Saturday, July 22, 2017

Should Your Classroom Have A Theme?

Every year as the back-to-school season approaches, teachers everywhere start to contemplate setting up their classrooms. Seeing beautiful, coordinated classrooms on Pinterest and Instagram can get even the least cutesy teacher wondering if they *need* a theme. So, does your classroom need a theme? The short answer is no. Here's the long answer:

And y'all, I am NOT anti-theme! I love a good theme (cacti or pineapples, anyone?), but if it's not your thing, don't do it-- especially if it's getting you stressed out before the school year has even begun.

So if any of your answers landed you in the "NOPE." category, let it go! Focus on making your classroom functional and student-centered, and the rest will fall into place.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

9 Amazon Items For Your Cactus Classroom

It's no secret I'm a mega-cactus fan. When this trend hit, I was READY. I've got cactus leggings, framed cactus prints, plenty of real live cacti, and now a Cactus Classroom Room Decor Pack. But if printables aren't enough for you, check out some of these Amazon finds to cactify your classroom.
This post contains affiliate links.

1. Cactus Banner
2. Cactus Clothespins 
3. Cactus Pen Holder & Desktop Organizer 
4. Cactus Wall Hanging This would be perfect for a photoshoot or cool down corner. I LOVE the colors.
5. Cactus Throw Pillows
6. Cactus Lamp
7. Cactus-Shaped Pillow So cute for your classroom library.
8. Cactus Pencil Sharpener You can google ANYTHING + cactus and it probably exists. I am dying over this pencil sharpener.
9.Cactus Erasers Perfect for prizes or your desk (which is where mine reside).

Don't forget the complete Cactus Classroom Decor Pack to complete the look!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

7 Special Education Classrooms You Need To See

Being a special educator can sometimes mean being a bit isolated. As a resource or self-contained teacher, you might have only have a few similar classrooms (or none!) in your building. Which is why the internet is AMAZING! Check out some of the best special education classrooms from around the blogosphere:

1. Michaela from Especially Education has the most rainbow-riffic classroom of all time!

2. Melissa's (of Autism Adventures) classroom is soooo organized!

3. Julie from Superheroes in SPED has a SENSORY ROOM!

4. Alyssa of Simply Special Ed has a beautiful, bright, & streamlined classroom.

5. Check out Erin's (of You AUT-a Know) colorful & organized classroom!

A post shared by Erin Hagey (@youautaknow) on

6. Jennifer of Positively Learning has designed a beautifully simple resource classroom!  

7. And at the risk of of bragging, I like to think my resource classroom is pretty nice too!

A post shared by Sarah (@thedesignerteacher) on

You can see more of my classroom here! Which special education classroom inspires YOU? 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

7 Healthy Lunches for Teachers

If the idea of making three healthy meals a day feels near impossible, you might want to try meal prepping! Taking an hour or two on Sunday to meal prep ensures that you have healthy lunches all week without any additional stress. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Sweet Potato Wraps with Pesto and Caramelized Onions
This recipe makes 8 wraps, which is great if you're prepping for a spouse too, or means you can throw a few in the freezer for later! 

2. Black Bean Bowls with Confetti Slaw
These are soooo good! When prepping for lunches, I keep the beans and everything else separate so that I can heat up the beans separately.

I hate touching raw meat, so I tend to buy pre-cooked chicken or throw some tofu in instead!

This is my very favorite salad! I switch out the "facon" for bacon, because #bacon, and I normally skip making my own dressing.

I ate so many of these last year! If you run out of pitas (#pitaproblems), you can always throw everything on top of greens for an equally tasty salad.

I think I'm just bad at ordering, but I actually like this lo mein better than any I get as take-out. You can eat this as lunch or dinner... so tasty!

Guess who skips the whole making-your-own-falafel thing and just buys frozen falafel from Trader Joe's? If you guessed me, you are correct.

