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How to Use Leadership Notebooks in Your Primary Classroom

When I first heard about Leadership Notebooks, I was a little skeptical about how well they'd work in my classroom. The whole idea behind data notebooks is that students take ownership of their learning by setting their own goals and tracking their progress. That's a fabulous idea, of course, but it felt a little overwhelming when I thought about trying to implement it with primary students. How do you create and maintain Leadership Notebooks with kids who are still learning how to read and write?


Something I've learned about primary students over the years is that you always, always have to think about students' background knowledge before you implement any kind of routine, system, or lesson. This is a best practice for working with any age group, really, but it holds especially true for the little ones. Something like a Leadership Notebook won't be meaningful unless students understand what a goal is in the first place, or how to keep track of progress over time.  I decided to give student Leadership Notebooks a try in my class, but first spent some time building the background knowledge I knew my little friends would need to be successful.


I started with topics I knew my students would understand. A 5- or 6-year-old might not be able to articulate the reading comprehension skill they are working towards mastering, but they can certainly track things like their reading level, their sight words, and their behavior. As students grow in their academics, they'll also grow in their self-awareness, and they will be able to set more substantial goals.


I can't stress how valuable this process is. When I first introduced Leadership Notebooks in my first grade class, I kept it very simple. I had the kids circle their current reading level and the reading level they hoped to work towards, choose one math practice standard to focus on, and track their sight words and behavior. That's it!



The beauty of Leadership Notebooks is that they are a living resource--students can always add to them. By the end of the year, my students were also writing leadership goals and in-depth, individual goals. They learned how to do this because they started small. The thrill of success that came with meeting small goals gave them confidence to set bigger ones.


We also had fun keeping track of celebrations! A whole section of our Leadership Notebooks was dedicated to storing school awards, positive notes, high test scores, etc.



Helping your students create their own Leadership Notebooks takes some time, patience, and lots of training, but by the end of the year your students will have a time capsule of sorts to capture their year of growth in your class, and they will have learned some valuable goal-setting skills that they will carry with them into their adult lives.



So, what do you think? Will you give Student Leadership Notebooks a try in your primary classroom? Click here to grab a copy of this Leadership Notebook for your students!


My Favorite Books for Teaching Growth Mindset

If you're looking for a way to start the school year strong with your primary kiddos, I'd highly recommend teaching a lesson or two about Growth Mindset. If you're unfamiliar with Growth Mindset or want to learn more, you can find another blog post I wrote about it here.

Taking time to talk about Growth Mindset has completely changed my classroom culture the last couple years, and I've found that the kids really connect with the ideas when we read and discuss quality books together as a class. There are many fabulous children's books that complement lessons about Growth Mindset, and I want to share just a few of my favorites with you. Some of these books are beloved and well-known, others are brand new, and still others are lesser-known but cherished books from my own childhood that I've read to my students for years. All are beautifully written and illustrated, and will help set a positive tone for your whole school year!


1. Rosie Revere, Engineer
"Your brilliant first flop was a raging success. Come on, let's get busy and on to the rest!" I won't lie, the first time I read this book to my students, I choked up! I recommend this book with all of my heart. The main character, Rosie, learns the value of making mistakes in the process of creating something new.


2. Mirette on the High Wire
This is one of my favorite stories from my childhood, and I read it with my students every year. It's a beautiful story of perseverance, written about a little girl who is determined to learn how to walk on a high wire. Even though Mirette falls many times when she is first learning, she doesn't give up, and she ends up helping her teacher conquer his own fears in the process.


3. The Dot
Can you imagine how much fun this book would be to plan an art lesson around? It shares a beautiful lesson about the power of just getting started, even if your first attempt to try something new isn't perfect. Vashti, the main character in this book, is hesitant to take a risk to create art, but with her teacher's encouragement she ends up creating art that inspires others to take risks, too.



