Recently on my Facebook page, I asked folks to comment with their favorite winter folk dances.  What I discovered was that most of us don't have "official" folk dances that we associate with winter, but rather do lots of freeze dances to holiday music and movement activities to Nutcracker music.

One reader mentioned that she used a Jingle Bells dance.  I also use a Jingle Bells dance with my K-2 students. Another reader asked for directions, so I thought I would share my version of a Jingle Bells dance here on my blog.

The version that I use is a combination of about 3 different versions that were posted on the Music K-8 email list somewhere around 2002 or 2003.  While the dance uses basic folk dance formations and steps, I adapted these to meet the ability level of my youngest students and to work in the time available.  You should also feel free to adapt to meet the needs of your "folks."  
Last week I shared my "blue file" as my own technique to motivate and inspire me to teach music, and invited you to share your #whyiteachmusic stories as well. The responses were inspiring to me! I hope you will take the time to read the other blog posts, and the comments, sometime this week. It has been the perfect way to get ready for Thanksgiving here in the US.
I've got the giveaway winners to announce at the end of this post, but first I want to share some of my favorite comments shared by all of YOU about why we do what we do:

I love your blue file! I post my notes on a bulletin board next to my desk along with a newspaper clipping about a concert I directed my 2nd year of teaching. I teach music because I love The lightbulb that goes on in their eyes when they master a new concept. My kiddos feel so proud and accomplished when they do something they could not do before. 
I've haphazardly 'started' a blue file in past years--taking pictures of student drawings for me or tucking away the special thank you notes that students have taken time to write. I HAVEN'T kept them in one place--I'm not good with organization :-( I DO need to pull them all together in one box/file/etc so they'll be at the ready. Every year becomes more and more difficult with, what can seem like, more negativity to wade through (not with students). I also really like your idea of writing an encouraging note to other colleagues. Thank you for all you do to inspire students, me and other teachers.
I have one of those files that i started my first year of teaching! Whenever things get tough, i open it to sweet drawings and expressions of adoration and am reminded of the innocence and purity of little ones! We are so very blessed to do what we do!

There were so many more wonderful posts- over 100 of them- so thank you everyone for sharing your words of inspiration. I definitely needed a breath of fresh air this season!

Now for the winners! The winner of my music journal and blue file is: 
Erin Scharman Middelhoven

There were seven other winners too! If you see your name below, check your email (the one you used to enter) for a message about your prize!
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Floating Down the River: Jenny Trites
Sing to Kids: Becca Fiscus
Sing Play Creatively: Brooke Chamberlain 
Music Teaching and Parenting: Blanca InezSuzanne Fleischmann Bishop
Organized Chaos: Michaela Gibbons

I hope you have found some fresh energy to keep you motivated this week and through the busy holiday season. I'm so grateful to have this community of music educators to support each other!

I am teaming up with other music education bloggers to spread some positive thoughts this week, and I'd love for you to join us!  November and December are very busy time for music educators, full of performance opportunities.  Add to all of those music responsibilities, there are the teacher responsibilities such as mid year assessments, grades, parent conferences.  We want to give you some encouragement and reasons to be optimistic about your job.  There is even a giveaway to further brighten your spirits!

One of the advantages of being the last blog in the series is that I have been able to see some of the other blog posts before I begin my post.  I have a similar story to many of the other music teacher bloggers in that I feel that music education chose me, and I can't imagine what else I would ever do!  You can read about some of my first year teacher experiences here.  My family has moved many times over the last 30 years, and music education has been very good fit for me. I have been able to work in many different levels and disciplines, from high school band, elementary band, beginning strings, to children's choirs and elementary general music.  Many jobs, but always music.

One of my first "blue" file memories, more than 25 years old!
As the last blogger in the series, I would like to veer off the path of WHY I teach music, and offer some thoughts on HOW I keep going during these times when teaching is especially tough.  One of the best tips that I ever received was to start a "blue" file.  This can be a fancy scrapbook or just an overstuffed manilla file folder like mine.

The purpose is to tuck away mementos that bring back sweet memories.

When times are tough, and tears are burning, go straight to your blue file.  Just flipping through the items that I have kept will bring me back to the reason that I keep doing this hard, sweet, satisfying, important job of making music with children.

