Community

Community is everything. The community within my classroom is the center of all things we do. It is made up of the students, the classroom teacher, and all the other teachers who work with our students. Here you will also find resources on classroom management. I don’t use term anymore and use the classroom community instead. Besides, we don’t actually “manage” students. We encourage and inspire, and build connections.

When they are healthy, kids feel safe, secure, and ready to learn. Of course, then, when they aren’t reliable, or kids don’t know expectations or boundaries, they don’t feel safe, secure, and ready to learn.

Friday Five: Building Community Through Morning Meeting

Kids standing together to build community in morning meeting

Morning Meeting- Building Community One Morning At a Time

One

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Morning meeting begins with a greeting. The greeting helps build community because it allows students to say hello to each other and to settle into the learning space for the day. We, as teachers at meetings, also like to have time to say hello to each other before we begin the work we have at meetings. Kids want the same opportunity, and it isn’t tough to facilitate it.  

Greetings can be opportunities to get silly with your class. Just a few weeks ago, we did a greeting in different silly voices, and some kids laughed so hard they cried. The greeting can also be a time to reaffirm one another through compliments or to catch up on our weekends. Coming together as a group is a great way to begin the day. 

On the first day of each new week, our class shares one smile and one frown from the weekend. These smiles and frowns help kids make connections with one another. Oh, you fell when you were skiing this weekend and hurt your arm? Once that happened to me. I went to a birthday party too! Did you eat cake? Through smiles and frowns, we build connections as a class. We also work to develop empathy as we hear about different events in each other’s lives. Now, not everyone is forced to share a smile and a frown because that would take away the safety of the space created through morning meetings. Kids may also share two smiles if they don’t have a frown. The rules are flexible.

Two

Routines Are Life

Kids thrive in routines. Kids knowing exactly what is going to happen first thing in the morning creates a calm start to the day. Usually, around October, kids in my class start to go through the motions of morning meeting all on their own. When I taught first grade a few years ago, a parent needed to speak with me at the start of the day. As I was in the hall, the bell to start the day rang. When I stepped back into my classroom a few moments later, the kids were just finishing up the greeting. Routines are life!

Three

Conflict Resolution

Morning meetings can solve so many of those little issues in the classroom. We frequently have community problem-solving time at the end of the morning meeting. Sometimes kids make small announcements like, I had to pick up ten pencils yesterday that kids just left on the floor. Can you please remember to put your pencils back? Other times I’ll use the activity time of morning meeting to build each other up when we’re having a tough time getting along. Doing a quick compliment chain can change up your classroom environment. Creating a strong community makes a world of difference in the classroom, and conflict resolutions is a large part of that.

FOur

Build Conversation Skills

During morning meetings, we don’t do hand raising (*usually*). We learn how to have conversations together. We’re learning life skills like two people cannot talk at the same time because neither one is heard. We learn how to add on to someone’s ideas. We learn what to happen when two people begin talking at the same time. Knowing basic conversation skills is essential, and morning meeting is the perfect time to practice them and work through the tricky parts.

Five

Do What Works For You

I know the morning meeting format is greeting, share, activity, and morning message. I don’t follow that format exactly. When I taught first grade, we did the greeting, School Tools TV, schedule, and Daily Dendrite Challenge. We also had a feeling word each week that we discussed in depth. Now that I am teaching third, we do it a little bit differently. We typically do a greeting, School Tools TV, and then an activity. On Tuesdays, we always have some sort of quick check-in or lesson on the Zones of Regulation. 

Don’t be afraid to customize morning meeting to fit your style. At the end of the day, our goal is to connect as a community and create a strong bond together. There are many different paths to the same outcome. Do what works for you! 

Do you use morning meetings in your classroom? What benefits do you see? Do you stick to the Responsive Classroom structure or make it your own? I’d love to hear more in the comments below! 

Brag Tags- I tried them and I didn’t love it

Brag Tags- I tried them and I didn’t love it

What's a Brag Tag?

Brag tags hit the world of teaching a few years ago. Although the concept, providing students with a token for doing something, wasn’t anything new, they were redesigned and better than ever. I was teaching second-grade and kept getting passive-aggressive feedback about how my teaching wasn’t cute. When I switched grade levels, I decided to become a cute teacher, and I hated it! 😂It’s just not my style.

