4 Ways to Beat the Morning Blues

Capture.PNGSo much of my own personality informs my teaching. I am definitely a morning person who has her highest energy levels early in the day. However, I also like to have a smooth transition into a busy day. I might have a cup of coffee or tea, watch the news, or read. But I wonder how many of our students have the time to transition into their busy days?

Lately I have been watching my own children at home on the weekends and observing how they naturally start their day without Drill Sergeant Mommy on their case. All three of my kids wake up and need a good 30 minutes or so to become alert and energized. That lead me to think about the students in my class and in my school.

I have seen many families hurry through the car lane with kids still getting shoes on while trying to eat breakfast. Parents are rushed to leave and are almost kicking kids out of the car. Some parents are even yelling and barking reminders at them. All of this while some kids are still droopy eyed and yawning. As a mom, I understand days like this. But these are the students who are coming into our classrooms. How can they be at their best when the have only just woken up?

I have always considered how I start my day with students. I have made some big improvements over the years and it makes a big difference in how our day unfolds. I wanted to share with you some of my favorite morning routine ideas so that each day begins with a little bit of joy and lots of smiles!

 Greet your students at the door teacher at door

When you think about all of the places you go, have you noticed that there is someone who says hello to you? From grocery and retail stores to restaurants, it feels nice to be welcomed upon entering. As a a customer, you feel like they genuinely are glad you are there, especially when they call you by name. Why do we not do this in education regularly? Our customers (although little) are still people and people want to belong and feel like they have been noticed. Parents also notice when their child’s teacher takes notice and says good morning to their child. This is a very simple gesture that makes a big difference to the school climate. My current principal models this very practice as he stands at the front of our school everyday and greets students, parents, and staff alike with a hello or maybe even a high-5!

Display your morning procedures and routines slide

I don’t know about you, but I despise having to repeat myself! Many kids will need reminders of morning routines even after you have reviewed them at the beginning of the year. By displaying the information in a visual way, students will be more likely to remember the steps they need to take for a successful day. Depending on your class dynamics and age level, the way in which you display that information might be different. I have used a Power Point slide to present information for kids aged 6-11 and it works as long as they read it! I like using the slide because I can customize each day to my scheduling needs, while maintaining the overall structure I have already taught my students.

Have a Bell Ringer Activity Ready

bellEffective teachers have a plan for what they want to have students doing once the morning routines have been completed. With so many different options available, let me share the ones I have used and what I liked about each of them.

  • Journal tasks: These would be printed on half sheets of paper that would review a concept I have already taught. This was a great way to assess how students were maintaining skills and concepts throughout the year. Students would grab one or two tasks (depending on difficulty) and glue them into their journal/ composition notebook. Journal tasks were easy to make, prepare, and keep track of in digital form. Once made, they were easy to use or modify for next year’s class.
  • Games: Before you think I have lost my mind, my students have really enjoyed being able to have the time to play with the many board games that I have. Since the games I have are educational in nature and develop skills like collaboration, communication, and critical thinking I thought it was a win-win! Even if the students are allowed to play games only on certain days as a morning activity, the kids still look forward to it!
  • Spiral Review: These Math and ELA five question reviews were used early on in my teaching. They were not effective, in my opinion, because they covered too many concepts at once and with so many students missing so many problems, it was hard to arrange kids into flexible groups with only one teacher. I prefer to choose ONE standard/ concept and have students demonstrate their understanding.

Hold A Class Meeting

kidsThe final morning activity I have everyone do is sit as a group and we hold a class meeting to begin our day. My class meetings are pretty informal, but I like to have everyone say good morning to each other and maybe share something with a classmate. I like to review our daily schedule so the kids know what to expect for the day and to explain any changes that may have occurred. I check agendas, take attendance, and mark which students are in ASP during this time as well. Once complete, I engage the kids in a quick game of Spontaneous or another group activity that helps to get their minds warmed up.

I use Positive Discipline in my school and the class meeting is another way to also allow students to have a voice in the classroom, model mutual respect, and practice problem solving skills. All grade levels can participate in the class meeting and the teacher’s main goal is to teach students how to hold or call their own meetings and be proactive in solving their own problems together.

Class Meeting Resources:

Edutopia Article

Education World

Teaching Channel

Angela Watson, Cornerstone for Teachers

I hope you will try these strategies to help build the community in your classrooms and maybe try a new way to start your day! I promise it will change both you and your students for the better!




