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Teacher Appreciation Giveaway

Teacher Appreciation Day is celebrated across the globe. In the U.S., the recognition day -- celebrated in large part because of Eleanor Roosevelt's efforts to recognize and honor teachers -- is always the Tuesday of the first full week of May. Evidently, there was some confusion this year as May 1 was a Monday. My 2017 wall calendar -- made by a popular company that sells hundreds of thousands of calendars a year -- labeled Tuesday, May 2, as Teacher Appreciation Day, but a quick Google search says it is Tuesday, May 9. So, I guess it depends on one's interpretation of the "first full week" -- does that start on a Sunday or a Monday? (Fun fact: Did you know in many countries, including most European countries, Monday really IS the first day of the week and Sunday is the last day?! Our "English calendars" are as confusing to most of the world as our measurement of weight in ounces and pounds and distance in inches and miles. But I digress.) At least one local school district in my neck of the woods is recognizing their teachers on Tuesday, May 16 . . . and I think all the confusion is a great reason to celebrate teachers all month long because the truth is E.VER.Y.DAY should be Teacher Appreciation Day! So, whether you were celebrated last week, this week, or next week, please soak it all in and know you really deserve to be recognized and appreciated every week!

Thank you, Teachers, for caring about your students, cheering them on to success, and helping each student learn the way she or he best learns by constantly refining, revising, modifying, evaluating, expanding, adjusting, clarifying, scaffolding, reteaching, and adapting every lesson, all day long, in thirty-two different ways . . . while simultaneously preparing students for standardized tests, reminding them the test does not define them as a person or as a learner, getting band-aids for their mishaps, helping them mend broken hearts, asking about their weekends and connecting with them over their favorite performers, books, or sports teams, laughing with those students who are having the best day of their lives today and crying with those who are having the worst day ever, encouraging students to keep doing their best with hugs, high-fives, pats on the back, thumbs-up, and fist-bumps -- and knowing exactly who prefers each -- and making mental notes of who needs shoelaces, mittens, lunch money, a new composition notebook, or a supplemental activity to help them better understand the lesson and when pay day is so you can care for each of their needs. Kudos to you, Teachers, for all the ways you strive every day to be and give and do what each individual student needs in order to grow into knowledgeable, informed, inspired, compassionate, empathetic, motivated, engaged life-long learners!

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted thinking about all you do! I wish I could treat every single one of you to a well-deserved cup of steaming hot coffee, soul-warming vanilla chai, creamy macchiato, fruity iced tea, or frozen frappuccino . . . and a donut, because donuts make everyone feel celebrated!

Instead, I have teamed up with the fabulous Selma Dawani to give ten teachers a $5 Dunkin' Donuts giftcard. Enter the rafflecoptor below for six chances to win . . . we'll announce winners on Wednesday, May 10. 
. . . and because we wanted to give ALL the teachers a treat, we created a fun set of note cards and bookmarks for you to print and give to your colleagues, your students, or your own sweet kiddos. Click here to download your free note cards and bookmarks today . . . and know that you are appreciated today and every day for all you do. Donut ever forget that you truly are our heroes! Thank you, Teachers!

Enter for 6 chances to win a $5 Dunkin' Donuts gift card!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
P.S. Because we r-e-a-l-l-y want you to feel valued and appreciated, don't forget about the Teachers Pay Teachers sale on May 9 and 10 . . . every resource in our stores will be 28% off! Stock up on these end-of-year goodies that will help you sail through the rest of May and June . . . or these back-to-school resources that will set you and your students up for success all year long!

Create an Inclusive Learning Environment that Eliminates Gender Stereotyping

As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, part of my teacher soul dies inside every time I see elementary schools using DIBELS or other similar reading programs that use nonsense words to teach phonics-based reading and timed reading tests to stress speed over accuracy. Intentionally or unintentionally, these programs teach young learners that reading fast is more important than reading well. Students using these programs learn that decoding is infinitely more important than comprehension. While teachers in primary and intermediate grades may not see the long-term effects of these programs, every middle school and high school teacher sees them when students make decoding errors and just keep reading instead of stopping to repair meaning. Thanks to nonsense words and an emphasis on reading fast, teens who make reading errors just keep going and going – like the Energizer Bunny – rather than thinking, “That sentence didn’t make sense; I need to go back and fix my reading so that sentence makes sense.” The older the student, the more difficult it is to unteach ineffective practices and replace them with effective skills.

