Superhero Teachers: Stories of Teachers Overcoming Intense Personal Challenges

Teaching is one of those jobs where you can’t kick back and “take an easy day.”

Regardless of what you have going on outside of school…regardless of if you’re not feeling well…you have a class of little ones who NEED you. They need your attention, your love, your encouragement, your instruction, your support.

Teaching’s hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult.

Normally, my blog posts focus on literacy instruction and teaching strategies. Today’s post is very different.

In today’s post, I’m going to share 2 stories from teachers who faced incredible challenges outside of school.

They struggled to balance school with their personal battles. But they did it. These ladies are so strong, and I’m so grateful that they were willing to share their stories with me and with you.

Story #1:

This story was written by Karen D. In it, she shares how she overcame family addiction and divorce, all while teaching and raising her son. Here’s her story, in her own words:

Divorce is hard. Teaching is hard. Living both simultaneously is a nightmare. Trying to maintain my professional life while going through a very ugly breakup and divorce was extremely difficult.

My ex-husband, who will be named Lee for this blog, became addicted to opiates during our marriage. When our son was 9 months old, I found out about the addiction (which he hid very well) and all of the bad habits that came with it.  Those revelations were the beginning of my change in personality. I began to change from my role of happy mother/wife/teacher to a very stressed, angry and controlling version of myself. I distinctly remember my first incident of controlling behavior in my classroom. I came in from a long weekend and a bulletin board was hung where I hadn’t asked for it to be hung. I was livid, irrationally livid. I just kept saying “who did this?” with an incredulous voice. Another teacher came and took it down quickly to appease me and make me stop. This was just maybe a week after Lee came clean about everything, and I was trying to keep control in one aspect of my life, and it was going to be my classroom.

Slowly, the chaos of his addiction began affecting me, and it slowly bled into dealings with co-workers. At one point, I was asked to chat with my principal. Another teacher on my team had complained extensively about my attitude and frostiness toward the other teachers. I remember bursting into tears and letting it all spill out. This was the day before Lee was heading to a treatment center. He had been caught stealing meds from customers while on the job and was being charged with theft. Coming clean to my principal allowed me some grace in dealing with this co-worker. She stood by me in our meeting, and I apologized to my co-worker while still giving no more details outside of having some “personal struggles.” I was not ready to share what was really going on. Throughout his time in treatment, I continued about my business.  I trained a new teacher and helped her set up her classroom while also helping a long-term sub manage her assignment. I had two different lives happening, and I was determined to keep them separate after the meeting with my principal and co-worker.

I was only able to keep this juggling act up for so long. As Lee’s addiction worsened, I resorted to hiding cash and credit cards in my desk. I had to call in because Lee wrote a bad check for daycare, and I was turned away at the door. I had to call in when his car was repossessed from lack of payment. It was never ending; seeing notices of him getting into my bank account to send himself a check, getting overdraft charges and calls from my credit card companies because he had maxed them out when I thought I had hidden the card well enough. He was arrested for multiple speeding tickets and was blowing up my phone during a parent meeting to bail him out. I somehow stayed the course while students were in my room. During this time I was chosen as Teacher of the Year. I detached as soon as those kids were in my care, and I could focus on them and them only, and shut out the chaos. I think back and don’t know how I managed to do it.

I finally had two major breakthroughs; I filed for divorce and came clean to my team, all in the same week. I was tired of the chaos and of lying to people. Some had noticed my wedding ring was off, and all I did was stop the gossip. This was when things began to change. Little treats would show up on my desk overnight along with notes of support. For my birthday I was given a very nice movie gift card to give me something to do for myself. My demeanor improved too; I was happier and more relaxed. Through it all I had always kept my cool with the students; working with them was its own type of therapy. Unfortunately, my fellow teachers felt the brunt of all my emotions.

It’s crazy to reflect back on all of this. There was so much that happened. I think I tried to forget about all of it. I never lost my passion for teaching, and it drove me to focus so much on work. Teaching was an escape; confiding in my co-workers made the pain bearable. Teaching kept me afloat during this tumultuous time in my life.

I’m so moved by Karen’s story. Isn’t her strength incredible??

Story #2:

This story is written by Pamela G. It’s her story about battling cancer—which she’s still in the midst of. I think we can all learn from her comments about priorities and keeping challenges in perspective. Here’s her story, in her own words.

I’ve been a teacher for 19 years. During that time I have put my heart and soul into my job. It has been my everything! I have worked hours creating, making, and developing things for my students in my classroom. I’ve taught kindergarten and first grade.  I’ve been in charge of committees, programs, training, PLC’s, grade level events—you name it, and I’ve probably done it. There have been so many opportunities and challenges in the past 19 years, but nothing compares with the news I received on December 27, 2017. I was told I had colorectal cancer. Needless to say, my world changed in an instant. I was referred to an oncologist, had a port surgically implanted, and began the process of chemotherapy within 2 weeks. I hadn’t even processed all this information. I had been dealing with cancer in my family for a long time, so it wasn’t unfamiliar water. My mom has a mutated form of ovarian cancer and has been fighting for over 15 years. So I had some knowledge, but nothing prepared me for the journey that lay ahead. I continued to work, only taking time off for chemo and then carrying the 48 hours of medication with me to school. I worked as much as I could. By March I had a reaction to the medication, so chemo was halted. Things were going well until I developed anemia and ended up in the ER. I was taken in for a procedure and had stints placed in my large intestine. Eventually, I ended up back in the ER and this time in surgery. I had a hole in my abdomen to clean my large intestines out so I could have surgery on the tumor. Naturally, my time at work was done for last of the school year.

I was slated for surgery in May. The tumor was removed, but within a week I was very sick. My blood pressure sky rocketed; my JP tubes were contaminated. I ended up back in surgery and had an illeostomy. At the same time I developed MRSA and was very sick. I was in and out of ICU for three weeks. I kept thinking I would return to work. I eventually ended up leaving the hospital six weeks later. I had lost 75 pounds and was very weak. During the summer I did PT and worked at home to regain my strength. I went back into surgery in August to reverse the illeostomy. Things went so much better! I was able to return to work at the end of August, but not without some challenges. I had no stamina. I couldn’t lift things or climb on a ladder. Setting up my classroom was a challenge, because I never packed it up. The entire staff boxed up my room. So I was cleaning and setting up at the same time. When I started on my closet I saw my blue bag. I had left it there, thinking I would be back the next Monday for it. There were still papers in it. It was kind of creepy. But I got my room set up and began the school year.

In this brief period I learned so much about myself and being an educator. First, this is my career and I love it, but I put it ahead of my family. No more! My family is way more important, and I cherish the time I spend with them. Second, there will always be challenges in teaching. They are unavoidable. But they aren’t the end of the world. At one point in the hospital I was on death’s doorstep, so the challenges of teaching are nothing compared to fighting for your life! Third, always treat everyone with kindness. I tend to be so type A I forget about the importance of building those solid relationships with people. This is what is most important. Please understand that in no way am I saying that teaching isn’t the best and toughest job in the world. It’s all about perspective. And mine has shifted 360 degrees!!

