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How to Invest Students In Your Classroom’s Big Goals

Back to School, Featured, Goal Setting, investment, Teaching
 Hey, y’all!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted but as we are approaching Christmas Break, I wanted to share something that has been on my mind. While Christmas Break is obviously a time to recharge and enjoy time with family, it is always also a time where I reflect on the past semester in order to figure out what I should adjust in the spring semester. One thing I always reflect on is how close my students are in pursuit of our classroom big goals, and how invested they are in reaching them.

One of the things that I really focused on during my first year teaching was this idea. I was/am a firm believer that while I may be able to get up in front of the class and deliver great lessons, and have the students do the most engaging activities but if the kids weren’t invested in what we were doing and the reason behind it, then I wouldn’t get the best results consistently to really “move” students.

As I mentioned in my first back to school post, a big part of how I view teaching is shaped by my time as a Corps Member with Teach for America. The core values of the organization and their philosophy of “Teaching as Leadership” is the lens in which I view my own teaching practice. One of the tenets of the strategies discussed in Teaching as Leadership is about this very topic. I want to discuss investing students in how I understand it and want to think through this for my own classroom, and from the lens of being a middle school teacher.

I Can + I Want

Investing students in a real way in their own academic success is especially critical in schools that are working to close achievement gaps (most all!). According to Teaching as Leadership, to invest students, they have to believe that they “CAN” achieve, and they have to really “WANT” to achieve. Our job, as educators, is to make sure that we do what is in our power to make sure this is true for all students. Not only do teachers have to be on top of their game instructionally, but we have to make sure our classrooms are places that remove barriers that affect student achievement in order for kids to know they can achieve, and are inspired daily to want to to do so.

Now, before I move on, I want to be clear that I am talking only about what educators can control. We may not be able to change a student’s home life, situation he/she came from, or any outside factors that are affecting a student’s life, but we can control our classroom environment, and the culture of our classrooms. 

Classroom Environment

Most teachers I know at least somewhat enjoy decorating their classrooms (they may not enjoy the toll it takes on their bank accounts, but that’s another post!).  Creating a welcoming environment is definitely a first step in investing students in classroom big goals and their own learning, but it boils down to more than that. Having clear student expectations, procedures, routines and systems in place that hold all students to a high expectation is also especially important. All students, even some of the most challenging, need (and want!) to know how to operate in you classroom. Establishing accountability, and empowering students to be good decision makers and to understand they can contribute positively in a classroom is also essential in investing your students. To break it down…

From Teaching as Leadership:

To Create a Welcoming Environment: 

  • Have clear systems in place
  • Reinforce Expectations
  • Model and practice 
  • Hold Students Accountable When Expectations Aren’t Met

Classroom Culture of Achievement

For students to be invested in your classroom big goals, there has to be a culture of achievement in place to help foster that investment, as well as nurture it when obstacles arise. Students should understand that anything other than their best will not be accepted, but they should also not want to give you anything less than their best (again, remember that really investing your students = I CAN + I WANT). As the teacher, your attitude, consistency, the classroom environment, etc. can foster the I CAN in a student, but building the I WANT in a student can be a little more tricky.
To Create a Culture of Achievement: 
  • Communicate that effort leads to growth (or, growth mindset)
  • Convey that students benefit from achievement
  • Consistently reinforce effort in class
  • Invest stakeholders and role models of the student

Academic Content

Finally, to invest students in your big goals you have to ensure that you’re teaching TO your students, and not AT your students. This goes well beyond differentiating (buzz word!) and includes using learning goals and what you know about students to help get them to WANT to achieve. 

To help foster the I CAN + I WANT in students with you academic content:

  • Communicate why it matters (relevance)
  • Teach to fit your students’ needs
  • Give students choice
  • Design real-world assignments/projects
Again, investing students in your classroom big goals is an on-going process. AS teachers, we have to work intentionally every. single. day to build the I CAN and the I WANT in each of our students. While this may come easy to some, for most it will require constant reflection and adjustments in teaching practice. 
Investing students in my classroom big goals is important to me because it is why I show up to work every day. I want my students to reach the goals we decided upon at the beginning of the year, so I have to do what I can in order to move them to do so. This blog post is not sponsored by Teaching as Leadership, or Teach for America, but as I said above, this is the lens in which I view my teaching practice and I believe is all extremely relevant and actionable stuff. If you’re interested in learning more about the Teaching as Leadership model and/or want to see where you fall on the rubrics for each category check it out here
What do you think? Let me know in the comments, or find me on Instagram @kelseynhayesblog!
Want to read more about setting big goals for your students? Check out this post!

Back to School: Reviewing Procedures and Routines for Your Middle School Classroom

Back to School, Behavior Management, Expectations, Featured, Procedures, Teaching
Reviewing Procedures and Routines in Your Middle School Classroom
 Hey, y’all! I’m back today for post #2 of the Back to School series, this time about Reviewing (or setting up, if you’re a new teacher!) Procedures for Your Middle School Classroom!

Teaching my students my procedures and expectations is one of the cornerstones of making my classroom work. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I think sometimes, those of us who teach older kids (I have 8th graders) assume kids should know how to operate in a classroom by now through experience, or at least common sense. Well, about 2 minutes into class, those of us who have ever thought that have immediately regretted it 🙂 All students (whether the best or worst  behaved!) need (and want!) to know how they are supposed to operate in your classroom, and what is expected of them. In this post, I’m going to outline a list of procedures to think through for your own classroom. This is by no means an exhaustive list, especially if you teach a lab class or special class like chorus or art, but is a base list. I’d love to hear others you come up with in the comments!

Whether you’re a brand new teacher, or a seasoned pro, it is definitely worth your time to review your classroom procedures and expectations in the summer (and reflect more on them in the school year, but that’s another post!). Your style changes, your students change, your room or set-up may change. What has always worked in the past may continue to work, or maybe you had a particularly challenging student that made you realize you needed procedures for certain classroom things. Either way outlining exactly what you want clears your head before the school year begins.

