How to Use Simple Behavior Notes to Improve Your Classroom Management

Thursday, December 26, 2019
Learn how two little note templates can be a complete classroom management game-changer. Glow and Grow Behavior Notes are a simple and highly effective behavior management strategy for kindergarten and beyond. Parents will love getting positive notes sent home, students will love earning them, and teachers will love how easy they are to use and implement in the classroom. These notes are an excellent alternative to the traditional color clip chart. Read on to hear how Glow and Grow notes came to be and how you can use them successfully in your classroom.

Did you ditch your clip chart because everyone told you how terrible it is? (That's a debate for another blog post!) . You tore the chart off the wall, but now what can you do? If you are anything like me, you don't have time to keep up with a complicated behavior system with tickets and cashing in for prizes or little behavior tags to pass out when you catch your students being good. Maybe your school has a school-wide PBIS system that you are required to use but it's not enough motivation in your classroom. Who has time for another complicated classroom management strategy? I needed a simple, quick, and effective way to positively communicate and document classroom behaviors. Thus, Glow and Grow Behavior Notes were born.

An Alternative to the Color Clip Chart

When I first threw out my clip chart, I found myself writing long notes and emails or worse yet, making phone calls daily to address parents' questions about classroom behaviors. There were also parents that I truly needed to address certain behaviors with that didn't warrant a phone call or conference but needed to be addressed none the less. Dealing with negative behaviors began to consume my planning time and I often forgot or ran out of time to recognize kids for their positive behaviors. It just wasn't working. I had to find something that was less time-consuming and still motivating for students. Sound familiar?

On a whim, I developed 2 behavior checklists. One for positive behaviors and one for negative behaviors. On each list, I added a place for notes and a place for parents to sign and return to school. I copied the checklists on brightly colored paper, like this Astrobrights paper on Amazon (affiliate link). Then, I kept a stack of each on my desk. At the end of each day, I sent at least one positive note home with a student and I sent home "needs improvement" notes as needed.  All I had to do was check a box or two to note the behaviors I saw that day.  That's it.  Simply write a student's name at the top and a checkmark or 2 is all I needed to effectively communicate with parents.  Sometimes, I jotted an extra note if I had time.

Soon, students were begging to know who was getting a note sent home at the end of each day. That's when I knew I was on to something special. So, I reworked the checklists to be prettier and have more positive language. I called the positive notes "Glow Notes" and the improvement notes "Grow Notes". This simple change allowed me to send improvement notes home more often because parents and kids could view them as opportunities to grow and not as a punishment.

Keep It Simple So You Can Be Consistent

Being consistent is the key to success with any classroom management tool.  Kids need to know that what you say is what you mean.  When I started using Glow Notes, I made sure to send at least one home every day.  Because this only takes 30 seconds per note, it wasn't difficult or time-consuming.  This helped to build anticipation and got students to "buy in".  After a few days of only sending home Glow Notes, I was able to send home Grow Notes as needed.  A student called out all day long?  Grow Note sent home to let parents know.  A student went out of her way to help a friend who was having a hard time?  A Glow Note was sent home.

As a classroom teacher, I never have enough time to devote to keeping track of who got a note sent home when.  That's just another thing to add to my never-ending to-do list.  Instead, I kept a parent signature line on each note and hard students return them to school.  Then each note went into the student's folder.  This allowed me to keep a record of communication with parents.  If an administrator every wanted to know how I was communicating with parents or more about my classroom management, I had the notes on file to show them.  It also helped me to see at a quick glance who I needed to be sure to "catch being good" soon.  The beauty of Glow and Grow Notes are in the simplicity!

Everyone Wins with Glow and Grow Notes

Communicating student behaviors to parents and families does not have to be difficult or time-consuming. Behavior notes do not have to be long and complicated if you have the right template. Keep things simple and to the point, while using positive language and you will win families over. With effective behavior communication, everyone wins. Kids are happy to be acknowledged for their positive choices, parents are thrilled to see happy notes come home, teachers have an easy way to keep communication open and admin will love the focus on the positive to improve student behavior and promote a positive classroom community. The terms glow and grow help to keep the communication light and positive. These notes are truly a game-changer for classroom management.