A healthy and filling lunch can help you make it through those long afternoons without getting too hangry! Don't forget to take care of your mental health too-- you can check out 40 Acts of Self Care for Teachers here!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Students

Growth mindset is everywhere in the education world right now, but that doesn't mean it's just a fad. Growth mindset is the idea developed by Carol Dweck that those with the belief that talent and intelligence are malleable, rather than fixed, perform better in school and in life. If we can teach our students that effort and perseverance matter more than inherent intelligence, we will have done a powerful thing. There are many ways to cultivate a growth mindset in your students, from modifying the way you praise your students to modeling it yourself! Here are a few ways you can get started:

Introducing growth vs. fixed mindset is a great lesson for the beginning of the year! Start by explaining that people with growth mindsets know that their brains are always getting smarter. They know that mistakes are simply an opportunity to learn, and that challenges will make their brain smarter. Explain that students can cultivate a growth mindset in themselves simply by changing their words! Create an anchor chart of words and thoughts to encourage a growth mindset.

Another great way to introduce growth mindset at the beginning of the year is to have students set "growth goals" for themselves. My Growth Goals Bulletin Board Kit makes a perfect first week of school activity, as well as an adorable, but meaningful, bulletin board display. 

While it's great to dedicate a whole lesson to growth mindset at the beginning of the year, it can also be helpful to have reminders posted throughout the classroom. My cactus-themed Growth Mindset Posters are perfect if you're looking to print and go, but you could also have students work together to create posters themselves.

Help students to reflect on their use of growth mindset by periodically coming together as a class to discuss challenges, mistakes, and growth. You can also use my Growth Mindset Writing Prompts as morning work or for journals to encourage reflection.

We can help our students develop a growth mindset by praising them for hard work, overcoming obstacles, and learning from mistakes. Avoid praising students for inherent intelligence or talent, instead noting their perseverance in the face of obstacles. In addition to verbal praise, you can also reinforce a growth mindset with these Growth Mindset "Brag Tags." If you don't currently use these incentive tags in your classroom, you can learn more about them here.

One of the most powerful ways to encourage a growth mindset is to model it yourself! When you make a mistake, talk about what happened and what you can learn from it. If the class is struggling with something, talk about how you, as a teacher, need to consider other strategies rather than give up. Here's hoping for a year of growth for you and your students!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Creating a Summer Schedule

The single greatest perk of being a teacher is undoubtedly summer. After 10 months of unceasing dedication, we absolutely deserve a break. Though as we all know, plenty of professional development, planning, and prepping goes on too! As delightful as it is to wake up at 10:00 and stay in one's pajamas all day, some of us teachers actually struggle a bit without structure. After all, we're used to not just having a start and end time to our work day, but having our day divided up into 15-minute segments (5 minute segments if you teach kinder!). I don't know about you, but on an average school day, I know exactly what's going on at 8:00, 8:15, 8:30, 8:45... and so on... until 3:00. During the school year one free hour or one free day was unbelievably precious! "Just think what I could do with an extra prep period or a day off!" we would think to ourselves. And now we have whole hours and days! 

But you know what? I've finally resigned myself to the fact that I thrive on a schedule. With a schedule, I remember to do things like eat, and exercise, and you know, leave the house. 

So without further ado... a blank summer schedule for you to fill out!

I'm not trying to run myself ragged here... I have plenty of chill time built in. But if you're like me, it can be really helpful to have a wake up time, meal times, and exercise scheduled! So go ahead and put together a daily schedule for yourself using my editable template

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Make Your Own Moscow Mule Teacher Gift

I love putting together gifts for my coworkers! As a special education teacher, I work very closely with my students' general education teachers as well as the clinicians and other special education teachers on my team. I like to show them how much I appreciate all they do at the end of the year with a gift. After weeks loitering around the Target Dollar Spot and scouring Pinterest, I landed on these cute cocktails-in-a-jar! I was heavily inspired by this tutorial, but I put my own spin on it with the tags, which you can snag for free here!

Here's what you'll need: (contains affiliate links)

Be sure to buy mason jars with wide mouths so that all your ingredients will fit! I'd also go with the narrowest ginger beers you can find, for the same reason!