Gender stereotyping is similar. Like poor reading practices, what is and isn’t acceptable and appropriate for girls and boys to do or to be interested in becomes so ingrained and automatic that it’s extremely difficult to “unteach and reteach” later, when students are older and stereotypes and expectations are so entrenched they are either limiting, painful, or both. Sadly, this often leads to hobby and career choices that do not match individual strengths and interests. More importantly, gender stereotyping (and ingraining) – overtly, subliminally, intentionally, or unintentionally – results in sexism in teen years and beyond, and it’s REALLY difficult to unteach sexism and reteach acceptance, empowerment, and broad-mindedness.

Our students are bombarded every day with media messages that convey gender stereotyping. Current research says toys and clothes are more gendered now than they have been at any time in the past, when gender stereotyping, discrimination, and sexism were more of the societal norms. Toys, clothes, books, and tv shows that are marketed to girls prominently feature pretty pink princesses and an emphasis on homemaking, while marketing to boys features industrial or skills-oriented toys and muscular super heroes and action figures. Ads for Easy Bake Ovens still feature purples, pinks, and girls baking cupcakes while ads for Queasy Bake Ovens are filled with blues, greens, and boys conducting science experiments. This gendered marketing is still prominent in the 'tween and teen sectors. Teen girls are told they can be anything, but their "anything" is still portrayed as beautiful, sexy, and pink, while teen boys are bombarded with male figures that are brawny, powerful, and usually blue.

Stereotyping-that-leads-to-sexism is just as common in our language as it is in our media. When studying primary source documents or reading classic literature, students quickly learn that the terms men, mankind, and he are to be interpreted to include all people. Even today, all first-year high school and college students are referred to by the gender-biased term "freshmen."  While recent texts are certainly more inclusive in wording, gender bias is still strong in our language. While adult males are often referred to as dudes or bros, implying assertive, masculine roles, adult females are frequently referred to as "girls" -- implying passive, immature, child-like roles. Synonyms for females are much more sexualized than synonyms for their male counterparts. In fact, while our language includes around 20 sexualized terms for males, we have well over 200 sexualized terms for females. We also have many more derogatory and demeaning terms for girls and women than we do for boys and men. Even our adjectives tend to be gender-biased. While males are often described a ambitious, driven, or assertive, females with the same qualities are described as bossy, abrasive, or aggressive. When was the last time you heard a male described as feisty, frigid, or frumpy -- or curvy, ditsy, or sassy?

How can teachers counter-balance these cultural messages in our classrooms and intentionally create learning environments that are more inclusive?

First and foremost, teachers should be at the forefront of awareness and intentionality about the words we use and the ideologies our words convey. We should also be at the forefront of learning better and doing better. That’s not about political correctness . . . it’s about respect, dignity, and valuing each individual student for their humanity rather than their masculinity or femininity. There’s nothing wrong with being masculine or feminine; however, there’s a whole lot wrong with the expectation to be one or the other based on one’s gender, and a whole lot wrong with the sexist ideologies so often normalized and internalized as a result.

Here are some concrete ways teachers can create a learning environment that is more inclusive and eliminates gender stereotyping:
  • Instead of dividing your class or groups by gender, use other, more creative ways to divide groups.
  • Instead of using pinks or pastels to indicate femininity (or girls’ tasks and activities) and blues or primary colors to represent masculinity (or boys’ tasks and activities), use a variety of colors for all genders.
  • Instead of using gender-specific descriptors such as firemen, policemen, mailmen, and chairmen, use more inclusive terms, such as firefighter, police officer, mail carrier or postal worker, and chairperson. 
  • Instead of using masculine-biased terms for groups of people, such as, “You guys” or “fellow teachers,” use gender-neutral terms, such as “you all” or “teaching colleagues.”
  • To the greatest extent possible, avoid texts, activities, and worksheets that promote gender bias and stereotyping (including in graphics). When you notice these subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) messages, talk about them with students -- and why they are erroneous.

Gendered language tends to favor power imbalances, with males and masculine terms holding greater power. Being intentional about breaking gender stereotypes and using gender-neutral language that respects diverse identities, is inclusive, and promotes an unbiased balance of power encourages all students to break gender stereotypes and ingrained sexism and to be more inclusive and intentional with their own language.

Walt Whitman was once asked to name the ugliest word in the English language. Almost without hesitation, he answered, “Exclusion.” Modeling inclusive language for our students is one way we can teach them to be more accepting, empathetic, and inclusive, and portray the possibility that both genders can explore and develop wide ranges of interests and skills  – a win-win for them now and in their futures . . .  afterall, our words become our destinies!

Click here or on the image below to download this free quote analysis worksheet for your students ...

. . . and visit the blogs below for more ideas about practical and meaningful ways to integrate empowerment, equity, and empathy in your classroom today!

Using File Folders to Create Organizational Systems in Your Classroom

My love for organization and systems is well-known, so I especially adore finding practical and affordable supplies that help keep a classroom well-organized and ultimately, help save teachers a bit of time. I believe students learn better in tidy, organized spaces where they can focus and concentrate on academic tasks without the distraction of clutter . . . so I'm all about office supplies! Finding supplies that also add a pop of color -- like these sturdy and budget-friendly file folders from Oriental Trading Company -- makes my teacher-heart pitter-patter!

Middle school and high school teachers know how challenging it is to find the exact right pass for students at the exact right time. Students need passes to see the nurse for their allergy meds, go to the office to call a parent about their forgotten gym clothes, finish their research paper in the computer lab during study hall, see the counselor during lunch about the argument they had with their best friend on the school bus, early dismissal for an appointment with a doctor who doesn't see patients after 3pm, go to the media center, the science lab, the library, the discipline counselor . . . the list -- and the corresponding pass -- is never-ending. File folders to the rescue! Here's how I solve the pass dilemma:

1 - Fill out all the info on each pass that is going to be the same every time (usually your name, grade, and room number).
2 - Make a few dozen copies of each pass.
3 - Store passes in labeled file folders taped (or stapled) to a wall, door, the side of a filing cabinet, or a cork board.
4 - When students need a pass, they're responsible to get the appropriate form and fill in all the necessary information.
5 - Glance at the info they included on their pass and sign it.

This simple system accomplishes several things at once:

  • It saves you time -- no more digging through filing cabinet drawers or desks looking for the right pass to match the right need.
  • It maximizes your storage space -- free up that precious drawer space for papers that need more confidentiality.
  • It makes students responsible for their own needs and self-advocacy -- important life-skills. 

With five extra minutes and some packing tape, you can create a cascading file.

In addition to organizing forms and passes, cascading files can be used to collect or distribute papers to each class period, store daily classwork for absentees, organize papers to be copied or filed, or collect exit tickets as students leave the classroom.  

Here's to using five minutes and some "found space" to keep our students more organized, our classrooms running smoothly, and our decor engaging!


Empathy, Empowerment, and Equity in Our Classrooms

I recently attended a teach-in at a local university, where I heard an artist speak about her discouragement with our divisive social and political climate. She stopped working because she couldn’t muster any inspiration or creativity and holding on to positivity seemed increasingly difficult. After several weeks of being unproductive and listless, her mentor invited her to coffee and gently nudged her to talk about why her work was at a standstill. After pouring out her heart, her concerns, and her fears, her mentor responded with, “Artists have always created their greatest works in times of greatest conflict.” This conversation inspired her to harness her anger, frustration, and discouragement and channel it into meaningful and powerful creations.

It occurred to me while listening to her that it is in times of greatest conflict that teachers accomplish their greatest and most influential work. 

Regardless of where we are personally on the political spectrum, we cannot deny that as a country, we have experienced a huge increase in recent months in harassment, bullying, and hate crimes and we all have some students who feel confused, upset, fearful, and marginalized. It’s exactly at times like this that teachers make their biggest difference and have their most influential impact on students’ lives. Students watch carefully and listen closely, and even our most innocuous words can affect them for years to come. This is a time for teachers to rise up, be the change we wish to see in the world, and teach our students that we all can and must do better!

