Image Map

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Interactive Display for Teacher Staff Lounge

The staff lounge can be a very negative place sometimes. While it's good for teachers and staff to have a safe place to vent and complain, it's also important for our own emotional well-being to share positive things as well, and that can be difficult to do when you pop in to have an adult conversation for the first time in 4 hours! This is a simple and effective way to help lift everyone's mood when they're having a tough day, and serve as a reminder of the good parts of our work.

As teachers we spend our whole day trying to maintain calm and positivity in the face of disrespectful parent emails, disruptive and rude student behaviors, and overwhelming work loads, so it's perfectly healthy and good to be able to vent and share our frustrations with colleagues who get it. The problem is that, especially with the very short length of time we usually spend in the staff lounge, it will often stop there and we never hear or share the positive things that happen, which can feed into the perception that there is more bad than good going on, which in turn can feed into an "us vs them" mentality, or just negative feelings about school in general.

While there are definitely plenty of aspects of teaching that need fixing, it has really been helpful for me to find ways to refocus on the positive, fun, happy, funny moments as well. I definitely can take myself and my job too seriously sometimes and that makes me a much more uptight, cranky teacher! So I decided to put up this display in the staff lounge and invite colleagues to add to it:

I just put some butcher paper on the wall, used some extra border I had with stars on it (our school's PBIS system is "STAR" so we do a lot of things with a star theme), cut out a few star shapes from regular copy paper, and made the letters and sign to create a title and explanation above it (feel free to copy and print to use yourself):

I also grabbed a few extra markers and pencils and put them in a cup to leave next to the board so people could write things down whenever they thought of something. I talked to the principal beforehand and each of us wrote an anecdote up immediately so staff would get the idea. It definitely took a few days to catch on but slowly but surely, more and more stories and quotes have started to be added- I love walking in to see a new one on the board, it makes me smile every time! And although the venting and complaining is definitely still there (as it should be), there are also conversations about the funny quotes that people posted mixed in as well, and that has had a small but positive effect on the mood in the room.

I've loved seeing people use it, and I hope we can fill up the entire wall by the end of the school year! And maybe next year I'll make something a little more permanent to use the same way so we can keep it going. What other ideas do you have for fostering positivity in the teacher room? I'd love to hear what you've seen in your buildings in the comments below!

Blogger Widgets

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

#Watertok Education Hydration Station for the Teacher's Lounge

I've been especially focused this school year on finding ways to boost teacher / staff morale in my building. The last few years have been incredibly stressful, to say the least, and with so many new teachers coming into my building I knew it would be important to try to build a positive, supportive work environment with my colleagues if I was going to avoid being completely miserable this year. I have taken on a few different projects to that end already this year, but the one that has gotten the most buzz amongst the teachers so far this year has been the "education hydration station" I set up in the teacher's lounge.

I am definitely not the first person to do this- I completely stole the idea from this video I saw on Instagram:

To be honest I had not heard of #watertok until I saw this video- I'm not actually on TikTok at all. So for anyone else hiding under a rock like me, apparently there has been a trend recently of people sharing "recipes" for flavored water that they make by mixing water with different drink mix powders and syrups. The idea behind the "Education Hydration Station" is to set up all of the ingredients, along with some recipes, so staff can mix and match different flavors with their water.

I set this up the week of Halloween- we had a VERY long week that week with a full 5 days of school (with Halloween on Tuesday), evening conferences on Monday, and a 90 minute staff meeting after school on Thursday (yikes). I really do think having the motivation to drink more water actually helped keep my energy up, and everyone loved trying out the different combinations! I was only going to have it set up in the teacher's lounge for one day but ended up leaving it out for most of the week. 

The one part of this I will take credit for is the name (yes I know I am so clever). If you want to use the signs I made for the table, you're welcome to print them out below:

All you really need are the drink packets, syrups, and ice to make this work. I also had jugs of water, because we don't have a bottle filler or any other source of drinking water in the staff lounge, and I also got some cups with lids and straws, although most teachers have their own water bottles so they aren't absolutely necessary. Here are the links everything I bought for the recipes on the printout above (plus a few other drink mix flavors):

plastic cups with lids and straws

coconut, peach, pina colada, and vanilla syrups

grape, strawberry, orange, pineapple, fruit punch, pink starburst, and cherry drink mix packets (I got mine at the dollar store- they were cheaper there- but you can get them online at those links if you can't find them locally)

water jugs from (I got mine at Walmart)

ice from Sonic

I think this is a fun way to change up the usual the staff lounge treats, and it was definitely a big hit with a low budget. Maybe you can find a way to sneak this post in front of your principal or PTA to keep in mind for teacher appreciation week....? We all know teachers are always dehydrated, so we can pretend it's healthy :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Teacher Shoutout Book

I've been especially focused this school year on finding ways to boost teacher / staff morale in my building. The last few years have been incredibly stressful, to say the least, and with so many new teachers coming into my building I knew it would be important to try to build a positive, supportive work environment with my colleagues if I was going to avoid being completely miserable this year. I have taken on a few different projects to that end already this year, but by far the easiest, completely free, and genuinely effective one by far has been the teacher shoutout book.

