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Episode 22 - Building Classroom Culture: 7 Activities to Begin your School Year on a Positive Note
Episode 225th July 2023 • The Happy Music Teacher • Jeanette Shorey
00:00:00 00:25:09

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In this episode of The Happy Music Teacher podcast, we delve into the exciting world of elementary music education at the beginning of the school year. We explore 7 engaging activities that music teachers can use at the start of the school year to foster a positive and inclusive classroom culture.

I dive right into your first done-for-you lesson with my original song and lesson plan called "The Back from Break Song." This versatile activity encourages students to sing, play non-pitched percussion instruments, and Orff instruments, while also providing an opportunity for them to share their summer break fun. Through music, students connect with one another and create meaningful bonds right from the start.

Next I discuss the power of storybooks in promoting acceptance and building classroom community. Four inspiring titles are highlighted, including "All are Welcome," "Because," "The Year We Learned to Fly," and "The Two of Us Belong Together." These captivating stories not only entertain but also impart valuable lessons on diversity, friendship, and unity.

I know the challenges you face when planning for a new school year. That's why I'm sharing my expertise and offering you done-for-you lesson plans for the first eight weeks of school, alleviating some of the planning pressure and allowing you to focus on cultivating a positive classroom environment.

With the combination of captivating storybooks, the engaging "Back from Break Song" and lesson plan, and my support, you'll have a toolkit for kickstarting the year on a positive note. By establishing an inclusive and supportive classroom culture from the very beginning, teachers can set the stage for a successful and joyful musical journey with their students. Tune in to this episode for valuable insights and practical tips to create a thriving music classroom.


What we talked about

Grab your free All Are Welcome lesson plan.

Amazon affiliate links for all the storybooks and lesson plans mentioned in this episode:

The Year We Learned to Fly, by Jacqueline Woodson

All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold

The Two of Us Belong Together, by Michael Engler

I am Smart, I am Blessed, I Can Do Anything, by Alissa Holder & Zulekha Holder-Young

Because, by Mo Willems

Be the Bus, by Mo Willems (for music teachers)

The Back from Break Song lesson plan bundle


This episode is brought to you by Stories That Sing. Do you love storybook lessons as much as I do? That's great because you can get three for free just by going to stories that plan sampler. See you there. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better Podcast Network. Better today, better tomorrow, and the podcast to get you there.

Explore more podcasts at www. teachbetterpodcastnetwork. com. Now let's get onto the episode.

Are you an elementary music teacher? Who's frustrated and overwhelmed. I'm Jeanette Shorey, a happy music teacher who loves teaching. every day, but it wasn't long ago. I was in your shoes. Join me Wednesdays to help you find happy in your music classroom. So don't kill the messenger here, but I'm just going to tell you that it's July and since it's July, I know some of you are starting to do some planning and.

I think that's okay because I think it's important to start doing some planning before the end of the summer. Now, if you are not planning, then don't feel like, oh my gosh, she's telling me I have to plan. I'm not ready to plan. That's not what I'm saying. I am just giving you permission. You have had. Now, this only goes for people who have been out of school as long as we have in Alabama.

We've been out of school since May 26th. If you have not been out of school that long, then I am still suggesting you take that first month off. So make sure you do some relaxing the first week or two, then make sure you do some fun things and just take some time for you. And then you can start doing some of your projects that you've been meaning to get to forever.

in your house. But if you have been off for like a month or so and you're starting to try to think and plan, then I think that's okay. And since it's okay, I think that it is time to give you some tips to start building classroom culture, to start thinking about building classroom culture and beginning your school year on a positive note.

This is the most important part of your year. Building that classroom culture is, first of all, going to make it easier for you in all things because your students are going to feel comfortable and they're going to be smiling and they're going to be happy and they are going to feel like you care and their classmates care.

If you spend that time Building classroom culture. That does not mean that you are just doing that because everything I'm about to share with you are things that I would do in the beginning of the year, but they all had a musical element to them. When I was a newer teacher, I used to spend the first week, sometimes the first two weeks going over my rules and all that good stuff.

And that is one way to go. For sure, but I'm going to tell you that I always felt like it took me time to do that. And I wasn't getting any music skills in and most of us only see our kiddos like 26 times a year. Have you ever done that math? It is not a lot. So I think it's important to stuff in some music skills.

