A Fresh Start

We are about to begin a new school year, preparing our kids – wherever they are on their learning journey – for their next steps. Every year, it is a fresh start, with new students, fresh goals for the year, and inspired ideas to help us on our way.  My first step in preparing for my new first graders is getting our learning environment ready.

It all began when I walked into my new room at a new school. Here are some “first-look” pictures of the room as I loaded in my personal teacher things.



Some things I noticed right away –  two walls are floor to ceiling bulletin boards and chalkboards, and there is little shelf space for storage. There is a dry erase board on one wall, and just out of view, on the left side of the whiteboard, was a coatrack with 4 hooks on it. There are also two doors in the room, one to the outside where kids line up for class and go out for recess, and one inside, connecting us to the rest of the building.

After talking with several great teachers in my new building, I found out that fabric is the best way to cover up the bulletin boards, and I decided to paint over the brown chalkboards with black chalkboard paint – still magnetic and still usable as a writing space for the students. So, here’s what I did with the walls. I had the coatrack removed, and covered the bulletin board with black polka dots. I have a lot of polka dots in my room:)  For the concrete walls, I am using command strips to hang things, as well as fun tak.

I measured the walls and got blue and green coordinating fabric. I made one side the wonder wall , for students to add what they are wondering about, and a word wall – (I need to add the word “Writing” to the top). There are two chalkboard in the middle for math, and a cozy corner with books and reading tubs on the other side. These wall will be for reading, not yet sure what will go on the walls yet. Then, next to the inside door, I used a red pattern for the end bulletin boards and painted the chalk boards black here as well.  There is plenty of space for students to record their thinking around the room on the chalk boards, as well as on the table. For the table, the legs were cut off to lower it, I had my mom paint the surface with chalkboard paint, so kids can write on it as well, and I added low seating. The cushions are made of 2 – inch foam on top of plywood cut for the top, and covered with fabric. The best part is they are storage – I keep their extra supplies inside, as well as teacher supplies, and some files we need.


For my meeting area, I used our cushions to create an area for all of us to meet in the morning for CREW, and then to be used as a learning space for kids. This faces our white board, which I will use to project onto. All of the spaces in our room are flexible. Different seating, a standing table, a kid sized table and chairs, and low tables for sitting on the floor. I have yoga mats if kids prefer to lay on their bellies to work, too. We share supplies, so each table had their own for all to use, and there are no assigned seats. If there is a child who needs their own space, I have individual tables for that. There are also noise-canceling headphones if someone needs quiet. They can use the cozy corner and the giant FATBOY bean bags there to relax as well.

Along the wall, next to the whiteboard, I have two high tables set up for technology, and other work. It is also a place for me to meet with my students in groups or individually.

First graders come to school filled with curiosity on how things work and want to create things. So, we will start the year by introducing our classroom Maker’s Space. It is equipped with recycled materials, such as cardboard, paper, and plastic. We also have many tools , such as legos, Kiva blocks, K’Nex, and Goldie Blocks, for us to use for showing our thinking. We will start with a design challenge in the first few weeks, using cardboard and tape. In our Maker’s Space, we have many tools to create something new from a box.

Once the kids come in and we get into our routine, we will talk about our room – what’s working , and what we need to fix. They will also help decide what we hang up around the room.

We are still a work in progress.



My Summer Reading List

Ahhh, summer! The time of year to relax and …READ! This is the time of year I love to curl up with a book. I love to read by the pool, in my favorite reading chair, outside under the umbrella on my patio, or anywhere! It is wonderful to get lost in a book during the summer. I am lucky to be a part of a Book Club with several great friends who love to read as much as I do. We meet up once a month, trying out different restaurants and different  experiences ( Canvas and Cocktails, the Upstairs Circus, Water to Wine, book signings, playing BINGO), and oh yeah, we talk about the book we’ve read… unless someone hasn’t finished it yet!  Then we can only talk about the beginning, but not the ending. The best part is when everyone makes recommendations about other books to read. So with those friends in mind,

Here are 5 top picks for my personal reading this summer.

1.  download.jpg Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks . Nicholas Sparks is one of my favorite authors because he has a way with telling unique love stories. This story is about the unconditional  love of a father and daughter and how it grows over time. It is also about family and supporting one another. This was a great read!


2.     download-1.jpgInto the Water by Paula Hawkins.  She is the author of Girl on the Train, so I wanted to read her next book. a single mother turns up dead in a river that runs through the town and leaves behind not only her teenage daughter, but a host of secrets as well. Can’t wait to “dive” into this one!


