitting around me on the floor near the board so all can see and participate. Students are armed with a clipboard, recording sheet, and a pencil for recording the words they come up with during the lesson.

So what is on the board you may be wondering?  You can put any phrase or saying on the board that you would like. It can be seasonal, related to a holiday, associated with a theme/topic you are working on...the sky is the limits. I make sure the phrase has a variety of vowels in it usually, unless we are focusing on a particular word family and then the vowels are limited.  You will know when you have a phrase that is not working for a lesson as there will be very few words that can be made from the component letters. Here is one that we were working on in second grade intervention this week:

My rule is that my students can not use the words that we start with, so no "happy", "mother(s)", or "day".  In teaching my students to do this, I often times will encourage them to put a different beginning on the word and make word family words such as may, hay, say, pay, etc.  We learn how to add endings such as "ed" or "ing".  We don't focus on plurals and just add "s" to a word once per lesson. Once your kiddos get the hang of this routine, they truly could work for 45 minutes on this task.  Depending on what grade level you teach, your students can work on a variety of different skills. This is truly so easy to differentiate and I have used this with all grade levels from K-4th.  

Now because this is so popular with my students, I have to say after years of using this activity, I finally printed up an instruction sheet. I  duplicated this on card stock and laminated it so it is durable and easy to leave should I have a sub in my room. It is way more detailed than I could ever be in my lesson plan book.  Take a peek at it here and you can get a free download of this in my TPT store as well. You might consider tucking a copy into your sub folder for a last minute absence.

If in the event, you are not creative, don't think you can come up with the phrases for this word work, and just like something already prepped for you and your busy lifestyle, I have included a link to my Growing Bundle that is available in my TPT store. You will see a sample recording sheet for Chinese New Year below.  It also includes a second sheet so you can copy the recording sheets back to back. (Color and B&W are included too!) This bundle will have all the information you will need for an entire school year of word work, as well as all the recording sheets and phrases you will need (7-9 lessons per month).  It is not finished yet, but grows month by month and the charge for the product goes up each time something new is added.  So you can get a good deal on it still if you are interested in incorporating this super activity into your routine.  You can take a look at it here for more information and details.

Growing Magnetic Letter Move Around- YOU CAN STILL SAVE $24 OFF THE YEAR LONG PACKET!

Here is what Mary Jayne from Rockville, Maryland recently had to say about this growing bundle.
"I absolutely LOVE this activity.  I bought magnetic letters for my students but didn't have a structured activity to guide them.  Needless to say, the build a word rotation wasn't very effective. Then I found your activity and my kids are really benefiting from having something to guide them."

Now, for the really fabulous news.  After losing my mascot, Izzy, this past Labor Day Weekend, our home and hearts have been filled with our newest addition, Ziggy.  We picked up this little guy this past weekend, and he is just a little cutie pie!  He is spunky, playful, loves to chew, and loves to explore. He is especially fond of his sock monkey, which may be bigger than him! While I knew how much we missed Izzy, this little guy has made it even more obvious. We are so glad to hear the pitter pat on the floors and he has wiggled his way into our hearts in just a few short days. 

And one last little nugget.  Below you will find some great seasonal products from some of my favorite TPT friends.  Take a peek below, and perhaps you will find something you just must need prior to the end of the school year!

Happy Word Working!

Until Next Time, 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

End of the Year is Near and Puppy News!

Does it feel as if the year is winding down for you?  I'm always amazed how once standardized testing is complete, it seems as if there is a collective "sigh of relief" and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Our final day with students is May 25th and our last day is the 26th. That's one month to go.  My mom used to say, the older you get the faster time goes and she was certainly right about that.

So are you looking to find a fun end of the year treat for your students?  They are all over Pinterest for you to pick. I have used this one by Falling into First a few times and it's always fun for my primary students.  They are simple to prep and very low cost.  You can always find multi-packs of bubbles at this time of the year at the Dollar Store, Christmas Tree Shoppe, or Target.

Another fun option, which is incredibly inexpensive are these adorable door hangers. My students will get these too.  The fun graphics make these door hangers so festive. Simply print on card stock, cut out, and your students will love them. There are five different versions, the one pictured below plus four others with adorable summer boys and girls on them.  Just click on the link below and you can take a closer look at them.