While you are doing your rules and all of that good stuff, but that is the story for another day The beginning of the school year has always been stressful for me. I am a person who does not like to go into school, did not like to go into school, because I won't be doing it this year, but I did not like to go into school until the very last minute and I was always like, okay, and I really didn't do a lot of planning until the last minute, but I'm gonna also tell you that I I had kind of my plans in place, not completely, but I would kind of have my year in place because I had been doing it for 24 years, so I had things in place for the most part, I had a structure, I had an outline I followed, and I would go in and just insert new songs and new activities where I wanted to.

And I didn't do the same thing for every grade level. I changed it up a little bit for every grade level, but we followed a specific plan. And I'm going to tell you, I would go into school and I would be like, Okay, this is going to be great. I'm going to get this done and this done and this done. And then guess what?

Oh, you have an all day meeting on day one and you have an all day meeting on day two and on day three We have parents coming in and we're going to do meet the teacher and we need you to be in the hallways And it would be like, oh my gosh, i'm never gonna get my stuff done, right? So I feel that and So what I'm suggesting is that you try out some done for you lessons and I am going to plan for you your first eight weeks of school.

All you need to do is listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you. So, first week back to school, I love to use the back from break song, and this is a song that I composed, mmm, on a, a spring break, like, random, wacky idea that I had, and I was like, oh my gosh, I want my kids to be able to, because they always want to share with you what they did on their breaks, and I love to hear that, so I was like, how can I do this?

So, it is like, The easiest, easiest song ever. And it's an original song. It is the perfect way to get your kiddos in the groove of the new school year. And it comes with, um, a lesson plan and a presentation and the song and the presentation includes back from spring break, back from winter break, back from summer break, et cetera.

So, um, it's. It's got melody, it's got rhythm, it's got, uh, activity for non pitch percussion skills and it's got an activity for orph instrument skills where you create an orchestration. And again, the best part, your kiddos get to organically share one thing, their favorite thing they did over summer break.

Um, so it is like the most fun activity that, I just feel really proud of it because it's one that I, I really, really love. So let me give you a little sneak peek. It goes, Spring break, ooh, ooh, so much fun, ooh, ooh, spring break, ooh, ooh, oh no, it's done, aww. Or summer break, ooh, ooh, so much fun. So you get the idea.

So that is the basic song, and then of course there's a whole lesson plan that goes with that, so it's kind of fun. And like I always tell you, if I was not quite in pitch in an exact key and you have perfect pitch, I apologize. So that is the Back From Break song. The next week, I like to do my favorite storybook.

It's called All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and It is truly one of my all time favorite books, and I do it from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade. And my kiddos always really love the activities we do with it. So, like the title suggests, this is a story about... It's set in the classroom in an elementary school classroom on the first day of school and you see the parents walking their kiddos into school and the kiddos all look different and they're wearing different things and they have different skin tones and there's one, um, little girl who's visually impaired and there is a little boy who's in a wheelchair, um, so physically impaired and there is just all the stuff and It is so much fun.

Um, so let me give you some details about the lesson plan. So I have in there a movement meet and greet and in the movement, meet and greet, we start out by learning the song and then after we learn the song, we do a whole movement, meet and greet. And so here's how the song goes. No matter where you're from, there's not a thing to fear.

Our classroom's safe and sound. All come here. So, we sing that song, and as we're singing, we walk around the classroom, and when it's time to stop, you have stopped in front of somebody. And, I don't know if you do this, I learned this in, um, National Orf Conference last year. If you giraffe, so you take your thumb, and you make your middle finger and your ring finger meet your thumb, and then you've got your two ears up, and the giraffe part means that you hold that formation all the way up high, and then you look around for other giraffes.

So, If you can't find a partner, giraffe and find a partner that way. So that is how that works. You'd sing the song and then you find a partner. And before we do the song, I teach them the song. And then what we do is we have, I'll say to my students, okay, tell me One way that you can greet somebody when they come into the classroom.

And so they might say wave, they might say high five, they might say, um, who knows. There could be all kinds of things that they say. So my students came up with high five wave. Handshake, bow. So, that was my very first fifth grade that day, or maybe my very first fourth grade, I can't remember. And, so then, the rest of the class, so, so I used that in every class, and then I had them fill in the next part.

So they might go, high five, wave, handshake, bow, smile.