One of the most helpful things I saw when I first became a teacher was a teacher’s procedures laid out in an A to Z format in one document. Committing your procedures and expectations to paper makes certain that you have in your mind what you want exactly. In my opinion, it is always best to have more procedures than needed thought through and ready to implement versus trying to get your students to buy in after the fact. Another absolute God send when I first became a new teacher was Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book The First Days Of School: How To Be An Effective Teacher*, so if you are a new teacher or a veteran who feels like you need to brush up on classroom procedures/routines, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Now, let’s get to the A-Z Procedures list with questions…

Thinking Through Procedures


  • What do you want kids to do if they miss a day? (with Attendance Notes, to get Make Up Work, etc.)
  • What do you want kids to do it they’re tardy to your class?
  • How do you get the attention of students in your classroom?
  • What does “being attentive” look like in your classroom if just being quiet isn’t enough?
  • What do you want kids to do when they need to go to the bathroom? (How to get your attention, getting a pass, signing out, etc.)
Binders (or Folders)
  • If your class has binders, are they left in your classroom or do kids take them with them every day?
  • Do you want them out at all times or under their desks?
  • If they stay in your room how do you want kids to retrieve them and put them away each day?
  • How do kids check out computers in class if they take them to their seat?
  • How do they need to operate them?
  • How do they need to return them?
  • What procedures do they allow in the beginning of class on the computer so class starts successfully?
  • What if their computer isn’t working, needs to be charged, or they need help troubleshooting something?
Electronics (other than computers)
  • Can students ever have electronics in your room (like a phone or tablet)?
  • If so, how do they know when an appropriate time to use it is?
  • When they can’t be used, what do you want students to do with the device?
  • What is the procedure if they have out a device at an inappropriate time and get caught with it? If your school collects them, where are students supposed to put it?
Entering the Room
  • How should kids enter your classroom each day? (Begin from the hallway and work your way to them being seated)
  • Do they need to get something before sitting down?
  • Can they get up to get something after being seated?
  • Do students need to begin any work immediately? How will they know what that work is?

Exiting the Room

  • How should kids exit your room each day? (Again, think through a few minutes before they leave to walking out).
  • What must be done before they leave?
  • Will you give a “Go” signal and let them do it all or will you lead them through the steps each day?
  • How can a kid request to see his grade? By note? Raising his hand? Asking before class starts?
  • How can a student submit late work to be graded?
  • How can a student re-do an assignment? Is that allowed and if so, does the newly completed assignment go somewhere different than tuning in regular work?
  • How will you communicate grades to your students, and how often?
  • How will students know their homework each day?
  • Do you require them to write it down somewhere? Do you need to check it?
  • Where do they turn HW in?
  • Do you spot check it before you go over it?
  • What happens if a student loses a copy or the HW?
  • What happens if a student forgets to do the HW?
  • What does a student do with late work?

Independent Work

  • What does Independent Work look like in your classroom? What do you need to teach so this is implemented successfully in your room?
Intercom (had to include this one b/c it is my pet peeve!)
  • If someone comes over the intercom to your classroom, what do you want kids to do? (It never fails that when the front office says, “Ms. Hayes?” that 5 kids answer “YES!” as if their names suddenly changed 🙂 )


  • What needs to stay in student lockers and can’t be in your class?
  • What if a student forgot something in their locker they need for class?
  • How do they ask to go to their locker?
  • Do they need to sign out?

Make Up Work

  • How does a student know what he/she missed?
  • How long do they have to turn it in?
  • Where does it go in your classroom once it is completed (a special place for make up work?)
  • How long do they have to complete the make up work?
  • Do students have the re-do option on exams? What is that process?

Paper Headings

  • How do you want students to head their papers each day? With just a name? Name/Date? Assignment name at the top?

Parent/Guardian Contact

  • Do you have a system for parent/guardian contact?
  • Do you only want parents to call school or email you to connect or can they call your cell phone?
  • If they send notes from home with students, where do the kids put those?

Partner Work

  • What does partner look like and sound like in your room?
  • What do you need to teach so partner work is productive in your classroom?
  • Is there a place students can look to see if it is partner work time and what those expectations are?


  • What does a student do if he/she needs a pencil?
  • What if it needs to be sharpened?
  • How do you collect borrowed pencils?


  • What happens when the phone rings in your classroom? (Do 3 kids run to the phone? 🙂 )
  • Do you have a specific student answer the phone, or can only you answer it?
  • Do students continue working or does everyone get silent?

Receiving Help

  • How do kids ask for help in your room? Are their things you want them to do before they ask you?


  • How are kids seated in your room?
  • What do you want ids o do if they have a huge problem with their seat for whatever reason?
  • Do you offer flexible seating? If so, when can they move around during class? How are their seats chosen daily?

Small Group

  • How do you want kids to work in small groups? What does success and participation look like?
  • Is there anything you need to teach them so they can work in small groups successfully to meet your expectations?


  • What do students do if they need to get supplies other than a pencil?
  • What do students so when they need to clean-up/give supplies back during class?
  • What does a student do if they need a tissue?
  • Do you want them to step outside to use the tissue?


  • What do kids do if they need to throw trash away?
  • Is it okay for them to get up and do it, or are they supposed to wait? Or is their a bin by each table?


  • What do you/ a student do if he/she is not in uniform in your class? Is there a procedure for getting the student in uniform?


  • What if a student wants to go to the water fountain during class? 

Whole Class 

  • What should you teach for whole class instruction to be successful in your classroom? What do the kids look like and sound like?


  • What do you do if a visitor comes to your room? Does a particular student answer the door? If someone is coming in for the lesson, do you have a student ambassador to greet them, or see if they’d like a copy of the assignment? Or do you handle all knocks at the door and students are to continue with what they’re doing?

Creating Procedures

Once you have thought through all of the procedures above (and I’m sure you even thought of others!) it is a good idea to commit your procedures to paper. When doing so, make sure your instructions are clear and concise (and maybe even in a numbered list format!) so they are easily understood by you and made so you can simply communicate them to students.

Again, each year I go through this process so I can fully reflect on each part of my classroom and make sure that my actions and my classroom environment are all geared to maximize student learning time and to build a culture of achievement in all students. 

