Friday, August 30, 2013

Teacher Retreat + Team Building

This first week back as been such a busy week! Our school is fairly new and only accepts students with special needs or learning differences who need intervention. The school started with one classroom and now has five. With all of that growth, the school staff has doubled since December of last year. One of our missions this summer was to decide how to develop a school community.

This team building as a school started with the teachers. We all do team teaching as well as interacting with countless specialists (Doctors, OT's, Speech, etc.). Our administration decided it was important for us to do some bonding and team building together before starting our year.

We took a trip to Half Moon Bay and did a whole bunch of activities as teams. We all enjoyed a beautiful dinner and hung out at the Ritz over looking the ocean. That night we played Heads Up and Mad Gab which was a fun way to get to know each other outside of school. It was basically a big slumber party with all of us getting to bond with each other.
My view at the Ritz while we hung out together

The next morning we all ate breakfast and headed out to the beach. We each went kayaking with our teaching partner. I had never been before and it was sooo much fun! Lauren & I were the first ones out in the water together. We discovered we make a great kayaking team! I loved it and I think it would be a fabulous thing to do again with friends!
The AMAZING view from my bed on the sleeping porch!
Our kayaks!
 When we got back to our beach house we had some team building challenges. We had a rope and had to solve problems in different ways.
  1. Create an equilateral triangle without talking or taking our hands off the rope. This one was fairly easy and a nice way to start.
  2. Create a square with our eyes closed. This was a challenge because several people talked at once and it was hard to decide when we were done when we couldn't see anything. We eventually got it worked out. (I'll admit it was more of a rectangle, but it was close!)
  3. Lay the round rope on the ground and fit everyone in the circle at once while singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. This was tricky but doable the first time. Then the circle got smaller and got a lot more difficult. This is where the team building really happened!
One of the best parts of the team building was our facilitator. One of the teachers at our school used to do outdoor education and did a wonderful job of helping us reflect on the problem solving process after each activity. It was nice to think about how each of us approaches problems differently and we took different roles naturally in each situation. 

One thing I found very interesting were the Enneagram personality quizzes we all took. I discovered I am an "achiever" and "helper." Neither of these was a shock to me! I'm a SPED teacher who has always been a bit of a nerd! But it was nice to read a bit more about our personalities. Lauren, my co-teacher, and I have very different personalities, but we looked it up and discovered that we are very compatible and complement each other well. It's something I've noticed from the moment I started teaching with her. I'm so glad we were paired up together this year! Lauren was actually the one organized our retreat and she did an amazing job!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Picture Book About Autism with Author Interview

When I first started teaching kids with autism I searched everywhere for good picture books to explain it to kids. Let me tell you, it was not a successful trip to the book store! I finally found one...yep...ONE! That's it. That one was called Since We're Friends: An Autism Picture Book And I never found a really good one after that...until now!

This week I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of an adorable book picture book about autism! It's definitely a unique book that takes a whole new perspective. With the world becoming more aware of autism, it's time siblings and other children understand autism too! Leah's Voice is a very sweet story which does exactly that! I've searched high and low for good picture books about autism, and trust me, there aren't many! This one is very lovable for both the heartfelt illustrations and the caring set of characters.
 Leah's Voice gives real life examples that any child can relate to if they have been around a child with autism. The story is all about accepting the differences and including kids who are different, even if it means they need to play in different ways.

The best part of this book is the story behind it! The author has two little girls, one of which has autism. Lori was kind enough to "virtually" interview her with a few questions.

