December 17, 2016

You Make a Difference!

As a teacher, I don't always know the impact that I have had on my students. True, I've heard the occasional heart-warming story about an especially remarkable teacher who inspired her students to go on to do remarkable things. I sometimes receive kind, thoughtful notes of thanks from the parents of my students. And once in awhile, I even have former students come back to visit me, just to give me a hug or to say "Hello." These are all wonderful experiences, and they remind me why I became a teacher in the first place. It is not every day, however, that a former student seeks me out to tell me that is she considering becoming a first grade teacher because of the experience she had in my class ten years ago. What this beautiful, poised, articulate, sixteen year-old doesn't know, though, is that the year that she was in my first grade class was one of the most difficult years I've ever had, both personally and professionally.  Most mornings, her sweet face was what motivated me to get out of bed and go to work. I'm not usually one to share personal details on my blog, but this story bears telling.

Ten years ago, I was teaching first grade for the first time after having taught Kindergarten and Pre-K for five years. I had a new administrator, our school's population was booming, and I was teaching in a former teachers' lounge (it was tiny). I tried to maximize the space I had, but we were still cramped, and I felt claustrophobic. The silver lining was that I had a wonderful class. I was especially excited to have a little girl, named Faith, in my class. Her mother worked with my close friend, so I had had the opportunity to meet Faith on several occasions, and she was an absolute joy: she had a sweet, gap-toothed smile that lit up the room, and she was incredibly enthusiastic about school. In short, she was the student that we all dream about!

In October, I found out that I was pregnant with our first baby. I was equal parts thrilled and terrified, and I couldn't wait to share the news with my students (in retrospect, I should have). I read them the book, Our Teacher's Having a Baby, by Eve Bunting, and the students' reactions were priceless. The week before my husband and I prepared to travel to Western Pennsylvania to visit his family for Thanksgiving, I started to sense that something wasn't right with the pregnancy. I called my midwife in a panic, and she assured me that everything was fine and that it was safe to travel. On Thanksgiving night, though, I knew for certain that I was starting to lose the baby. By the time we arrived at the emergency room in Maryland, it was too late. I lost the pregnancy at nine weeks, and I stayed home for a week to process what had happened and to physically recover.  An understanding colleague was kind enough to find an age-appropriate way to explain to my students what had happened, but their innocent questions still threw me for a serious loop when I returned to work.

I only worked for a week and a half before it was time for Winter Break, and the week we returned to school, I had a run-in with my administrator. Between leftover pregnancy hormones and the discomfort that I felt professionally, I really started to struggle. Looking back, I'm ashamed of my behavior that year: I was short-tempered, I snapped at my students, and I didn't have any patience for poor performance and bad behavior. My students and their families deserved more from me.

Through it all, though, it was Faith's smile that I saw in the morning as I lay in bed, trying to muster up the motivation and the enthusiasm to face my twenty-two little first graders. I just couldn't bear to let her down. I made it through the remainder of the school year, and in March, I found out I was expecting sweet Princess A. I waited to read Our Teacher's Having a Baby until my second trimester this time, and my students were thrilled to find out that I was expecting again.

At the end of the school year, I had the opportunity to transfer to another school in my county, and I taught third grade there for three years. The year that I was expecting Deedle, I had Faith in my third grade class. What an unexpected treat to be able to be her teacher twice!

Now, Faith is sixteen years old, and she is debating a career in either teaching (YAY!!) or nursing. She reached out to me on Facebook, and she asked me for some advice and how I decided to become a teacher. Now, that's a tough one! Here's the response I sent her:

Hi Faith! It's so great to hear from you! I love being able to keep up with you via Facebook...looks like things are going really well for you! Hard to believe you're starting to look at colleges..sure makes me feel old! Trying to decide between nursing and teaching is a tough choice; both are challenging, yet incredibly rewarding careers. I always knew that I wanted to work with children (my mom ran an in-home daycare when I was growing up, so I was always helping her), but it wasn't until after I spent a year teaching music and preschool (yep, both!) at a private school right after college that I knew I wanted to make teaching my career. I had to go back to school to get a second degree and my certification, but it was well worth the hard work. I've been teaching now for fifteen years, and there are so many things I love about my job. First, it has never felt like a job; every day is different, and every day, something new, fun, or exciting happens. I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. But more than that, I love my job because there is nothing that compares to the moment that a child figures out the "reading code" and reads independently and with confidence for the first time; I still get goosebumps when it happens! I won't lie to you: teaching is time-consuming, heart-wrenching, and exhausting, but in my opinion, it is the best career out there. Regardless of what path you choose, Faith, I know without a doubt that you will be successful; you were, and always will be a remarkable young woman, and I know that you will go far! Please let me know if I can do anything to help as you work toward making a decision; you're always welcome to come spend some time in my classroom if you'd like to get a better feel for the profession. Best of luck!

