Tag: back to school

first day

First Day Back To Class: Kids, Teachers, and Moms

Posted on September 2, 2019 by

The first day back to class is always full of adrenaline, expectation and fun for me. I’m exhausted at the end of the week, but it’s a good kind of teacher tired. It reminds me that teaching is hard work – if you want to do it right. It’s the kind of fatigue that builds from beginning to create a community from nothing – the first step in letting kids know you’re paying attention to them so they trust you. And it’s beginning to balance kids, teaching, and motherhood – even when I’ve got an empty nest at home.

The first day, first class of 2019

The first day

In my very, very small reading class, I have the opportunity to connect quickly with my students. We sit on stools and cushions together around a low coffee-style table, face to face. The first day of school this year was also the day my son was leaving the nest and flying to college in Boston. Being a teacher mom has these moments of feeling stretched between two worlds – do we focus on our own child and their needs, or tuck that away and see the kids in front of us. Of course, I try to do both and sometimes it doesn’t work out so well.

The empty nest

This year I didn’t get to see my son off at the airport, and I was sad. I stuffed it away for the morning of teaching, but at lunch when I had a few quiet moments I texted him to see if he made it out of our house ok. Sure enough, he was on his way to the airport and said he’d call when he was settled. The call came just as the bell was ringing for my 5th-period reading class – what do I do? Greet my students with a phone in my hand? Ignore them as they come in the door, knowing it will be weird for them to not see a whole class full of kids? Ignore my son…somehow I needed to balance it. I wanted to show my students the human side of me – the mamawolfe side.

So, quickly I answered the call, hung up, and brought my new readers into a circle. Introducing myself, I told them how happy I was to be their teacher and told them that my own son needed help, he was traveling to college and asked their permission to be a mom while they browsed the books in my classroom library and relaxed.

Of course, they said ok.

Building the relationships

After a few minutes of helping Cam get his boarding pass situated, I was back to the group. And naturally, they had questions. How old was my son? Where was he flying to? What did he need help with? How many kids did I have? Did I have a pet? Where is Massachusetts? Where is Boston? What began as a dilemma had turned into a very teachable moment. We used our US map and found his college, and talked about moving away from home. Quietly, the dark-haired boy to my left said, “I just moved away, too. I used to live in Oakland, but now I live here.”

I was pretty sure no one else heard him. He kept his eyes down, either shy or scared or both. I twisted around and replied, “Oh wow- Oakland is sure a whole lot different from Davis, don’t you think?”

He looked up. “Yeah. It’s a lot quieter.” His voice was a touch louder, but I could still tell he wasn’t ready to open up. The other kids were caught up in their picture book selections and relaxed on beanbags, so I pushed a bit.

“How long ago did you move?” I asked.

His stomach rumbled in the quiet room. Even though we had just come from lunch, I whispered, “Are you hungry?”

“No,” he quickly replied, barely audible.

“Ok; I have granola bars and crackers if you ever want anything….”

“Granola,” he blurted out before I could finish. Silently I stood up, went to my cabinet and grabbed a chocolate chip chewy bar and a small bag of pretzels from my snack drawer. Without speaking, I put them on the table in front of him and sat back down.

Like any teenage boy, he gulped down the snacks as I sat next to him, reading along with my other students. He stood up, dropped his wrappers in the trash and as he sat back down beside me, he asked if I’ve ever been to Oakland.

The moment

That moment – like an electrical charge – broke the ice, the first step taken. We connected. I think he felt my care for him; his body visibly relaxed into his chair. We talked about my grand-doodle Ellie, and other kids jumped in to tell about their dogs. I promised to show a picture of her the next day, and suddenly the class was over. I asked if he knew where to go next, and his quick reply reminded me of what it’s like being the ‘new kid’ in school. Glancing at his schedule I suggested I could walk with him – he was going to one of my favorite teacher’s classes.

“Sure…” his voice came out in a whisper-question, but I went with it. As we approached his history class, I introduced him to his teacher as he greeted kids at the door, knowing they were both Oakland fans. He would be safe in there.

What happened next

In truth, that’s not all of the story – it’s actually not even my favorite part. What happened the next day was where I really realized the power of connections, and what we had done together.

