Clip Charts Anonymous

You know how moms are always made to feel guilty? It starts right at birth - whether you go for a natural birth or get an epidural...actually it starts even before then - people eye pregnant women's food choices as if that one cup of coffee is bound to cause the child to come out as a sociopath! Once that child is born there's more judgement - pacifier or not, breastfed or formula, stay at home or have a career. It doesn't matter what you do, someone is always going to judge your choice and try to make you feel guilty.

Unfortunately, I see that happening in the education blogger community now too. Classroom choices are being judged and teachers are being found guilty. There seems to be a bandwagon going around, collecting bloggers. Blog posts titled "Why I got rid of my clip chart and you should too!" seem aimed at making a large segment of teachers feel ashamed of their classroom management choices.

Today I want to say this:

Hello, my name is Jennifer and I use a clip chart. 

It's what works for me. I'm required to have a posted classroom management system with clear rules, consequences and rewards so I choose the clip chart. I use it mainly to reward good behavior and hardly ever to clip down, but still, the clip down choice is there. It's not my only means of behavior management - for some children, I do an hourly personal sticker chart - but it is visible in my classroom. And it works for me. 

And that's what is important. That it work in my classroom, for me and my students. You can have a classroom management system developed by teams of psychologists, field tested and amazing in every way, but if it doesn't work for the teacher who has to implement it, it's useless. Because...
 The system doesn't matter.
It's the teacher's heart that makes or breaks a system. It's the teacher's heart that turns a behavior reminder into a shameful moment. It's the teacher's heart that makes students feel like their behavior defines them. It's the teacher's heart that makes some children give up and stop trying.
It doesn't matter whether you use a stop light system, a clip chart,  Class Dojo, PBIS, school wide currency, Brag Tags or nothing. Every single one of those systems can make a child feel ashamed and damage their self esteem if that is the climate of the classroom
 If misbehavior is treated as a sign of character instead of an opportunity to reflect and adjust; if momentary lapses set the tone for the entire day (or entire week!); if a child isn't given the opportunity to learn  from mistakes; then it doesn't matter what system you use.

In my career I have seen children decimated by harsh words. I've seen children greeted at the door with "We better have a good day today because you're not behaving like you did yesterday!" I've heard teachers say things like "I've had it up to here with you. I can't believe you did that! What is wrong with you?" and not one of them had a clip chart. Because it's totally possible to be a great teacher with or without a clip chart. Just like having a clip chart doesn't automatically make you a teacher who doesn't care.

It's not the system that is evil. 
It's not the clip chart that's the problem. 
It's the teacher's heart. 

So please, lay off the clip chart. I promise you, it is not used to shame children in my classroom. It is used to uplift them and urge them to strive harder. If someone does "clip down" it is done with love and understanding. I conference with the child. I let them know what rule they have broken. We talk about ways to make better choices, ways to make amends to friends and ways to "clip back up".
Because that's what my clip chart is all about. It's there to tell the children that no matter what happens, there is always the opportunity to turn their day around and make better choices. Each child leaves my room at the end of the day knowing that the slate is wiped clean. They each get a hug and the chance to pick a "Fun Farewell", whether they're walking out the door wearing their clothespin because they got to the top of the chart and earned a new one, or whether I've called a conference with their parents. Because my heart is with my kids, and I want all of them to succeed, and learn and grow....and they know that.
I've made clipcharts for many of the themes I've used in my classroom over the years. 
Click the picture to see them all!

So please, teachers, bloggers, admin...don't judge me on my clip chart. Judge me on my relationships with my students, the hours of love and care I put into making sure my classroom is warm and welcoming. Judge me on how I get to know my students and work with them where they are at. Judge me on how I speak to them, how I interact with their parents, judge me on whether I give second chances (or fiftieth!) judge me on whether I wipe the slate clean each day or hold a grudge.

But please, don't make me feel guilty because of a classroom management choice that works for me.

My friend Kaci over at Mrs. Hoffer's Spot shared how she got rid of her clip chart in favor of a Great Expectations system. I love G.E and use many of their tenets daily in my classroom - including the 8 Expectations! Go check out Kaci's post for more info!