Winning the War on Paper

I am embarrassed sometimes to have other people (adults, really) come in my classroom unexpectedly. At any given time, I have piles of papers on my desk, on the floor near my desk, or on the shelves behind my desk. It just happens. The piles seem to grow and move throughout the day. It isn’t until all of the kids leave that I realize just how messy my area is! I am declaring an all out war on paper!

Teaching vertically has really tested my organization skills. I can handle keeping track of one class of students. But five classes? As much as I have tried to stay on top of every sheet of paper, every folder, and resource, inevitably the piles creep back into my life! It takes effort to be mindful of where everything should go so that I can find it later. I have to organize not only the materials that relate to teaching each grade level, but the paperwork that is associated with my department. It really starts to add up and space is already at a premium.

So as I prepare to close out this year, I am already beginning to create systems that will help me organize materials for next year. Here is what I have put in place to streamline the amount of paper in my life.


chartThese few tweaks have already helped me reduce the anxiety and stress that comes from seeing all the piles of paper lying around my classroom. There is much more I will have to consider since my administration has let me know that paper will be given in small amounts throughout the year and that it cannot be placed on school supply lists next year. This is not a “new” problem for school districts, but it is presenting a new way of thinking about my teaching.

Here is what I am still wondering:

  • How can student recording sheets use less paper?
  • Do all centers require the use of recording sheets?
  • How can I use Office 365 to create interactive recording sheets?
  • How can I use a digital journal/ portfolio to document student thinking and progress?
  • How will I handle homework?
  • How will I communicate the changes I am making with parents?
  • What areas need to remain paper based?

I will continue to reflect on this topic in the days to come and welcome any and all ideas, comments, or other questions from you guys!


How do you manage all of the paper in your classrooms? How have you reduced you use? How have students and parents responded to these changes?




Spring Teacher Proactive Prep: Top 3

Spring makes me think of vacations, flowers, and lazy days outdoors with family. Like the students, it is beginning to get harder to stay focused at work and Spring Fever has taken hold! But we cannot allow our inner sloth to take over… not yet at least! 🙂 This is the best time to start thinking about next school year and begin to work towards meeting those goals.

Wait? Next year already? Yes!

The biggest misconception I had as a new teacher was thinking that I would have plenty time to establish my classroom perfectly in the 5 days before the students arrived. With the many interruptions and wasted time thinking about what I wanted to do, I was always scrambling around at the last minute before Sneak-A-Peek on the last day of pre-planning.

Your administrators will probably have a set agenda for the week prior to the first day of school. Good administrators will be empathetic towards giving you more time in your classroom, but be prepared to have your remaining hours spent attending district, building, and team meetings. Even though there will not be as much time as you may have hoped for (is there ever enough?) I want you to start off the year relaxed, happy, and feeling accomplished! Practical TipDo you already use Pinterest to organize your ideas and inspiration? Go ahead and start use it intentionally for your classroom planning as well! Throughout this post, I want to encourage you to begin documenting your thinking right on your Pinterest boards.

Simply Genius TAsk

Your first task is to create a board for all of your ideas by topic (see below) and begin to pin your ideas onto a board for each of the topics we are mentioning today.

Notice how I used the word Teaching: as the beginning of my labels. Everything on that board relates to the main topic in some way. I used to have only a teaching board and trying to find what I needed was taking too much time! Labeling the boards in this way helped me find what I needed quickly, especially if you have already have many boards like I do! 🙂

pinterest snap 1.PNG

Head on over to Pinterest and look for daurian_hogan (Simply Genius) and daurianhogan to see what seed ideas I have for you! If you do not already have a Pinterest account, click here.

Classroom Layout & Theme

Nothing beats getting into your classroom and seeing your new space and the size of your furniture in real life. But until then, let’s begin by considering the physical layout of the classroom you would want to have.

Every classroom will be different in size and layout and comes with different furniture. Most classrooms have the following items: teacher desk, 1-2 bookshelves, 24 desks, 1-3 desktop computers, and a large area rug. How will you organize it all?

Consider this


Teaching Style

Grouping Preferences

Available Furniture


Student Age & Readiness

Future Post Tease: I will be sharing more about how & why I organize my classroom in the way that I do. I hope to see you there! (Coming in Summer 2017)

Another idea that is quite fun to consider is your classroom theme! Themes are uniquely us and can be based on any number of things. The sky is the limit, be creative and create an environment that you and your learners will want to come to everyday.

