The 2018 Simplified Planner Review

The 2018 Weekly, Simplified Planner, Happy Stripe are now available!  With the new year, we could all use a new planner.  I was asked to review the 2018 Emily Ley Simplified Planner.  planner and give feedback.  First, let me say, I am immediately drawn to the beautiful designs. The color choices and simplistic design are absolutely amazing.  Each year, I have to admit is better and better.

Before I go any further in this review, this post contains my completely honest thoughts.  I only review products I believe in.

Images provided by Emily Ley

Academic Agenda, Daily or Weekly by Emily Ley
Let's talk price for a minute.  I know we could all get a planner at Staples, Target, and even our local Wal-mart for a lot cheaper.  But the quality of the Simplified Planner will make it well-worth the investment.  Trust me, there are a lot of planners out there.  I've tried many of them myself.  I'm notorious for buying one and then trading it for another.  But the Simplified Planner gets my attention every single time.

Emily Ley is the designer of the Simplified Planners.  She mentions on her website how much these are a labor of love.  She puts her heart and soul into creating these planners.  She wants them to be perfect for us.  Emily will tell you her brand is meant to inspire women of all ages to build joy and simplicity into their lives.  The collection of her planners are built on the simple and classic style using fresh and playful colors.  

I will share a little about the two formats that Emily offers in her planners.  Let's take a look at the features.

When it arrives, you will feel extra special.  It comes in a navy blue keepsake box!  I kid you not!  The planners come out only twice a year.  There is an August-July and a January-December version.  There is plenty of space for schedules, to-do, notes, and extra white space.  Oh, I almost forgot there is a pocket inside the front cover to keep all your loose notes tucked away.

7 x 9 inches (1.25 inches thick)
Thick, 70lb., pure white Mohawk Via paper
Space for schedule, to-do, notes and meals
One day per page + shared weekend pages
Full month views
Hourly schedule from 6am to 9pm
Monthly Simplicity Tips
Simple color throughout
Colorful stickers
Gold, sturdy wire-o binding
Hard cover with gold foil details
Protective gold corners
Navy interior
Pocket inside the front cover
Colorful, sturdy mylar tabs
Navy + gold keepsake box


6 x 8 inches (.75 inches thick)
Thick, 70lb., pure white Mohawk Via paper
Space for schedule, to-do, notes and meals
One week per two-page-spread
Full month views
36 notes pages in the back
Monthly Simplicity Tips
Simple color throughout
Colorful stickers
Lay-flat book binding
Hard cover with gold foil details
Protective gold corners
Navy interior
Pocket inside the front cover
Colorful, sturdy mylar tabs
Navy + gold keepsake box

If you love the planner, there are tons of accessories to match.  

Some of the links posted here are affiliate links.  There is no cost to you, but if you purchase, I receive some products or small commission.  For that, I am truly grateful.  Again, I only review products I truly believe in.  


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Motivational Teams: Students Helping Students

Do you have a group of students who you have tried practically everything under the sun to inspire, motivate, and get a handle on the discipline?  I have experienced this over the years too.  I really don't think it has anything to do with the students.  I believe there are years where things work and some years when it just doesn't.

This year, I have implemented something just about every month.  Not everything will work, and I've come to terms with that.   However, I want to share a teambuilding idea with you.  I'm starting to see some progress.  Let me preface this by saying this team approach is inspired by my district's athletic director.  I can't even begin to take credit for this fascinating idea.  

Before we begin, take a quick minute and watch this video that I've wanted to share with you for a few weeks.  If you follow me on social media, I shared a quote that has stuck with me for several weeks.

What if a student's behavior turned out to be their greatest gift in life?  - Principal Principles

 Just what if... What if the behaviors we try and change are the same behaviors we admire and encourage in adults.

Take a look at the video and be inspired.

A single moment in time can change a person's life.

The video and both quotes have both sparked my determination to look at discipline in a different way.  Here are a few of my beliefs so you also know my stance on discipline.

1.  I believe in supporting teachers by handling discipline.
2.  I believe in being proactive and setting procedures in place to prevent negative behaviors.
3.  I believe in positive behavior supports to encourage leadership in students, as well as, helping students to be more self-disciplined.


I have a very competitive group of students this year.  Therefore, I can see success on the horizon.  I am implementing this plan with the 5th graders on the campus.  As we all know, fifth and six grade can be a bit taxing for students, parents, and staff.  They are upper-classmen in elementary and entering junior high/middle school.