Some of my TPT friends will be posting some great end of the year items for you to peek at below.  As for me, it is 3:30 a.m. on a weeknight and I'm heading back to sleep. I awoke thinking of our new puppy, which will be coming home this weekend.  Perhaps I'm trying to get used to sleepless nights again. It's been 17 years since I have had a puppy and the Hubs definitely doesn't know what he is in for!  How can we resist this adorable face. WISH US LUCK and check out Instagram and Facebook this weekend for the big adventure. I'm sure I will post a ton of cuteness.

Until Next Time,

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Lot of Sunshine for My Colleagues

I have mentioned before that I am in charge of the Sunshine Committee at my school.  We have just finished our state testing as well as MAP testing and we are all simply EXHAUSTED!  As chair of the committee, I love looking for ways for our staff to come together for fun, put a smile on their faces, and spread some sunshine.  So for the first time ever, I hosted a "Salad Bar Luncheon" for staff. Let me explain!

I printed and posted the above sign in key locations around our building to talk this activity up in order to maximize participation.  Next I posted a sign up in the office as I knew I couldn't do this alone, nor could the committee afford the whole luncheon. In order to dine, staff members had to bring in a salad ingredient.  My sign up sheet included various veggies, proteins, pasta salads, Ramen Noodle salads, Caprese salads, fun toppings, beverages, and crackers.  That way, staff members had the option of making it as easy or complicated as they wished.

Lettuces, salad dressings, plates, utensils, and napkins were all purchased with Sunshine Funds. (That was my job.)  I purchased my lettuce in bulk from Gordon Food Service, as well as some large bowls and utensils, so we could use them again in the future.

Upon arrival at school, staff members brought their veggies, toppings, beverages, and salads to the staff lounge where we loaded everything onto a cart.  All items were wheeled into our walk in refrigerator in the kitchen in order to keep chilled until lunch time.

In our building, our lunch times vary so lunch is served for various staff members anytime 10:45-2:00.  I staggered the times that food went out twice in hopes that things remained fresh and cold. And here is what our spread looked like! All staff members were encouraged to eat in the common staff lounge as opposed to isolated with their grade levels, and most did just that.  It was great to see everyone chatting, mingling, eating, and smiling.

And the best part....there are still leftovers for Friday's lunch.  Food is truly the way to make our staff members smile.  We are all so tired this time of the year, and it's always so well received and appreciated. So you may want to consider doing this at your school.  This truly is the time of year when we simply can not eat one more turkey sandwich.  A fresh, beautiful salad fueled everyone up for an afternoon of fun and learning.  Perhaps you will try this in your own building!

Until Next Time,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mr. Purple is the Winner

I have to say that I am slightly distracted these days.  Finally the Hubs and I got to pick out our new puppy this past weekend.  We lost our dog, Izzy this past Labor Day weekend.  Izzy was my dog before the Hubs and I got married. I brought Izzy home just a few weeks before school began in 2000, and had no idea what I was in for in regards to puppy training.  I swore right then, if I ever got another dog, it would be at the beginning of the summer, not the end. So that was my mission, to find another West Highland White Terrier as close to the end of the school year as I could. Also, you know that emptiness in the house when you take your dog to be groomed and things just don't seem quite right? We haven't gotten used to that emptiness feeling and so we decided now is the right time to get another dog.

We plan on getting another male puppy.  We were able to have first choice of the three males in the seven puppy litter. So we went this past weekend to have a look. The three males were roaming around the breeder's kitchen and all had a different color collar on...yellow, orange, and purple. All along I said, the first to come up to me would be our puppy.  That was Mr. Yellow. He was friendly, inquisitive, and social.  Mr. Purple was shaking like a leaf and we decided he was a bit too skittish.  And Mr. Orange was chewing on everything, including our shoelaces, shoes, and pant legs.  He was a little devil!  So we ruled him out but it certainly wasn't because of his looks.  Then Mr. Purple jumped into my lap, fell asleep for about 20 minutes, and stopped shaking. I started to have a change of heart at that point.  My Hubs said, "Well our wedding flowers were purple so maybe it's a sign." So now Mr. Purple is coming home with us in a few short weeks.

While it is not exactly the very end of school, we can make do for a few weeks with some excellent organization and helpers.  Then it will be "training camp" for Mr. Purple.  The easiest part is falling in love with these cute little puppies...the hardest part is finding a name that fits Mr. Purple's personality. That is to be determined.  So stop back for the big announcement soon.  But in the meantime, take a peek at this cutie patootie!  You will understand my total distraction once you see him.

Until Next Time,