5 Research-Based Self-Care Musts for Teachers

Self-care is more than face masks, massages, and pedicures. Self-care is a literal term–caring for ourselves.

It’s not a big mystery why teaching and burnout go hand-in-hand. Society heroizes teachers who work several hours over the weekend and spend hundreds of their own dollars on a single day to engage their students. Even when you stay an hour after school and grade your papers at home, you constantly compare yourself to the “good teachers” you see in the media and feel inferior.

However, the research shows that the more you care for yourself, the better teacher you are.

Wait, what?

When you take the time to care for yourself, you are able to show up for your students better with more energy, focus, and emotional control.

People throw around self-care quotes all the time, but let’s dig into the facts. Here are five routines backed by research that prove caring for yourself makes you a better teacher.

1. Creating a nighttime routine is essential to having the energy you need to show up for your students. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Yet so many teachers spend the couple hours before going to bed scrolling social media, grading papers, and stressing about the next day’s lesson. Limiting screen time is essential in the hours before you go to bed. Looking at screens lower melatonin production, and melatonin is the hormone that runs our sleep-wake cycle. Try to fill the couple hours before you go to bed with dim lights, off-screen calming hobbies, and rituals that help prepare for the next day. Laying out my outfit for the next day and packing my lunch ahead of time always lowers my anxiety.

2. On a similar note, ensure you have a consistent morning routine that doesn’t make you feel rushed. Without a routine, mornings far more chaotic than they need. One of the best things you can do for yourself is schedule in a few extra minutes you feel you “won’t need.” This not only gives a buffer if you do run behind, but it can give you time to insert another self-care activity–such as taking a quick walk, a five-minute meditation, or even just simply sitting down to eat your breakfast rather than grabbing it to-go. Doing tasks that you can the night before(like packing your lunch and laying out your outfit) will give you a few extra minutes in the morning, too.

3. Have a work-to-home transition routine. Going straight from school to home with no consistent routine to help get your mind out of school mode prevents your body from relaxing. If you have a longer, low stress commute, this in itself is a great transition. Turn on a non-education related podcast or jam out to your favorite album. However, if you have a short commute or stressful traffic-surrounded commute, you need to insert something into your routine to lower your stress levels and signal to your body that work is over. Something as simple as stopping at a store or the gym (my personal favorite) between school and home works. Try it out and notice how much easier it is to relax at home.

4. Schedule in time for fun. I already know you’re probably yelling at me through the screen. It sounds basic, and as teachers, it can feel like we have little-to-no free time. This upcoming week, schedule in at least one activity that makes you truly excited. It can be as short as an hour or two out of your entire week Having fun reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies, which also leads to improved concentration, sounder sleep, and strengthens your immune system. Go to a local concert on a Friday night, meet up for margarita flights with a friend, or go on a hike with a loved one. Whatever is fun and adds some spice into your routine qualifies! Also the anticipation of the event truly helps relieve stress, too.

5. Get moving! It can seem intimidating seeing all of the people on social media posting their intense workouts, but even incorporating a walk or a dance break during your day can lower levels of anxiety and depression, improve your ability to think, and increases your sleep quality. Movement releases endorphins, which improves your mood, relieves pain, and lowers stress levels. If you need to physically write it into your planner or tell a friend to hold you accountable, do it. (You can also double this up with creating a work-to-home transition routine, too! I love taking walks in my neighborhood after work.)

I hope you found at least a nugget of a new self-care practice you can add into your life within the next few days. You deserve to be your best self and still be a passionate, energized teacher.

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Creating an Attitude of Gratitude in the Classroom

Every teacher knows all too well these past few years that acting grateful and thankful in the classroom can seem like a daunting learned skill some days. Especially when the holiday jitters rolled in during the month of November, it can be difficult to ground excited students.

Intentionally incorporating gratitude in the classroom goes hand-in-hand with the Thanksgiving season, and doing so can easily become part of your daily routine even after the holidays.

Here are five of my favorite ways to incorporate gratitude and a culture of kindness into the classroom:

1. Gratitude Chain: Let’s start out this idea list with a freebie! There’s something about making paper chains at any age that ups the engagement and buy-in from students. Start a daily habit of having your students write down one thing that they are grateful/thankful for in their lives and add it to a class chain. See how long it gets by a certain date (like Thanksgiving,) and display it in your classroom and a constant reminder of gratitude. Click here to get the resource for free!

2. Star Student Bags: This simple activity is perfect for a class that needs extra practice showing gratitude for each other. All this takes is a pack of paper bags and strips of paper. You could make this a weekly practice or do it every day in a month or so span leading up to the holidays or an occasion. Before starting the routine, the students have the opportunity to decorate their bags and individualize them with their names.

