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Getting Ready for Your Best Year Ever

July 31, 2016

I know from social media that many of you are actively planning for the upcoming school year. (Some of you have already started or are in “year round” schools.) Master teachers organize and plan AND use all available resources to ensure a successful school year.

Many of you know that Surviving to Thriving LjL has an online store at TPT. If you are interested in utilizing our products or any of the other countless resources there, I wanted to let you know that on August 1 & 2, TPT and we are throwing a back to school sale. We know how important it is to save your $. While I am careful not to commercialize this blog, I wanted to share this opportunity with you.

Best Wishes for THE BEST YEAR EVER.


Surviving to Thriving LjL is throwing a SALE!! August 1st and 2nd, our entire TPT Store is on sale.  Stock up on all your back to school needs now while they are on sale!! Don’t forget to use the code “BESTYEAR” to get 28% off your purchases!


Visit our Store or our Blog to read about our products.


Using Literature to Appreciate Diversity in the Classroom During the First Days of School

July 25, 2016

Providing a safe and welcoming classroom is vital to building relationships and community in the classroom. Getting to know students, celebrating who they are and where they come from, and providing needed social and academic supports are essential to student growth and achievement. Our students come from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. It is up to educators to get to know and understand students and give our students opportunities to get to know and appreciate each other.

During the first days of school, master teachers focus on building a classroom community. An effective way to do this is to use literature. Two of my favorite books  focus on diversity, inclusion, and building relationships of respect. These books can easily begin conversations around getting to know and appreciating classmates, building classroom community, stopping bullying and getting to know each other as unique individuals.

I have used this book, The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane DeRolf, with my pre-service teachers for several years. (Click here for a review.) I still love it. crayon box


An excellent companion text was recommended by a colleague, The Color of Us by Karen Katz. (Click here for a review.)

color of us

Consider using these as you plan for the first days of school.


If you are interested there are lesson plans created by Surviving to Thriving LjL available at Teachers Pay Teachers.



10 Things Every Teacher Should Do This Summer

July 6, 2016

It’s July 6. The fireworks are (mostly) over and it’s time to take on the remaining summer. In a time when we hear of teacher shortages and more educators leaving the profession because of stress, burn-out, unrealistic expectations, or a loss of the passion for teaching, what do we do to rekindle our energy and prepare for coming school year? TAKE TIME FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. Master teachers give so much of themselves to their students, their colleagues, and their school communities. During the next few weeks its time to give to yourself, your family, and your friends.

Checklist for Summer – Personal

  1. Make appointments for yearly exams—medical, dental, vision
  2. Organize personal living space: closets, garage, basement, kitchen, storage areas
  3. Set dates to reconnect with family and friends
  4. Make a plan for exercise—consider golfing with buddy, walking with a friend, taking yoga classes on your own, or working with a personal trainer
  5. Make a plan for nutrition—visit a local farmer’s market, take a cooking class, or just try some new recipes
  6. Check out local resources in the community—library, museums, organizations, new restaurants and shops, athletic facilities, nature centers, parks
  7. Treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure,  and/or massage
  8. Lunch at a new restaurant or take an evening cruise with friends
  9. Join a book club—check out the library or local bookstores for clubs in your area
  10. Plan a vacation—whether it is two days or two weeks, plan time to get away

From Surviving to Thriving: Mastering the Art of  the Elementary Classroom

I’m on my way to the gym! Enjoy the summer and rekindle your spirit.



We Love Bookmarks!

June 14, 2016

Thanks for the great ideas and free product!

Surviving to Thriving LjL

We love bookmarks. Students love bookmarks.  And so, in many of our products, we include bookmarks.  We even offerIvan Bookmarks free bookmarks to teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers.

7 Ways to Use Bookmarks

  1. Form pairs, trios, and/or quads. Distribute the number of different bookmarks equal to the number of pairs, trios, or quads you want to form. For example, to form quads, reproduce four copies of each individual bookmark. Distribute bookmarks and direct students to form a group of four by finding three other students who have the same bookmark they have.
  2. Use as a writing prompt. Distribute bookmarks. Direct students to read and ponder the quotes. Next, ask students to write a short reflection on what the quotes means to them. Invite students to share their reflections with an elbow partner.
  3. Investigate the speaker. Use the bookmarks to form student trios. Direct trios to read and ponder the quotes…

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Teacher Appreciation Week

May 2, 2016

NTD-2013-FB-profile-3.jpgI hope you are all as fortunate as I am, and that you are able to look back on your years in school and remember a teacher or teachers who made a difference in your life. If you can do that…..then let them know. During national teacher appreciation week, send a teacher a note, an email, or Facebook message and let them know that they are important to who you are today. Good teachers are invested in the success of their students. And while we say we “touch the future” we often are not quite sure of that. Take time this week to let them know. Thank a teacher!

