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January Classroom Management {coming back after winter break}

Vacation has been lovely {Hamilton, family, food...} but my brain has started thinking about going back to school. This year we go back on a Wednesday so we only have a three day week which I think is the perfect way to transition back after eleven days off! 

I use the week after break as a time to reteach behavior expectations and almost do a mini version of the first 6 weeks. We focus on routines and procedures (reviewing bathroom, hand signals, how we come to the carpet, how we act on the carpet, how we walk in the hallway....the whole nine yards). 

We also focus on our 5 core values, reteaching them. I spend about a half a day on each, reading a book, brainstorming ways to show that attribute in real life and then students complete a mini book, with each page focusing on a different attribute. It’s super simple. But it’s a review of what we spent about a week and a half on back in September so the purpose is more to reframe their mindset coming back from break and setting expectations. 

I also introduce table points when we come back. I use a fuzzy heart jar the first 4 months of school, where we focus on a different core value until the jar is filled then we trade it in for something fun and we focus on a new core value. I keep using the jar but add in table points. Table points focuses less on the whole class and focuses (as it sounds) on each table. I look to see which tables are showing the core values {and cleaning up quickly, working quietly} and then they get a point. Whichever table gets the most points is the VIP table the next day which means the VIP sign hangs above their table and they get first play choice, I call them to line up first, they get to get their snacks first....I’m all about FREE and EASY rewards. 

Last year I had a pretty great class (I do this year too...I’m grateful to those cherubs!). So I thought “Oh I don’t need to do VIP table THIS year! They already know what to do!” Uh no. After a month of struggling after break, I realized VIP Table Points eliminates the need for the constant reminders...instead the reminders come in the form of highlighting the positives you notice and awarding points. Believe me, it’s a lot less draining to give positive feedback then corrective feedback! It’s also specific enough that each table feels proud to earn the point. They feel motivated. 

The last big thing we do is we revisit our classroom rules and our hopes and dreams. Students get back their hopes and dreams from September and then create a new hope and dream for the year looking at it through the lens of New Years Reaolutions. We also take down the four rules we created in the fall and decide if these rules are still serving us or if we need to create new ones.

 Okay: here’s my honest problem I have with both of these activities. I think it’s super important to create hopes and dreams and classroom rules. It helps set a purpose, it helps set the tone for the classroom and it helps build classroom community. BUT that said, after one week of focusing on hopes and dreams and classroom rules, I pretty much just ignore them. I do NOTHING to make their hopes and dreams come true. I literally NEVER focus on the classroom rules. I focus A LOT on our 5 core values and being a role model classmate but less on these two. And I hate doing things that have no purpose. So I’m wondering how you all make these living, breathing parts of your classroom instead of just a one and done activity.

I’m off to continue to enjoy the rest of vacation! I hope this gives some teachers with back to school blues some ideas! 

Anyone Out There...?

Hi Everyone!

I am pretty excited to be blogging again. Yes, I know. I pretty much get excited, then I get busy. I'm currently on winter break (and that's why I'm typing this...vacation = time, time = blogging). And also on a completely random side note I'm currently staring at my blog wondering WHY I still have Periscope in my toolbar. {Insert eye roll}. I need to update my blog ... but that terrifies me! I recently bought my own domain (as in literally 10 minutes ago) and I changed it over so I no longer have the little {.blogspot.com} in my url! It's just www.teachingvoraciouslearners.com now! I've only had this blog for, oh, about 7 years now. Took me long enough. So if anyone has any ideas/tips/recommendations for a blog rehaul, please let me know. I want it to be timeless, I want it to look more like a website vs. a blog, I want to not hate it in three years. 

One thing I've really struggled with having a blog is the style of my blog...do I want it to be orderly posts that teach? More narrative, scheduled posts that have tidbits on goodness? Or rambling posts that talk about whatever, whenever (pretty much how this blog entry is becoming). I really intended this blog post to be about a specific topic but instead I just started rambling. 

Also, super important question: Do people even read blogs anymore? I know I do, but I feel like most people just post things on Instagram, on their vlog or in a podcast. But, speaking of podcasts, I was recently listening to a podcast that predicted blogs will make a comeback in 2019 because people miss the long form that you can't really do on Instagram. 

You know what I hated about blogging though? How each post had to have a perfectly artistic and award winning layout with stellar images. What if I just want to write lots of words with no pictures at all? I mean that seems fun to me. I get that people need visuals and I get that having a single theme for a post = more eyes on your post, but I don't know. Sometimes I just miss words! The real question is: am I actually going to post this? I guess if you're reading it, you know the answer. 

Here's to blogging!

Brag Tags in Kindergarten!

I've wanted to use Brag tags in my classroom for a longgg time.

Seriously. Like even before I had a classroom. 

So this year around October I finally bought the storage container {this Akro-Mils 64 slot toolbox is the one I bought from Amazon) and created a folder on my computer to digitally collect all the brag tags I had bought on TPT. 

And, then. The container sat at my house for a month before I brought it in. 