When you have more challenging behaviors in the classroom, Glow and Grow notes may not be enough for certain students. Like any classroom management tool, there is no "one size fits all" approach. However, at least the Glow Notes will help you to recognize students who consistently are doing their best. Over the years, I've learned that visuals are a powerful tool in the early elementary classroom. Read more about how I use visuals here. The other strategy that I've used with great success is a calm down space.

How to Get Started with Glow and Grow Notes

Every classroom is unique and has its own challenges.  That's why I created editable Glow and Grow Notes templates for teachers to use.  I have a few different sets available in my TPT store.  Teachers can use the premade templates or add their own behaviors to the checklists to mee the specific needs of their classrooms.  For this resource, editable means you can change the list of behaviors but not the entire note (due to clip art restrictions).  If you are ready to jump right in and want an editable set, you can find all my editable Glow and Grow Notes here in my TPT store.

Not sure how these will work for you? Click here to join my e-mail list and grab a FREE set of Glow and Grow Notes today!

If there is a specific clip art or theme you'd like to see on these notes, send me an e-mail at I love creating custom sets to meet teachers' needs. And if you are using these notes in your class, please tag me on Instagram (@teachingexceptionalkinders)! I love to see how teachers are using my resources.

Happy Teaching!

How to Set Up A Calm Down Space That Really Works

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Do you have a calm down corner or area in your classroom?  It’s probably well-intentioned space for students to go when they are upset or need a break.  Kids might even use it effectively to self-regulate their emotions when they get upset in class.  It’s important to give students a safe place to be sad.  Frustration, anger, disappointment and even anxiety are big emotions for little people and it is critical that we teach kids the appropriate coping skills they need to deal with these big feelings.  A calm down space in the classroom is a great way to give children the space they need to collect themselves and get ready to rejoin the group. 

But, do we need to call it a calm down corner?  I know it’s just a name, but really.  Never in the history of calming down, has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.  Think about it.  As an adult, when you are upset if someone tells you to calm down, do you?  I don’t.  I get more upset.  What I need when I’m upset is space.  A place to be alone to get myself together.  Many of our students need the same thing.  Telling kids to go to the calm down corner is likely not going to gain the results we want. 

Last summer, I saw Dr. Jean speak at a local college and she suggested renaming the calm down spot to a fun name or the name of a place when you would actually want to go.  So last school year, I renamed this area of my room and “Hawaii” was born.  I printed out a photo of Hawaii and ran with it.  I don’t have space in my classroom for an extra calm down area, so I took a chance and put Hawaii in my classroom library area. 

Before You Dive In, A Word of Caution

Unfortunately, the students who need this space the most, are often not allowed to use it because they might be destructive when they are upset.  If the purpose of a Hawaii is to give kids a place to calm down, then why are we banning the kids who need it the most?  As teachers, we need to remember that Pinterest-perfect, fancy calming area is not going to help students to improve behavior.  I’m just as guilty of creating pretty spaces that I don’t want students to destroy.  But life isn’t perfect and kids aren’t either.  This area should be accessible to everyone, not just the kids who won’t tear it apart.  This is important to keep in mind as you are designing your space.

How to Set Up Hawaii in the Classroom 

Visuals are an important part of a successful getaway space.  Visuals help to keep kids focused without verbal redirection which can often continue to set off a frustrated student.  You can start by creating a small anchor chart for the rules in Hawaii.  You’ll want to consider calming strategies for your students to use, too.  I printed off a few calming strategy choice cards (I used these calming strategies cards) and put them on a binder ring for students to choose from. 

I put a couple of fidgets in a box with the strategy cards.  You don’t need to go overboard with the fidgets.  I like to switch them out a few times throughout the year to keep things fresh.  Stress balls, squishes, and other hand fidgets work great.  Kids just need something to keep their hands busy and to help shift their focus away from what is upsetting.  My students have really liked these Tangle Jr. fidgets (affiliate link).  If you order from Scholastic Book Clubs, they often have fun fidgets in the bonus catalog. 

Because Hawaii was also our classroom library, there were comfy pillows and stuffed animals (reading buddies), too.  We used a timer for a few students, too.  They learned how to set it for a predetermined number of minutes and it worked great.  But a timer may stress some kids.  It’s important to know your students and meet their needs.

What’s not in Hawaii?

I didn’t put any putty, or crayons, or sensory tubes.  There are a few reasons I stayed away from those.  1. They are messy.  2. I don’t think they are always necessary.  3.  If individual kids needed them, I could pull them on as needed.  4.  Did I mention they are messy?