Of course, the children can give you the best inspiration to keep going!  Sometimes it is those same children who often exhibit negative behaviors that offer the best hugs and notice when you are having a tough time.  Truly, they can relate to your experience. Treasure their sweet notes and pictures.

Colleagues often give wonderful encouragement!  During times of conflict at work, it is nice to remember that, while it is hard now, it wasn't always that way.  People do care!  Right now may not be the best time for you, but during your break I challenge you to take a minute to think about a colleague you might encourage with a personal note, too.

Professional recognition is also encouraging.  We all know that we often don't get enough of this, so it is important to remember the times when someone noticed!

My spirits are already better just because I have looked up these favorites to photograph for this post.  I hope this post encourages you to look back through your own sweet memories and set up your own "blue" file!

As I said, I am teaming up with other music education bloggers for a week of encouragement.  As a part of our good wishes for you, we are hosting a giveaway.  

You can enter the giveaway (and help spread the love) two ways: commenting on our blog posts (links in the giveaway below) all week- there has been one or two of us posting each day- and sharing your own inspiration on social media with the hashtag #whyiteachmusic. Don't forget to include a link to this blog post so others can enter the giveaway too! You can share every day until Monday 11/21 and earn more entries (and spread more positivity)!

Each of us is giving away something different, so there will be plenty of winners! My prize is a music themed journal, filled with blank pages to record your very own stories, and your very own "blue" file.

Make sure to enter the giveaway below.  Leave me a comment!  I can't wait to hear some of your stories of encouragement.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Introducing character education into the music room can be as empowering as a superhero's cape. By guiding students to recognize their positive character traits, we not only boost their self-esteem but also foster crucial social-emotional learning skills. Inspired by this notion, I embarked on a mission to infuse our lessons with the essence of heroism, drawing inspiration from a fantastic bulletin board shared by James Michael Foster's post in the Elementary Music Teachers Facebook Group.  Let me share how we soared through this musical adventure, blending character education with catchy tunes and creative expression.

Get 'Em Singing

To kick off our journey, we launched into a song celebrating various character traits. Using the Quaver Attendance Song, I encouraged students to select words that depicted their strengths. Together, we crafted a list with words like brave, positive, fearless, active, strong, and confident. We proudly chose belted out these words to describe our class. And for those without access to Quaver, fear not! Music K-8 Magazine offers a treasure trove of alternatives, each brimming with melodies that uplift and inspire. Some of my favorites are:
  • From the Inside Out, Volume 11 Number 1
  • Responsible, Volume 11 Number 2
  • Character Tango, Volume 19 Number 4
  • Positive, Volume 22 Number 1

Super Hero Theme Songs - Engaging Student Interest

Copyright: <a href=''>malchev / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Next, we delved into the heart of our lesson: superhero theme songs. After introducing the concept, each class eagerly chose 2-3 theme songs to explore. Before hitting play, I challenged them to share at least things they knew about the movie or character, sparking lively discussions. I asked them to listen for music elements that the composer put into the music that might represent these 3 things.  For instance, when dissecting the Ghostbusters theme, students astutely identified musical elements mirroring the action-packed chase scenes and eerie encounters with ghosts. They even identified certain sound effects that might represent the ghost-catching contraption and the slime. Witnessing their analytical skills at work was a true marvel, showcasing the depth of their musical comprehension.

Make it Personal

But our journey didn't end there; it circled back to our students themselves. Armed with their list of positive traits, each student selected two words embodying their inner heroism. Then, with thoughtful consideration, they chose instruments to represent these traits in their own theme song, justifying their selections with gusto. Through peer discussions and a quick writing exercise, they articulated their thoughts, solidifying their understanding and embracing their unique strengths.

Click on the picture to download a printable copy of the superhero writing paper.  The cute superhero kids come from Graphics from the Pond.

Click on the color picture for a full color Google Slides version of the response sheet.

Displaying Student Work

With pride, we showcased their creative endeavors, adorning our bulletin board with their superhero-themed compositions. Thanks to the vibrant Super New Year in Music set from the Bulletin Board Lady, Tracy King, our display radiated with the energy and enthusiasm of our budding musicians.

Free WAKELET Lesson

For those eager to embark on their own superhero-themed journey, I invite you to explore our Wakelet lesson. May it inspire you to ignite your students' imaginations and lead them on a musical odyssey filled with courage, creativity, and camaraderie.