As a new teacher, your budget will probably be tight (mine was…lol), so start thinking about how you can make your classroom a dream come true without breaking the bank! By searching for classroom design ideas on Pinterest, you can begin to catalog the ideas that stand out to you and start collecting and searching for those items now and through the Summer months.

Practical Tip

  • Start SMALL. Remember that the teacher next door and the teachers on Pinterest have had a lot of time (even years!!) to prepare and collect the perfect materials. Be realistic with the time and resources you have and know that every year you teach, you will begin to collect and add to your theme- assuming you are not like me and change your mind frequently! 🙂
  • Start looking for bargains at your favorite stores, yard sales, Goodwill, and thrift stores. Re-purposing some of the decorative items you find can save money!
  • Use fabric to cover walls instead of using butcher paper. I used multiple sets of twin and full size sheets to cover walls and bulletin boards in my room. They are washable and fade-resistant.
  • Choosing a color theme can leave room for creativity and allow you to play with accent colors. My color theme for the past two years has been a black background with bright chevron borders. I use the colors from the borders in the materials throughout the classroom. Since my color theme will probably be the same again next year, this part of getting ready is already done! Yes!
  • Kristen B. over at Ladybug Teacher Files uses color in everything she does! I am always inspired when I view her blog! I know you will be as well!

Lesson Planning Templates

Lesson plans are a funny thing. We love to hate them. We have to have them. They range from the most detailed to very general. It truly is up to you how you want to organize your plans.

I currently use a free, on-line lesson planning tool at Common Curriculum (I genuinely use this site and do not receive any compensation from your use of the link).  Common Curriculum allows you to create your own templates based on your needs and teaching position. This is what a typical week looks like in the week long view.

lesson plan snap


You can print your plans, download them for future reference, and collaborate with colleagues. I cannot say enough about this program!

I have created templates within Microsoft Word as well. It all comes down to what your administration wants to see, what you want to include, and your style and preference.


I will share more about lesson planning in a future post. For now decide how you want to record all of those amazing plans! There is no right or wrong way to do them unless you aren’t doing them at all!

Ask teachers on your team and in your college classes for ideas and samples, search     online for examples, and begin to either create your own version tailored specifically to you or find a program that you love.

“Sub Tub” Creation 

We all love the work we do each day for kids, but the reality is that life likes to throw us that infamous curve ball when we least expect it. Whether it is a health-related sickness or family emergency, having plans and activities ready for your sub makes being out of the classroom a little easier. Click the link above to learn about how I did it in ONE day!

Pinterest has many ideas available for you to begin your search! Check the Simply Genius boards for more inspiration! Practical Tip

  • Work with a teammate to create your Sub Tub! When a group of teachers come together to pool their resources, the entire process is streamlined and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time!
  • Any procedures and routines that are established in your classroom SHOULD absolutely be inside the substitute plans. I have never been a substitute, but I am a mom to three children. Whenever I leave vague directions for the baby-sitter, I always end up disappointed and a BIG mess is typically left to be cleaned up later. The same thinking is true with teaching- leaving specific and detailed instructions about how your classroom runs allows the guest teacher to create the same environment for your students as you would. Upon your return, your kids are more calm and they have been able to complete the work you have left for them.

All three of these prepping activities will potentially require you to make many decisions and will take some time to get just right. The good news is that we have plenty of time between now  and the first day of school to complete all of this thinking in advance of summer and the back to school season!

I am proud of you for beginning your journey with me as we prepare for a successful year of teaching! Feel free to leave positive comments and resources below!

Happy Prepping & Pinning!




Shift the Focus: From Cute to Kids

I came across a few posts today written by Matt Gomez , Stacey Schubitz and Angela Watson that got me thinking about the emphasis teachers (including me) tend to place on preparing “cute” and “perfect” classrooms each year.

I just wanted to share my thoughts on the topic with you guys. As a veteran teacher, looking back, I have made the mistakes of spending way too much money at School Box and other retailers buying borders, cut-out letters, name plates, etc. I remember equating success with having my entire classroom set-up, with parent information folders, business cards, and small goodie bags on every desk. My class list was outside on beautiful bordered paper and framed in black. Yep, I did that. It is bittersweet when I think about all that I had done for my 28 students- part of me misses that and the other is completely over it and realizes the insanity of it all.

I would never discourage new teachers from preparing their classrooms in this way because it makes coming back to school special for the families in our schools. Two of my kids who are still in elementary always talk about the things their teachers did to prepare for them. It has a place.

