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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tips and Tricks to having a successful teacher observation

Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!

Observation.  A word that can make a teacher's blood run cold.  One colleague of mine used to always say she would rather go to the gynecologist than be observed!  But being observed doesn't have to be stressful and can make you a better teacher.  Here are some tips to have a successful observation:

Before your observation: 

You really start preparing for successful observations day 1 of your teaching.  Principals look for:


 Do you show that you like your job?  Do you spend your lunch hour complaining about accommodating a student's needs because it is extra work?  Are you welcoming and friendly to parents and your colleagues?  Do you contribute to the learning community as a whole?  Impress your principal by showing a passion for teaching!  Make positive connections with students, parents, and staff.   Be positive, even on those days you don't feel it.  Complain to your spouse, your best friend, your cat or your mom- but try to keep complaining out of your work conversations.  Always bring up a problem with possible positive solutions.  

Classroom Environment

Provide a classroom for your students that is pleasing and organized.  Remove excess clutter. So many teachers are savers (myself included!!!)  make sure what you keep is neat and put away.  Hang examples of rigorous and meaningful student work in the hallways and classroom bulletin boards.  Show that there is learning happening in your classroom regularly.

Routines, Management, and Structure

From day 1, teach your students your expectations and routines.  Students that know routines are better behaved, and you can be more focused on their learning.  Practice routines.  I review some parts of our routines almost every day.  Even if it is just to quickly review a procedure before we move on. For example, about once a week, I say, "it's time for lunch, please stand up, push in your chair, and walk to the door."   I don't say it every day, but often enough that they know, I still want them to do it that way.  The days I don't say it if they don't follow that routine, I make them go back and do it over.  My students just know that is what they have to do, or they have to go back.  They don't like to go back, so they just do it.
Another example is from the moment when my students come into my room, they have specific jobs and procedures that they have to do before they begin in our morning tubs.   I review the expectation once in a while, but I expect that they can self-manage themselves.   I can spend those few minutes getting myself together, talking to students that may need an extra pep-talk, and all of the attendance and lunch count activities I need to do. Having this morning structure gives me the time I need to begin teaching as soon as possible!  Principals look for routines and structure when evaluating classroom management during an observation.

Solid Lesson Planning

Good lesson planning can go a long way toward having a successful observation.  Planning out the standards being taught, student-friendly learning objectives, essential questions, rigorous learning activities (include choice if you can!) to support the standards and informal ways to assess learning as you teach can make or break your lesson.  Make sure you have every copy, manipulative, and supply and even a few extras you need to teach your lesson ready to go.  Stick with activities you would normally do! This is not the time to try a group learning project for the first time!  If you usually do group learning projects go for it, but if not, stick to your tried and true lessons that make you feel comfortable doing and you know have high engagement.  I chose an interactive Venn Diagram activity the last time I was formally observed because I knew the kids already knew the procedure, but I then added a mathy spin to it.  I tried it out a week before my observation and then did a similar, but different lesson during. The principal loved this lesson.  Stick with what works!
Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!

Be Proactive

Ask your principal what they are looking for during your pre-observation conference.  If your district is using an evaluation tool such as the Charlotte Danielson Framework, see if your principal is willing to observe a standard or two that you need observational evidence.   Ask other teachers for advice from their experiences of being observed.  
Know what your school priorities are.  One year at our school the principal was looking for posted objectives, if you didn't have it you would be marked down, last year we had to have expert walls and listed standard operating procedures, this year we are not supposed to have expert walls, but we do need to have data walls.  Whatever the priority is for the year, make sure you have it.
Make sure you have everything ready for your lesson.  Don't forget to have a good supply of sharpened pencils!   You don't want any time of your observation to be wasted sharpening or worse, a child not engaged in the activity because they don't have a pencil and don't want to say anything because the principal is in the room!

Prepare Students

Give your students the head's up that someone is coming in to observe the learning that is going on in the classroom.  Some teachers make a point to say that the principal is coming only to evaluate the teacher, and some make a point to say that the principal is coming to see the students.  In reality, neither and both points are the truth.  The principal is coming in to observe the learning environment as a whole which includes the teacher and students.  I usually tell my students that the principal is coming in to see all of the great learning that is going on in our classroom.  This way, students don't stress over it, they just feel proud to show the hard work they do daily.

During your observation:

Set your objective

Make sure that your students know what they are going to learn.  Have it on the board, say it, have them say it.  Make it clear that they know what they are going to learn.  Research shows this increases learning!