She decided that she would like to come spend some time in my classroom, so yesterday, she spent the afternoon with my hopped-up, Christmas-crazy little first graders. She was amazing with them, and they all adored her. They can't wait for her to come back!

While she was in my classroom, we had the opportunity to chat, and I was completely floored when she shared some of the memories she has of the year I taught her in first grade. While I thought our classroom was cramped and claustrophobic, she happily recalled sitting in our cubby area, playing game after game of "Sparkle." She didn't mention remembering my first pregnancy or how short-tempered I was that year, but she did mention how excited she was when I told them that I was pregnant with Princess A. And the best part? When she looks back on all of her school experiences, she considers first grade to be her best one. She is leaning toward going to school to work toward a degree in elementary education, and ideally, she would like to teach first grade.

So, see? We never really know the impact that we have on our students.

As it turns out, I needed Faith that year as much as she needed me. And for that, I will always be grateful to her.

November 26, 2016

Time to be Thankful {and a GIVEAWAY!}

I'm a blogging slacker. But I promise, I've been really active on both Instagram and Facebook! It's just my poor little blog that's been taking a hit.

So, what have I been up to these past few months? LOTS!! Stick with me as I fill you in on what has been happening in my little world, and there will be a fun giveaway at the end of the post!

The beginning of the school year was hectic, which is to be expected. But it only took a month or so to get routines and expectations established, and I quickly discovered that I have been blessed (again!) with a group of fun, hard-working, special little firsties.

This picture was taken by our superintendent during the first week of school. Smiles and raised hands make my heart happy!

During the first few weeks of school, I realized that my classroom really needed some flexible seating options during our Daily Five rotations. So, I attempted my first Donors Choose project, and I was incredibly fortunate to have my project fully funded in less than a week!

We are now the proud owners of four fuzzy rugs, two bean bag chairs, two yoga ball chairs, and four bounce cushions. These new seating options have completely transformed my rotations, and I'm so grateful!

It's not all about the kiddos (well, it is). But I also decided to use some of my TPT earnings to make my own work space a little more "me."

"Hamilton" quotes behind my desk make me happy!

My favorite casual Friday shirt. Do you sense a theme (or an obsession)?

In an effort to keep both my students and myself better organized this year, I did some revamping of old systems.

My old filing system is on the left. It worked for awhile, but now that we're using Engage NY for math, there are TONS more papers to file! So I am now using 3-drawer storage to keep my weekly files organized. I'm loving it!

My kiddos are becoming more organized, too! Every Monday morning, they are given time to get their desks straight for the week. The Desk Fairy and Desk Police (Princess A) visit on Thursday after school. It's been super motivating for my students!

Over the summer, a good friend and teaching colleague pressured convinced me to work toward earning my Administrative Certificate. I took my first course over the summer, and this coming week, I'll finish up my second class. I've always loved school (obviously!), so I don't mind the class time or work that's involved, but it does make life a bit more hectic than it already was.

I'm not a huge fan of reading from textbooks, but the class that I'm currently taking is really interesting!

So now that you've been kind enough to stick with me through this meandering blog post. it's time for a GIVEAWAY! I just posted a new product in my TPT store, and I'd love to give you the chance to win it. It's my High Frequency Word Fluency and Fun Pack! The description is below:

Are you looking for a fun, interactive way for your students to practice their sight words daily? I created this file to help my little ones practice and reinforce their quarterly sight words. They must read each sight word out loud as a class, and then, the students do a simple exercise (run in place, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc.) for about ten seconds. You can either move the slides manually (I use my remote pointer as I walk around the classroom), OR you can set your own timing in the PowerPoint file so that the slides move automatically.

These words are the high frequency words that my district assesses each quarter, so they may be different than yours, but this file is FULLY EDITABLE! You can edit it to meet your needs! Each quarter is a different color to help you stay organized.

All you have to do to enter is leave a blog post comment, telling me what you are thankful for this holiday season, and head on over to my Facebook page (I'd love it if you'd "like" my page, but it isn't mandatory). The giveaway begins today, and it will end on Princess A's ninth birthday, December 2nd.

Stay tuned for a fun Maryland Instagram hop that's coming soon!

August 14, 2016

First Ever Maryland Teacher Meet Up! {Plus a Giveaway!}

So, yesterday, a few bloggy friends {Michelle from A Pocketful of Primary, Ashley from The Sassy School Teacher, and Caitlin from Cait's Cool School} and I held our first Maryland Teacher Meet Up, and it was even more amazing than I could have imagined! Teachers from all over Maryland traveled to Baltimore to join us, and the food, conversation, and new friendships made were just fantastic!

