Want Fun and Loving Alternatives To April Fools Day?

Want Fun and Loving Alternatives To April Fools Day?

     I remember my childhood April Fools Days with all sorts of glee. The tricks, pranks, and  "gotchas" were so fun to plan and execute. It was sometimes fun to have a few tricks played on me, as long as it didn't hurt! I didn't even mind when my teacher would innocently begin filling up the board with long homework assignments because my classmates and I would start to audibly gasp and groan and she would quickly begin to laugh with us.
     Fast forward to my first year of teaching. April Fools Day was the worst. I literally hated it. Hate. Ed. It. It was nothing but a day of conflict, hurt feelings, and sometimes even physical fights when tricks went too far. I began to warn my students several days in advance that I didn't allow tricks or pranks and there had better be none in my classroom! Of course, that didn't work well when other teachers in the school did allow them and I looked like the fun sponge.
    I've begun looking for a kinder, gentler version of April Fools Day. While I doubt I'll change the way we observe it on a national scale, I have gathered some ideas that might help if you're looking for a fun, more loving way to get through April 1st each year.

Random Acts of Kindness

     If April Fools Day revolves around playing tricks on others, think about reversing that to performing acts of kindness on people. Without turning the day into Valentine's Day 2.0 (although what's wrong with that?) I suggest you challenge students to think of ways that they could simply be kind to people during the day, either in school or outside school. It can be especially rewarding when acts of kindness are not planned and just "happen". It's been popular the last few years to make displays of random acts of kindness. I used a fellow TPTers heart design one year for Valentine's Day and had a beautiful hallway display. Each heart had one act of kindness written on it and the child's name. It offered lots of opportunities to share and encourage kindness.
     If you're interested, download this Shamrock/Egg Freebie and make a display in preparation for April Fools Day. You could use the day either as a culmination of several weeks of kindness or use it as a kickoff day and conclude it at the end of the month.

 April Foods Day

     That's right. FOODS. I found this idea during a search. It was generated by a radio person named Wes, from Lubbock, Texas. That's all I know about him, but I can really get behind an entire day devoted to food. So how could this play out in the classroom?  
     First of all, be really up front about why you're doing it - to refocus attention from tricks to treats. Then, gather all of the resources you have at your disposal - especially parents who cook - and try to have a special treat on the actual day or even several days leading up to the day. If your curriculum allows, try to tie in specific foods. I'm thinking gardening, life cycles, and ecosystems could help you  lean towards fruits and vegetables. If you're studying dental health, bring in those cookies and cupcakes, then talk about the importance of brushing well.

Focused Bucket Filling

     Filling someone's "bucket" is a popular activity that focuses on giving a specific compliment to a specific person. It's a way of showing appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement. It's a great companion to anti-bullying campaigns, keeping students thinking positively instead of negatively.
     Again, use the Shamrock/Egg Freebie here. Make shamrocks and eggs available to students who want to give a compliment to someone. The shamrock/egg can be delivered in person or anonymously to the recipient. It could also be delivered to a classroom cubbie or mailbox.

     I'd love to hear your thoughts on these alternatives to April Fools Day. Do you do something similar in your classroom?
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Pat McFadyen
How To Improve Your School's Staff Morale

How To Improve Your School's Staff Morale

     How to improve staff morale
     Morale is defined as "the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group". There are few places where morale is more important to the end result than in education. The confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of teachers is directly related to the success of our students. If we want to improve education, we must improve morale.
     Administrators seem to have the most responsibility and the most opportunities toward this end. After all, they are ultimately accountable for performance and they have the final "yea/nay" for any initiatives. I'm not writing this post for administrators, however. For every caring, supportive principal or vice-principal in the biz, it seems you can find one that is not connected to his/her staff or doesn't get that teachers are the suns around which education orbits. Yes, we're here for the kids, to connect, to teach, to care, but without teachers, you don't have a school. Without supported teachers, you're losing valuable, often irretrievable opportunities to give to our students.
     So, I'm writing this for teachers in hopes that you'll glean one or more ways to connect with, heal, and encourage your colleagues and that you will be touched and inspired in return.
     I've divided the suggestions up into 2 sections: 1) Ideas For One Person Or A Small Group and 2) Ideas For A Committee or Large Group. See what resonates with you and seems like it would work for your staff. Maybe you can address specific concerns on your staff. Finally, if you have any ideas that have worked for you, please share in the comments below!

Ideas For One Person Or A Small Group

Consider a seasonal or all-year Secret Pal initiative. 

 Everyone loves a small treat or surprise. It would take a little organization to find those who want to participate and match up pairs, but a Secret Pal can be just the thing to turn around a difficult day or week.

Create a "Staff Shout-Outs" bulletin board. 

This has become very popular of late. It can be called "filling buckets", also. It's extremely inexpensive, easy to create, and everyone can contribute. If a bulletin board is not your thing, consider including shout-outs in a staff email, newsletter, texts, or tweets.

With permission, create a school Suggestion Box.

Everyone likes to be - and needs to be - heard. Even if the suggestions can't be followed, at least the powers-that-be know what the staff is concerned about.

Bring a co-worker a coffee/snack/lunch.

This is always a winner! If you can't get administrators and staff on-board, focus on reaching out to your colleagues by yourself, one at a time.

Ideas For A Committee Or Large Group

Organize a "Warm Fuzzy" project.

This has been popular for decades, but is always heart-warming. I used it in my classroom with my students for years, but it can be used for a staff. Provide one sheet of paper for each staff member. As time allows, other staff members rotate around to each sheet and write one positive, meaningful comment about the person listed at the top. The end result is a full sheet of loving comments for each person! I've know kids that kept theirs for years. So many recipients are amazed at the things that others appreciate about them!

Propose a fun competition.

Some staffs have friendly "Biggest Loser" weight loss competitions. A small amount of money is thrown in the pot and the "biggest loser" takes home the cash! Weigh-ins have to be organized and standardized (no fair some weighing in before lunch and some after), but I've seen it pull groups together. Another fun type of competition is a daily "Where's Waldo?" idea. A small item, such as a stuffed animal, is hidden around campus each day. The first person to find it wins! A huge, goofy medal or award hanging outside a classroom can result in laughs about how hard it was to retrieve the item - and laughter IS the best medicine!

Organize a potluck.

This does take a little doing, but the camaraderie created over appreciating someone's delicious treat can't be duplicated. Keep in mind this can range from a pick-up-and-go brunch to a full-on lunch. Bonus points if you get volunteers to cover classrooms! It can also extend outside school hours and off-campus. Many school staffs have an annual cookout, Christmas party, or end-of-school event. Having a few hours to relax and chat can re-establish relationships and give everyone a needed second wind.

Plan a tour of other classrooms.

I never realized until I participated in a "school tour" how much I enjoyed seeing how my colleagues ran their own classrooms. It changed the feeling tone in our school from a very competitive one to a much more collaborative one. Teachers felt like their learned new ideas from others, like they offered solutions to others, and we came away feeling like we could access each others' expertise if we needed to.

Have your PTA or other group arrange special treats.

Some of the most-appreciated morale-boosters come in the form of things that need large-scale organization and maybe some cash. Having your classroom covered by a volunteer for even half an hour is a winner for any teacher. Spending part of that time getting a professional shoulder massage is even better! PTA members are brilliant at getting local business to donate their services or offer greatly reduced rates.

I hope these ideas get you and your staff started on the path to improved morale. It is so worth it because, in the end, our children benefit.

Want to get some more great ideas on reducing test stress? Check out this post from my friend Mary at Carrberry Creations How To Battle Standardized Testing Stress 

Want some suggestions for keeping yourself more positive? Check out this post from my friend Lisa at All Things Special Ed. Staying Positive In Trying Times 

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Pat McFadyen
Powerful Number Sense: Where's The Math In The Date?

Powerful Number Sense: Where's The Math In The Date?

Number sense math in the date

     As a math teacher, I'm always looking for activities that build number sense. My criteria are simple. The best activities are fun, engaging for a whole class, no-prep, and quick. Sound impossible? Try "Find The Math In The Date". I'll bet you love it as much as I do!
     Every day that I'm in class, I write the day's date at the top of my white board. I generally use the M/D/YY format. However, when we want to "Find The Math In The Date", I quickly change it to MM/DD/YYYY. You'll see why below.
     We use the digits in the date to make any and all mathematical statements that we can. These are usually equations, but can be a number fact that is commonly known or can be proven. The only rules are 1) you can use the digits in any order you wish, and 2) you can only use the digits that are actually in the date.
     We generally spend 2-3 minutes playing, but you can adjust as needed. You can write student contributions on the board as you go, have students come up to write, or just let listen and affirm.
     As soon as I ask, "Where's the math in today's date?" hands start flying up. You might want to require about 30 seconds of thinking time to give everyone a shot.
Number sense math in the date

     Let's see what you might hear on February 25, 2017 or 02/25/2017.
Number sense math in the date game
2 + 5 = 7
7 + 1 = (2 + 2) x 2
2 + 2 + 5 = 2 + 7
5 x 2 = 2 + 1 + 7
25 - 20 = 7 - 2
(We have a 20 to use, but you could also use the first 0 and 2, if needed.)
2 x 5 = 10
 There are 725 students in our school. 
Valentine's Day was 11 days ago. That's 7 + 2 + 2.