“B” walked back into my room the next day and looked straight at me and said hello as I brought my stool up to the coffee table. The shyness of the first day disappeared, and as the other kids were wiggling around with their backpacks and books, “B” said, “Ms. Wolfe, I have a question. Did your son make it to Boston OK?”

Startled, I looked back at him and replied, “Why yes he did – thank you for asking. I’m sorry yesterday started off a little weird, but he’s there now and I’m here and ready to read!”

“B” smiled and cracked open his book, settling back into the grey Papasan chair I had brought from my son’s bedroom at home. “B”, about the same age Cam was when he used to curl up in it, too, relaxed in his safe space.

I had to go over to my desk for a moment…I knew the tears were coming. Being a teacher-mom is like that. Relationships happen in the most unexpected ways at the most unusual times. Opening up to kids and letting them see YOU helps them open right back up and lets you see THEM. And that’s where the magic can really start to happen.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Kids, School, and Stress – 4 Tips That Will Help

Posted on August 6, 2018 by

Back to school is closing in fast – and while we may all agree that education is one of the most important factors in any child’s life, more and more we’re seeing our kids’ mental health at risk. For kids, going to school can often feel as though they are merely learning to take tests. This in itself can make school a very daunting environment.


It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With the right plan of action, it is possible to make life less stressful for students. And when they feel calmer about school situations, it’s likely that they’ll perform better too. Ready to get started? Check out these four tips to help your student prepare for a new school year:

#1: Focus On Effort Rather Than Attainment

Teachers and parents want kids to be successful – but what does success look like? Finding a way to successfully encourage kids to try their best is an achievement in itself. Incentives and rewards are excellent starting points. In truth, the most crucial factor is for them to gain a sense of perseverance. After all, the occasional setback is inevitable.

When the effort is there, the attainment will come. Success may look different for one child compared to another, but reaching those personal summits is the ultimate triumph.

#2: Remove The Sense Of Unfamiliarity

Most children are wise enough to know that they are preparing for tests and assessments. Unfortunately, the vast majority enter test situations without truly knowing what to expect. This can be the worst issue of all – the anxiety created by feeling unprepared can be paralyzing.

One way to remove the sense of unfamiliarity is to visit www.writingsamurai.com to access some truly wonderful test resources. Remember that it’s not all about preparing for the questions, but also preparing children for the test conditions. Trying to get them to follow the exact routine that will be used on the test day will greatly enhance their self-confidence. When the element of surprise is removed, kids can focus solely on the questions themselves.



#3: Encourage Kids Towards Interactive Learning

Different children respond to varying types of learning. Regardless of the delivery method, there is no doubt that they will retain more information when they are actively interacting with the content.

There’s nothing wrong with having fun while learning. Introducing podcasts, videos, and physical activities to the classroom can all work wonders. They can soak in the info needed for tests without even realizing that they are actively revising. Additionally, these activities can encourage the development of many other real-life skills.

#4: Change The Environment For Kids

New surroundings can have a telling impact on educational development and can be linked up with interactive learning.


Arranging field trips can be highly beneficial. Visit www.owlcation.com for a step-by-step guide on how to handle this task in style. Field trips are so memorable that kids strongly retain the things they learn, which can be crucial when assessment day arrives. If nothing else, a break from the norm can reset their minds, reducing the stress that may have built up over recent weeks.

These four tips are just the beginning of helping kids connect to school, feel confident, engaged and reduce their stress. I’d love to know what you do to help your students get back to school successfully!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Posted on September 26, 2017 by

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For September 2017It’s been an interesting month; the back to school adrenaline has definitely worn off and happiness hacks for September 2017 were a bit random. My baby is now an adult. I can hardly watch or listen to the news without wanting to crawl under the covers (I live right near the Pacific Ocean if you get my drift). My first born filed her papers to graduate from college. Pumpkin spice hit the shelves again (wait-it’s still 90 degrees here in northern CA) and I’ve STILL got a huge to-do list hanging on from the summer.

I’m exhausted.