Here are a few examples of Brag Tags I handed out in my classroom. Of course, I purchased a few bundles from TPT, but in true Natasha fashion, I ended up making my own to fit the needs of my class better. 

What's the Problem?

I know there are many brag tag lovers, and in the short term, they work beautifully. My assistant teacher and I handed them out and praised students and felt like we were building such a little positive community. What we were doing was bribing kids into good behavior. Now, I am not above a bit of bribe now and then. 😉Sometimes you need kids to behave in the short term, let’s say during a special event, and it works. But I don’t show up to school every day focused on the short-term. I am focused on assisting in the development of awesome little humans for the long haul. 

I'm Bad at Passing Stuff Out

After the beginning of the year, when the joy of our brag tags was wearing off, I started to forget to pass any out. See, our class had already learned expected behaviors, and they were following them without anything. I didn’t need to give hundreds of reminders to sit at the carpet or not touch people in line. They were doing it, just as I expected they would. I found that when kids are following expectations, I don’t think much about behavior, and I would forget to pass them out. I quickly realized if you don’t need the bribe a few weeks into the school year, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. Sometimes as teachers, we set up scaffolds that our students don’t need! This was one scaffold that I thought students needed, but they didn’t.

They Wanted to Barter

While most students were content to follow expectations and pitch in for the greater good of our community, some wanted rewards for everything they did. I had a few students coming to me all day long, sharing all of the things they had done that they felt earned them a brag tag. This was a side effect that I didn’t want! The goal of using brag tags wasn’t to have students only do good things if they got something for it in return. I had to make a rule that if you ask for a brag tag or share the good stuff you did hoping to get a brag tag, you wouldn’t get it. To earn one, my assistant teacher and I had to notice it all on our own, so you never knew when you were going to get one. I had to restate that rule over and over again.

Coming to a Slow Stop

Gradually, over the first quarter, I started handing out brag tags less and less until I completely stopped. My assistant teacher and I would remind each other to pass them out, and we wouldn’t. Then students would say comments like, “Wow! No one has gotten a brag tag in a long time.” My assistant teacher and I would make eye contact across the classroom 😳, and we’d carry on. We would go long periods without handing any out because they didn’t need them.

We’d eventually have a conversation with our class explaining that we didn’t need brag tags, and we would only hand them out on special occasions. The students understood. Brag tags were like training wheels on a bike. We used to need them, and now we didn’t- except, did we ever actually need them?

How DO They Behave Without a Reward?

But Natasha, how do they behave if there isn’t a reward? Honestly, sometimes, they don’t! Listen, I am not saying it is easy in the least to get students to follow expectations. I haven’t used brag tags at all this year. I work in a school that believes in investing in students for the long term, so we don’t use short term supports like extrinsic behavior motivators on a regular basis. I’m currently in a book study for Classroom Management Matters, and in the first or second chapter, it discusses extrinsic rewards. I fully admitted in our conversations that sometimes I want to give in and provide extrinsic rewards because it does work short term, and it’s easy. We discuss expectations at the start of the year and revisit them all the time.

What I do Know

I don’t have things figured out entirely, and I don’t know if anyone does. What I do know is that Brag Tags aren’t for me. I would rather put in the exhausting work to create students who can self-regulate without bribes and rewards. Some days I am confident in this choice and other days not so much!

What’s your experience with brag tags been? Any advice to share about non-reward based experiences?

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Going back to school after winter break can be ROUGH! We’ve all been there. Transitioning back into the new year can be tricky. The kids are still in vacation mode, and you might be too. Here are five tips to help reign it in and get back to business after a long break.

Getting Back to School After winter Break

One

Catch Up With Each Other

You just had a break! Take a minute to catch up and share all about your holidays. As an international teacher, students often travel to different countries and places over breaks. We usually get out the map and look where everyone went on holiday. This is a lot of fun. Kids also share what I call smiles and frowns. Smiles are those significant parts of vacation and frowns the not so great part. 


After a break ease back in and take a moment to check in as a community. Maybe that doesn’t look like getting down the map. Maybe it looks like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or tea and talking about the best parts of our break. Maybe it means taking a moment to write a story about the break. Any way you do it is great. Isn’t the best part of coming back to school after a break catching up with your teacher friends? Let your kids enjoy that too.