Once you've gathered your materials, take the lid off each jar and remove the metal circle from the lid. Replace just the rings of the lids. Put a small amount of shredded kraft paper at the bottom of each jar. Slide your mini vodka bottle in first, and then your ginger beer. If you can fit your lime in the jar, more power to you! Wasn't happening for mine, so I slipped them in the gift bags later. Wrap your baker's twine around the lid ring a few times and tie it in a bow. After printing and cutting out your tags, clip them onto the twine with the mini clothespins. You could also hole punch the tags-- I just couldn't resist the mini clothespins! 

I hand wrote quick directions to make a Moscow Mule on the back of each tag: 1. Pour ice into jar, 2. Pour in ginger beer & vodka, 3. Squeeze in lime, 4. Enjoy your Moscow Mule!

Let me know if you make one and tag me on instagram @thedesignerteacher. I'd love to see!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

6 Tips to Thrive Through the Fourth Quarter

Between testing, rising temps, and squirrelly children, the fourth quarter can get rough for us teachers. That's why I asked a few teacher-friends to share their best tips for thriving through the fourth quarter!

1. Plan it out! It can feel like you have a million things to accomplish before the end of the year, so take some time to sit down and really plan out what needs to be done. Make a master list of your major to-do's, like IEPs, progress reports, and testing. Just seeing it all written down rather than as a vague haze of worry can help you feel more grounded and focused.

2. Be sure to add in FUN activities for the last few weeks of school. The end of the year can be stressful on us teachers AND students, so boost up the positives! Some of my favorites are scrapbooks, school year timelines, guided drawing, and dream boards. {from Allie of Miss Behavior}

3. Take time to out of your busy schedule to enjoy your students. When the end of year testing and procedures can make you absolutely crazy, put all of that aside and enjoy the last moments you have together because you'll miss those little boogers once when they're gone! {From Jessi of Cuties and Cooties}

4. Fourth quarter is a great time to conduct student surveys! Give students an opportunity to reflect on what they've loved about class and what they might change given the chance. You'll get some great information to use over summer when you're ready to start planning, and you're sure to also get a few sweet notes to add to your happy file! Bonus tip: I really love using Google Forms for student surveys! If you have access to technology in the classroom, I highly recommend trying it out. {from Cindy of Where The Wild Students Are}

5. Take time everyday to write down at least one thing that went well. You could write it in a journal, planner, sticky note, or even just a note on your phone. {from Becca of The Teacher's Passport}

6. The end of the year can be so stressful with all of the last minute learning that you want to fit in AND assessment on top of assessment. Find some time to do a fun class reward each day or several days a week if your students earn it! Some of my favorites are "use smelly markers day," play a favorite group game, have a "bubble" party (I bring bubbles for the kids to use at recess), or wear a hat in the classroom. It's motivating for the kids and it helps you to relax and ENJOY your last few weeks with your students! {from Nicole of Firstie Favorites}

Which of these will you be implementing to help you thrive this quarter?

Monday, May 1, 2017

I Am A Teacher With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I am a teacher with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I was sitting in AP Psychology class, going over the DSM-V checklist for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, when I realized I have this. Not in the way people say they’re “so OCD” or “totally bipolar,” but in the way where I have every symptom on this list and I suddenly realize that these things aren’t normal. I went home and talked to my parents, and my Dad, who’s a doctor, agreed. I’d have the label confirmed when I saw a psychologist in college. After the initial surprise, I actually felt empowered. There was a reason I felt the way I did, and there were things I could do to feel better. For the uninitiated, GAD is what’s called “free-floating” anxiety. I can, and will, worry about anything that crosses my path. My anxiety has never stopped me from doing hard things. But, I can say with confidence that it has made those hard things harder. I want to share my story so that those who suffer from anxiety know that they’re not alone, and perhaps help teachers who do not suffer from mental illnesses better understand their co-workers who do.

