Friday, August 14, 2020

Top Tips for Surviving Back to School!

Today I was asked if I was ready to return to school next week and I just nearly spit out my coffee. 

Like, wait. What? 

OMG. I do start back to school next week! It's not even next week, y'all. It's down to just mere days and hours. Minutes even. How in the world did I slip into such daze of delightful denial that I had forgotten? 

Okay. I'll be honest. I have not forgotten. It's been on my mind since July. 

As a teacher, I think of July as a month-long version of Sunday night. You teachers know what I'm talking about: Sunday night is the one time of the week that you dread because you literally spend the evening running through all the work that lies ahead. What's first-grade learning? Is second grade finished painting or will I need to prep paint trays in the morning? Fourth grade was on a field trip so half of them are behind while the other half is who's doing what tomorrow? Third grade, did I plan a lesson for third grade? And, kindergarten. Lord have mercy on my soul, what will I do with kindergarten tomorrow?! 

If that's our average Sunday night then y'all know what our month of July feels like. Especially in the midst of this wild world we are living in. 

Needless to say...I have been having just a tiny bit of trouble relaxing (ahem). But I have found some ways that have been working for me and I thought I'd share them here. Let's start with something I've recently mentioned on Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 of my podcast: BLISS.
This morning, I was going over all the things I needed to do today and I started to have trouble calming myself down. I've only had a couple of panic attacks before (once during my third year of teaching when I MELTED DOWN A KILN and immediately lost sight in my left eye and was sent home. Good times) but this morning, I noticed that the feeling over being overwhelmed was effecting my breath. Meaning...I couldn't catch it. Not a good feeling at all. Then I remembered my acronym BLISS. 

The B is for Breathe. It helps when breathing to have a gatha or a phrase that you say mentally as you inhale and exhale. What this will do is help you to focus on your breathe. Just taking a deep breathe and exhaling is great but, if you are like me, your mind will rapidly move to what it is you are currently fixated on. So if I have myself mentally say, 'Breathing in, I am calm; Breathing out, I can relax,' it really helps. Try looking up gathas or writing some for yourself. If, after a couple of breaths you aren't feeling better, keep trying. Breathe deeper. Relax your shoulders. Focus on the present. You'll get there. 

The L is for List Your Gratitudes. By that I just mean, while you are breathing, stop and take a look around the space you are in. Mentally list off what you are thankful for. Currently, I'm thankful for a comfy chair, a cup of coffee and the sewing room I am sitting in. You don't have to write it down. Just take in the present, 

The I is for Indulge in Your Feelings. Look, things are not easy right now. It's okay to have all the feelings. I've mostly felt confused (by the tons of emails) and overwhelmed (by knowing that the load on my teacherin' plate is about to get bigger) and upset (because I know I won't be able to do it all). And I think it's okay to get all up in your feelings now and then. As long as we don't live in that space, I think it's fine. 

The S is for Stop Reading Social Media. When have you EVER hopped off social media and felt like that was time well spent? I mean...I am an epic social media time waster! I spent a couple of days this summer completely off social and not only did I not miss it but I felt so much lighter. I recommend a little social media vacay if you can. 

And the last S is for Surround Yourself with Joy...whatever that may mean for you. For's creating, sewing and painting. If I don't take my creative vitamins, I swear I go through a withdrawal.
Wanna know what is keeping me up at night and my mind on a constant hamster wheel of thoughts? LESSON PLANNING. I keep thinking "how can I possibly provide my students with the best art education they deserve if I'm on a cart or on a screen or they are spaced so far apart?!" This little phrase right here has been helping me keep a positive mindset. 

Your only limitation is your imagination.. 

I was chatting with an art teacher the other day who has been teaching for 31 years. I've been at it for 22. Neither of us have EVER seen anything like this current teaching state. Which means...we are all in this together! It doesn't matter how long you've been teaching, this is a challenge for us all. Her mindset was, "a challenge can be fun." And she's right! Not the kind of 'fun' any of us signed up for...but if we think of it as a challenge and accept it as such, maybe it will push some of us out of our teaching comfort zone. This challenge has the potential of making better teachers of us all. 

All that to say...I'm still not ready! I'm still not sleeping well! I've been having my BTSN (Back to School Nightmares) like crazy and they seem to be even worse this time around. Y'all, I had a dream that there were WOLVES in the school the other night. My mind is on overdrive! I shared this with my friend Virginia who recommended I start at the beginning of the alphabet and think of all the foods I could. I got to the letter H before I had to get out of bed and hit the kitchen for a snack. All that did was make me hungry! 

A couple times this month, when sleep has completely illuded me, I've tried Melatonin by Natrol. I had no clue what Melatonin was until recently. It's a natural hormone that your body creates to let you know when to hit the hay and get outta bed. Twice this month, when my mind wouldn't allow me to rest at all, I found this to help. I even woke up without my standard morning headache (do y'all get those?!) which was a nice surprise. 
Just know...that if you are feeling a little panicky and overwhelmed, it's okay. Also, just know that yours truly will be teaching children in THIS ROOM next week and what you see right here is the clean and tidy side. 
Also know that my face has permanently frozen this way (just as mama said it would) as I've made it so many times when asked "Are you ready for school to start?!" Hahah, yep! Sure am! Doesn't it look like it?!

In all seriousness, y'all, we got this. We handled it like champs in March when it came out of nowhere and we suddenly found ourselves as YouTubers, videographers, Zoom-Call champs and more. We can do this new thing and we'll be doin' it together. Love y'all! Mean it! 
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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First Days of Art Class 2020-21

Wowza, y'all. School began last week for me with days of professional development and just yesterday for my students and all I can say is that in my 22 years of teaching, I've never had a year like this!'s only Tuesday.