Then it sat under my desk for another few weeks.

Until finally one weekend in a fit of inspiration, I planned out how I was actually going to use, organize and display the brag tags. I gave myself a few days to get the bulletin board organized, then I started. 

My container wasn't stocked AT ALL (I think I had about 5 Brag tags printed and laminated). 

All I had was the bulletin board ready and I had prepared a ring for each student. On each ring, I had a card with the students name on it.

But I began anyway. 

Literally had only the first row done when I started using brag tags!
I immediately loved the positive reinforcement and seeing the excitement of the students when they got their brag tags.  Once I saw how excited they were to get them, that motivated me to make more brag tags and to organize them in the container. 

Now I give out brag tags twice a week at the end of our daily meeting (typically Tuesday and Friday). Towards the end of the year I started giving them out right away when I noticed students doing something extraordinarily awesome throughout the day. To create a spot for each brag tag, I simply cut the brag tag in half, taped it in with double sided tape and then put the laminated tags behind them. I also hole punched them one by one after laminating (a bit tedious - I saw on Instagram a teacher used a drill to create the holes in a whole stack of uncut brag tags...maybe I need to invest in a drill!). 

More brag tags added!
The funny thing is in retrospect brag tags are a super simple way of positive reinforcement. And it's easy. Really. It is. Once it's set up, you just choose when you're giving the brag tags and what brag tags students are getting. And I love that it forces ME to recognize positive behavior in ALL kids, both for the kids who do a great job all day AND for the kiddos who might struggle a little more.

Container in May...Almost completely filled up!
One thing that has helped me is to create a brag tag spreadsheet {yes, I love a good spreadsheet}. This way I can easily see what brag tags students have already received. Right now, I'm trying to give a new type of brag tag each time, but I know eventually I'll run out!

I give brag tags to reinforce our core school values, to reinforce our classroom rules and expectations and to celebrate holidays and birthdays. I know that technically brag tags are just for reinforcing classroom expectations as a classroom management technique but I love using them as a way to recognize holidays as well, especially in kindergarten.

I use brag tags that I've created, both my Technology Brag Tags, my Classroom Brag Tags, and brag tags from my Sticker Card Behavior Incentives pack,  as well as brag tags created by Ashley Schroeder and Angie Olson. I'm constantly adding to my collection by making more and by searching out new ones other people have made. Some of the brag tags you see in my container I created for my own use but haven't added to my TPT store yet.

Let me know if you have any questions!

End of the Year Ramble

Hey there! Well, it's been a longgg time since I've blogged. I almost did a Five for Friday post last Friday but then I remembered how much energy blogging takes....so I quit. I know! I mean I just talked to my students last week about the importance of not quitting! But it was a Saturday morning and I didn't think I had all the pictures ready, so I stopped. Instead I worked on some TPT products. So I didn't really quit per se. I like to think I just reallocated my time and energy where I would be more efficient and productive.

So I'm writing this post instead. It's rambling. It has no theme. It will probably have very few pictures (am I the only one who can never remember to take pictures at the end of the year??). It's almost May. I have 34 days until summer. This year has been a rollercoaster to say the least! Hired 5 days before school started, learning a lot on the spot, handling A LOT of big feelings (my own and the students ;)), working 12 hour days pretty much everyday since August 25th. But it's weird. Now that it's almost done, I'm gonna miss it. Maybe I have Stockholm Syndrome? ;) 

Luckily right now it looks like I'll be in the same grade and classroom next year, but our budget and the state budget are a bit up in the air so I have fingers crossed and prayers raised!! 

Here are some things I'm excited about for the end of the year:

Life Planner. I joined the pre perks (not the official name - my Sunday brain can't remember the name) group with Erin Condren. So I can place my order TOMORROW! I really am loving the new colorful design this year. I know sometimes people buy a Life Planner and don't end up using it, but I USED mine. Despite being pretty tech, I need a paper and pencil planner. That thing was my bible this year. If I don't write it in my planner, it's not happening! Every morning I'd check it to preview my day ahead. I'm tempted to get a Teacher Planner but for lesson planning, I really am a digital girl. I have a template I print and add to my lesson planning binder. That way when things change I don't have to rewrite it all {for some reason, rewriting is a huge pet peeve of mine...I like to be efficient}. Having digital plans allows me to easily retype or copy and paste things.

See this post for more information on my spring classroom management strategies {yes, TWO posts in ONE weekend}.

We planted seeds on Earth Day and I've loved watching them grow with my students - so fun! Ironically, as as kid, I wasn't big into gardening. My family was though and I grew up with flower gardens galore as well as a large vegetable garden. I always found it to be a ton of work and everything took so long to grow and you got dirt everywhere! And you were destined that once your hands got dirty, you got some hair in your mouth! But now I love gardening. I love digging in the dirt, the magic of planting the seeds and watching them sprout, watering them and rooting for them to grow stronger and stronger until they bear fruit {or vegetables}. Now translating that excitement to my students is amazing. We planted beans and flowers and we are keeping track of the changes in a chart on the board. 