We divided the grade level into teams.  We ended up with 9 teams.  Each team has about 7 to 8 students.  How you divide it up would depend on your class numbers.  Teammates are from mixed classes since we are departmentalized in 5th.  I did this purposefully to instill a sense of family and an opportunity to build relationships outside their homeroom class.  

Each group named their team and picked a team captain. The team captain can change each week or month to allow each member to showcase their leadership.  The teams wear a color bracelet to identify their team easily, quickly, and again to build a bond.  

The wristbands were purchased from
I ordered 90 wristbands for around $60.  The order arrived within 2-3 days.  

Each team begins with 500 points.  Students receive points throughout the day, week, and month.  They can also lose points as well.  For example, students can earn a point for completing homework, receiving a positive compliment from someone on campus, etc... They can lose points by not completing assignments in class or homework, receiving an office referral, etc... The students were given a list of ways to earn or ways points will be taken away.  Students need to know the expectations.  Each group will have a team meeting every Monday to check their point status and discuss ways to improve.  We can easily track their points using a google spreadsheet.  

Each team member could earn multiple points each day or lose them as well.  The google spreadsheet will update as the points are entered or subtracted.  We decided to go with this kind of system since we all have Macbooks (even our students).  We can easily access the shared file and update the points.  This process has started to work well with cafeteria behavior too.  

Note: The color at the top represents each team and their bracelet color too.  


We will reward highest scoring team each month with pizza and time in the campus game room.  If you have the need to implement a weekly reward system, I would say go for it.  I'm going month-by-month for our system.

This year we created a Hawk's Nest.  Our mascot is a hawk.  The game room has a pingpong table, foosball table, electronic gaming system with projector, and many more items.  It is one of the most exciting places on campus.  All the items were donated by the community.  


Since we were just getting a taste of this before Christmas break, I don't have any data to show that this will work for you or even for me for the remainder of the year.  However, I do know that we are all determined to do whatever it takes to help our students be successful.  I do have one success story to share with you though.  A student was behind in turning in his assignments.  He had 4 incomplete or missing assignments.  His team met and helped him locate these assignments and got him caught up.  They discussed ways to stay organized plus they all encouraged him to have all assignments completed on time.  The group ended up giving up their free time and went to study hall to help one another (By the way, this was their choice).  To me...that is a great moment.  Anytime I see student leadership and success I know we are on to something great.  


The video and the two quotes are perfect for the vision and culture of my school.  Always remember a single moment in time can change a person's life.  I hope to live a life of significance, not just a life of success.  I hope to create a school where we see the best in our students.  A school where we believe in our students.

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STAAR Organization- A Tool That Works!

I'm going to start off by prefacing STAAR testing is not fun for anyone.  I can't sugar coat it.  It is what it is.  If you are not familiar with Texas assessments, here is a quick introduction.  We have our own state standards called the TEKS.  We are not a common core state.  During each school year, our students take state assessments beginning in third grade.  The results of the tests will determine our campus and district accountability rating.  That's the basic explanation.

In order to state on top of all the requirements, I must stay organized.  I have found a few shortcuts over the years to help me.  One that is my go-to is the accommodations flipbook.  I have to admit I got smart this year and recreated it in Google.  Texas loves to change the rules of the game so much that making it in Google gave me the liberty to make a revision without redoing all the other pages in the process.



Printing and Assembly Recommendations

1.  Print on Astrobrite cardstock.
2.  Place in the order you want to assemble your own book.
3.  Cut tabs.


I take this accommodation book with me to meetings- ARD (special education), grade level, and RtI.  My counselor oversees 504, but if I need to attend this meeting I could bring the copy with me as well.  A copy is always on my desk.  I can quickly scan it to be sure the accommodation is allowable.  We want a fair advantage for our students, so it is important to me to stay organized.  

Would love to hear how you stay organized for state testing.


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Qualities Found in a Great Assistant Principal

If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant principal on your campus, you know all too well how important their role is on the campus.  You might take this person for granted until they miss a day or even a week of school.  That's the moment when it is all too clear how much you depend on them and how much they do to help the overall management of the campus.

If you are a principal and searching for your next assistant principal, let's talk about what qualities to look for in your next administrator.

In my observations, assistant principals typically have duties such as discipline, all things student-related and overall campus or facilities management.  The principal often handles instruction, public relations, and all things staff-related.  Before you begin to look for your next assistant principal, brainstorm the duties and responsibilities given to this administrator.

Since this administrator will be your right hand, I recommend finding someone you are compatible working beside.

Here is a list of qualities in a GREAT assistant principal.


