Hello 2016

Commitments for the new year and a sale!

Hello2016

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a serial New Year’s failure. Every year, I get really excited about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and the potential and renewal it represents. I make all these lofty, ambitious resolutions and I am 100% serious that THIS YEAR they will work. I am gung-ho about my new resolutions for about a week, then I am lukewarm about them for a week. By the third week of January, those once precious resolutions are cast off like the chunks of frozen road slush you kick off the bottom of your car. (For my friends in warmer climates, I really recommend driving in Minnesota in the winter. It’s quite cathartic to kick those suckers off in the parking lot after a rough day.)

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So, this year, I resolve NOT to make far-reaching resolutions. I’ve finally been alive long enough to know that that won’t work for me. This year, my resolutions are going to be a reaffirmation of goals I’m already working on. I know they’re going to continue to be a part of my life after the shiny newness of 2016 has worn off.

Personal Commitment: Not to use my phone while I am with my children.

I realized this summer that I was missing precious moments with my children by looking down at my phone when I should have been playing with them. I made a commitment not to use the phone while I was in their presence. I noticed an immediate improvement in their behavior and my mood. I’ve been slacking a little on this lately and I want to re-dedicate myself to this commitment. Plus, I want my children to know that they are more important to me than my phone.

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These little stinkers = way more important than a silly phone.

Health Commitment: To drink water throughout the day.

Except there are like -ZERO- chances to use the bathroom! That’s my struggle. I like water and I like how I feel when I’m hydrated. But we teachers have very few opportunities to use the bathroom. One year, I told my students to remind me to drink. It worked! Every 20-30 minutes they would blurt out “Drink your water!” I got my hydration and they loved bossing me around. And it helped them see another side of me as a person, not just me the teacher.

Classroom Commitment: To organize my curriculum.

I write brand-new lesson plans every year. Every. Single. Year. It’s exhausting and I’m ready to have some consistency in my lessons. Having an organized, age-appropriate curriculum will give my teaching focus and direction. I’ve started by creating a spreadsheet of curricular goals for each grade level. Kind of like a scope and sequence but a little more detailed. I hope to have that finished by June so I can spend the summer organizing my conceptual and skill goals into sequential units. I would like my 5th graders to know what they’ve learned and why they’ve learned it when they leave me!

Blog/TpT Commitment: To publish some of those products from my long list of ideas!

I have SO many ideas. But getting them out of my head and into reality is where I get stuck. Mostly it’s because I have two kids and a full time job and I just don’t have a lot of time to sit at the computer and create products. My M.O. has always been to publish products that I already use in my classroom. It’s a win-win because my users know I am providing effective, valuable classroom-tested products and I spend my time creating something I’ll actually use. If there is something you’d love to see, email me! I’m definitely interested to know what people want. Custom requests don’t cost you a penny!

Thanks for reading. If you are wondering what you’re going to teach when school goes back in session on Monday, enjoy 20% off my TpT store today and tomorrow. No special codes needed! #TpTMusicNewYearsBash

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Happy 2016!

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One-day sale!

Music sellers on TpT are having a one-day, $3 sale.

Search TpT for “ThankfulForMusic” (no spaces) during the day TODAY, Wednesday, November 18. Shop all the great $3 deals!

Click here to see my “Music Games” discounted file.

Click here to see all the sale items.

Which product did you buy? Leave a comment below!

Seasonal Songs, Games, and Clip Art

It’s time to think about holiday lessons!

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Though it may feel like school only began, it is the time of year when teachers think about holiday songs and activities. October has Halloween, November has Thanksgiving, December and January have all the religious and cultural holidays such as Christmas, Eid, and Hmong New Year, February is Valentine’s Day, then there’s St. Patrick’s Day, spring, Easter, May Day, Flag Day, and summer! Heck, you could do themed lessons all year and not run out of material!

Here are some of my offerings to add a little “seasoning” to your teaching “entree”!

TurkeyFree Turkey Clip Art

There is one full image of a turkey, as well as a blank turkey body and some loose feathers. You also get a black line version of the designs. It’s great for creating your own games, visuals, or worksheets.