Two

Get Back Into Routines

Routines are like the glue that holds all the learning together. I like to remind students of expectations and keep them to it after a break. We usually spend the first weeks back after break reviewing our routines and practicing them. Don’t wait too long to get back into them, or it might feel like you never will. Remember that time spent reviewing routines now will save you time later. Make sure you’ve all got your routines back down before diving too far into learning.

Three

Have some Fun

Joy and laughter are so important in the classroom. Don’t forget while reviewing those routines and diving back into content to take some time for fun. Fun can be anything! Maybe it’s a fun hidden picture, and perhaps it’s an extra Go Noodle video, maybe it’s playing four corners. Just make sure that there’s some fun and laughter in your classroom during your first days back as a teacher.

FOur

Take Time For Yourself

Don’t burn yourself out! Hopefully, you took the vacay to live your non-teacher life. So now, don’t spend the first weeks back living at school. Utilize those prep times and try not to stay too late. Take time to invest in your life outside of school as well. The more you invest in yourself as a person, the better you are as a teacher. Trust me.

Five

Give Yourself Grace

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything worked out perfectly after a holiday? Yeah, I can dream about that world, but realistically it doesn’t. Give yourself grace. Take that time away from yourself. Look into using Calm or another meditation app for those moments when things are too much. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a quick emergency calm session when the kids went to specials. Remember, you’ll get there. You will get back into learning and all of the routines that make your classroom a beautiful place. Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

How do you like to set your self up for success after a break? 

Parent Communication Log with Google

Parent Communication Log with Google

Parent Communication Log- I NEED IT TO BE EASY

Using Google Forms as a parent communication log is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. It is so easy and super helpful! 

A few years ago, I was about halfway through the year when I realized that I wasn’t keeping logging any of my parent communication! Eeek! It wasn’t that I wasn’t communicating with parents. I wasn’t making any record of it. I tried to jot down a sticky note and put it in a file, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t easy enough for me, and all those crumpled notes in a file folder weren’t helpful. Then GDPR rolled around and writing random notes and shoving them somewhere wasn’t going to work. I had to digitize my communication log. Luckily this worked in my favor, and I was able to keep track of parent conversations much more convenient. 

Hooray for Google Forms!

I made a Google Form and then pinned it in Chrome right next to my Gmail. Any time I had a conversation with a parent, I simply logged it on the form. I was able to easily keep track of who I had talked to and what I had discussed.

BONUS! When I used Google Forms for my parent communication log I was able to more easily look at and analyze my data due to how the form presents it. This was revolutionary. Here’s how I did it and the sort of data you can discover. Hopefully, this can help you too!

How to Create Your Own Form

  1. Open Google Drive
  2. Click the new button on the top left

3. Hover over more

4. Click Google Form (purple logo)

Name Your Form

Name your form and add a description if you would like. I named it Parent Communication 19-20 just to keep track. Usually, I keep the description blank because this is just for me. I don’t need a description of a parent communication log. I know what this form is all about. 

QUestion 1: Student Names

I like the first question on the form to be the student’s names. On the right choose dropdown. Enter student names. I make this question and most of the questions on the form required. Just in case I’m in a rush that will ensure I included all the necessary information. 

*I have obviously created a fake class for this and have chosen fake names for this fake class. 

Question 2: Date

The date is obviously helpful for tracking parent communication. Here you can keep track of when the conversations took place. Click date as the question type on the right. Again, I make this question required. 

Question 3: Method of Contact

Click checkboxes as the question type- every once in a while you’ll have multiple methods of contact. This allows you to select what you need. I also have an other option because you really never know what else you might need. Having that option available just makes things easier. 

Question 4: Reason for Contact

This one is so important and I struggled a bit with what categories it should be. I also add an other box to this one because sometimes the reason for contact doesn’t match any of the options. A few years ago I had an academic progress option but I felt that fell under academic. Choose what works for you. You might find that you are constantly typing in an option. If that’s the case, edit your form and add that option in. 

Here I chose multiple choice but it could also be beneficial to use checkboxes so that more than one option could be chosen.

Question 5: Initiated By

This wasn’t originally a question on the form but I soon realized I wanted to know who reached out to who. I chose multiple choice for this question and also added an other option. 