Teaching Procedures

Just like a brilliant written lesson plan, you have to now teach these procedures to your students over and over again! When teaching procedures you will have to go over them often, if not daily with many of them, until students get the hang of it. In the first few days of school, you should be teaching procedures (explaining, modeling, practicing, etc.) as they come up in the classroom. Obviously simply going through the list and explaining to students what you want will not be enough and you and the students will end up frustrated!

I’ve heard teachers say many times “You’re spending how long teaching procedures?”. I always explain that in the long run the time I spend at the beginning of the year helping students get them down will save much valuable instructional time down the road, and keep me from going grey earlier 🙂

What did I miss? Do you have any procedures in your classroom that I didn’t cover here? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!


If you missed the first post in the back to school series about setting big goals for meaningful achievement in you classroom, check it out here!


Back to School: Setting Big Goals for Student Achievement in Your Classroom

Back to School, Featured, Goal Setting, Teaching

Hey, y’all!

I cannot believe it is July 19th! Seriously, it feels like the month of July has flown by. My first day of school with students is August 10th,  the official opening day for teachers is August 8th, and we also have “retreats” before that with some PDs at school. My summer is winding down quickly and I am in full back to school mode.

Last week, I was at training all week and had significant time to connect with other teachers. I had already made a list for a “Back to School” series I had planned on blogging about, but I was able to connect with a teacher who just finished her 1st year, and a teacher who is about to begin her 1st year which changed my plans a little bit! After talking with them it got me thinking about my first year experience, what I learned that was helpful (and not so helpful!), and what I still do today to “get ready” for my students. In the next few posts, I’m going to incorporate all of that in with my Back to School posts! I’ll be talking goal setting, behavior/investment plans, reflection (teacher and student), procedures, first days of school, etc. and hope that you’ll join in too!

Before I start, I want to explain a bit about my first year of teaching. I did not go to school to be a teacher (gasp!). I was a Political Science major who made my way to teaching through the Teach for America program. I became a teacher officially through Texas’ and my district’s Alternative Certification Program, and unofficially through much trial and error, support, and coaching. Part of how I view education and the practice of teaching is shaped by my time in Teach for America and by the core values and teaching practices that I learned with that organization. Some of what I’m going to talk about and reflect on in my Back to School posts are pillars of the TFA organization, and I want to communicate them as I think through them for my own classroom. If you want to read more about closing achievement gaps, or teacher effectiveness (with real world applications!), then I highly recommend Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap* (affiliate link*). Now, back to it…

Today, I want to start with talking about How to Set Big Goals In Your Classroom. 
With many things in life, if you don’t know where you’re going then you’re most likely not going to get there. This could not be more true with teaching. The best lessons, the best intentions, and the best classroom environment can only get you so far during a school year,  especially if they are not in pursuit of your overall, end-of-year goals.

What  I mean by “Big Goals”:

“Big Goals” are the academic, and personal goals you want your students to accomplish this year, particularly, by the end of the school year.  You can set individual “big goals” with students, but having whole class big goals is a rallying point that can help focus your class all year. Your goals should be ambitious, but feasible, and able to be measured somehow (more on that in a bit…).

I set my initial big goals in the summer, even before I meet my students. After looking at historical data, I can at least have an idea of where the bar should be set in order to really push my students. This allows me to begin investing my students from day 1, and I can adjust the goals after they take their diagnostic assessment.

Why you need to set “Big Goals”:

Like I mentioned above, you can’t get somewhere, if you don’t know where you’re going.
Period. Yes, teachers can teach content until they’re blue in the face,  or teach to “pass a test” but they have to have outlined in their own minds exactly what it is they want their students to be able to do overall, so they can plan the steps, and properly prioritize how to get each student there.

Also, if you happen to teach students who are academically behind, this is maybe even more important! Their growth goals and academic benchmarks are the same as other students traditionally with this era of state testing, so there is more work to be done in order to close achievement gaps and to catch them up. Using “big goals” in the classroom not only help the teacher, but also the students conceptualize where they’re headed, and can make learning feel more manageable for students who may have not been typically as successful in school. 

How to do it:

  • Set Your Initial Vision and Goals: First, you need to outline your vision for your classroom. What do you want your students to know, and learn, both academically and personally? Why are those specific goals important? Like I mentioned above, you need to set your initial big goals for your classroom based off historical data for your incoming students and what you know about your school community and the general backgrounds of your students. You should outline the goal, why that goal is important and how progress will be measured throughout the year (and why). Again, they should be feasible but ambitious. Don’t be afraid to dream big. This, paired with how you decide to invest kids in your class goals (more on that soon), can be very motivating for students!
  • Give a Diagnostic Assessment: Giving a diagnostic assessment, or “pre-test”, is extremely important in order for you to gauge where your kids are academically. After you analyze the diagnostic results, you can adjust your big goals if necessary. Your diagnostic assessment should be aligned to your end of year assessment(s), is better if it is a recognized test (like a released state exam, or something that has been validated) and should have enough questions/opportunities for students to demonstrate their current understanding of standards (goal is about 5 questions each).
  • Tracking: Once you understand where your kids are after giving the diagnostic assessment, and you know exactly where you want them to be at the end of they year, you need to ensure that you and your students have a meaningful, effective way to track progress throughout the year. The students should understand in a real way where they are in pursuit of the big goal, and you will be better prepared to get all students to the goal if you have a system in place that you can keep up with in tracking data (for yourself, and with the students).
  • Talk About It: Once you have your goals outlined and you understand exactly what student success will look like in your classroom, then it is important that you remember to communicate it with your students! In a later post, I will discuss investing your kids in the class goals, but on a basic level, you need to make sure that early on your class goals are known. In my class, I always put the goals on a big bright poster in the classroom surrounded by the kids’ personal goals that they set on the 1st days of school. I try to reference the goals very often, if not daily. The poster stays up all year round and the students do reflection exercises on where they are in relation to their goals and our class goals (more on that soon!).