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I Have a Little Snowman: Interactive Song Game

I’ve been waiting for years to unveil this activity on TpT and it is finally here. I created this around 2007 as a way to introduce the song “The Snowman” to my Kindergarteners. At that time, I had a projector on a cart, a borrowed laptop, and a plain dry erase board. But the kids still loved it! The addition of a SMART Board has made this activity much smoother and it remains an annual hit with my younger elementary students. Watch a video demonstration here.

What are your favorite seasonal activities? Leave a comment below!

Organizational Tips for Traveling Teachers

Here are some ideas and encouragement for traveling teachers.

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If you are a traveling teacher, you understand stress and pressure like no one else. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there, and teaching in more than one location just heightens the difficulty of the job. It may not be an ideal situation, but there are tricks and tools you can use to make it a little easier.

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Tip 1: Pick a “Home Base”

Humans naturally need a place that feels their own. When you are a traveling teacher, you must choose somewhere to keep your things and treat as your home base. This place should be somewhere you don’t have to share, even if it’s only a shelf in a closet. Even better if you get a whole desk or classroom all to yourself. Your home base is where you will keep your main teaching materials, make and receive phone calls, keep that extra sweater or pair of shoes, and attend staff meetings. It’s important that you feel included as a staff member in one of your buildings. Include yourself by assuming that staff messages, meetings, and initiatives at your home base all apply to you. Ask for your own phone. Or, ask the other teacher in the room if you can have that extension for receiving voice mails and placing calls. You need to have one phone number where people can leave a message and know you will receive it.

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Tip 2: Know Your Rights

I am extremely grateful to live in a district with a strong teacher’s union. They promise traveling teachers a minimum of 30 minutes travel time. There have been occasions where a teacher was only given 25 minutes of travel time, and the local union reps worked with that teacher and the administrators to fix the problem. I also get reimbursed for the mileage I am required to drive between buildings. It is important that we know and defend our rights, because over-working and over-stressing yourself on an already stressful job helps no one.

Tip 3: Have a Travel Bag

When I asked other teachers for their advice for this article, the most frequent suggestion I heard was to have a dedicated travel bag. This bag carries all the things you have to have with you at all times, such as your laptop, charging cables, seating charts, mileage reimbursement forms, etc.

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Cable carrier

Pamela B. from Minnesota suggested using a sturdy backpack with padded straps to ease the pressure on your back and shoulders. She also showed me a great idea: wrap all those little cables and cords in twist ties, cable wraps, or ponytail elastics, and store them all in one little pouch (photo above). Your charging cables, earbuds, and adapters stay organized and you always know where they are. Extra benefit: you always have an extra ponytail elastic in case of a bad hair day. 🙂

Thirty One Bag

Top: “Fold-n-File” by Thirty-One. Bottom: “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” by Thirty-One (with Fold-n-File inside)

Kelly K. from Wisconsin said she can’t live without her organizational bag from Thirty-One. She uses the “Fold-n-File” insert to hold all of her hanging files and file folders. It has sturdy walls and handles. It even has pockets on the outside for her markers and calculator. That fits inside her “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” which can zip closed to protect files from rain and snow, has shoulder straps, and has extra pockets around the outside for pencil pouches, tuning forks, and spare recorder.

You will read below that I use digital seating charts. However, that doesn’t help when you have a substitute. I print off a full set of seating charts for all of my classes, from both schools, and have a copy at both schools. (Yes, I print seating charts for one school and keep them at the other school.) This way, there will always be an extra set available whether a substitute brings or doesn’t bring them when traveling between schools.

My final piece of advice for your travel bag is to update your mileage reimbursement form EVERY time you travel. I put it in the front of my travel folder, even in front of my seating charts, so I am guaranteed to see it. I make sure to fill it out before I go home for the day. It never fails: every time I try to remember mileage I didn’t write down, I remember it wrong. WRITE IT DOWN.

Tip 5: Digitize

Being “transportable” is SO EASY with digital lessons. I unplug my laptop at one school, slide it in my bag, and open it up at the next school. My lesson plans, seating charts, behavior management, recordings, and lesson files are all there on the screen.