While times may be tough and my battle with cancer continues, I still know within my heart that everyday I wake up I am blessed! I am blessed with the people I love, my fur babies, the children I am fortunate enough to be teaching, and the connections I make with others. None of us knows what lies in our future, but what we do know is how we can embrace the challenges and enjoy those blissful moments of life.

I’m so grateful that Pamela was willing to share her story! We’re all pulling for you, Pamela!!

Pamela also mentioned that if you’re going through something like this right now, she’s happy to chat. Contact me (Alison) via email if you’d like to get in touch with her.

So many thanks to these strong ladies for sharing their stories with us. If you’re going through something difficult of your own, I hope these stories resonated with you.

If you have a teacher friend who’s struggling, feel free to share this post with them. Here’s an image you can pin:

Teaching's hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult. In this blog post, teachers share their stories of intense personal challenges they faced and overcame while teaching at the same time.
Photo Credits: Dean Drobot, Shutterstock




A Surprisingly Easy Process for Planning and Prepping Your Lessons on a Yearly, Monthly, and Weekly Basis

I’m a reading specialist, but I actually have a math-oriented brain. I love logic, organization, and breaking things down.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I ADORE lesson planning! The process of planning is fun and exciting to me. (Does that make me a huge dork?)

Here’s what I like about planning: I like staying organized. I like getting ahead. I like doing long-term planning and looking at the big picture. And I like the fact that I actually have control of my written plans…because we all know that we definitely don’t have control over whether our plans actually go how we want them to. 😬😬😬

I do think there’s so much value in carefully planning your lessons and doing long-term planning—even if you don’t share my strange love of organization. 😉 If you have a set planning routine in place, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and less likely to fall behind!

So in this blog post, I’m going to share my exact process for long-term and weekly lesson planning. I’m going to break it all down and explain how I stay on-track and ahead of the game!

If your brain doesn’t love organization like mine, I hope this post gives you a place to start. And if your brain does love organization and you’re already a lesson planning master, I hope this post gives you some new ideas and inspiration—and I’d also love to hear your tips in the comments! 🙂

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

Yearly Planning Process

First, I want to mention that I’m a reading specialist. My planning process looks a bit different now that I teach mostly reading intervention. What I’m sharing here is the exact process that I used as a classroom teacher (before I became a reading specialist).

So let’s start at the very beginning—the very beginning of the school year! Or actually, the summer. I don’t even attempt to do long-term planning at the very beginning of the school year, to be honest! I’m too worried about setting up my classroom and keeping myself together for the first day, back to school night, etc.!

Over the summer, or at least a few days before I start working on my classroom, I lay out the units that I want to teach. (I typically teach all subjects in units—reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.)

I take a list of my units and the length of each unit, and I lay them out over the school year. Using a monthly calendar (like this free one from Scattered Squirrel), I write the unit name or number next to each week. I also build in about 3 extra days for each unit, if I can. I like color coding, too!!

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

(I’ve sometimes used small sticky notes in the past, instead of writing in ink; this enables you to move them around as necessary.)

Honestly, I don’t always end up sticking to this calendar 100%. Sometimes units finish a bit later or earlier than I intended.

But I do feel that it’s best to start the year with some kind of plan. Otherwise, you can accidentally spend too long on a unit and feel rushed for the rest of the school year.

This process is pretty easy—unless you don’t have defined units or any kind of curriculum with a pacing guide! Then it gets a bit tricky.

If you’re starting from scratch, I recommend deciding on your units before the school year begins.

For reading and writing, I like to cover each genre at least twice during the year. For example, if a fiction reading unit comes second in the school year, we might revisit fiction reading again in the fourth or fifth unit of the school year. The skills in the units grow in difficulty, but this gives students more than one chance to be successful with a genre. (If you don’t teach in genre units, you can still apply this principle by making sure that students revisit each skill or strategy multiple times throughout the school year.)

Anyway, if you’re choosing your units, make a list of the standards and/or topics covered in each unit. This will help ensure that you cover all of the necessary standards or topics.

Don’t feel pressured to list out every lesson or activity at this point; you’re just doing some general, long-term planning to keep yourself on track. Once you have a basic outline of each unit, try the weekly calendar mapping procedure that I described above.

And that’s it—that’s about all I do before the school year starts! But then, as soon as I can, I begin my monthly planning process…

Monthly Planning Process

Okay, so to be completely honest, my “monthly” planning process is not all that monthly. Sometimes it coincides with the beginning of the month, but often it doesn’t.

I usually go through this routine shortly before I begin a new unit of instruction, maybe a week or two in advance. So it’s usually more of a “unit” planning process than a monthly one—but again, you can adapt it to meet your own needs.

This “chunk” of procedures is all about staying ahead and knowing what’s coming up next. Here’s what I do:

  1. I list out the lessons I intend to teach during the upcoming unit. I make a few notes about the content of each lesson and what materials I might need. (If I have a defined curriculum resource to use, I’ll just read through the materials I already have and highlight anything that needs to be prepped, located, or purchased.
  2. I take that same planning calendar (where I wrote the units out by week) and note when I intend to teach each lesson—making sure to account for days off and special school events. I don’t typically write in the full lesson title, just the number of a lesson.

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

Once I’ve done that, I can then take any necessary steps, like requesting books from the library, preparing heavy-prep materials, etc.

When I first started teaching, I really only planned for one week at a time. But that created these problems:

  • Certain projects and activities required me to go purchase materials, order something, request books from the library, or do a lot of cutting. I wouldn’t always have time to do that when I planned only a week out.
  • When a volunteer came in unexpectedly, I wouldn’t always have something for her to work on. I wouldn’t know what we’d need in a week or two, so I couldn’t make the best use of her time.
  • When I want my students to do an activity independently during centers / Daily 5, I typically need to have them practice with me—whether it’s in a whole group or small group setting—before I “unleash” them to do the activity on their own. But if I don’t know what centers activities will be coming up, then I can’t adequately practice with my kids before I assign a task as an independent activity. (This used to be a big problem for me, and you can read more about that HERE.)

Weekly Planning Process

The yearly planning and monthly / unit planning help me stay ahead of the game, but I wait to make my final plans until the Thursday before the following week.

I typically plan for next week’s lessons on Thursdays. Thursdays work well for me because at that point in the week, I can usually guess what we’ll be able to finish during the current week.

Also, if we started a new skill during the current week, waiting until Thursday to make future plans gives me a chance to see how students are doing with the skill. I can then plan for re-teaching during the following week, if necessary.

So on Thursdays, I type my lesson plans into a planning template. I don’t have a specific tool or planner that I use. I usually just create a simple spreadsheet-type setup that follows the order of my school day. I’m constantly tweaking what I use!