What a creative, lively group of ladies!

The lighting wasn't the best, but the venue was great! We held it at Langermann's in Canton, and we had the entire top floor to ourselves. There was plenty of room for everyone, and the set-up was perfect.

Did I mention the food??? I love a good brunch buffet, and this one didn't disappoint. There was fresh fruit, some delicious sweet bread {not sure what it was, but it was tasty!}, pancakes, bacon, sausage, home fries {with Old Bay, naturally}, and some of the best grits I've ever had. I'm not ashamed to admit that I went back for seconds.

 I thoroughly enjoyed passing out the giveaway prizes to our attendees; it felt like Christmas in August!
{Apologies for the reflection in my glasses.}

Speaking of giveaways, our meet up wouldn't have possible without the incredible generosity of some amazing teacher bloggers and small businesses. THANK YOU so much to all of our sponsors!

Check out all of the amazing goodies that Heather from Recipe for Teaching walked away with!

Aren't they the cutest? Kimberly from Flipping Into Kindergarten, Heather from Recipe for Teaching, and Amanda from Primarily Penguins

Yay for Amanda! She scored some great prizes, too!

Check out all of Kimberly's loot!

We don't want you to feel left out of all of the fun! So we decided to give away one of our swag bags to one lucky winner! 

The swag bag contains the following:

- a Read-n-Go bag from Seat Sack
- a GoNoodle lanyard
- a Teachers Pay Teachers water bottle
-a Teachers Pay Teachers bottle of hand sanitizer
- a pamphlet from Sheila Jane Teaching

Here's how to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh! And one more thing! Cristin from The Pampered Teacher was kind enough to offer our blog readers a special coupon code to use on her site! Anyone who uses the coupon code "Cheers2MD" will receive $2.00 off any order, plus a surprise bonus gift! The coupon code is good through September 1, 2016.

Thank you again to everyone who made our meet up possible! We can't wait for next year!

July 28, 2016

The Parent Communication Tool That Changed My Life

I've been meaning to blog about this topic for the past six months, but life kept getting in the way! You know how it goes. But before the new school year starts, I wanted to be sure to tell you about the parent communication tool that literally changed my life. Seriously.

{Disclaimer: This post is entirely my professional opinion. I am not being paid to discuss Bloomz. It is simply a tool that I found works well for me in my classroom.}

Last summer, as I was doing my usual blog stalking reading, I happened to catch Run! Miss Nelson's Got the Camera's post about an app that replaces all of the other communication tools in your classroom. I was intrigued! I've tried every trick in the book to keep parents informed about what is happening in my classroom: weekly and monthly newsletters,, frequent reminders, emails, etc. You name it, I tried it. Each tool had its benefits, but it frustrated me that there wasn't one singular tool that could do it all. Until now.

Well, hello, Bloomz! Bloomz is "one app for all your parent communication. Teachers can safely communicate with parents, share class photos and updates, and coordinate through volunteer and conference signups." It literally does it all. So, how does it work?

Before I tell how you amazing Bloomz is, just keep in mind that it is all entirely FREE! FREE! It's a no-brainer!

OK, here goes. First, you'll need to create a user name and password. Simple. Once you've logged into Bloomz as a teacher, you are ready to set up a class.

Just click on "Add/Join Class." You'll be asked what your primary role is. Click "Teacher." 

You should be able to choose your school from the drop-down menu. Assign your class a name. I used "Mrs. Shafer's Class," to keep it simple. You'll also be given the option to enable or disable parent-to-parent communication. I enabled communication between parents because I wanted to remove myself from the role of the "middle man" when it came to birthday parties, play dates, etc. 

See? There's the class I created! Easy, right?

You can even customize your profile picture and cover photo! It's like Facebook for the classroom.

The next step is to invite parents to join your class on Bloomz. So, at our Get Acquainted Conferences, I explained what Bloomz is to all of my parents, and I made sure to have them all provide me with a current email address that they check regularly.

{Side note: I've been using Peace, Love, and First Grade's Meet the Teacher pack for the past two years, and I absolutely love it! This page is from her editable pack.}

I made sure to reassure my parents that Bloomz is completely secure. It is an invitation-only network, and new members can only gain access through an invitation from an existing member. As if that isn't secure enough, parents are required to be verified again once they have been invited or approved by a Bloomz-recognized school.

Now, it's time to invite parents to join your class on Bloomz!

Just click on "Invite."

Click on your class.

Click on "Parent."