4. The Big Orange Splot
My brothers and I adored this book when we were growing up. This is the fanciful story of a seagull flying over a man's house carrying a can of orange paint (nobody knows why), which it drops on the man's roof (nobody knows why). The man happens to live on a street where all of the houses look the same. While the man's neighbors pressure him to get his house cleaned up and back to normal, he ends up seizing the opportunity to redecorate his house to look like his dreams. One-by-one, he inspires his neighbors to do the same. This story is a beautiful starting point for talking about how thinking creatively, innovating, and going outside of the norm can inspire beautiful things in your life and in others'!


5. Beautiful Oops!
Oh, this book. I love it so much. Forget the fact that I've just listed it as a classroom resource--go ahead and pin this book cover now to buy for everyone on your gift list. It's meaningful for kids and adults alike, and creating our own "Beautiful Oops!" paintings has become a cherished tradition for starting the school year in my classroom. Your students will be delighted by how each "mistake"--a torn page, a coffee stain--is transformed into something new and beautiful.


6. What Do You Do With a Problem?
This is a lovely book for talking about the power of perspective, and how our problems hold possibility. I would also highly recommend this book for any children in your life (or adults, for that matter) who struggle with anxiety. In kid-friendly terms, the author describes what it feels like to be anxious about a problem, and then what it feels like to shift from focusing on a problem to focusing on finding a solution.


Honestly, looking over this list of books makes my heart feel so full. The class discussions and light bulb moments my students have had while reading these books are priceless. I hope these help you in your classroom, too!

So, what do you think? Would you add any books to this list? I'd love to hear the other Growth Mindset books you love!  Also, if you're looking for printable resources to help you teach growth mindset, you can follow this link for a packet I created to get you started!



This post contains affiliate links. This means that Amazon awards me a small referral fee when people visit their site via the links in my blog posts and purchase something (even something other than the linked product!). This doesn't affect the price you pay, and you can be confident that I only recommend products and teaching supplies I believe in and use myself.  Thank you so much for your support in making this blog possible!

5 Ways to Celebrate Student Birthdays Without Sugar


I'll admit it: sitting down to write a post about taking cupcakes away from kids just feels wrong. I love witnessing the wild excitement kids feel when it's their birthday and they get to have a special treat. What I've noticed, though (and this probably goes without saying), is that thirty ecstatic, sugared-up kids can turn a classroom into chaos, to the point that some of the fun gets lost in the mayhem.  I've spent some time the past few years collecting creative alternatives to cookies and cupcakes, and I think I've found some ideas that retain the whimsy and joy of birthdays while avoiding the chaos. With luck, some of these ideas could end up being a win for you, your birthday student, and your students' families!

1. Whole-Class Privilege
This idea is incredibly simple, but it's a good one. Set up your birthday kiddo to be the hero of the class by letting them pick a fun privilege for everyone to enjoy for the day. Write in markers? Shoes off inside? Choose your own seat? Extra GoNoodle time? The options are endless, easy, and FREE. Your students will love it, and your special birthday kiddo will glow when the other students recognize they're the reason everyone gets a special treat.

2. Birthday Books
As teachers, we're always adding books to our classroom libraries, whether they're donated or purchased. The next time you get that free pile of books from Scholastic, consider setting them aside instead of putting them in your library right away. On each student's birthday, "donate" a book to the classroom library in their honor. Present the book to your student in front of the whole class and explain why you chose the book for them. This is a great opportunity to affirm your student in front of their peers, calling out the great qualities you see in them! For extra excitement, have the birthday kiddo write their name on the inside cover so everyone knows it is their birthday book!