Sub Plans, Lost Children, Books, Wonderful Ideas and Linkys!

I'm hitting 2 linkies in one post today, but they go together really well so I had to! Today I'm talking subs, lost kiddos, books and wonderful ideas!

First I'm linking up with Tiffani over at Time 4 Kindergarten to talk about substitutes!
I have to say, that after being horribly, constantly sick my first year of teaching, my immune system is now like titanium - I rarely get sick - in fact, I think I took only 1 sick day for myself this year and that was because of a migraine.

On the other hand, I'm the mom of 5 kiddos - and my youngest has severe food allergies to pretty much everything AND severe eczema. Between the 5 of them, they manage to make me use up my sick days every year - and that's with my husband splitting the load and taking his own share of days off to ferry kids to doctor's appointments or stay home with the youngest ones.

At our house, when someone gets sick it goes like this:

Thankfully, I don't have any personal stories of bad substitutes. In past years I always maanged to luck out and get the retired teachers or teachers who had just moved to the district and were subbing to get a foot in the door. This year my assistant was awesome and usually had the class running smoothly - the subs loved her lol! She would take pictures to text to me, and the kids always wanted me to be proud of them, so the pictures worked like a charm at keeping behavior in check :)

My first year of teaching though, the sub in the class next to mine decided not to read the Bus List and just ask the students who rode the bus. There was one little guy who saw this as his shining opportunity to get a free bus ride and lined right up even though his mother picked him up each day! He sauntered right down the hall and onto a bus and meanwhile his mother showed up looking for him. The sub couldn't remember if he had gone a bus, walked home with someone else or was abducted by aliens - and didn't seem to care. Meanwhile mama was getting frantic. 

I noticed something was wrong so I walked over and realized we had an emergency situation on our hands - missing 5 year olds are no joking matter! So we called Transportation to contact all the bus drivers to see if any had an extra kiddo. We got all the teachers to start combing the neighborhood - enlisting the older students to help us search. The police were called and it was turning into a BIG DEAL. Meanwhile, that sub packed up her bag and drove off in her car - totally unconcerned that she had lost a child! 

We're talking wailing mother, frantic grandparents, police officers starting to set up a command center to coordinate a search, phone trees activated to call all of the other parents in the class to see if he went home with a friend. Nearly every teacher was in tears, praying desperately. 

Suddenly, a 5th grader ran up - the daycare down the street had an extra child! Turns out the little guy HAD been on a bus, but didn't answer when the driver called his name for fear of getting in trouble! Luckily he got off the bus at the daycare and not on the street somewhere. I have never been so relieved!

Needless to say, that sub was never hired for our building again! 

I did learn a valuable lesson from that experience though - it's not enough to have a bus list in your sub plans or have a sign by your classroom door - you have to make sure that your students know that taking the bus is not okay! Each year I make sure to talk with my students about how the bus drivers take kids home - but only the kids who have signed up for it. If another kid gets on the bus, the driver won't know where to take him and will end up driving him to the wrong home and it will be a very scary situation. Since I explain the bus system explicitly to the children in this way I've never had a case of a child wanting to ride the bus when he isn't supposed to!

So that's my tip for "Wonderful Idea Wednesday" over at Freebielicious today! Make sure your students know how they're supposed to get home - and why it's important not to go home any other way! I always make time for this sometime during the first week of school and I try to do it in a fun way that gets the point across without being scary.

First, I read a book about being lost. There are several wonderful books that tell about being lost in a way that children can relate to with being too scared:
Beaver is Lost is a picture book detailing a beaver's journey after being separated from his family. He eventually finds his way home after several adventures!
Carl and the Baby Duck is about a mother duck asking Carl to help her find her missing duckling. I love the Carl picture books, and this easy reader has great illustrations!
Lost! is about a Bear who gets lost in the city and the boy that helps him find his way home - but when the bear gets home they soon realize that now the little boy is lost!
When Lyla Got Lost (and Found!) is a new story that I just ordered! I ordered this one because it talks about what a child should do if they become lost.
Little Owl Lost is a good one for teaching important details! Little Owl falls out of his nest and his new friend Squirrel tries to help him find his mother. Unfortunately, every time Owl describes his mother, it leads them to the wrong animal - "large" leads to a bear for example. This is great for teaching children they need to know their parents' names and their own full name to help them if they get lost. 

