This girl has been my ride or die since 1992! The bond of sisterhood is true and is a hard relationship to understand unless you have a sister. Kellie and I are only 18 months apart in age and have been each other's cheerleaders, truth tellers, and literal punching bags, since day one. It was an obvious choice to make her my Maid of Honor, but as the months have gone by during this wedding hooplah, I have been overwhelmed with how thoughtful and on top of everything Kellie has been. She just gets what I am saying and is always on the same page as I am, so it makes handling the little details so much easier. I have always loved how she will stand up for me at all costs and will tell me the truth about anything, but with the best intentions. (don't get me wrong, she also makes fun of me like nobody's business - but she GETS to... she earned that right as a sister.) She has been my sidekick since she was the Skipper to my Barbie back in the 90's, the Miranda to my Lizzie during pre-teen catastrophes, the Lane to my Rory for high school drama, and now and forever the Monica to my Rachel... Love you KB!
...Because even though SHE was the one going through monumental life changes this year (like becoming a first time mother!) she never hesitated to check in and ask ME how I was doing. Lindsay and I became fast friends when we were both hired at our school the same year. Whether it's sharing students, as her kindergarteners are passed my way in first, or sharing shopping and fashion advice, Lindsay and I have a lot in common. She's always been a great friend, but this year she has been a rock for me at Beverly. (Even when she left for her maternity leave!) As if she didn't have enough on her plate, I asked her to be one of my bridesmaids, and of course she graciously accepted without batting an eyelash. She has been keeping me sane as she lets me bounce wedding ideas off of her, and she is the first person I go to when I feel like I just need to scream. ( I don't scream at her guys, she's too nice to ever be mad at, I just mean she lets me vent!) Thanks Lindsay for being there for me this year especially, I couldn't have survived teaching and wedding planning without you!
There's never a dull moment when Tracy is around. It doesn't matter how stressed I am or how "bleh" I feel, when Tracy comes in my classroom, it's a party. She always has great ideas and it seems like we are frequently on the same page when it comes to our creative personas. We clicked automatically when I joined her team at Beverly (Liz,our former principal, sure called it in her very first email to me when she said 'I think you and my First Grade Team Lead will be a perfect match') Tracy's go,go,go spirit is so motivating and her positive way of giving feedback makes it so easy for me to want to try new things. She makes my natural strengths stronger by being a support system for me, and in a year where I could have totally let my teaching career fall by the wayside while I planned my wedding, she inspired me to KEEP DOING MORE, including bringing my teaching blog back to life as well as developing a very exciting Project Based Learning unit that is currently in the works ( keep on the lookout for more info on that - we are extremely pumped about it! ) Thank you Tracy for never letting me be anything but my best, and thank you for making Beverly the most fun work environment a girl could ask for.
In the teaching profession, it's important to have that person that you can rely on to cover you when things don't go as planned. As a teacher, flexibility is key, as you never know what curve balls may be thrown your way. I have been fortunate to have the best teaching side-kick across the hall from me for the past couple of years. Jenna is always ready to step up and help out our team with any dilemma you could imagine. Whether it be last minute copies that need to be made, or even wardrobe malfunctions that need to be solved, Jenna covers it all, and would literally give you the shirt off of her back. (Yes, this has actually happened before, I was in need of a shirt and Jenna said "here take mine" - btw, she was wearing two shirts that day so it wasn't weird or anything.) The craziness of teaching, building a house, and wedding planning, had me in a constant whirlwind this year, and as if my life wasn't crazy enough, I decided to take on the role of being a social committee chairperson (which is super fun, and I am glad I am doing it, but needless to say, there is a lot on my plate.) I have never had to feel like I could not handle any of it though, because Jenna is always willing to volunteer her time, money, ideas, advice; anything that will be of help in any situation. Our team absolutely loves her eagerness to learn and try new things. She is willing to do what it takes for her students, and no matter how crazy an idea may sound, if she thinks it will help her class, she is going to do it. She doesn't hesitate to ask for help and is constantly trying to better herself for her students. In fact, I told my team earlier this year that I had an idea for the next school year that would be awesome for our kids, but would require a lot of planning ahead that may take up a big chunk of our summer. Jenna's response? "Cool! I will bring the snacks!" (Which will probably be chips and queso knowing Jenna) Needless to say, the four of us would not be the same without Ms. Kirkman, and I literally and figuratively have leaned on her a lot this year and am so, so thankful!
