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Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Favorites 2016

Now that December is almost over (can you believe it?!?), I'm back to chat with you about some of the things I've been especially enjoying this month. It's always fun to take a minute to look back on all of my favorites each month and celebrate the little joys that I've enjoyed!

1. Advent activities

Christmas just gets better and better every year as my daughters get older. This year they are about to turn 5 and we had so much fun with the advent calendar I started using 3 years ago! If you want to read about how I made the advent calendar itself, click on the picture below. To see a list of the little activities I planned for each day of the month leading up to Christmas, read this post (it's all simple little things that you would normally do anyway- if you've never tried it with your family, save the idea somewhere for next year!).

2. New planner goodies

Michaels is really going all-out with planner stuff this year and it has been very hard to restrain myself from buying the whole aisle! This last time I picked up some new stamps (I use them to make my own icon stickers- here's my tutorial) and I love them! I've been looking for an airplane to show travel information and a doctor icon for appointments for a while now, and this set has both. I also got inspired and made myself a new tool for my planner out of an old promotional card- I'm hoping to do a video or blog post explaining how I use it soon, because I'm pretty proud of myself ;)

3. Easy readers

I got a few books for my girls, who are just learning how to read, for Christmas this year. It's hard to find books for the very earliest of readers that they can actually read on their own, but these have been a big hit! You should have seen the smiles when they finished reading the whole book by themselves!!

4. Blog posts

I find some more amazing blog posts this month! I share my favorite finds every Friday on my Facebook page if you want to catch them each week! Be sure to check out each post below by clicking on the pictures. They are all great reads.

I hope you enjoyed this month's post! What things did you enjoy most this month? I'd love to hear from you- leave a comment!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Blog Posts 2016: planner posts

As 2016 comes to a close, I'm taking a look back and some of my favorite blog posts from this past year. Today I wanted to share my top 5 favorite planner posts (click here for my top lifestyle posts, and here for my top music teacher posts). It has been so much fun to look back on everything that has happened this year- I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me as well, and maybe find some inspiration or new idea that you missed the first time around :) Click on each picture to read the original post.

1. Planner Tour 2016-17

I have to start with the big ones: this post has a complete video tour of the planner I've been using this school year! I've made a few updates since then- my planner is always evolving- but the "guts" are still the same and I absolutely love it! If you want to see how I have my pages set up for lesson and life planning, classroom and home organization, and even budget tracking, this is the post to read!

2. Planner Setup 2016-17

My "planner setup" post is always a fun one for me because to me, my planner is a craft- I put it together myself with lots of little DIY's and cheap hacks, and it's always fun to come up with new ways to make my planner both pretty and functional without buying more stuff ;) If you're looking for some simple and budget-friendly ways to get your planner set up for success, this is a great place to start.

3. Planner Supplies and Organization

After slowly expanding my planner decorating over the last few years, I finally got to the point where my planner supplies needed their own storage space this year. If you want to see my favorite supplies for decorating my planner (in a functional, budget-friendly way) and how I store them, check out this post! I absolutely love this system (and the supplies I have!).

4. Themed To-Do Lists

I use the ideas in this post all.the.time. in my planner- themed to do lists are a great way to organize larger projects and events.

5. Options for and Ways to Use Lesson Planners

If you've ever struggled to find a lesson planning system that works for you, or if you have trouble sticking with the system you start at the beginning of the school year, you'll want to check out this post. I go through all of the options you need to consider to find the right system for you (including digital and online planning options), and tips for making your system work even better to fit your needs. This post is chock-full of awesome tips to help everyone from novice to experienced teachers get their lesson planning more organized- you need to check this one out!

That's it for my top 5 planner posts from 2016. Did your favorites make the list? Did you find a new favorite post on this list that you hadn't read before? What do you want me to write about next? Leave a comment below- I love hearing from you (seriously)! Thanks for reading and happy new year!

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Blog Posts 2016: music teacher posts

As 2016 comes to a close, I'm looking back on the blog posts I wrote this past year on the topic of music education. Today I wanted to share my top 10 favorite music teacher posts from 2016 (see my post yesterday for my top 10 lifestyle posts). I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me, and maybe pick up some awesome ideas that you missed the first time! Click on each picture to visit the original post.