3. Games
At the beginning of the year, when you're explaining how you run birthday parties in your classroom, present this idea for parents to consider: instead of buying cupcakes (or some other sugary treat) for the class to celebrate their child's birthday, what if they spend that same amount of money on a fun game or book for the whole class to share? There are tons of puzzles, joke books, math games, phonics puzzles, and art supplies--just to name a few ideas--that cost less than 25 cupcakes, and the games or books will be enjoyed the entire year. This idea only works if parents were planning to spend money on a sweet treat, of course. You know your school population, so use your best judgement and don't suggest this if it would place a burden on families. If buying cupcakes is the norm with your families, though, this could be a great alternative to suggest! Birthday celebrations in your classroom could shift from sugar fests to engaging puzzle/art/game time, and both you and your students will be happy.

4. Sparkle Supplies
Head to your nearest Target or Dollar Tree and stock up on all of their fabulous, tacky, glitter-coated supplies. Snag some sparkly crayons, markers, and pencils (bonus points if they have crazy eraser toppers). Put together a special box of sparkly supplies that students can use on their birthdays. I use this as a whole-group reward for table groups in my classroom, but the same idea could easily be adapted for individual students!

5. Affirmation Crowns
This one takes a little prep, but your kids will love it. Pre-cut a small paper heart or star for each student in your class. Give each child one heart, and have them write an adjective to describe something they like about the birthday boy or girl. Collect the hearts or stars and attach them to a sentence strip to create a crown. The birthday kiddo can wear their affirmation crown all day, letting the world know why they're being celebrated!

If you have summer birthday kids and want to spread out the celebrations, remember that half-birthdays are a great time to celebrate, too!


I hope some of these ideas help you in your classroom.  Do you have any sugar-free birthday ideas you would add to this list? I'd love to hear about them!


How to Make a Teacher Toolbox

I recently jumped on the Teacher Toolbox train, and am THRILLED about it!


I'm trying to take advantage of these stress-free summer days by thinking ahead about classroom organization for next year. My desk always ends up so messy (please tell me I'm not the only one!), and I think most my problem is that I've never taken the time to really think through a specific home for everything. 


You guys, I'm not gonna lie. This project was a dream for me. It took me maybe 15 minutes of hands-on time to put together (seriously) and I felt sooo accomplished. Not too bad for summer, right? ;)

Here are the steps:

1. Look up "Teacher Toolbox" on Pinterest for some organization inspiration.

2. Go to Lowes and buy one of their plastic organizers from the tool section. (I bought this one, but they do have larger options with more drawers available if you really want to go all out.)

3. Head over to the paint section and pick out some spray paint, if you'd like. Make sure it says "bonds to plastic" on the bottle.

4. If you do decide to spray paint, give your drawers a light sanding. I used 220-grit sandpaper and spent about two minutes roughing up the smooth frame of the drawers. (Don't sand the drawers themselves--go ahead and just remove those for this part of the process.)

5. Spend two minutes spray painting. You  should ideally use light, even coats, but I was too excited to wait and did one thick coat. It turned out just fine. : )

6. Leave the spray-painted drawer frame in a cool, dry place to gas off for a couple days. THIS is the part you don't want to skip--an accidental paint drip here and there doesn't bother me, but paint really does need time to cure before you expose it to any wear and tear. Chipped paint is way worse than accidentally dripped paint. Trust me, you won't regret the wait. 

7. While your drawers are drying/curing/gassing off, print and cut your labels. You can find the ones I used in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, if you'd like the same look--and the file's editable! You can laminate your labels for extra durability, too.

8. Use a dot of hot glue to attach your drawer labels to the drawers, then put the drawers back in the frame. That's it! 


I hope this is inspiring for you as you're getting ready for the new school year. Do you have any organization projects planned?  I'd love to hear from you!

Happy crafting!


Classroom Decor (And Why It Doesn't Matter)


Isn’t it amazing how many hours of our lives are spent in our classrooms? They truly are our homes away from home, and over the course of a school year, our students become like our second families. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about my classroom environment in recent weeks. In fact, I just clicked "publish" on a Teachers Pay Teachers classroom décor resource that I'm really excited about and proud of.  


