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Friday, June 29, 2018

June Favorites 2018

Boy, June has certainly been a whirlwind. With 12 makeup days on our calendar our last day of school this year was the 26th, and it seemed like I was in charge of a million end-of-year events this year that kept me busy right up until the end. Now that I can breathe again, it's time to take a look back at some of the highlights from the past month!

1. First international music festival

This was perhaps the highlight of the entire school year, actually. After years of thinking about it, I finally pulled off my first "international music festival" this year. I ran it like an informance- each grade level shared one or two songs/ dances from a country they have been studying in music class. Every student in the school performed for each other! Some grades did dances, some sang, some played instruments, and everyone pulled it off so much better than I ever could have hoped (especially since we had some unexpected school closures right before due to a tornado)! I've been teaching my classes these units on music from a specific country for years now, but this was my first time having them perform what they learned outside of class. If you want to see the lessons I use for 9 different countries, you'll find them all in this blog post.

2. Teacher of the year

I'll be honest, I feel a little weird sharing this, but I have a reason (besides tooting my own horn) so stay with me. I was recognized as my building's teacher of the year this year, and I was so grateful for the encouragement I got from my colleagues who wrote such glowing reflections on my teaching as part of the nomination process. It was such a good reminder of something I've really been thinking about a lot more this past school year: the value and importance of positive affirmation for my friends and colleagues around me. We all nod our heads when we hear this but then in the craziness of life it so often gets lost in the shuffle anyway: all of us need encouragement and support, especially as teachers! Hearing genuine praise and getting recognition for the time and energy I pour into something I care so deeply about was so refreshing and uplifting. I was re-inspired to make a conscious effort to tell the adults around me- not just my students- about the positive things I see them doing and the positive character traits I admire in them. How much more motivated would we all be to go to work each day if we felt appreciated more often?

3. Start of summer

I can't talk about June without mentioning the start of summer vacation! Those of you who know me know that I won't stop working entirely, but a change of pace and scenery, and more time to spend with my daughters, is definitely a welcome change! I'm looking forward to the chance to reflect on everything that has happened over the past year, tackle some of those projects I've been putting off, and just enjoying a slower pace of life with my girls for the next several weeks.

4. Music education articles

I love finding great music teaching posts to share with you each month- click on the picture below to read each one. I promise they are worth your time!

Time for July- I'm ready! I hope you all get a chance to unplug and unwind this month, but don't forget to check in here too! I have some fun plans for this summer that you won't want to miss. Want to get a peek into my everyday life more often? I share more snapshots like this over on Instagram much more regularly. And if you aren't already, you'll definitely want to get yourself signed up for the Organized Chaos Newsletter right here! I always send out a few exclusive treats over the summer to subscribers! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ace the Interview: philosophy statement

It's job interview season and for a lot of people (myself included), the thought of trying to sell yourself and communicate your passion for the job in a one-page document and (hopefully) a short conversation with strangers is more than a little intimidating! Today I want to focus in on one question that is often presented in both written submissions and interviews for teaching jobs: your philosophy statement. This can be such a nebulous topic but I think it also has the potential to be one of the most effective ways to showcase who you are as a teacher and get a genuine sense of whether or not you are a good fit for the position. Here is my advice for crafting a response that will best showcase your knowledge and passion.

1. Find your focus

When you're trying to craft a philosophy statement, it can be overwhelming to try to encompass such a heavy topic in a few brief sentences. But as with every other part of the application and interview process, it is critical for you to narrow your focus to those one or two ideas that best express all of those thoughts swirling in your head- it will be impossible for another person to get a clear understanding of your views otherwise! If you, like me, feel like you have more than a couple of key aspects that are equally important to your approach, it's time to take a hard look at what is at the core of all of your ideas.

  1. Write down all of the issues/ ideas that matter to you and make you who you are as an educator. Maybe it's current issues in education that you're really passionate about, whether it's standardized testing or achievement gap. Maybe it's a particular approach/ teaching framework. When you're first asked to share your teaching philosophy, what comes to mind? Write down everything that comes to mind as ideas that shape the kind of teacher you are or hope to become- what drives you as an educator?
  2. Take a look at your list. What is the "why" behind the items on your list? This is going to take some serious thought, but it's the key to figuring out what is really at the core of all your thoughts and passions. If you listed some different issues in education that are important to you, why do those matter so much to you? If you listed some specific approaches to music teaching, why do you believe those are the best approaches? 
  3. Narrow your focus to one or two sentences. It won't feel like you've communicated everything you want to at first, but it's important to really and truly narrow your focus to just one or two thoughts- any more than that and your reader/ listener will lose track of everything you're trying to say.

2. Flesh out your statement

If you have a very limited word count or time limit, you may only get to share your short statement and nothing else. But I've learned the value of communicating how your philosophy plays out in your day-to-day classroom. Once you've narrowed your focus to a couple of key ideas, write down some examples that explain how that philosophy affects your actions as a teacher. If you are an experienced teacher, you can use actual examples from your teaching. If you are new to the field, you'll want to think about how your approach will affect your teaching practice, whether it's your lesson planning, your behavior management strategy, or your relationships with students and/or colleagues.

This is also where you'll want to make sure your philosophy statement is tailored to the specific job for which you're applying. Most of us are certified to teach K-12, but if you're applying for a high school band job you won't want to give examples of how your philosophy plays out in a classroom of elementary students. Make sure that you communicate your passion for the specific area of music and age group that this job will focus on.