1. Classroom Jobs in Elementary Music (update)

The classroom jobs system has been a hugely successful behavior management tool for me, and the new job I added this year has been a perfect way to increase students' involvement in the classroom community while developing conflict management skills and empathy.

2. Center Activities

As I've spent more and more time using centers in my classroom, I've developed a long list of favorite activities to use. If you're looking for some new ideas or hoping to start using centers for the first time, this is a great list to look through.

3. Composition for Upper Elementary/Middle School

I did a series of posts on teaching composition this past summer. All of the ideas in this post are perfect for this age and easy to implement.

4. Composition Manipulatives

Another post on composition, this one specifically about manipulatives! I love using manipulatives with my students for composition. It makes it so much more fun and concrete for them!

5. New Ideas for Upper Elementary

I know I'm not the only one who struggles to come up with engaging, meaningful, challenging general music lessons for upper elementary and middle school students. These ideas were huge successes last year and this post was one of the most popular teacher posts from the year!

6. Things to Make for Your Classroom

Wow, this post got a lot of positive feedback this summer! All of the ideas on this list are easy DIY ideas for the elementary music room. These are perfect projects for a break when you have a little more time, so save this for your next vacation to-do list!

7. Behavior Management

I've written quite a bit about behavior management over the years, so in this post I rounded up all of those posts into one huge one to make it easier to sort through all of the information. If you're taking a fresh look at your behavior management systems, or are getting started as a music teacher, this is a great read.

8. World Music Series

To be completely honest, I don't think I've poured as much heart and effort into any blog post as much as I did for these world music posts. I wrote an entire series this spring with a different focus each week: Mozambique, Brazil, China, Native American, Philippines, Ireland, Maori, Bolivia, and Japan. I've linked to the post on Brazil here but you'll find links to my posts on all of the other countries in this post as well. Teaching music from a variety of cultures in a way that authentically gives students a way to experience and relate to each culture through its music is hugely important to me, and I hope you find some easy ways to do that in your own classroom in these posts.

9. Many Colored Days Lesson

I love this lesson idea because it can be adapted for a wide range of ages, incorporates literature, teaches a variety of musical concepts, and encourages students to think about their emotions in a constructive way.

10. Lessons During Concert Season

When concert season hits, it's hard enough to keep up with all of the logistics of concert preparation let alone think about lesson planning. But just drilling the same songs over and over to get the kids ready for the stage gets awfully monotonous (and can make you and the kids want to bang your heads against a wall!). Here are my favorite ways to keep things interesting without having to prepare any new lesson plans during concert season.

Well, those are my picks for my top 10 music teacher posts of 2016. Did you favorites make the list? Did you find a new favorite post that you missed the first time around? What do you want me to write about next? Leave a comment- I love hearing from you! I hope you are all enjoying your holiday break, and I look forward to another year with you all! Thanks for reading!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Blog Posts 2016: lifestyle posts

As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of my favorite blog posts that I wrote this past year. A lot has happened over the course of this year, and it was so much fun looking back on it all! Today I'm sharing my top 10 "lifestyle" posts from this year, including posts on parenting, home organization ideas, and other ideas for life outside of school and work. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me, and maybe pick up some awesome ideas that you missed the first time! Click on each picture to visit the original post.

1. Co-Parenting / Divorce Planner

Little-known fact for most of my regular readers: this post where I shared my divorce/ co-parenting planner as a free download is by far my most popular post of all time. The idea that others finding themselves in this difficult circumstance are benefitting from this planner is one of the most fulfilling results of this whole blogging thing for me! If you or someone you know is going through divorce or co-parenting, I hope you'll take a look at it. I'm hoping to make some updates to the planner next year as well.

2. Music as a Parenting Tool

As an equal-parts-mommy-and-music-teacher-blogger, I'm surprised it took me this long to write a post on using music as a parent, but I finally did it (and I'm glad I did).

3. Meal Planning Organizers

I stepped up my meal planning game this school year and it is the Best Thing Ever. If you're looking for some organizational strategies to help make home life a little less crazy, I highly recommend taking a look at meal planning!

4. DIY Wall Decals

This was a fun summer project that came from one of those, "why didn't I think of that sooner?" ideas, and my daughters and I continue to enjoy them every day! It has ended up being a great way for the girls to express themselves and personalize their bedroom without breaking the bank (or damaging any walls)!