Last night I socialized with a bunch of old and new friends, many that are teachers. We all had the same look in our eyes – the half-droopy, bloodshot and overwhelmed look that teachers get when they’ve been putting every ounce of energy into establishing classroom routines, tackling new curriculum and battling over sub-par technology.

And to think someone asked me why the beginning of the year is so tiring – don’t we already have our lesson plans from last year?

Ah, if only it was just about lesson plans….

So yes, I am seriously in need of some happiness hacks. I’m betting that you are, too.

I’ll give it my best shot – I’m not giving up!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time

Happiness Hacks For September 2017 book

My page-turning definitely slowed down in September, in large part due to not being able to keep my eyes open past 9:00 p.m. I did have to abandon a book that just wasn’t catching my interest, but I’m deep into/nearly finished with Jennifer Chiaverini’s The Spymistress. I’m a huge historical fiction fan and especially love finding books that make American history come alive through a female protagonist. This book focuses on the Civil War in Richmond, Virginia, and a young, unmarried woman, Lizzie Van Lew, who poses as a Confederate supporter to help smuggle Union prisoners and messages through her home. Van Lew is not a fictional character; she was instrumental in establishing the Richmond Underground and is known as one of the orchestrators of the escape from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison. It’s cool to see our female unsung heroes finally reaching the notoriety they deserve. One of my favorite stories is by Erin Lindsy McCabe, who wrote I Shall Be Near To You – you can read my interview with Erin here. It was one of my top ten books of 2014!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Happy At Home

This month’s Happy at Home is about meeting personal goals. Like many teachers, I’m a planner. I love to make to-do lists, set small, medium and large goals, and in the last few years, writing has featured prominently in most of my personal and professional goals. I decided to blend as much of my personal and professional life into my writing as possible, and it’s been a blast!

In September I hit TWO huge goals: doing a live TV cooking segment, and being PUBLISHED IN A MAGAZINE!

You can watch my cooking demo here – just a fleeting 4 minutes to make spaghetti with sauteed eggplant and tomato basil sauce!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

If you haven’t flipped through the September issue of Real Simple yet, have a look at the “Relating” feature “5 Excellent Habits To Start When School Does”. Doing the interview and seeing my name in print is SO EXCITING!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

I’m not second-guessing myself, just thanking the universe for the opportunities and helping me gather up the courage to say YES!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Something Yummy

I love to bake, but after my daughter left for college things definitely slowed down. You’d think that living with two men I’d be filling the kitchen with all sorts of delicious treats, but both my son and husband are super health conscious about eating white flour and sugar. So much for backing-as-a-form-of-stress-relief!

Happily, though, this month I stumbled on an easy, yummy treat that they both seem to adore. I call them coconut energy bombs, and I found the recipe here.

I’ve tried adding almonds (tastes like an Almond Joy), pecans, and even some cacao powder, but they like the straight coconut and dark chocolate the best. I used mini-muffin tins to form the bombs and store them in the refrigerator until they are gone. They’re super easy and taste like candy, without all the bad stuff!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Listen Up

I’m still loving my podcasts, for sure. As I noted earlier, the news-junkie in me has taken a huge hit with this new administration. I cannot subject myself to all the stupid/scary/abhorrent drama that seems to occur on a daily basis, so I rely on the NPR podcast “Up First” to get my 10 minute morning update while I’m cooking breakfast. Later in the day, I’ve taken to the “10% Happier with Dan Harris” podcast and the “10% Happier” app for quick, relaxing meditations. I mean quick – they start with 1 minute and can go up to 10. They’re awesome. Try it.

I hope these Happiness Hacks for September 2017 bring more gratitude into your life. Please be sure to leave your happiness hacks in the comments – I’d love to share your tips for living an ordinary, extraordinary life.


Do you have to intentionally make yourself happier? Some people, like me, need ‘happiness hacks’ to remind themselves daily of what a blessing it is to be alive – what great fortune we have to be living for one more extraordinary, ordinary moment.

Years ago I started a gratitude journal – just a daily addition to my morning pages that documented the ordinary things that I was grateful for – simple things that made me happy.