Teaching can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depleting in the best of times . . . even more so in the toughest of times. First and foremost, take good care of you! If your tank is empty and you are running on fumes, you cannot care for others. Here’s a few reminders to help you take good care of yourself during difficult or stressful times, especially seasons of prolonged or ongoing stress or crisis:

Next, help students develop healthy coping strategies when they feel marginalized, angry, afraid, or bullied -- or anytime they are dealing with drama, crisis, or a difficult situation. Here’s a guided journaling worksheet that can help:

Click here to download a free copy you can print.  Consider keeping a stack of copies in a quickly accessible location so students can grab one and fill it out any time they need to cool down, cope, process, or come up with an action plan.

Finally, check back here on the last weekend of every month for more tips, ideas, strategies, and free resources you can use to help teach empathy, empowerment, and equity in your classroom. This month, I wanted to give you resources to help you and your students care for yourselves during tough times. In the coming months, I'll provide more resources specific to teaching, implementing, and integrating empathy, empowerment, and equity.

Bonus! I’m teaming up with TpT colleagues who are as passionate as I am about these values and providing teachers with a vault of free resources to help integrate them into your everyday teaching. 

Check out the collaborative blog posts below for more ideas and resources, comment and let us know what types of materials we can provide to help your students and to save you precious time, and let’s keep this important conversation going!

Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship

In March of 2014, I had the privilege of meeting seven other Teacher-Authors at a local library to discuss our work of creating curriculum for other teachers across the country. The Teachers Pay Teachers colleagues at that meet-up eventually became the planning team and co-organizers of the Northeastern Regional TpT Meet-Up, an event that is now attended by hundreds of TpTers who travel from 25+ states and 3 Canadian provinces.
Dr. Robyn McMaster joined us at that first meet-up (pictured below), and became a friend who was near and dear to my heart and the hearts of so many other TpTers.

Robyn worked with Dr. Ellen Weber of Brain-Based Tasks for Growth Mindset, but her TpT work did not stop there. Robyn was a tireless advocate of high-quality teacher-created resources and the opportunity to supplement teaching income and provide for families that Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators. She befriended dozens of TpTers, encouraged them, and supported them by posting their resources on Pinterest.

Robyn left us unexpectedly on July 7, 2016 and I miss her presence on this earth every day. Those who knew Robyn remember her dearly as fun, funny, caring, kind, and loving. If you crossed her path, you walked away energized, inspired, and knowing you had a true encourager cheering you on to success as you found and fulfilled your purposes on this Earth. Robyn believed that love helps people find and follow their calling, and all those who knew her -- whether for minutes or for a lifetime -- felt genuinely gifted with love, kindness, and support.
Twenty years ago, Robyn started working with Dr. Ellen Weber and the Mita International Brain Center. Robyn was passionate about using brain-based approaches in novel ways that engage students' individual interests and abilities. Her passion to help all children learn and all teachers teach fueled her spirited work with Mita.
Robyn and Ellen worked together for more than two decades, and their extraordinary friendship and dynamic work have had a local and international influence on brain research and brain-based educational practices that will affect teaching and learning for decades! You're familiar with Ellen and Robyn's work if you're familiar with Making Change Easy (Novelty with the Brain in Mind Book 2).
Robyn loved and supported teachers as architects of our future, appreciating their hard work and devotion to children. TpT colleagues who knew and loved Robyn cannot imagine a more meaningful or beautiful way to honor her life and her work than to help that work continue and move forward. We're raising funds to establish the Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship, a scholarship that will be offered yearly to keep alive Robyn's work at Mita!
100% of the funds collected will go to the Mita International Brain Center to carry forward Robyn's beloved work and passion. Your donation will help Mita continue to train progressive teacher-leaders and provide brain-based resources, approaches, activities, lessons, assessments, and curriculum units to students and teachers across the globe. If you'd like to contribute, please click here to visit the "Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship" Go Fund Me page.

Thank you for helping us honor Robyn and continue her life-changing work and her legacy! 