I have always been passionate about social justice and working with kids, so as a senior in college I applied and was accepted to an alternate-certification program to teach in a Title I school. The summer training process was rough. I know it was rough for everyone, but I started to genuinely think maybe I could not do this. When I broke down crying to one of the trainers in the program, she told me if I couldn’t handle the training, maybe I wasn’t cut out to do this. Despite my concerns that she was right, I finished the training and became a teacher.

When I started teaching, I was also going to grad school 2-3 nights a week and living very much paycheck-to-paycheck. This was one of the hardest times of my life. While I firmly felt that the expectations placed on me by the program I was in were absurd, it didn’t stop me from blaming myself. Why weren’t the kids listening to me? Why didn’t I know how to teach phonics or sight words or fractions? I know that many teachers in our program felt the same way. But where GAD comes in is that I literally could not stop thinking about school. While I saw other teachers in my program partying and dating and winging their lessons, that was inconceivable to me, especially at the beginning of the year. Now in my fourth year teaching, I have more confidence in my teaching and I make an effort to have a life outside of school. But my GAD is still very much present, and I suspect that it always will be. I can’t speak for all people with GAD, but this is how I believe it’s affected me as a teacher.

1. I blame myself for everything. There are people who internalize and externalize the blame for problems. An internalizer blames themselves, and an externalizer blames outside forces. As a teacher in a Title I school that’s constantly underfunded and underresourced, I’m not exactly set up for success. But if my students’ test scores don’t go up or their behaviors don’t improve, I feel personally responsible.

2. I think every criticism is directed at me. My admin sends out a lot of blanket “friendly reminder” emails. And I’m convinced that every one is a response to something I’ve personally done. If I hear a colleague complaining about a service provider being late, I immediately start trying to figure out if I’ve ever been late to her class, and I’ll worry about it every time I go to that teacher’s class for the rest of all time.

3. I’m easily overwhelmed. I don’t know how much of this is GAD vs. another sensory issue, but chaotic classrooms can make me really panicky. I’m very precise about my own classroom, but as a special education teacher, I spend a lot of time doing inclusion. When many kids are out of their seats, and calling out, and there are papers everywhere, and kids are crowding me and touching me… I start to freak out. Now, that’s not an ideal classroom setting for most students, but some teachers seem to be able to take it all in stride or even thrive off it. I can last for about 20 minutes, and then I feel like crawling under a desk and staying there for the rest of the afternoon.

4. I can’t stop thinking about the kids at home. My husband’s a good sport, but he is so sick of hearing about my kids’ problems. We all care about our kids and worry about their home lives, but for a teacher with GAD you quite literally cannot turn the thoughts off.

5. Problems can feel insurmountable. When you feel like a task is impossible (finishing 5 IEPs in a week, testing all the students by the deadline, etc.), but at the same time you feel like you HAVE to do it and it’ll be 100% your fault if you don’t (see number 1), it can lead to anxiety attack. Some days or weeks are better than others, but let’s just say every co-teacher I work with this year has seen me cry.

If you’re a teacher with an anxiety disorder, do you find the above to be true? I’m planning on doing a future post about managing an anxiety disorder while teaching, so I’d love to hear your experiences or tips!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why I Start Every Class with the Question, "How Are You Feeling?"

When a restorative justice consultant for our school suggested we start our classes with a feelings "check-in," I was a little skeptical. I mean, I think talking about feelings is great, but would having students just say one word to describe how they're feeling really make any difference? And wouldn't that take forever? 

Well, I gave it a try. At first, it felt a little awkward to genuinely ask each of my students, "How are you feeling?" When I began, some of my students would simply shake their heads "no." I had to coax one withdrawn student to just give me a thumbs up or thumbs down. 

Now, a year and a half later, the same group of kids eagerly engages in our check-in every day. The thumbs up/thumbs downer affectionately calls it "chicken" and is the most insistent student about doing it everyday. The day after the election, my most serious student (whose family is Mexican-American) came marching into class with his hand already raised and said, "I feel worried and mad and sad." It broke my heart, but I was also so thankful that this quiet and anxious student felt comfortable enough to express himself, and knew that we were all there for him, ready to listen. 