Stay Focused on Learning

Don't try to pull off some kind of big fancy show with you as the star.  Let the learning be the star!  Every part of your lesson should be about keeping the students engaged in their learning.   Some things principals watch for is student engagement, teacher/student connections, lesson flow (don't rush out of nervousness!), classroom management, as well as student learning.  It is a lot to juggle but, relax, you do this multiple times a day!  Follow the lesson plan as best as you can, but be ready to be flexible if you need to be.  Make sure that you end with some kind of informal assessment.  An exit ticket, a journal entry, a practice page - something that shows learning was happening!.
Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!


Try not to be nervous or stressed.  An observation is meant just to be a snapshot of your teaching and student learning, if it doesn't quite go the way you want, use it as a learning opportunity! 

After your observation:


What went well?  What flopped?  The students didn't fully grasp the lesson?  Get ready for your post-observation conference with a plan of what you will do next.  Your students were writing notes on their sticky notes instead of what they were supposed to write?  Have a plan to fix the behavior.  We are not perfect, things don't always go our way.  Principals already know that you don't have a classroom where everything goes perfectly 100% of the time because no one does!  What you need to be prepared to show is what you do when things are not so perfect for making it better the next time.  We should be in a constant state of reflecting as educators...  plan, do, check, adjust!  Focus on the positives and how you will change the negatives!

Be positive

We can be our own worst critic!   Use your observation as a learning opportunity.  Don't go into your post-observation meeting, ready to bash yourself!   Make sure that you use your post-evaluation conference to highlight your positives.  Show data that shows good results if you can, such as a pre-test and post-test.  Use this time as an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your principal about your strengths and things that you can improve to be the best teacher that you can be. 

Take Criticism as an opportunity 

No one is perfect.  Observations are not meant to "get you," they are opportunities to find out how to improve.  Listen to criticisms with an open mind and do not react defensively.  Even if you don't agree, listen respectfully and take note of what your administrator wants you to do differently.  If you would like to offer a written rebuttal, follow district procedures.  In our district, we type a letter of rebuttal, and it is attached to the evaluation.  Choose something from your evaluation to work on until next time.

Hopefully, your observation will be a great reflection of who you are and what kind of learning that happens every day!  Try to relax, you will be great!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Desk Nametags

This summer is really flying by!  It is already the middle of July, and I am getting so excited to go back to school!
Since I have been a teacher, I have always had desk help nametags on my student's desks to mark their space.  I love them for the students that need a number line, help spelling their colors, or that might need an alphabet to help them remember which way their b or d should be written.  A few years ago, as I bought my 3rd pack of name tags for my classroom for a particularly destructive group of students, I knew that this had to be a summer project!  Since that time, I have made them to match themes of my own or for my friends!

 Each pack has so many color choices, and a selection of a traditional or modern manuscript,  all for less than you would pay for one package in the teacher's store!  Do you hate your handwriting as much as I do?  I  also made an editable version, so the names can be typed right on the file!  Click on the picture to take you to the nametags in my store!

And because I love things to match, I made my alphabet and word wall pictures to match the ones on the Desk Nametags.   

Do you have flexible seating?  Want students to be able to carry around their desk helper as they move to centers? The Pencil Box Nametags may be the ones for you!  I love that my students can take these with them to RTI, Guided Reading, or to sit on the floor and they will have the reference that they need and they will have their name on their pencil box!  No more trying to figure out who is the owner of the missing pencil box!

The best part?  Not buying pack after pack of name tags!!!   I hope your summer is fantastic!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Carnival Cruises for Families: A Beginner's Guide to Cruising!

Cruising is my family's favorite family vacation!  We all love the variety of activities onboard the ship, the fun locations we get to explore, the affordability, and the convenience of it all!  Carnival Cruise Line is a favorite for our family cruises!  My family always has such a fun time and is it the most affordable way to enjoy the Caribbean!  If you are going on a cruise, here is some of the must-know information!

Choose your cruise 

Choosing a cruise is the most essential part of cruising!  When, where, and how much you are spending is key to having a great vacation!  I would recommend going on a shorter cruise to start.  When we first started cruising, our shorter cruises helped us to know what to do or what bring to make the longer cruises amazing!   If you have the flexibility of date, you can find a great deal.   The same cruise can be $400 more per person depending on when you go.  When you go makes a big difference in price!  

