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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Elementary Music Sub Plan Ideas

Coming up with sub plans may easily be one of the most headache-inducing tasks any teacher has to endure. It's so hard to come up with a plan that is easy enough to explain and simple enough for a substitute to implement while also being engaging and meaningful enough to keep students from checking out entirely (or worse). Over the last couple of years I've found a few favorites that have been well-received by both students and subs alike, so today I'm sharing some of those with you!


A couple of years ago I shared how I have my emergency sub plans organized. If you haven't already, I encourage you to go check out that post as well- I have been loving the system and after several years it is still going strong! I also included some more of my favorite sub plans in that post that you'll want to read about:


1. Soundscapes

This one works for any age group, even up to middle or even high school! I prepare some ziploc bags in advance with the same random objects in each one (paperclips, straws, pieces of paper, etc). The teacher splits the class up into small groups and gives each group a bag of items and secretly assigns them to a place, like an airport, beach, or playground. Each group then has to come up with a list of sounds they would hear in that place and figure out how to recreate those sounds using their bodies, voices, and/or the items in the bag and present their soundscape to the class for the others to guess what their place was. 

2. Musical Favorites Poster

This is great for the beginning or end of the school year, or during Music In Our Schools Month, and also works for all grade levels! I made a template that has spaces for students to write and/or draw their musical favorites (favorite instrument, favorite dance move, favorite songs, etc), on a double-sided paper. The teacher simply goes over each section to make sure they understand how to fill it out (especially the younger ones who may not be able to read the headings), and then have them fill out their poster. I have them write in all the answers in pencil and then give them the option to allow early finishers to color it in if they have time. At the end of class they can all share their "posters" with each other. This would be the great start for a bulletin board too! ;) 

3. Abstract Music Listening

This one is based on the book, Niko Draws a Feeling, and is another great one that can work with a wide range of ages. I've written a whole separate post on my lesson plan for this one, but the basic idea is to read the story about a boy who draws designs that represent abstract ideas and feelings rather than concrete objects, and then have students do the same to represent the mood of an abstract piece of music. Here's my post with the detailed plans:


Book-based lessons in general can be great for sub plans! Click here to see all of my favorite lesson ideas using children's literature. 

The full lesson plans and materials for each of these ideas are being added to my sub plan templates, along with the ones from my previous post. If you want to save yourself a few headaches next year, I highly recommend picking up this resource! I'll continue to add to the set as I come across more lesson ideas that work for substitutes as well. 


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Monday, June 18, 2018

Meal Planning 101: weekly shopping trips

Meal planning can be a game-changer if you set up a system to make it streamlined and effective! One of my favorite things about meal planning is being able to go to the grocery store just once a week and never having to making an extra stop in the middle of the week. Here are my tips for making sure you never run out of groceries mid-week again!


There are two categories of foods that I need to shop for at the grocery store: staples and meal ingredients. My tip for making sure you have all of your meal ingredients is simple: 

Copy your ingredients from the recipes as you plan your meals.

Last week I talked about how to plan out your meals so that you are more likely to stick to your plan (read that post here). In that post I talked about a few different ways to save your favorite recipes, whether digital or hard copy. However you're saving them, whenever you're choosing your recipes and looking at them to make your plan for the week, go through the ingredients list and write down the ones you don't have. Save yourself the step of having to go find those recipes again later when you're ready to go to the store!

Staples are things that I don't have to buy as often but I need to make sure I have on-hand, like condiments, spices, bread, snacks, and drinks. Some of them I'll be able to check when I'm looking at each recipe's ingredients, but others are things we eat outside of mealtime and won't come up while I'm meal planning. That's why I suggest one other tip for making sure you have everything you need on your grocery list:

Keep a running list in the kitchen and add to it throughout the week.

I have a dry erase board stuck to the side of my fridge where I make my grocery lists. Throughout the week, if I notice we're running low on a staple, I'll write it down immediately. That way when it comes time to add my meal ingredients, I won't forget the staples! I love using a dry erase board for this because it's easy to make accessible in the kitchen where you can write it down as soon as you notice something. Remember if you don't have a regular white board, you can use a picture frame for the same purpose! 


Bonus tip: keep a magnetic list pad on your fridge for your shopping lists as well.