In addition to typing up my lessons, I keep a whiteboard with recurring tasks that must be done every week. Each week, I make a checkmark once I’ve completed the task for the following week. On Friday afternoons or Mondays, I erase all the checkmarks and start all over again.

This weekly whiteboard contains all my teaching to-dos for the week and helps me stay in track! Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

You’d think that doing the same things every week would mean that I remember them all without this checklist. But…I don’t! Plus, I feel like having this checklist frees up “mental space.” I’m not worrying about what I’ve forgotten to do, because it’s all there for me.

If you prefer to use an online re-usable checklist, you can use a free tool like Trello.

Conclusions

That’s my whole process right there! It’s nothing fancy or complicated, but it works really well for me.

If you’re looking to make planning easier or quicker, I have many resources to support you! My writing lessons, reading lessons, and guided reading lessons are all written out for you and ready to use. Having those complete lessons on hand will drastically reduce your planning time and help you stay on top of your planning!

And if you have any planning tips to share, I’d absolutely love to hear them in the comments. Happy teaching!




5 Tips for Creating a Classroom Environment Where Kids LOVE to Read

I’ve always loved reading—as a kid and as an adult. I also want my students to develop a love of reading, and if you’re reading this post, you must feel the same way!

Unfortunately, not all our students love reading when they enter our classrooms. Maybe they’ve struggled with reading in the past. Maybe reading isn’t valued at home. Or maybe they just haven’t gotten hooked on a good book yet!

Whatever the case may be, I try hard to create a classroom environment that celebrates reading and supports reading engagement. In today’s post, I share 5 strategies I use to create this atmosphere. I’m guessing that you probably use some of these strategies already, but I hope you’ll find at least one good reminder or inspiration!

Want your kids to enjoy reading? This post has 5 ideas for creating a classroom environment where kids love to read!Photo Credit:  weedezign, Shutterstock

#1: Watch your language. 

The words we use to talk about reading are SO powerful! I think the best way to explain this is to give some examples of things I say to my students:

  • “What do you love to read about?”
  • “I thought it was so interesting how the author…”
  • “I think you’ll love this book because…”
  • “What book in your bag/bin are you most excited about?”
  • “I can tell you really enjoyed that book.”
  • “Reading that book really helped you learn about _____, didn’t it?”
  • “Last night before bed, I was reading…”

#2: Get them talking about their reading!

I’m in a book club, and I LOVE it! It motivates me to read and try new books. Most kids love it when we make reading a more “social” activity! Here are a few ideas to try:

  • If your students’ nightly homework is reading, have them chat with a partner about what they read (i.e. during your morning meeting)
  • Incorporate partner reading into your reading workshop, literacy centers, or Daily 5 time
  • Have students recommend books to each other (you can make little postcards available, students can write book reviews or letters, or even just hand each other books to read)

#3: Let them choose books.

My students don’t get to choose every book that they read; for example, in guided reading, I’m the one choosing the texts. But when they’re reading on their own, I do want to give them a choice. Choice is so motivating!

At the same time, letting kids choose their own books can cause some issues. I’ve had students who consistently chose books that were way too difficult for them to read independently. They just sat there, pretend-reading, during independent reading time.

So here’s how I’ve dealt with this issue: I give each student a book bag for keeping his/her books. When the kids go to the classroom library, they know that they can choose half of their books from anywhere, and half of their books have to come from a color-coded bin. The color-coded bins correspond to their guided reading groups, and in each bin, I place familiar texts or texts that I know will be easy for them to read. This way, even if students choose some way-too-hard or way-too-easy books, half of their books should still be at their independent reading level.

On top of that, we regularly discuss choosing “good fit” books. I talk about how it’s much more fun to read a book that’s a good fit.

One other thing—if you feel like students aren’t enjoying the books in your classroom library, see if you can incorporate additional types of texts. Try comic books or kids’ magazines. Search for books at yard sales, create a DonorsChoose project, or ask your principal for funds to purchase books.

#4: Incorporate novelty.

The human brain LOVES novelty! My kids’ interest is immediately piqued when I mention that something is “new.” Here are some ideas for incorporating novelty into reading:

  • Don’t put all your books in the library at once. Rotate in new books periodically.
  • Display books attractively, and rotate the displays. Try a rotating shelf (like you might see in a bookstore or library).
  • Check out books from the school or local library and make them available for students to read. I usually get a bag of “special” books each month. During independent reading time, I draw names and allow students to borrow books from the bag. Students can return them at the end of independent reading, so I don’t worry about losing them.

#5: Focus on intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) rewards.

I’m not completely opposed to incentivized reading programs that give rewards (like food, or free tickets to something) for reading. Once in a while, I think that they can motivate a child to read more…and in doing so, the child learns that he loves reading!

That said, I’m still not a big fan. In my classroom, I don’t provide extrinsic rewards for reading. If there’s something that’s going on school-wide, I have students handle it at home, and I don’t make a big deal of it.

I’d much rather send the message that…

  • Reading is fun
  • Reading is interesting
  • Reading can help us learn about people and things we never see in our everyday lives

So I avoid saying, “If you read x, then you get y.” Being able to read is the reward!

The Big Picture

I wish I could say that ALL my students ALWAYS leave my classroom with a deep love of reading. That’s not the case.

will say, though, that very few of my students leave saying “I don’t like reading.” I think this is the case because I make it my mission to help them find books that interest and engage them.

So are all of your students going to fall completely in love with reading? Maybe not. But I think we can at least get them to be engaged readers, and that will set them up for success in their future school years.

Do you have any tips for fostering a love of reading? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Happy teaching!




How Saying NO Will Make You a Better, Happier Teacher

Do you often feel like you have TOO much going on in your life? That you’re constantly on the go? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max?

Teaching is a crazy, time-consuming job in itself. And many of us have lots of other responsibilities at home—as well as things that we want to do for fun and to stay healthy!

It’s difficult to balance it all. Honestly, I feel out-of-balance more often than not.

But I’m working to correct that. And one thing that’s helped me is to learn to say NO!

What I mean is this: I’m learning to think more carefully about whether an opportunity or activity is aligned with my goals—for myself, for my family, and for my students. If it’s not, then I turn it down or eliminate it.

When you say NO to something, that means that you’re saying YES to something else. For example, if you say NO to an after-school responsibility, you might be saying YES to more time for your own kids, time to exercise, or even just time to relax!!

In theory, this sounds pretty easy. But in practice, it’s not that simple. In today’s post, I’m going to take you through a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Step 1: Make a list of everything you’re involved in and responsible for.

Okay, I know, this can seem like a giant task in itself. 😱 But keep it relatively simple. Here’s my current list:

  • Reading specialist job (part-time)
  • Running an early literacy preschool program (once/week)
  • Learning At The Primary Pond (blog, TpT store, etc.)
  • Book club
  • Women’s social club (I’m the organizer)
  • Taking care of the house
  • Taking care of our cats
  • Food prep

Step 2: Take a sheet of paper and create “webs of responsibilities.”