Question 6: Notes

Use the paragraph option this will allow you to type whatever you need to type in the box. This is the box where I type in all of the details of our conversation. What topics were discussed? What ideas were expressed by me and what ideas were expressed by the parents? This is really the reason you’re using a parent communication log so make sure to write all the details. 

Question 7: Follow Up

Sometimes this just says none and sometimes it lists out different things I need to do after the communication. This helps me keep track of the next steps. Sometimes I also schedule next steps into my Google Calendar just to help me stay on top of everything in the classroom. 

Analyze Your Data

Once you have your form set and enter the communication data you can see all your parent communication very clearly laid out. I am using the fake names and fake student data that I created for this blog post. (aka I just filled out the form by randomly clicking several a few times) 

Just peaking at this data what do you notice? What sticks out to you? 

Usually, in this section I notice that I’m communicating about one student at a far larger scale than the others. I reflect on this and make adjustments as needed.

I also notice that there are students who I’ve made no parent contact with or limited contact with. I reflect on that and also adjust as needed. 

It used to be that if you didn’t hear from me, everything is going well. That just isn’t the case anymore. We need to communicate with all parents and give them insights into their children’s learning. Of course, Seesaw opens up an amazing venue for parent communication but a quick email or phone call doesn’t hurt either. 

This one I find interesting. Emails typically win out and when I notice that I try to be more conscious of picking up the phone. Even though as an introvert I despise talking on the phone it is usually the best way to ensure your message is heard in the proper tone and with the proper delivery. 

I like to try to keep a balance between academics and social-emotional contact. Here you can see I made contact for social-emotional reasons far more than any other reason. Depending on the time of year you might make contact for one area more than other areas. Just keep in mind that we educate the whole child and therefore our parent communication should reflect that. 

Thoughts on Parent Communication Logs

Any questions or comments just leave them in the box below! I would love to hear how the form is working out for you and how you keep a parent communication log. 

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

Using Seesaw

Seesaw is one of my favorite new tech tools in the classroom. It makes communication between home and school seamless. I started using it a few years ago, and I have improved so much! Let’s talk about how to plan seesaw posts to enhance your parent communication. 

I initially began using Seesaw as a first-grade teacher. Our kindergarten program was Reggio Emilia inspired. A large part of the Reggio approach is using pictures as documentation to show learning. Parents received a file folder filled with photos that documented each week’s learning. I couldn’t compete with that! The grade one classroom was structured differently, and while we took pictures, we no longer took as many photos as they did the year before. Our documentation of learning happens differently. I had to bridge the expectation gap somehow, and that is where Seesaw saved me. 

My assistant teacher took pictures of the students in one class period every day and shared it on Seesaw. As we got into our school year, the kids began posting messages about their learning. Parents loved it! Homework used to be the way that parents kept up to date with their child’s education. Today, as we follow the research, there’s less homework sent home. Parents still desire that connection to school; Seesaw helps fill in that gap. 

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

Reflect

First, reflect on the learning in your classroom. Each week I start with a simple reflection that I am already doing- this isn’t extra work just for Seesaw. What are my instructional goals in each subject? How could I use a post to teach parents about something? What do parents want to see? What might be some useful posts for the week? When planning seesaw posts, I don’t like to go out of my way to make Seesaw posts. I want them to be natural parts of our learning or meaningful extensions of the work we’re doing. Let’s take next week as an example.

In reading, we’re working to envision our stories. We’re working to make a movie in our minds about what is happening on the page. I know that many parents and students believe that if they read the words and can do a quick retell, they understand and comprehend the book. As a teacher, I know that the level of comprehension required in my grade level is much deeper than that. 

Possible Posts: 
-Students can share a stop and sketch by taking a picture and recording how the stop and sketch helped their understanding of the text. 
-A student could do a digital stop and sketch. They could draw out what is happening in their story and record themselves reading the paragraph that led to this stop and sketch.

In writing, we’re working on publishing personal narratives. I always like to use Seesaw to document the editing and revision process. It is simple and a great reflection tool for students to show what they started with, what changes they made, and why those changes were made. This way, when parents see the final product, they know a bit more about the work that went into making this piece. As a teacher, I also know that parents can sometimes expect perfect finished pieces. Adding the editing and revising process to Seesaw would show just how much the student improved their writing.  

Possible Post: 
-Have students take a picture of their story at the end of a writer’s workshop lesson and explain what changes were made. We write in black pen and edit in green pen so new changes will be visible.