Interview with author Lori DeMonia
  1. Tell us about your girls!  Leah just celebrated her 12th birthday, and her younger sister, Sarah will be 9 in September.  They have a great relationship.  Sarah is a good role model for Leah and shows amazing patience with her. They ride the bus together, and both participated in an after school track program last year. They enjoy doing gymnastics and dancing together.  For the first time Leah was able to have a birthday party and invited some of her girlfriends from school this summer.  I didn't know what to expect, or how they would interact with Leah.  I was overwhelmed with how kind and patient they were, and it was a dream come true that Leah have friends that truly care about her.                                                                                                  
  2. How old was your daughter when you discovered she had autism?                                  Around 18 months old we noticed she stopped responding to her name, and then began   becoming agitated at times when we tried playing with her or got too close.  Slight changes that we thought would subside didn't, and at age 2 1/2 she was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder.                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. What inspired you to write this book?  I saw a need for a book about a female character with autism, and a book that had a good story to capture children's attention as well.  I was inspired by my daughter's relationship and how loving and patient Leah's younger sister is.   Since it is a fictional story, I used the name Logan for the younger sister in the story.                                                                                                                                                                   
  4. Do you intend to write more books about autism in the future?   I hope to write a follow up story with the same characters possibly, or maybe boy characters.  I'm currently writing an article about siblings and autism for a magazine.                                                                                                                                                                                      
  5. I saw that your daughter's artwork was in the newspaper. How did she get discovered for her artistic abilities? I found out about KindTree, an organization that does the Autism Rocks traveling art show, as well as other events with individuals on the spectrum.  They have a yearly art grant award which is given to artists on the spectrum by a judged panel.  I sent Leah's art to them one year and she received a grant and her art piece was included in the art show.  Their artists are from the U.S. and other countries as well.  The following year she was one of three artists to receive a grant.  Now it has been 5 consecutive years!  When she was very young it seemed taking out art supplies was the best way to re-direct her while she was having a meltdown.  Then a friend made a comment that her art was very advanced for her age, and I began to save much of her artwork.   To this day it is something she enjoys, and she shares what's in her heart through her artwork too.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  6. When did you explain autism to the girls?    We told Sarah about her sister's autism when she was about 4 1/2.  I don't think she fully understood what it was until she was a little older.  Leah has been told she has autism, but if asked she probably couldn't explain it.                                                                                                                                                                  
  7. What recommendations do you have to other parents of children with autism?  Try to surround yourself with a good support system.  Don't let any negative comments about your child bring you down.   I used to get very upset about hurtful comments and now realize they most of the time are out of ignorance.  That's not to say they aren't hurtful, but don't let them take away your hope and positive outlook.  Trying not to put too much thought into all the things your child may not do, and focus on their strengths is something I would also recommend.  Find joy in the small accomplishments too.  One day Leah left the house to catch the bus.  While walking with her dad and sister, she stopped in her tracks, went back to the house and opened the door to say "goodbye mom!".  That moment meant so much to me, even though millions of moms out there hear those words daily before school,to me it was a huge deal!  Plus, it was unprompted and out of love.  Stay hopeful no matter how small the accomplishment.                                                                                                                             
  8.   I wish more people would understand how different the world we experience is to an individual with autism.  Sounds that can't be filtered out or sensations that we can easily cope with, sometimes can be painful for someone with autism or so distracting that it hinders everything.  If more people understood that their behavior is at times their way of coping with things, I think there would be more acceptance.
Thanks for reading! What is your favorite book about autism?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer vacation is coming to an end...

I've reached the end of my very short 3 week summer vacation! It my final weekend of freedom before I head back to school for a teacher training week. Everyone thinks it's great my kids don't start until Labor Day, but let's not forget the 5 weeks I worked in summer school.

I'm actually looking forward to training week! I have a day or two to work in my room and get things done. My class is already set up, so it's plenty of time for planning and making new name tags for my 2 new little guys who are joining our classroom.

Lauren and I jumped right into co-teaching together and it worked great during summer school. Now we just need to clarify how we are adjusting things for the longer school days.

I had these great ambitions of doing tons of planning with my curriculum....but that never happened! I needed a mental break after all of the excitement and work that went into changing schools this summer. Plus my sister is getting married and I had a whole pile of bridesmaid duties the last couple of weeks.