Remember this is not a chance for you to go back to your long list of "issues" or thoughts- you need to avoid confusing your audience with too many different ideas. These are concrete, specific examples that help the reader/ listener visualize you as a teacher.

3. Test it on an outsider

Unfortunately, there's a very good chance that if you're applying for a music teaching position, the person reading your application or interviewing you will not have a background in music education. Once you think you've got a handle on your philosophy statement, share it with a friend or family member who doesn't know much about music education. See if they can understand the key points of your explanation- if they can explain back to you the main idea(s) after you've shared your statement with them, you'll know that it's clear enough for your application. If they can't, talk to them to find out what is confusing them and then go back to the drawing board.

Still feeling lost? Here's mine.

There are two key components to my teaching philosophy: 1) I am a teacher first and a musician second, and 2) my primary goal as a music teacher is to help each and every student discover their strengths and weaknesses in the world of music and foster both.

There is often a debate among music teachers over which part of our job title is more important: music or teaching. For me the answer is clear- I am a teacher first, and music is my tool for teaching. I have wanted to be a teacher since childhood, but it was not until I had to select a major for my undergraduate program that I decided to be a music teacher. The idea that drives every decision I make is this: I am in the business of growing human beings. One of the most important ways this plays out in my teaching practice is my commitment to identifying musical strengths and weaknesses in every child. I incorporate a broad spectrum of music-making (singing, playing instruments, moving, listening, writing, etc), musical genres and sources, and modes of learning in my classroom because I want every student to experience both success and failure. Students will be motivated to learn and gain a sense of pride and belonging through their musical strengths. Those strengths are also important entry points for new learning. But it is equally important to me to create a classroom environment where every student experiences failure. The most significant learning comes from stepping out of our comfort zones, and by consciously crafting a classroom environment and lesson content that pushes every student into those areas of weakness, I am more accountable to making sure I am not placing greater importance on a particular musical skill, genre, learning style, personality, or cultural background.

I have some specific examples of individual students who discovered their strengths/ weaknesses in my class, how I adjusted my teaching methods and lesson content for different student populations in different buildings, etc that I use to flesh out my philosophy statement further.

I hope this helps you to think through and clarify your teaching philosophy. This is actually a great practice for all teachers, whether you're new or experienced, applying for jobs or staying in your current one. I'd love to hear your own philosophy statements! Leave them in the comments, send me an email, or come share them on social media. This is a great conversation to have with colleagues!

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Meal Planning 101: organizers

Over the last few weeks we've been talking about meal planning, and hopefully convincing anyone who feels like they just aren't organized enough to be a meal planner that is attainable and adaptable (and definitely worthwhile)! Today I want to revisit my favorite meal planning topic: organizers. I think there's something here for everyone, no matter what your lifestyle and intensity level of meal planning might be- which one would you use?

However you decide to go about meal planning, you're going to need some place to keep track of, well, your meal plan! Depending on how structured you want to get, there are a lot of ways to do so that will help keep you organized and make choosing meals each week easier.

1. Clipboard

OK, so it's not what we normally think of as a "clipboard" but it's a board with clips! The basic idea is to have your meal ideas written on cards, and you pick out the ones you want to use for each day and put them on that day's clip. Each clip has a day of the week on it, attached to a picture frame. The beauty of this system is that it's easy to use, cheap to make, and having the cards pre-made makes it easy to keep track of which meals you've made recently (by putting them into a separate box) and go through your list of meal ideas quickly to pick out new ones for the week. Click here to read my post on how I made and use this organizer.

2. Dry Erase

Dry erase boards are another easy way to keep track of your meals for the week. My favorite way to make dry erase organizers, of course, is with a picture frame. In the picture above I used scrapbook paper and letter stickers to make the template to go under the glass. You can set the board up however you want- keep your shopping list over on the side instead of to-do's/ prayer lists, write down breakfast/ lunch/ snack ideas in another section, etc this way. Click here to read more about how I make these. If you're not really the DIY type, you can also pick out one of the meal planner templates from my home organization binder, laminate it, and use it as a dry erase board as well!

3. Planner

Of course if you have a planner for home and/or school, you can also just write your meal plan down in your planner along with everything else! I've done this a few different ways: for a long time I reserved the box at the bottom of each day in my planner to write down my dinner menu. When my after-school schedule gets busy with meetings and extracurriculars, I've also just made a list in my notes section of all the meals for the week.

However you decide to go about it, I hope you'll give meal planning a shot! It has made my life so much easier not to have to stress about dinner during the week. What are your favorite meal planning tips? If you want to read my previous posts on the topic, click below:

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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 included in 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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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Teaching Elementary Choir

Elementary choir can be a bit of a puzzle. Often we have very large groups, short and infrequent rehearsal times, and lots of performances to prepare. After writing about a wide range of elementary chorus topics over the past several months, I've decided to compile my top tips in one place to make it easier for you to find all of the information in one place. Click on the pictures below to read each post in full, and if you have other topics related to elementary choral teaching that you'd like to see covered, leave a comment below and I'll add it in as soon as I can!

Don't forget to let me know what other topics you'd like me to cover relating to elementary choir in the comments below! And if you want to stay updated on more ideas and resources, click here to sign up for my email newsletter!