So that is, so, so then we would practice that and you know, we'd practice the high five, we'd practice the wave, the handshake, the bow, um, smile, fist pump, the whole deal. And so this was what they did. with their partners, and then they would go back to the no matter where you're from. So now, after they've done that, you know, 32 times, then, kidding, not, not really that many times, but you know what I'm saying, um, they do, I, I usually do those types of movement extensions for a good 10 minutes.

Because it gets my kids up and moving and meeting and greeting and it is just awesome for classroom culture. And then, what we'll do next is we do some orchestration, we do some non pitch percussion. All of that is included. In the free lesson plan that you can get by going to stories that sing dot net forward slash lesson plan sampler so you can get this lesson plan for free, including the movement, meet and greet.

And some of the slides and all of the things that you need just by going there. In addition to that, you're also going to get another storybook lesson and an outdoor activity that's really fun to use at the beginning of the year when the weather's beautiful or at the end of the year. So that is all are welcome.

Then I like to talk to my students about How to overcome obstacles and how to learn how to, you know, have a growth mindset, that sort of thing. So a brand new discovery for me is called the year we learned to fly by Jacqueline Woodson, and This is an absolutely spectacular example of how to find joy in everyday life, in the things that are happening all the time.

And so the premise of the story, a brother and a sister are hanging out at their grandma's and they're feeling kind of bored and restless and their grandmother says, Use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours, lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and believe in a thing. And then she teaches them how to mentally fly, how to be creative, and how to come up with ideas.

And it is the most awesome story. I absolutely love it. So the lesson plan for this storybook has some really good discussion questions that are going to help your kiddos. Find joy in life, and they're also going to get to learn or review their composition skills based on their definition of joy, and they're going to have an opportunity to use timbre and classroom orf instruments to explore the emotions that they're feeling, and it could be joy, or it could be something else, so lots of good SEL in this one, and it is a really, really good one.

Thank you. So let's just listen to one of the pages of Learn to Fly. So we did, and as the soft wind took us out over the city and past the windows of kids who hadn't yet learned to fly, my brother and I reached for each other's hand, flying and driving and laughing and leaving all of our mad Far behind us because they got really angry with each other.

So I it's just such a phenomenal story. The next one is called the two of us belong together. A story about friendship, and this book is It's so cute. It's about a hedgehog and a rabbit and how even though they're very different, they can still be friends. So this message is one of my favorite ways to build classroom culture.

And I love the emphasis on friendship and how it's It's in spite of being different, you can still be friends and I feel like it's so important right now. People are afraid of each other's differences and the only way to overcome that is to teach our children that being different doesn't mean that the other person is wrong or it doesn't mean that you can't be friends with them.

So this is a lesson plan that has really good discussion on friendship, on building classroom community. You're going to get to have really good discussion with your kids and then you'll also get to work on musical opposites like loud and soft and you're going to work on different types of non pitch percussion instruments.

I love to bring out my non pitch percussion instruments the first couple of weeks of school. Cause you know, they're dying to use them. They're like, Ms. Shuri, when are we going to play instruments? So I love to do that. And then they're going to work on some basic composition skills as well. So let me read you just one page of the two of us belong together.

The reappeared. Crocuses and snowdrops popped up through the green moss, but the hare saw none of that, because he was doing something that hares don't normally do. He was digging down deep underneath the ground. He dugged and shoveled, scooped and scraped, and he built the biggest and most beautiful hare burrow the world had ever seen.

When it was finished, he sat down at the entrance. and waited. So he is trying to do what his friend, the hedgehog, does. It is just a precious story. The next storybook is called I Am Smart, I Am Blessed, I Can Do Anything. This story is written by Alyssa Holder and her sister, Zalika Holder Young, and it is just, Such a cool story because it talks all about Ayan and he wakes up one morning and he doesn't really want to go to school because he's not feeling smart and he's worried that he's not going to know the answers.

So Ayan's mom helps him with some affirmations. I am. I am blessed, I can do anything and knees help him when he's feeling nervous or scared. So I love this storybook because it's a really great way to help your students through those beginning of the year jitters and it's also going to help them because they are going to get to create their own affirmations and set them to music and I am going to tell you that affirmations for me have become.