Just to give you a little info on what my school district is doing for our elementary students: kindergarten thru second grade have the choice of going virtually or returning in the classroom. If they are returning, they are to be wearing masked, spaced 6' apart and washing or sanitizing hands frequently. My older students in third and fourth grade have the option of being remote or virtual. Remote means that, when allowed, they will be back in the building. My district plans to reassess in two weeks. However, we do have some of our third and fourth graders at school as they may be the children of teachers or learners who need to be with teachers. So, what that means is that every 3rd and 4th grade teacher has about 3-4 children in her classroom and is asked to teach them and her remote learners simultaneously via Zoom. Which is...a lot. 

As for me, I've been asked to prep lessons for all the virtual and remote learners as well as teach my in house students. Because of some schedule overlap, I have not been going live with my remote learners. Instead, I've been providing them with prerecorded videos for them to listen and create at their own pace. 

All that to's been a rollercoaster so far and that was BEFORE the kids even got here. I had to much prep to do for those remote and virtual learners that I nearly neglected my in person kiddos. However, on Sunday, I came in, finished setting up my art room (new room tour to come) and recreated my Rules and Routines video. I was able to salvage the first have of the video (originally recorded in 2017) but had to completely redo the second half as we have new routines to follow. 

Here you go!

On our first day, here is what we do:

* I meet them in the hallway. If you know me, you know that I use the acronym WELCOME on the first day. 
Normally, my students would go straight to the floor and be can see my USUAL first day routine here. However, this year, we had to do two new things: get our hands immediately sanitized as I demonstrate in the video and go stand on a spot that is 6' apart. In future art classes, we'll go straight to our seats but on that first day, we wait a pinch while we all sanitize and enter the art room.
* I got everyone quickly to a seat. The tables are color coded by messy mats (not sure if they will stay but they are working for now). I also have color coded circle stickers on the back of each chair that has the table color and number on it. My friend Andrew @elementaryarts recommended them to me and I found them on Amazon. 
* Once seated, I do my greeting.
* We learn our Art Class Catchphrase.
* I introduce the Word of the Day.
* We talk about the Open/Closed sign.
* We talk about the Happy/Sad board. 
I did it just like you see in this video...except students were at their tables:

* From there, we watch the video I shared at the top of this blog post.
* We stretch!
* We greet each other and I ask a list of silly questions (more on that in an upcoming blog post!). This you can also see in the video from last year. 
* We review the clean up routine with drums, gong and a table caller.
* We learn the lining up routine...and that's it!

And that...was our first day. I LOVE the idea of doing art in art class on the first day but with 30 minutes and so many new things...this was all I could pack in. I'll share with you what we do on the second day...and I'll continue to share with you as I learn new things about this new art teacherin' world we find ourselves in. Sending y'all hugs. We've got this!
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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

DIY: New Decor for the New School Year!

We are getting new updates on what our new school year will look like...often. And I get it, who knows what our future may hold. I know my school system is trying their very best and I certainly would not want to be in their shoes! That being looks as though I may be in my art room for some of my grades and teacher virtually for others (with the idea that I could be on a cart at some point too). 

One of my favorite things to do to get excited for the new school year is to create something for my art room. I was a little bummed thinking "why bother?!" for the longest time. That is until I decided to change my outlook and create something that could be used for my art room, a cart or even virtually. Here's how I made my new art room/cart/virtual learning sign:
I know things are tough right now but I will say this: creating this sign changed my attitude. It made me begin to think of this new school year as a challenge. As someone who has taught for over two decades, I had gotten pretty comfortable in the way that I teach. Now I have this new, ever-changing, challenge coming my way. I can't control anything about this situation except my attitude. Here's my attempt at doing that. 

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Season 2 of the Cassie Stephens Podcast!

I'm baaaaack!

I took a small hiatus from my podcast back in March when I learned we were not returning to school. Suddenly my focus was on distance learning...and not much else! I had no intention of taking a break but, for me, it was necessary. However, I'm so thrilled to announce that I'm back with two episodes of Season 2! They're titled How to Prepare for the Unknown, Part 1 & 2...kinda appropriate, right? I do hope you enjoy. If you know other teachers who might, please feel free to pass this along. I would also love to read your comments so feel free to leave them wherever you listen to the podcast. Thanks, ya'll!

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Behind My Mask: A Super Kid Self-Portrait!

 Hello, friends!

I have created a lesson for my students and any kiddos who wish to create titled Behind My Mask! When my students return in the fall (and, yes, I said 'when' as I am very hopeful and optimistic), they will be asked to mask-up. We always seem to start out school year with a selfie so I was bummed when I thought of the idea of my students drawing themselves with their best facial feature hidden. And that's where the idea of this surprise drawing came from. Here's a video! Feel free to use and share (with credit given, please and thank you):
I simply used paper, permanent marker, coloring markers and crayons. If I happen to teach virtually this fall, this lesson could also be done by my students at home. 
 This video is a short and simple one...when teaching, I plan to share with my students a variety of self-portraits and talk a lot more about lettering, fonts, skin tones, craftsmanship, good character...the list goes on! As you can see, I'd have a hard time fitting it into a video short enough to capture their attention. So, if you use this video, feel free to add on whatever you wish to include!
No one is excited about wearing a mask's for our safety. And the best thing we can do for our kiddos is to put a positive spin on it, right? I hope to do that with this lesson. Enjoy!
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