I also play this Learning Station video of "5 Little Ducks". My own little guy, Sullivan, loves this video - he always gets sad with the Mother Duck, and cheers when the ducks come back! I pause the video when all of the ducklings are gone and the Mother Duck looks so sad so we can talk about how parents would feel if a child was a lost and how the ducklings might be feeling. Then I play the ending and the children are relieved! 

We have a discussion about getting lost, how to avoid it (hint: Don't go home on a bus if you're not a bus rider!) and what to do if you do get lost! I usually do an anchor chart with all of our ideas and discussion points to serve as a visual for a few days too - you'll find the children want to reread the stories again most likely - there's something so relieving about reading about someone being found!

So there you have it - a Wonderful Idea to help you avoid the most horrible feeling in the world - losing a student! Head over to the two linky parties for more great posts!

Tell Us About You Tuesday Linky

I'm linking up with Freebielicious again today - they have a whole week of linky parties planned! Today's theme is:

This feels like one those "ice breakers" where you have to walk around the room and find someone you don't know to tell them about yourself - not the most comfortable thing in the world (and a waste of PD time imo!)
Here are my basic stats:
Married to a soldier
We'll celebrate 17 years of marriage in September! Not bad for a courtship that was only 3 weeks before he popped the question! And the Drill Sergeants said it would never last!

5 kids
3 brunettes and 2 redheads! And yes, the older Red was trying to be funny by crossing his eyes...I had to take a dozen pictures to try to get one that was useable...trying to get all 5 of them to sit up, look at the camera and smile is like trying to put rain back into a cloud.....
The oldest is Moira, she's 16, then Robert is 13, Thomas is 11, Joshua is 8 and Sullivan will be 2 next month!

Teaching is my 5th "career" after nanny, U.S. Army soldier, TSA Security Officer, stay-at-home mom.

I'm passionate about play-based learning, free choice centers, and filling our day with lots of singing and dancing!

Thanks for wanting to learn a little about me, I hope you'll stick around and follow my blog as I document my time Herding Kats! Head back over to the linky to learn about some other bloggers too!

Must Have Monday Linky

I'm linking up with Freebielicious today for Must Have Monday!

I don't have very many "Must Haves". I don't get any money for my classroom from my admin or PTA, so everything in my room has to come from my wallet...and with 5 kids and a military husband, that wallet doesn't have a lot of extra change in it lol!

A few things that I do spend my pennies on are:

Felt puppets from Art Felt. I spent so much time at their booth at I Teach K last year in Vegas! I think I spent more time there than all the other booths combined lol! I love to do finger plays and songs with my students, and love having these puppets to go along with my favorite songs! This is great for phonemic awareness! The best thing about Art Felt is that they include a print out of tons of different songs with each animal you order - so if you get a squirrel you get a sheet with a bunch of rhymes and finger plays that you can use that squirrel in!
The kids love using these in our Felt Board Center to retell the stories and I love walking by and hearing them singing familiar songs as they "play"!

My other "Must Have" is a comfy reading corner:
I have my students read to our plush friends (mostly from Kohl's Cares line) and those plushies serve a secondary purpose as manipulatives when we talk about positional words and as a way to calm upset friends - it's amazing how quickly kids calm down when holding my "special monkey". I spent some money on a rug and pillows so that the kids and myself are comfortable when reading. The canopy is from Oriental Trading Co. and is still in perfect shape after a year of hanging in our classroom! When parents and admin walk in and see this reading corner, they are always impressed and its one of the things that helps make our room super cozy.