I didn’t use any curtains or barriers.  Yes, they are pretty and may make things feel cozy.  But I like to be able to see my students at all times.  If they aren’t being safe, I need to know.  When I taught special ed, I did have a fun tent in the classroom.  But I had way less students to account for and a classroom aide.  Between the two of us, we could keep an eye on kids in the tent.  In a room of 25+ kids, it’s just not possible for me to teach and keep an eye on an upset kid in a tent.  

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any of these things; it’s just something to keep in mind from a management perspective.

How to Introduce Hawaii to Your Students

I introduced Hawaii within the first few weeks of school.  We went over when it was appropriate, how many could be there at once, what to do when you were in Hawaii.  Anything I could think of, we went over it.  We used an anchor chart with “May do” and May not do” as well as lots of active modeling.  (Side note: If you’re not familiar with active modeling, please check it out.  It’s a game-changer for classroom management for sure.)  I printed off these free “I need a break” cards for kids to use.  Then I tried to anticipate any issues from the start and I made the expectations clear and hoped for the best. 

Turns out, I had a couple of kids who really needed it.  And I held my breath each of the first few times they went to use it.  I was afraid of destruction.  But ultimately, they were successful.  Did books get tossed a few times?  Yes.  Did a few stuffed animals grow wings?  Yes.  But these incidents were few and far between.  Generally, the kids respected the space and respected everyone’s need to use it. 

What happens if a student acts out in Hawaii? 

In our class, we use logical consequences so I dealt with that on a case by case basis.  You can really make that decision for what will work best in your classroom.  Do you need to have established consequences set in advance?  Will you deal with things as they come?  Whatever you choose to do, I would suggest not permanently banning any student from visiting Hawaii.  Maybe Hawaii needs to close for a few days or certain students need a few days off.  However, the point of Hawaii is to give all kids a safe space, not exclude them further from the group.  

Ready to try Hawaii in your classroom?  Check out my Hawaii pack here with all the visuals you’ll need to get started!  You can also save some money by purchasing my behavior supports bundle here

Looking for more ways to improve your classroom management?  Learn about teaching self-regulation strategies here and how to use social stories here.

How to Use a Social Story to Improve Student Behavior

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A social story can be an effective way to teach students how to behave appropriately in a given social situation.  Explicit social skills instruction can be difficult but using a social story can give students and teachers the script of the expectations they need to meet to experience success at school.  The social script of a social story can provide is especially helpful for students with autism and behavior concerns. Social stories can be used for endless behaviors and situations.  As long as they are well written and used consistently, social stories are an excellent tool for social skills instruction.

How Should You Use A Social Story?

Teachers should use a social story to teach specific social skills to students.  To use a social story effectively, teachers must be consistent and follow through.  If the social story says a student can take a break when he/she is upset, and the student follows the script, teachers must follow through and grant the break.  Consistency is truly the most critical component of any classroom management tool.  Kids need to trust that you are going to do what you say will do.

Some kids will need to read their social story every day all school year for it to be effective.  Other kids may only need to read it a few times to be successful.  I once had a student who would leave the classroom when he got upset.  We developed a social story to teach him to stay in an assigned space until someone could come to give him break in these situations.  As soon as he figured out that if he followed the directions, he got his break.  After a few weeks of using the story consistently, he didn’t need to read his story daily anymore.  We would still pull the story out every so often to review. 

Tips For Writing a Social Story

To write a social story you need to identify the behavior or social situation you would like to improve.  If you are working on a specific behavior, it is important to understand the function of the behavior (that’s a whole separate blog post!) to know what to include in your story.  If you have a student who constantly calls out, you’ll want to write a story to remind him to raise his hand and wait quietly.  You should also include a replacement behavior.  Like holding a finger in front of his mouth (quiet sign) to remind him to not talk.  Maybe your target behavior is bigger like throwing a tantrum when a student is upset.  You’ll definitely want to include calming strategy options in your story. 

It’s best to write a social story in first person using “I can” or “I will” statements to give students the power to make a positive choice.  Using first-person helps to give students the scripts or directions they need to be successful in a variety of social situations.  If a student has a difficult time during fire drills, you can write a social story to help the child to know what to expect and the appropriate way to react. 