What makes good “Big Goals” (Examples):

A good goal is one that can be measured, will require significant work by all students, is ambitious and is rooted in data. You need to decide if success in your classroom will based off growth, overall mastery, or both.
  • All students will average 80% on all standards learning goals 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a mastery goal. 
  • Students will grow by 2 years according to their Lexile level 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a growth goal.
  • All students will apply to a magnet program for high school 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is also a “personal” goal. 
Setting big goals for your students not only gives you and all of your students a roadmap for success for the entire year, but it shows all kids that you hold them to high academic standards and know/expect that they all can achieve. 
Do you already do this in your classroom? What are some of your big class goals? What is your process? Let me know in the comments, via email, or on Twitter

This is post 1 in the Back to School Series. To see post two click here

p.s Want to start a teacher blog like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!

How to Differentiate Instruction with Google Forms

data tracking, differentiation, Google Forms, Step By Step, Teaching
Hey y’all!
I hope everyone is having a great summer so far!
When I first started this blog, I was just looking for a way to put my teaching ideas into one place and if I helped someone else, or inspired another teacher along the way, then great! Now that I’ve been trying to post and share consistently, I’ve been seeing what most people seem to be interested in: applying technology in the classroom.

One of my 1st posts, How to Streamline Behavior Documentation Using Google Forms, has been bouncing around quite a bit (exciting!). Because of that, I have become even more curious with how I can use Google Forms in my classroom to make life easier, increase efficiency, and increase student outcomes. Through clicking around and tinkering with Google Forms I found a way I thought could be used to differentiate, and upon more tinkering, I was right! In this post, I want to share with you what I found out.

Before I get into it, I don’t want this title to freak anyone out. Sometimes, I feel like when people see the term “Google Forms” or Google anything they think they have to be a 1:1 classroom, or have major access to technology to be able to utilize this idea. Not true! I only have 3 desktops in my room on a normal day. I sometimes allow my students to bring smartphones to work on if they have them and when I do that, between my 3 desktops and partnering up, I can try to get every kid on a device. If I can utilize this, you can too!

Okay, now the magic…

When you create a Google Form (see here for instructions), like multiple choice questions for an assessment or something, there is a handy little option I found when clicking around called “Go to Section Based On Answer”.  This allows you to dictate which questions or content a student will see based off their answer choices (hello, differentiation!).

How to Set It Up:
First, write your question and fill in the answer choices. Then, in the bottom right corner of the form, you will click the 3 dots to see a pop-up. On that pop-up, select the “Go to Section Based On Answer” option. See below.

Once you have that selected, you can decide what you want to happen after a student selects a specific answer.  You can either choose to have them:

Submit Form: If student answers that answer choice, the form will be submitted or “finished”.
Continue to Next Section: If student answers that answer choice, they will be directed automatically to continue to the next section of questions.
Continue to Section X: If student answers that answer choice, they will be directed to the section you choose

For example, if a student gets a difficult question correct, and you want them to go  answer extension questions then you would lead them to that section you created.  If a student gets an answer wrong, maybe you want them to review specific material, watch a video, or back up and answer more foundational questions so you can figure out their misunderstanding, then you would lead them to that section.

You will have to click the 3 dots and select the “Go to Section Based On Answer” for each question and then select where you’d like students to be directed to.

When you’re making your sections, you will click the = button on the side bar. Creating a new “section” is different than just adding a new question.

By dictating where you want students to go based off a specific answer choice, you can differentiate better and lead each student to review material, extension activities, other leveled questions, or ask them to elaborate. The beauty of this is that each form can be as extensive or simple as you like!

Now, let’s look at an example question. 

Let’s say we’ve asked our students to take a quick review quiz of figurative language terms/examples. See question 1.

Question: Which of the following an an example of a simile? We know that the answer should be the first option. Option 2 is an onomatopoeia, option 3 is hyperbole and option 4 is a metaphor.
I’ve set up my form so that if a student selects option 1, the correct answer, they can continue on to the next questions or the “next section”. If a student selects the incorrect answer, they have to go to what I labeled “Section 2, Review Video”.
If a student gets the incorrect answer, they would be directed to something like below. The student would review the video on similes and metaphors and then answer the question again.

If the student got the correct answer, they could go to the next section of questions. If they got the incorrect answer again, maybe they would have to submit the form and come discuss it with you, or even work on something else. The possibilities are endless!

I’m still playing with this and working with different options myself, so put your questions in the comments! We can work it out together. 

p.s. Upon researching, I also found that Kasey at Shake Up Learning made a post about this over TWO years ago (how behind am I?!). However, the look of Google Forms has seemed to change a bit, so I went ahead and finished my post to share. But, check her out…she has some great Google resources!

How to Be More Organized This School Year From the 1st Day of School

Documentation, Lesson Planning, Teachers Pay Teachers, Teaching, Time Saver
Hey y’all!  I hope you had a festive 4th of July!

I’ve been thinking about how I ‘m going to organize all of my “teacher stuff” next year outside of myself/lessons. You know, all of those meeting papers and “extra” stuff you get and have to keep straight throughout the school year?

Well, I began looking at teacher binders online and wasn’t satisfied with ones I was coming across so I created my own! In this file you will get 2 cover options (a black and white polka dot cover and a colorful cover) as well as black and white printables to match! This product is an ink saver and will have free updates for life!

I created covers of each type for the following categories:
-Student Assessments
Professional Development
Substitute Binder
Faculty Meetings
Lesson Plans
IEP Caseload
Class Information
-Team Lead Information
Attendance Binder
Behavior Binder
Evaluation Binder
State Standards
-Teacher Binder
-Parent Communication Binder
Data Binder.

Colorful Cover Option

Black and White Cover Option

There are also printable sheets that can be inserted in your teacher binder. The printables include:
-Class Birthdays
-Dates to Remember
-Usernames & Passwords
-To Do List
-Substitute Report
-Weekly Planner
-Task Tracker
-Locker Assignments
-Parent Teacher Conference Form
-Daily Schedule
-Class Roster
-Seating Chart (Graph Paper)
-Parent Communication Log (page layout for 1 student)
-Parent Communication Log (page layout for multiple students)
-Calendars At a Glance August 2016-July 2017 (Monthly Layout, 2 months per page)
-Monthly Calendar August 2016-July 2017 (1 Month per page)
-Checklist Page
-Year at a Glance
-Sticky Note Suggestions 
-Gradebook Grid
-Attendance Grid

Sub Report Sample Printable
Parent Teacher Conference Form Sample Printable
I hope you love it! I can’t wait to get to school and print mine out! If you think of anything I missed let me know and I can create it and provide it in an update of the product!

p.s. Want to start a teacher blog just like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!