Such a thing. And you may be thinking, Oh, Jeanette, hippie, dippie, um, wacky stuff. But I am telling you, affirmations are a thing. They have helped me with so many different positive experiences in my life in the last year. Especially in the last six months, I mean, you can totally reframe your way of thinking just by using affirmations.

So let me read you a page of this book. So Ian wakes up, I'm going to, uh, I'm going to give you a little bit of a summary first. Ian wakes up and his mom is like, what's the matter? And he's like, I don't know, I don't feel good about this and I'm feeling nervous about school and I'm afraid I'm not going to have the right answers.

And so they're now walking to school. Ayan was still quiet. His mom squeezed his hand. Isn't it nice you have so many wonderful people in your life? People who care about you. What do we always say? Let's say it together. I am blessed. Let's say it louder. I am blessed. They both shout Ian's mom picked him up and swung him around and the story goes on like that.

And what happened is he had run into some people that loved him, his grandpa and some other people, some friends. And so that's why they were talking about how blessed he was. The next storybook is another favorite, and I know I have a lot of favorites, right? Um, the reason I love this one so much is because it ties in so well to what we do in our classrooms.

It's called Because by Mo Willems. And Amber Wren, and the score is written by Mo Willems, and the performance is done by Amber Wren. And I have so many ideas about this one. So, one of the things you can do, well let me, let me tell you a little bit about Because first. So, Basically, Mo Willems is getting us thinking about why things happen and how everything happens for a reason.

So the story starts out because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music. A man named Franz was inspired to create his own. Because many years later... People wanted to hear Franz's beautiful music, they formed an orchestra. So it goes on and on like that and you discover at the end that a little girl goes to the orchestra and she ends up becoming a conductor herself.

So it is just a fabulous tie in for us music teachers. Just. Through the nature of the book, it is a great way to introduce your students to the instrument families of the orchestra unit by just giving them a little bit of an idea of some of the instruments that are in the orchestra and also just introducing them to the conductor.

It's just a really good introductory book for that. But my favorite way to use this book is to get your students thinking about the year ahead and have them set some goals for what they want to accomplish in music class. So it's a really good lesson plan for students who've been with you for a few years, like maybe your third through fifth graders.

And so what you would do is you would read the book. And you would have a conversation about it and you would have a conversation about how things happen for a reason and maybe give a couple of examples or an example or have your students give some examples of something that happened that Maybe didn't seem like such a great thing and at a later time, it turned out that you figured out why that happened because I believe very strongly that everything happens for a reason.

That may not be your belief, but that is my belief. So anyway, it's a really good way to get your students thinking about the year ahead. And in the lesson plan that I've created for this one, you're going to find out. Good questions to ask and how to set some goals for your students. And this comes with a goal setting template.

So that is pretty cool. Now, the last one is not for your students. It's for you. And if you are a Mo Willems fan, then you already know his brand of pigeon humor. And if you don't know of Mo Willems, then I highly recommend that you pick up some of his books. They're all about the pigeons. And the first one is the pigeon wants to drive the bus and they don't want him to drive the bus.

And it's all about that. So. The one that I am going to tell you about is called Be the Bus, The Lost and Profound Wisdom of the Pigeon, as told by Mo Willems. So, this is a really good, it's got tips, and opinions, and quotes, and complaints, and all this Mo Willems humor. Let's just talk about this for a minute.

Your job is hard. Let's just say it. It's hard. Nobody knows how hard it is except you. Nobody else in the school knows how hard it is. So this is the perfect book to keep in your classroom and when you've had kind of that day or you've just had that class or that student and Anytime you need a little pick me up, I say keep this book in your classroom and turn to a page, turn to whatever page, and I'm telling you it will probably be exactly the page you need to read and give yourself a moment of light before you go back into your day.

The beginning of the year is coming upon us fast. If you are not ready to listen to this podcast right now, then I would suggest, or maybe you've listened to it and you're like, yeah, these are good ideas, but I'm really not ready. to do anything with them, then come back to it. Make sure you bookmark it or write yourself a note and come back to it in a couple weeks.

And in the meantime, relax, refresh, enjoy. And I hope you're having a fabulous summer. If you got some great tips and tidbits that are going to help you become a happy music teacher, I would be so thankful if you'd leave me a review. Thanks so much for your time. Well, that's all I have for you today. But before I go, let me remind you, keep learning, keep growing, and keep being fabulous you.