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.

A Class Gratitude Activity

A Class Gratitude Activity

Tap Someone WHo

Has your class ever had a moment (or several) where it seems like they just can’t get along? Does every little moment turn into a small tiff? When that happens, it is best to pause the academic learning and work on some social-emotional learning. It’s time for a class gratitude activity! Tap Someone Who is the perfect one. I learned this activity at summer camp, and I have played it with adults, teens, first graders, and everyone in between.

Summer Camp

When I was a junior in high school, I was a counselor in training at the summer camp I attended as a camper. It was so exciting and so overwhelming. We spent a few weeks at the camp, pretending we were the real cool camp counselors we had looked up to since we were kids. BUT so much time with such few people in the woods can lead to a bit of drama. We were at each other. We argued about everything and anything; it was not good. After attempting to get us to work through training, our counselor lost it! I don’t blame her. We were really pushing the limits. So, she kicked us all out of our cabin. We were sent to different parts of the camp with our notebooks to sit in reflection. This was serious. We scattered all around and were eventually called back to the cabin.

I was nervous walking back, what was going to happen? When we returned, it was a calm environment. We didn’t get yelled at. We got to reset as a group by playing Touch Someone Who. It was such a wonderful experience. A chance for all of us to show the appreciation that we weren’t showing earlier. A chance to reset together and remember that we do care about one another. Since this experience at camp, I’ve played this game in many different settings, both as a participant and a leader. It is always such an enjoyable and powerful experience. 

Preparing for the Activity

This class gratitude activity is perfect when your class is about to have or is already having a meltdown. It is also the ideal activity for right before or after a break. It is also an excellent activity for Valentine’s Day. Isn’t Valentine’s (not Valentimes!) Day all about showing appreciation?

Before you begin, you’ll also want to plan out which students you’ll call up together. Ideally, it would be between 3-5 students depending on the size of your class. I try not to call friends up together because then they get a little rowdy, and they might not know who to tap. It’s always good if kids have a go-to friend that they can tap if they aren’t sure who to tap. Once you plan out your groups, write the students’ names on the transition cards. Please know that the first group goes on Direction Card 8.

I have included a color copy of the transition cards. You might want to print them out on colored paper, so they stick out in the pile.

After you’ve planned out the groups to call up together, read through the different descriptors, and pick which ones are best for your group. Use the blank cards to add in additional ones specific to your class or school and eliminate the ones that aren’t right for you. If you have any additional suggestions, please email me or comment below! I like to plan that each group starts their tapping with lighter statements and then moves into deeper statements. The last statement of the game is always “tap someone who touched your heart,” and I make sure I tap every student for that card. 

See how many descriptor cards you’ve picked and how many groups you have. Stick the transition cards in between the Tap Someone cards, so you’re all set. I like to hole punch all the cards and put them on a binder ring; then they’re easier to manage during the activity.

I really like to set the mood a little bit. You don’t have to do this, but it does make things feel a bit cozier, a bit more comfortable. I like to dim the lights or turn them off entirely, depending on how dark your space gets. I also play some relaxing music softly in the background. I’ve found that sort of touch calms down the environment and sets the tone for the activity.

Keep in mind that you know your students the best. There have been years I didn’t do these things because it wasn’t right for my class.

Gather Your Class for A Class Gratitude Activity

Gather your class at the carpet and have them sit in a circle to explain the directions. I ask that all students hold questions until the end. I have scripted out direction cards in the set. Know that you may need to make changes to fit your teaching style and your class. Do what’s best for you! 

Possible DIrection Script

“We need to sit in a circle.”
-wait for your kids to get into a circle
-make sure that kids are sitting next to someone who will allow them to focus on the activity.
-have students face inwards for the directions and then turn around when the game is about to start.
-I usually dim the lights during the directions to help set the mood.

“Today, we’re going to do a gratitude activity. Gratitude means showing appreciation or giving thanks. Today we’re appreciating our community. We work together every day, and it is nice to pause from time to time and let others know that you notice good things about them, and you’re glad we’re all together in this class. I’m going to explain the directions of our activity now. Please save your questions until the end because I might answer them as I explain.

In this activity, you will face the outside of the circle and gently close your eyes. We won’t turn around until the directions are finished. I will call students to the center silently, so no one knows who is in the middle of the circle. If you are tapped, you’ll have to be extra quiet. Then I will read out statements, and the people in the middle will gently tap people in our community who match the statement.

