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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Power of Positive Visuals

I'm not much of a touchy-feely person. I tend to be skeptical of anything that seems fluffy or ignorantly positive. But I have come to appreciate the power of positive visuals and the influence it can have on my mood and motivation in a very real way, and today I wanted to share some of my favorite ways to incorporate them simply and effectively into my daily life.

It all started with a quote that really struck me. I knew I wanted to be reminded of that thought often, so I stuck some paper inside a dollar tree picture frame to make my own dry erase board, wrote down the quote, and hung it by my front door. When I came across a new quote, I erased the previous one and wrote down the new one.

When I moved into my new house, I was looking for easy ways to decorate my bedroom and make it more colorful, and picked up a scrapbook paper pad with colors that coordinate with my bedding. In that paper pad were a few pages with large quotes, and one of them had both a great message that I wanted to wake up to, and was visually appealing as wall art. So I modge-podged it onto some cork board and hung it on the wall in my bedroom:

As I started playing around more with my planner decorating, I started incorporating other pieces of scrapbook paper and stickers with inspirational quotes that I anticipated I would need to be reminded of that week. I even made some of my own (see them here) that I printed, cut, and glued into my planner. Since I look at my planner multiple times every day, I figured I should use the space to help keep me in the right mindset!

All of these are very simple but have had a positive impact on my mood and mindset as I go through my day- it's amazing how powerful a simple image can be!

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

April Favorites 2018

*sigh* It's almost time to say goodbye to one of my favorite months..... How was your April? The weather here was not great for most of the month, but we had a good week to finish it off and I have so many great things to share with you!

1. Birthday festivities!

My birthday was full of special treatment this year- I definitely felt loved! My parents brought me coffee early in the morning and snuck into my house to put up some birthday decorations while I was at work, the art teacher at my school took me out for lunch, and one of my sisters got me tickets to go see the Boston Symphony and Yo-Yo Ma play at Carnegie Hall! It has been years since I went to the symphony and my first time hearing Yo-Yo Ma live, so that was a special treat. All of these are just the special things people did for me on my actual birthday- I had so many other friends and family shower me with love this year and I was really reminded of the blessings they are in my life :)

2. Planner updates

OK I'm trying really hard not to sound like a commercial here, but honestly this was a HUGE part of my month and very exciting for me so bear with me please- all of the #PlanMyWholeLife Music Teacher Planners that I design are officially updated for the 2018-2019 school year and I am so excited! If you want to see some of the new updates I've made this year (besides all of the new calendar dates), I posted this video on my Facebook page that shows some of the biggest changes.

3. Spring break

My spring break was just about as great as I could ever hope for: an old friend came to visit, we (finally) got some warm weather so I could play outside with my daughters, I got caught up on work, and got to relax and (gasp) even sleep in! I love my job and I love my students but it was definitely nice to get some sunshine and slow down for a few days.

4. Music education blog posts

I always love sharing some of my favorite blog posts from other music education authors- click each picture below to read the full posts. I promise you they are all worth your time!

Next up: May! One of the busiest months of the year for sure. Want more ideas, resources, and lesson plans sent straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Teacher and Life Planner: Tips for Effective Use

My teacher/ life planner is my single most important tool for maintaining my sanity as a mother, music teacher, and teacher-author. I designed my "perfect for me", all-in-one planner 5 years ago, and I've been refining my system and streamlining my organization ever since. Along the way I've shared my favorite tips for using planners on this blog, and I think it's high time I compiled those tips into one place!

Below you'll find all of my favorite posts on tips and strategies for using your planner for everything from lesson planning to home life organization (and everything in between). Click on the pictures to read the full posts- happy planning!

A "tour" of what my planner looks like after a full school year of use:

"Teacher-y" things to keep in your planner:

Home and life items to keep in your teacher planner:

Using the lesson planning pages in your planner as effectively as possible for your own unique teaching situation:

How I use my monthly calendars:

Planning ahead for the following school year:

Using "decorating" to make planning more effective and organized:

Consolidated to-do lists:

Tracking snow days:

Tips on planning ahead for winter holidays:

Organized concert prep:

I hope these resources help you get the most out of your planner and get more organized! If you have any questions or your own tips to share, I'd love for you to leave them in the comments below! And if you want to learn more about the planners I design for music teachers, check out the video below and click here to shop. Happy planning!

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Teacher and Life Planner: Making It Your Own

My obsession with my teacher/life planner is no secret: my very first post on this blog 4 years ago was about my planner, and it has been an ongoing topic ever since! As a mother of two young kids, a full-time music teacher, and a teacher-author, having a planner that allows me to consolidate all of my responsibilities and streamline all of that information effectively and efficiently is a life-saver!! I simply cannot overstate how important my planner is to my sanity.

BUT after sharing so much planner goodness for so many years, I realize it has become increasingly difficult to concisely share all of those tips and tricks with planner newcomers. So this week I'm going to do my best to bring all of my best information together in one place to make it easier for newbies to get started, and probably help those of you who are already on board the planner train find some hidden gems you may have missed before!