Now, randomly select a student to be the Star Student of the day. Every student (including the chosen one) writes one compliment about that student. (And teaching third grade, I told them it couldn’t be about looks or something they owned.) Students place the strip of paper in the Star Student’s bag to take home and use as a pick-me-up whenever they need it!

3. Gratitude Journal: This may be my favorite activity on the list. It allows students to reflect on their own lives and practice writing skills while answering journal entries about individual gratitude. You can do this with a daily prompt you create with an old-fashioned notebook, or you can take it digital. I loved using these once a day as a writing center. You can get eight prompts for free here, or you can download the full pack of fifty prompts here. It’s a great bell ringer idea for older students, too!

4. Letter Writing Center: I am all for letting students have some choices during literacy time, and inserting a letter writing option into that time is as easy as putting out a stack of lined paper. Encourage students to write letters to others in the school–teachers, staff members, or friends–and deliver it! Students can write “thank you” notes to others or simply write a letter and include a reason they are grateful for them. I usually offered to put the letters in teachers’ mailboxes to streamline the process a bit.

5. Tell Me Something Good: Okay, I take back my previous statement–this is my favorite idea on the list. Why? It uses no physical materials and takes a minute to insert into your daily classroom routine. Every morning meeting, my students would respond to the prompt “Tell me something good.” Sometimes I had them turn and talk to a partner, and sometimes they shared it with the entire class. Students had to respond to this prompt with something good that has happened to them or something they’re excited about. “Nothing” was never an option. After awhile, it became second nature for students to acknowledge that they were grateful for the weather, what they were having for lunch, or something a friend had said to them recently. It’s the perfect example that practicing gratitude is mindfulness.

These are just five of the countless simple ways that you can incorporate gratitude into your classroom. What is your favorite that isn’t on this list? Which can you see fitting into your classroom routine?

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Differentiation Using EdTech

Throughout both my undergrad and graduate coursework in education, differentiation was quite the buzzword.

Not only did the concept pop up constantly, but almost no differentiation methods that I was exposed to involved educational technology. I could alter worksheets. I could intervene and extend in small groups. But how could I streamline differentiation, enrich students’ learning experiences, and not stretch myself as their teacher too thin?

Using technology to help differentiate my instruction is a must, and it’s something I’ve learned how to do over time. Throughout my seven years in elementary education, I never ran into a course that specifically told me how to use technology to differentiate in my elementary classroom. So I decided to make one for you.

I have teamed up with OTIS for Educators again to offer a deep dive into the world of differentiating instruction with educational technology specifically for elementary educators. Also if you missed it, I already offer a $4 course through them (yes, only four dollars) with basics on how to incorporate educational technology into the elementary classroom.

Since you all already know me or have run into my little corner of the internet from my own marketing, I want to give you a free taste of what I talk about in my new course right here in this blog.

Differentiation is quite the buzzword like I said, but what is it? If someone were to ask me this before I did my own research on the topic, I would’ve simply said “altering instruction to meet student needs.” That’s not wrong, but there is so much more to differentiation!

Differentiation in terms of instruction can be broken into four categories:

  • Content: Differentiating content is altering what knowledge and skills the students are actually learning. When we differentiate content, we do this because we want to meet the students in their zone of proximal development so they can truly grow. This could be teaching standards that are below grade level to hit prior skills that are needed or teaching standards that are above grade level to extend the students’ learning and allow them to still grow and challenge themselves.

In my course, I go into detail what each of these looks like in my classroom and provide 5+ resources for each that hit a variety of subjects and grade levels along with how I use them with my students but I’ll give you a sneak peek into each now. One website I love using with my students to differentiate content is NewsELA. NewsELA is full of news articles that are adapted for students, but my favorite feature is the Lexile selector. A single article can be written at several Lexile levels, and I can assign different Lexile levels for different students.

  • Process: Differentiating the learning process is altering how the students learn knowledge and skills. This is especially helpful to meet all students individual needs when, well, there is only one of you.

One tech tool that allows differentiation of process is EdPuzzle. EdPuzzle allows you to take any video and make it a self-paced lesson for students. Not only that, but it also ensures accountability by allowing you to insert questions and interactive elements throughout the video even if you were not the original video creator.

  • Product: Differentating the product is when you give students different opportunities to show mastery of skills or knowledge. Why does every assessment have to be the typical worksheet or essay writing? Newsflash: it doesn’t.