You know what's funny?  I believe the packet I just created is completely unnecessary.  Yes, you read that right: my official advertising message is that you don't need my resourcenot even one little bit.

Let me give a little context. I LOVE interior design, and I have a lot of fun with it at home, but until recently I'd never stopped to consider how to give the same attention to my classroom. I have nothing against ultra-bright neon colors (they’re fabulous!), but my personal style is a little more subdued than most of the classroom décor that’s currently on the market. No surface in my own home is safe from a coat of gray or navy blue paint. I have succulents EVERYWHERE. I love clean and simple design, and I'm addicted to beautiful typography. As an introvert and a teacher, I need to lower the stimulation in my surroundings, which is why my style preferences lean toward the subtle and neutral.



As I dreamed about my classroom design for next year, I realized I'd love my classroom to reflect the same kind of calm I feel when I’m at home. I also figured that if I decorate my classroom in muted colors, my students will definitely be calm and serene, too. (That sounds like science, right? Ha!) 

This kind of thingplanning out beautiful spacesis really, really fun for me. I see teaching as both a profession and a hobby, and I do some things in my classroom simply because I like them. I believe with conviction that making any effort to care for a space that you share with otherswhether a classroom or a homecommunicates love, and that's something I want to do.



Even though I value creating beautiful spaces, I truly believe that the way you decorate your classroom, teacher friend, doesn't matter. Actually, the fact that you're even reading a post about how to decorate your room in the first place communicates how much you already care as a teacher, and you don't need a cute classroom to prove that.

Should your classroom be functional? Absolutely. Orderly? You bet. If your students don't know where to find a pencil or turn in their work, they won't be able to get quality learning done. So, to an extent, it does matter what your classroom looks like—a reasonably tidy classroom with clear systems in place will set your students up to be successful, productive, and organized. 

That said, though, if your kids' name tags aren't perfectly coordinated or the alphabet doesn't match your color scheme (or you don't even have a color scheme) or your bookshelves and rug are a random mix of hand-me-downsit doesn't matter. Knowing when to draw the line, let it go, and prioritize is a sign of balance, confidence, and professionalism as a teacher. 


In the era of teaching with Pinterest, letting things go isn't always easy to do. Color schemes and cute matching binder covers and darling student number lines are fun! I'm not at all critical of teachers who spend a lot of time making their classrooms beautiful. What I've noticed, though, is that most of the time the teachers with the best-looking rooms are the ones who have been teaching for quite a while. I bet their classrooms weren't very cute and fun their first few years, and that if you asked them, they would say that they spent that hazy and hectic time figuring out how to run literacy centers or teach writing mini-lessons or identify where in the world all of those millions of papers should go. 

Once the basic systems are in place and you've figured out how to make your classroom functional and organized for yourself and your students, you might find yourself with a little extra bandwidth to think about matching library labels. Even then, those thoughts should only be on your radar because you think matching is fun. Done is always better than perfect, and if your students know where to find books for their level because you have any kind of label on those book baskets, you've made it. Your classroom décor has exactly zero bearing on your strengths and abilities as a teacher.

I want to say that one more time, especially to new teachers: Your classroom décor has exactly zero bearing on your strengths and abilities as a teacher.

I'm about to start Year 6 of teaching (Year 9 if you count the preschool years), and I'm just now starting to think about a cohesive classroom design...only because I happen to like that kind of thing. I've finally figured out a math rotation system I like and a couple of PBL projects I'm excited about, and I have some time and energy to spend thinking about decorating. I plan to start pulling from this new packet I made, see what I can get done, and let go of the rest.

If you're in the mood to start thinking about next year's classroom décor, you should totally check out this resource I made. You don't need it, but you might think it's fun and beautiful and matches the atmosphere you'd like to create in your classroom. I'm really excited about how the packet turned outI love how bright, clean, and modern it feels. I can't get enough of the navy blue/white/mustard/light blue combo in my home, and I hope the kids like it in the classroom, too. 