Literary Sherri Celebrates Kindness

Once upon a time in American society, a certain sense of decorum was the norm. Regardless of what was said behind the relative safety and closed doors of one’s home, people generally treated one another with a certain amount of courtesy and civility in public. In recent years – and especially recent months – we have seen a sharp rise in bullying, violence, hate-based harassment, vandalism, marginalization, and “othering.” If television shows mirror society, just compare and contrast the social norms portrayed in Leave It to Beaver or The Brady Bunch with Pretty Little Liars or The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I call our current social climate a “reality-show climate.” Those who feed on a steady diet of Big Brother, Dance Moms, 16 and Pregnant, or most other reality shows regularly see bad behavior rewarded, morals compromised for fifteen minutes of perceived fame and fortune, and meanness not only glorified, but celebrated. The grittiness and rawness of inappropriate and salacious entertainment behavior is lauded for being “real” and “uncensored” . . . and many watchers, believing the behavior they see on tv is the social norm, don’t hesitate to drop their own filters in public and behave just as outrageously.

Of course, all behavior is caused and causes are always multiple. I’m not suggesting that societal norms have changed because of reality tv shows. I am saying: Whether we’re witnessing life imitating art or art imitating is life, one thing is certain – hostility, violence, bullying, and harassment is not only on the rise, it is fast becoming perceived by many as the social norm, and the divisive political environment in our country is exacerbating this. Adults in our country are deeply divided over immigration, security, religion, racial discrimination, marriage equality, and Roe v. Wade, and our students are feeling the effects of this division. Some students are feeling emboldened to mimic the hate-based actions they see portrayed in the media. Others are feeling fearful, sad, and anxious. Students are grappling with the meaning of new vocabulary words such as misogyny, xenophobia, fascism, bigotry, and resurgence.

Drawing on more than two decades of teaching experience, this is what I know for sure: We cannot ignore these issues in our classrooms. No matter our political affiliation, no matter who we voted for or why, we need to respect and honor our students by talking about these issues truthfully and frankly. Our students deserve the truth and the truth is: We all have work to do to make things better.

Teachers need to actively and proactively address bullying and meanness. This type of behavior leaves deep emotional scars that affects our students' sense of safety and self-worth for years, if not decades. Students need tools in their toolbox to be prepared to deal with mean behavior when it does happen – and they need tools to help prevent such behavior in the first place. 

One way we can address this is by teaching our students how to deal with bullies and meanness:

We can also help students by teaching them coping strategies. If students are feeling anxious, listen to them. Honor their feelings. Make sure they know your classroom is a safe haven for them to talk about their emotions, concerns, worries, and fears. Remind them they are strong, resilient, compassionate, and caring. And remind them that the sun will come up tomorrow, we will all go to school and to our jobs, and we will all be okay.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we can help our students by teaching them to be kind, compassionate, accepting, and empathetic community members. If the only thing we teach our students is academics, we’ve only done half our job. The other half of our job is teaching students to be good people. Create a culture of kindness in your classroom and teach students not just about “random acts of kindness” but intentional acts of kindness. Because no matter our political affiliations, worldviews, or feelings about our elected officials, we can all agree that our students – ALL our students – deserve to be treated as beautiful humans worthy of dignity, respect, courtesy, civility, and kindness.

I want to help, and many of my amazing colleagues on Teachers Pay Teachers also want to help! Together, we have created free resources – resources we have committed to keeping free forever – that you can print today and use tomorrow. I created a 30 Days of Kindness Challenge that includes 30 tangible and intentional acts of kindness, along with reflection sheets and writing activities. 

Other free resources can be found by going to Teachers Pay Teachers and searching the hashtags: #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths . . . or you can hop through the blogs below to find resources for 6-12 teachers that focus either on kindness or civics . . .

Thank you to Rachel Lynette of Minds in Bloom for originating the idea for #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths resources. Thanks, also, to Pam of Desktop Learning Adventures and Darlene of ELA Buffet for hosting the Secondary Smorgasbord blog hop . . .

Celebrate the New Year with New Resources!

On Sunday night, 12/31/16, not one but TWO lucky winners will receive $25 in resources from my TpT store AND a $25 gift card to spend in any TpT store they'd like! To enter:

1 - Follow me on Instagram and like the Instagram post,

2 - Comment on the Instagram post with your 2017 wish for your students, and

3 - Tag a teacher-friend on the Instagram post for one bonus entry per teacher-friend that you tag!

Wishing you and your students many meaningful learning moments in 2017! Happy New Year!
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