EXTENDED DISPLAY (1)I use what’s called “extended display” (a setting on my computer), so what the students see is different than what I see. I can have my lesson plan on the computer screen and the visuals or behavior management system projected for the class (see photo above). The only things I carry with me, then, are the items that one school owns and the other doesn’t. So far this year, I’ve only had to carry a train whistle and some beanie babies. THAT’S IT.

Here’s my setup:
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro
Interactive White Board: SMART Board
Speakers: Ceiling-mounted
Recordings: iTunes
Lesson plans: Planbook.com
Seating charts: SMART Notebook file
Behavior management: “Scoreboard” SMART Notebook file
Visuals/Manipulatives: self-created SMART Notebook or Powerpoint files
Sheet music/notation: Noteflight.com

I hope these tips have given you some ideas for ways to become more organized or just given you encouragement that you are on the right track. What is your best organizational strategy? Comment below!

I Have a Little Snowman: an Interactive Song Game

This fun and engaging game helps students learn a song in a new way while practicing the skills of sequencing, memory, and communication.

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It is almost winter! Here in Minnesota, snow is definitely on our minds, although it hasn’t fallen yet. We are used to wearing parkas with our Halloween costumes so now is the time when we buy our winter hats and mittens to prepare for those first few glistening flakes.

Even if snow is a long way off for you, or won’t fall at all where you live, this game is a fun way to celebrate winter and get kids singing and moving.

You begin by singing or playing the song while clicking through the hand-drawn illustrations. You can even use the “Rehearse Timings” feature to get Powerpoint to automatically change slides for you at the right time.

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Then, all of the images pop up, but they are all in the wrong order! A student comes up to the board and taps (or clicks on the computer) the image they think came first.

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When the right answer is chosen, it appears with the word “Yes!” You review that portion of the song with them and teach them how to sing it. Continue this way until all the images have been chosen.

Then, the class knows the song! You show the illustrations again as the students sing along with you. They will beg for this game over and over.

Watch this video for a demonstration:

You may download this product from Mrs. Martin’s Music Room at TeachersPayTeachers.com.

My Store

My TpT store is filled with innovative and fun ways to teach music.

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Have you visited Mrs. Martin’s Music Room on TeachersPayTeachers.com yet?

My store features products for music teachers and classroom teachers. Everything I post is something I created for myself to use, so you know it has been classroom-tested and it works with real students. Here are some of my favorites:

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Beethoven Grab Bag: This game has kids reaching in to a bag and pulling out a fact about Beethoven. They read the fact then guess whether it is true or false. The more advanced version is “Beethoven in a Nutshell”: you put question cards into a hard hat or bike helmet (the “nutshell”, get it? hee hee) and students have to answer the question on the card to earn points for their team. Other ideas are included in the directions.

Choir Listening Cards

Choir Listening Cards: This activity was really successful with my middle school choirs. I made a set of 16 cards with questions that would focus a listener on a certain aspect of a vocal music performance (phrasing or dynamics, for example). I would have one student sit out, holding a card, and listen to the choir sing a song. Afterward, the listener would answer the question and give the choir feedback. It worked really well because singers respond better to a peer than they do to an adult.

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Recorder Rubric: This is the first recorder rubric that was posted on TpT. It has stayed the same since 2012 because it is so good! I use this in my classroom every week. When a student or group plays a Recorder Karate song for me, I go over the rubric with them. They are uplifted because the wording does not make them feel bad. They are empowered because they realize the skills are in their power to learn. I have truly seen great progress in the areas of tone, hand position, fluency, and tonguing since implementing this rubric.

It is my goal to provide products that are useful, inspirational, unique, and time-saving! I’d love to hear any feedback you have so I can continue to improve my offerings. Thanks for reading and be sure to visit Mrs. Martin’s Music Room on TeachersPayTeachers.com!

Classroom Management for Music Teachers

Classroom management in the music room is based on building relationships, giving positive feedback, and seeing a student as a whole person. Read to the end for book recommendations.
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How do you begin?

The most important thing is to establish good relationships with your students as well as establish consistent rules and procedures from the first day they see you. Decide what these will be ahead of time. Can’t narrow it down to 3-5 rules as recommended? See my blog post on music classroom rules.

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You do not want this.

Prevent problems before they start.