My final "Must Have" are sticky Velcro dots! I use these to attach just about everything to my walls and cupboards! At the end of each year we have to take everything down, except for those little dots. So I leave them up and the next year its easy to slap my posters back up!
If I want to change something out during the year - like my Ten Frame cards, I can just put up a new set without having to worry about whether the posters are level or running out and getting more tape. I just make sure that I always put the female side on the wall, and the male side on the cards, so that no matter what set of posters I want to put up, I can just slap them on without worrying if the Velcro is going to match up!

EDIT: I forgot a "Must Have"! Many of my students need to use the small pencils because they need help with the correct grasp and don't have the fine motor skills to control a longer pencil. I usually buy a big box  because I give some to parents to use at home and inevitably pencils break or get lost, so a big box is a must. I usually get my box at Staples or Office Depot, but rarely find them on sale.  The other day though, I found them on Amazon, AND they have erasers! The ones I usually get don't have erasers, so this is a major plus! I bought this pack of 72 half pencils with erasers- they even come pre-sharpened! This is a deal!

Those are my Must Haves, head back over to the linky to see what other teachers consider theirs!

Advice for New Teachers (and Veteran Teachers TOO!)

Advice for first year teachers …

and everyone else too!

When I was invited to participate in this linky party, I thought about all the advice I have been given throughout my career. Then I thought about the advice I would give to new teachers in my building. It was hard to decide on what was the "best" advice - there are so many great tips out there! But then I realized that one of the things that I'm still working on would probably be the Best Advice Ever for others as well....ready for it?

"Don't compare yourself to other teachers; just be the best teacher you can be."

This is my best advice for 2 reasons:

1.) If you compare yourself to another teacher who you think is doing better than you, you may become depressed and discouraged. When she has the Pinterest-Worthy bulletin boards each month and you can barely manage to get papers returned in a timely manner, it can make you question everything about yourself. But you have to remember, that everyone has different challenges, different priorities, and just because the grass looks greener, doesn't always mean that students are getting a better education! Be true to who you are, set your own priorities and do the best you can for your students. You don't have to run yourself to exhaustion to keep up with someone else nor do you have to beat yourself up about not being as good as someone else.

One of my good teacher buddies is a craft wizard. She can whip up a bulletin board in 10  minutes that looks like it should be in a magazine! When we do our Genre Parade each year she's the one who has every kid in a homemade (by her) costume, pulling a float down the hall that looks like it could be in a Macy's Parade. Meanwhile I'm the queen of Pinterest-Fails and have to bribe my 16 year old to come help me set up my bulletin boards so it doesn't look like a two year old did it. (Thankfully she works for chocolate - otherwise I'd be broke!)  The point is though, that I'm doing the best I can for my students, regardless of whether it'll go viral on Pinterest or not. Crafting is not my strength, so instead of comparing myself to her, I ask her for help when I need something crafty. In return, I set up her SmartBoard or get her logged back into her email, because she's not technologically-savvy. Instead of comparing, we collaborate, and all of our students benefit!

2.) The other reason not to compare yourself to other teachers is that if you set the bar by the teachers you see around you, you could be setting it too low. If you're only doing better than the teacher down the hall, are you truly doing your best? Honestly, there are some teachers out there - probably in your own building - that you KNOW aren't doing their jobs well. And if you're comparing yourself to them, you could be tempted to pat yourself on the back. Instead, ask yourself "Am I doing the right thing for each of my students? Am I teaching every lesson to the best of my abilities? Am I doing the best possible job I can?" It's not enough to be a mediocre teacher and be better than the bare minimum, instead, you should think of the old Army logo "Be the best that you can be!"

There have been times when I've looked at other teachers and thought "If she's still getting positive evaluations, what the heck am I working my butt off for?" But then I remind myself that it's not about getting a "4" on an evaluation form or a pat on the back, it's about my students. 

There you go, something to think about for the new school year! Be sure you check out the other blogs in the linky - they all have great advice too!

5 Tips For School Supplies + FREE School Supply Labels

5 Easy Ways to get School Supplies Organized

If there's one thing a teacher learns at the end of the year when cleaning out cabinets, it's that school supplies fall into 2 categories:

A) Self-replicating supplies that will seemingly never run out.
B) Supplies that don't last a quarter, let alone a year.