5. Gratitude Wall

Speaking of walls, this was another project but for my own bedroom, and I love it! Besides being really fun decor, it is an awesome reminder each day of those little things (and little people) that I have to be grateful for.

6. Dance Playlist

This was another post that combined my music teaching and parenting hats, and is probably the post I have referred back to the most myself since I published it- having all of these fun, clean, upbeat songs together in one spot has saved me on many occasions both at home and in the classroom!

7. Preschooler Closet Organization

The girls' closet has been updated slightly since this post, but the organizational structure has stayed the same and we all love it. Such an easy way for them to keep up with their own clothes as preschoolers!

8. Divorce Ring

To be honest, I was surprised at how much positive response I got from this post, but it was wonderful to hear. This ring is so special to me and I hope it inspires others to do something similar!

9. Preschoolers in the Kitchen

Any time I tell people that my 4-year-old daughters are responsible for dinner once a week, the response is usually either shock or laughter (or both). I love watching the girls take on more and more responsibility in the house, and the kitchen has been a great way for them to do that!

10. Family Chore Chart

Another one of those "why didn't I think of this sooner?" ideas- our family chore chart. Now that I've realized the benefits of putting myself on the chore chart along with the kids, I'll never go back to a traditional chore chart with only the kids!

Well, those are my picks for my top 10 home / parenting / lifestyle posts of 2016. Did you favorites make the list? Did you find a new favorite that you missed the first time around? What do you want me to write about next? Leave a comment- I love hearing from you! I hope you are all enjoying your holiday break, and I look forward to another year with you all! Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fresh Start Music Teacher Checklist 2017

Some of you are already on break, and others, like me, still have a few more days of teaching left to go before the holidays. No matter which hemisphere you're in, or how long your break is, this time of year is a great time to take some steps to get ready for a fresh start in the classroom for the new calendar year.

Maybe you've had an awful start to the school year (that has been me several times in my teaching career, including 4 years ago which was just awful for many reasons). Maybe you've actually had a great start to the year. Maybe you're just tired of the same old stuff. No matter where you are right now, this time heading into the new year is a great time to make some positive changes to keep you going in the new year.

I have been putting together these "Fresh Start Checklists" for 3 years now, and every year I have made some tweaks to the list, or added some additional items that I want to look at. For this year, I made one big change that mostly affects all of you: the list is editable! So this year if you want to use this list for yourself, you can remove, change, and add your own items to the lists to fit your needs.

The checklist includes basic organizing and cleaning tasks, like cleaning off the desk, organizing the closet, and sorting through materials. It also includes some prompts of things to think through over the break to help move towards a fresh start, like taking another look at behavior management strategies, seating charts, and lesson plans (if you're hoping to take a fresh look at your behavior management, like I was 4 years ago, take a look at this post I wrote with all of the changes I put into place in my own classroom).

This year I am adding one more question to my own list: who are the students with whom I am close to making a connection, and how can I foster that relationship? I know that, with over 300 students to teach, I'm not going to form deep relationships with all of my students. I also know that some students I already have that connection with- they are the ones that look forward to coming to music every week. It's their "safe place", and I am, for some of them, the most important adult in their life. What I want to focus on over the break is those kids with whom I could develop that same deep relationship but haven't yet. Those kids that need a positive adult relationship in their life, who enjoy music class, but with whom I haven't yet connected on a deeper level- that level where they feel they can confide in me about the big things happening in their lives, or come to me when they need help. As I think about the new year this year, I want to make a short list of students that I think I could potentially connect with on a deeper level, and come up with some specific ways to try to develop that relationship.

Every student needs to have someone at school with whom they can connect. I can't be that person for every single student, but I want to continue to do my part to seek out the ones for whom I can be that important person.

I hope you will all have some time, heading into the new year, to take stock of where you are and take some steps to make positive changes in your classroom. If you're interested in seeing my lists (I have one list for the music classroom and one for home/life outside of school) to help you make your own, you can download them for free by clicking on the picture below. What are some things you want to focus on this year? Leave a comment down below!

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Fresh Start Home Checklist 2017

I know we haven't quite made it to Christmas yet, but with New Year's just around the corner I've started making a list of things I want to do over break to clean, organize, and get re-inspired at home and at school. Today I wanted to share my list for home with you- hopefully you'll find some new ideas to get you ready for a fresh start in 2017!