Draw small circles or bubbles on your paper (1 for each item on your list from Step #1). It’ll look something like this:

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Next, create a little “web of responsibilities” for each item. For example, for my reading specialist job, I’m responsible for lesson planning, finding materials if I don’t have them, prepping materials, assessing students, and communicating with staff/parents.

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

You can get as general or as detailed as you like.

Step 3: Analyze your webs.

Once you finish your webs, take a step back.

THAT’S A LOT OF STUFF YOU’VE GOT GOING ON THERE!!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out—we have a LOT to handle! All of that takes up time and mental space.

So now it’s time to step back. Turn your paper over, and on the back, jot some notes about things that you really value. For example, here are mine:

  • Time with family & friends
  • Helping my students become successful readers
  • Supporting other teachers
  • Being healthy and active
  • Free time

After you’re done with that, look back at your web. Are there any responsibilities you have that don’t align with what you value? If so, think about how you might eliminate them. Could you get help from someone else? Could you just QUIT doing them entirely? Could you cut back on the amount of time you spend on them?

Sometimes, though, your responsibilities seem like they DO align with your values. However, if you’re doing too much and constantly feeling stressed, then something’s got to give—even if it’s something that seems important at first glance.

Is there anything you can start saying “no” to? Here are my own examples:

Things I say “no” to at school:

  • Extracurricular / other responsibilities that are outside of my regular work hours (I still spend more time than I’m paid for at school, but only when it’s something that’s directly related to my students’ success)
  • Seasonal bulletin boards (this is more from when I was still in the classroom, because I don’t have any bulletin boards as a reading specialist—but what I did was create bulletin boards that last all year long and are simple to change out, and you can read about how to do that HERE)
  • Teaching activities that take a ton of time to prep, but that aren’t reusable or that students finish very quickly (trust me, I spend plenty of time prepping, but I very rarely spend hours on something that the kids will do once for 20 minutes!)

Things that I say “no” to at home:

  • Being responsible for all the housework and cooking (when I was first married, I took on too much, but now hubby definitely does his share and sometimes more!)
  • Making homemade food for our book club brunches. Everyone loves the store-bought stuff just as much!
  • Running frequent errands (I use Amazon Prime and a Prime subscription box that brings us things we use consistently each month!)

Sometimes we feel like we HAVE to do something, but in reality, it’s an internal expectation that we impose on ourselves rather than something that others truly expect of us. Do you HAVE to do a super cute and Pinteresty “thank you” gift for your room parents? No, you don’t—unless that brings you a lot of joy AND you happen to have time for it. (A heartfelt thank-you note takes less time and is just as meaningful.)

This feeling that we HAVE to do something is super relevant to planning lessons and activities for our students. Through the internet, we have access to so many different ideas and options. But that doesn’t mean we can or should do them all.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of activities that require tons and tons of prep and then students finish them in 15 minutes. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and effort, I want to create something that will last a while, or that I can at least re-use.

I want my students to learn and have fun, but I can make that happen with even the most mundane lessons. My students love having choices, developing relationships with me and their peers, and becoming competent with what they’re working on. I can accomplish all that without always having the most outrageous, over-the-top lessons and activities.

Now, I’m not saying that you should eliminate EVERYTHING in your life that’s not necessary for survival. Sometimes those “unnecessary” things are what make teaching (and life) fun, and sometimes you want to go the extra mile to show love for others!

All I’m saying is this—you have more control over your time than you might think. If you choose your activities wisely and align them with your values, you’ll likely be happier and less stressed.

Step 4: Do it! Say NO!

By now, hopefully you’ve identified at least a couple of things that you can say NO to. But I think that’s the easy part; the hard part is actually doing it and following through, especially if you’re saying NO to someone else.

My friend April likes to say, “No is a complete sentence.” (She’s much better at saying “no” than I am. Maybe someday I’ll get to her level. ;-)) Anyway, what she means by that is that you DON’T have to explain yourself or justify yourself when saying “no.”

If someone asks you to do something and you want to decline, try saying, “I’m not able to do that,” or “Sorry, but I’m not able to help.”

If you’re an “impulse yes-person,” then you can also ask for some time to think about it. And then say “no” later. 😛

What are you going to say NO to?

I hope that this post and process help you make some decisions about how to simplify your life a little.

It can be really hard to say NO, especially if you’re someone (like me) who enjoys making other people happy. If it helps, think about it this way: when you’re happier and less stressed, everyone around you benefits—your students, your family, your friends.

So what are you going to say NO to this year? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments. Happy teaching!!




5 Tips for Helping Keep Your Classroom Noise Level Under Control

Do your students get a little noisy or chatty during independent work time? In this post, I share 5 tips to help you keep your classroom noise level under control!Are your students too chatty or noisy? Read this post for 5 tips to help keep your classroom noise level under control!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Tip #1: Use a soft, calm voice right before students go off to work independently.

When I’m getting my students ready for centers or any other kind of independent work, I remind them of expectations—and I use a very soft, calm voice to do so.

In fact, I usually give last-minute directions in a voice so quiet that it’s almost a whisper! And students tend to follow suit, whispering right back.

Our own demeanor and voice level can really set the tone for students. Yes, the noise level usually goes up after students go off to work. But when you START with a very quiet, calm classroom, the noise level usually stays manageable—at least for a while!

Tip #2: Assign a noise level monitor OR a group leader for each group.

If you have your students work in center groups, choose one student to be the leader. The leader can be responsible for monitoring the noise level of the group members.

If students aren’t working in groups, you can assign a noise level monitor for the entire class. The noise level monitor can keep a chime next to her and ring it if the noise level of the class gets to be too high.

Tip #3: Teach students a quick clapping pattern to remind them that the noise level is too high.

If your students are too noisy, the LAST thing you want to do is yell over them, right?!

I like to teach students a little clapping signal to remind them to lower their voices. If students become too noisy, you simply clap the pattern, students clap to imitate the pattern, and then (hopefully) they get a little quieter!

Tip #4: Pure bribery. Plain and simple. 😛 

Let’s call this one “motivation to work together as a classroom community” instead of “bribery,” okay?! 😂

I like to keep a classroom marble jar. When I see students working together and doing the right thing as a class, I add marbles to the jar. For example, if students are working quietly during centers, I may add marbles to the jar. When we fill the jar, we have some kind of reward—like extra recess, extra indoor playtime, etc.

However, I do remove marbles sometimes. When we’re having a lot of trouble with noise level, I’ll take the marble jar and keep it next to me at the guided reading table. If the students working independently are getting too loud, I remove marbles from the jar. And I do it noisily so they can hear me! This quiets them down pretty quickly.

Tip #5: Use a techy noise level tool.

