August 23, 2015

Saving Time on Classroom Setup

Over the years, I have always flown into school as early as I possibly could, the moment those floors were waxed (sometimes even having to test the floor's stickiness with a toe...shhh!!!). And so would begin days and days of classroom setup.

I would work feverishly, obsess over all the little design details, and keep coming back to do more. I just LOVE setting up my classroom each year. But I found I was doing more and more each summer because I had given myself the time to do so...I was starting way too early. Then, last summer, my sister and I had quite the challenge. We had to move everything out of her old classroom at a different school, set up a classroom in her new school, then set up my entire classroom (to my picky, type-A specifications). It was a LOT of work for us last summer...and I really regretted not taking the time to prep things more in advance so I didn't have to spend quite so many days in school.

This summer, I have not set up anything in my classroom yet (!) and we start in early September. Instead, I have been prepping as much at home as I possibly can ahead of time, in efforts to streamline the setup process before I even get to school. My goal has been to have everything ready to go, packed up in an organized fashion, and above all:

Remove the need for unnecessary thinking.

So I realize that might sound a little weird. I mean it's not like I want to get to class and totally zone out. I DO want to be thinking. I want to be thinking about the important things as I set up my room...going over the beginning routines in my head, mentally checking off everything I need for the first day. Not thinking about where I stashed a missing label or unpacking endless boxes of crayons.

So I wanted to share what I have been working on this summer to streamline the setup process. I realize many of you are already back at school (and probably much faster at setting up your classrooms!). But I hope this will be of some help to those not starting back quite yet, or unable to get in until that very first teacher workshop day (as I know many of you have shared with me in the past).

Many of these strategies are things I have done for years, while a couple are new attempts at saving valuable time.

Strategy One: Laminate Only What Must Be Laminated

Oh, laminating. While I absolutely loathe cutting all of the plastic pieces until my fingers go numb, I do love how bright and shiny it makes everything look. But the truth? There is very little in my 5th grade class that truly needs to be laminated.

I have kept laminating at a bare minimum by asking myself one question: 

Is this item handled often?

So yes to student supply drawers, toolboxes for community supplies, nameplates, and library bins. These things are handled by students often and I don't want to be replacing labels all year:
(Teacher Toolbox Labels)
But for the first time in my career, I WON'T be laminating our cursive alphabet line, posters, anchor chart titles, station cards, and anything else that adorns our classroom walls and is hardly ever touched by students.

How does this help? Well, I am already done laminating for the summer and it only took one session:
(Student Number Labels)
With less laminating also comes less cutting. Which saves my hand from a bit (who am I kidding, a LOT) of pain and frees me up to tackle other projects. This brings me to my next strategy...

Strategy Two: Use Scissors as Little as Possible

This sounds a bit crazy I suppose. I mean, cutting is a necessity for setting up the elementary classroom, right?

But there are shortcuts. Say hello to three of my best cutting friends:

These cutting tools are an absolute godsend and time-saver (um, hand-saver?). 

The circle cutter really is my favorite and I've blogged about it several times over the years:
It can be tricky to get used to initially. The key is to line up the guide by the exact measurement first. So this circle is 3.5", and I have the 3.5" guide lined right up over it. Then, I make the cut just one measurement down, so it is guaranteed to cut within the shape and not outside of the circle accidentally:

Not only does it cut perfect circles, it saves your hand from cutting them out with scissors. And it only takes a moment once you are used to it:

Equally helpful is my paper cutter:  
Any straight lines are cut with this tool. It's quick and easy to line up cut, with very little pain...even when you have to tackle a huge pile of decor.

This last one isn't really a cutting necessity, but it is a great little tool if you want to finesse your decor and give any squares and rectangles a bit of rounded shape:

This little corner-rounding tool is also a painless option. Simply put the corner in the guide and punch:

It'll give you nicely rounded corners, again saving cutting time and any unnecessary pain.