This is my 3rd time putting together these "Fresh Start Checklists" and I have found them so helpful each year. I always find new things to add to my list and this year is no different- now that I own my own home I am much more aware of things like air filters, smoke detectors, and other important household items that need to be cleaned, replaced, or checked periodically, so those have been added to my checklist.

I call them "fresh start" checklists and not cleaning checklists because I also include things that aren't related to cleaning or organizing but are good ways to breathe new life and energy into your home life, like adding a new piece of artwork. It's also a good time to get rid of clutter and streamline various aspects of your life so that you can start the year with a clean slate.

I love using these each year and find them so helpful for getting organized over the winter break! If you want to see the full list, you can download a copy here (I've made it fully editable this year so you can add/edit to suit your own needs!):

I hope you are all preparing for a wonderful holiday season, and that you are able to use this resource to get re-energized for the new year!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Engaging Students in Meaningful Learning During Concert Season

December is a crazy time of year for music teachers, and often our curriculum gets swallowed up by preparations for concerts, caroling, sing-alongs, and other holiday music. Besides being frustrating for us teachers who feel like meaningful learning has been put on hold, it can get pretty monotonous for the kids to sing the same songs over and over again as they prepare for their performance. Today I have some ideas to continue developing musical skills and concepts (besides performing!) AND change things up to keep kids more engaged while preparing concert/ holiday music.

1. Explore expression

I generally save my main focus on dynamics and tempo for this time of year. It's such a simple way to practice the same song over and over again- just change the volume or speed! I tie this in with a focus on vocabulary as well. Write all of the dynamics words they should know (old and new) on the board, then point to different ones during the song and have them switch their dynamics accordingly. Of course I have students come up and point as well. I've also used individual signs, with one word on each sign and holding up different ones, but I like putting them all up on the board better because then the students are seeing all of them all the time and get more time to look at each word. I do the same thing with tempo words, and I've even done it with articulation.

2. Learn about form

One memorization trick my piano teachers used to use in my piano lessons growing up was to have me perform sections of the song in mixed-up order. The same trick can work for concert music too, so this is especially great for songs that the students are trying to memorize. I incorporate a study of form into my lessons this time of year by discussing the different parts of a song (a verse and a chorus, or 2 verses and a chorus, an A and a B section, etc) and then arranging them into a different order to create whatever form they are learning about that year. For example, if they're learning about ABA form, then I'll have them sing the song in verse-chorus-verse order. This works even if you don't have the right number of sections in the concert music! If there are more sections in the original song than in the form they're studying, I'll have the students pick out however many sections they need and assign a letter to each one (the 2nd verse will be our A section etc), or I'll pick out the sections they are struggling with the most and use this opportunity to get some extra practice on those parts. If the original song doesn't have enough sections for the form, I'll either combine two (or more) songs, or create (myself or with the class) additional sections to create a "mashup". They love it! Sidenote: this works even better if you have different movements to go with each section- it could be as simple as walk on the beat for A and tiptoe for B. They seem to understand the concept of form much better when they change their movements for each section.

3. Practice arranging

Another great way to change things up is to have the students create a new arrangement of the song. This could be as simple as adding a rhythmic ostinato, or selecting expressive elements (dynamics, tempo, articulation, timbre etc) for their performance. I like to show an example of arranging (this post has some videos I show of different arrangements of the Sugarplum Fairy) first and then have them create their own arrangements in small groups to perform for the class.

4. Experience music careers

My 6th graders study careers in music, and this is a great time to have them experience some of the ones that relate to performances- sound engineer, publicity, producer, conductor, performer, etc. I have also done this lesson in those extra classes that you have after a big concert, when you're too tired to come up with a lesson.... ;) Talk with the students about all of the different elements that go into putting together a concert, and all of the tasks that need to get done, and discuss what kind of people are in charge of those tasks for a professional performance. Assign different students to each job and have them put together a mini-concert, using the same music they'll be performing at the concert, in class. You could also have them actually do the tasks to help you prepare for the actual concert if you start the lesson far enough in advance!

How do you keep students engaged and learning when you're in the thick of performance season? Have you used any of these ideas in your classes? If you try them out this month, or if you have other ideas, I'd love to hear about it! Leave a comment down below. Thanks for reading and best wishes on the remainder of this crazy time of year!

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