As you can see in the picture, I keep a magnetic list pad right next to my dry erase board. Once I've written everything down on the whiteboard, when I'm ready to head to the store I transfer the list to the notepad, splitting everything up into categories so it's easier to find at the store. Very handy!

I hope this helps you see how easy it can be to make a meal plan and stick to it- I absolutely cannot imagine not meal planning at this stage of my life! If you have any questions about meal planning or tips of your own for making one trip to the grocery store each week, leave them in the comments below :)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Preparing for Your First Elementary Music Teaching Job

Whether you're fresh out of college and landed your first job, or changing positions to take on elementary music for the first time, there's a lot to do to get ready for your first elementary music teaching job! And I know that the summer before my first year, I spent a lot of time and energy worrying that I was forgetting something important that I should be doing to get ready. If you're looking ahead to your first job in elementary music, here are my top 5 suggestions for things to do to prepare for the most successful year possible!


First of all, welcome to the most wonderful profession on the planet! :) I hope you are just as excited as I was to get started my first year. Teaching elementary music can be exhausting and even discouraging at times, but it is so meaningful and rewarding as well. Of course there's no way to anticipate everything and go into your first year completely prepared for everything that's in store, but the more you can do ahead of time, the easier it will be to adapt when unexpected challenges come your way.

1. Spend quality time with your classroom/ building

How much access you actually have to your classroom and school building will be different for everyone, but I highly recommend spending as much time as you can physically in your new teaching space as possible. The more time you can spend actually in the space, the better feel you'll get for what works and what doesn't, and the more "at home" you'll feel at the start of the school year. While you're there, here's what I would try to do (as much as time allows):

  • Go through every drawer, shelf, and closet (and re-organize the most important things you'll use right away in a way that makes sense for you). Make note of what instruments, curricular materials, and other equipment you have available to you.
  • Move the furniture around and think about the best way to set up the room to maximize space and streamline transitions in and out of class, and between playing instruments, doing movement activities, writing, looking at the board, etc. What will the students need to do to get from one thing to the next?
  • If there posters and bulletin boards up on the walls already and/or posters available for you to hang, spend time thinking about what you really need and want to have up on your walls. What will you want to reference in your teaching? Which things do you want students to be able to see readily during class, and which things will you only need them to see occasionally? 
  • Walk around the entire building. Make sure you know the fastest way to get to a) the staff bathroom, b) the copy machine, c) the office, and d) the staff room. You'll also want to get a feel for where all the other classrooms, gym, auditorium, cafeteria, and other rooms are around the building.
Don't have a classroom? You'll definitely want to spend time getting to know your way around the building, organizing your materials, and finding out what space you have available for storage. For more tips for teaching music from a cart, check out Music On A Cart- she has lots of suggestions for everything related to mobile music teaching!

2. Come up with yearly plans

I truly believe this is the one thing you can do over the summer to have the biggest impact on your school year! It's time-consuming, but coming up with at least an outline of what you want to teach when for every grade you teach will make a huge difference in your lesson planning life during the school year. If there are textbooks or other curricular resources available in your room or district, use them as your guide. Of course you'll add your own spin on things, but having a solid foundation to start with will save you so much time and headaches! Whether you have a detailed curriculum resource or absolutely nothing at all, I highly recommend going through my free email course, Lesson Planning Made Awesome. In the course I go through the entire process, from standards all the way to daily lesson plans, with all of the templates I use for my own planning. It is definitely worth your time to go through this process!


3. Come up with a clear plan for routines and behavior management

As I mentioned already, part of your thought process as you think about your classroom will be to think through how students will move from one type of activity to another, and how they will begin and end class. Besides those procedures, you'll also want to think about how you'll handle students who want to use the bathroom, get a tissue, or go to the nurse, your procedures for getting out and cleaning up instruments, writing supplies, and other equipment, and make sure you know your building's procedures and policies for things like safety drills and office referrals. If at all possible, ask other teachers in the building for what they do for these procedures- the more you can align some of those basic procedures to the rest of the building the easier it will be for students to remember!

Besides procedures and routines, you'll also want to have a clear plan for handling disruptive student behaviors. You need to be able to tell students on the first day what the consequences are for making poor choices so that there's less room for them to argue with you when it happens, and you don't have to fumble around either! Clarify in your own mind what your expectations are for students, and what you'll do to reinforce those expectations, create structure for your students, and help students learn how to behave appropriately in your class.

