To Departmentalize or Not Departmentalize?

I write a lot about how my school is departmentalized and I often get questions from readers about how we make it work, what grade levels participate, how it's broken up, etc. So, I thought I would address some of the questions I get the most.

Do you have a homeroom class that you see at the start and end of each day?

I start each day with my own homeroom. They are with me until 10:15 when we "switch" and I take my partner's homeroom for the remainder of the day. My partner's homeroom is with me through dismissal.

Here's a peek at my schedule:

How do you send home notes/info/flyers/graded papers with them?

We use homework journals (future post!) and in the back we hot glue a pocket labeled "Notes Between Home and School" for things that need to go home immediately. Otherwise, school flyers, graded papers and PTA info goes home in our school-wide Tuesday Folders. I don't know how we picked Tuesday, but they go home on Tuesday.

My partner and I have chosen to set aside time to go over any and all homework in this weird and awkward 20 minute period between Specials and Lunch. I always have her homework to pass out and she has mine. This way, the kids get everything at once and there are no excuses and stories about "Mrs. S didn't pass out homework!" :) 

How do you and your fellow teachers let each other know what to write home in the students' daily binders regarding behavior problems that day? 

We jumped on the clip chart bandwagon last year and we are loving it. For students that need it, we send home a weekly behavior chart. What I like is that there are boxes for the student or teacher to color in how their morning was and how they ended their day. I would share it with you, but I didn't make it. :-( I'll ask my friend if I can post it later.

Other than the homework journals, we don't use a daily binder. We've tried it, but it didn't work for us. By the time a child is in the third grade, I don't think they need a "daily" behavior sheet. We actually have a few 1st and 2nd grade classes who have adopted the same theory. I know in other schools, parents like to have that daily communication - and I certainly offer it to parents who ask. I just avoid "extra" work when I can!

My partner and I talk ALL the time. I call her my "work wife." :) In the same sense, if a student had a problem in my room, I need to write the note home. If they have a major problem in the afternoon, then my partner takes care of it. We also prefer phone calls. They are more personal and we feel like we connect with our families on a stronger level.

Also, do students carry their book bags to each class?

Yes. Since they dismiss with me, my partner's homeroom brings everything with them. This is a school-wide system for us.

How do you handle parent-teacher conferences?

We used to do 40+ conferences together. It was my idea and it made us crazy people.

Now we sort the kids into 4 categories:

Needs ELA only, Needs Math only, Practically Perfect and It Will Take 2 Of Us to Make it Through This :) 

Who partners the teachers together? How does that work?

I. Am. Blessed. My teaching partner is one of my very best friends. When we were paired together, though, we were very nervous. We knew it would make us or break us. Communication is KEY. If something is bothering one of us - if we're late switching too many days in a row, if one of us has forgotten to send something home - we TALK about it IMMEDIATELY. When you bury your frustrations, it blows up in your face. I also trust her implicitly. She is responsible for the math, science and social studies scores on my state tests. I never question whether or not my kids are getting the best math instruction possible. She extends me the same courtesy.

Our principal always asks at the end of each year who we think we would work best with, and if we have any requests for change in the upcoming year. I know as a staff we are lucky to have administrators who take the time to hear us out. I've seen people "thrown together" who don't get along and it creates a toxic learning environment for your students. You may not have the perfect partner (and you certainly can't borrow mine!) but you can find ways to make the best of it. Compromise, compromise, compromise!!

Which grade levels in your school participate?

We are departmentalized in grades 1st - 5th. It started in 5th grade for a couple of years, then 4th grade joined in, then 3rd and a year or so later we added 1st and 2nd to the mix. There has been debate over whether or not it's good for 1st and 2nd, as well as whether our inclusion population can handle the transition. I can't speak for 1st and 2nd grade teachers, but I can attest to how our inclusion kids adjust. While it does take the inclusion kids longer to "acclimate" to the transitions, they succeed because they are getting two teachers who are teaching to their strengths.

Pros? Cons?

Pros: I am absolutely teaching to my strengths. If a lesson "bombs," I get a redo immediately so I know what to fix for the next day. If an angel child is on my last nerve, I only have them for half of the day. The kids enjoy this to - They always have an opportunity to turn their day around... as long as you give it to them! Instead of bonding with 20+ kids, I have 40+ relationships each year.

Cons: I have definitely lost some of my math teaching tricks. So, I look for opportunities in the summer to teach math (summer school) and I seek out professional development and books to read. You have to be proactive about this. The ELA team definitely has a larger work load. HOWEVER. My partner recognizes this and frequently helps out by completing required paperwork whenever she can. I will say it again - No. You cannot have her.

I hope this has been helpful! If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I'll do the best I can to answer them!

Rhythm, a Giveaway and a Freebie!

