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Turkey Cut-Outs


Have you caught the holiday baking bug yet? I always start itching to bake for the holidays once Halloween is over. Today I'm sharing my cut-out cookie and cookie icing recipe, along with a cookie cutter hack! Do these turkeys look familiar? It's because they are made out of my shamrock cookie cutter! 

Cut-Out Cookies

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of softened butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups unsifted flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • *optional: I love almond extract and always use it in my cookies. If you want to use it, add 1 teaspoon in addition to the vanilla extract.
  1. Beat butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until fluffy.
  2. Add dry ingredients and milk. Stir until smooth. Divide dough in half. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the chilled dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees on greased or parchment lined sheets for 10-12 minutes. My favorite liner is this Silpat liner. They should be firm in center and edges just golden. 

Cookie Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 lb. bag of confectioner sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons of vanilla (I also add 1 tsp. of almond extract if I use it in the cookies)
  • 1-3 tablespoons of heavy cream (add more to get your desired consistency of frosting)

Beat butter 4-5 minutes with whisk attachment. Add sugar and beat 5-6 minutes. Add lemon, extracts and cream until you reach your desired thickness. 


Productive Paraprofessionals


In my region of the country we call our paraprofessionals teacher aides, but I am aware that through most of the country these God sent people are referred to as paras. Whatever you call them, we can all agree that they are instrumental in a special education classroom.
For the purpose of this post, I will be using both terms synonymously. 

I wouldn't survive without my aides, and I am always alarmed when I hear teachers complain about their aides. Don't get me wrong, it can be very challenging to manage adults when you are managing students with disabilities all day. But I truly believe that paraprofessionals and aides can make or break your classroom. Here are some tips for creating an environment that empowers and engages your aides for the good of the kids.

1. Decide what you want from them and set expectations right away. I often hear teachers say that their paras do not do their job or interfere with the students instead of support them. One thing to remember is that in most schools, paras are assigned on an annual basis, often moving through different grade levels and different programs from year to year. An inclusion aide has a much different job description than a functional self-contained aide. Set expectations and share that with your aide at the beginning of the year. Type up a list of their daily responsibilities and expectations. They don't know what they don't know.

2. Remember, they didn't go to college for special education. Everything they know about working with students they learned by working with students. They don't get extensive formal training like teachers so you cannot expect them to do things the way you do unless you teach them and set an example. Share ideas, offer advice and lead by example.

3. Be a team. Include your aide in decisions that you feel they can be included in, like where to hang things or how to organize something. Ask for their input or advice about a child if you feel they have insight from specials, bus duty, etc.. They will feel like a valued part of the team and will be more willing to be reflective if they feel that their input matters to you.

4. Give them space. Even if you don't have room for your paras to have their own desk or closet, make sure they at least have a drawer or a space in the room for their belongings. Nobody wants to go through a school year storing their purse and lunch on a heater. Saying things like "our classroom" and "our students" can go a long way!

5. Some things are above their pay grade. I had a friend who worked as an aide and the teacher she worked with expected her to write the IEP! Don't have unrealistic expectations for your aides- they certainly don't get paid to grade your papers at home at night or plan your reading groups on their lunch break.

6. Be respectful. Never, ever, ever correct or reprimand a para in front of your students. You are shooting yourself in the foot! If YOU don't have respect for your paras, do you think your students will? Always correct them or discuss matters in private, with no students or other aides present.

7. Require Confidentiality. Many aides may live in the community or even have children at your school. It is pertinent that you explain to them how important confidentiality is. The last thing you want is for your aide to get cornered by a parent at the grocery store looking for information. Give them an out and tell them to defer all parent questions and concerns to you. If you make it a classroom policy, it will eliminate any blurred lines. I also address this with parents at Open House/Meet the Teacher Night.

7. Paras get burned out too. We know teachers can get burned out but paras can too! Sometimes even more than teachers. Watch for this throughout the school year and if you sense that a para and a child are starting to really get under each other's skin, mix things up so they can have a break. Never let a para get so burned out from a child that it interferes with their ability to help the child.

8. Be honest. If you feel that an aide has room for improvement, tell them. This is something I have struggled with as a young teacher, because most of the paras I work with are much older than me. It is uncomfortable to tell them that they need to improve on something, but it is also my job. It is a disservice to your students if you do not have high expectations for all of the adults in your room. When it comes time for evaluations, be honest and straightforward. 