Full disclosure, I haven’t tried any of these myself. Usually tips 1-4 work for my students, but I’ve also heard that teachers love some of these tools:

Classroom Noise Meter from ClassDojo: https://www.classdojo.com/toolkit/noisemeter/

Bouncy Balls: https://bouncyballs.org/

Your Ideas?

Do you have any fantastic tips for helping your students keep their voices down? I’d love it if you’d share in a comment!

Happy teaching!




Ways to Make Your Reading Block More Efficient (And Save Time!)

Want to make your reading block more efficient? In this post, I share 5 ideas to help you make the most of the time you have!

Want to make your reading block more efficient? Photo Credits:  Backgroundy, Shutterstock

Minimize Unnecessary Transitions

Transitions always seem to take foreeevvverrrr in the primary grades. Of course, transitions are necessary (and can be a good movement/brain break for students). But here are a couple of questions to ask yourself if you need to cut down on transition time:

  • Do you use a “rotations” model, where short periods of independent work are broken up by minilessons? All that transitioning eats up time. Could you do a minilesson at the beginning, a longer block of independent work time, and then another minilesson later on?
  • Are there instances where the entire class has to get something (i.e. a book, a folder) from one place in the classroom? Having all your students wait in line can eat up a lot of time. What if you took the stack of books or folders—or whatever it is—and put it next to your table groups? Each table could have its own little bin for materials, thereby eliminating the need for the entire class to retrieve materials from a single location.
  • If you do a group bathroom break, would it be possible to allow students to just use the bathroom as needed? Sometimes it can be an issue of safety, if the bathroom is far from your classroom—I get that. But allowing one girl and one boy to use the bathroom at a time, when they need to, can really free up time!
  • If you have to set up or grab materials, could you have student helpers accomplish this during a transition time? Some kids tend to clean up quickly, and they’re always the first ones sitting on the rug. Could you enlist them to get out materials for the next activity?

Just some things to think about! 🙂

Use a Timer

I have to admit…I don’t love the go-go-go pace of the school day. But if I’m just not finishing all that I need to accomplish, a timer is SUCH a helpful tool in keeping myself on track.

AND if you’re like me and tend to forget to set the timer in the first place, try setting a series of alarms on your phone or tablet, like this:

Set up timers like these if you're having trouble sticking to your daily classroom schedule!

Try An A Day / B Day Schedule

Sometimes doing every activity every day can end up being inefficient! When you have a tiny block of time for an activity, how valuable does it end up being? Some of that time gets eaten up by transitions and other misc. housekeeping tasks, and students don’t end up with a lot of focused learning time.

If this sounds like your situation, try an A Day / B Day schedule. On A Days, you make time for certain instructional activities, and on B Days, you make time for different instructional activities. For example, maybe you can alternate readalouds with shared reading. Or maybe some days you spend more time on phonics, while on other days you spend more time on grammar.

If you use this type of schedule, you’ll want to alternate weeks too.  One week you have an “A Day” on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the next week, you have an “A Day” on Tuesday and Thursday.

There are certainly some activities that you’ll want to include in both A Days and B Days, however. For example, students should have time to practice reading and writing every day.

Give Kids a Quick Break

I know, I know. If you’re trying to SAVE time, adding in a break can SEEM counterintuitive, but…it can actually help kids focus!

When my students have a chance to blow off some steam outside—or even just play and chat indoors—they usually return to their work feeling more focused. More focused students = a more efficient school day!

Another idea – time your students’ transitions. If they can “beat the timer” and transition to the next activity, offer them an extra break!

Just Do Less. Yes, Less.

We live in an era of information overload. There are so many GREAT instructional activities that we can do. But we don’t have to do them all.

Are there any places in your literacy block where you can cut things out? Or maybe do them less often?

If you find yourself rushing from one thing to the next, you may not be dedicating the time to each activity that it really deserves. Try to see what you can cut out or shift to an A Day / B Day schedule.

Sometimes, there’s only so much that we can do to cut things out. Our administration may require that we implement certain instructional routines on a daily basis. I get that.

But I do worry about the go-go-go atmosphere that we (myself included) end up creating in our classrooms. This HAS to be impacting students. More kids than ever before suffer from anxiety. Practices like mindfulness are shown to improve student behavior, but rushing from one thing to the next is anything BUT mindful.

I wish I had an answer or a solution to all this! But if you can, consider cutting out at least one thing from your schedule each day (it doesn’t have to be the same thing). Quality over quantity, right?

Happy teaching!




10 Self-Care Tips for Teachers!

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession, but it’s also HARD.

We are responsible for so much—from lesson plans, to carpool duty, to student growth, to keeping up with our professional development, to making sure that Johnny goes home on the right bus—it’s a lot!

Taking care of yourself is SO essential to surviving and thriving as a teacher!

In this post, I’m going to share 10 self-care tips for teachers. Five of them come from me, and five of them come from your wonderful ideas on my Facebook page!

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession - but it's also HARD. Learn 10 tips for taking care of yourself in this blog post!Photo Credits:  Kinga, Shutterstock

Five Tips From Me

  1. Schedule time for something YOU want to do, and put it on your calendar each week like you would any appointment! Whether it’s a game of tennis with a friend, an hour to read a novel, or something else—get it on your calendar and treat it like an appointment that can’t be broken! That seems to be the only way that I actually follow through with taking time for myself!
  2. Pay attention to the hours/times of day when you get the most done. Be super productive during that time, and try to avoid working when you’re not at your best. I’m a morning person, so I do well working before school. I’m mostly useless in the afternoon, though, so I call it quits shortly after the kiddos are gone—or I take a break before attempting to get something done!
  3. Get comfortable with saying “no” so that you can say YES to yourself! When we say “no” to something, that means we have more time for ourselves and our families. While we can’t say no to everything, there may be certain things (extra duties or clubs? a fancy bulletin board?) that we can decline, thereby making time for activities that really DO “fill out cups.”
  4. Look at your to-do list with a critical eye and ask, “Is this something I really NEED to do?” I love making to-do lists, but sometimes I find myself adding things that would be nice to do, but that are not essential. I always want to give the best to my students, but sometimes I have to cross off certain projects or activities if I find that they require tons of prep that I just don’t have time for.
  5. Always remember that a happy teacher = happy students!! Taking care of yourself is NOT selfish! First of all, you deserve to be happy. And second of all, I know for SURE that when I’m feeling happy, I bring that attitude with me into the classroom, and my students benefit. Everyone wins when you take care of yourself!

And Five Tips From You!

Here are five more tips, courtesy of the wonderful teachers who follow my Facebook page!

“Monthly pedicures, plenty of sleep and epsom salt baths every night. I also have one night out a month with a teacher friend when we don’t talk about anything school related. We both live in the area where we teach so we make sure we get away from home!” – Cara B.

“Going to bed at a decent time so that I can get about 8 hours of sleep.” – Emily N.