You'll be given the option to enter your parents' email addresses manually or use Gmail. I typed mine manually, and it didn't take me long at all. Pinky swear.

Bloomz generates a generic email to send to your parents, but you can personalize this, as well.

Once you've invited your parents, you will be notified when your parents have joined your class. With a little determination {and maybe a little obnoxious pestering}, I was able to get all of my parents to join by the third week of school.

So, how do you start posting on Bloomz? Easy!

Start by clicking on "Create." 

You'll be given the options below. To create a post that will show in your "Feed," click on "Post."

 I typically used this option more often than any of the others. I used it to remind parents about important upcoming events, to let them know about any important papers that might be coming home with their child, to attach documents that I {may have} forgotten to send home during the school day, and to post pictures of the kiddos learning. I mentioned that this fantastic app allows you to post pictures, didn't I??? Parents absolutely loved being able to see their children working hard in the classroom.

 Once you click "Post," your invited parents can view the post.

You can also choose to add an announcement to the top of your "Feed" for a designated period of time. This is really helpful if you have an early dismissal day or parent/teacher conferences coming up.

Bloomz gives you the option to message your whole class, but I usually chose to message individual parents when the need arose {more on that a bit later}.

Goodness forbids if there is ever an emergency, you can notify parents, using the "Alert" option.

The "Events" option is AMAZING. This is where you can add important events to your class calendar.

I love that Bloomz will send parents a reminder before an event! No missed parties or conferences!

I love all of the choices you have when you create an event. Having these options allowed me to do away with a Room Parent. Say what? All I had to do was create the event, note the date and time, and let parents know what items were needed. Simple! Parents could see what other parents had already signed up to bring, so I didn't end up with 48 cupcakes or 5 bags of cheese curls {that may have happened a time or two}.

There is a separate option, completely devoted to volunteers!

You can dictate whether you need items {this can also be done in the "Event" section} or people. You can let parents know what you need them to do and how long you will need them to be in the classroom. Oh, and again, Bloomz will send parents a reminder before their designated volunteer time!

When I first started working at my current school, our school secretary would schedule all of our conferences for us. We were spoiled, I know. Last year, after our secretary retired, we had to start scheduling our own conferences. Bloomz took all of the time and stress out of the process. Just click on "Parent Teacher Conferences."

 All I had to do was note the date, what time I wanted conferences to start and end, and the duration of each conference. I could even build in my own lunch time and breaks between conferences!

The last feature I wanted to tell you about is the messaging option.

In the top right corner of your screen, click on "Message." 

Here, you are given the option to select to whom you'd like to send a private message. You can choose one person or several individuals. This was UH-mazing! If a student had an emotional morning when a parent dropped him/her off, I could message the parent a short time later to reassure him/her that the child was feeling better. Or, if a child forgot his/her lunch, I could message the parent and ask him/her to drop it off. I didn't have to find coverage to run to the office to make a phone call. I didn't have to deal with sending hand-written notes back and forth. Quick, efficient, easy.

As if all of these amazing features aren't enough to convince you to try Bloomz, I got an exciting email a few weeks ago about some updates coming in August!

My favorite of these new features are the behavior tracking option and the video sharing! Last year, I created a private YouTube channel, and I posted links to it on Bloomz so parents could see their children in the classroom. This feature will eliminate that extra step. I can't wait!

Last year, I had my parents sign a district-generated release, giving me permission to post pictures of their children on social media {I checked in advance to make sure that this covered my posts on Bloomz, as well}. This year, however, I went ahead and decided to create my own form, asking for parents' permission to post pictures of their children on Bloomz and on my blog. 

If you decide to give Bloomz a try, click on the picture above to grab this freebie. {Again, you may want to check with your district before you send this release home, just to be sure that you're covered. You can never be too careful!}

I can't tell you how much positive feedback I got from both parents and administrators about Bloomz last year. My principal even had me present an inservice about it last October to encourage other teachers to try it! Both of my children's teachers used it, and I can honestly say that it was a godsend {especially since I was the Room Parent for both classrooms...organizing class parties was a snap!}. I heard from one parent who didn't live locally, and he loved being able to see what his daughter was doing in the classroom each day {he was even kind enough to email my principal to tell her how much he loved Bloomz!}.

UPDATE: One of my wonderful parents from this past school year kindly reminded me that Bloomz also helps to promote communication at home! She loved knowing what her son had been working on in school during the day, and she could easily jumpstart conversations about his learning at home. {Thank you, Melissa!}

I highly recommend Bloomz to all classroom teachers; it will unequivocally change the way you communicate with parents for the better! Let me know if you have any questions about Bloomz...I'd be more than happy to answer them!