Strategy Three: Use Numbers to Label Everything 
If you are a teacher who numbers students, then this truly is an ideal way to prepare many materials, well before you get in to your classroom. All labels can be printed, cut, laminated (only if needed!), and ready to go ahead of time! This is useful if you are unable to get into school until the starting day, or if you do not have a class list yet.
I also like to use numbered stickers to set up bags for our reading and science materials:

(Student Number Labels)
I blogged a great deal about how I use numbers to organize my entire classroom recently, you can read more about it here:

Strategy Four: Organize All Signs and Labels
Of course I always pack my labels together by kind before I head in. But I have learned it is also helpful to organize them as much as I can before I bring them to class. So those numbered labels? All stacked in order, EXACTLY the way I want them to appear on my students' number drawers, so I can just glue them down right in order:

I even pack up our daily schedule in order, so I do not have to think about what to place where...I can just hang it right up, from top to bottom.

Strategy Five: Pre-Organize Student Supplies

When I was a young teacher, I used to bring in boxes and boxes of markers and crayons and sit and blissfully unpack them, marveling at their colorful beauty and lovely new-school-supply-smells.
Those days are over.

Kind of. I still love the smell of our new crayons!

All joking aside, I have found it extremely helpful to unpack everything, recycle those cardboard boxes:

 And sort all supplies as they will be arranged in class:

Since we use Student Toolboxes, I group the supplies by drawers and elasticize them ahead of time. Then I bag them up by each table's toolbox:

And box them up:

This saves me a ton of setup time when I get to class and frees my mind to be thinking of more important things, as I fill each toolbox quickly.

Strategy Six: Pre-Tape and Pre-Velcro
I am big, big fan of hot gluing signs and labels. Especially those laminate ones I want to last all year (or for years!). But I don't always have time to hot glue everything during that first day of setup. And taping things to the wall really does take forever, doesn't it? Please tell me I'm not alone in thinking this!

So I am using these adhesives to pre-adhere as much as I can:

The Velcro I am using for the name tags on our chair pockets:
(Editable Name Tags)

I am cutting the Velcro squares apart, but leaving the plastic on one side. That way, I can stick the Velcro to the name tag, peel the plastic when I get to class, and attach to the chair pocket:

The removable mounting tape is a new one for me...I will have to let you know how it goes. I am using this on our cursive alphabet line and daily schedule. This will allow me to quickly stick these items up on the walls that first day of setup, yet move things around and make adjustments if needed.

Just like the Velcro, I am cutting around these adhesive squares so I can leave a bit of plastic to be peeled when I get to my classroom:

Please believe me, I am certainly not an expert when it comes to this kind of setup. Remember, I'm the one who usually takes forever in the summer to get my room to the absolute ideal I envision! 

So my two questions I leave you with are:
1. Do you have setup tips to share with us? Ways to cut corners and save time in classroom decorating? 

2. Would you like to read more about this? I can feel a "part two" coming on as I continue to get things ready at home this week.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I truly hope this was of help to some of you!

July 26, 2015

Get Everything in Order...Before They Even Arrive

I am beyond excited to write this today! I am joining an inspiring group of upper-elementary friends to share a Back to School Survival Guide. And it is chock-full of tips and resources to help you prepare for a brand new year!

I'm hoping to provide some helpful hints you can use, well before your students arrive. I'm also hoping you will be able to share your tips at the end of this post as well, so we can compile a huge list of ideas together!

One of the most important ways I get ready for each new school year is to have everything in order before my students arrive. I realize that sounds fairly obvious...but the fact of the matter is, I don't always have a finalized class list until that first day of school.

And more times than not, a new student or two shows up unexpectedly. How can I set up a well-organized classroom with all this unknown?
Not always having a class list can put things on hold. And I hate to be flapping around the room grabbing materials for the new students who arrive two days into the school year. I want to be as ready for them as I possibly can so I can welcome them warmly. So I prep everything I possibly can in are my tried-and-true tips for doing so...

Student Name Plates
I am just a little Type-A with how things should look. Have you noticed this? ;) But I've learned to let a few things go for the sake of preparation. For my student name plates, I would really love to have them printed out with a great font. To be ready for a new school year as soon as possible, I print and laminate them ahead of time, during the summer break. Then, once I have my class list, I write the students' names with Sharpies. In order to keep the names from getting erased over time, I use a piece of clear packing tape over the name.
(click here to download this name plate)

Student Materials

Since my students sit together at tables, I like to have materials ready to go for each group, right from day one. One of the best tools for this has been my Student Toolboxes. These toolboxes house all of our community supplies in an organized fashion and are perfect in case students are unable to bring some of these supplies to school.

