Teaching beyond the curriculum

If you’re a teacher – you already know that teaching is more than Math, Reading, Writing, Science, and Social Studies. If you’re an elementary teacher – you probably already know that what your students will remember you for, is definitely more than the fact that you taught them to read/count.

I teach in a Title 1 school – our students struggle with more than the curriculum. Yes – I think it is very important that we teach the curriculum and hold our students to high standards to help them succeed in their educational journeys.

However, I also think it is vital that we teach them emotional intelligence, how to be a friend, and resilience/growth mindset/grit.

If you struggle to find the time – or engaging ways to teach these things – I have some resources for you! We used these resources for a summer school program we did that focused on these things. I used 2 of these resources last year with my class and they LOVED them!! I was able to meet and learn from the authors of two of these resources at a conference for teachers of at-risk youth (NAREN = national at risk education network).

Here they are!

Rhythm to Recovery

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This book is amazing for building/developing emotional intelligence and self awareness. It is a program that is used with children/students in Australia. This book includes activities that can be used in a drum circle, using music and movement to help students feel empowered and have fun while developing emotionally. Simon has used this, and similar programs, with a variety of groups.

Many students in Title 1 schools are living with trauma – because of their environments. Our school is working on becoming a trauma-sensitive school. This program is definitely something I am excited to incorporate into my classroom.

Over the summer we used the desks as drums – but I have collected old water drums so that I have a class set of “drums” to use. Our music teacher also worked with students to create their own drums which they took home (they used old coffee tins/cans, cat litter tubs, etc)

Who is it geared towards?

  • Upper elementary grades, middle, and high school

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • Talk to your music teacher about using this as part of their curriculum
  • Have a drum circle once/twice a week for morning meeting
  • You could run an after school program using this resource
  • If you have a behavior specialist or someone who works with social groups – share the resource with them
  • The activity and discussion doesn’t have to be long – could be done in 10 – 15 mins

Why use these activities?

  • They provide a fun and engaging way to discuss emotions and self-awareness with students
  • Here is an excerpt from the website: “Rhythm2Recovery programs utilize the latest neuroscience on the use of rhythmic exercise as a therapeutic medium for supporting people with emotional disorders. Primal brain structures that regulate the ‘stress response’ can be positively impacted through rhythmic input and assist people gain control over their emotions, reduce anxiety levels and increase well-being.” 

Mindsets in the Classroom

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These books are perfect if you teach growth mindset and/or grit. There are many activities, and resources that help students not only understand what growth mindset is, but why it works. There are hands on activities to help students make sense of some of the more abstract ideas; such as neural connections.

There are also resources for parents and ideas on sharing growth mindset beyond the classroom.

Who is it geared towards?

  • Elementary grades (could be easily adapted for Middle School)

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • Morning meeting a couple of times a month could be used to introduce concepts, but can be referenced throughout the school day

Why use these activities/this book?

  • Teaching students what growth mindset is great, and teaching them phrases that help them build that mindset is great too – however, this book digs deeper than that.
  • The activities are fun and student friendly
  • The book includes book lists, videos, and games that help develop growth mindset

Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence

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This book is amazing for incorporating fun team building activities that also promote emotional intelligence. Each activity comes with a specific lesson purpose – and discussion questions to help students make the connection between the activity and their lives. It is a little pricey, but there are enough activities to get you through the whole school year.

Scott has some free activities available on his website.



Who is it geared towards

  • All grade levels (most suited to intermediate grades)

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • The activities range in duration – and can be used during transitions, or morning meeting activities.
  • Students may even be willing to engage in some of the activities during recess
  • These can even be used with staff to build school culture

Why use these activities?

  • They foster an effective learning community
  • If students feel like they are a part of a community – they are more likely to take risks during the school day.
  • Peer support is essential for students to be in the right state for learning to take place.
  • The activities don’t feel like team building games – which some older students (and teachers) may be resistant to


What resources do you use to teach beyond the curriculum?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Teacher Secret Weapon

You’ve got the students engaged and excited to complete an activity… they’re reared up and ready to get to work… there is electricity in the air….


The choir starts….

“My pencil broke!”

“I don’t have a pencil!”

“My pencil won’t sharpen!”

All of that momentum is lost while you try to get the sharpener working… “Does someone have a pencil to lend Susie?” “Who sharpened a colored pencil in the sharpener?”