When we were beginning cruising, we almost always looked for islands or places we wanted to see.  Now, we sometimes look for a particular ship or things to do.  The newer ships, Carnival Vista, Horizon, Panorama, or Mardi Gras, have some fantastic areas for kids called Family Harbor.  My kids love the Family Harbor area!  They have their own lounge that is stocked with 24/7 milk, yogurt, ice cream,  and snacks throughout the day.  It also has some video games and areas to play board games or to sit and chat.  The newer ships hold more people and have more things to do,  they also have some great itineraries!  We have been on the older and the more modern ships, and we have found reasons to love them all!  
Carnival Vista in Grand Cayman

Once you decide on your itinerary and your ship, you are ready to choose a room.  The interior cabin is the most affordable and smallest.  It is an excellent room for sleeping because there are no windows.  Most people spend very little time in their room, so it makes a great option.  The ocean view cabins are a bit roomier and an excellent choice for families.  Balcony and suites are more expensive, but great if you plan on spending a little more time in your room.  Sitting on a balcony with a cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over the ocean is a small glimpse of heaven! When choosing a room, make sure to look at the map to see where the room is located!  Mid-ship and a lower level is the best place to not feel as much movement.  You will also want to look at what is directly above or below your room.  If you like to go to bed early, you don't want to be directly above or below an area that has the nightlife!  If you prefer to sleep in, sleeping above or below the kitchen when they make breakfast would not be the best either.  If someone in your cabin smokes, you might want to be in a room that has easy access to the casino or another smoking area.  We like to be mid-ship near the elevators because it gets us to the Lido deck the fastest!  The Lido deck has the pools and the food!  

When I get my dates and ship decided, I head over to  I put in all my information, and travel agencies send me bids.  Most will offer extra perks such as extra on-board credit and a good deal on travel insurance.  The last cruise I booked had $300 in onboard credit from my travel agent and $50 onboard credit from Carnival.  If you would prefer to book right through Carnival, they offer a monthly payment plan, and often they will have a deal to earn onboard credit as well.  I also enter my information into the Shipmate app, which will send alerts if the price ever drops.  I have saved hundreds having the price adjusted!  

The last part of booking a cruise for me is so important. Travel insurance.  To some, it might seem like an unneeded expense, but it is so necessary.  Not only does it protect you if you have to cancel your cruise, but it also protects you if something happens during your trip.  If you have unforeseen medical expenses or you need medical transportation, the insurance will pay for it.  I hope we will never need it, but the protection is worth the price for peace of mind!

Getting Ready To Go

Ready for a cruise!

When we are planning our trip, our family takes one or two nights to look at each port and choose our excursions,  We look at each port and what each one has to offer.  My husband and I usually plan on 1 or 2 excursions per cruise.  When you are cruising, especially in the beginning, booking your excursions through  Carnival is recommended.  If you are on an excursion through the cruise line, and any issues would cause you to come back late, the ship will wait for you before moving on to the next port.  If you are out on your own and come back late, the ship will most likely be gone.  Then you will have to make arrangements to get back to the boat on your own.  When we have taken a taxi to a beach or on an independent tour of a city on some non-excursion days, we just make sure we leave plenty of time to get back.  My kids will almost always choose the beach break excursions.  I like them because they are usually less crowded than finding a public beach and are always a fun, relaxing day!  

The pictures below are of some of our favorite excursions!  Monkeys in Roatan, Sting Rays in Grand Cayman, a boat ride into Belize, and a view of the beach from the top of the island in Tortola!

One of my most useful planning tools for excursions are Facebook groups!  If you search for the cruise you are taking, there is almost always a Facebook group for that cruise.  For example, our last cruise was on the Carnival Sunrise.  I searched Carnival Sunrise, June 10, 2019, and I joined a closed group with about 100 members that grew to about 450 members.  In this group, people asked for recommendations for excursions or for places to go at each port.  Many groups have meet-ups and offer advice for the specific port from where you are sailing.  It is great to have the little community able to ask questions!  During our last cruise, there were several instances where someone forgot something they needed, and people offered ways they could help out.   I always find a group when I intend to book and watch for a while and ask questions before I book.  We hope to book on the Vista next June, and I have already joined the group.  The information always helps to save money and have the best cruise possible!

Before I cruise, we always order a case of water to have delivered to our room.  When we go off the ship, each of us likes to have a bottle of water to take with us.  Everyone in your cabin is allowed to bring a 12 pack of CANS of your favorite non-alcoholic beverages (juice, pop, energy drinks, etc..) if you would like to bring your own on the ship.  Sometimes we carry on cans, and sometimes we get the Bottomless Bubbles plan, which gives unlimited pop.  Bringing your own is definitely the more affordable option!  Just remember that it is not always possible to get into your room until 1:30 or 2:00, so you may have to carry them with you until then on embarkation day. You are also allowed to bring on a bottle of wine or champagne per person that is 21 in your cabin.  You can read more about the policies {here.}   If we are going to order the Bottomless Bubbles plan, it is cheaper to order it before the cruise, so we make sure to get it when we order our water.