The toolboxes are also great places to store a folder on back. These are called backpack folders and are top-loading. I attach them with Velcro and they are the PERFECT place to hold papers for the morning, or even different parts of the day. Nothing makes me feel more prepared than having all of my student papers for the morning already passed out into these folders, ready to go. I use this method from day one so I can hit the ground running, even if I have extra students arriving:

(click here to download these table signs)

Numbering the Classroom
This is one of the most important ways I get my ENTIRE classroom in order, well in advance. Numbering students and tables is something I have done for many years now...and I find that I incorporate it more and more into all areas of my room over time because it is so helpful in managing all materials.

Numbers for Group Materials
As you read above, my students sit at tables and are numbered accordingly. We have seven tables and I use numbers to keep all group supplies organized. I number any supply caddies (we use these for art materials):

as well as textbooks for each group. I store them in bins like these (they are the new black ones from Really Good Stuff...squee!). This makes it easy for a student to grab three at a time for the classmates at their table:

I also use group numbers for other supplies, such as science experiments. This summer, I have been compiling many of the basic materials we use in all experiments in those large Ziploc bags (this one is a work in progress). I use labels with corresponding clipart to make things clear, as half my class is comprised of newcomer English Language it's helpful for mainstream students as well:

Numbers for Reading Materials
Using student numbers also helps me get things in order for all of my reading materials, ahead of a new school year. Just as in the science supplies, I like to set up reading bags. I use coordinating stickers for these because they are fast...just slap a  sticker on  (ok, place it carefully so it looks perfect!) and cover with a bit of packing tape for longevity:

I like to use the same stickers to number my sets of class novels, for our read alouds:

Numbers for Individual Materials
If you've read my blog in the past, you'll know I am a huge fan of those Sterilite drawers. We use the extra-wide ones meant for scrapbook materials. Each of my students has two drawers to store their supplies:

One drawer is for math, science, and social studies materials. The second drawer is for reading and writing. I have used a variety of designs for labels over the years, but ALWAYS the same size and layout because it works. The numbers are easy to read from across the room and help my students keep things exactly where they should be.

Everything stored in these drawers has the student's number as well. Math notebooks have a number sticker:

 All reading and writing materials are stickered as well:

I fill all of my student drawers with these materials, ready to go, well in advance of a new school year. This is one major thing that is already done, even before I have a class list. I also stock enough drawers to be planned ahead for any new arrivals...since I have students enter throughout the school year (as I know many of you do as well!).

Numbers for Student Checklists
I am a big fan of checklists. I like to keep track of everything, from taking turns on alternative seating, to which students have passed in a permission slip, to homework checks, and so on. 
I get these checklists ready ahead of time, with the numbers already in place. As soon as I get my class list, I enter the names of my students and I am ready for a year of organization!

I hope these tips will help you with your preparations for a new year, so everything can be put into the right place, as soon as  your students arrive....

If you'd like to try these methods to get your entire classroom numbered and organized, I have all of the number labels above (and a lot more) available in this resource. It has over 1,900 pages of labels in different shapes, sizes, colors, as well as editable checklists. And the best part? Student Number Labels has a  TON of techy shortcuts to help you navigate right to the exact labels you need to print. Please click the image below to learn more:
And there's more...a TON more! Please be sure to stop by these incredible blogs to read their Back to School Survival Tips...just navigate the icons to get you on your way. You can also enter their giveaways for more chances to win those TpT gift cards:

July 19, 2015

Carson-Dellosa Blogger Summit 2015 (Giveaway)
This winter I had the great fortune of being asked to join several incredible blogging friends for the Carson-Dellosa Blogger Summit for 2015. What is this summit all about? Why, the dream of so many teachers...classroom decorating!!

We were asked to use one of many adorable sets from Carson-Dellosa's decor line:
 ...and set up a mini-classroom showcasing the line!

My theme was Parade of Elephants. And I have to tell you something  about elephants. I absolutely ADORE them! I have all these elephant figurines I collect from different places...they are such a wise and incredible animal. But enough about my love of elephants. Let's talk Carson-Dellosa's elephants.