If you're in your first few years of teaching, please consider skipping over this resourceinstead, use the money to buy yourself a few lattes to carry you through your first rounds of grading and lesson planning. You've got this, and things like classroom decorations can definitely be pushed to the back burner. You might consider bookmarking this resource to come back to in a couple of years, though, if it's something you think you'd enjoy! : )



Happy summer, teacher friends!

Why You Need to Create Art with Your Students


I have always loved art.

I understand the way I'm wired much better now than when I was a kid. I didn't know until I was an adult that I have attention deficit, which would have explained why school was such a struggle when I was a kid. I wondered if school was hard for everyone else, too, and if they were just better than me at keeping it a secret. Somehow, I managed to make it all the way through grad school, and art was a huge reason for that. While I struggled my way through other subjects, art was somehow easy for me. I found something I was good at in school, and it helped me build the confidence I needed to tackle challenges in other classes.

As a teacher, I see why art so often gets pushed to the back burner. Making sure your students master standards during the handful of hours you have with them each day is incredibly important. Teachers constant shift and re-shift those precious instructional minutes to make sure our students' highest needs are met. This is what good teaching is, and most of the teachers I know do it really, really well.

I want to share some thoughts and observations about art in the classroom, because art is something that tends to be cut when we're juggling lots of other priorities, and I'm not convinced that's a good or helpful thing. I want to be clear that my intention is not to add more to anyone's plate; we're in the trenches together, and I'm trying to figure out a balance right along with everyone else. My hope is that instead of feeling pressure, other teachers would feel permission--permission to make art a part of their classroom culture, knowing that the life skills their students learn when they are creative will lead to growth in other academic areas, as well.

At a basic level, artistic expression supports the growth and development of the whole child. When I watch my students create art, I see the final product as only a very small part of the process. Sure, their final art pieces are delightful and adorable, but what I'm always struck by is how important the steps are that lead up to that final piece. In just one art project, children can practice their gross and fine motor skills, follow multiple-step instructions, understand cause and effect relationships, develop their spatial awareness, make a plan, and modify their plan to meet a goal. Impressive, right?! Giving kids space to be creative not only supports their development as artists, but as people.

Art allows children to be innovators. I'm always amazed at the thought that, as teachers, we're tasked with preparing students for jobs that might not even exist yet. We want, and need, this next generation to be fearless when it comes to exploring new ideas, concepts, and processes. When I read stories about inventors and their world-changing inventions, the stories are almost always defined by repeated failures. The truth is, innovation is impossible without failure. If we want our students to be innovators, we need to teach them how to fail well. Creating an art piece allows students to make something completely original and innovative while solving problems, and mistakes are almost always made. The beautiful thing about art is that failure is rarely final--you can generally keep adding to your painting to transform it into something new. When our students stop seeing their failures as an end point, but instead as a starting point for something new, we have taught them to fail well.


The process of creating art builds critical social skills, especially when it's done in community. A sign of maturity in children (and adults, for that matter!) is the ability to cope with frustration in a healthy way. Disappointments and setbacks are a completely normal, natural, and expected part of life. The trick with frustration is not letting those emotions overwhelm us. Creating art in community also gives students the opportunity to practice giving and receiving constructive feedback.

Art connects kids to a larger worldview. Art is an important part of every culture, and is a way to preserve history, traditions, values, and scientific discoveries. Exposing kids to art from around the world is a very simple but powerful way to reinforce a deep respect for other cultures.

Teachers can communicate art's value by participating. Some teachers have an art program available to their class through the school. That's wonderful! If someone else teaches art to your students, consider joining the lessons. Don't just sit back and watch. Modeling a love for art is just as important as modeling a love for reading and math. Your students will follow your example! Participating in an art lesson along with your students communicates that art has value, mistakes aren't something to be afraid of, and that it's always okay to try something new.