3. 38447.jpgThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Goodreads says “Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.” And it will be a miniseries on Hulu soon. This makes me think of all of the rights we have in our society today that are not offered in all cultures around the world. Imagine her courage and bravery during this time!

4. 32498122.jpgThe Identicals by Elin Hildebrand. Goodreads says, “Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point.” I love books by Elin Hildbrand because they bring me back to the beach, and remind me of carefree summertimes when I was younger. I’m looking forward to this beach read!


5. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline .good reads says, “On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.” You know there’s obviously a twist. Scottoline is a great author who keep you in suspense when you read, so this is definitely on my list.
I am also on a mission to read some professional books to inspire me as I prepare to return to a new school next year. I recently spent some time with fellow educators at two conferences, as well as other professional learning opportunities and have been reminded to be creative,  embrace the chaos, and inspire others on their journey. Here are some of the books I will be reading to help me on my journey.

images.jpg1. LAUNCH by John Spencer and AJ Juliani. This is at the top of my list as a reread. I am in a course called The Innovative Teaching Academy led by AJ Juliani, who is the co-author of this book. I am doing a book study with the group and will be leading one during the school year as well. I love this design thinking model for first graders! It explains the creative process in  easy terms, and can be used in any subject in the classroom. I am excited to be in book clubs reading this!

This youtube video explains it well ( narrated by John Spencer)


2. What Happens When Students Own their Learning ;EMPOWER. by John Spencer and Aj Juliani. This is hot off the presses. Only came out last week! Since I met AJ Juliani in person this month,  I am now a total fangirl! (I look forward to meeting John Spencer at sone point, too) This book! It is all about preparing our kids for ANYTHING! I am reading it now and LOVE it! This should be the next book club read! It’s all about inspiring your students to own their learning.

You can follow them at @ajjuliani and @spencerideas


3. Learning that Lasts by Ron Berger. My school is moving toward an EL model, which is a framework for challenging, engaging, and empowering students with deeper learning. I love how EL and design thinking dovetail. I am excited about learning how to go deeper with my students since this has been something I want to focus on this year. Ron Berger is another fabulous speaker who focused on quality work and refining our thinking.

51DYSwOjDYL._SX365_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg4. The Creativity Challenge: Design, Experiment, Test, Innovate, Build, Create, Inspire, and Unleash your Genius by Tanner Christensen.  Goodread says, “What’s the best way to become more creative? Just change how you think! This book challenges you to go against your default ways of thinking in order to write, design, and build something extraordinary. Featuring more than 100 challenges, exercises, and prompts.” This was recommended by Mr Jed Dearbury, who always says “LOVE FIRST< TEACH SECOND.” I met him at ThinkSpace last week and he reminded us to unleash our creative self.

You can follow him @mrdearbury1


5. The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. This is the book that started an innovator’s revolution for me! Listening to him speak and encourage people to think beyond the box really helped me to shift my thinking. Allowing for students to focus on their natural curiosity has helped me to shift from the “all knowing teacher” to more of a “guide alongside”.  Very motivational and inspiring!

You can follow him @gcouros

I hope you can find something on my list that inspires you! Now, I’m going to curl up with a book!

Moving Up, Moving On


Today is our last day of school. My students will be moving on to second grade and I couldn’t be more proud! They have accomplished many things – big and small. They are builders and dreamers, and problem solvers. They are caring and brave. They can investigate new things and answer the question, “Why?”, and look at how things change over time. They know about being part of a community. They know how to leave the world in a better place. I leave today with a lot of love in my heart because I know these kids will do great things!

Recently, I read this quote  that really put the whole year in perspective for me.

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts On Common Things


To every student out there,   young or old, keep dreaming, keep believing in you! You can make a difference with some hard work and grit!


What inspires you?

We are back from Spring break, and entering into the last phase of first grade. Many teachers refer to this time as ” The Final Push”. It’s a time where we push our students, our teammates, and ourselves to reach goals, meet deadlines, and prepare to move on. It’s a time of year where we all need some inspiration to run that marathon, one leg at a time, to reach the finish line and finish strong.  So what inspires us to finish strong, and not give up on the road?


Its the kids.

The kids we’ve been moving forward all year. The kids we know can do it if they put in some “umph” and grit. The kids who want to try something new and are figuring out how. The kids who struggled earlier in the year that finally have that”A-ha” moment.