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A Must-Have List: Top Ten Things Every New Teacher Needs to Purchase to Be Ready for the School Year

must have list, new teachers, Teaching

If you’re a new teacher, I’m sure you have been bombarded with so many tidbits of things to do and remember for when it is your time to have your own classroom. With a classroom to decorate, lessons to plan, behavior management plans to figure out, there is a lot to do. Figuring out “your style” in teaching will take a little bit (you will get there!), but everything can definitely be overwhelming. I thought even if it was going to take a bit for me to nail my teaching style and smooth out my behavior management systems, I could at least make sure my classroom was perfect and ready to go on the first day. That is one thing I thought could and should control right off the bat.

When I first started teaching I wanted class sets of every school supply, the best and brightest classroom, and all of the coolest gadgets and “teacher” things I could put my hands on. I almost went broke spending so much money at the beginning of the year for things I thought I had to have.

In this post, I’m breaking down what I would call the must-haves (as far as things to purchase) to start the year off with. Just remember: it is okay if you don’t have every school supply, or classroom decoration finished on the first day of school

Top Ten Things Every New Teacher Needs to Purchase to Be Ready for the School Year

The Must Have List…Everything Else Can Wait 

1. Flair Pens
This may seem a little silly so someone who isn’t a teacher, but seriously flair pens are. the. best. Not only do the bright colors pop, but it helps with color coding everything and it doesn’t bleed through on your planner. Also, if you have to give feedback on a lot of essays (like me!) the pretty colors makes it a little less painful 🙂 In my classroom, these stay in the “Not for Kids” drawer. On your days in the beginning that may not go so well, it will be the little things that can put a smile on your face (and for me, one of those things is awesome pens!).

2. A great planner:
This one many be obvious, but if you’re a Type A person, then you know that you will now go everywhere with your planner now that you’re a teacher (even more than before)! There are so many planner options out there, but I prefer the Erin Condren LifePlanners (I wrote about why I prefer the LifePLanner over the Teacher Lesson Planner here). Erin Condren has so many awesome products (no, this is not sponsored, I just love her stuff!). You’ll need to decide if you want your teaching and “life” stuff separate or all in one place. EC has so many complimentary products that once you figure out how you want to work it, she will have what you’re looking for!

3. Heavy-Duty StaplerI spent like $50 dollars on stapler stuff just. last. year. for not taking this advice. I would just go to Office Depot or wherever and buy the cheapest ones. The kids break them every time (unintentionally). I’ve found that the heavy-duty metal ones last the longest and are worth the extra couple of bucks at the start.

4. Wall-Mount Pencil Sharpener
I’m sure you’re laughing at this one but yes, the “wall-mount” part does matter. It became very apparent to me (like one day 1 of teaching) that the electric ones are extremely noisy and annoying. Also, every year when I’ve had an electric sharpener (sometimes more than one!) they break every. single. time. and I have to go out and buy the $1 handheld ones to pass around. I got tired of spending money on the electric ones,  so I bought a wall-mount one and it has been a dream.

Having a heavy-duty wall mount sharpener will (1) last longer, (2) get on your nerves less, and (3) get on your nerves less. Can you tell I hate the grinding noise of the electric sharpener? 🙂

5. Sharpie Flip-Chart Markers
I live and die by flip charts. That is just my style. I put a flip chart on the wall to reference back to for many things and by the end of the year my walls are covered with them. The Sharpie Flip-Chart markers are slightly more expensive that some other brands but this is an instant when the brand does matter. These markers are bright in color, have a thick enough writing tip where you can write in bold easily (so kids in the back can read), and they don’t bleed through the flip chart paper. I can buy 1 pack of these and they will last me most of the year (with maybe buying a re-fill of black markers late in the year). Worth. It.

6. AstroBrights paper:
This is the stuff dreams are made of. Large packs of neon bright paper? I cannot get enough. Whether it is for certificates, to color code assignments, use on bulletin boards etc. you can never have enough of this stuff. It also comes in handy on all of those “First Week of School” papers that get sent home! I only get the cardstock thick kind for special things, but this stuff can’t be beat.

7. Expo Markers: Again, this is when brand matters. I have tried to buy “off-brands” of white board markers and they dry out so quickly. Also, it is a little bit hard to shell out the money for the big pack with all of the colors, instead of just buying the red, black and blue pack but, again, having all of the colors available will definitely come in handy so spring for the big pack.

8. Heavy-Duty 3-Hole Punch: Only being able to fit 4 or 5 pieces of paper in a hole puncher at a time is annoying, and the kids will more than likely jam it up 🙂 Go for the big one as a classroom “investment”. 🙂

9. Timer
Yes! As a middle school teacher, I try to time everything. The kids respond well to the competition and it helps with assignment time management and behavior management. I use my phone a lot, but I’ve gotten more to the point where my phone goes in a drawer and I use the timer more. If something happens to “walk out” of my class, I’d rather it be the timer than my phone! Also, yes, there are timers and countdown clocks online. There will be times when you won’t be able to project the time, and it is really annoying to have to keep clicking back and forth online when you’re trying to project something else for the students, so just buy you own 🙂

10. Really Useful Boxes for storage
I am obsessed with these things. In the past, I have bought pencil boxes and other little storage bins and buckets and they’ve broken. The Really Useful Boxes I bought my 1st year are still going strong! Because they have heavy duty latches that fasten the tops shut, they also hold up to being dropped (and even tossed). The ones I have that holds crayons is dropped all the time and won’t open up and hasn’t broken!

You can get these boxes in many sizes. I have many that are like the one in the above link, and also paper sized bins to carry home essays in. Worth the money!

New teachers, what else do you think you need? Veteran teachers, what am I missing? What is your favorite, must-have item? Let me know in the comments!