We prepay for our excursions and our gratuities the last months before we leave for vacation.  We love to have all of these expenses taken care of!  I watch for deals on different websites to buy gift cards at discounts.  Allstate and AARP both have gift cards for sale at 10% off.  Just by signing up for free for Allstate rewards (you do not have to be a member) you will be able to buy a $500 gift card for $450.  On our last few cruises, I used these gift cards to pay for all the gratuities, excursions, and onboard spending!  It is so easy to save money!  AARP allows you to earn points for taking quizzes without paying to be a member.  There is a daily amount of points that you can get from just logging in each day as well as taking quizzes. Other sites give discounts on gift cards at different times, I usually find out about these in the Facebook groups I am in.  Click on the name to take you to the reward center! ALLSTATE REWARDS      AARP

On the Ship

Once you board the ship, you may not have access to your room right away.  Most people go straight up to Deck 9, the Lido deck, and grab some lunch!  My kids wear their swimsuits when we board so when we finish they can jump in the pool before it gets too crowded.  Make sure if you do this, bring a change of clothes!  Your luggage may not arrive for a few hours.  We learned the hard way when our bags came later than we were used to, and my kids were stuck in their wet swimsuits for a few hours!  You will be required to do a muster drill, which is the safety drill in case of emergencies.  Then make sure to head down to the Sail Away Party!  It will get you in the vacation mood for sure!

Onboard the ship, your Sign and Sail card is your ID and the way that you make all of your purchases.  These cards come with a hole punched in the corner to make it easy to put on a lanyard.  Designating a hook in our cabin that all of the lanyards go on when we enter the room helps us to keep track of the cards, so we are not searching for them as we leave.  If you connect a debit card to your sign and sail account, remember that they will hold funds as you go.  We use gift cards for our sign and sail account and then settle the last $20 or so charged to our debit card.  You must have your account resolved before you leave the ship, so make sure to have funds available the night before you go.

At the ports, some places will take credit or debit cards, (make sure to call your bank and tell them you are going to be in the Caribbean) but some local vendors will only take cash.  We also make sure to have a stash one and five dollar bills for tipping.  

Kid's club is definitely an option you will want to explore for your kids!  There are so many fun activities for the kids, and it gives parents a little time to themselves.  We try to send the kids to the kids club one night so we can check out the comedy club and have a drink or two.  There are some family activities that the kid's club plans that are fun to do together as well.  The family scavenger hunt is a great way to work together with your kids and make some awesome memories!  

There are so many options for food on the ship!  The Lido Deck, (deck 9) has a buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus there are a variety of yummy choices such as Guy's Burger Joint,  The Blue Iguana Cantina (delicious Mexican Food!), Pizzeria Del Capitano, and a Deli with a very yummy grilled ham and cheese sandwich!  There is a dining room that serves breakfast or a brunch in the morning and then dinner in the afternoon.  When you book, you will be asked to do an early dining, late dining, or Your Time Dining.  We love the Your Time Dining!  We did it for the first time on this last cruise, and we will never go back!  It is so simple to check in on the app, and by the time you walk to the restaurant, your table is ready!  There are also several delicious restaurants that cost a little extra as dining options.  My kids love the main dining room because they get to try foods that they might not ordinarily get, such as lobster, mussels, rabbit, alligator, oysters, and frog legs.  They also love being to order dessert every night!  Our waiter knew every night to bring my daughter the Chocolate Melting Cake!

There are so many activities and shows to do on the ship every day!  There is a Fun Times that is given every night for the next day's events.  The activities are also all on the Carnival Hub App.  You can save all the activities you are interested in for quick reference.  One of our daily must-do activities is Dive-in Movies.  Our kids sit in the pool, and we sit on the deck while they show movies on the big screen outside.  The bar pops popcorn, and we sit under a blanket and the stars while we enjoy the show.  Even if I am not a big fan of the movie, I will sit out and listen to an audiobook and relax. It is one of my favorite parts of the cruise!

Watching a Dive in Movie

Ropes course

The last day before you have to get off of the ship, we usually go to the disembarkation talk to make sure that we have all the information to leave the next day.  Now that my kids are older, we do the self-assist to leave.  When you self-assist, you carry all of your luggage with you off the ship.  If you are not able to carry out all your luggage, you will put your luggage in the hall the night before, and they will take it off of the ship for you.  We plan what we bring with the thought that we will carry it off ourselves.

Cruising is such a fun vacation!  I hope you will enjoy your cruise as much as we do!  Bon Voyage!

Friday, June 28, 2019

It's been a while!

It has been quite some time since I have updated!  So many changes have happened!  Since my last post I have gotten my special ed certification and have changed jobs twice!  Things have evened out a bit and my focus is changing a bit.  I am still teaching in a self-contained setting, just with special education students!  I am going to be picking up where I left off with gen ed curriculum, but adding some social emotional focus and special education ideas too.  I am also going to be checking in more about my personal goals and most importantly my excitement for travel!
Here we are all rested and relaxed in San Juan during our recent cruise!  It was a great way to start a summer break!

I am so excited to be back in the blogging world! See ya soon!