I like to end my social stories with why we do these behaviors. A simple explanation like, “When I used my words instead of hitting, my friends are happy.  This makes me feel happy, too.” is all you need in most cases.  This ending helps to wrap it all up and helps students to understand that our behavior affects those around us.  In order for everyone to be safe or happy at school, we need to follow the school rules.  Social stories go a long way to help students to understand these protocols.

Writing social stories doesn’t have to be difficult (even for regular ed teachers!).  Just keep things simple and keep your students in mind.  If you have a student who loves Mario, try to incorporate Mario in the story.  Be creative and have fun with it.  After all, you’ll be reading them or hearing them pretty often!  Want to give social stories a try?  You can grab my Social Story – I Will Not Call Out freebie here.  If you’re short on time but ready to take the plunge into using social stories, my complete bundle of social stories is here. 

How Using a Sound Wall Can Transform Your Reading Instruction

Friday, June 21, 2019

Have you considered making the switch from a word wall to a sound wall in your classroom?  Or maybe your administration is pushing for the change?  I’m here to tell you that it is worth it and your students will reap the benefits.  Using a sound wall has transformed my phonics and writing instruction and has made my students better decoders, encoders and generally better spellers.  It’s certainly a big shift in a thought of how we approach using a traditional word wall but it makes sense. 

Learn how to improve your phonics instruction in the kindergarten classroom by using a sound wall.  Replace your word wall with these sound cards and organize your sound wall by using vowel and consonant phoneme cards instead!

Why You Should Switch to a Sound Wall

When you think about how we learn and child development, kids learn speech (or how to talk) long before they learn to put print with their speech.  We learn from speech to print.  The brain research is telling us that kids need to master phonemic awareness skills before they are ready to match the sounds to print, and then they need phonics instruction to begin to decode text.  We know this, but yet we are still using tools like word walls.  A traditional word wall requires students to find the print and match it to their speech.  This turns into a guessing game of find the word.  If a kid wanted to spell the word phone, he’d look under the letter F, but he would never find the word because phone is hiding under the letter P.  

How To Implement a Sound Wall

Using a sound wall is more about instruction than it is about slapping letter sounds on the wall and organizing words.  Teachers need to explicitly teach each phoneme (there’s more than 40!).  You can find lists of phonemes in a quick google search.  When introducing sounds, we use small compact mirrors like these (affiliate link) on Amazon.  Each student gets a mirror to practice making sounds.  The students noticed how their mouths looked, felt and what their tongues are doing to make each sound.  We also talked about recognizing when the voice box is turned on or off based on vibrations. 

In kindergarten, we don’t get to all of the phonemes and spelling patterns but I end up posting most of them because my higher kids are usually ready for them by the end of the year.  I posted cards with more graphemes than I teach in kindergarten and I covered the graphemes I didn’t teach with a post-it so the kids would not be overwhelmed but could lift the post it to check if they wanted. 

As I introduce the sounds, I add them to the sound wall.  Consonants are grouped by the type of phoneme (stops, nasals, glides, affricates, fricatives, and liquids) and the vowels are put in the shape of a V based on how your mouth looks and feels as you make the sound from closed at the top of the V, to open at the bottom, to round at the top right.  Then diphthongs and vowel-r words are put together, too. 

The Challenges of Implementing a Sound Wall

There are different, affordable programs out there that can help with the order to introduce the phonemes, how to arrange the graphemes on a sound wall and more.  It can be tricky to try to use this approach and to mold it to your phonics or big box reading series.  It becomes especially difficult if your phonics series has poor choices for picture sounds like elephant or egg for short E (really?).  If you’re like me and want things to be more visually appealing or fit with your classroom theme or you need picture/sounds to match your phonics program, you can check out my soundwall kit in my TPT store here. 

The next challenge is finding the time.  I carved out 10-15 minutes per day paired with our phonemic awareness instruction (we use Heggerty).  It fit pretty seamlessly and only took a few minutes of additional instructional time.  The results are more than worth 10 minutes a day!  During writing time you’ll find kids walking around with mirrors trying to find the sound that matches their mouth.  Using a sound wall helped me to be a better teacher and helped to give my students a better foundation in phonics that they will need to be successful readers and writers. 

What other questions do you have about sound walls?  I'd love to hear how sound walls are working in your classroom.  Feel free to reach out to me!  

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