I have spent a small fortune on sharpeners for my classroom. My school gave me one, and I bought 3. None of them work – except the battery operated one that I keep at my desk. And even then – it is such a pain to get those little broken lead tips out when they get stuck. It’s also battery operated — totally not practical for high traffic use…

CUE the choir of angels… signifying the answer to all of your teacher prayers!

Classroom Friendly Supplies Pencil Sharpener

This pencil sharpener was designed by (and is sold by) a teacher.

Why is it so good??

  • It’s silent
  • Portable (or you can fastened it to a table/shelf)
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to unblock if lead gets stuck (which has only happened to me a couple of times in the last month and a half!)
  • It sharpens pencils to a perfect point! (not only is the point nice and sharp – but it’s a strong point… It’s the second week of school, and I haven’t had to sharpen any pencils!!! Crazy, right? I know we’re not using the pencils as much as we will – but we have definitely been using them… and with other sharpeners I’ve had to resharpen within the first hour, let alone the first week!)
  • It comes in a variety of CUTE/FUN colors!!! (Okay okay – nothing to do with how well it sharpens, but still a valid point!)

I also absolutely loved the packaging that it was delivered in…

pencil sharpener learning wholeheartedly

It also came with care instructions and directions for use.

I was super excited to get this sharpener – but it exceeded my expectations.. which I didn’t think was possible!

I highly recommend you check out the website… and rather than waste money on yet another electric sharpener… invest in this amazing sharpener, and support a fellow teacher while you’re at it. I think it’s awesome that this sharpener was designed by and is sold by a teacher! Totally makes sense that it would be this awesome! 😉


(there is also this video for more info)

If managing lost pencils is something you struggle with… stay tuned – I’ll share my solution to that problem soon!

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Are You a Hot Mess Teacher?

Let’s be honest, at some point/s in the year we are all a hot mess. Usually it’s around report card time… or, right before a break.

However, there are also those teachers that are hot messes all year long… either you know who I am talking about, or you’re the hot mess.

hot mess teacher learning wholeheartedly.jpg

All of these examples are based on my life… (not currently…it’s summer… but at some point, all of these things have been true for me).

I just want to go on the record and say… if you are not, or never was, a hot mess teacher — you’re a unicorn!!

As a fourth year teacher, I’ve finally eliminated a couple of these phenomenon from my teacher life (not permanently, every once in a while they sneak up on me…but I’m doing better).

I’ve gotten into a routine with writing objectives in my planner… but my biggest accomplishment this past year, was to minimize (I won’t say eliminate) paperwork and keep on top of grading.

Grading Expiration Dates

If you haven’t graded something within 2 days of the students working on it, unless it’s a summative assessment – toss it. The feedback a grade will provide is useless after 2 days… students can no longer make the necessary adjustments to their learning/thinking.

Even better – don’t assign meaningless work that you don’t have time to grade. Assign performance tasks or use technology to formatively assess students – cutting back on manual grading.

Weekly Copies

Develop a system for organizing copies that requires cleaning out every week.

I have a drawer in my filing cabinet that has 5 sections (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and each section has a divider for every subject. I also have dividers for ‘to copy’ for master copies.

I have to clear out the folders every week – otherwise I have nowhere to put new copies for the week.

Master Copies

Have binders, folders, a filing cabinet…something – where you can put resources that you want to keep for next year.

I have another drawer in my filing cabinet for math and reading standards, there are also dividers for writing, science, and social studies. I put master copies of new resources in these folders – so as I am given a resource or as I find one… I have somewhere to put it. If it’s too complicated to put these masters away immediately – make a folder/divider for “to file”… and file masters away weekly.

That’s about it… it’s not rocket science, but it definitely took me some time to find a system that works for me. This may not be your system… but the key is to have a home for every type of paper that may be bestowed upon you, by students, parents, administrators, and coworkers. And…. throw things out!!! At the end of every day I make sure that all loose papers have been put away… it takes all of 2-3 minutes and saves my sanity! 

Were you a hot mess teacher last year? Are you currently a hot mess teacher? Or a recovering hot mess teacher like me? 

How do you keep organized with paperwork? Let us know in the comments – heaven knows we can use all the tips and advice we can get!! 

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One Thing You Can Do Today To Instill Independence In Your Students

There is one thing, as a fourth grade teacher, that frustrates me more than most things.