As an upper-elementary teacher, I was delighted to find these elephants are perfect for a range of elementary students (not too young-looking, just fun!). Each elephant has these beautifully-patterned ears that reminded me of a Moroccan-look, which is so trendy these days.

I decided to use a beautiful gray at the main color in the "classroom", to really let those elephants pop:

One of the best things about the Parade of Elephants set is the variety of elephant cutouts. There are so many things you can do with these cutouts, from decorating bulletin boards (such as this Exit Slip board):

To decorating your teacher desk:

To dressing up all of your plastic storage!

The elephant cutouts were also the perfect little tool to display anchor charts! I glued a clothespin to the back of each elephant, then clipped the anchor chart for an easy way to switch the charts out.

There are so many bright color options with this set, so I did a little bit of color-coding as well. All the orange charts and elephant cutouts for reading information and green charts and elephant cutouts for math (this is also something I like to do in my own have noticed I'm crazy about color-coding, right??):

Finally, I used these beautiful pennants that accompanied the elephant set to create a reading genre tree for the classroom library. Each pennant features a genre's name and definition:

I only wish I had more time to spend with these elephants because this set has so many options...the possibilities for decorating are endless!

But here's the exciting part:

YOU may have tons of time to work with this set because one lucky reader will be winning the Parade of Elephants Classroom Set (a retail value of $100)! Please see the Rafflecopter below for more details.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Open to US residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 5, 2015

Getting labels ready BEFORE the next school year...

As many of you know, I have worked with the black, white, and brights scheme for several years now (since 2012!). Even after all this time, I still love how the colors pop and they have remained trendy enough to appeal to my 5th grade classes over the years.

I do like to evolve my room scheme a bit each year and add a few new elements into the mix...different posters and labels to change things up slightly. But I always try to do this in a small-scale way, so I'm not spending the entire summer redecorating my classroom.

Which is why I love getting my organizational labels ready BEFORE the next school year. It's actually a very easy process, as I find myself madly spring cleaning around this time each school year!

I start with the toolboxes. I have two for myself and six others for student supplies at their tables. 

I usually don't need to change much with my toolboxes...unless I find I didn't use a particular drawer that year and want to add in a new supply.
 click the photo to see these Editable Teacher Toolbox Labels

The student toolboxes I do keep pretty consistent because they have worked so well for us over the years. The only thing I will be changing out next year is the dry erase marker drawers...I have a different idea for that storage I'd like to use instead. So I will be adding a different supply, to have more options right at my students' fingertips:

click the photo to see these Student Toolbox Labels

Library labels...well I've had SO many over the years that I have loved. I usually change them out at the end of the school year as I weed through and re-sort my library. 

I will not be changing my labels from this year however, as I absolutely love them and they were so easy for my students to read from far away. They kept everything in order and really helped the traffic-flow in our library.

So I will just be adding a couple of new genres from my library resource based on my numerous book purchases this year (Dystopian for one!):

These old labels are in still in great shape. I have found if I print them on cardstock, laminate them, and hot glue them to the bins, they can last for years. And that helps a major part of my classroom to be sorted and ready to go for next year BEFORE next year...always a relief!
 click the photo to see these Editable Library Labels

I might have a lot of library labels in store, but I also have a ton of alphabet lines. I keep my various sets for a couple of years, again printing them on cardstock and laminating them for longevity. We are not allowed to keep things on our walls over the summer, so I always pack them up in order, so they are ready to display as soon as I can get back in my classroom:
 click the photos to see this Alphabet Line

It may not seem like a lot, but by organizing and prepping these labels and posters in May and June, I save myself so much time over the summer...some major parts of my room are already decorated, organized, and ready to go!

If you'd like to get a jump start on your decorating and organizing, now would be the perfect time to stop by my store! All of my decor items are on sale right now. If you are looking for an easy-to-use and customizable resource, my Classroom Organization Bundle features toolbox labels, schedule signs, and library labels (with many editable options to make the exact signs you need for your classroom):
Don't forget to use the promo code ThankYou when checking out for maximum saving! Thanks so much for stopping by...Happy Teachers Appreciation Week!!!