However, here at Simply Genius, I believe that everything we do should be intentional and have a purpose. Expressing one’s unique personality in the classroom is to be celebrated and encouraged. I would even extend this to creating products for your classroom. Just like we eat with our eyes, kids like to have materials that look nice. They aren’t as particular about it as teachers can be, but it is a nice touch. I also believe that your family should get just as much of your time and energy as your classroom and your students. 

Everything we do in the classroom should be directed at helping our students become self-directed, independent learners and thinkers. So I use that question as my compass when I am making decisions about the classroom. Through this lens, I can ensure that my classroom is student-centered. From the procedures and routines I establish to the position of the furniture, every decision comes back to the learners in the environment. If something does not align to this belief, I modify it, ask for help, or throw it out.

My advice to you as a new teacher would be to start the year with a minimalist approach like Stacey suggests in her post. I would encourage you to develop lasting and meaningful relationships like Matt because they last longer than cute stuff of the moment. Finally, Angela Watson reminds us to not let the idea of perfection from your colleagues or Pinterest make you feel your students’ work isn’t worthy of being shared.  So share it, celebrate it, in the here and now.

Every year you will improve upon your ideas and presentation. Allow for that growth. In the meantime, remember that you are a learner along with your kids. You are their role model of how to handle perfectionism, failure, resilience, and grit. Sometimes the most impactful lessons we teach don’t come from a “cute” craftivity or “cute” classroom, they come from real and imperfect people and experiences.



How To Turn Your Scrap Box Uses From Blah Into Fantastic

When you look around at the items in your house or classroom what do you see? Do you see only trash or unlimited potential?

From your bottle caps, cardboard rolls, foil, tape, paper clips and note cards to the pantry staples of spaghetti, marshmallows, and raisins – you actually have everything you need to successfully teach creativity in the classroom and engage your students!

What if I said you could provide engaging activities for your students without spending a dime or needing more than 20 minutes?

Simply Genius TAsk

Creating a scrap box is easy to do and maintain. That’s why it’s simply genius! A scrap box is exactly that- a box of intentionally collected scrap items that will be re-purposed by your students in various activities throughout the year.

My scrap box was made from one of the cardboard boxes lying around in the hallway that would hold reams of copy paper. I created a quick (and simple) sign on the box labeled, “Scrap Box”. I discussed the purpose of this box with my students and shared my excitement in how the collection of materials will help us learn how to become creative thinkers.

Each week, I would send out a list to parents of items that I wanted them to bring in if they had them available. For example, one week I might ask for 2 Liter Soda Bottles, bottle caps (all sizes) and cardboard tubes. As students brought them in, we place the materials into the scrap box. I would change up items asked for every week to keep a variety of items coming in. Since I work in a low-income school, my parents were more than happy to help in this area because these were items they already had on hand and were already paid for. I also brought in items from home year round to supplement supplies.

You can download a list here: Supply List Spontaneous

Once you have collected enough of the required materials for a creative task, you use the materials in creative ways using our flexible thinking. The kids love having access to the materials and I love being able to teach creativity at minimal cost!

Here is an example of my scrap box after cleaning out my teacher closet in my house. Depending on the season  or time of year, the items I find will change. Part of the fun of using the scrap box in activities and crafts, like Spontaneous, is that you do not have to have enough for everyone to have the same type of resource. Being creative means using what you have on hand and making it work, right? So don’t worry about having enough.. just keep collecting. Reminds you of Dori’s song, huh? 🙂

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According to its website, Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is “largest creativity competition in the world” (2017).  Many educators have been a part of this competition and kids have enjoyed participating in the many events such as, Spontaneous, which is my favorite! I use this activity in my class all the time.

Spontaneous is an activity where students are given a set of random materials (ENTER the SCRAP BOX) and a limited amount of time to create something like a robot, or creature, tower, or a game for example. Tasks are typically chosen by the teacher or are based on available materials. The goal of this type of activity is to engage students in team work, flexible thinking, creative thinking among other skills.

There are three different versions of this activity- Verbal, Hands-On, and Combination. You can read more about them here. The BEST part of all three versions? They are free when you use your scrap box materials!


Here is how I have done these activities in my own classroom. Give one of them a try this week! 

Verbal Spontaneous:

When: During our morning meeting, during transitions

I engage students in a task that requires them to name as many items as they can about a certain theme or topic. For example, name things that can fly or name things that are printed. Sometimes I hand students a random or odd object from the scrap box and have student think of as many creative uses for that object.  Topics vary based on age and grade level.