We are getting ready to enter our third week of school. We're still working on rituals and routines. I have to remind myself that in a few weeks it will only take 2 minutes to glue something in their homework journals... instead of 5 minutes. I will only have to ask once for them to put their morning work folders away... instead of 3 times. I'm also hoping I'll start to find my "rhythm" so I don't feel so overwhelmed all the time.Getting through these first few weeks can be painful, but I know a day is coming when I will go home and look at my husband and say, "It happened! They are officially 3rd graders!" :)

I've been working hard on a noun review unit for 2nd and 3rd graders and a common and proper noun unit. I'm excited to get them out to you. They will both come with anchor charts, a poem and lots of fun activities for your kiddos to try out.

 We have Open House this week. It's always hectic with families trying to see 2-3 teachers in one night. I'm curious to see how other schools pull this night off. We have 30 minutes set aside for 2 grade levels. So K-1 students will visit from 5:30 - 6:00, 2nd and 3rd will visit from 6:00 - 6:30 and 4th and 5th visit from 6:30 - 7:00. Does your school have a similar system? Something different? We tried it last year for the first time and while it was a jam-packed 30 minutes, it was nice to be "finished" at 6:30. We are asked to stay the whole time, but I don't mind. It gives me time to prep a chart or tidy up my library for the next day.

Speaking of libraries, my friend Aileen recently showed me a fabulous app called Book Retriever. I've slowly but surely been scanning all of my bar codes into the app so I can keep track of "who borrowed which book" every night. It is fabulous and only $0.99. But WAIT!!! Don't go buy it! Aileen is giving away FIVE of the apps on her blog right now. So click on the picture below and head over to her blog to enter.

 Finally, I promised a freebie. :) Being part of an America's Choice school comes with a lot of "must-haves." One of those "musts" is a visual representation of the workshop model. The one we have didn't satisfy my need for "cute" so I made this one on Friday afternoon. Sad Friday afternoon. :) I know many of you are using the workshop model or you may be a part of an AC school, so I hope this is something you can use!

I printed mine as a 2x2 poster, and it looks really cute in my mini-lesson area! 

Workshop Pie Chart


Must Have Monday

I think I'm getting this one in juuuuust in time. :)

I don't think going back to school has kicked my rear this hard in 5+ years. Wow.

I'm ready for some teacher blogger fun, though!

Here are a few of my classroom "must-haves":

I'm sure there are about a million other bloggers telling you about this beautiful machine. I'm pretty sure that I'll have one for school and one for home by the end of the year. It saves me SO much time. Classroom posters, task cards, reward cards - there are pouches for all of those things. It's amazing.

My name is Abby and I like to label things. Right now, I've ordered about 600 of these babies. They go on every folder or notebook my kiddos use. Every book in my classroom library has one. I could design labels all day. If only someone would pay me to do that! :)

This may be the silliest one. I {heart} Dixon pencil packs. But they have to be the ones with blue, purple, red and green. Because they match the pencil pails in my room. And the children do not "walk off" with them. We have a whole pail just for "homework pencils" to make this even better. And yes, each pail has a label on it. :)

If the pencils were the silliest, THIS is the MOST IMPORTANT. You need to ask your school bookkeeper (that's where I got mine) or your principal if these are available at your school. It's amazing. I love to go to Office Max. With this bee-yoo-ti-ful card, I get my school district's prices on everything in their store. Everything. I love to fill up my basket, look at a $50-75 total and hand them my card. I rarely walk out of there spending more than $20. Glorious!

And - of course -  because I am The Bookworm, I wanted to leave you with a few "must have" teacher resources that I cannot do without.

Rafe Esquith. He is my teaching hero. If you don't know about him or his amazing Shakespeare program, you must must must go here: The Hobart Shakespeareans

and then read this:

And this...

And probably this too...

I take away something new every time I reread one of his books. He has made me a better teacher with just four words: Be Kind. Work Hard. I would love to hear from some of you who have read his books as well.

He even mentored me via email last year as I got my school's Drama Club off the ground. He even called me on the phone, people! He is one of those people who makes you want to be a better person.

Happy Hopping! I can't wait to see what everyone else has posted!

(Waves Wildly) I'm Here!!

We are back from the beach. It was SO nice.

About 2 years ago, my sweet in-laws gave us a permanent paid-for time share off the Georgia coast. I love it. It always falls two weeks before I go back to work. So I had a week at the beach, a week to work in my room on my own time (and readjust to life in the real world) and then pre-planning started today.

I've needed to step away and "unplug"  - I'm sorry for the long absence! :) 

I did go in last week and thought I would share the "progress" I've made. Like many of you, I have to pack up my room so they can haul it all out to wax the floors.


AFTER... (day 1)

I've since purged a kidney table, a file cabinet, a round table and a set of cubbies. I also found "homes" for all of my lamps in the room. I'll take better pictures before Meet and Greet on Thursday.

I've had several emails lately about departmentalizing and I'm working on a post on what makes my partner and I feel successful every year. Before I hit the "publish" button, I wanted to make sure I answered as many of your questions as possible. If you're getting ready to try it at your school or you are just curious, please feel free to leave a question or two in the comments below.