One of my students’ favorite tech tools over the years has been Book Creator. Book Creator allows students to feel like authors by creating their own picture books, graphic novels, and more. It can literally be incorporated to show knowledge of any content area. The possibilities are endless and it is so user-friendly (which is an elementary must.)

  • Learning Environment: This is the fourth aspect of differentiation and one is so often overlooked. I give my students a survey at the beginning of every year that gives me insight to what I can do to best help them learn. It covers everything from lighting to music to seating. I don’t get into this one a ton in the course, but technology could definitely help in this category. Maybe headphones with music can help students stay productive (as I wear my noise cancelling ear buds jamming to Beyonce typing this blog.) And simply being on a device for independent learning can allow students to move wherever they want.

Differentiation Model by C.A. Tomlinson

This blog is just a nugget of what you will learn in my OTIS for Educators course. It will be live on February 10, 2022 at 4 PM EST. However, if you can’t tune in live, it will be available afterwards as well! OTIS for Educators is free to register for, gives you CEUs, and offers courses on so many topics and platforms for educational technology!

I covered three of my favorite EdTech resources for differentiating instruction and I chat about many more in the course. But I’m curious–what are your favorite free websites, platforms, or apps for differentiating instruction?

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Quick Tips in Elementary EdTech

I think one of my favorite more recent developments in education is the fact that professional development doesn’t have to be expensive.

I recently discovered OTIS for Educators–an online professional development platform with hundreds of EdTech PD courses that can earn you PD credits to put towards your licensure renewal or district requirements. The best part? The account is free, and the most expensive course I saw while scrolling the platform was $4. Sign. Me. Up.

As education and our society as a whole progresses, I’m truly thankful for the path I’ve taken. A little known fact about me is I have a Graphic Design minor that I earned in undergrad, and I’m still probably the college’s only “Elementary Education Major, Graphic Design Minor” resume proclamation. Taking so many technology courses throughout college mashed up with my major turned into a true love and competency in educational technology. Throughout my journey as an educator and now as an M.S.Ed holder, I’ve done a lot of professional development and research on my own to truly feel confident in my EdTech knowledge.

Now I’m taking a step farther and presenting on OTIS for Educators! My first course, “Quick Tips in Elementary EdTech,” will be live December 16th @ 4 PM EST. In this 45 minute course, I’ll be giving you my biggest insider tips and tricks on how to make your classroom technology make both your and your students’ lives easier and more enriched! I will also be providing a list of many free resources that I use in my own classroom with both Chromebooks and iPads.

Can’t make it live or find this page “too late?” The course is available to view on demand after it goes live!

Stay tuned to see the topic of my second session that will go live in January! It will be a more academic/pedagogical look into best practices.

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Teachers Pay Teachers 101: Selling on the Side

In the summer of 2017, I started my Teachers Pay Teachers seller account. Fun fact about me–I minored in graphic design in college. And while my first few resources may not fully reflect that, I enjoyed creating resources for my own classroom. I had nothing to lose with a free TPT account, and my goal was to earn a couple cups of coffee each month.

I used the free account and made $44.40 my first month. I was thrilled to be able to cover my internet bill after a single month. I was hooked.

The first response I typically get right after I tell someone I am an author on Teachers Pay Teachers is, “How can I start?!” I always say that selling on Teachers Pay Teachers costs nothing and takes no more time than you want to put into it, but to really cross the line from the “couple coffees per month” side over to the “paying off entire college education” side does take some time and knowledge.

The chart to the left shows my earnings growth from start to present. This month, I am set to have my best month yet! And don’t forget–TPT is my side business.

Wanting to start your own store but need the confidence and knowledge push? I have come up with my top five tips for beginning sellers. Also please remember that my TPT knowledge base is in the elementary realm. I also need to state my imposter syndrome thoughts of “I am not an expert at TPT,” but that also depends on what you define expert as. To almost anyone I know personally in education, I am. But if you’re wanting to go full-time with TPT quickly, I’m probably not the knowledge base for you.

1. Go premium immediately. Yes, it is free to start selling on TPT, but you will make so much more money if you get the premium seller’s account right off the bat.

Here’s the difference between the two types of selling accounts in a nutshell:
-Basic (free): 55% earnings from each sale + 30 cents per resource sold is given to TPT
-Premium ($59.95 annually): 80% earnings from each sale + 15 cents per resource sold with the buyer’s cart under $3 is given to TPT

In other words, if you plan to make at least $60 per year, upgrading is worth it and can’t hurt. I did zero marketing in my first month (I think) besides my small Instagram following at the time and still made $44. A little more effort and I would have had it covered in one month.

