From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

Back-to-School Newsletter 2017

Dear Educator,

Happy New Year!!!!

You have to be an educator to understand that that August is our official new year's eve party! We begin to spend our time up in our rooms, preparing materials, lesson planning, and dreaming of what is to come. One of the best things about our profession is that every new school year is a "do over." We get to learn from our mistakes, try again, and build our expertise. Unfortunately, our students don't get a do-over, so it is critical we are the best we know how to be each day.

Our prayer is that this year is your best "do over" yet! We will continue to bring educators the latest news and findings in education along with new seminars and teaching products. Let us know how we can help you make this your best year ever!

Wishing you the best "Do Over" ever,

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Start the Year Off With Your Walk Up Song!

Ever been to baseball game and heard the different songs that play when each new baseball player takes the plate? The songs represent the player's feelings, goals, and personality. I had the privilege of hearing Stephanie Harvey at ILA this year. In her talk about striving readers, she suggested finding out each students' "walk up" song. I investigated this practice and learned that the walk up song in baseball is an important ritual of getting ready to knock it out of the park. It represents the players persona, intentions, attitude, and much more! Hearing it gives them confidence and focus.

So, what's your walk on song as a teacher this year? My walk up song is "Something Big" by Shawn Mendes. I love the lines "Something big I feel it happening/Out of my control/Push and pull and then it's grabbing me/Feel it in my bones like." It reminds me that good things are all around me and to keep the faith. I feel that if I do my part, God's got the rest. Whenever I'm nervous or needing a boost of confidence, this is my jam.

Each MLB Baseball team has their team playlist listed on their website. Check out the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers playlist for inspiration!

How Do We Use Walk Up Songs in Our Classroom?

Walk up songs are a great tool for building relationships in the first weeks of school!

Ask students to tell you what they want their walk on song to be! Students can brainstorm songs that they enjoy and that illustrate their goals, personality, and theme statement of the year. Have students write a short expository piece explaining the song, what is says to them, and how it changes their thinking when they hear it. This is a great first piece of writing for the year. Be sure to look at it as a baseline expository writing piece.

As students walk into the classroom each morning, play one of their walk up songs. Ask the student who choose that song to explain what the song means to them.

Music is great as a transition cue too. Most songs are 3-5 minutes in length. Use the music to cue students to clean up, turn in work, or prepare for the next part of the instruction.

We all need brain breaks and time to stand and stretch. Playing upbeat music can do the trick. Great songs can help reduce tension and get our brains ready to refocus and move on. And that student who comes in and puts their head down? What is his/her walk up song? This might be what he/she needs to wake up.

Take Songs a Step Further!

Take walk up songs to the next level and use one a week as a mentor text, close reading text, or fluency karaoke warm up. The possibilities are endless!

Check out our Youtube playlist for some walk up song suggestions!

Read Alouds Are For All Ages

Do you remember teachers reading aloud to you in school? I was blessed with teachers who read aloud in elementary and secondary school. My favorite memory is from the 3rd/4th grade multiage class I was in. Our teacher read aloud everyday after lunch. I can still remember how I looked forward to my teacher picking me up from the cafeteria and going back into our classroom to grab a comfy seat and listen to her read aloud a chapter book. Oh how I loved these moments! I loved listening to her expression, voices, and the storylines she brought to life.

This, my friends, is a heck of a way to leave a legacy!

As students progress through their school years, the read aloud is typically replaced by reading assignments, lectures, etc. But does it really need to be? Read alouds are beneficial for ALL AGES and for MANY reasons.

Here are some great read alouds for this year!


We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio (From the best selling book Wonder)

Giant Children by Brod Baggert

Egg by Kevin Henkes


The Bad Guys (Series) by Aaron Blabey

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy (Spanish version)

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Whatever After (Series) by Sarah Mlynoski


Micro Fiction (Short Stories)

Survivors Club by Micheal Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Bugged (short stories) by Sarah Albee

300 Words: Through Our Eyes (Micro Fiction by Teenagers)

Paving a Curriculum Road Map

"People with goals succeed because they know where they are going." - Earl Nightingale

Do you have a map in your room? Is it a curriculum map? Can your students and class visitors see it? Knowing where you are going is the most important first step in planning a journey. Teachers and students need a clear road map (literally) of what will be learned and when the learning will occur. Everyone needs a clear visual for desired learning outcomes.

Mapping out units of study, essential questions, comprehension strategies, and projects can help students envision where they are and where they have been. This is also a great catalyst for goal setting.


Educators can create a bulletin board with the "Class Road Map" or a grade level map i.e. "The 5th Grade Journey" illustrating the major content and strategies they will learn throughout the year. You can map it out by month, unit, or 6-9 week increments. Some grade levels have used the hallways for a collaborative map. Secondary classrooms provide an online or paper map for students.

Refer to the map often throughout the year. Ask students to make connections to past learning and predictions about future learning. The human brain likes a plan.

Will you have a map this year?

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Building Partnerships With Parents From the Start


Relationships are the foundation of a successful school year. Not just teacher and student relationships, but parent and teacher relationships. When thinking about interacting with parents, we must view them as a partnership. We are partnering with parents to teach their most prized possession.

Empower VS. Preach

Parents want to help their students in any way they can, sometimes they just aren't sure how to do that academically. Give parents exact strategies or tasks to do with their students at home. Let me them in on how this will help build the desired outcome. Consider making a video or going "Live" on your class Facebook page to demonstrate how to give feedback or show how to support the child while they are doing homework.

Goal Setting

Have parents help you and their student set learning goals Show them the data and empower them to help their student grow this school year. Be explicit when you explain what the assessments show and what the report means. Be sure to start with all of the student's strengths. Setting new goals with parents every semester is a valuable tool to boost student's achievement.

Be sure to read our blog post (from the archives) on Helping Parents Help Their Students.

For more information on empowering parents, attend our Reaching Struggling Learners Conference this November!!!

Back-to-School Activity: Students Selfies

Selfies are all the craze these days. Start the year off with Student Selfies! Have students create selfies to introduce themselves and build community in your classroom. Check out our ready-to-use student selfies activity for your first week of school!

Writing Instruction That Works!

January 20, 2018 / 9:00am - 12:30pm

Dallas, TX

Grades 3-8

Half Day Saturday Session

Transform your writing instruction when you discover new and engaging writing activities to use in all content areas! Discuss blogging, letter, and journal writing. Increase your student's writing stamina as you scaffold students using rigorous and motivating activities. Learn expository writing ideas, grammar strategies, and much more! This is half day seminar you will not want to miss! Registration information coming in next month's newsletter!