Not enough is said about the "man behind the teacher". A teacher's significant other has to be understanding and willing to take the backlash of a stress-filled day when patience has been running thin. Poor, poor, Cory has had to deal with too many moody evenings (usually around the months of October, February, and May, those testing months, amiright?!) when I finally get home and am able to let my frustration out. I am sometimes surprised that my future husband (like future, as in, tomorrow!! Yay!!!) has not run for the hills. Whether it be the endless stories about students and co-workers that he only knows the names of, or the ridiculous shenanigans he has to witness, and sometimes film *cough Jingle Jams cough* , Cory just goes with the flow and embraces my crazy. I would not have been able to get through ANY year teaching, much less this year, without him. I love how he always knows the right thing to say. He knows when to agree with my venting fits, even though I know he could care less about PDH hours and CMIT paperwork, and he always gives good advice when I need some unbiased answers to a problem I am facing. Teaching is such an emotional profession, and I am so glad I have found someone who rides the emotional rollercoaster with me, and doesn't make me feel like I should get off and ride a different ride. He supports me, he lifts me up, he tells others how impressive I am (even though he's lying- jk) and he greets me with a hug and a smile at the end of every crazy day.
A first grader's favorite thing to say is "STOP!" but it comes out in a long whiny shrill that rings above the voices in the classroom. It is the same every year - two kids get into a little tizzy and one of them yells "StoOoOoP!!!!!!" at the top of their lungs. This is why I am always so grateful when the "Kelso's Choices" counselor lesson makes its way to the first grade hall, complete with a poster to hang and refer to. This word is still heard throughout the year, but Kelso does help a tad!
Meet Kendall. She's a spunky, adorable, almost seven year old and she likes the word "prechis" (precious). She said "it's so nice to be cute" and she sure is! I have a shirt that says "Throw Kindness Like It's Confetti" which I made with my Silhouette (Yay!!). Kendall found a shirt while out shopping and told her mom that she had to by it since it was a "Ms. Stephens Shirt"
This girl. She has blown my mind this year! She is a self starter, motivated learner, and is always having mindful moments with herself to give herself a little pep talk! She even has a plan to open a boutique when she gets older, complete with a plan for the type of clothes she will sell, the type of client she is marketing to, a,d a business plan for how to expand her stores. I mean WOW. and she has stuck to it too. She taught herself how to get on Google Drive and share documents with me, and she does this often. She sent me a random "Have a good day" powerpoint slide one day - and it came right at the best time to remind me why I do what I do. She even made herself a behavior chart and asked me to print it out so that she could work on some things throughout the day. When I asked my class what their favorite words were she said "mustache - because who doesn't like a funny mustache?!" and chuckled to herself. I just love her spirit - and I just had to share her with you.
If you follow The Caffeinated Counselor , then you have met Lily before. She is one of a kind, and really should have a series of children's books written with her as the star! (She does kind of remind me of Kevin Henke's Lilly as a matter of fact.) She is actually quite brilliant, but sometimes gets all mixed up in that head of hers with "what-ifs" of glorious proportions. I was interested to hear what her favorite words were, but to be honest, I was initially let down when she responded with the word "line". "Why line?" I asked, and she said "Well Ms. Stephens....lines are everywhere, I mean you can find them EVERYWHERE...of course it's my favorite!" and her assurance was all I needed. I mean she is right....they are everywhere...and her commitment convinced me that this word should be in my top five!
I cannot tell you how many of my first graders wrote "love" as one of their favorite words. It never ceases to amaze me how innocent and caring kiddos are in these first few years of school, and this innocence is what makes me come back to First Grade year after year. It takes love to push through the whining, tattling, and messy classrooms, and that is exactly what keeps me going. I love my little ones and I am so fortunate to have their examples of innocence in my classroom each day to bring me back to life. Sometimes you get wrapped up in the little "adult" things, and forget to just stop and feel the love.
Some reasons why First Graders like the word "love":
Hover over each image for an explanation!
Maybe my dream could come true? This was a fun art project that my students did. I just had to join them!
Don't Judge. I was having fun with a new app I found... Yeah...I sit around and sing to myself...in my closet...
Ok...not THAT old...
My Cake-Stand DIY
I picked up some little wooden circles from Hobby Lobby, and from Home Depot I got a 15 inch wood circle and the foot to a chair ( I think that's what that is...). I screwed/wood glued the whole thing together and voila!
I think it turned out pretty well! I even personalized it with my soon-to-be last name, using a small Dremel file. Super fun!
Chevron Wood Signs DIY
This project was SUPER easy. 1. Take wood off of a pallet (hardest part right there) 2. Cut the ends of each piece of wood at a 45 degree angle. 3. Stain each piece to your liking. 4. Attach boards together with a bracket on the back. 5. Hang!
Now If I could just figure out how to make those sliding barn doors...
This kid friendly video is a great way to kick off Class Dojo in your class!
Here is the video I use for twenty minute stations. Feel free to try it out!
Check back soon for my Lego Writing Process slideshow!
This one is a pretty typical lucky charm. Make a wish on a star right? But one night back in high school, my sister and I were at a park by our house and noticed that we kept seeing shooting stars. Never having seen this before, we were amazed. By the time we made it home the sky was lighting up constantly with huge streaks of meteors. We were lucky enough to have stumbled into a meteor shower and spent hours just laying on our driveway watching. This is one of my favorite memories from high school!
Sidenote: My fiance Cory just happened to be watching the same meteor shower in his backyard and texted me that night to ask me if I was watching. We were only friends then, and at that time, we rarely talked, but it is kind of special that that event made him think of me. Awww! ;)
Another lucky charm from high school; giving the windshield two taps as you pass under a yellow light. My friends did this all the time back in the day and eventually I picked up the habit as well. When Cory and I first started dating, I was still some-what in the habit of windshield tapping and he would always roll his eyes playfully at my superstition. Time passed, and the habit faded, but not too long ago as we were passing through an intersection, the light turned yellow and Cory tapped the windshield. He gave me a teasing grin and we both laughed at the memory.
My Grandmother, we call her "Grammy", was born a New Year's Baby. She was the first baby born at the hospital on January 1st that year, and the world sure is better for it! Needless to say, New Year's Day has always been her day. We wake ourselves up after a night of ringing in the new year, and make our way to Grammy's house to celebrate. Every year, even though it is HER birthday, she has the kitchen full of goodies (you can never go to Grammy's house and leave hungry) and she never fails to have a big pot of Black-Eyed Peas. Growing up, she would insist that we each have a spoonful, even though our tummies went straight for the Mac and Cheese and Homemade Fried Chicken. She said we had to have a bite for good luck, so we always did. As we grow older, there may be years where her birthday celebration is put off a day or two, or life gets in the way of one or two of us making it to her house, but she has never failed to reach out and make sure we eat our Black-Eyed Peas!
Grammy was not the only one born in January! My family is full of January birthdays. In order it goes Grammy, my Aunt Carol, Me, [my cousin Avery, my cousin Emmy], Grandad (Grammy's P.I.C), and my brother Scott/Andrew (remember Scandrew?). Since there are so many, we break it up into two birthday celebrations. The "January Girls" (Grammy, Aunt Carol, and I, Emmy and Avery are on the other side of the family) go first, and we celebrate three generations of January "Stephens' Girls". Being one of the January birthday's has always been special to me, and is a part of my little family story, so I have always felt lucky to be a January baby. Luckiest of all, is that I was born on January 7. Seven has always been my lucky number!
Sidenote - Cory's birthday is on the 27th of November (his entire immediate family has Nov. bdays...crazy). We started dating on February 27, 2011. He proposed on March 27, 2016, and we are getting married on May 27, 2017. SO MANY 7s!! Maybe 27 should be my new lucky number?
Cory and I's wedding day is starting to feel so close, but we are trying to soak up every moment of the whirlwind. Planning has been stressful at times, but the little traditions are what makes it memorable and enjoyable. As I go I am collecting the little tokens I will use to fill this age-old rhyme.
I do not have my "something old" yet, but it would mean so much to me to have a token from one of my grandparents to wear on my wedding day! I will put Grammy in charge of that one! ;)
I JUST ordered my "something new". On a whim, I decided to check out Kendra Scott's Color Bar. I love me some Kendra, and I figured why not include it on the wedding day. I played around for awhile and decided on a bracelet using stones in our wedding colors. I showed it to my sister and when I told her what stones I used she got excited. It turns out that the pink stone that I used was "Rose Quartz", the stone of LOVE, and the blue-green stone was "Chalcedony" which is said to absorb negative energy and create a nurturing feeling. I only picked the stones because I liked the color, but my little "something new" turns out to have multiple uses if you believe in the power of crystals!
I gained a sister last summer when my older brother married Hannah. At their wedding, I gave up the bouquet toss and let Hanna's sister have that one, but the Garter Toss Champion was Cory...does that surprise anyone? haha. I decided that the garter he caught would be my "Something Borrowed" and I would use it until Cory passes it onto the next Garter Toss Champion!
My "Something Blue" will be easy. I am going to find a cute shade to get my nails done in for the wedding. Any votes?
For this Friday Five we are covering the five children's book we have to have in our classroom! It is especially important as a 1st grade teacher to have a good collection of books that get children to fall in love with reading, while teaching valuable lessons at the same time. It's funny, because as I thought about the books I love reading the most, they all linked to a variety of skills and objectives, and it turns out that I actually only personally own TWO of them! So for me, this list really is a must-have list, since these are the books I am constantly borrowing from my teaching buddies year after year! For each book I am just going to list three things:
1. My personal connection to the book.
2. The skills the book teaches.
3. How I have used the book.
1. I was introduced to this book in one of my education classes at Texas State. I immediately went out and bought a copy and so it became the first book of my classroom library. From the start, I loved how the whole story was an analogy for your feelings and emotions and how your actions affect other people. I knew then that I wanted to teach young children, and I could just see this book being something I could constantly refer to in my classroom.
2. This story teaches kids that negative behaviors and experiences will "take a drop from their bucket" and as their bucket empties, they will feel worse and worse. However, every positive action or experience can "refill their bucket", and has the power to fill the buckets of others around them too. Every year my first graders really grasp this concept, and they notice even before the story reveals, that positive actions fill the bucket faster than negative actions empty it.
3. I read this book to my class during the first week of every school year. Some classes simply need it read once, and carry the lesson with them as the year goes on. Other classes may need more reminders, and when that is the case, I have a small bucket that I fill with "drops" (blue marbles) every time I see someone being helpful, or responsible, or respectful. When the class gets a compliment or has a really good day, they are showered with "drops in their bucket" and they begin to feel motivation to overflow that bucket!
1. I have been a teacher in training my whole life, and I tend to teach best when I am able to be creative and flexible. I am one of those teachers who could care less about the lesson plans (sorry principals and teammates!! But let me clarify, I DO still follow them!!) and I teach based on the situations of the classroom around me. During student teaching, my mentor teacher showed me this book, and told me to have fun with it, so I came up with a lesson on the fly and it has been one of my FAVORITE lessons to teach even now.
2. You could do so much with this story! It is a different point of view on the whole "monster under the bed" scenario that young children are so familiar with. The boy in the story checks under his bed one night to find his monster has "Gone Fishing". He then begins to hold interviews with a variety of monsters to fill the spot of his monster, since he knows he will not be able to sleep without him. This book goes into great detail about each monster, and paints a picture in the students minds and models descriptive writing at it's finest. You can also use this book to model making predictions and inferences, as you wonder what monster will be chosen based on the criteria the boy has outlined. An online version of this story is available at http://www.storylineonline.net/i-need-my-monster/ if you want to check it out!
3. I use this story to model using adjectives for descriptive writing, making inferences, and following multi-step directions. I given students a piece of paper and we fold it into 6 parts. I read the story as I walk around the classroom with my students at their desks. I do not show any of the pictures as I read, and as each monster is introduced I tell the students to draw the monster in one of the boxes based on the description of the monster. After the story, I show them the pictures and they are always over the moon excited about how close or far-off their pictures were from the actual monsters. Every year this lesson is a hit, and I have monster drawings cluttering my classroom for weeks afterward. Proof to myself that not every lesson needs a lesson plan ;).
P.S. I just found a short movie version of the story - maybe now I can show the movie after we read the story, and add some comparing and contrasting to my lesson!
1. Every year our curriculum has us read "The Three Little Pigs" during the month of October. Now everyone knows the story of the Three Little Pigs, and there are endless renditions of the tale from "The Three Ninja Pigs" by Corey Rosen Schwartz to "The Three Little Dassies" by Jan Brett (both of which are FABULOUS.) We spend this particular week in October reading version after version of this fairytale, and that is how I was introduced to this wonderful version.
2. This fun rewrite of the classic swaps the perspectives of the characters and makes the pig out to be the bad guy! The Three Little Wolves are building their houses and want to stay safe from the monster of a pig that will crush their homes with one stomp. Forget straw and sticks, the wolves go straight for the bricks, but when that doesn't work, they have to figure something else out! This story teaches comparing and contrasting, and also shows students how a story can change when it is looked at with a different perspective. This story is also great for teaching characterization, because the same animals from the original story are used, but their qualities and character traits are different. The hidden skill in this book is that of "thinking like an engineer" as the wolves engineer a solution to their problem of escaping the big pigs wrath!
3. Authentic learning is the BEST LEARNING (in my humble opinion) and it just so happens that at the time this story falls in our LA curriculum, our science curriculum has us introducing the Engineering Design Process. I LOVE when my lessons naturally integrate - if I could have it my way, I would just teach all day based on where the wind blew my class, so when it happens that I can integrate, I DO IT! I ended up using this version of the Three Little Pigs to model the Engineer Design process, as the "Three Little Wolves" just happened to use each step as they hid from the "Big Bad Pig". From planning their homes, to building and creating them, then to improving them after the pig's destruction, this story paints a HILARIOUS picture of rebuilding and improving until you have solved your problem (complete with plexiglass,barbed wire, and dynamite - soooo FUNNY!)
1. Standardized testing - bleh. It is sad when even those of us not affecting by the tests, are feeling the stress in the building. Every year during the STAAR test, when the building is in lock-down mode, my students are wondering why we are having to be confined to our room for a silly test. I always tell them that we just want to show respect for the other students in our building so that they can show Texas how much they have learned this year. We want to give them an environment that allows them to focus, so that they can remember all of the important lessons they have been taught all year. So during this period of quarantine, I read my students Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
2. In this story, there is a school that is full of creative teachers who teach their students a multitude of skills through a variety of opportunities and experiences. The students are happy and well rounded in their abilities, but are given a test that does not test those abilities. When the students do not do well, they feel as if they have failed, but the teachers assure them that through all of their experiences they have taught themselves how to problem solve and figure out a solution to any problem that comes their way.
3. Most of the students in my class don't put two and two together that the test talked about in the story represents the test that they will be expected to take in just a couple short years, but every student can relate to the feeling of being anxious or disappointed in themselves. I love the sentiment in this story that true learning comes from experiencing life, and this book teaches that learning is not black and white. Great discussions can be had after reading this story!
2. This is a story about a blue flower who does not want to grow in the same patch as a purple flower, because the purple flower is different than him and his friends. The blue flower's mother helps him to see that every flower enjoys sunlight and wind, and that the bees find each flower beautiful and so should he. The blue flower opens his mind and becomes friends with the purple flower, teaching a lesson in friendship and acceptance.
3. I kicked off Friendship Week by reading this book to my class. The metaphors offered in this story were not lost on my first graders. They completely grasped the concept of how every part of a garden works together, and that is much like being a class. The bees do not discriminate by choosing only the blue flowers, and friends don't discriminate either. All flowers need sunlight, and all people need love. Butterflies visit each flower much like each person should be visited with respect. The analogies were endless and led my class to create a Friendship Garden in our classroom, where we are continuously posting examples of friendship that we see throughout each day. The kids decided together what traits they wanted to represent in their garden, and have now taken ownership in making sure that they represent those traits with their friends.
I have a large metal cut out of this quote hanging in my house that I purchased from Magnolia Market. I love this quote because it describes my outlook on life. My fiance, Cory, and I always talk about how so many people these days seem to blame the world for their problems and do not take ownership of their dreams and goals. When I see these words on my wall, it reminds me that if I want something, I have the power to make it happen. I am the designer of my own life, and so far, I am loving my design!
I like this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson because it pretty much echoes the advice that my mother gave to the high-school aged me. At a time when Mom's advice is unwarranted and automatically wrong, because obviously a 16 year old has way more knowledge and world experience than Mom, I actually heard her advice and have remembered it through the years. She told me that if you are with someone because they fill a void that you have, then you will never be able to be truly happy. You need to be happy with yourself first, before someone else can make you happy. Her advice was to find someone that motivates you and makes you a better person in some way, and I think about that advice often when I look at my fiance. He has made me a more outgoing, confident, and motivated version of myself, and I am grateful that I feel strong enough to be myself when I am with him!
Speaking of my fiance, this quote was created by him at the ripe young age of 15, back when we were "just friends" and a little more quirky than we are now. My best friend Kasi and I would often be called "weird" or "goofy" because for one, Kasi dressed how Kasi wanted to dress, and did not care if others thought her patterns clashed or her hair was too crazy, and as for myself, I used sarcasm as a shield. I was full of dumb jokes and not-so-witty banter. Cory embraced this "weirdness" and would constantly tell us that we were are own version of normal. He would ask "what is normal anyway?" It was a comforting notion, and it made a lot of sense. I think about how true this notion still is as I wonder why so many of us feel judged for who we are and what we like. No one should feel unusual, because ..."You are your own normal" so be you!
Everyone has something that they just dread doing. Something that they know will make them better, but that does not sound particularly enjoyable. This quote hits me hard when I think about how I would feel if I lost the ability to do something that I take for granted. I would never want to look back on my life with regret. This quote is like another version of "you never know what you have until it is gone", but it is more personal because, no I do not want to get up and go run, yes I know it would make me a healthier person, but it sounds so boring and painful, but ....what if I couldn't run? What if I did not even HAVE the option....think about that.
The days before Winter Break come with a variety of feelings and attitudes that can be witnessed throughout the school building. As a teacher in the weeks before winter break you may feel excited, overwhelmed from the holiday stress, or even annoyed at the silly behaviors that you witness from those sweet little munchkins you call students. (Come on people - they are PUMPED UP! It's CHRISTMAS!) I completely understand how the chaos can get to people, believe me, but I have decided to cope with the "Holiday Hooplah" by embracing the crazy in the best of ways!
Long story short, our school counselor, Tracy, is a pro at spreading cheer throughout the school.(And not just during the holiday season!) After we returned from that taste of holiday freedom that I like to call Thanksgiving break, Tracy came to me and asked for help recording a Musicly in our ugly holiday sweaters. (We had our annual staff holiday party later that day, hence the sweaters...) She had come up with the idea to make a video each day of December leading up until Christmas day. Each video would be about 15 seconds long and would center around a popular Christmas song. Talk about spreading the Christmas cheer!
I cannot tell you how much of a blast these last couple weeks have been. We have gotten my first graders involved in the brainstorming and they have been so excited to see what their "crazy" teacher and counselor come up with next. I figured I could keep spreading the cheer with everyone in the social media world as well - so if you are feeling a bit "Bah-Humbug" sit back and [hopefully] crack a smile or two!
I'm just an Elementary Nerd sharing my excitement for the classroom!
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