Presidential Proclamation — National Teacher Appreciation Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016

Just as we know a student’s circumstances do not dictate his or her potential, we know that having an effective teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success……

Our future is written in schools across our country. It is likely that the first person who will go to Mars is in a classroom today. Our students are our future teachers, scientists, politicians, public servants, and parents — a generation that will steer the course we will take as a people and make possible things we have not even imagined yet. We look to the women and men standing in front of classrooms in all corners of our country — from cities to reservations to rural towns — to vest America’s daughters and sons with the hard skills they will need to put their dreams within reach and to inspire them to dream even bigger. On National Teacher Appreciation Day and during National Teacher Appreciation Week, let us ensure our educators know how much we value their service in the classroom, how much we appreciate all they do for our students and families, and how thankful we are for their contributions to our national progress.


April 22 – Earth Day

April 19, 2016

April 22 is Earth Day.  I’m hoping we are teaching environmental awareness throughout the year. If you plan to touch on Earth Day in the coming days, below are some awesome resources for you and your students.

Jewish Culture-Gram: Passover Edition

April 19, 2016

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Kelly Steiner. Kelly shares these insights with her faculty and administration. Thank you Kelly for sharing your culture with us. Happy Passover.

Friday night is the first night of one of the most important Jewish holidays-Passover. (This ancient Jewish festival  starts at sunset on Friday, April 22, 2016 and ends the evening of April 30.)

What is this one about?

Passover is the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  It’s Pesach in Hebrew, but that just means Passover.  It is the retelling of how our ancestors came to be slaves in Egypt, their treatment under the Egyptians (spoiler alert – it wasn’t good), Moses, the plagues and their eventual escape from oppression.  The story is retold, pretty much the same way, every year.  In the process of telling the story, families (who traditionally gather from all over) go through a ritual meal called a Seder (which means “order” in Hebrew).  It is full of symbols.  For example, there are several symbols out on the table: Matzah (the unleavened bread that represents how the Jewish people had to flee so quickly they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise and it baked on their backs while they fled through the desert – it’s why we eat Passoverunleavened bread for 8 days), a hard boiled egg (I think this one is the circle of life and new beginnings), a green vegetable (that gets dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears of our ancestors), a shank bone (the term Passover comes from the fact that during the last plague- slaying of the first born- the angel of death passed over the Jewish houses because they marked their door posts with the blood of a lamb), Charoses (a sweet mix of apples, honey, cinnamon and wine that reminds us of the mortar used by our ancestors in their bondage), and bitter herbs (in my family this is bits of raw horseradish to remind us of the bitterness of bondage- it’ll definitely clear your sinuses).

You can see that this isn’t a party holiday, but it is a real centerpiece of the Jewish calendar and a key gathering of family.  For me growing up, this was the only time aside from Thanksgiving where everyone made sure to be in one place.  This is especially challenging since most people don’t get time off of work or school for Passover and so getting family from all over to the same place for this ceremonial meal meant lots of sacrifices.  It’s also a really interesting one to visit.  It is customary to leave an empty seat for any stranger since we were once strangers in a strange land.  This is sometimes re-interpreted as just a wide welcoming of visitors that want to engage in a Seder.  So if you’ve always wanted to know more about Jewish culture, you could totally join in a Seder sometime.

A highlight for me is the focus on social justice.  In many Haggadot (plural for Haggadah – the book that lays out the Seder and contains the story, prayers and songs) the readings focus on the need for all Jews to rededicate themselves at Passover to the freedom of all, including freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression, bigotry, hatred, war, etc.  We are reminded over and over that as a people we remember the pain of bondage and we are bound to commit ourselves to understanding and alleviating the pain of bondage of others.  It is said several times that we should all think of ourselves as personally having escaped Egypt and experiencing the Exodus because if it hadn’t happened we’d still be there.  I also think it’s cool that when we read out the ten plagues (because you haven’t really had a festive meal until you have discussed boils, blood, and locusts) we dip our fingers into our wine and remove a drop for each plague.  This reminds us that although the Egyptians were our oppressors, they were still people and their suffering should remove some of our joy from our cup.

A flip side or controversy is that another traditional custom is to say “next year in Israel”.  This is hard for many cultures (including Palestinians) because if all the Jews who said that, actually went to Israel, it would cause some serious population dynamic problems.  I don’t mean to be flip, I wanted to bring up why this is a hard day for many Arabs without getting into the whole ball of wax.

But can I expect kids do their homework?

In terms of the nitty-gritty – you may have students absent Friday and/or Monday.  This is probably because they traveled to be with family or are preparing on Friday since family is so important for this holiday.  The Seder traditionally takes several hours on Friday night (and some families do a traditional second Seder on Saturday night).  This really takes almost all night and would make it very tough to do homework (even if the house wasn’t full of extended family).  So, if you can, please cut your Jewish kids some slack on homework this weekend.

Anything else I should know to be sensitive?

First, many Jewish students may not eat leavened bread (or lots of other things- there’s a lot of specifically Kosher for Passover foods) for 8 days starting Friday night.  If you’re supervising lunch or other treats, you can be sensitive to this temporary dietary restriction.

Second, if you want to say something, you can say happy Passover or have a sweet Passover- it’s just with more of a happy Easter tone (a more serious one) than a happy birthday tone since the holiday is a solemn one.  (Honest, Jews do have party holidays, just not big enough to write e-mails for-we just had Purim which is a riot).

Kelly teaches science in Milwaukee, WI. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University.

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