Here are some ideas for solving both of these problems:

1. Store all of your supplies in a single area. If you have 10 different stashes of glue sticks, chances are you won't be able to find them when you need them OR you might end up buying more when you don't need to!
Grab some Dollar Store Bins, label them, and set them out at Back To School night so parents can put the supplies into each bin, which will save you some work! If you don't organize the supplies as you get them, chances are you'll end up cramming them into whatever cabinet you can find a spot in - resulting in those 10 stashes of unfindable glue sticks! Grab the supply labels here for free!

2. Keep a list of supplies that you'll run out of - whenever someone asks if you need something for your classroom you can refer them to the wishlist - things like wipes and tissues are always needed but might not be on your mind when someone offers to get something for your classroom.
Taking pictures of the items you need (like in this pin) or attaching labels, can ensure you get the exact items you want!

3. Use, don't hoard. It can be tempting to hold off on using supplies so that you won't run out and then need them for a crucial project.
But, its much better to let your students benefit from the supplies you have, rather than hoard them until the end of the school year. If you run out, you'll make do with something else - and you might discover an even better way to complete that project!

4. Don't let the potential for mess keep you from using supplies! Students will benefit from using different media like markers, tempera paint, water color paint and colored pencils.
Sure, they can be messy, but if you set out your rules and expectations clearly, the mess will be minimal. If you can't handle it on a daily basis, consider setting aside at least one day a week for markers in Writing Center, paint in Art Center and water colors for Crayon Resist Sheets (freebie!) in Word Work Center. Chances are it will become your students' favorite day of the week!

5. Adjust your supply list. If, at the end of the year you still have a ton of glue bottles, consider marking it off your school supply list for the next year.  Most districts need the school supply list completed before the end of the school year, so again, keeping all your supplies organized in one place will help you adjust your list. If you ran out of items before the end of the year, consider asking for double next year!
If you can't adjust your supply list, at least you'll know which items to put on your Wish List or add to a Giving Tree display!

 Did I Miss Your Favorite Trick? 
Please Rustle Up a Response Below And Share It!
I'm linking this post to Teaching Blog Addict's Freebie Friday! 
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Number Recognition Activity for Building Number Sense in Kindergarten

Building number sense with hands-on activities
Woohoo! It's Math Monday so I'm linking up with Laura of Kinder Kraziness again for number sense activities that are perfect for the beginning of the school year. These are great counting activities for preschool or kindergarten! In my classroom, we start with counting and number recognition activities to 5, then to 10 and then to 20. Number sense is a foundational math skill, so it needs to be worked on in many different ways so that students have the concept down solidly. There's no point in moving on to other skills if a students still hasn't mastered counting and number recognition! That's why hands-on number sense activities are so important, and since they're easy to differentiate, you can use the same activity with all of your students!

For the first number sense center activity, I picked up wooden blocks and dowels from Hobby Lobby, along with plastic rings:

I knew these would make a fun math activity for my students and great fine motor practice too!

I wrote the numbers 0-10 on the wooden blocks and then added the correct number of beads to each dowel, using the blocks to cap them off.

At the beginning of the school year, when my students are first learning number recognition and one to one correspondence, I'll have them arrange the blocks in numerical order. I might ask them to find me a specific number or count how many are in a set.

As my students get better at counting and number recognition, I can take the top blocks off and let them put the beads on themselves! This will be a fun way to exercise their fine motor skills at the same time giving them practice with one to one correspondence!

Although I prefer to have my students doing hands-on activities like this, every once in a while, I do let my students do a "paper". Partly so they think they're "big kids" and partly so that I have a paper record of progress. I take anecdotal notes all day long, but sometimes there's nothing like showing a parent (or admin) something tangible. So, I made some free counting worksheets for you for the beginning of the year. I always do a Woodland Animals unit in September, which leads into our Nocturnal Animals in October, so this little freebie has some cute forest friends that would go well with a Kissing Hand unit :) Just click on a picture to download and enjoy!

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