Don't you worry, as soon as I get settled into the new school year, I'm sure there will be tons of new things to share with you! I know I have several kiddos who could use some extra special creations to make school life a little easier for them!

Did you start school already?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School Sale?! Who could miss that?!

Okay, I'll be honest...I've totally neglected my blog this week. Sorry folks! It was my sister's bridal shower today and I have spent the whole week cleaning, planning, decorating, and a bunch of other stuff so that it would be everything my sister would hope for. Look at the adorable cake toppers I made!

On the upside...the party is done just in time for the TPT gigantic Back to School Sale!!!


I can't even tell you the number of times my friends have emptied their carts without that additional 10% OFF! What a sad, sad, thing to happen! We teachers are working with a limited budget!

Everything in my store will be 20% OFF, plus the additional 10% OFF you get by entering the code.

I added in my Common Core Checklists for 3rd Grade Language Arts (only math was available in my store for 3rd grade until this week).

My Social Skills Reminder Cards have always been a big seller. Now would be a great time to pick up the corresponding Social Skills Reminder Posters!

All of my clip art is also on sale, including my Special Education Visual Directions Set!

I still need to go through my wishlist and fill my cart! I have every intention of shopping on TPT this weekend, but I haven't had a chance to start browsing. Honestly, last year I bought stuff, then bought more 4 hours later! I might have a shopping problem...

What do you plan on picking up on TPT this weekend?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

RAFT- A Teacher's Dream Store for Cheap Supplies

Today was one of those days where I wondered... why didn't I check out this place sooner?!?!

At some point a year or two ago a parent mentioned getting something from "Raft" and I had no idea what she was talking about. She seemed surprised, but she was often telling me about stuff and most of it...well...wasn't worth my valuable time as a teacher. They were things that has zero connection to my curriculum and were informational, but random. I made a mental note to look into this "Raft" place, and then forgot about it.

Well today I discovered the AWESOMENESS known as RAFT (Resource Area For Teachers)!! It was far beyond anything I'd imagined. It's like all the big high tech companies around donated their extras (some used, some new) and threw them all in a giant warehouse for teachers to buy for cheap! 

They also have kits made up of materials given a new purpose and turned into cool learning games. CLICK HERE to check some of them out.

Teachers pay $40 to join, but the membership lasts for a year and the deals are AMAZING! I saw metal file folder holders that were $15 at Staples, but were only 10 cents at RAFT! Two of those and a few reams of paper would honestly pay for the membership! Good news! You don't need to be a member to buy stuff online! Just in the store where things are insanely cheap.

It's the kind of place where you never know what you are going to get, but you know it's cheap. I found TONS of things with high tech company logos that were brand new such as a computer bag for Cisco Systems which was probably bought for employees, but then donated as extras. If I bought the bag in the store it would be $30, but if I don't care about the logo, it's only $2. They had glitter, construction paper, staple removers, envelopes, yarn, scrap material, and tons of other stuff. Many items were brand new in their packaging! Obviously since it runs on donations from companies, you never know what you'll find, but it's all a really cheap!

Check out the things I found in the pictures below:

Every dice set you can imagine! Place value to 10,000, verbs, double dice, regular dice, and who knows what else! Every jar in this picture has a different one!

These bins were called "bulk bins" and you can fill a whole reusable grocery bag for $2.50! They had things like corks, stencils, puffy paint, film canisters, and all sorts of things I can't name, but I could certainly come up with uses for them!

These colorful bags are those little balls you find in gumball machines that hold prizes! How cute! I need to find a gumball machine just so I have an excuse to buy these! It's $1.50 for a set that I think must have had at least 50 of them.

These bins had office supplies that look like they just sat in a storage closet for 2 years before getting dropped off for us to buy. They have everything from whiteboard cleaner to paperclips and pencils. It's crazy cheap too! A box of paperclips was 25 cents, and a big box of red correction pencils was only 50 cents. These are not "Back to School Sales," these are the regular prices! How awesome!
Carpet squares for only 25 cents?! Awesome! Too bad I don't need them this year!
So what's your favorite place to grab deals for your classroom?