Assistant principals will handle the majority of student discipline.  This involves communicating with teachers and parents.  Parents and teachers will expect students to be treated in a fair and consistent manner.  Look for candidates who can uphold the discipline policies without showing favoritism and/or fear of upsetting difficult parents or difficult teachers.  Dealing with tough situations involves courage.  Assistant principals must be willing to take risks and remain steadfast when challenged.  

Interview Question for AP Applicant: 

1.  How do you plan on building a positive relationship with students, teachers, and parents?  
2. Provide an example of a time when you handled a disciplinary issue that involved either a difficult teacher or a difficult parent.
3.  How will you ensure fair decisions are made?


It is so important that we all set the tone to be constant learners in our school.  We all have room to grow and learn.  A great assistant principal will actively seek ways to improve his/her position.  This can be accomplished through off-site professional development, book studies, and peer mentoring.  Since we are in the business to educate, it is critical that our actions reflect the need for all adults to be lead-learners and always willing to grow and learn.  Great Assistant Principals are curious and opportunistic. 

Interview Questions for AP Applicant: 

1.  Share examples of recent staff development you have either attended or conducted.  
2. Share a professional goal you wish to have completed within the next three years.


I recently attended a two-day workshop and this quote was stated both days.
 Students first. Students second.  Students third.
School leaders must be passionate about teaching and learning.  We must show a genuine commitment to children.  If it is right for kids, it is the right thing to do.  Great assistant principals are passionate about making a difference in the lives of students.  This often involves reaching tough students, motivating the unmotivated, and building authentic relationships with the disconnected.  Great Assistant Principals never give up.

Interview Questions for AP Applicant:

1.  In what ways will you inspire and motivate students?


Since your assistant principal will have authority to make decisions, effective decision-making skills seem fitting.  My assistants have always had authority to make decisions.  If he/she was unsure of the right call to make and the question did not fall within his/her responsibilities, he/she would say "let me find out and get back with you."  As a principal, I have always backed my assistant principal's decision regardless if I agreed with their decision.  Why?  Because it is very important that we show a supportive stance in front of our staff.  If we begin to set the tone of undermining, your assistant will not be treated as an effective administrator.  That is definitely not the tone we should ever set in front of parents, students, or teachers.  Handle all disagreements in the office.  Great assistant principals can think critically and problem solve.  All school leaders are expected to handle problems as they arise throughout the day.  While assistant principals can't be expected to resolve all of these, they can be expected to be involved in finding solutions to the problems.  

Interview Questions for AP Applicant:

1.  Describe a recent problem you encountered and how you went about creating a solution.
2.  Tell me about a situation in which you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle.
3.  Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.


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Understanding the RtI Principles

You might be thinking why is it that I'm just now talking about RtI to my school.  Well, I have accepted a principal position this school year in a new district.  It has taken me a few weeks to lay some foundation and understand their current process of Response to Intervention.  I absorbed all the facts and quickly began the journey to organize and simplify the process for the teachers.
Fast forward to the first week of November and here we are...rocking and rolling.

My presentation: Response to Intervention: Understanding the RtI Principles covers the basic information of the multi-tier system.  You can download my presentation here from my google drive.

I also created a guidebook for the teachers as a quick reference to all the information that was in the powerpoint.


The approach to RtI is preventative and intended to close learning gaps for all students.  It is also about every student making progress.  RtI focuses on the use of evidence or data to make decisions about students' response to instruction and the effectiveness of interventions in order to prevent significant learning gaps.  The keyword is preventive.  

I created a sample RtI folder for every teacher and shared a flowchart.  The flowchart was created by another principal and good friend of mine.  The forms for RtI are a mixture of materials from Mentoring Minds and our region shared services co-op.  I am unable to share these forms since they are not created by me.  I'm sure you can understand my reasons for not sharing copyrighted materials.  I'm always willing to share or link materials self-created though.


Providing quality classroom instruction can make a big difference for struggling readers.  The heart of RtI is found in core instruction.  We must give students the best opportunities to succeed at school. This begins with providing high-quality core instruction in the classroom.  We must be CORE STRONG.  The core instruction is critical to the prevention process.  

You can download the Flow Chart here.  The flowchart coordinates with the RtI forms we use in Google.


We meet every Wednesday for PLC.  We will use the student RtI folders to make instructional decisions, identify students who are in need of support, and provide immediate assistance.  

Professional Learning Communities - Who we are
Data Team, Data Driven Decisions- What we do
Response to Intervention - How we do it


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Principal as Instructional Leader

If you have been reading this blog for several years, I'm sure you already know my stance on how important it is for principals to be strong instructional leaders.  By no means am I naive enough to say I am a strong instructional leader.  However, I am growth-minded and a lead-learner.  I push myself to learn and stay current in my position.  I place student and teacher learning at the forefront of everything.