     You'll be amazed at the math connections that your students can make! You could adapt this game for classroom use to address your own needs.
  • Have students work on it independently for a few minutes, maybe as a warm-up, giving students even more time to think. 
  • Use it as a center if you're doing center work one day. 
  • Have students use their own birthday as the date. Once they write a good number of equations/facts, they could swap with a partner and share.
     Give this fun, no-prep game a try. I'd love to hear how it works in your classroom. Also, let me know what number sense activities are a hit for you!

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Pat McFadyen
How To Increase Positive Parent Involvement

How To Increase Positive Parent Involvement

     If you're like me, you believe that education is truly a partnership between school and home. Creating that partnership can be much easier said than done, however. With the overwhelming demands on teachers' time, as well as all that parents have on their plates, it can be a real challenge to make opportunities when parents can be actively involved in the life of the school. Consider exploring some of the following ways that parents and teachers can work together to increase positive parent involvement.

No homework on nights you want families to participate in an event. 

     One of the best strategies our staff followed was not to assign homework on nights with a PTA meeting, a performance, or anything at which we hoped families would attend. The dinner, homework, bath-time, bedtime routine is just too full with an evening meeting added. Give everyone a night off and ditch the homework!

Feed 'em!

Yes, it sounds overwhelming, but taking care of another piece of the busy evening routine is to provide dinner when you want families to come to school. I've seen PTAs provide a simple hot dog/chips/drink for as little as $1.00 per person. I've even seen simple meals provided for free. One year, a goal of my PDP was to have a mini "curriculum night" once a month. My principal agreed to pay for a bag meal from a local  hamburger place. It did take some organization, order-taking, and picking up, but parents did show up. More about this below.

Offer parents a time where the agenda is their own.

     Continuing with the mini curriculum night mentioned above, my goal was to give parents a time when they could talk to me about their curriculum questions and concerns. Parents quickly learned that we were not having parent/teacher conferences, discussing personal issues, or having a gripe session. I guided them to share the questions that came up at home about homework or classwork. "What does 'modeling' mean?" "How do you explain the process?" "Will my child be penalized if they try but the answer is incorrect?" "How can there be more than one right answer in math?" It was exhilarating to help bring together what parents knew about a subject with the concept-building that we were doing. They almost always went home feeling a little clearer and less stressed.
     You might also plan a night when kids can share with their parents a science experiment or other activity. Having moms and dads working alongside their kids makes great home-school connections. For example, if you provide a light dinner, you could make ice-cream-in-a-bag for dessert!

Assign low-stress homework activities where parents can be involved.

     Parents are so eager to know what their children are learning. Worksheet after worksheet can be dull and stressful, especially if it may be graded. Consider sending home a simple game that parents can play with their student. To include a little accountability, parents might fill out a short feedback form asking if they like the game, what changes could be made, and what content they thought their child learned from it. This works really well with math. 

Create a "wish list" that parents can fill.

So many parents simply cannot come to school to participate in activities, but they want to be involved. With administrative OK, keep a wish list on your website or newsletter of materials your class needs. From tissues to items for science experiments, it feels good to a parent to be able to contribute.

Find a format for easy communication. 

Parents can only be involved when they're informed. There are so many ways to keep parents aware of what is going on. From paper newsletters to texting apps, there is something for everyone. If you haven't revisited your current format, consider doing a little "shopping" and see if something new might serve your parents better.

There are so many ways that parents can be involved in their child's education. I hope some of these give you food for thought. How have you had success increasing positive parent involvement? 

Want to read more about increasing parent involvement? Check out these blog posts from some of my amazing teacher friends!

All Things Special Ed - Increase Parent Engagement  
Carrberry Creations - How to Create Powerful Parent-Teacher Communication 

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Pat McFadyen
What Does Top-Quality Grade-Level Work Look Like?

What Does Top-Quality Grade-Level Work Look Like?