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How to Create a Google Form to Help Streamline Behavior Documentation (a Step-By-Step Guide)

Behavior Management, Documentation, Google Forms, Middle School, QR Codes, Step By Step, Teaching
Step by Step process for how to create a Google Form and connect it with a QR code for behavior documentation streamlining!
Hello! I’m so excited to share that my previous post “How to Streamline Behavior Documentation” has been bouncing around a lot on Pinterest! Through this post, I have been able to connect with a lot of teachers I otherwise would not have been able to and for that I am excited!

Since that post has been bouncing around, I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments on the post asking more specific questions about Google Forms. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I set up the Google Forms that connect with my QR codes. If you haven’t read my previous post on this topic, check it out here.

Part 1: Create the Google Form

1. Go to and log-in.
2. In the top right corner, click the little square of 9 boxes and see a drop-down menu.
3. Click Google Drive.

4. In the left hand column, click “New”.
5. There will be a drop down menu. Click “More” for the option to see Google Forms.
6. Click Google Form and an Untitled Form will open.

7. Where it says “Untitled Form”, put the name of whatever you want the form to be. For example, if you want this form to only track one specific behavior like “Tardy to Class”, then name it that. If you think you’d like to create a form to track many types of behaviors for one student, name it the student’s name. I will show you how to set up both types of forms.
8. After you’ve named your form, write a brief description of what the form is for all who are shared to use it.
If you want to track one type of behavior for many students with your form (Example: a tardy log of all students):
9. Where it says “Untitled Question”, write Name.
10. On the right, you can either:
  •  make it a multiple choice question and list the names of the students in your class so you just have to select the student
    • If you choose this, select “multiple choice” on the right, then begin writing the names of the students where it says “add option”. You can do that as many times as you need to.


  • or make it a short answer question and you can type the name of the student in. This is the path I chose to keep the form simple.


11. Now, continue to add on to the form to include all information you’d like to track (class period, reason tardy, pass, any other notes, etc.) To add another section, click the + sign on the right. Then, follow the same steps you previously completed (select the question type, write what you want that section to be titled, etc.)
**Next year, I think I am going to make one Google Form per student and make a drop down menu of all of the behaviors I’d like to track. That way, “Molly’s” behavior can be tracked across classes all in one place. If you’re interested in doing this, just name the form the student’s name, and you can check “Dropdown” as the question type. At that point you can create all of the drop down choices of student behavior you’d like to be able to track.

12. Once you have added all of the sections to your Google Form, click “SEND” in the top right corner.

14. Now, click the link that is at the top of that window to get a link that corresponds with this code. COPY THAT LINK!


Your form is FINISHED! Now, on to Part 2. 

Part 2: Create the QR Code

2. Select URL and paste the URL you saved from the Google Form. Then, if you want, click “Shorten URL”.
3. Your QR Code should now be live!  Do NOT exit this screen yet!

Part 3: Test It 

1. If you haven’t already, download a QR code reader on your phone or tablet. There are many free apps. I have the QR Reader for iPhone which was just the first option that came up when I searched for one.
2. Open the Reader and allow it to access your camera. Now, point the QR reader at the QR code that is on the computer screen to test it (this saves you time from printing and then figuring out you made a mistake somewhere!).
3. If your code works, it should immediately scan the QR code and direct you to your Google Form. You may be prompted to log in to Google first before you see the form. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do that each time you scan.
4. Input test information on your form and click submit…just like you would do during class when you’re tracking information.

Part 4: Checking the Results

1. You can check the results on the original Google Form interface first, then you can create a spreadsheet. Go back to the Google Form (if it isn’t open anymore, go back to your Google Drive and select it.)
2. Once you’re back to the form, click responses. You will see your test responses, and data. Then, click the little green box to create a spreadsheet that will collect responses.
3. The screen that comes up should look like the picture below. Click create. It will take you to the spreadsheet that will track the responses for your QR code. The columns should be populated with the information you put in as a test.
**If your spreadsheet collected the test information, then everything is good to go! Now, as another note: anytime you log in to your Google Drive you should be able to see the original form and the form response spreadsheet. It will stay in there and continually populate as you and your team scan in information! 

Part 5: Save and Print

1. Now that you’ve checked to make sure everything is good to go, go back to your QR code on the QR Code generator screen. You need to save the code image (on a PC, right click the QR code and Save As; on a Mac take a screenshot by holding Shift+Command+4).
2. Go to a word document and insert the image of the code.
3. Label the QR code so you know what it is and save and print!  I laminated mine and put them on a key ring so I didn’t have to re-print throughout the year if I lost one or got it dirty.

You’re Finished!

I promise that after going through the process once, you will know what to do again and it will go much faster the next time you make one. 
Tell me what you think! Was this helpful? Do you think you’ll try this in your classroom, or have you done this already? Let me know in the comments or by emailing me! 

Check out: How to Differentiate Using Google Forms

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p.s. Want to start a teacher blog just like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!

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How to Be Better Than You Were Last Year: Teacher Edition

end of year, Featured, Middle School, reflection, Teaching

Hi, y’all!

I hope everyone is off to a great start to the summer! While I know that each of you deserve a much needed break, I also know that all teachers at some point over the summer, reflect back over the previous year to guide how they approach the next year. In the spirit of reflection, I wanted to write a post  that can hopefully help us all be more intentional with our reflection.

Something that is extremely important to me as far as teaching goes, is to always try to continuously improve my effectiveness.  Reflecting honestly on my teaching practice is a key in being able to do that. The day that I get complacent, and think that the way I’ve always done things is the way I’ll always do things, is a day I am not putting forth my best self for kids.

When I reflect, it all mainly boils down to how my teacher actions affected student actions. The following list is not exhaustive, but questions that I have asked myself that help me re-focus over the summer to start to prepare for the next year:

Classroom Goals

  • Did we reach the classroom goals?
  • Of those we reached, why did we reach those? What can we do next year to build on that success?
  • Of those we didn’t reach, why didn’t we reach those?
  • Were my classroom goals big, measurable, and easily articulated to kids?
  • Did I do a good job of investing the kids in the big goal? What can I continue to do, or improve upon for next year to improve investment with students?

Classroom Culture

  • Did I really get to know all of my students this year?
  • If so, what do I need to ensure I continue to do next year to get to know the new group? If not, what do I need to do differently?
  • Did my attitude toward my work contribute to student learning or stifle it?
  • Are my relationships with students helping the students learn, or hindering me from effectively behavior managing?
  • Would I want to be in the class? Would I want my child to be in this class?