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Fun Helping Other Teachers :)

Today I spent the day in a just wasn't mine! One of my favorite teaching buddies (well actually she's an awesome friend in and out of a school setting) moved to a new school. She was with me at my last school and we often helped each other out. No need for that tradition to end just because we are on new campuses!

Now she's at a great new school, but needed some help figuring out the best way to set up her new and awesomely huge classroom! Our last school was FAR from traditional, and the building was never meant to be a school! There was no such thing as bulletin board walls, cupboards, counters, or storage that's actually useful in the main teaching spaces. Since that was her first couple years of teaching, she was a little behind on the tricks to using the amazing space of a real classroom. She's teaching 4th grade this year :)

So off I went to hang out with her and help any way I could... (I secretly love setting up classrooms!)

It was fun chatting as we sat on the floor cutting out laminated stuff and helping her plan her classroom setup. I was glad she was able to feel much more settled in her room by the time I left. We'll be checking out another teacher store tomorrow and using my Cameo machine to cut out of bulletin board titles. Have I mentioned how much I love that thing?!

This was our proudest creation today! She picked an owl theme and had a basic idea of what she wanted, just wasn't sure how to execute it. These colored sheets are going to be the background for her students' work to be displayed.

 Tips for setting up a board like this:
  • Laminate the construction paper with the blank name tags attached (we used tape)
  • Write names with a Sharpee marker. This makes it so you can use Expo (dry-erase) spray to erase the names if students move away or classes get adjusted in the first couple of days of school. No need to redo the whole wall! Same goes for name tags if you teach with a migrant population like I have in the past.
  • I'm convinced school walls, or maybe the fade-less paper aren't exactly straight! We hung the borders in straight lines, and some paper hung out on the sides/bottom. To fix the problem, slide an open pair of scissors or a razor blade gently along the edge of the border. The thin strip of excess paper cuts right off! Her walls have cracks in them and sharp scissor slide easily down the line for a perfectly straight cut.
  • Work can be hung and exchanged easily using a small binder-clip held on to the wall with a push pin. Putting the pin at a downward angle helps keep the clips from blowing off if there is a breeze through the doorway.
I love setting up bulletin boards! Oh, and desk/furniture arrangements! What's your favorite part of setting up a classroom?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Where's Lisa?? Party Planning!

I just wanted to say a quick hello to my amazing readers (AKA... YOU!!). My sister is getting married in a month and I've been lost in party planning this week. Sorry I've been such a stranger this week. I've been planning her Tinkerbell bachelorette party for this weekend and her Cinderella bridal shower next weekend.

Well since my sister couldn't care less about my teacher blog, I can give you a peek at what I've been working on! I totally justified my purchase of my Silhouette Cameo! I cut out these little stencils and then etched them on to wine glasses. They turned out pretty good for never doing anything like this before. And the Cameo...that was just fun! I have many things in store for that next week for the bridal shower! I'll show you pics just for fun :)  Yes, I know this is my least teacher related post ever!

I used this stuff and then made my own stencils:
Available on Amazon (cheaper than the store)

The Glass
The Stencils

Monday, August 5, 2013

Keeping In Touch With Former Families and Students

What happens when you leave a school? Do you walk away and never see these kids and their families again? I'll be honest, that's what happened at the first school I left. It was a low income community of non-English speaking parents with little to no technology, so it was hard to stay in touch when I left Arizona to come home to California.

This last school was harder to leave the kids behind! I honestly started the year thinking I'd be staying with these kids for up to 3 years (I had multiple kinders in my K-2 class) and it was hard to leave them at the end of the year. The kids had nothing to do with my choice to leave. It was all about an AMAZING opportunity! When I left I gave my personal email to all 4 families (the 5th moved away before the year ended). With a class of 4-5 kids I got to know the families VERY WELL! I loved them all.