Superhero Theme Songs

As our musical adventure draws to a close, I encourage you to embrace the superhero within each of your students. By nurturing their character and creativity, we empower them to soar to new heights, making this year truly SUPER!

Musically yours,

Kindergarten music is my favorite class of the day.  In my district, the first time students get to come for music class is in kindergarten.  Every thing in the room is new to them, I am new to them, and they are all new to me.   I love their enthusiasm and imagination, however during the first month of school they are definitely distracted by all of this newness.  The first challenge is getting them in to the room and seated in an orderly fashion.  In August, this is a bit like herding cats!

Entry Procedure

You really must have a procedure for everything!  Kindergarteners thrive on repetition, so setting procedures really helps them enjoy their stay in the music room.  For my entry procedure, we play "Follow the Leader," but it takes on many variations throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, I like to play "Music Train."   Velcro strips that attach to the carpet are placed in a path all the way around the room, forming the train track and guiding us into our circle.

I repeat this chant (over and over!) as we all walk in around the circle.  There is always some improvisation on my part, depending on how we are doing at following the leader.  It might sound something like this:
Johnny, Susie, it's a game!
Don't break the music train! 
Of course, I can't always come up with a rhyme, but I do try to keep my steady beat going unless too many "cats" have gone exploring!  This gets us in and seated in a circle in a quick and musical fashion.  The train imagery really works because we all know that trains have to be on a track to run!

Once this procedure is established, I change my chant to a song.  Most of the time I sing on a neutral syllable, only interjecting words when I need to remind someone to walk on the circle.  Any song that you have in your own personal repertoire can be sung on a neutral syllable.  Vary the tonality and meter of the songs that you choose!  It is very good for students to hear music right from the start of music class!

Name Games

With 100 new kindergarten names to learn, name games are so important to me!  When I first started teaching elementary music, I used Name, Name, What's Your Name from the old Music Connection series all the time.  Because it takes ME longer to learn all these names, I find it necessary to play name games for a month or even two. Thankfully, kindergarteners love repetition!  I use several different chants for variety and also to infuse both duple and triple meters into my lessons.

One chant that came out of the Engine, Engine entry procedure goes like this:
Choo, choo, music train.  To get on board, just say your name!

Once again, the train imagery works to keep the students calling out their names on time because we all know that train cars are connected together and we want to BE the music train.

The other two chants that I like to use are common to elementary music classrooms.  Bee, Bee Bumble Bee is a duple meter chant, while Hickety Tickety Bumblebee is a triple meter chant.  These two chants are great to use along with other bee-themed activities, such as buzzing vocal explorations and flowing scarf activities.  You can find some visuals to accompany these chants by clicking on the picture below.

Busy Bee Music Kids Steady Beat Practice & Name Game

At the beginning of the year, many kindergarteners are not yet ready to keep the steady beat, so I do not use any clapping or patting or accompaniment tracks for quite awhile.  Instead, the focus is to learn the pattern of the game first.

We begin with all students standing.  I say the chant by myself, then ask each student to say their name.  The class then echoes the student's name and that student sits down.  My goal at first is to make it down one line of students without a break!  After a week or two, the students just naturally start joining in with me on the chant, and we develop more and more of a steady beat once the students understand the pattern of the game.

Set Procedures, Then Vary the Repertoire

The key to success is to set your class procedures right from the start.  Kindergarteners have such energy, and they love to sing and play musical games.  You want all of their energy to be focused on this musical learning, rather than on behavior challenges.  Once my entry procedure is set, I can change the song or chant every week if I want to, and the children still follow me around the track to our seats.  The same is true for the name game procedures.   

If you would like to use the train graphics, right click on the picture, save it to your computer, then insert the picture into PowerPoint, Keynote, or your IWB software for display.  Using imagery, such as the train chants, can help hook the students into your new musical world with a little make believe! 

This is a blog post by Sally's Sea of Songs on setting up file folder centers in an elementary music classroom.

Working together in small group centers can reinforce learning in any subject, and music class is no different.   When I was first encouraged by administration to try out centers in the music room, the thought of managing all of those papers and game and puzzle pieces was overwhelming!  I discovered a solution that works for me in a colleague's classroom.  Here is how I adapted her idea for my classroom:

In order to streamline management of game pieces, create a file folder storage system.  Print a center title card and a task card.  Alternatively, neatly print the center title on a label.  Gather supplies to complete the task:  file folder, envelope, scissors, glue stick.

