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, Remind.com, 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!

July 25, 2016

Monday Made It {I'm On a Roll!}

I've already mentioned this, but it bears repeating...I have been one lazy teacher this summer!

My sweet kiddos have been kind enough to allow me to sleep until 7:30 each morning {this may not seem late to some, but Princess A has been an early riser since birth...she is up almost every day at 5:00!}. They have gotten into the habit of turning on PBS {remember, we did away with dish TV several months ago, so their viewing options are limited}, making themselves breakfast, and reading or playing on their tablets. Ah, I'm loving this phase.

I've also mastered the art of the nap. Seriously. I could win a prize for my napping skills. I'm not talking about cat naps, either. I'm talking about three-hour-long, deep-sleeping, don't-wake-me-up-or-I'll-bite-your-head-off naps. I'm going to have some serious adjusting to do when August 15th rolls around, and I won't get my daily nap. But, I don't care to think about that just yet.

I've also been reading voraciously. Since we don't have TV anymore and my beloved Bravo TV is no more {there was a pretty substantial mourning period, but I'm OK now}, I've been downloading books onto my Kindle like it's my job. I stayed up until midnight last night to finish this one:

Let me clarify: I didn't stay up late to finish it because it was such an amazing book. Rather, I wanted to get it finished so I could start reading this one:

I. Can't. Wait.

But in between my marathon napping and reading, I've also managed to get some work-related things accomplished. So, I'm linking up with Tara over at 4th Grade Frolics to share what I've been up to!

I never thought Monday would be my favorite day of the week!

If you like me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram {if you don't, I'd love it if you did!}, you know that I started taking classes this summer for my Administration I certificate. I've never really dreamed of being anything other than an early childhood teacher, but my former principal {who I adore and respect} kept suggesting that I look into pursuing my administration certification. So, when a good friend and colleague told me that they were offering all of the classes that I need at a local college twenty minutes from my house, I decided to go for it! And, of course, I had to get myself organized!

I nabbed these free chevron binder covers from Write in the Middle and made myself a binder to keep all of my course materials organized.

How do you celebrate birthdays in your classroom? I had always given out crowns or pencils, but last summer, I came across the idea of making birthday blogs on social media. I made them for my kiddos last year, and they were a HUGE hit! This year, I got everything I needed from Dollar Tree, and I spent less than twenty dollars!

Slinkies and tops and yoyos and pencils...oh, my! And they are color-coordinated, too! {I may have added a little sweet treat, too. I couldn't resist!}

I grabbed Primarily Speaking's adorable birthday homework passes, and they completed the bags perfectly. 

The finished product!

I wanted to get a jump on making little gifts for my kiddos to give to their teachers on the first day of school. I nabbed some cute pens and notepads in {what else?} the Dollar Spot at Target, downloaded some adorable free tags, and wrapped everything up with a cute raffia ribbon.

Simple, but cute!

OH! I forgot to mention something super awesome and exciting! I met my blogging buddy, Ashley, from The Sassy School Teacher last week! 

We talked. And talked. And talked. We had SUCH a good time! I can't wait to see her again in a few short weeks at our Maryland Teacher Meet Up in Baltimore! Speaking of the Meet Up...

Spread the word! Share the news! 
{Click on the image above to head over to the event on Facebook to sign up!}

This Meet Up is for all Delmarva teachers {you don't have to be a blogger}, and we have some amazing giveaways planned! Seriously, y'all. Here are just a few of our giveaways:
And those are just some of the items being given away at our Meet Up! We'd love for you to join us if you're in the Delmarva area!!

Head on over to 4th Grade Frolics and link up!

July 4, 2016

Monday Made It (Two Weeks in a Row!)

I can't believe I remembered to participate in another Monday Made It!

My brain has been on vacation lately. No, really. It has literally been on vacation. We just returned from a week in western Pennsylvania, visiting my husband's amazing family. There was a lot of napping, eating, four-wheeling, exploring, berry picking, and s'mores. Lots and lots of s'mores.

This was Deedle at 4:00 in the afternoon on the second day we were there. I had to wake him up from a three hour nap. Not an easy task...the boy is a beast when he is woken up.

My three favorite people, watching a painted turtle make its way back into the pond. 

While we were away, I had a huge burst of creative energy, and I started updating//editing/improving the products in my TPT store. It was long overdue! 

I decided that a couple of my freebies needed some attention. The first project I tackled was my Reading Interest Survey. It has been downloaded 1,200 times on TPT, but it needed a major overhaul.
Old version. Ew.

New version. Better, right? {Click on the pic above to grab this freebie!)}

I also decided to whip up a simple writing checklist for my students to use when writing independently. Is it just me, or do you find yourself saying the same things, over and over again? "Did you remember to use a capital letter at the beginning of your sentence? Did you add a period to the end? Did you use finger spaces between your words?" Hopefully, this checklist will encourage your students to review and revise their writing without being reminded.

{Click on any of the pics above to go grab this freebie for yourself!}

My next Monday Made It has absolutely nothing to do with school, but with one of my other favorite things: food. My husband, who is really into healthy living and eating, found this amazing recipe for chicken and avocado quesadillas. 

Mashed avocado, diced chicken, chopped red pepper, black beans (I didn't have any, so I left them out), goat cheese (YUM!), and shredded mozzarella. UH-mazing. I didn't take this photo, by the way; the food disappeared too quickly for me to snap a pic!

It's a rainy, gloomy evening here on the Shore, so my evening plans include my Kindle and a cup of hot tea. Hopefully, we'll get to see some fireworks tomorrow.

Happy Fourth of July!