Today's post is all about setting up the physical planner itself to get it ready to use. Click on the pictures to read the full posts!

All of the supplies I use for my current planner setup, including the binder and accessories I use, how I print my pages, and more:

How to customize the planner printables on the computer before printing (with a video tutorial showing you exactly how I do it!):

A tour of all the pages I have in my current planner, including sections for school, home, and business, and how I organize the pages to make them easy to find/use:

Super-simple tutorials for making your own sticky note "dashboard" to use as a bookmark, and a pocket folder to stick in the back of your planner:

All of the supplies I used in my previous planner setup (which I used for over 3 years and loved!). If you're just getting into planners like this, I would recommend starting with these:

I hope you find all the information you need to get your planner set up the way that works best for you and your needs! If you have any further questions about getting your planner set up effectively, please leave them in the comments below- I LOVE talking about planners any day! And if you want to look at the different planners I design for music teachers, check out the video below and click here to shop. Happy planning!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Finishing the School Year Strong

To say that the end of the school year can get a little hectic would be an understatement for sure. Often as teachers we can go into survival mode, counting down the days until summer and hanging on for dear life, hoping the kids won't literally bounce off the classroom walls and that you'll at least show up in the right place at the right time for all the end of year concerts and events. Although there's certainly a point when we all have to give ourselves some grace, relax our expectations of perfection, and try to embrace the chaos, today I want to offer some possible strategies to help us all finish the school year strong. Instead of crawling across the finish line on our hands and knees, hopefully these will help us all feel like we've won the race!

1. Lesson plan with the end in mind

Now is the time to take stock of where each grade level is in covering the content you intended to complete this year. Which concepts or skills have you not touched? Which did you cover but intend to review because the students didn't quite grasp it yet? If you're feeling like you're way behind and have too much left to cover, it's time to go into triage mode: which concepts and skills are most critical to the students' ongoing musical development? Which are less important or could be set aside until next year?

If you find you're exactly where you need to be, good for you! Here are some review games that are perfect for the end of the year, and here are some units that work well for me in the last few months of school that will continue to reinforce musical growth while keeping students engaged.

Once you've got your list of skills/concepts you need to address, make a realistic outline for how you're going to cover them before the end of the school year. You'll want to take into account all the class time you'll miss because of end-of-year events, concert prep you need to do, and any last-minute things that might come up as well. Think carefully about skills and concepts you could cover together- you could easily work on dotted half notes and pentatonic solfege by finding a song that has both!

Now that you have a plan for when to teach what, you just need the how. What is the most active, engaging way you can teach each skill/concept? Here are some of my go-to ways for keeping things interesting all the way until the last day of school (click on the links to read more):

2. Avoid countdowns

I've written an entire post already on this topic so I won't get into too much detail here, but once you've mapped out the rest of the year's lessons, it's time to get your brain out of countdown mode. All that does is turn your attention to vacation and away from the present, and that's not good for anyone! The more you focus on counting down the days, the more likely you are to slip into filling time, which causes students to disengage and cause behavior problems, which makes you even more anxious to just get it over with (and the cycle continues...)! Step away from the calendars and paper chains. Don't get sucked into the countdown trap. Focus on all the fun, meaningful work you still have left to do!

3. Take some shortcuts at home

Whether it's spring weather-friendly crockpot meals, hiring a cleaning service, ordering takeout, or just keeping your social calendar lighter and opting for some quality time on the couch instead, acknowledging the chaos and cutting yourself some slack is important. Here are some more stress reducers that help keep me sane when life gets especially hectic.

4. Continue to invest in your students

One of the biggest advantages we have as "specials teachers" is teaching our students over the course of multiple years! Remind yourself and your students that this isn't the end. Homeroom teachers will by necessity be working on bringing closure to their relationships in many ways. We can be a source of stability for students by staying connected to our students and continuing to remind students that we are not going anywhere! Here are some tips for fostering relationships with students as a specialist with hundreds of students.

And if you are leaving for one reason or another, don't let that be a reason to pull away and disengage from your students! Acknowledge the transition that is coming, but take the opportunity to enjoy the remaining time you have together.

5. Get your act together

No excuses! I don't care whether you're a "type B personality" or think you're scatterbrained or a "go-with-the-flow" type. Now is not the time to leave all of the logistics of juggling end of year events to chance. Write down every event on a calendar as soon as you hear about it (don't have a good calendar? Print out the next few months from this free download). Figure out what, if any, teaching time it is going to take away from. Adjust your end of year lesson plans accordingly. For all the events and performances you're leading yourself, plan out all of the logistics as far in advance as possible. Here's a post on organized concert prep for more details on things to consider.

Most of us will also have general end-of-year tasks that need to be taken care of, whether it's end of year reflections, cleaning up our classrooms, turning in paperwork, or other building and district related tasks to close up shop. Make a list somewhere and plan out the time to complete them! You don't want to be stressed out about turning in a form or taking down a bulletin board when you'd rather be focusing on saying goodbye to your students and having fun making music!