Student Behavior

  • What teacher actions led to student misbehavior this year?
  • What about my classroom layout/set-up allowed for student misbehavior?
  • Was I consistent with my classroom behavior management plan? If not, why not? What should be changed?
  • Do I need to teach the behavior expectations differently next year, or outline them more explicitly?
  • What worked and what didn’t work with my classroom management plan overall?
  • Did I follow through when giving consequences/communicating with parents? If not, why?
  • Was I consistent in rewarding/incentivizing positive student behavior?
  • Is what I did this year to reward positive student behavior sustainable for next year’s group of kids?
  • What can I do to improve next year to encourage positive behavior/buy-in of class goals?
  • What can I do to improve re-directiing and tracking negative behavior?
  • Who can I speak with or go observe to get ideas regarding behavior management?

Collaboration & Team Function

  • In what areas can I improve in order to help the team?
  • Did my actions prohibit my team from growing, working more efficiently, or trying new things?
  • What “worked” on our team?
  • What can we do to become more consistent?
  • How can we support each other better in the next year?
  • What is at least one thing that we should try as a team next year?
  • Does our team exhibit to kids that we believe all of them can meet expectations and can succeed at a high level? If not, what must we change so that is the case?


  • What can I do next year to further prioritize my family instead of taking so much work home with me?
  • What can I change for next year that will make me a more efficient teacher?
  • How can I structure my classroom, planning period, short down periods during the day to maximize my effectiveness at school?
  • What do I need to prioritize next year so I can live a balanced life?
  • What can I do next year to help me stay excited about teaching?

Instruction/Teaching Practices

  • What lessons “worked” this year?
  • For lessons that didn’t work, was it because of lack of preparation, they weren’t interesting to kids, they should be taught in a  different order?
  • Did I give enough feedback to kids? If so, was my feedback meaningful?
  • Did my grade book reflect student learning and progress?
  • Did my assessments assess learning effectively?
  • Did I backwards plan effectively?
  • What can I do to better assist those who don’t “get it”?
  • What can I do to better assist those who work more quickly and need meaningful extension?
  • How do I know that my students are learning?

So, what do you think? What am I leaving out? I’d love to hear your own reflections and question in the comments! More to come on this topic later in the summer 🙂


Erin Condren Teacher Planner vs. Life Planner with Pictures

Erin Condren, Lesson Planning, Life Planner, Middle School, Teaching

Last Friday was the last day of school for me which means (1) IT’s SUMMER! and (2) now I have so much more time I can devote to the blog (so exciting!).  I can’t wait to roll out some things I’ve been working on!

Anyway, while summer means a break from grading/lesson planning/organizing/decorating/copying/counseling/calling parents and the million other things teachers do during the school year, it also means it is time to reflect on the past year, and to begin prepping for next year. Whether you are a TYPE-A teacher who plans very meticulously, way in advance, or a TYPE-B teacher who approaches things in a more laid back way, I know that every teacher plans for the next year in some way…so this post is for you!

In this post I will show you the Erin Condren Teacher Lesson Planner, detail how I used it, and explain why I just purchased the Erin Condren LifePlanner. This post isn’t sponsored (if you’re wondering why I’m plugging EC!), I just want to share a product I am passionate about and help out if you’re trying to decide if you want one, or which one you should choose…keep reading!

Erin Condren Teacher Lesson Planner

Last year about this time I was trying to decide if I wanted to get an Erin Condren planner or not. They are somewhat expensive compared to the regular ‘ol planners I’d get at Target, or wherever,  but I’d heard so much hype about them that I was intrigued. I always start the school year with grand plans on how I’m going to organize my school “stuff” but had yet to find a way that really worked for me that I kept up with, so I did my research to figure out if I wanted the Teacher Planner or the LifePlanner. I ended up buying an Erin Condren Teacher Planner. (Note: Sub-Par iPhone pictures ahead! 🙂 )

Below is the cover I chose of my Teacher Lesson Planner. When you visit the site, you will notice the MANY options you have to choose from. If you don’t really care about the personalization, they also have some cheaper “Grab and Go” options where you get the generic version (the only difference is there is no name added). The cover is laminated with a very, very thick laminate, so it is heavy duty (mine even endured a few spills!).

When you open the Lesson Planner there are a few introductory pages. Then it is divided into tabs: Dates, Absent, Graph, Year Plan, Monthly Tabs, Lessons, Check list. Each tab’s page has a cute motivational/inspiring quote on it…see the picture below. 

Dates tab: 

Under the dates tab there is a section for “Holidays and Dates to Remember” and class birthdays.
Absent Tab:
Under the Absent Tab there were 6 full pages of absentee logs. 
Graph tab:
There are 8 full pages of graph paper under the Graph tab. As you can see, I doodled out a seating chart on one page!

Year Plan tab:
This is the “Year at a Glance” spread, where you can note/plan out things in advance for you classroom. Behind this page, there is also a notes page. 
Monthly tabs:
The planner includes a monthly view for each month, and I’ve included 2 pictures below. The standard planner comes with regular open circles where the dates go, but I added date stickers 🙂
Lessons tab:
Now, the best part, and the reason you’re buying this thing in the first place…the lesson planner part! The picture below shows the wide view. The top left has a “Week #” box. The top row has “Grade/Subject” and “Date”. The left side has boxes for Monday-Friday. 
I used mine this year by putting my class periods across the top (since I teach all 8th grade English), and the last 2 columns were reserved for “PLC stuff” and “Team Stuff”. In those 2 columns I would bullet out things I needed to do/remember. In the open space below the date labels, I would put things I needed to remember generally for that day like, “Pep Rally @ 1”, “Call Katie’s Mom”, etc. On the lines listed, for each day and period I would list Bellwork, Lesson Focus, Exit Ticket, and Homework.  
Below is the zoomed in view of the lesson planner pages. 
Check list tab:
Part of the hype surrounding the Lesson Planner was that it is an “all-in-one” planner. This is one reason why that is the case…it includes checklist pages! I’ve seen this used as a grade book, portfolio checklist, essential form checklist, etc. There are 7 spreads, like in the picture below, of checklist pages. 
The Teacher Lesson Planner comes with a lot of stickers. There are teaching specific ones, and also an entire page of blank ones you can personalize for yourself!
In the back of the planner there is a 2-sided folder, a large plastic cover to keep things in, and a plastic pouch (perfect for keeping extra stickers and pens in!). I really appreciated the pen pouch because I am particular about color coding and I always lose my nice pens!