When you ask the question, "How are you feeling?" and listen to the answer with respect and without judgment, you're letting your students know that their feelings are valid. You're also teaching them HOW to express their feelings-- something some of them may not know how to do, or not know how to do appropriately. 

One of the best things about check-in (ahem, or "chicken") is that it's SO easy to implement! All you need to do is ask a question! That being a said, a visual can be super helpful for students who aren't familiar with the full range of feelings (my team calls them the happy-sad-mad club), or for nonverbal or shy students who would prefer to point. You can download a free feelings chart from my store right here!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

40 Acts of Self Care for Teachers

As teachers, we spend all day nurturing and taking care of our students, but sometimes we neglect ourselves! Here are 40 ways to practice self-care, starting with the least time-consuming and least expensive ideas. 

1. Take deep breaths.
2. Drink a cup of herbal tea.
3. Recite affirmations- try these or these
4. Light a soothing candle. 
5. Listen to your favorite song.
6. Do some light stretches. 
7. Use an essential oil. 
8. Wear your favorite outfit.
9. Think of three things you're grateful for. 
10. Take a bath.
11. Color for 30 minutes after school.
12. Call someone you love. 
13. Order your favorite food. 
14. Put on cozy clothes when you get home from school.
15. Write in your journal.
16. Try a face mask. 
17. Go for a walk.
18. Work on a puzzle.
19. Write down three good things that happened today.
20. Draw or paint without judging yourself.
21. Write an email or letter to a faraway friend.
22. Read a just-for-fun book curled up on the couch or in bed.
23. Buy yourself flowers- sunflowers are my favorite!
24. Bake or cook something special.
25. Garden or take care of your indoor plants.
26. Go to a yoga class.
27. Go to bed early-- or at least on time!
28. Meditate using an app or YouTube video.
29. Go on a bike ride. 
30. Buy yourself a present you can afford.
31. Spend time with a pet or volunteer with animals.
32. Look through an old photo book or scrapbook.
33. Knit or practice another hobby.
34. Get a manicure.
35. Get a massage.
36. Try acupuncture. 
37. Go see a movie.
38. Visit a museum or another interesting place.
39. See a therapist.
40. Take a mental health day.
Which of these have you tried? Are there any you commit to trying or doing more frequently? 

I had some help compiling this list! Numbers 7, 9, 12, 13, & 34 were contributed by my friend Allie of Miss Behavior-- she has her own post on self care here! Numbers 16 & 23 were contributed by Emily of The Mindful Educator-- check out more of her self care ideas here. Numbers 20, 29, & 31 are from Jessi of Cooties and Cuties, and number 36 is from Becca of The Teacher's Passport

Monday, February 20, 2017

7 Politically Active Educators to Follow on Instagram

Images from accounts below, clockwise from top left.

One silver lining to this nightmare of an administration has been seeing so many teachers become more politically active. I posted about 7 socially conscious teacher-instagrammers a few months ago, and now I'm back with 7 politically active educators! 

1. thewholewheatclass
"Sharpen your pencils and gather your books-- you've messed with the wrong professionals." Elsa sure knows how to write a call to action! Follow for political quotes & memes in addition to adorable classroom pics. 

2. _missbehavior
 Allie's a special education teacher who's not taking this administration's actions lying down. She's out there marching, calling senators, and volunteering with refugees!

3. sarahplumitallo
You've definitely seen at least one of Sarah's hilarious images about Betsy DeVos-- her brown bear, brown bear meme was everywhere! She regularly posts about social justice & political issues, particularly those relating to education.

4. unapologetic_educator
"Dedicated to all the SJW's out there in schools..." Can't go wrong with that bio! Follow for tons of social justice-oriented education images and quotes. 

5. notjaneedu
Daliene is just the kind of teacher you'd want down the hall-- optimistic, energetic, and not afraid to speak up!

6. cultofpedagogy
Jennifer is a solid must-follow for both her teaching ideas and political ideals!

7. amy.harris
Amy's feed is full of beautiful hand lettering that's always inspirational and timely.