This past week, when I observed students in my class helping each other figure out how to show they know about sequencing, I was inspired. This is our goal this week in literacy. While two students worked together to create a storyboard, another team of students was using our Dash robot to move along a map of the story. Some may call it arguing, some may say they were discussing how to do what they wanted to do. I would say they were using critical thinking – finding solutions to problems, and using perseverance – not giving up when it didn’t work the first time.

This was inspiring.  After showing them how the robots work, they were figuring it out. After talking about critical thinking and what it was, my students were demonstrating it. They had applied their thinking skills to learn something new, together.

When I met with other students to work on writing a how-to book, I was inspired.  I have students that have fabulous ideas in their heads, but need help organizing those ideas on paper. These students had detailed ideas on how to build something, and how to win at Dart Wars. They knew how to sequence them in order, but struggled with this skill when we started the year together.  They were applying what they knew. images-4

I am inspired every day by my kids and what they can do. I am inspired by colleagues who also try something new in their classrooms because they believe its best for kids. I am also inspired by people who take risks to make the world a better place. It is finding that inspiration from people around me that will guide me on this last leg of the marathon. Look for the inspiration on your journey. What inspires you?



Do Small Things in a Great Way


Happy New Year! I just finished reading a great book by a fabulous author, Small Things by Jodi Picoult. Her quote got me thinking that we do small great things every day! So this year my quote is going to be “Do small things in a great way.”

Working with the “little guys”, I am inspired every day by their ability to do great things and think big things. Six and seven year olds  are courageous and dream big! They look for solutions rather than problems, and this is one reason why I love working with first graders. Each day they show how they can be better than they were yesterday. In reading, we take small steps to learn the process of reading. Then, by the end of the year, they are reading chapter books!  If we focus on the small steps, one at a time, we will reach the end goal!

A teacher friend of mine always says ” go slow to go fast.” She, too, is working toward that end goal by taking small steps, doing small things to make a bigger impact.

This year, my class and I will be focusing on doing small things in a great way. We will focus on those small steps to reach our personal goals in the end.

Getting Ready for the New School Year

my classroom 2016   wonder wall

It’s that time of year again! Time to head back to the classroom and meet my new kids’ crew! I’ll be back in first grade this year, and I am looking forward to seeing their eager faces and hearing about their summer adventures. So here it is! My classroom has bare walls, flexible seating, and a lot of room for the personalities of my students. My classroom offers tables at low middle and standing height, it has different types of seating from pillows on the floor to crates covered with cushions, to Hokki stools and chairs that rock slightly when you sit in them. There are covered benches for reading together and giant bean bags to lounge in the cozy corner. There is a Wonder Wall, full of great books right now, but waiting to be filled with all of the things the kids wonder about.

We will spend the next few weeks getting to know each other, and finding out how we need to work together in our learning space. Together, we will create our learning community, adding to it the artwork and messages we want in our classroom. This happens with structure and routine. We will most likely redesign the space a few times throughout the year, once we know how we learn best and what my learners need to be successful. We will have many chats at our Town Hall meetings each morning about our learning community.

There is so much more than the environment to build a learning community in our classroom. We will begin this week by looking at how we are connected, and finding how we are all alike, and how we are different. We will read books by Kevin Henkes to learn about getting along with others, and we will also use the book Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy by Bernadette Russell to help us work on compassion and kindness in the classroom.

I hope that my students are as excited as I am to come to school!

There is so much to do , and  I can’t wait to get started!


Reinvent, Reimagine


January: a month to reinvent yourself. And reimagine your classroom. We begin tomorrow with 2016, the second half of the school year. My theme this week is Review, Reflect, and Reorganize.

REVIEW: Together, with my students, we will talk about our first half of the year, and review expectations, routines, and how our classroom feels. We are going to review our book boxes – clean out the old stuff and re-introduce what’s there and how to use the tools we have in front of us. We will refresh our minds by cleaning out the clutter and refocus on what we want to accomplish by the end of the year.

REFLECT: We are going back in our portfolios to look at goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year, and reflect on what we did to work toward that goal. We will set new goals, and one goal I have for my students is to design digital portfolios. We will reflect on what we’ve learned and reimagine what we want to learn.

REORGANIZE: or redesign, or redecorate. Whichever term you prefer. We are going to reflect on what is working for us, and make revisions, and refocus our minds on what matters most. I am excited to hear the input of my students and see what they think is important to be the best  learner they can be.