In math, we’re working to understand the distributive property of multiplication. I know that many parents were raised on answer-getting math, just like I was. We memorized definitions of different properties, and that was that. I know that adding a post with a deep understanding and description of the property can help parents see why connected learning is so important in math. 

Possible Post: 
-Perhaps I could create an activity where students could solve a problem using the distributive property on Seesaw and then could record themselves explaining how they solved it.

In science, we’re working to understand forces. Science is always such an easy one for me to share. I feel like science lends itself to sharing so naturally. Kids LOVE to take pictures and videos of experiments as we engage in the scientific method. As a teacher, I know that science has shifted with the NGSS. Using Seesaw could help parents see how science class now intertwines science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. 

Possible Post:
-Recording of an experiment with an added caption about the experiment

In word study, we are studying long and short e. We’ve worked on sorting out different patterns and are working to incorporate this spelling pattern into our writing. I know that word study is another large shift for teachers and parents. No longer are we memorizing a list of words we’re studying that patterns in words. 

Possible Posts:
-Create an activity where students sort words into different categories.
-Have students find long e and short e words in their writing and double-check that they are spelled correctly or explain which pattern is used. 

From this quick reflection, I have so many possible Seesaw posts that tie into our learning. Now I have to figure out which ones would be most meaningful for students and parents. Remember that Seesaw allows students to share their learning, but it also creates a story and sends a message to parents about what’s happening in your classroom. 

Plan Your Seesaw Post

Types of Posts

https://msnatashatheodora.com/classroom-community/friday-five-student-centered-classrooms/

Now that we’ve reflected, it is time to plan. The screenshot above shows the different types of posts students can create. 

    1. Photo- A photo uses the device’s camera to take a photo. Once the picture is taken, there are so many great tools that a student can use to demonstrate learning. They can add labels or a caption. Kids can record themselves talking while the image is displayed. They can take another picture and layer that on top of the first image. They also have drawing tools available to demonstrate learning.
    2. Drawing- A drawing presents the student with a blank page and all of the same tools available on the photo. They can use the drawing, labeling, and picture tools while creating a drawing. 
    3. Video- Creating a video uses the device’s camera to record. Just a fair warning that depending on the age of your students, you might want to do a quick lesson on camera stability before letting them record. I’ve been taken on quite a few motion-sickness inducing videos before! 
    4. Upload- Here, students can upload something they already have. Maybe they are working on a google doc that they want to share. Or perhaps the picture or video they want to upload is already on the device. This is the one for them. 
    5. Note- When posting a note, students have access to a sort of word processor. They can type up what they want to share and later can record.
    6. Link- The link is where students can paste in a URL, and it will display the link. Students then have the option to record and discuss the link.

Think about which tool might best slide in with the learning already happening in your classroom. Which one is the best choice for your students? Remember that you don’t want to overwhelm parents with a bunch of things that aren’t meaningful. Which ones are the most meaningful? What is the story you’re creating and sending home to parents? 

Assign an Activity

When you assign an activity, you can choose from already created and shared activities, or you can create your own activity. To be honest, I rarely just assign an activity from the activity library. Usually, I need to make a few tweaks to the activity to make it seamlessly fit into our learning.
I usually create activities for all the posts we share. This is because I have a large number of students in my classroom whose native language isn’t English. Strategies for non-native English speakers are suitable for all students. I think it is helpful for students to see the directions after I have given them, so I try to always create an activity for whatever we are going to post. When I create an activity, it stays in my library. That means I can look back from year to year and reuse activities instead of having to generate new ideas each and every year.

Action!

It’s time to take action and plan out your first post. Click on the picture to get a free Seesaw planner!

If you’re not already on Seesaw head over to Seesaw’s youtube channel to learn more about getting started on the platform. You’ll need parent permission before students start posting. You will also want to connect with all of your families. Seesaw just rolled out a new option, which makes connecting families easier than ever!

Please know that Seesaw is extremely responsive. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube for more information. Seesaw is really dedicated to listening to teacher feedback and making sure that using their platform creates the best experience for everyone!

Best of luck!

Are you a Seesaw user? How do you plan out your posts? Do you have any other tips to offer up? Leave a comment below to share some more pro tips with us!

If you’re new to Seesaw comment below about how your first post went!