Attach title and task card to the outside front of the file folder.

Attach an envelope to the outside back of the file folder. This will be used to hold any small game pieces or cards.

While the folder is open, laminate the entire file folder for durability, then carefully slit the opening of the envelope.

Trim off excess laminating film.  Store small cards or game pieces in the envelope, and large cards or worksheets inside the folder.

I have spotted file folder center books at the local teacher store, but none for music teachers.  This system has been working great for several years.  Just about any small group activity can be adapted to fit into a file folder. 

Here are some suggestions to use when creating your own centers:

1.  Game boards can be glued right inside of the folder so they don't get lost. 
2.  Laminate the CLOSED folder, then carefully slit open the top.  This provides more protection to keep items inside from falling out, but you will be more limited in space.
3.  Laminate questions or puzzles on the inside of the folder.  Place a dry erase marker in the envelope.
4.  Place task cards in the place that makes the most sense for your activity: on the front of the folder, inside the folder, or laminated separately and placed loose in the folder.
5.  Substitute pocket folders for file folders.  The folders WITHOUT prongs work best if you want to laminate the whole folder.  

The Tile It! Letter Tile Spelling centers pictured above are available in here.  Click the photo below to find more center activities.  

p.s. Check out more great blog posts at the Fermata Fridays linkup!

I have just finished my 22nd year as a full time public school music teacher. Add to this years as a church musician and part time teacher, I have 35+ years of experience making music with children. When I think back to that first year of teaching, there is plenty to laugh about! 

What subject/age and where were you teaching? 

My first job was teaching junior high band in southern Oklahoma. I was also, as you might guess, the assistant at the high school, in charge of the auxiliary units. High school band rehearsal started early in the morning, before school, and continued through first period. Then, I had to get in my car and quickly get to the junior high before the 2nd period bell rang. This was small town driving, so traffic was never an issue, but I still had to manage to get OUT of the high school in time to make the mile and a half drive and open the door before students began arriving. No staying after class for anything!  Always have the junior high band room set up before leaving school in the evening! 

What was your first classroom like? 

My first classroom was in a building that housed the choral room, band room, and woodshop.  I really had plenty of space in the rectangular shaped band room for the number of students that I had.  There was a pretty large instrument storage room on one side that was designed with 2 doors to make the flow of traffic go smoothly.  I had a decent sized office at the other side of the room.  The office was connected to the music library/instrument repair station.  I thought this was the coolest feature in the place:  a nice sized worktable with a mouthpiece puller attached to the end and a nice assortment of appropriate tools.  The folks in this town appreciated good bands, and this place was well supplied.  

Were you given supplies and materials? 

It has been too long ago for me to remember the exact budget, but I know that I did not lack for anything that I wished for.  I was able to order music, attend state conference, and order new instruments when I needed to.  I remember being very excited to order a set of tubular chimes and then selecting music that required their use.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one "supply" gift that was provided to me by the shop teacher and his students in the classroom next door.  Not long after school started, he showed up at my band room with this present! 

Yes, I still have it!  I was never good at using it, and we certainly can't use anything like this today!!  

What do you remember about your first day? 

As an assistant marching band director, we had been having high school marching rehearsals for about 3 weeks before school started, so I had already been working.  On the official first day of school, I remember walking in to the main building at the junior high.  The lady in the hallway said, "Oh, you can't come in until 8:15."  That stopped me in my tracks.  I thought I was supposed to report for work at 7:45.  While I was standing there, mouth open, trying to figure out what to do or say, the chorus teacher came around the corner.  She said to the lady, "Let me introduce you to our new band director."  After everyone finished laughing, I realized that the lady was another teacher on hall duty, and thought that I was a student!  I know I looked young (I was only 21), but I didn't think I looked like a junior high student!

<--My band photo from the yearbook!

What was the hardest part of your first year? 

The hardest part of my year was 5th period Brass & Percussion class.  This class consisted of 25 seventh grade boys who came to class directly from recess.  Oh my, they were lively!  And loud!  I definitely learned then that you must be careful what you pray for.  Never pray for patience, because you might end up with situations that require you to practice using it!  I was oh so grateful that 6th period was "planning."

What was the best part of your first year? 

The best part of my first year was watching those lively seventh graders grow as musicians.  By the next year when we combined the woodwind class and the brass & percussion class into one band, those kids played some awesome music, earned superior ratings at contest, and even presented a MARCHING show at the junior high football game.  They were some great kids!