     Every classroom in every grade revolves around content work. The work can be discussions, games, projects, research, technology, art-work, and other formats, but a great deal of it results in written products. Students and parents can often be confused and even stressed about just what that final product should be or look like. Of course, we want the content to be mastered and correct, but there are conventions to "top-quality" work. There is always showing ownership (Lord, how many times in a career do we say, "Put your name on your paper"?), neatness, and legibility. As teachers, we don't expound on these conventions because it's fun to fuss or because we don't have enough to do. We are trying to instill proper work habits that will transfer into our students' adult lives. We want them to be able to navigate their own careers and work goals with the tools they need to be successful.
     One year, I finally realized that showing was better than telling my 5th grade students. Instead of once again lecturing them about the quality of their work - a lecture they obviously weren't listening to - I decided to create a portfolio of sorts, an exemplar that students could reference when they needed to.
      I first decided what guidelines I was looking for in my students' work. What exactly DOES top-quality 5th grade work look like? I chose these parameters to start with:
  • It is reasonably neat.
  • Math work shows your thinking.
  • It is complete.
  • It is checked for accuracy.
  • It is turned in on time.
     Then, I settled on the old tried-and-tried 3-ring binder (I'm a fool for binders!). I gathered multiple examples of 5th grade work that showed these elements and put them in the binder. Keep in mind that I was not looking only for the A+, 100, "perfect" papers that some students can consistently create. I wasn't looking for perfect. I don't believe that "top-quality" means perfect. After all, we're working with young humans, here. I wanted to display age- and grade-level appropriate work samples that students could reasonably emulate and learn to produce on their own.
     I had a few older samples stuck back from earlier years, but I had to choose many pieces from the classes I had that year. I chose teacher-created and student-created work, long-term projects and quickies, tests, quizzes, and writing samples. If I had it to do again with our current technology, I would take photos of larger things such as 3-D projects and posters and put them into the notebook. To preserve privacy, I put a label over student names and, sometimes, the grade. Again, I didn't want students to wrongly assume that the only good work was beautiful and mistake-free.

     When my portfolio was complete, I discussed its purpose with my students. I housed it on the tray of our whiteboard where all could see it and use it during the day. I have to tell you here that students often browsed through it during their breaks and down time. I loved seeing them use it in such a leisurely way! I knew that they would steadily process what they were seeing and that those elements would eventually show up in their own work.

     A wonderful, but unintended, consequence of our notebook was that I was able to share it with parents, too. During conferences or casual drop-by visits, I could point to some great work samples for specific activities. It really seemed to help my parents when they saw that 5th grade work could actually look like it was done by children and didn't need that adult "touch" added to it.


     Could you try this in your classroom? I believe it would be appropriate for any grade level, any subject(s). Give this method a try and let me know how it works for you. Or, I'd love to hear another method that works for you!
     We're all in this together!
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Pat McFadyen
Need A Helpful Little Nudge?

Need A Helpful Little Nudge?

     Every life has conflict. From the most mundane glare over a disputed parking space to damaged  relationships, we will all be faced with conflicts. It doesn't have to escalate to the Hatfields and McCoys level to bring a negative vibe into your life. I truly believe that it's not having a conflict itself that is so challenging, but rather how we deal with it.
     Of course, no one should ever accept any form of abuse. It's the day-to-day misunderstandings as well as the incidents that can become long-term that we must decide how to address. I'd like to offer up the philosophy in the meme above as a way to reflect on how we might diffuse or eliminate conflict by simply being generous and taking a step back.
   I'm not even saying that we need to admit wrong when we're really right. Certainly don't support someone else in wrong-doing. "Eating Humble Pie" can certainly mean saying you're sorry if you hurt someone, but it doesn't have to. If someone else needs to feel that they're being heard, or that their thoughts and feelings have merit, or they need an emotional lift, it can be so soothing and refreshing if we take a step back, validate their feelings, and reach out a healing hand. That can be a bite of Humble Pie, too. If we can do it on-the-spot, so much the better. If time has passed, that healing can still take place. If you are in a situation like this, consider making that call, bestowing that forgiveness, and reconnecting. 
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Pat McFadyen
What "Bless Your Heart" Really Means

What "Bless Your Heart" Really Means

     Not exactly education related, but you never know...
     There seems to be some confusion about a phrase that's very near and dear to my heart. The phrase "Bless your heart" is a traditionally southern phrase, often used, but more often misunderstood. A number of people have told me recently they think it means a big, fat "I don't care" or worse. 
     Nothing could be further from the truth! "Bless your heart" means exactly that - the speaker is practically bestowing a blessing on you. The reason behind the blessing is almost always - almost always - one or more feelings of empathy, sympathy, kindness, concern, understanding, and compassion. 
      It's only once in a while that this beautiful phrase is used with a little less than 100% compassion. In situations where someone may be seriously whining - I mean, "my day is ruined" whining - over something completely trivial, like "They only put two shots of caramel in my latte!", then you can confidently fix them with a cold stare and say, "Well, bless your heart" before you stalk away. You have just very nicely told them you hope they get a big dose of  "There are children starving in this world - you need to get over yourself" soon.
      The only other situation is if someone commits a social faux pas and seems oblivious. These would only be minor infractions, like wearing inappropriately high heels to a job interview. "Bless her/his heart" can then mean, "Well, that's just pitiful. I hope she/he wakes up and smells the coffee soon!"
      So, now you know! "Bless your heart" is generally one of the most loving things you can say, but it has a nuanced meaning for any occasion.
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Pat McFadyen
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