I’m sure I’m not the only one…please tell me I’m not the only one….

I try to be patient… I really do….

The one thing that frustrates me the most is students’ inability to read & then follow directions.

It’s not the challenge of actually reading/comprehending the directions… although I do know that sometimes that’s what the issue is… as well as language barriers…. but in general… when the directions are right there…. and they still ask those silly questions….  you know the ones…

Anyway… reading deficiencies and language barriers aside, here is something I implement in my classroom to help instill and reinforce both students’ direction reading and independence.

My Morning Routine:

  • Before students arrive I put on music, turn on the SMARTboard, open up my morning SMARTboard, and turn my lamps on…
  • Students walk in and I greet them (I greet every single student – sometimes I take grading with me to the door, but for the first few months I am always standing at the door ready to greet each student)
  • They unpack & check the SMARTboard (you could use an easel/whiteboard)
    • On the SMARTboard I put a welcome message, directions for everything they need to do during breakfast, and any important announcements for the day
    • I use student friendly vocabulary, for primary grades or ELL students, you could include pictures
    • I try not to include too many steps – to ensure the type is large enough for students to see & read
  • They follow the directions until announcements begin
  • I reinforce the behavior with class dojo points
  • If students ask me what to do – I refer them to the board… if a student is not following the directions, I remind them to check the board

I have an expectation that this routine is done in silence… of course I allow quiet greetings, but overall – students know that they are to come in calmly and get ready for the day. I’ve found that if I allow talking, it very quickly gets out of control and that calm environment is lost.

As I mentioned in my dismissal routine post, many of my students live in chaotic situations, neighborhoods, or homes – I want them to know that our classroom is a calm and orderly place where they know what to expect (most of the time…).

After the first couple of months, it is like a well oiled machine. I leave the SMARTboard for substitutes to use too and have received comments about how smoothly the morning routine has gone, because the students know exactly what to do. I’ve also noticed that students who struggle with focusing and organization, and anxious students really benefit and appreciate the list.

Here is an example of what I might have posted on my SMARTboard:

Morning routine learning wholeheartedly

If you teach primary grades, you could use pictures, just be sure to explicitly teach what each picture represents and what students should do when they see that picture.

It would be pretty easy to print off your morning list for students who would benefit from a physical check list on their desks too.

We are a Title I school – so we have breakfast available to all students in the classroom… so we have 20 minutes. If you get your day started as soon as all students are seated… you could still use something similar if you have seat work waiting for them, a warm up, or even if students come in and sit to get ready for a morning meeting. I’m sure most of us have at least 5 – 10 minutes where we are waiting for all our students to arrive and be ready to begin the day.

Bonus: Sometimes I sneak in something completely random, to see which students are actually reading every single step. Those students receive some sort of reward.

What do you do to ensure the morning starts off calmly? 

Have you noticed that your students also struggle with following written (or verbal) directions? How do you strengthen this skill throughout the day?

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Avoiding the chaos of dismissal time

The bell rings for dismissal.

It becomes a free for all – students rushing to pack up – the teacher yelling last minute reminders, trying to get a handle on the chaos – the first bus is called – Carlos runs out without his permission slip…

Finally the room is silent and void of students. As the teacher catches her breath amidst the war zone (well, it might as well be). The next ten minutes are spent stacking forgotten chairs, throwing away questionable tissues, and wrangling AWOL pencils.

What if I told you that this is not the only way. There is another way, and it’s pretty simple to implement. It simply requires consistency and clear expectations.

After my first year teaching, I was FED UP with dismissal and ending my day frazzled and relieved to have my students gone. That’s not the teacher I wanted to be, and it’s not the type of environment I wanted for my students. Also, our students often live in chaotic homes – I wanted dismissal to be one last moment of calm for them, before they had to go home.

dismissal routine learning wholeheartedly.jpg



My students last year could not handle going to the carpet… here is my variation on the above mentioned routine… it may also be a better option for you?