During this time I read Gretchen Rubin‘s book, The Happiness Project – Gretchen’s writing and podcasts inspired me to create what I hope are monthly lists of ‘happiness hacks’ – small, simple acts or moments in life that bring me happiness and maybe they’ll rub off on you, too. You can read my essay inspired by Gretchen’s other book, Happier At Home here. 

In June 2017 I started with my first set of ‘happiness hacks’, and loved the responses I received on the post and on social media. Turns out, you do things to make yourselves happy, too. 

You can read my “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks For August 2017: Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

Happiness Hacks For July 2017



Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Back To School, Digital Style

Back To School, Digital-Style

Posted on September 15, 2017 by

This year I’m going back to school with a twist – I’m going digital-style with my syllabus and lesson plans!

A few years back I experimented with different ways to engage students on the first day – and first weeks – of school. Building relationships, engaging my classroom and creating a sense of excitement helps me to keep a high energy level – absolutely necessary for teaching middle school – and also sets a tone of exploring new ideas, trying new strategies and risking failure.

Because seriously – we teachers are constantly asking our students to “push themselves”, to step out of their “comfort zone” and present their very best work, right? And yet how many teachers actually walk their talk? I’ve discovered that I build better relationships with my students when I do what I ask them to do, and as a result, we have a more productive, more creative and more growth-oriented classroom.

Last year was the year of hyperdocs for me – I wrote about how to teach narrative writing with hyperdocs, and have begun transforming nearly all my units into a digital-style package of pedagogy. I like that. I’m energized and invigorated and when I see what the students produce…mind blown!

This year I decided to go digital-style as much as I could for the first day, the first week, and beyond.

Going back to school, digital-style:

First, Creating a Digital Lesson Plan Book

To begin, I signed up for planbookedu.com. This is a HUGE step for me – I love tech, but still prefer to read a hardcopy and write in a spiral planner. I decided to switch to planbookedu, however, because in the process of hyperdoc-ing and transferring file cabinets to Google Drive, I found it challenging to access all the lessons that I had written down but had no direct digital link to. Having a digital-style plan book allows me to manage my multiple preps (4), to link my digital files onto each day/period, to copy the lesson for the one class that repeats and to search and save the plans for next year. I can also print it if needed. After researching the cost of purchasing a new paper planner, the fee for planbookedu seems well worth it.

Then, Digitizing My Syllabus

Back To School,digital-style

Next, I decided to digitize my syllabus. I’ve seen this trending online this year, and I found a shared Google Slide template I thought I could adapt. You can get a copy of it on my ‘free teaching and parenting resources’ tab of my website, jenniferwolfe.net. I’m not going to lie – it took me a good 4 hours to fiddle with the template, to fit in what I needed, to edit, revise, and edit some more…but then once it was done for one class, I just modify for my three other preps!

The amazing part of going digital-style with my syllabus was that it forced me to really THINK about how I wanted to present myself to parents and students; my hope is that the syllabus sticks around with them and becomes a reference point during the school year. On that end, I created a new technology and plagiarism policies and linked them to the syllabus for parents to review and return. I add links to my teacher Google site, to my class photo slide deck, my grading policies and my REMIND codes, and because it’s so visual I inserted more information than my paper syllabus ever did!

Finally, Using Google Slides For A Digital Daily Agenda

back to school digital style

Finally, I’m using Google Slides for creating a digital-style daily agenda that can be embedded on my website, shared with students and parents, and easily updated from home or school. This is probably my favorite change of them all. Last year I used a plain slide deck that I switched up fonts and colors every month to keep students engaged – this year I’m going to get a bit more stylized! I’ve almost entirely given up directly assigned ‘homework’, so my daily agenda will follow the ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘could do’ format. I use “due dates” instead of “homework”, allowing students more choice and control over their work. I love using funny gifs or images or quotes to start the day off, and by using a digital template I save tons of time by not having to rewrite everything every day! You can also see and grab a copy of my digital daily agenda template on my ‘free teaching and parenting resources’ tab of my website, jenniferwolfe.net.

back to school digital-style

I’d love to hear some of your ideas about going digital-style with your teaching and moving your classroom into the 21st century – please leave ideas in the comments below!