Let's make this the school year that we go into our summer vacation feeling like we "left it all on the field" instead of just getting by.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Appropriate Chores for 6-Year-Olds

I've always made sure my daughters helped out around the house. Some of it is admittedly self-serving, being a busy single mother, but mostly I think it's important to foster a sense of responsibility, work ethic, and independence, and to develop the skills to take care of themselves and their home. Now that the girls are 6 years old they've added a few new things to the list of chores they can do, so today I'm sharing the kinds of tasks my daughters do as 6 year olds! Of course every child is different, but hopefully this will be a good starting point for any parents trying to figure out how to get their young children helping out around the house.

Before we get to the list itself, I should mention that I'm not including "self-care" types of things on this list- it's assumed that they brush their teeth, get dressed, and clean up after themselves when they get out toys to play with. It's also worth noting that my girls have been doing "chores", at a much more basic level, since they were about 3 years old, so we've been building up to these tasks for several years (you can find my old posts detailing the chores they did at younger ages at the end of this post).

With that said, here are the chores my 6-year-olds currently do. They usually each do 1 chore a day, so they aren't doing all of these all of the time, but they do help out with all of these at some point in any given week.

1. sweep/ vacuum
Getting a stick vacuum has made it a lot easier for the girls to help out with vacuuming, and they love doing it! Sweeping is something they've been doing for a while, especially cleaning up under the dining room table.

2. load/ unload dishwasher
The girls are reliable enough with the dishes now that they can handle regular (non-plastic) dishes and can get them in and out of the dishwasher without dropping them!

3. set/ clear table
Having all different colors of dishes and napkins definitely makes the task of setting the table more appealing ;)

4. cook
The girls plan and cook dinner once a week, and they are more and more independent in the kitchen as their confidence grows with things like knives and ovens. You can read more about how I got my preschoolers started cooking meals in this post.

5. unload dryer/ put away laundry
This is another new addition- our washer and dryer are downstairs and our bedrooms are upstairs, but they are strong enough now to carry a load of laundry up the stairs to put it away. The girls have been putting their clean clothes away in the closet for a while now, thanks to an easy-to-use closet setup. See their closet in this post.

6. take out recycling/ small trash
The girls don't do this on their own yet, but often when I am taking out the trash they will help carry a small container of recycling or trash so I don't have to make as many trips outside.

7. get mail
Checking the mail is still one of the most exciting things they do, but now with the added anticipation of getting their own mail- their grandparents gave them subscription boxes for Christmas so they have loved getting packages addressed just to them once a month!

8. water plants
I don't keep a lot of house plants, but they especially like to help water the small garden we have in front of our house, especially in the summer.

9. make their bed
The last couple of things are more just routine things the girls do, but I thought they were worth including- they have really gotten into making their beds lately, smoothing out their covers and arranging their stuffed animals!

10. pack/ unpack backpacks
Every day when we get home from school the first thing they do is empty their backpacks. Helps me get everything cleaned up before we get into homework and dinner time!

That covers most of the main chores that my girls are doing these days! If you want to see what they did when they were younger, check out the posts below:

And if you want to read more about how I have set up chores in general over the years, here are a few posts you can read:

As we get closer to summer vacation and then the start of 1st grade, we'll probably be revisiting their chores again. It is ever-evolving as the girls continue to grow!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Teaching Melodic Concepts: Lesson Plans and Strategies

Over the last few weeks I've been sharing some of my favorite lessons for introducing different solfege pitches in elementary general music. These are a great way to get your lesson plans going as you plan out your long-range sequence for teaching melodic concepts across grade levels! Along with my posts on solfege, I've got a few other favorite posts and resources to help you teach melodic concepts as effectively and comprehensively as possible.

The place to start, before introducing any specific pitches, is with the concept of high and low. Here are some of my favorite lesson ideas for introducing high and low in early childhood/ kindergarten:

Different teaching methodologies start introducing specific pitches in different orders, but I start with Mi and Sol in 1st grade. Here are some of my favorite lessons for introducing and practicing those 2 pitches:

Once students have a solid understanding of Mi and Sol, it's time to add La!

I introduce Do and Re next to complete a pentatonic scale, but these lessons can also be used if you start with Do, Re, and Mi as your first set of pitches:

By 4th grade students are ready to work with the full diatonic scale! I have separate lessons that I use to focus on ti and fa with upper elementary:

I introduce letter names at the beginning of 3rd grade. It's a whole new ball game switching from just solfege to using letter names as well! Here are my favorite full-class and center lesson activities for helping students practice letter names:

During the pandemic I discovered even more great ways to get students practicing note letter names in fun engaging ways using technology:

For melodic composition, I use a lot of manipulatives to make it more accessible for young students (it's a lot to wrap their heads around!). My favorite by far for lower elementary (but even my 4th graders love them) is music monster magnets:

For older students, I find color-coding the notes helps a lot with melodic composition, and stickers are a fun way to break up writing tasks!

Looking for more lessons and strategies to teach melodic concepts, including melodic composition, lessons incorporating children's literature, solfege, pitch letter names, and more? This free ebook is a compilation of ideas on teaching melodic concepts from tons of expert music education bloggers. Download your copy here:

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