I know that setting aside hours of instructional time for art usually isn't practical (or wise!), but I do hope you'll feel encouraged to add in an art lesson or two to your next unit. It's worth your time and your students' time, and the lessons they'll learn will carry far beyond the classroom. I know that's been true throughout my own life, both as a student and as a teacher.

So, what do you think? Do you make time for art in your classroom, too?



Easy Teacher Gift Ideas


I have mixed feelings about Teacher Appreciation Day, which in the United States takes place on Tuesday of the first full week in May.  On one hand, I'm always SO blown away and humbled that my students' parents would want to communicate appreciation for the small role I play in their kids' lives--it's such an honor to have that role, and I love my job.  On the other hand, though, it's never been clear to me why my profession in particular is singled out.  If anyone deserves a national holiday, I think it's our school's janitor, who spends his nights cleaning up unspeakable messes left behind by the students.  (And all the teachers said, "Amen.")

In any case, I thought it might be fun to write a post with some practical and meaningful gift ideas for teachers, based on my own experience and conversations I've had with colleagues over the years.  You may be reading this and thinking, “Wait, isn’t it kind of awkward and inappropriate for a teacher to talk about Teacher Appreciation Day, like a kid telling strangers at the park what he’d like for his birthday?”  The answer is yes, I do feel a little awkward writing this.  However, I've received this question from many parent-friends over the years who suspected their child’s teacher might have enough mugs and apple-themed desk supplies to last a lifetime, and who wanted an inside scoop from a teacher in the trenches.  So, what follows is in no way a personal wishlist (though I do have to admit it’s probably more aimed at women than men), and I hope it will be helpful for parents searching for an easy, inexpensive, meaningful, and practical gift.  I should also say that the list isn’t just aimed at parents--for those of you who are teachers, these could be great gift ideas for thanking volunteers or celebrating a colleague! Okay, without further ado, here's the list:

1. Essential Oil Diffuser, $20, to make the classroom smell like Heaven even after PE class.

2. Flair Pens, $14, to add a little splash of joy to grading and note-taking in staff meetings.

3. Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, $5, for obvious reasons.

4. Stickers for Organizing, $10, because stickers and cute labels make a teacher's heart sing.

5. Initial Necklace, $38, to dress up an everyday work outfit.

6. Glue Sticks, $10, because it seriously feels like these things evaporate into thin air as the year progresses. Where in the world do they go!?

7. Tote Bag, $30, because teachers carry a comical amount of items back and forth from school every day, and these cute bags can take a beating. (You can get them monogrammed, too!)

8. Grading Stamps, $19, for cheering on the kiddos AND making grading easier at the same time.

9. Personalized Zippered Pouch, $25, for carrying all of those flair pens, paper clips, and tiny confiscated toys in style.

10. A Funny To-Do List, $9, to make them laugh even when the teacher to-do list feels unending.

11. Personal Cinematic Light Box, $20, to make writing a morning message for the students even more fun. It's whimsical and silly, but could have so many fun uses in the classroom!

12. Beautiful File Folders, $14, so those stacks of paper look pretty instead of overwhelming.


13. A note from your child that will be treasured forever!

14. Finally, I've also found that some of the most meaningful gifts are the ones that communicate to teachers that the parents and students know and care about them personally.  Pretty much every teacher I've met has a secret (or not-so-secret) sweet tooth, caffeine addiction, or other quirk, and a well-placed packet of Skittles or a vanilla latte with an encouraging note can have a huge impact.  Ask your kids what they've noticed about their teachers (does she always have a bottle of Coke on her desk, or does he love going to Friday night movies at that downtown theater with his wife?), or have your school's staff fill out surveys at the beginning of the year to discover those more subtle, but high-impact, gift ideas.

Well, there you have it!  I'll keep adding to this list over time, as I come across more great ideas, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you're a teacher or a parent, what are some of the most meaningful and practical teacher or volunteer gifts you've given and received? 






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