“I know it’s hard, but I don’t physically take work home (not taking it home mentally is near impossible). I need that separation between home life and work life!” – Stephanie P.

“I schedule a massage every 4-6 weeks to relieve all the tension. And my health benefits cover it so it’s even better!” – Helaina Z.

“Scheduled fitness classes with a teacher friend! We keep each other motivated! I also play ball hockey on a co-ed team with my husband.” – Maeghan L.

Your Ideas?

Do you have any additional tips to add? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!




Don’t Let the Internet Ruin Your Confidence in Yourself as a Teacher!

The Internet is an amazing resource for us teachers!

Millions of ideas are at our fingertips. It allows us to connect with other teachers around the world. The Internet helps us improve our practice.

BUT!

(You knew there was a “but” coming, right?!)

If we’re not careful, what we consume online can make us doubt ourselves as teachers. It can contribute to feelings of overwhelm.

Personally, I see three major challenges that we face as teachers in this Internet-driven era:

Challenge #1: Too much information, not enough time.

Challenge #2: Comparison (the thief of joy…and sanity).

Challenge #3: The endless search for answers…even though they may already be right in front of us.

The Internet is great, but it also presents some real challenges for teachers. This post lists some important things to keep in mind!

Photo Credits:  Emolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

So let’s start with Challenge #1.

Challenge #1: Too much information, not enough time.

We know a lot more about teaching and learning than we did 150 years ago!

And now, with the Internet, we can read teacher blogs (like this one!) and get so many ideas about how to teach things, or even what to teach.

This is all good stuff, but it comes down to this: Our knowledge of best practices AND our “database” of ideas has grown exponentially over the years. BUT the amount of time in the day has remained the same!

And this problem is NOT going away anytime soon.

So rather than wishing that an extra 2 hours would magically appear in the school day (or in my planning time), I have to change how I think about this challenge.

Instead of “I wish I had more time,” it’s more productive to think, “Like always, time is limited. What can I do in the classroom that will make the biggest impact during the time that I do have?”

And remember…we all face the same struggle with this! I don’t think I’ve ever met a teacher who has it all figured out.

Don’t feel like you’re not a good teacher because you can’t “fit it all in.” The reality is—NO ONE fits it all in, because it’s just not possible.

All we can do is be selective about what we DO fit in, be reflective and make adjustments, and not beat ourselves up about something that will never change—a lack of time!

Challenge #2: Comparison (the thief of joy…and sanity).

Oh, boy. This is a big one!

When I started teaching, teacher blogs weren’t really a thing.

But when they started to grow and I discovered them…I realized just how much I *WASN’T* doing! 😳

Learning from other teachers is something that I absolutely LOVE to do. I could probably spend every day in a different teacher’s classroom for the rest of my life! It’s the best!

But sometimes I end up comparing what I do in the classroom to what others do in the classroom. And I feel like I’ve fallen a little short.

In my case, I’m not particularly crafty when it comes to bulletin board displays, projects, etc. And my anchor charts are NOT very cute.

It’s just not my thing, and I’m usually okay with that. But when I get sucked into an Internet hole of Pinteresting or blog reading, I see these awesome projects and displays that teachers create. And I end up feeling like *I* need to be doing more!

On one hand, the Internet can help us grow by showing us what others are doing.

But if we end up constantly comparing ourselves to others, we can very quickly start to feel like we’re insufficient teachers. Or that EVERY project, activity, display, and lesson has to be perfect.

As a recovering perfectionist, I have to say that striving for perfection (especially when it comes to teaching) is an unrealistic goal!

Not only that, but it can lead to us taking our eyes off the prize: student learning.

As long as your kids are happy and learning, does it really matter if you have a Pinterest-worthy classroom or the most creative reading comprehension activities ever?

I think this quote sums it up well: “There are a lot of ways to get from point A to point B…As Deng Xiaoping once said, ‘I don’t care if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.'” (The Obstacle Is The Way, by Ryan Holiday)

Do you catch my drift?

There’s a LOT of ways that we can get kids to learn.

We don’t have to do things in the most glamorous way, or in the way that someone else is doing them, UNLESS we genuinely find those ways to be helpful to our students and fulfilling to us. (And do-able in a reasonable amount of time, so we don’t spend our entire lives working on school stuff!)

So whether you are standing on tables and decorating your room like a castle, or just quietly doing the best you can for your kids…you are doing a good job. Keep it up!

Challenge #3: The endless search for answers….even though they may already be right in front of us.

When I face a challenge in my teaching, I often a) go to Google or b) read a professional development book about it.

I don’t think those are bad ways to solve a problem; they are usually REALLY helpful!

But a problem can arise when we begin to believe that the answers to all our questions can be found outside of ourselves.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I just COULDN’T solve a behavior problem in my classroom. I get to thinking that I need outside help, or solutions from an expert (or the Internet)!

But then I sit down and REALLY start thinking about what might be causing the problem. Upon deeper reflection, I come up with a few things I could do differently to try and solve the problem.

And what do you know? I realize that the solutions I’m looking for are ALREADY in my own head!

Here’s another thing—

I’m trained as a literacy coach, which means that I’ve learned how to support other teachers as they improve their reading and writing instruction.

As a literacy coach, my job is NOT to provide all of the answers. It’s not even to suggest possible solutions (not all the time, anyway).

My main role is to help teachers reflect on their practice and come up with their OWN answers to problems and challenges they face.

It all comes down to this:

The Internet and other resources can be very helpful when we need answers or solutions to problems in our classrooms.

But the most powerful (and possibly most effective) solutions are the ones that come from our own teacher brains!

So have confidence in your own ability to deal with teaching challenges.

Rather than going straight to the Internet for advice, think through the issue on your own and see what you can come up with.

You already have a wealth of knowledge about teaching, and it’s growing every day!

Conclusion

What I really hope you take away from this post is this:

  1. If you are struggling to “fit it all in,” know that the problem ISN’T you. The problem stems from an abundance of information and ideas + limited time.
  2. You (yes, you!) are an awesome teacher, and comparing yourself to others usually isn’t helpful or productive.
  3. Many of the answers to your problems or questions lie within YOU!

What do you think about all this? Can you relate to these challenges? Let me know in the comments. Happy teaching! 🙂




5 Strategies to Try When You Feel Frustrated by Your Students’ Behavior (for K-2)

Have you ever felt frustrated by your students’ behavior?

Maybe you have a difficult class this year. Or maybe your otherwise well-behaved students are getting a little squirrelly as the holidays approach.

Whatever the case may be, if you get frustrated with your students’ behavior sometimes, you’re not alone. It happens to me more often than I’d like, and I know it happens to tons of other teachers too!

When I’m feeling especially frustrated by my students’ behavior, I take a little time to regroup. In this post, I share 5 things I do to help get myself and my students back on track!