When you are picked to come to the middle, you will get a chance to show gratitude for the different members of our community. If you are sitting around the circle, you will receive appreciation. If you get tapped after I say ‘tap someone who…’ you’ll stay in your spot and quietly reflect on why someone appreciates you. It might be for something you knew you’d get tapped for, and it might be unexpected.

I might read a card that says, ‘tap someone who makes you laugh.’ If you’re in the middle, you’ll gently tap people on the head or shoulder who make you laugh. Sometimes you might respectfully tap a few people. Sometimes you might only tap one.
When someone taps you, don’t turn around to try to figure out who it is- accept their appreciation. It isn’t about who gets the most taps or who is tapping you- its that you’re an important member of our community, and we’re glad you’re here.
People in the middle with get to show appreciation for a few statements before we switch.

Sometimes it can be tricky to remember if a tap means I appreciate you or if a tap means to come to the middle.
If I say, ‘tap someone who…’ and you get tapped, you stay where you are.
But if I say, ‘when I tap your shoulder, please come to the middle,’ you’ll come to the middle. If you’re not sure, pause, and I will repeat what I said. Listening closely will help us be successful.

For everyone to feel safe during this activity, the taps must be gentle. You can tap someone on top of the head or the shoulder. You must tap them gently and with respect. The point of this activity is to build appreciation and show gratitude. If we aren’t safe, people won’t feel appreciated.”
-Demonstrate acceptable touches.

“What questions do you have?”

“Please turn and face the outside of the circle. When I tap you on the shoulder, please come to the middle.”
*Tap the students who are in the first group*

Possible Trouble

When Do I Go In The Middle?

Sometimes groups struggle to understand when they come to the middle and when they don’t. It may be nice to ring a chime during the transition time. Explain that if they hear the bell once and they are tapped, it means to come to the middle of the circle. If they hear the bell twice, that means stay in your spot. It is also helpful to repeat those directions several times before tapping anyone during the transition and after the transition. It may also be beneficial to practice the transition a few times before turning around so students can see how it will go. 

Students Without Many Taps

Some students might receive fewer taps than other students. Please watch for these students and ensure that they are tapped from time to time. There are some statements that I tap each student in my class. Sometimes I also play a sneaky trick where I change up how I’m tapping students, so they don’t always know it’s me. Maybe I’m not fooling anyone, but I like to think I am. 

Tapping Too Hard

Some students might tap too hard. Please review that tapping is to be kind and gentle. Students should feel appreciated when they are tapped, not injured. Make sure you explain exactly where the tap can be placed on the body. We usually do tops of the heads and shoulders. 

discussion

The discussion is one of the most valuable parts of this class gratitude activity. It is so important to conclude with a discussion and a brief reflection. Sometimes there’s so much energy that I prompt students to turn and talk with a partner about their experience. Sometimes there’s a calm feeling as students turn around, and then I dive right into the prompts. Feel the room and decide what’s best for your group. 

“When you are finished, please sit down.”

*Wait for participants in the middle to sit down and then take a few seconds to pause before calling everyone back*

“Take a moment, open your eyes, and turn back to face the middle of the circle when you’re ready.”

*During the conversation, no one should be forced to share. If no one wants to open up about their experience right away, that is ok. Let participants share when they are ready.*

Here are some possible discussion questions. There are additional blank cards if you need to add any questions to fit the needs of your group. 

I do try to steer the conversation away from how many taps people got and try to guide it towards how do you feel? Why was this class gratitude activity important? 

  • How did this make you feel?
  • Why is it important to show each other we care?
  • How did it feel when someone tapped you?
  • Were you surprised by any of the taps you got? 
  • Were there any statements you wished I had said?
  • How did it feel when you got to tap someone? 
  • Why do you think we kept our eyes closed, so we didn’t know who was in the middle? 
  • How did you feel at the beginning? How do you feel now? 
  • How can we continue this feeling of appreciation for the rest of our day? 

Depending on the flow of the conversation, you might only use a few discussion questions, or you might use a lot of them. 

Download Tap Someone Who

Click here to visit the resources page of Ms. Natasha Theodora and download Tap Someone Who.

Please come back once you’ve completed the activity with your class and share any tips or comments that will help others along the class gratitude journey! 

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.