*This post first appeared on theeducatorsroom.com – please visit this awesome website written BY teachers, FOR teachers!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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4 ways to make a classroom more interactive

4 Ways To Make A Classroom More Interactive

Posted on August 22, 2017 by

Starting back for a new school year opens up so many opportunities for teachers to shake things up! Teachers stuck in a classroom droning on at the board with no input from anyone else is a drag on everyone involved. Teachers are constantly looking for ways to keep their students interested and involved in lessons. No matter the age, as a teacher we want growing minds to be the best they can be. So compiled below are a few tips on how teachers can help to keep kids focused and engaged within a classically ‘boring’ setting, and includes multiple ways to vamp a lesson up! 

4 ways to make a classroom more interactive

4 ways to make a classroom more interactive

Image From Pexels

Turn Learning Into A Game

This is a good strategy for anyone who struggles in the traditional classroom model and requires a helping hand in remembering notes or instructions. These days, we know more about the learning difficulties associated with ADHD, Dyslexia, and ADD, just to name a few, that make it difficult for some kids to concentrate on their learning alone and without help. Plenty of classroom stock brands and interesting tools can be found for a discount at DontPayFull.com, such as eye catching posters or digital software guaranteed to bring a whole new world into the classroom. With this handy tool, becoming an innovator in your school doesn’t have to be expensive either. 

Having regular games in the classroom will increase the interaction between your students, building better friendships and people skills. It also can allow them a good sense of independence if they work in teams during a game, with the need to stay on task and involve others around them if they have a flair for natural leadership. Using a game or some kind of toy is especially useful for core subjects such as math, in which you can involve challenges and have small prizes such as cool pens or pencils for whoever wins. A friendly competition will keep them interested for any future activities, and it’ll also help kids to use their mathematical ability in daily situations, so watch out for future chess champions!

4 ways to make a classroom more interactive

Keep Activities Hands On

Learning is an activity that requires all areas of your brain, so keeping each one engaged is important for retaining new information. Use less traditional methods of teaching when it comes to subjects such as history and geography by having students create their own timelines and maps, for example. For a subject like English, using buzzword elements and creative materials like feathers or pipe cleaners around a certain word or phrase to make mind maps is a great way to keep kids involved in their learning. This way they can also direct how they learn, and as a teacher, you’ll be better able to see where they’re going wrong or the areas they need help with. Having a hands on activity in a subject such as science is perfect for learning; students can set up their own experiments and write up reports, both clear definitions of their own time well spent.

Allow Your Students To Work At Their Own Pace

Keeping students at their own pace can sound a little risky; after all, there are deadlines to meet. However, there are ways to let kids study as necessary while at the same time being more suited to them. Homework is an outdated concept and is less rigid than we thought of when we were students. By varying its use, we can make sure it’s both completed and doesn’t turn out to be a chore. With ‘flipped learning’ coming stronger and stronger into fashion, students who are slower in class can learn new things at home, and then reinforce them while in class. This has proved to be effective due to the formal setting of reinforcing the knowledge, with fewer distractions around that aren’t productive. I love the ‘must do’, ‘should do’, ‘could do’ approach – setting due dates and guiding kids with their time management teaches valuable life lessons. Blogs like InteractiveClassroom.net have plenty of tips on incorporating digital elements to better help kids work at their own pace, with software to explore their creative sides.

4 ways to make a classroom more interactive

Keep A Track Of Each Student’s Progress For Them

Records are kept of every student that walks through a school’s doors, but these are less personalized and accessible to the kids themselves. Knowing how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished since learning something new is an idea kids and adults alike revel in. There are multiple ways to have a personalized file for each student while using a general record, such as keeping binders they can read when necessary. By including students in their own time keeping and progress tracking, we’ll afford them a greater feeling of responsibility and direction over their own destiny. As a teacher, it can also give you closer insights into their working troubles with assignment grades and the time taken on each one laid out before you.

So here are just a couple of ideas on ways to keep a classroom more interactive; which way do you think is best for you and your students? I’d love to hear you ideas – please leave them in the comments section or send me a message. Wishing you a great start back to school!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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