This quote keeps me grounded-


Here's a look back at my first couple of weeks of Professional Development for 2017-2018.

If you haven't read the book, One Thing, it is a must read.  It helped me take an idea and tweak it for a school setting.

 "When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small.

"Going small" is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It's recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It's a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It's realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

The way to get the most out of your work and your life is to go as small as possible...

When you go as small as possible, you'll be staring at one thing. And that's the point." ~ Gary Keller from The ONE Thing

After brainstorming with principal Jarett Kuhns, an activity called 10-10-10 was developed.  Directions are found here.


I knew at the beginning of the year we needed to set a goal or a few goals to direct us this year.  In order to accomplish our goals, we must know our direction.  I certainly didn't want to come in this year and have these goals already selected and our vision set.  That would be a big mistake.  Goals must be shared and collaborated, as well as, our vision for the year.  We must have a shared understanding of where we are, where we need to go, and how we should get there.

 The vision set by my teachers for this year is- to be a family of learners.  We want everyone to feel part of the team and part of the school family.  We will never stop learning this year.  We will hold each other accountable for learning.  Everyone has a voice.  Everyone is significant.  Everyone means- parents, students, teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, etc...

I have to say my heart is full.  Just look at this amazing list teachers ask of me, their principal.   I love their list.  I gladly accepted it.

Amber Teamann is a Texas principal and blogger.  I follow her on social media, as well as, regularly read her blog.  On a recent post on Facebook, I found her idea of lighting a candle.  She had her staff light a candle.  I decided to just pass out this notecard.  Since it is my first PD in this school, I didn't want to chance burning down the school or setting off any fire alarms.  My luck just goes that way. (HA!)

Here's a glance at the data stations called DATA Carousel.  You can get the DATA Carousel headers below.  The purpose of this activity is to engage teachers in reading data- just locate the facts.  Each group was color-coded prior to starting.  When the music played, they moved to the next station.  When all stations were complete, we could do a Walk It Out.  A walk-it-out just means they rotate through all of the stations one last time and read the comments made by the other group members.  We were short on time so one of the co-presenters read the data findings to the entire group.

See collage image below:

Upper Left- Teachers worked in small groups and analyzed core subject area data from state testing results.  K-2 teachers looked at how their state standards led into the 3-5 grade levels.  Since grades 3-5 take state assessments, one goal is to vertically align our instruction to better prepare our students for state tests.

Lower Left- We are required to do a refresher training on classroom observations and walkthroughs.  The only way to get through T-TESS training is with a lovely scoop of ice cream.  You can grab this printable here.

Upper Right- T-TESS sign in and handouts were on the table outside the room.  In our training, we reviewed dimensions 2 and 3, watched a video of a lesson from Teach For Texas, rated the teacher in each area, and discussed how important it is to discuss the objective of the lesson.  TTESS flipbook

Lower Right- We did a little more team building and used balloons.  The activity can be found in the Professional Development Activities All Year Long packet.  The focus of this activity is to be a positive team member.  Negativity can weigh the campus down and limit us from reaching our goal.

One of my favorite videos from the week is What is Your Hope

Students will walk through the door of the school tomorrow to begin 2017.  

We plan on fighting like warriors and performing as champions. #gameon2017


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How to Digitize Your Notes

This post may include affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

This week while reading through the posts from over 3000 school leaders in my private Facebook group- Principal Principles Leadership, I noticed a principal shared a little about Rocketbook. Being that I love technology so much, I looked more into it.  Later that evening, I shared the information with the hubs and we decided to order two from Amazon that very night.

I am very excited to get this in hand.  A little side note: If ordering from Amazon, I had it within two days of ordering.  For someone who is so anxious, fast shipping is a big deal.

Let me share what Rocketbook can do for you.


- Use Rocketbook to organize your notes, lists, projects, or ideas.
- Use it as a sign in form to your next professional development session.  (Just pass the notebook around along with a special Rocketbook pen and have all staff sign in to your session.)
- Consolidate all of your notebooks into one notebook.  There is really no need for additional notebooks with this system.
- The Rocketbook allows you to digitize your notes without being in front of a computer screen.  It doesn't require wifi, cords, or any other complicated tools.
-Share your notes and sketches with your staff or colleagues.

Create. Scan. Erase.  Three simple steps.

The Rocketbook does require a special pen.  When you place your order, it comes with one.  I ordered a set of multi-colored ones too.