See below for a size comparison. The EC Teacher Lesson Planner is on the left and the Life Planner is on the right. I’m loving the smaller size of the Life Planner!

Erin Condren LifePlanner
Just like the Teacher Lesson Planner, you can choose to get a personalized cover, or a “grab and go” cover. I chose one of the metallic covers and had my initials added. 
Each life planner has a monthly view calendar, like in the picture below. 

A cool feature of the LifePlanner is that you get to choose if you want a horizontal or vertical layout on the daily pages. I chose horizontal because I like to make bulleted lists.

LifePlanner Extras: Stickers, stickers, and more stickers! Again, just like the Teacher Lesson Planner, the LifePlanner comes with pre-made stickers, and a page of blank stickers for you to fill out for however works for you!

In the back right before the last cover the LifePlanner also has a pocket folder and plastic pouch to hold your stuff (hello, awesome pens!). To my surprise, when I ordered, they also threw in a recurring  dates calendar (the little pink booklet) that I can fill out and move from planner to planner each year!

Why I Switched From the Erin Condren Teacher Lesson Planner to the LifePlanner

Both products are great, but this year I chose to switch from the EC Teacher Planner to the Life Planner and digital lesson plans.

I switched because I found that I didn’t use all of the fabulous inserts simply because of the number of students I have as a Middle School teacher. If I taught elementary aged students, and had 30ish in a class, the checklists and other pages would be plenty sufficient, however, I don’t, and was using the check lists for only some things  because of space, thus, defeating the purpose of having an “all-in-one” book for me.

I also switched because I began to run out of room on the lesson planning pages. I absolutely loved to look at the week in the format that the EC Teacher Lesson Planner has, but I wasn’t able to be as detailed as I wanted so I was inserting other pages (the longer lesson plan, or slides, etc) and then I just had a bunch of extra materials stuffed in there.

The Life Planner has allowed me to plan my personal stuff, as well as create “To Do” bulleted lists for school things on each day. I have been using Planboard (a free site…I wrote about it here) to store my digital plans/worksheets/slideshows/resources all in one place and have really liked the flexibility of having everything together digitally to “remember” for next year, and also to keep resources attached with certain lessons (I am NOT a file cabinet girl!).

Hopefully this information has been helpful if you’re in the market for an Erin Condren planner. Which ever route you go, you will get a fabulous product! (This is not sponsored, I just really like the planners 🙂 )

If you want $10 off, you can use my referral code here.

So what do you think? Are you getting an Erin Condren planner or do you have one and use yours differently? Let me know!

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Why I Teach

Middle School, Teaching

Some say, “it takes a village to raise a child”. I’m not a parent, but I agree with that statement because it took a village to raise me. My parents, grandparents, teachers, aunts, coaches, friends’ and teammates’ parents, church leaders, neighbors, and those that saw me grow up in gyms going to basketball games. I’ve become the person that I am today because I’ve had great role models,  and others (along with myself) have set high expectations for me. I’ve done okay for myself because I knew that others believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself in any circumstance. I knew that if I messed up, I’d be afforded a level of grace and that everything would end up okay.  This is one reason (of many) of why I am a middle school teacher. I am apart of “the village” now, even if it’s in just some small way, for 120 13/14 year olds this year. And there will be 120 more next year. And the next year. . .

I get up to go do my job every day because it matters. I care about all of my kids as if they were my own because many others have done that for me. I believe every kid deserves access to a quality teacher, and a fair shot, so I do my best by kids every day to try to give them just that. This work is urgent because these are the lives of children and because this is the future of my community. I teach because it matters. 

While I cannot control things that happen for my kids outside of my classroom walls, I can control what happens inside of my classroom–my attitude, my effort, general consistency, the classroom environment, classroom morale, helping kids approach all things with a growth mindset, the lessons and materials kids have access to, and generally the notion that these kids know above all that they have an adult who cares about them and loves them (if they didn’t know that already). No matter what is going on at home, or what backgrounds my students come from, I believe that they deserve the best everyday from me no matter whatI teach because it’s challenging. 

At my previous school, I saw my students simply accept the reality around them. Many were simply attending school (some were barely even doing that), and just going through the motions. Most of my students had a hard time realizing that there were a lot of little steps along the path to get them to their long-term goals. The problems around them, from things happening at home, in their neighborhood, and just regular teenager problems, were distracting them from a bigger picture. Many students had bigger goals, but no idea how (or little access to others who knew how) to go about reaching them, and were growing immune to their surroundings and the fact that others deemed them to have limited life prospects. I teach to help students see the bigger picture
I want my students to know that I have bigger dreams for them, and will do whatever it takes to help them succeed. I want their achievements to continue throughout high school and college, and for them to have an instilled sense of ambition, drive, and purpose, so that they will continue on a path that allows them options, no matter what expectations are put upon them, or circumstances they face. I want them to be advocates for themselves, and I want to inspire them in a way that they will continue to advocate for their education in the future. I teach to inspire students to dream big.
This year I’ve been trying to  bring the world to my students in small ways. Not only do I want them to be better readers, writers and thinkers, but I want to open their eyes to the world beyond their neighborhood and their “time”. I feel that by opening their eyes to new things, they will see themselves in a larger world, in which they can do anything/be anything/go anywhere. I teach to lift up kids and give them access to a larger world
I want my students to not only learn content in my class, but how to be better critical thinkers, and a better version of themselves overall. My hope is that this vision of themselves, and a new world outlook, will transcend eighth grade and guide them on their path through high school and a successful college career. I want my students to have academic goals, as well as personal goals (short term and long term) that they can connect to their educational goals. I hope that my students take their successes and experiences from my class to realize they have infinite potential. I teach because many taught me