9. Have a regular meeting. My key to success with paras is having a weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting. Each year your paras will have a different chemistry with the kids and the other paras/adults in your room. Some years you might find it necessary to only have a quarterly meeting and other years it might be necessary to have a weekly meeting. It all depends on the kiddos in your room and the paras that are assigned to you.

10. Praise them. I know, this seems so simple but it doesn't happen as often as it should. Find reasons to praise them and let them know you appreciate them. Surprise them with a coffee or send a nice text saying that they are making a difference in the lives of your students. You know how good that feels as the teacher, the same goes for paras!

Here is an example of an agenda for my monthly aide meeting. This is a very informal write up of the key points I would discuss in a monthly meeting.



Mediterranean Farro Bowls


This is the third Sunday in a row that my sister and I have done healthy meal prep together. It makes such a difference to have healthy lunches packed. When I pack a healthy and filling lunch, I don't find myself eating a bag of Goldfish or a handful of Tootsie Rolls from my desk after my students leave. It also makes my mornings a zillion times smoother when I don't have to pack a lunch. Since my sister is in college, she doesn't have the luxury of a microwave with her all day, so we have been trying to make high protein cold salads. This week we put together two variations of this salad using the same greek vinaigrette. Greek souvlaki salads are one of my favorites, and this salad reminds me of just that!

Ingredients

Makes 5 lunch servings
  • 1 1/2 cups dry farro (for best flavor- cook in vegetable or chicken broth)
    • variation: use 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 medium sized red onion- diced
  • 1 cup of diced cucumber
  • 1/2 cup of sliced kalamata
    • variation: black olives (or both!)
  • 1 red pepper, diced
    • variation: 1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese (I used a block and chopped it up. You can also get feta that is already crumbled.)

Greek Vinaigrette:

Makes 2 cups
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard

Directions:

  1. Cook farro or quinoa with water or broth. I cook both like pasta and I check it every few minutes until it is the texture I like (not too soft, especially in salads like this). 
  2. When your grain is done cooking, rinse it with cold water and allow it to drip dry through a colander for 5-10 minutes. You can spread it out on a cookie sheet and allow it to dry for an hour if you really want it to be fluffy, but I never do that. 
  3. Combine all ingredients and mix.
  4. You can dress the salad ahead of time or dress it before serving. 








Halloween Teacher Gifts


It's no secret that everyone loves a token of appreciation of time to time. It's also no secret that I love an excuse to go to Target and that I love giving and making gifts for people. My son has four teachers so I am always looking for inexpensive but thoughtful ways to give them some love around the holidays. Here's a quick and inexpensive way to show your child's teacher that you empathize with the struggle of Halloween falling on a Monday this year. Lord help us all.

What's inside:

  • Starbucks Frappuccino bottle (4 pack for $4.99)
  • Pack of gum (4 pack for $1.99)
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Luna Bars (Box of 6 for $3.99)
  • Emergen-C packs (one box for $3.99..plus plenty left over for my family!)
  • An apple
  • Lots and lots of chocolate
  • Cute pumpkin buckets are from Target ($1/each)
That's about $5 per teacher! 

Good luck to all the teachers and parents out there this week- stay strong and Happy Halloween! 





7 Behavior Management Hacks to Implement TODAY


It's no secret that this year I moved to 4th grade and I am loving every minute of the upper elementary world. I was recently talking to a substitute who was asking for advice with behavior management when she's subbing in primary buildings. She brought up how hard it was to come in and out of classrooms and not know exactly what the behavior systems entail. It brought back sweet memories of my kindergarten and first grade days and it made miss the madness that goes on in a primary school (shoutout to my former teammates #thestruggleisreal).
I decided to compile a list of my favorite NO-PREP, go-to tricks for managing behavior! These aren't just for substitutes, they are for all the teachers out there who are desperate for some law and order!