How It Works:

1.  Download the Rocketbook app on your phone, iPad, or digital device.
2.  Set up where you want your PDF's and images to be stored.  For example, I created a folder in my Google Drive.  All of my scans will go directly to a special folder in my Google Drive.
3.  The symbols in the book and along the bottom of the page are basically just a destination symbol of where you want your files to be stored.  I designated the rocket symbol (first one) to go to my google drive.  The second symbol (diamond) is designated to go to my email.  The apple symbol is designated to go to dropbox.

Take notes and sketches as you normally do with the special pen.  When you are ready to transfer your notes and save them digitally, place an X over the symbol of the location of where you want to store your notes.  Placing the X on the rocket symbol means it will go to my Google Drive folder.  This was determined when I installed the Rocketbook app.  Now, hold you phone or iPad over the page and scan it using the Rocketbook app.  The magic now happens and it will be stored for later use in your Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, OneNote, Slack, iCloud, or Email.  

When you are finished with the page, just wipe it clean with a damp cloth.  The pages can be reused over and over again.

I ordered the EverLast notebook and cleaning it happens with a damp cloth.  The Wave notebook is cleaned using a microwave.

What to learn more?  Watch this video:

Order your Rocketbook here if you are interested in digitizing your notes.

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Back to School: The Principal's Office

The summer is extra busy for me this year.  Last year (2016-17 school year) I decided to be a "work- from-home-kind-of-girl."  I focused on Principal Principles through online mentoring, presenting, and consulting with schools.  I loved it, but I missed my calling.  I'm blessed to get to do what I love every day.  So therefore, I decided to return to the principalship.  I'm only a couple of weeks into the job, and it has been a big adjustment.  Fortunately, the former principal has been a wonderful asset and help to me as I transition to fill her shoes.

Here's a look at my first unofficial couple of weeks:


I decorated my office.  I had to get that done first so I can focus on all the rest.  I need to have a space that feels like home.  I don't spend a lot of time in the office during the year.  However, I wanted it to look inviting to all the staff and community who may enter.


I have started working on professional development powerpoints and activities.  I plan on sharing tons of pictures as soon as everything is ready.


The motto is You Matter: Every Child. Every Day.  I'm inspired by Angela Maiers and her message.  This was very easy to put up in the main entrance of the school.  I purchased the large YOU MATTER letters from Michaels and spray painted them- pink, blue, green, and purple.  The Every Child Every Day letters were already black.  I used adhesive to the back of the letters.  I'm crossing my fingers and hope they stay up all year.


I will be creating a Professional Development Calendar for the year and using anchors charts is top of the list.  I found these anchor charts from Hillary Kiser on TpT.  My training show how anchor charts can be used in all content areas and all grade levels too.

Other possible topics during the Professional Development week are: STEM/STEAM and Growth Mindset.  I'm still working on the PD plan.


Be The Change is a bulletin board I created in the main hall of the school.  It is actually the first bulletin board you see when you enter the building.  I wanted it to be bright with a positive message.  I purchased this bulletin board from Texas Lone Star Teacher on TpT.
On Facebook last week, I shared how I created a WELCOME wall.  This was very easy and inexpensive to create.  The letters are very light weight letters from Hobby Lobby.  I spray painted them black.  The colored backing is foam board.  I spray painted these in the same color as the You Matter bulletin board.  


Have you ever tried a Data Carousel?  I created a video to help explain how this works.  If you need extra information on how to get started, google data carousel.  Teacher Channel has a great video on it.


Teachers move around the room in groups and analyze data sources. Each group of teachers will have their color marker. For example, one group will have one red marker, another group will have a blue marker. This marker moves with the group. Groups will have a set amount of time to work together to analyze the data. When the group is finished at that station, one person from the group will write a narrative fact about their findings on the chart paper using their color marker.  At the end of the activity, you can see that all groups have finished by checking for all colored writings on the charts.

For my school, I will have 6 groups.  Therefore I will have 6 chart papers with the headers, 6 data printouts, and 6 different colored markers.  I picked six because I will be focusing on core subjects and state data reports which came to 6 different groups.  I will divide the groups into different grade level teams.

When all groups have completed all data stations, the facilitator will then look for similarities and discuss solutions. Take time to celebrate victories. There are always pockets of growth that we can celebrate. Do not focus on only the areas of improvement.

Prior to beginning this activity, discuss how this is not an activity to blame or point fingers. Data is not used in a negative way. No one is being judged by looking at the data. You can help eliminate this by telling the group to be thinking about our systems or our resources that might need to be changed. This will shift the focus from “people” blaming to a focus on our systems, our curriculum, or resources, etc… 


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