Do you have a challenging class? Here are 5 things to try when behavior is a problem in your classroom!

Photo Credit:  Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

1. I focus on my mindset.

It’s easy to focus entirely on the academic part of school. You know—the skills we have to teach, differentiating instruction, all of that stuff.

But I believe that teaching appropriate behavior is JUST as important because the brightest, most highly-educated student is not going to be successful in the world if he/she cannot get along with others or follow rules!

So if I expect my students to come into my classroom already knowing how to behave appropriately, I’m setting myself up for some serious frustration.

Just as I wouldn’t get angry with a child for not mastering addition immediately, I would not get angry with a child for not having great behavior immediately.

Teaching behavior is part of my job, and sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that.

2. I take a “scientific approach” to solving behavior problems.

It’s easy to become emotionally involved and upset when your students aren’t behaving as you’d like them to!

I’m sure that you, like me, want the best for your kids. You want them to behave appropriately so that you can do a great job of teaching them what they need to know.

When it comes to our students’ behavior, we have a lot of “skin in the game,” so to speak. We’re emotionally invested!

That said, when I’m dealing with a behavior problem, I’ve found that I have to take a few steps back and start thinking about things in a more detached, “scientific” way.

I want to tackle behavior problems with curiosity, as if I’m an outside observer or researcher. I want to ask, “What’s causing this behavior?” and  “What am I doing that could be contributing to this behavior?” and “What could be added, removed, or changed to help solve this problem?”

To take this “scientific approach,” choose the behavior problem that your students are having the MOST trouble with. (I know there might be a few, but just choose one to start!)

Decide if it’s one student, a group of students, or the entire class that you want to observe.

Then, watch closely for this problematic behavior over the course of one or two days.

Write down WHEN the behavior is happening.

Write down what happens immediately BEFORE and immediately AFTER the behavior.

Afterward, look over your notes and ask:

  • Are there any patterns?
  • Does the behavior arise mostly in the afternoon? During transitions? Before lunch? Or another time?
  • Is there something that always comes immediately BEFORE or AFTER the behavior?
  • What might be triggering the behavior?
  • Is the behavior serving a purpose, i.e., getting your attention, getting other students’ attention, avoiding work, etc.?

Based upon what you find, come up with a possible solution to try (just one thing). Try it for several days. Ask yourself, “Is this working?” And if it’s not, that’s okay! Just try something different!

I call it a “scientific approach” because it’s kind of like an experiment. You observe, try out a solution, and observe some more.

If you’re having trouble finding time to observe and jot things down, you might ask your school psychologist or counselor to come in and do an observation.

3. I try something different.

If you do the same thing over and over again to try and resolve a behavior problem, but it isn’t working, it’s probably not a good idea to keep doing it!

Even if it feels like NOTHING will solve the problem, it’s still worth a shot to try different possible solutions and see if they work.

Here are a few common problems and possible solutions to try:

Noise Level Problems

  • Lower your own voice
  • Teach a fun song, signal, or chant that quickly gets the kids to quiet down

Interrupting

  • Ignore it, and give TONS of praise to students who raise their hand or wait appropriately
  • If it’s just 1 or 2 students, give them a notepad and pencil for writing things down to tell you later

Tattling

  • Teach repeat-offenders to write the tattle down before they come and talk to you about it (writing it down can be therapeutic);
  • Recognize that the problems kids are sharing with you probably SEEM like huge problems to them, so demonstrate genuine concern, AND…
  • Teach conflict resolution / kid-driven solution—and put a big poster of the solutions up in the classroom that you can point to when a child is tattling!

Physical Contact / Problems Keeping Hands To Self

  • Dismiss students one small group at a time when going into small groups or lining up (pushing and shoving often happens during transitions)
  • Make time for extra movement breaks to help students expend extra energy
  • Teach “victims” exactly what to say when someone hits/pushes them (i.e. “Ouch! I don’t like that. Please STOP.”)
  • Teach some whole-group and/or small group lessons on appropriate physical contact vs. inappropriate physical contact

And as I mentioned in #2, I only try one possible solution at a time—so I can tell if one particular strategy really works.

4. I devote time to relationship-building.

If you have a challenging class, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the kids. You end up spending so much time and energy just getting through the day!

Try making time EVERY DAY for a short, fun activity that you and the kids enjoy, one that helps strengthen your relationships with the kids and their relationships with each other.

Simple activities to try: sharing about your weekends, playing parachute games, playing “hot potato,” reading a silly book, show and tell, or student of the week.

5. I do something nice for myself!

In addition to numbers 1-4, I always try to do something nice for myself when I’m feeling especially worn down by my students’ behavior.

It can be something really simple, like taking 10 minutes to read a book in the morning, going to bed a little early, buying or making something special for breakfast, planning something extra fun for the weekend, etc.

If you do something that makes YOU happy, you will definitely bring that happiness (and maybe a little more patience) into the classroom.

Conclusions

Which strategy do you think would be most helpful in your classroom? Do you have any strategies to add? Let me know in a comment—I’d love to hear from you!!

Happy teaching!




6 Simple Strategies for Handling Overwhelm When You’re a Teacher

Back when I did my student teaching, I could never remember to check my mailbox.

You know, the one in the staff room—where you get all the little fliers and notes.

At that point in time, email wasn’t used for communication quite as much as it is now, so I REALLY needed to check that mailbox!!

But I forgot. Constantly.

Weird, right?

Maybe not so weird, actually…

A year or two into my teaching career, I realized why I could never remember to check that darn mailbox: brain overwhelm!!!

Pardon my very non-scientific language, but your brain only has so many “slots” to fill with to-dos and things to remember.

When you’re learning something new (which in my case was learning to teach), so many of your “slots” are filled up. During student teaching, for example, so much of your attention is taken up by thoughts about how to get the class to stop talking constantly, what lesson you should teach for your observation…and the list goes on.

So in reality, it wasn’t all that weird that I kept forgetting about the mailbox. My attention was just taken up by other things—many, many, many things! (And I guess it could have been worse. At least I didn’t forget to pick up my students or something.) 😛

So why do I bring up this story, you ask? What does this have to do with the topic of this post, teacher overwhelm?

Well, even if you’re not student teaching…even if you’ve been teaching for many, many years…you still have limited “brain space” or attention.

Teaching requires so much decision-making and remembering things. There are always SO many items on our to-do lists.

As you’ve become more skilled at teaching, more slots have probably “opened up” in your brain. More of your attention is freed up, and you’ve moved far beyond just “survival mode.”

BUT (if you’re like me), it still feels like there’s too much to think about, too much to remember, and too much to do.

And THAT can lead to overwhelm!

There are many great things about teaching. But feeling overwhelmed can be one of the worst parts, in my opinion.

So in this post, I’ll share 6 strategies that help me cope when I’m feeling overwhelmed!

Feeling overwhelmed? Try these 6 things to get back on trick!