2. Be original. My top seller is a 100% original idea that is not sold anywhere else on TPT and costs just over $1, but it has brought in thousands upon thousands for me.

When you have an idea for a product, do a quick search to ensure it is an original idea and not something you saw quickly once that has been secretly sitting in your brain. If your product is too similar to another or uses trademarked words or content, you can be slapped with a copyright notice (which simply means take it down because you don’t have the rights to sell that idea.)

My lowest sellers include products with oversaturated markets such as basic worksheet centers and basic labels. A good product should be one that you created because you as a teacher once thought “I wish ______ existed.”

3. Invest in fonts and clip art. Look at some of your favorite sellers’ products. What makes it look better than something you whipped up during your prep? Ding ding ding–fonts, maybe some clip art, and just an eye for placement and design. I always tell people that running TPT through the school year is manageable because it’s usually things I’m already making for my own students, but I take some extra time to make it “look nicer.”

Most quality fonts and clip art are going to cost you money. However, they pay for themselves quickly. My personal favorite font sellers are A Perfect Blend, Mollie Jo Fonts, and Amy Groesbeck Fonts. Also don’t forget to save those receipts to write them off on your taxes in the future.

Additional design tip: Have a go-to title font and a go-to body font. It will give you a “style” and also looks pleasing to the eye. Bold fonts pair well with skinny fonts, bold uppercase with a thin script… you get the point. Do not use more than 2-3 fonts per product. That’s where things start to look jumbled and unprofessional.

4. Keep it legal and create a credits and terms of use page for every product. When I was starting out, this single page is what gave me so much anxiety. Would I give appropriate credit? What if I did it wrong? Never fear, it’s actually quite clear.

Make sure to check the terms of use, or TOU, page for any element you get somewhere else (fonts, images, clip art, etc.) Most allow commercial use as long as they are fixed/embedded (not movable–that usually requires a separate license) with a linked logo on your credits/TOU page. However, make sure to read their TOU page to make sure this is true for that particular creator.

Pro tip: Create a credits/TOU template and switch out the credits part for each product. This makes your TOU process a lot quicker and easily takes me under five minutes per product. Don’t forget that you want your own TOU language as well. Here is mine that you are welcome to use or alter: This download is permitted for a single user only. Please purchase additional licenses if it will be used by multiple teachers. Copying, recreating, or modifying this product for the intended purpose of redistributing or selling is forbidden. ©Learning with Miss LaGrow, 2021All Rights Reserved.

It is illegal for teachers to share a resource they purchased with others unless other licenses are purchased, so that is an important bit to mention as it is widely abused and/or unknown.

5. Last but definitely not least, marketing is a must-do if you want to go from a couple cups of coffee to paying off some bills. No one can find your product if you do not do at least the minimum with marketing.

I definitely don’t want to overlook the most important website for marketing–TPT itself. The majority of traffic for my resources comes directly from TPT itself. When posting your TPT product, there are three essential pieces to focus on from a TPT product page perspective–language, cover photo, and preview. Make sure your title and first couple sentences of your description (they will pop up in searches) include any word someone could possibly search to find your product. Let’s take one of my top sellers–my station rotation slides. I made sure to include the words editable, station, center, rotation, slides, math, ELA, Powerpoint, and Google in my title and/or beginning of description. You want your title to be direct and to the point, but also get into the mind of a buyer. Think to yourself–“what would I search if I wanted a product like this?”

Cover photos and preview also go a long way on TPT. Once again, get into the mind of you as a buyer–would you buy something that you couldn’t accurately see what it looked like? Would you even stop scrolling if the cover photo didn’t catch your eye? Your cover photo should include a title and a basic image of your product. Cover photos should never be too “busy” or crowded–save that for the description or preview. Your preview should allow your potential buyers to see what exactly they are getting if and when they purchase. Previews can be elaborate videos or carefully crafted overview PDFs. However, I usually take a simpler route unless it is a very large product or bundle (I do this on the side, remember? Ain’t no teacher got time for that.) I take 1-2 pages of each type of element, place text/a watermark over it, and place it into a single PDF. For example, my fact families slides includes one slide of each type of problem and I slap a watermark over it (so people cannot directly save or copy/paste it without purchasing.) It’s quick and simple to make, yet it gives my buyers an accurate look at what they would be receiving if they were to buy.

Want to elevate your store? Step one is to create a business/TPT Pinterest account. Think about it–as a teacher, where do you go when you need an engaging teaching idea? Pinterest. Outside of TPT itself, Pinterest is my biggest driver of traffic to my page. Just like TPT products themselves, make sure your pins have accurate photos and descriptions that catch the eye. I could write a whole post on just Pinterest alone, but there are plenty of other blogs by better experts on that topic.