See this post about how I've been organizing my classroom. {I know...THREE posts after ZERO posts? And I didn't even drink any caffeine!}

And that's all I have right now!

Happy Sunday everyone! Hope you enjoyed this ramble ;). 

Spring Classroom Management Strategies

Over spring vacation I knew I had to do something for the end of the year for behavior. Since this is my first year teaching K I was a little stumped. I decided to create two new behavior incentives for the end of the year: Sticker Cards and a Secret Star Student, as well as one more informal strategy.

Everyday, I select someone to be the Secret Star Student of the Day. It's a secret all day long, until the end of the day, when if they are a role model student, they get their name announced and they receive a special brag tag. My favorite part of this is when the other students cheer when the students name is announced.

With the sticker cards, each student gets a sticker card starting at red. I attach a page of stickers to my lanyard and when students are doing the right thing {I'm focusing A LOT on following directions right now}, they get a sticker. You got your book bin and are set up for private reading? Sticker! I asked you to sit at your table after coming in from lunch and you did? Sticker! It really helps me ignore the misbehavior and focus on the positive behavior. When I do this, I find it decreases the negative behavior because a) they want a sticker; and b) they don't get attention for the misbehavior and their classmates are less motivated to join in because they want a sticker! After they have filled up their sticker cards, they get to trade them in at the end of the day for a new card and for a reward. I keep track on a chart when they trade it in and what for. I have a list of items they can trade the cards in for {yes, this list was made by me. I thought of a variety of things my students have expressed interest in over the year and then decided what works for me. I know, selfish end of the year teacher.} After the student has traded in their card, once they have received their reward, I highlight it that way I know it's done.

Something else I've been doing that's a little less formal is having them echo my directions. I started this after last week at the end of Readers Workshop, I did our typical clean up signals and a minute later looked around and NO ONE (okay maybe like 3 kids) was cleaning up. So now after I give the direction, I ask them, what did I say? And they repeat it back to me. Because sometimes they genuinely don't hear. And sometimes they THINK they hear, but they end up doing something different then I instructed. This helps them process the directions and it helps the "non-listeners" hear the direction multiple times from me and their classmates.

Here's to managing the end of the year wiggles!

Spring Cleaning Bug!

If you've been watching my IG story, you know this past week I've been on a bit of an organizing frenzy {as I do EVERY spring! But this year, I have a messy classroom at my disposal so it's worse!}. 

I started with my cabinets. The top pictures are the before and the bottom pictures are the after. I have pretty much organized all of the cabinets next to my door and am about halfway through organizing my cabinets nearest my computer. I have since added labels and organized even MORE...when I finish everything, I will definitely share more pictures!

Then I attacked my classroom library. I know, it looks the same! But before they weren't leveled - I had an amazing parent volunteer who leveled them all for me. Even still it took me about three hours to organize them all into containers. 

For next year, I want different containers {the red just doesn't work for me} and different labels. But that's really just appearance...the important part is that the actually leveling and sorting is done!

A post shared by Katie (@voraciousteacher) on
I also revamped my teacher tool box. This photo is from when I was about halfway done. As a tech teacher, I didn't have a lot of storage space so I used it mainly as a place for students to access materials they would need during class. Now I changed it to a storage space for my own materials. This helped me streamline A LOT! These materials used to take up about three cabinet shelves and now only take up one. 

My Focus for 2017

I've believed for a long time that the key to a happy life is balance. Not letting one thing outweigh others. Making sure to make time for all the things that make you happy, because if you spend your time on only one or two things you love, you'll end up despising them. 

Now, it's SUPER easy for me to say that, but it's actually really HARD for me to do that. I tend to follow whims of passion and moments of inspiration until I look up and realize hours have passed without me focusing on anything else. Then I don't work on that thing for a week, two weeks, a month. Because I've wrung out every idea and ounce of creativity related to it in that inspired session. 

Now that's not necessarily a bad thing. It can actually save a lot of time, instead of spending little bits of time everyday, getting it all done at once can feel great. And I firmly believe that you should take advantage of inspiration because inspiration can turn a chore into a very fulfilling experience. 

However, that said, this tunnel vision of productivity can lead to not having time or energy for other things. Things that NEED to be focused on little bit by little bit EVERY day. Things like running. Things like relationships with family and friends. Even things like TPT or this blog. 

I'm going to build a more consistent blog reader by blogging a little bit, more consistently instead of sitting down and spending twelve hours on my blog then not touching it for two months {NOT saying this happened to me recently or anything!}. 

So my goal for 2017, in teaching, in running, in my relationships, in this blog, is balance. Anytime I start to feel a little burnt out by one area or I am feeling uninspired, step back and do something else. Chance are I've been spending WAY too much time in that one area and I've lost my focus and my inspiration. 

P.S.As a special THANK YOU to my blog readers, I whipped up this New Years Pennant Freebie
I can't wait to hang this pennant in my classroom to greet students on their first day back from break and I can't wait to see how other people use it in theirs! Grab it here!

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