Duration: I set the timer for about 2 minutes and allow students to go around in a circle and call out what they are thinking.

As students respond, I listen for the most creative responses. This task is difficult at first because students want to name the most obvious answers. As you practice, students realize that the more outlandish, creative, unique answers get the credit. You will be surprised at how comfortable the quiet students get with this activity!

There is nothing to write during Verbal Spontaneous for the teacher or student. The entire activity is verbal. If I write anything down, it is to record the answers I want to highlight after the activity.

Preparation: This is a student led activity and fun.

Make sure you have established turn-taking procedures and have modeled this a few times before turning it over to the students!


Name things that can be stacked (odds, blocks, pancakes, etc. )

Name containers that can be used to carry a liquid (bucket, bucket, coconut)

Name things that rise and fall (elevators, empires, chests)

Ideas from Team Challenges book pp. 55-58

Hands-On Spontaneous:

When: any 20 minute block of time- I scheduled this activity twice a month for my kids and took up to 30 minutes to discuss, share, and provide feedback.

What: Students are given random scrap box items to build or create something new based on the task provided. Within the allotted time, groups have to use team work and communication to successfully brainstorm, build, test, and complete the task. These tasks are very good at helping our students learn to use their groups’ strengths, but I will tell you that in the beginning this will be a bit of a challenge. By knowing your students and having done these type of activities before, you will find the “Sweet Spot” in how you group students.


Materials: 40 magazine subscription cards, 10 marshmallows, 20 toothpicks

Tell students they have 2 minutes to build a free standing tower as tall as possible, using only the provided materials. Tell students they will be notified when 30 seconds remain. Two points will be awarded fro every inch of height. (Bordessa, K., Team Challenge, p. 66)

Combination Spontaneous:

When: Morning Meeting

Duration: around 10-15 minutes

What: A problem that combines an hands-on activity and verbal responses. In these activities, students will make something from the materials provided and then describe it, tell a story about it, act it out, or explain a creative use for their invention.


Materials: 1 empty water bottle, 1 paper cup

Choose 2 team members to portray a day at the zoo. One player must hold the paper cup; the other will hold the plastic bottle. The two players have two minutes to plan a scene from a zoo visit and two minutes to act out the scene for the audience. But there is a catch! The two participants portraying the zoo visit may talk, but they cannot move without help. Two additional team members must move the actors to match the ongoing dialogue. Groups will receive twenty points if the scene includes an unexpected event.

team challenges bookResources:  I used a variety of resources to come up with sample tasks, but using the Team Challenges book by K. Bordessa was a great resource as well as the OM site.

I hope you found this post useful and I look forward to you sharing ideas with me on how you used Spontaneous activities and your scrap box in your classroom!








Season for Change

Education has always been the key to a better life. As a young child and student, I was taught that in order to attain the nicer things in life, one must study hard, work hard, and go to a good school. Although I was fortunate enough to not have had to struggle in my childhood financially, education was how I would provide my future family with the type of things I was accustomed to.

My ideas about education evolved as I began studying to become a teacher. Education was more than just a key to unlocking success. During my undergraduate program, I saw many students who would not have access to a better life despite having gone to school. Others would leave before high school graduation and for different reasons, yet everyone seemed to get by. The really lucky ones would make it big in professional sports or music and be well compensated without having to go earn a higher degree. There are plenty of stories about people who were either successful or famous without a degree. So why should we place such value on education?

Education still has a purpose for me and for my students. Education provides students the ability to discern information and to use it in novel ways. It is about learning where we have been to guide where we want/need to go. It is about understanding the world we are in and the people who inhabit this glorious world. Education is about being able to better understand ourselves and others. My “WHY” in education is to help students find and develop their passions as well learn how to think about and question the information around them. Education matters most when it is relevant to the learner. Education is about connection and relationships.


But how are we going to help the next generation get there using traditional methods of teaching?

Innovation is absolutely critical to the future of education because without it schools and teachers will become obsolete. 

In the digital age when every student has immediate access to whatever information they want in their pocket or book bag, teachers will have to reinvent the ways they reach today’s youth.

I plan to become a part of this movement by educating myself on #designthinking and #innovatorsmindset, creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) of like-minded teachers online, and implementing small changes into my classroom that will help create “rich learning opportunities” (Couros, 2015, p. 22) for my gifted students.  They deserve it. I deserve it.

I embrace the challenge and I know this is where I am supposed to be!