Want to make your store even bigger? Create a blog. My blog generates a lot of traffic to my page even though it’s truly not a huge focus of mine. Make sure you link your products where appropriate throughout your blog, and make your posts something people would generally want to read and get ideas from. Want to elevate your blog even more? Create an e-mail list. I’ve done that, but I’m not super active with e-mailing (this isn’t my full time job, remember. Self care tends to take priority.) If you do go that route, make sure to have an exclusive freebie that people can only receive if they subscribe. That’s the kicker.

(TL;DR: TPT is free to start, but your level of success is up to you.)

I’m a seventh year teacher with a Masters degree and I am about to be debt free by the end of 2021 (my original plan was by 2035.) This absolutely would not have been possible without jumping into TPT. I also post about TPT frequently and love chatting with followers over on my Instagram (@learningwithmisslagrow.) I am always happy to chat. Let’s connect. Best of luck with your TPT journey!

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Elevating Instruction with Lumio by SMART

I think a lot of you out there can feel me when I say this past year was the year of frantically searching for (hopefully free) digital resources for both synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Naturally I discovered my absolute favorite free resource in May.

Allow me to hook you real quick: I discovered a free platform that can integrate multiple file types into one lesson, has interactive games and activities you can integrate directly into a teacher or student paced lesson, and gather valuable data through custom assessments.

When I first heard of SMART having their own digital learning tools, I just assumed it partnered with SMART boards which is 100% not true. Lumio can be used with PCs, Chromebooks, iPads, and so on.

As teachers, we are both constantly seeking out resources and trying to figure out which ones will best fit our needs. Because of this, I’ve come up with my top five reasons why I love Lumio (besides the fact that it’s free because hello.)

Top Five Reasons to Check Out Lumio:

1. It takes the place of several apps/websites I was already using and mashes them together. Within a single lesson, my students can participate in a collaborative conversation, use manipulatives to solve a problem independently, take an assessment, play an engaging game, listen to audio, watch a video, and more.

2. Students can collaborate with one another. Tools such as the Shout It Out activity allow students to brainstorm as a group. Students can also play games against one another as a mid-lesson energizer (and assessment, shh.) My students LOVE Monster Quiz!

3. Many tools allow for hands-on manipulation and exploration. The “infinite cloner” tool, for example, is a game changer for students when practicing basic math processes such as addition or multiplication. Students have the autonomy to drag out any image of my choosing to help them manipulate and visualize a variety of situations. It also comes preloaded with so many graphic organizers as well! Students can also draw and write directly onto the slides that you choose.

4. Real-time assessment data is accessible to the teacher in a variety of forms. As the teacher, I can watch student progress with sorting activities, games, slides with manipulatives, and more. With the Response function, I can also easily insert questions throughout my lesson to gather data on any subject with simple student responses to multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, or short answer questions.

5. Lessons are completely customizable. I love that I am able to start from scratch, or search the community for free lessons to edit as you wish! I created an Introduction to Multiplication lesson you can see as an example. The fact that you can use any lesson that is already created but enter your own random assessments or brainstorms throughout is a game changer.

Lumio is absolutely a new free addition to my teacher toolkit that I will utilize in lessons often. Do you have any questions about Lumio? How would you use this tool in your classroom?

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Implementing Self-Care and Boundaries as a Teacher

Overworking ourselves has become normalized, but it is not needed.

As a first year teacher, I heard the whispers about teachers who walked in and walked out at contract time.  I saw teachers stroll out the doors with tote bags full of ungraded papers.

Today, I see teachers framed as martyrs on television as they Zoom their class from hospital beds.  I see Tiktoks of “cute teaching ideas” that require plenty of extra time and money.

I was that teacher for several years.  Thank goodness I said goodbye to her.

Teaching is a social job.  I am an introvert through and through (also being an introvert does not correlate with not being outgoing.)  I recharge by being alone doing something I enjoy or that calms me.  Day after day, I give my energy to little humans who need and deserve it.  During the first few years of my career, however, I realized I had little energy to give them.  I wasn’t recharging daily.

I would stay later after school to plan and grade.  On the overwhelming days where “I needed a break,” I’d pack up my papers and teacher manuals and save more work for 7 PM on my couch.  Sundays were devoted to all-day planning and grading days.  It somehow never ended.  (Maybe sound familiar?)

There wasn’t a defined turning point, but there was a period of time where I realized that if I didn’t take care of myself, I couldn’t fully take care of my students.  The change in my routine didn’t change overnight, but it built up overtime.  

Here are my top five ways I take care of myself and give my all for my students:

1. Never work at home unless you want to.

This can be a big change for some people, and I know it was for me.  I’m a big believer in separating spaces based on purpose.  My bedroom is for sleeping, my living room is for relaxing, my office is for productivity, so that definitely means my classroom should be for working.

I also deal with anxiety, and sometimes that anxiety won’t settle down until tasks just feel finished.  I choose one day per work week (it’s usually Thursdays for me) and allow myself to stay later than usual to finish preparing for the next week.  That can be when my copies are made and my lesson plans are finalized.  Some weeks I don’t need the extra day.

I realized that when I leave work at work, I’m more energized and motivated during school hours.  I crank out lesson plans, grading, and so forth during my prep time.  Before, prep time usually meant simply breathing and recharging.  And there are times where I take some prep time to listen to a teammate vent or just listen to a couple favorite songs, but it’s about changing the routine overall.  And there are those bursts of energy where I feel inspired to work on a lesson at home.  I listen to my body and allow myself to work on that lesson at home because it is fulfilling my wants in that moment.

2. Set boundaries with your team.

My two grade level teammates know that if I’m not at school, I usually will not be doing work.  If they text with a problem, of course I will help them, but they don’t expect me to talk lesson planning or grading outside of school hours.  They also know that 90% of the time, I am not staying past 4 PM (contract time.)  And if it’s after 9 PM, I’m not responding to them or anyone else.-

Everyone has different working styles, but it’s crucial to set boundaries with those you work closest with.  Being transparent not only promotes a healthy working relationship, but it also helps with time management for the team as a whole.

3. Turn off school notifications on your phone.

Some people say to delete school e-mail all together, but I am just fine with switching those notifications to off.  I also set “quiet hours” on my ClassDojo account so parents are told I am not expected to respond outside of contract hours.  If you also set “office hours” up front with your parents in your beginning of the year materials, it sets this boundary from the start (mine are 8 AM until 4 PM–contract time for me.)

If I get a notification, I have to check it.  And when I check my school e-mail at home, I sometimes run into sticky or anxiety-provoking situations that could have waited until the morning.

4. Sunday evenings are set aside for self-care and relaxation.

We’ve all heard of them–the Sunday Scaries.  If you are familiar with the feeling, you’re probably a lot like me in the sense to where I love my job, but a change in routine makes me anxious.  Starting up such a high-energy job for the week can feel draining before it even starts.  This fact is why I set aside all of my time after I eat dinner on Sundays for relaxation, hobbies, or whatever my body tells me it needs or wants.

It’s also important to remind yourself what “fills your cup” besides education-related activities.  I encourage you to take two minutes and make a list of what fulfills you in different ways.  Are you making time for all of them?  Here’s mine:

  • What relaxes/calms me: reading fiction books, rewatching an episode of a favorite television show, taking a hot bath
  • What fills me with joy/fulfills interests: researching Ancestry, volunteering with my favorite non-profit, cooking and baking
  • What ups my mood when down or stressed: working out, taking a walk outside, doing a quick guided meditation, making a list of five things I’m grateful for in that moment

5. Take time to prepare yourself for the next morning.

My outfit is laid out the day before.  And if it’s a Monday, you better believe it’s a good one.  My go-to trick is picking something I want to wear and head on over to Pinterest to search “___________ work outfit.”  Boom.  Fashionable outfit for the next day that makes me feel like a powerful teacher queen.

My lunches and dinners are prepped for the week.  Each Sunday, I choose something I want for lunch for the week and prep everything I need to have it for the week.  That way in the morning it’s grab and go and I get excited for lunch since it’s something I put thought into.  I realize the weekly dinner prep is a privilege I have from living alone, but it’s been a game changer for me.  I make a delicious, healthy dinner every Sunday and the leftovers typically last me through Wednesday or Thursday.

In the teaching world, it’s hard to set boundaries because our work never seems done.  I had a college professor recently say “Sometimes good enough is good enough.”  If going above and beyond fulfills you, do it.  If you simply need to go home and relax, do it.  I go into every school day with so much more energy and motivation than I did even two years ago.  Taking care of myself when I can allows me to take care of my students when I need to.

When you signed your contract, you did not sign away your nights and weekends.  You did not sign away your sanity.  You did not sign away your interests and life outside of school.

We are teachers, but we are also so much more than just teachers.

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Building Relationships in the Virtual Classroom

When most people think of virtual learning, it’s not uncommon for images of boredom to come to mind. As educators during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re being thrust into the world of e-learning headfirst.  It’s a daunting world that may seem so different than in-person instruction for a lot of us, but I promise quality connections can be formed even while in separate spaces.

2Connections are not confined to a classroom.  As soon as you get your class list (as long as policy permits, reach out.)  I love sending my students these postcards to show them how excited I am to get to know them as individuals.  It sets the tone for the year and your intentions as their teacher before they even meet you in person.

When the year does start up, it’s still crucial to Digital All About Me Student Flipbook Slideshowget to know everything you can about each student.  I’ll be using digital all about me and family surveys this year.  Surveys are a quick and easy way to get to know a child through their own eyes and a family member’s eyes.  What makes them upset?  What holidays excite them?  What goals do they have for themselves and how do they compare to the goals their parents have for them?  Learning about a student as a human and not just a student is everything.  Although learning may be out of the classroom for some, interests and differentiation are still essential to incorporate into lessons.  This Digital Student Flipbook is also a great way for both you and your students to get to know one another!

3Reading, math, science, and other subjects are all mandatory to teach, but community building is still a must.  One of my own must-dos as a teacher is a morning meeting each day.  Class meetings are a great way for students to start the day off on the right foot and connect with their classmates.  You can read more about my morning meeting process here, but I assure you that this is still something you can do virtually.

It’s important to keep the sharing aspect of class meetings even if you don’t follow the responsive classroom model. Sharing, both to you and to their peers, gives students the opportunity to process their emotions and feel valued.  A Morning Check-In Google Form is a great way to help students name their emotions and determine why they feel that way.  You can also use this data to follow-up with students as needed based on their moods and thoughts.  Sharing with peers also helps them feel included and accepted.  Here are the questions I like to use!  I choose one daily.  They’re fun, but also teach students about one another.

One of the most important pieces of the morning meeting is the activity.  The activity is not only “the fun part” to the kids, but it’s an important puzzle piece to building community within your class.  During activities, students are able to form authentic connections and use important skills such as communication, emotional regulation, and decision making.  A lot of our students’ favorite activities include a lot of movement and visual cues, but that doesn’t mean some can’t be adapted for the online world!  Below are a few of my favorites I’ll be pulling out if my district goes virtual:

  • Would You Rather?: These slides are a hit in my cl1assroom!  In person, students move to a certain side of the classroom as shown by the arrows, but alternative movements can be given to students to show their choice–such as hands on their heads and hands on their mouths.  Students can also use a chat feature to follow-up and discuss their choices.
  • Scavenger Hunts: Turn the traditional idea of a scavenger hunt and make it virtual!  Avoid items that could lead towards feelings of inferiority (i.e. cell phones, fresh food, video games, etc.)  You could even make it educational by including to look for items with certain letter sounds (i.e. Find something that starts with the “sh” sound) or use higher order thinking skills to think of uses for the item (i.e. Find an item that could be needed while camping.)
  • Appearance Swap: Choose a student randomly and have them go off camera and change one thing about their appearance (different hairstyle, put on a jacket, add earrings, etc.)  When they come back on, students have to guess what they changed!
  • Farmer Game: A classic favorite of my class can be played virtually after your students know each other decently well.  Choose a student to guess and have them turn away from the screen.  Then, choose another student to be the farmer.  The farmer has to say “quack,” “moo,” or “cock-a-doodle-doo!” in any voice they want. The first student has three guesses as to who the farmer is.

IMG_5560Allow me to reemphasize that distance learning does not equal boring.  While it may seem tougher to excite students over the internet, find ways to engage them!  Carry out a virtual escape room.  Still incorporate dancing brain breaks.  Allow short group projects and have students still form those connections and learn how to work together as a team. As an educator early in the year, I constantly refer to my students’ All About Me forms to incorporate their interests into my lessons.

Virtual learning looks different for all of us this fall.  Some of us may be teaching half of our class one day with the other half doing independent learning activities online.  Do not let any of your students go a day of school without a “hello!” from their teacher.  Even if you find a quick way to pop in and show you’re thinking of them, it means more to them and their families than you realize.

This fall will throw us a lot of curveballs.  Devices may malfunction.  Servers may crash.  The first day may be all about teaching how to use Zoom.  However, the one thing you can guarantee is that effort to build connections.



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HOW TO: Make Any PDF an Editable Google Classroom Assessment

Distance learning throws us a million curveballs a day, but having to find new resources shouldn’t be one of them.

Did you know you can use WORKSHEETS you already have?  Making a PDF into an editable Google file is extremely easy.

Step 1: Go to a free PDF converter.  I like using this one (it’s free.)  You will upload your PDF file and download a ZIP file of all PNG (picture) files.

Step 2: Extract the files into a location you can find onto your computer.  (Right click > Extract)  Extracting puts the individual files into a folder for you that you can access.

Step 3: Open up your Google Drive and create a new Google Slides file.

Step 4: Go to File > Page Setup.  Click on Custom.  If the worksheets are vertical, your dimensions will be 8.5 x 11.  If the worksheets are horizontal, the dimensions will be 11 x 8.5.


Step 5: Go to Insert > Image > Upload from Computer.  Find the PNG file for the page of your former PDF that you want students to complete.

**UPDATE: If you right click on the slide then change the background, this will prevent the students from moving the image.


Step 6: If your students are proficient with Google Slides, you can be done.  For my elementary students, I like to add text boxes anywhere where they need to type. To insert a text box, go to Insert > Text Box.  Now, draw it where students will need to type.  You can adjust text size and font.


Step 7: Now you’re good to go!  You can now insert it into a Google Classroom assignment.  Don’t forget to select “Make a Copy for Each Student” once you’ve uploaded it to an assignment.  Students can now do a worksheet digitally.

Hope this was helpful!  The product I used in this example is my Titanic Measurement Pack.  I also think this concept would work great for spiral daily work, like my Daily Geography pack.

If you want more interactive resources, I do have a number of interactive ready-to-go Google Classroom resources such as my Digital Task Cards for Math, Gratitude Journal, and Digital Graphic Organizers.


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My Complete Smilelove Journey

I wrote about the beginning Smilelove process here and my first impressions through Week 1.  If you want details on the impression process, check out that blog.

But Y’ALL, I am completely done with my invisible aligner process, and I think the before and after photos speak for themselves.  I’m here to detail my honest complete process with SmileLove.  I purchased the fast track bundle, which means I paid up front and got the lowest price.  You can also make monthly payments as low as $79 per month, and some insurance plans are accepted.  It also means that I was able to get a full refund if they decided aligners would not work for me.  The full fast track price is $1,895… without my coupon.

You can get $100 off by entering the code MSLAGROW at check out making your final cost $1,795 (which is by far the lowest I’ve seen for any company.)  This code also saves you $100 on top of any sale.  You can also click here to order with the discount.



      BEFORE ———> AFTER

Anywho, here’s how my Smilelove journey went:

I was put on a 40 week plan–20 sets to be changed every two week.  (The number of sets you need varies for everyone.)  I received these up front along with a retainer I would wear afterwards nightly.  Every two weeks, I changed my aligners right before bedtime.  They also say if you have pain to take Ibuprofen, but the most I ever felt was a little “tightness” for a few minutes.  The process was honestly a dream.  After a few days, I got used to having them in my mouth and my “lisp” went away as well.

I noticed a big difference in my teeth starting after FOUR WEEKS.  There was a large gap that would appear when I smiled that was no longer there.  I cried of happiness when I noticed it.

Keeping up with my aligners became second nature.    I took them out before eating without even realizing I was doing it.  When I would brush my teeth, I had a separate toothbrush I would use to brush out my aligners with just water (chemicals in toothpaste aren’t good for the aligners, so just use water.)

As the process went on, I got more comments from my close friends and family members that knew I was going through the invisible aligner process.  “Wow, your teeth DO look a lot straighter!”  Before I knew it, coworkers who may not have known and even some of my Instagram followers would make comments such as, “I don’t know what it is, but you look so great!”

I went from “soft smiles” in some photos to genuine smiles.  I realized towards the end of the process that I… loved smiling.  The confidence I always knew that was within me finally showed through.

If there was ever a question during the process, the customer service team was incredible.  As I wrote in my first impressions blog, they were literally always a text or e-mail away and got back to me incredibly quickly.  If they didn’t know the answer, they quickly forwarded my question to someone who could assist me.


TL;DR: I wholeheartedly recommend Smilelove.  I initially chose them because they were the cheapest option that still had some solid reviews, but I have tears in my eyes as I type that their care and process has completely changed my life.  I am not being paid to say those words or even write this blog–this is the honest truth.  I’ve had many people asking after my first blog to give an update, and I’m happy to update the world that my teeth are STRAIGHT (and whiter than ever thanks to the routine they encouraged!)

As you can see in the after photos, there is one tooth that is still behind the rest.  My mouth is simply too small to have it move forward, but they did the best they could and moved it a bit to “blend in.”  I could have perfectly straight teeth if I went to my dentist and had a procedure done, but I am perfectly happy with my unique, new smile.

Once again, you can use the code MSLAGROW to get $100 off of a full kit through Smilelove.  If you’re at all wondering if it’s right for you, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.



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