Which other teachers do you follow for political posts?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

This Teacher Believes

As teachers, we're advocates for ALL our students, not just those that happen to fit into the president's narrow-minded worldview. It's clear from last night's events that the ACLU is going to be absolutely critical in protecting our students and ourselves for the next few years. Stand up for your students and support the ACLU with my latest T-shirt, inspired by my protest sign for the Women's March.

Get your shirt here-- $20 and all proceeds go directly the American Civil Liberties Union. Keep fighting the good fight, teacher friends! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why School Choice Won't Help Our Students

The basic premise sounds reasonable-- kids going to a "failing" school can choose to go to another school. Why should some students have to go to a worse school, especially when those attending these schools are disproportionately students of color and low-income? Here's why school choice won't fix failing schools or help our students:

1. School choice reshuffles students without addressing underlying problems. Do you think ALL students deserve a quality education? If so, what happens to the students left behind in these failing schools, which now have even less funding, possibly not even enough for proper upkeep? Well, capitalist logic follows that the school will either improve or close. A school that was already declared failing that now has even LESS funding is not going to improve. So, it closes. Now, all the students still there are now denied the choice of going to their neighborhood school-- not exactly school choice now, is it? So all these students are assigned to other schools, without any of the problems facing the original school or students being addressed. 

2. School choice does not protect students with disabilities. In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed. This law gave students with disabilities the right to attend public school AND required schools to provide them with the needed services. Betsy DeVos doesn't believe schools should be required to provide special education services-- or at least thinks it should be up to the states to decide! Students with IEPs will be left to attend the schools that voluntarily provide services-- likely isolating them from their general education peers and possibly not receiving services at all as parents contemplate signing away their rights to get them into a "better" school.

3. School choice leads to even greater de facto segregation. Think it's a coincidence that upper class white people like school choice? It's not. Presumably, vouchers will be given for how much money the public school system is currently paying to educate the child (to give you an idea, about $5,000 per kid in Chicago). If parents want to send their kid to private school, they can use that $5,000 voucher, but they'll still have to pay the difference. Guess who can afford the difference? Not the kids at my school, I'll tell you that-- I work at a 100% low-income school. But what about more economically diverse schools? History tells us that given the option, white parents will pull their students out of an integrated school and put them practically anywhere else. And while of course there are plenty of low-income white people and upper-income people of color, sadly socio-economic lines can still be drawn by race in many areas. 

But what would a person who's never attended or sent her children to public school know about any of this? Someone who's never taught students with disabilities, or wait-- any students at all! 

Our students deserve better. Tell your senator to vote NO for Betsy DeVos here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Laminate File Folder Tasks With a 9.5 Inch Laminator

I love file folder tasks-- they're compact, easy-to-store, engaging, and infinitely reusable. But if your school doesn't have a laminator and your personal laminator is only 9.5 inches, you might think there's no way for you to prep your file folder tasks. Well teacher-friends, there is a way, and I am here to show it to you.
This post contains affiliate links.

Step 1: Cut your file folder on the crease.

Step 2: Trim the pieces down to size. It depends on the exact size of your file folder (I often use the fun ones from the Target Dollar Spot), but I typically slice about an inch off in length, and half an inch in width (on each piece). You just need to make sure each half of your file folder will fit in a 9.5 x 11 in laminating pouch

Step 3: Glue down the activity and laminate each half separately.

Step 4: Trim each half, leaving a small border around the edges to prevent peeling.

Step 5: Arrange your pieces on a flat surface as if the file folder was open. Use clear packing tape to attach the two pieces where the crease used to be. Run the tape vertically up the inside, then flip the folder over and run the same piece of tape vertically on the other side. It's tempting to get the edges as close as possible before taping-- you actually don't want to do this. You want to leave a millimeter or two of distance so your folder is able to close easily.

Step 6: Apply velcro to the folder and pieces as you usually would!

Of course, it's not going to be as quick as laminating the whole folder at once. But if you're not ready to invest in a larger laminator, this is a good trick to have up your sleeve! 

If you're looking for phonics file folder tasks, check out my collection here