As I'm sure many other schools are experiencing, we have a lot of new teachers in our building this year. Along with that, there is (understandably) a general sense of negativity in teacher land right now because of student behavior, mounting pressure and micromanaging from administration, ongoing inadequate pay, and other factors that have been heightened coming out of the pandemic. I also am very aware that we are in a time in education where, because teaching has been so dramatically different the last 3 years, administrators, consultants, families, and others in the community are uniquely unable to understand what teaching is like for us, which adds to the level of stress. 

While certainly working towards improving and fixing the structural, societal issues that are causing this stress and negativity is obviously the most important thing that needs to happen, I wanted to do what I could to help foster a sense of community and teamwork with my new colleagues, and do what I could to spread positivity- not the toxic, fake kind that ignores the real issues, but the genuine kind that helps everyone feel seen and valued- in our school staff.

The basic idea of the teacher shoutout book is simple: someone writes a note to another staff member about something they appreciate about them, something awesome they did, etc in a notebook and leaves it in their mailbox or on their desk for them to find, with directions to pass the favor along to someone else. I had a few blank notebooks laying around at home that I wasn't using so I picked one that had a bookmark (added bonus, as more notes get added it's easier to mark the current spot), wrote "Staff Shoutout Notebook" on the front, and taped 2 pieces of paper on the inside:


On 1 piece of paper I printed out a list of all the school staff- their names and positions- to hopefully encourage people to think of someone that hasn't been recognized yet when they are thinking of who to pass it along to next. On the other side, I put a basic explanation of what the book is with instructions to pass it on when they get it. 

So far it has been circulating well among different members of the staff, and the principal told me she has had several staff members comment to her that it was the best thing that had happened to them that year and totally made their day. I did find it on someone's desk a few weeks after I started sending it around and peeked at some of the messages people had written- it was so nice to see all of the positive and encouraging things people were saying about each other!

I highly recommend this to everyone. Even if you already have a really strong, well-connected staff, this is still a great way to help teachers feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and it really does make you feel better both as the writer and the receiver! And it's so easy to set up: all you need is a notebook, or you could even use a binder with some looseleaf paper inside, and a little note somewhere on the notebook explaining what it is so people know to keep passing it. I hope you'll consider trying it out in your school- let me know if you do! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Teaching Ti

I'm returning to my series on melodic teaching strategies from years ago today with my favorite lesson ideas for introducing ti. After working on the pentatonic scale in 3rd grade, I introduce ti in 4th grade: singing it, identifying it aurally, and notating it as well.

My favorite song to use to introduce ti in 4th grade is "Boots of Shining Leather". I like using this song because I use it to review canon singing (as we get ready to learn partner songs) and this song is a good level of challenge for singing in canon while adding some movement as well. Here is one example of movement you can use- adding the element of having the groups face each other and walking back and forth makes it interesting and challenging for this age group! I tend to change up some of the movements to make them a little more modern but the basic idea is the same:

Once they are familiar enough with the song to be able to sing and move in canon, I show students the notation of the 2nd line, "boots of shining leather". This line works particularly well for students to see adjacent notes and quickly find ti because it starts on do, goes up to re (which they already know), and then goes back down the scale to la. There's our new note ti right in between do and la!

I don't get into minor scales until 5th grade so I don't explicitly touch on it in this lesson, but this is also a great song to use for la-based minor. Every single year I have had at least one student who notices that the song "sounds minor" and I often give a quick explanation of la-based minor for that student(s) by pointing out that the phrase ends on la instead of do.

Once we've practiced singing the note names in the song, I introduce the "me salty" game. If you have seen my previous post on mi/ sol/ la, then this game works the exact same way the "salami" game does: I sing a 3-note phrase with hand signs and students echo it back, but if I sing mi-sol-ti (which sounds like I'm calling myself "salty") then they are not supposed to sing it back. I of course mix all the other pitches into the phrases they echo so that they get plenty of practice with all of them! Once they can consistently sing the pitches with correct hand signs, I up the ante. First I sing the notes with hand signs but humming instead of singing the names, and they have to sing them back with the note names. Then I take away my hands and continue humming and have them sing and sign the notes back, and then I use just my hands and have them sing and sign the notes back. It takes quite a bit of concentration!

My favorite way to have students practice notating melodies including ti, at this age, is with Chrome Music Lab Song Maker. I like using this software with upper elementary because it's an easy way to use the colors to see which note is which, and they can see the melodic contour of the notes going higher and lower on the screen. First I have them practice notating short phrases I sing on solfege on the computer, then I have them notate the melody for "Boots of Shining Leather", and then eventually they compose their own melody including ti on Song Maker and transfer that to staff notation.

All of this is done over the course of the entire year as they get more comfortable with the pitch concepts. If you missed them, be sure to check out my previous posts on introducing sol/mi in 1st grade and introducing la in 2nd gradeAnd if you want to see the full lesson plans for how I teach the pentatonic pitches throughout the year in third grade, along with all the materials I use, you'll find them in my 3rd grade curriculum set here. All of my posts on teaching melodic concepts, including solfege, pitch letter names, and more are compiled in this post.