What did you discover your first year that you didn’t learn in college or student teaching?

I really felt that I had been wonderfully prepared to be a band director by my Oklahoma State University professors, especially Hiram Henry and "Prof" Paul Montemurro.  Even so, I learned a few things my first year.

  1.  Did you know that high school boys could delight in playing matchmaker?  Those boys in the French horn section were forever trying to set me up with any of the single male teachers at the high school.  One time, my office phone rang DURING 5th PERIOD (you know about that class, right).  It was one of the h.s. horn players who said, "Here, Mr. X wants to talk to you."  My brass & percussion class is getting louder and louder.  Mr. X actually asked me out.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, "I'm REALLY busy right now!!"  No date for him!
  2. Did you know that a great place to hide the teacher's keys is in between the crash cymbals on their stand on the percussion cart?  It took me 3 days to find them.  Thankfully, I had a backup set of car keys.  Beginning on that day, I never keep car & school keys on the same ring.
  3. Did you know that a seventh grade boy could be locked in a tuba case?  Yes, I discovered PeeWee when I heard a noise in the instrument room during my "moment of silence" following brass & percussion class.  What if I had left the room to go sit in the teacher's lounge that day?!

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew then? 

I wish that I had been better at working with parents to improve their students' experience in band class.  This is definitely a young teacher weakness, and I surely had it.  I mentioned that I had been well prepared in college, and this included plenty of discussion on dealing with individual parents and also band parents organizations.  But information and experience are 2 different things!  I was still VERY young, and I just didn't have any practice in this area.  

Looking back, looking forward!

Ah, it has been great looking back to that first year!  I was very young, enthusiastic, and confidence that I could be a great band director.  I got this determination from my own great high school and college band directors.  I certainly didn't know it all, but my determination to succeed helped me to seek out better ways to teach and reach students.  My career has been varied, as my family has moved several different times.  Each move required me to "reinvent" my musical self and learn more about teaching in church choirs, handbell choirs, private lessons, beginning band, and elementary general music.  The common theme has been music!  

My favorite move has been to the world of elementary music.  Here is where I feel the most at home.  I certainly use my past experience in my current position.  I am thankful to have had opportunities to learn & grow myself, and to sing & play & make music with children!

Read more first year teaching reflections.

Check out the link up at Pitch Publications for more fun and funny stories about first year music teaching.

Happy New Year!  I pray that you are resting and enjoying time away from work.  One great thing about being a teacher is that we can have a celebration of the new year twice a year.  This mid-winter break is a great time to take a few minutes to reflect on the first half of the year and get energized for the second half.  It's halftime, and I always thought that the halftime show was the best part of the football game!

Goal for 2016
This January, I think I have one main goal:  to make a much more clear definition between school time and home/family time.  I have found one disadvantage to being an "empty nester" besides missing my kids.  Because I no longer have little ones depending on me at home and my husband is great at being flexible, my time spent at school has gradually lengthened until it is really out of control.

You know how it can be!  There is always more to do, or I have this really great idea that takes longer than expected.  As you might guess, staying at work too long has a negative impact on stress levels, health, maintaining outside friendships and many other areas of our lives.  To be honest, two of my goals from last year were directly related to this goal, so I have already fallen short once!

Action Steps
First, I need to work from my strengths.  As an experienced teacher, I have a stash of lesson plans that have worked well. Using them when possible will streamline the planning process.

Second, I need to practice saying "no" to extra curricular jobs.  I definitely agree to many things that seem simple enough, then they turn into big projects.  It is important for all of us to support the mission of the school, and be a part of the school community.  In a great school community, these extras are shared around.  It is not healthy for any individual, or the school community, for one person to do too many things.   My action step will be to answer requests with an offer to check my calendar, and then honestly do just that.  Using the calendar to make an informed decision will be better for me and also for my colleagues.

Third, I need to reconnect with my friends.  We are all busy, but we all have similar needs for fellowship and exercise.  Perhaps we can do both at the same time!

Moving Forward
Maintaining a balance between work and home is healthier, and less stressful.  Taking these action steps will make me a better teacher and a better friend.  Taking positive steps leads to a more positive attitude, which leads to taking more positive steps, and on an on.

Here is to jumping in to a positive, healthy new year!

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