This snack hack was shown to me by one of my best friends when I first started teaching. I like to let my students talk during snack time because it's a good time for them to get their chit chat out and socialize with their friends. But sometimes they get too noisy, or sometimes we all need 15 minutes of quiet time. The rules are quite simple. One student is "it" and has to walk around the room and tap someone else who is quiet. Then that student gets up and does the same thing. The game round ends when I decide to (I tell the kids they never know when it is going to end, but when it does, the whole class has to be quiet in order to win the round...this encourages the kids who have already been "it" to not start talking just because they were already "it") I write a tally mark on the board for each round they win. Each tally mark is a bonus minute of free time at the end of the day. You can choose what you want the winning to be (maybe if you have a class jar of something that you fill up when the kids are good, etc.) This gem of a game is so simple, and you can multitask in the quiet time while the kids eat their snack! It also encourages teamwork because the kids are all in on it together.


At the end of the day when the kids all have their backpacks and coats on, I always play the KidTV123 Channel on YouTube. My students LOVE the songs, they are educational, and they are only 2-3 minutes each. It keeps the kids settled down and quiet and they look forward to it so they get packed up fast and go right to their seats quietly. We all know how slow-pokey and wild they can be at dismissal!


Sight Word Survivor is a great game to help the students practice, and can be differentiated for each of your reading groups. It's also good for filling 5-10 minutes of time or perking up your students when they are fading. Here's how it goes: Let's say you have 5 kids in a group. You start with one kid (they don't know who you will start with so they always have to be ready.) You say "the word is LIKE". Point the the student you start with, and he or she has to say the first letter, then the student next to him or her has to say the next letter, and so on. When the word has been spelled, the student next to the last letter has to repeat the word. If a student says the wrong letter, then they are out. The game goes on until there is one Sight Word Survivor left! It's such a great game to practice the words and even the kids that get out toward the beginning are listening to the words being spelled and repeated. The game typically goes pretty fast. You can differentiate this game for your leveled groups, or if you teach older grades you can do this with spelling words to practice. Some of my students have said they make their parents play Sight Word Survivor in the car! Too cute.


Rock, much like The Quiet Game, is a great way to keep the kids quiet during an odd time. Have the girls sit on one side of the hallway and the boys sit on the other. The kids have to sit like "rocks" (criss cross, silent and perfectly still). I always say "Rock...starts...NOW." When the game is over, you announce who the rock was (or rocks, if you chose multiple rocks) and I always give a Dojo point to the winning rocks. So simple, yet so effective for keeping them quiet in the hall. I've used it when we are waiting at assemblies, waiting to go into a special and when I have to have my class stand in the hall while I run in the main office for something. If they are standing then I call the game Statue.


Ahhh yes. My favorite trick ever. Mystery Walker is the GREATEST way to encourage quiet, orderly walkers in the hallway. When we line up, I say "I'm choosing a Mystery Walker in 3....2....1....GOT HIM/GOT HER." Then we walk. The kids don't know who the Mystery Walker is or what the Mystery Walker Surprise will be if they are picked. When we arrive at our destination I either say "The Mystery Walker was ______ and he/she will get to sit in the Teacher Chair (or whatever reward you choose)" OR if the Mystery Walker doesn't get it, I say "Unfortunately my Mystery Walker did not earn it...I will choose that walker again next time." I often use this game when I want to help a student turn around their day. If they had a tough morning and we are on our way to lunch, I will try to choose them and then praise the heck out of them when we arrive. Sometimes being the Mystery Walker is just the motivation a kiddo needs to get back on track!


When my students are having an exceptionally chatty day/week/month, I will put a word of the day on the dry erase board. Sometimes it's just PLAY, other times it is related to our theme (i.e. ELF, TURKEY, PUMPKIN). When the whole class is being too loud or not trying their best, I erase one letter. I erase one letter if they get a bad report from a special area teacher. If the whole word is erased, they lose whatever it was that they were working for (playtime, a Christmas game, a pumpkin activity, etc.)


This is the reverse of Erasing Letters and instead of negative reinforcement, this is positive reinforcement. When the whole class is on track, I put one letter on the dry erase board. I tell the kids how many letters the word will have. As they earn letters, they enjoy guessing what the Mystery Word will be. Some ideas would be POPCORN, STICKERS, PLAYGROUND, etc. I've done this as a word of the week, word of the month, word of the day. It all depends on your class and how much reinforcement they require.

What are your little gems that you couldn't get through the day without? I'd love to hear.
You can read more about my behavior management system by clicking here!

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