The summer hasn't even ended and I've seen or communicated with 3 of the 4 families! I feel like keeping up communication in special education it is extra important! Our students see sooo many more specialists and doctors, which means surveys and forms about the students to be filled out by teachers before important decisions about medications and behavior strategies are made. These are things a new teacher who has only known a child for a week cannot possible answer with any sort of accuracy.

This summer I have been tutoring one of my sweet boys and I love it! He's started opening up to me in new ways. He has learned my schedule of working at the new school, tutoring him, then heading off to the gym. It's cute. He says, "Bye! You're off to the gym now!" I confused him last week when I was out of summer school and went to the gym before seeing him.

Two other kids needed forms filled out for various evaluations and testing procedures. Nothing too exciting, but something a new teacher would have trouble answering. I was more than happy to help them and we send the forms back and forth to each other. I had such sweet families last year that I don't think I could ever tell them no!

How do you feel about keeping in touch with former families? What is the longest you've kept in touch with a former student or their family just to see how they are doing or help them out?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Back to School Currently!!

Today was my first real day of summer vacation! Yep, you read that correctly! There was so little time between jobs (a week) and it was mainly doing errands and packing/rearranging all of my teaching supplies at my house...which STILL have not all been moved. Then I jumped right in to summer school which just ended yesterday!

But now it's time to do the fun stuff! Sleep, relax, lay by the pool, and help my sister with last minute wedding stuff before she gets married. Three weeks of freedom!! Whoo hoo!

Added bonus...I have time to blog for fun things like Farley's CURRENTLY!
Listening: I'm enjoying a night of nothing that I have to do! I've got my wine, tv, and Covert Affairs! I just love watching a woman in a tough girl role!

Loving: My new school and co-teacher Lauren! We jumped right in to teaching together with almost zero planning time together and we totally clicked! I had to talk to a parent yesterday who is placing her child in a school in the fall and wanted to know the differences between the school I came from and the school I now teach at. I was completely professional and respectful of my old position, but at the same time the woman clearly saw the advantages for me as a teacher at my new school! We have a great staff, great kids, and I couldn't ask for a better teaching partner!

Thinking: My new curriculum is still not quite in my comfort zone. I've slowly figured it out, but it wasn't easy jumping in on chapter 8 where the last teacher left off! It was great for the learning curve of the kids, but I still need time to understand how it all works. There are sooo many hands-on learning materials (which are wonerful!!) but it's hard to figure out which ones they are referring to. One page said to use "Echo" and I thought that was some form of cards/posters/supplies...turns out it's the name of the owl puppet! The kids repeat after the owl!

Wanting: SLEEP! I honestly was in my bed by 8:30 last night and out cold by 8:45! It's been a long summer of my alarm going off at 5:45. I loved that little second when I turned my automatic weekday alarm to the "off" position!

Needing: to put some serious thought in our small group area organization! We have a tiny closet of a room for one area, and a horse-shoe table area in our main classroom. We swap who teaches where so that no one is trapped in the closet all day! I have the main room for reading groups and the closet for math groups. This poses a problem of the last teachers materials still being there from the previous group when the next group goes in. There is only a 15 min. break between the group sessions and it involves us taking the kids out to recess. We need to have a way for both of us to have our materials ready when we need them, but out of the way when the next person comes in.

Don't let this picture fool you, there is NOTHING more to this room than you see in the picture! The other wall is directly out of view on the right of this photo. In fact there are usually 2 more chairs and a minimum of 5 humans in this room. There is a big closet, but it's triangle shaped and awkward to stack boxes and materials in it. I'm grateful for the separate room so we don't teach over the top of each other, but the organization of that back shelf needs some help.

B2S Must Haves: These are obvious! I honestly went to Target not once, but TWICE today!
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