dismissal routine2 learning wholeheartedly.jpg

3 Essential Things to Remember

  • This process takes some time at first – so make sure to begin dismissal early for the first few weeks
  • Be consistent – make sure students understand your expectations – if a student talks – send them back…
  • They should become more efficient every day — you could start timing them and see if they can beat their “best time”
  • The reason why dismissal is so crazy is because we feel like we have a time limit and if the students don’t leave as they’re called…off with her headThat being said – DO NOT PANIC!! Send students back to their seats if they talk… what’s the worst thing that can happen? You have to call to have a bus held for a student? Do it! Students will know if you feel powerless during dismissal and they’ll take advantage of it. Just remember to leave enough time for this process as students are learning who is boss…I mean, as they are learning the new routine. But in all seriousness, dismissal habits can be difficult to break, but it’s possible and oh so worth it! 
  • If the process is going a little slow… you can always have 2 students packing up at a time… maybe a boy and a girl.
  • The last step should be a goodbye ritual between you and your students – I always offer my students a handshake, high five, or hug… this year I may throw in a fun “secret” handshake! The students know that they cannot walk out my door until they say goodbye to me. 


How do you handle dismissal in your classroom? I’m always looking for new ideas and as we all know, what may have worked this year, with this group of students, may not work with my next group of students! PLEASE share your ideas/procedure in the comments below!  


If you try one of these procedures, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear feedback! 🙂 

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How to Keep Your Custodians Happy

I don’t know about your custodians, but we have the best custodians around. We are in a 60 year old building (give or take a couple years)…so needless to say, there are many challenges that our custodians have to tackle on a daily basis.

Considering that the custodians have to sweep and clean every classroom floor – the least we can do is make sure that the floor is picked up (that is the strangest American saying in my opinion) and chairs are stacked – so that sweeping is as simple as sweeping should be.

That being said…

Teachers have SO much on their plates too – the least important of which is picking up the floor (I really can’t get the image of someone literally trying to pick up a floor out of my head).

Enter….. Mystery Trash.

Mystery Trash game

Sometimes I have to play a second round, because the mystery item is not cleaned up and time ran out. Sometimes we keep going until the room is spotless. There are no steadfast rules – I’ve known teachers who don’t even pick a piece of trash until the room is almost clean… I can’t live on the edge like that. Although, sometimes I miss my item being cleaned up and my students get an opportunity to demonstrate trustworthiness.

I generally play this game during dismissal, but you could do a 20 second round of Mystery Trash as a transition between lessons, before lunch, or after a particularly messy activity. The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students put ANYTHING and EVERYTHING away…they straighten… they tidy…. it’s AAHHHMAAAZING!!

Have you ever played Mystery Trash or a version of it? 

If so, does it work for you? If not, do you have a different way to get students to help clean up?

Disclaimer: I’d love to say that we don’t have to play this game… that my students take such pride and ownership in our classroom that the extrinsic reward is never necessary… but let’s be real…. that’s still a work in progress, and if I ever get that buy in to the same degree as “Mystery Trash” … I’ll be sure to share how I did it. If you’ve done it…please feel free to share!!! 

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Starting a Student Led Class Blog

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  • Check in with your administrator. Make sure that they understand your vision for the blog and that they are on board. 
  • Introduce your students to the idea of a blog – read some student/class blogs with the students and have them identify what makes a good post good. Also discuss commenting and set some guidelines.
  • Decide on a platform – we used edublogs because it’s easy to connect with other class blogs, teachers, and students. But you could use any site that you feel is appropriate for your students and district.
  • Set up the blog – write an introduction piece.
  • Send home media release forms (so that you can include photos of students) – I adapted the social media release forms from Great Minds Teach Alike. If you are signed up for my newsletter, you should have received a free copy of my EduBlogs media release from – if you have not signed up yet, what are you waiting for?
  • Add a contributor account (if you go to “add users” you should be able to add a contributor) – this way you will have to approve posts and comments… students will not be able to post online without you reviewing it first.
  • Consider what your first posts will be.
    • We went with a book review created in Wixie – that way I saved the Wixie pages as images and just posted them for the students.
    • Our first “real” posts were group posts
      • Groups decided on a topic and divided up subtopics
      • Each individual wrote their portion/paragraph, revised, edited
      • The group came together to put all the paragraphs together
      • A student typed up the post
      • Another student checked it for errors
      • A student searched for an image to go along with the post
  • Last, students should comment on one another’s posts and respond to commenters.

You can read my student-led class blog here. We’d love for you to leave some comments.

Do you have a class blog?

What have you found to be the most important thing to ensure it is meaningful?

If you have a tech tip or suggestion to share – feel free to join my link up below. If you’d like to add the link up button to your blog – you can get the InLinkz code here.