Positive reinforcement means rewarding the behavior you want to see repeated. Rewards in my classroom come in the form of praise, helping the teacher, getting a turn, playing with “toys” (instruments, props, stuffed animals, etc.), and anything else I can think of that a student might like. You have to be creative in your positive reinforcement so you can reach every child. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is really true. Prevention is 90% of my classroom management.

What happens if the rules are broken?

Honestly, not much. I’m not saying I don’t enforce the rules…stay with me as I explain. The number one best most important method of getting kids to follow the rules is getting them to like you. Not in the friendly, chummy, bribey way where they expect candy for remembering to raise their hand. But if a child genuinely likes you and respects you, he or she will want to please you. Ninety percent of the time, a raised eyebrow, eye contact, or close proximity to the child will bring him or her around. This is why developing relationships with students is so important: that relationship can save you a lot of work in behavior management later on.

Okay, but I still have problem behaviors…

For the behaviors that continue, I seek an alternative. Each behavior has a reason. Maybe the kid behind him is poking him. Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe his thoughts are elsewhere because he is experiencing stress or trauma at home. I’ll think of something creative, such as letting the child sit somewhere else. I’ve offered to send students to the nurse to take a nap. I’ve let kids hide a pencil in the music room when they consistently forget to bring their own. If I know the child well and she isn’t distracting others, I may just let it go, knowing she just needs a supportive environment and she’ll come around another day. Another big one is giving the child a responsibility. I’ve never met a child that didn’t want to feel special in some way (no matter how much they pretend to resent it :).

Parent Contact (Or, “How to Put on a Happy Face and Spin Even the Most Negative Incident into a Positive Communication”)

My building administration supports parent contact through notes or phone calls. If I do send a note, I word it in a very positive way. For example, “Hi! Jill is working on sitting still during music class. Can you please help her with this? I love hearing her sing and look forward to seeing her again on Tuesday!” Phone calls are better because the parent can hear the tone of your voice. Conversations must be positive and collaborative, and you must always approach the parent as if he or she is already on your side and the two of you are working together as a team. Notes and phone calls are logistically difficult for music teachers because we have hundreds of students. But, we see the same students for five or more years, so there is time to develop those positive relationships with parents. A good piece of advice I received is, “Your first contact with a parent should be positive.” So, in the fall, when you begin to sense who those difficult students are, find something good to call the parent about. Make the call before the child has a chance to warrant a “bad” call. When you do end up having to call the parent about a more difficult situation, he or she will be more receptive to you because you already established a positive tone to your relationship.

When a Student Needs to Leave the Room

If a behavior is extremely distracting, dangerous, or disrespectful, the child may need to leave the room. In these 3% or less instances, I may send a child to the office. I may allow him or her to take a break if there is a special ed room, resource room, or paraprofessional available for that child. If the child does not have an IEP, a break can come in the form of getting a drink, going to the bathroom, or just sitting in the hallway. When asking the child to leave, I word it so the child understands I am on his or her side. For example, “Robert, I can see that you’re having a hard time right now. Would it be helpful for you to go take a walk to clear your mind? You can come back in when you are ready.” In these cases, I ALWAYS seek out the child later that day to discuss what happened. It is essential that the child gets to share his or her side of the story after calming down and to see that you care about them. This has the added benefit of allowing the child to “save face” by not having this conversation in front of their peers.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Developing your Tool Box (or “Bag of Tricks”)

The most important tool in your discipline tool box is relationships. Developing positive relationships with students and parents early on is essential and will prevent many problems in the future. The second most important tool is positive reinforcement. Acknowledge anything good that you see, and you’ll begin to see more of it. The third most important tool is an open mind. Instead of seeing a disruptive child as naughty, choose to see him or her as someone who needs your help and compassion. Once you get to know your students, and they know that you care for them, classroom management will become much easier and smoother. But, even the most experienced teachers who look like they have their classes all together will still acknowledge that classroom management is 80% of what they do. 🙂

Any favorite books or systems for classroom management? Leave a comment below with your favorites! Here are some of mine:
Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk
Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle
Winning Over Your Toughest Music Class by Ben Stiefel
Dealing With Difficult Parents and with Parents in Difficult Situations by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore