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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Elementary Music Teacher January Jumpstart

I know it can be hard to think about going back to work when you're enjoying a relaxing winter break snuggled on the couch under a blanket, so today I thought I'd share all of my top tools and ideas to make your life easier as you head back to school, from calendars and organizational tools to lesson ideas and management tips. Hopefully this will help you be able to focus on the joy of seeing your students again and less on the dread of returning to a pile of work!

1. Lesson Ideas for January

For me January actually kinda plans itself. I always focus on reviewing all the main concepts I introduce in the beginning of the year- rhythm and pitch concepts in particular- and include lesson material centered around new year's celebrations and winter themes. I promise you, all of these ideas have been big hits with my students year after year and they are highly effective for reinforcing and learning key concepts. And if you want a little extra help putting all the lessons together with each grade's plans written out and all the materials put together for you, you can grab the January curriculum set here and check it off your list in one click!

2. Behavior Management Reset

If you had a tough time with difficult/ disruptive behaviors in any of your classes at the beginning of the year it can make it particularly difficult to think about going back (I know because I've been there). Just know that it is never too late to implement new procedures or systems to help your classes run more smoothly and help foster a positive classroom environment! If you left for winter break feeling dissatisfied or discouraged about your classroom management for one or all of your classes, here are my top recommendations for procedures and systems to implement midyear and hit the reset button, both general strategies and ideas to address specific issues. If you want to set up any of these systems quickly without having to make visuals and materials from scratch, here are the posters and visuals I use ready to print and go!

3. Organization

I know for me, January is when I get the urge to organize, purge, and streamline everything! Here are my favorite organization ideas for the classroom, planning, and home life to help get your life in order and take away so much stress! And of course if there are 2 things that I think play the biggest role in relieving stress and keeping me from dropping all the balls I have in the air, it's my planner and my K-6 general music curriculum. Trust me, if you are really serious about making your life easier to focus on what matters most, those are the two biggest "bang for your buck" things you can get.

I hope you find something here to help make back to school a little less intimidating and a little more exciting. If there's something else you're feeling anxious about or just wanting to improve that you don't see an answer for here, let me know in the comments and let's talk! 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Meaningful Ways to Encourage Teachers

If you haven't heard, teaching is hard! And at this point, a jeans pass is not going to cut it to make teachers feel better about their jobs- we need real, systemic changes in policies, pay, budgets, and so much more. But I also know that is a long game that is going to take a lot of time and group effort, and many of us are looking for ways to help teachers feel supported and appreciated in the meantime while we work on that! Whether you are a teacher like me trying to support your colleagues, an administrator wanting to show your appreciation for your staff, or a parent or other community member wanting to support your local teachers, here are some things you can do now that don't require a big social movement or a massive budget but also won't feel trivial or trite.

I've written about each of these ideas in more detail in their own separate blog posts- click on the images to read more about each one.

1. Start a teacher shoutout book

2. Set up a place to share "wins" in the staff lounge

3. Set up a water station for staff

4. Find opportunities for affirmation

5. Get them a gift they'll truly appreciate

6. Adjust your language 

Bonus ideas specifically for administrators/ school leaders:

I hope this gives you some practical ideas if you've been wanting to do something to show teachers your appreciation but felt helpless to do so! And teachers, if you have other ideas you've seen that help teachers feel encouraged, supported, and appreciated please leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Teaching Fa

I introduce solfege notes sequentially over the course of 4 years to really make sure students are comfortable working with the pitches before adding more to the mix. The very last note that I introduce in the middle of 4th grade is fa, and today I'm sharing some of my favorite lessons for introducing and practicing reading, writing, hearing, and singing fa along with the full diatonic scale.

My favorite song to use to introduce fa is "One Bottle of Pop". I'm also introducing partner singing in 4th grade, so this song is the perfect way to practice partner singing and also introduce the last solfege note in the same song! I'm sure most people have heard the song but for those who may not know, the song has 3 short verses that can be sung at the same time as a partner song- this video shows the melodies so you can hear how they go together. I actually lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year in elementary school and learned this song there so I teach the lyrics I learned there, which are slightly different than the ones I see U.S. Americans using online:

After learning each of the 3 verses separately with motions, I ask students to aurally identify the solfege of the first verse, which is incredibly easy with just do and sol. Then I tell them I want to figure out the solfege of the very end of the last verse and work backwards, so we start with the last note do and I ask them to aurally and visually identify the solfege from do back to the 2 eighth note "fa"s, which comes naturally since it is just a scale. There's fa! I like using this phrase to introduce the note because the phrase starts on fa and makes it easy to hear the tonality of the note and how it leans into mi. Once we've figured that phrase out and officially added the final note fa to our diatonic scale, I ask them to visually identify the solfege of the beginning of the second verse to see fa in a scale passage going from do to sol. Then we practice singing the entire song in solfege with hand signs, reading from the notation. Students are usually pretty surprised to find that they're able to do that pretty easily!

By 4th grade students are already aware that the note between mi and sol is fa, so introducing the note is not a major step. But it is a big deal that they now know the full scale and will be expected to use them all going forward! We always have a "solfege celebration" afterwards with Maria Ellis' Soul-fege Slide- I like to use this to practice the hand signs and solfege notes the next few classes after that as well:

Once they've gotten enough practice reading, hearing, and singing all of the solfege notes, I have them practice contextualizing the melodic and rhythmic notation concepts they've been working on by writing different rhythms on the staff with different pitches. Up until this point they have mostly either worked on writing rhythms in isolation on a 1-line staff, or writing melodies in isolation with just noteheads, so this is a big step for them. I have found that showing them on my computer how to take notes of different note values (like a set of beamed sixteenth notes or a dotted half note) and drag it onto the staff in different places helps them understand how the two concepts come together. We practice picking out different rhythms and putting them in different places on the staff on the computer together, then I have them work in groups to create a rhythm using rhythm cards, then write that rhythm on the treble clef staff to create a melody.

It is so much fun to see the excitement on the students' faces when they realize they have unlocked the entire set of solfege notes after all those years of practice! And they love the partner song because we make it silly with motions to exaggerate the nonsense lyrics. I hope you enjoy using these lessons with your students! You can see all of my lesson plans for melodic concepts all the way from teaching high and low in early childhood through the full progression of solfege notes in 1st through 4th grade, and practicing note letter names in treble and bass clef, in this post.

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!