Photo Credits: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

1. Recognize overwhelm for what it is: a feeling fueled by thoughts.

Our thoughts lead to our feelings.

Sometimes, we have thoughts running through our heads like:

“How am I going to have time to finish my lesson plans?” or

“What if my observation is a total flop? Maybe I should completely redo my plans!”

Those thoughts can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm or anxiety.

Personally, it’s very easy for my thoughts to get away from me. I have to consciously rein them back in and reframe them to become more rational.

Here are a few examples:

Instead of:

“How am I going to finish everything for next week? Ugh, there’s so much to do!”

Try:
“I have a list of to-dos for next week. I’m going to look over the list and cross out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. I’ll work on the rest this afternoon and tomorrow morning. I’ll finish what I absolutely need to—I always make it work!”

Instead of:

“I have this brand new reading curriculum thrown at me! There’s so much to learn, and I have to start using the program in a week! What am I going to do?”

Try:

“I have a new reading curriculum, and there are a lot of materials. I’m going to take it at my own pace. I’ll read the introduction in the teacher’s manual tonight. I’ll decide what ONE part of it I’m going to start with next week, and then I’ll go from there.”

When you reframe thoughts like this, it’s not that you need to LIE to yourself. You want to be completely honest with yourself, but focus on being rational instead of emotional.

Reframing your thoughts sounds like such a little thing, but it really is powerful! When you are thinking more rationally and calmly, feelings of overwhelm will (eventually) begin to disappear.

In a nutshell: pay attention to the things you say to yourself in your head. They matter! Reframe your thoughts to be more rational, and it’ll change the way you feel.

(By the way, this first strategy is not a “one and done” kind of thing—I have to do it just about every single day!)

2. Distinguish between wants and needs on your to-do list.

It’s funny—in the classroom, I’ve taught my students about “wants and needs” just about every school year.

But when it comes to my own to-do list, I’m TERRIBLE at distinguishing between wants and needs!

For example, let’s say that I plan to introduce inferring next week. I’ve found a really fun, engaging lesson online. I write down all the different steps to prepare the lesson on my to-do list.

When it comes time to prep, I’m pressed for time. It’s Sunday night at 7pm, and I have lots of things left to get ready for Monday. But I feel like I HAVE to prepare this inferring activity, because it’s already on my to-do list.

But really, that’s kind of silly!

If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can just find a couple of interesting photos online and use them in my inferring lesson. I can spend 5-10 minutes getting ready, rather than an hour and a half.

The next time you’re looking at your to-do list and feel overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What’s ABSOLUTELY necessary?” It’s so easy for us to believe we *have* to do certain things (when that often isn’t the case).

We all want to do our best by our students. But a calm teacher with a simple learning activity is ALWAYS more effective than an overwhelmed, stressed-to-the-max teacher with the best activity ever.

3. First do a brain-dump, and then create a prioritized to-do list.

This kind of goes along with #2, but I like to do a “brain dump” when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and THEN I rearrange the list items and prioritize things.

When a ton of thoughts are bouncing around in my brain, I open up a blank document on the computer and type it all out.

Then, I cut and paste to move things around. I can organize items into categories, or arrange them by the date when they should be completed, or prioritize items. There may even be a few quick things that I can get rid of right away—by doing them immediately!

You can do this on paper too, but it’s easier to rearrange items when you do your “brain dump” on the computer.

4. Focus on ONE thing at a time.

Ha, does that make you laugh a little?!? I know, I know, as teachers, we CAN’T focus on just one thing at a time!

But when we’re learning or implementing something new, we really CAN focus on making just one small change at a time.

For my first 4 years of teaching, I always felt burned out by early October.

Why? Because I had spent the summer planning ALL of these new things that I wanted to implement in my classroom. And of course, I started the school year trying to do ALL of those things at once. It was too much, and it burned me out!

When you learn something new or get a new idea, it’s so tempting to want to make a TON of changes all at once. And honestly, we are all coming from a good place when we do this: we want the very best for our students!

But when it comes to managing overwhelm, taking one small thing at a time can be really helpful.

Let’s say, for example, that your literacy centers aren’t going as you’d like them to.

You want to change up your groups, change the procedures in a few centers, and add some new activities.

That’s a lot, so just tackle one thing at a time. First, change your groups. See how that goes for a day or two. Then, teach new procedures for ONE center. A few days later, teach new procedures for ANOTHER center. Etc.

Baby steps in the right direction are so much more powerful than giant steps that can’t be sustained!

5. Approach online teaching ideas and resources in an intentional, healthy way.

The internet and social media are great for getting new teaching ideas. I have learned so much from other teachers’ blogs and online teaching resources!

But it’s also a double-edged sword.

We’re constantly learning new strategies, seeing new ideas, and reading others’ opinions about the way we “should” teach…it’s a lot! All of it can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm.

So we have to be intentional about the way we approach these ideas.

When I see or learn something new, I ask myself these 4 questions:

1. Will this activity help me teach a skill in my curriculum, address a valuable social/emotional skill, or help me build relationships with my students?

2. Is this activity right for my particular group of students—their needs and interests?

3. Will the LEARNING TIME for this activity be greater than any “extra stuff” involved in the activity? (Not to say that activities that require things like coloring, cutting, and pasting are not appropriate, because I absolutely think that they are, but we do have limited time in the school day and have to keep that in mind.)

4. Do I realistically have TIME to implement this idea?

If your answer to any one of these four questions is “no,” then scrap the idea or save it for another time.

But even if you answer “yes” to all of the questions, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should try out the idea!

There are SO many things that we COULD do. But we can’t and shouldn’t do them all—not in a single school year, anyway.

So create a folder or a document on your computer for ideas that you love. You can always come back to them.

Last but not least, when it comes to social media, consider taking regular “breaks.”

Could you take one day a week—or most of that day—off? Completely unplugging is SO refreshing and can definitely help you manage overwhelm!

6. Celebrate the things that you DO accomplish and recognize the good!!

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, many times it results from my own worries that I’m not doing a good enough job, or that there’s more that I *should* be doing.

I think trying to improve our practice is a GOOD thing. But—for me, anyway—it’s so easy to focus on what I need to do or improve. Noticing the things that ARE going well doesn’t come as easily to me!

Whether you jot down what’s going well in a journal or simply make it a point to notice three good things each day, celebrating your accomplishments (and your students’ accomplishments) is so helpful.

I have no doubt that you care deeply about your students and their success, so don’t forget to celebrate all the great things that you’re already doing!

Your Turn

While some of these strategies can be used “in the moment” when you’re feeling overwhelmed, many of them are things you can do all the time. For me, avoiding anxiety and feeling overwhelmed is something that I have to work at and manage consistently.

When I neglect to do them, I notice a difference. But it’s never too late to “get back on the wagon!” 🙂

Do you think any of these strategies could help you manage feelings of overwhelm? Or do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment below—I’d love to hear from you!