Again, talking to other teachers and administrators in your building about behavior management systems is extremely valuable! I've also written extensively about how I foster a positive classroom climate and teach students appropriate behaviors- read through this post for concrete ideas and thoughts for behavior management and classroom routines in the elementary music setting.

4. Get your life in order

Trust me, you really don't want to be distracted from the demands of your first year of teaching by things like finding a new place to live, learning how to cook for yourself, or dealing with an illness. Obviously many of these things you can't anticipate, but as much as you can, get your personal and home life running smoothly before school starts. Here are some of my top suggestions for minimizing your stress outside of work:

  • Get yourself on a healthy but realistic sleep schedule and put yourself on it now- your body will need lots of sleep and it takes time to adjust your body clock to a new schedule!
  • Stock your freezer with healthy, pre-made meals, whether you make them yourself and freeze them or even buy pre-made food at the store. You're not going to have a lot of energy for cooking, especially in the beginning, so give yourself something besides fast food and takeout to eat on weeknights when you just want to collapse on the couch!
  • Get yourself in a routine for managing your home and finances. Set up some sort of cleaning schedule for yourself, put as many bills as possible on auto-pay, and write down anything else that needs to be done less regularly on your calendar now (think oil changes, tax payments, doctor appointments, and other tasks that will be problematic if you forget them).
  • You're going to get sick. More than once. Make sure you have some basic medical supplies to deal with illnesses when they happen: a thermometer, pain medicine, cough medicine, bandages, etc.


5. Find a mentor

If you don't already have an experienced music teacher to go to, find one! Having someone who is ready to listen to your sob stories, answer questions, and offer advice is invaluable in your first year of teaching and beyond. Ask if your school/ district has any mentoring programs in place, and find out if there are any experienced elementary music teachers to talk to. If not, reach out! You can get in touch with your local Orff, Kodaly, or other music teacher's organization, talk to teachers in neighboring schools, or even head online. There are plenty of Facebook groups for music teachers with lots of experienced teachers who are more than willing to help, and you can also reach out to me (or any other teacher-author)! Find someone with experience who is willing to be there when you need them.

I hope these suggestions help you as you prepare for your first elementary music teaching job. There is a lot to do but it's just the start of a wonderful adventure!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Meal Planning 101: choosing your menu

After over 5 years of meal planning, I am definitely a big fan. After numerous conversations with people who say they want to try meal planning but just "can't get organized enough", I thought I would share my tips for people who want to give meal planning a shot but don't know how to get started. Today we're talking about how to pick out your meals for the week so that you're more likely to actually follow through with your plan!


One of the most common excuses I hear for why people don't meal plan is that they just can't anticipate more than a day or two ahead what they will want to cook. The key to avoiding this pitfall is making sure you're considering the rest of your schedule when you're making your meal plan!

The key is to plan your meals LAST!

There is no way to be a meal planner without being a planner in general, at least to a certain extent. You need to know which days you're going to be rushing around in the evening, when you might have company coming over, etc in order to make a meal plan that you can actually follow. When I sit down to plan out the week ahead each weekend, I always plan out everything else first- my children's activities, my work schedule, appointments, etc- then figure out my meals based on those factors.

The other important factor for creating a workable meal plan is to have plenty of realistic recipes at your fingertips. If you love spending time in the kitchen and have the time and desire to do so, save those recipes you get excited about making. If your evening schedule makes it impossible for you to spend more than 15 minutes in the kitchen, make a list of recipes that are super-quick to make. You're more likely to be successful in meal planning if you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to plan out your menu!

Set up (and maintain) a solid list of recipes that fit your lifestyle!

For me, Pinterest has been my best friend for keeping track of recipes I love. If you're like me and don't have much time to spend in the kitchen but still like to have variety and healthy meals, you're welcome to check out my boards for crockpot dinners and easy dinner recipes! There's also nothing wrong with going with good old index cards in a recipe box. Start a list somewhere that you can easily access, and add to it whenever you come across new recipes.

Once you've got a solid list of meals started and you get in the habit of planning out the rest of your week before choosing your menu, you're well on your way to successful meal planning! I'll be back to talk about more meal planning tips in future posts, so stay tuned- summer is a great time to pick up meal planning if you're hoping to get in the habit for the new school year!

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