What started as a 2012 News Years resolution to blog more, turned out to be a new found passion, and eventually full-blown business for Michelle Griffo. But let’s back it up a bit, Michelle actually started blogging as an elementary teacher to find new ideas for her classroom and engage her young students creatively. This soon evolved into many new opportunities.
Once Michelle started blogging consistently, offering her own crafting ideas to teachers and networking with other educators, she realized she was onto something bigger than expected. Griffo followed that purpose and below we have the low down on her exciting path from elementary teacher to successful business woman. May her story be an inspiration to anyone spotting a problem in their own work/life and focusing-in on solving that issue first hand.
POPLINEN (P): How long have you been teaching and why did you choose this path?
Michelle Griffo (M): Through life's twists and turns, I ended up in my first teaching job in 2007. I initially studied business administration in college, but after I graduated, I immediately received my teaching credential and Master's in Education. I landed my first teacher's job teaching kindergarten.
Most of my teaching career has been spent teaching kindergarten, but I have also taught transitional kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade. In my 3rd year of teaching I started a teaching blog called Apples and ABC's. The blog started out as a hobby, and quickly transitioned into a side-hustle, and now I am full-time selling teaching curriculum online to fellow teachers.
(P): Tell us more about Apples and ABC's. How did it start, and what exactly is it now?
(M): When I first started teaching, I would search Pinterest for bulletin board ideas, crafts, and fun learning games. To my surprise, I realized there was this whole world of teaching blogs, and some of those bloggers were selling their teaching resources they made to use with their own students. I decided to jump into the teacher blogger world and launched Apples and ABC's.
At first, the goal wasn't to sell and make curriculum. But, I quickly noticed I was spending so much time making my own learning resources to enhance my teaching. I thought to myself, "why not give selling them a shot?" Fast forward 10 years later, and Apples and ABC's is my full-time job (with lots of side-hustles intertwined).
I DO plan on returning to the classroom one day––once my littles are both in school. For right now, my job consists of creating and selling crafts, learning resources, and lesson plans to teachers online. This includes running @applesandabcs on Instagram, as well as @targetteachers, and co-hosting a teaching conference called Teach Your Heart Out. Between the Instagram accounts, conferences, and my own website, I have my hands full while my littles are home with me.
(P): What most encourages you about teaching elementary age students?
(M): When in the classroom, writing is my FAVORITE subject to teach to kindergarten students. The kids come in barely knowing their letters and leave writing multiple sentences. I enjoy structuring and sequencing content to scaffold their learning. This helps get them to the end goal of expressing themselves through words. Everything builds on each other, and there is so much strategy in jumping from letter knowledge all the way to writing. It fires me up!
(P): For students who feel uninterested or intimidated to start painting or doing crafts, how do you encourage or engage them to try?
(M): You have to figure out what they are interested in and find a craft that matches that interest. Are they into flowers? Trucks? Dinosaurs? I would look on Pinterest for crafts that match their interests.
Another thing to keep in mind––some kids hate getting their hands dirty. So if you are having them finger paint or use sticky glue, they might hate it from the beginning just because they don't want to get messy. In a case like this, I would try exploring different mediums once you are crafting on a topic they are interested in.
(M): My favorite memory would have to be spending time with teachers at the Teach Your Heart Out Conference. Three times a year we host conferences at different locations all over the US. It literally feels like summer camp. We get to spend 2.5 days together, getting excited, and inspiring each other how to be better teachers. It's really an honor to pour into other teachers, who will then go and pour into their students.
My role in the conference includes organizing the presenters, picking the sessions, and presenting as well. My favorite session is called, New Teachers on the Block––this is where I get to share tips and tricks to teachers that are just starting out in their career.
..."look for a need, and see if you can fill it. Then pair that with something you are passionate about."
(P): What are some unexpected challenges COVID has brought upon your work?
(M): For my business the challenge was realizing most of my products that I create are geared towards an in class experience and also use paper. Schools have switched to online and at home, so there was a good 3 week panic of me trying to learn how to make digital resources that could be played on a tablet or computer at home. It was so stressful learning a new program to make digital versions of what I already have in paper form. I can proudly say that I figured it out. After sleepless nights and tons of stress, I am able to help teachers and sell digital learning games, which there is a huge need for.
(P): Where do you pull inspiration for your own creativity?
(M): I have been working on Apples and ABC's full time for 2 years, and I am still pulling ideas out of pure need. Things I needed while I was in the classroom. Now I have the time to make and sell them!
(P): Any words of encouragement to a fellow teacher wanting to start a side business?
(M): I would suggest to look for a need and see if you can fill it. Then pair that with something you are passionate about. For example, maybe you love fashion and want to help teachers find comfortable and stylish outfits to teach in, or maybe you teach middle school math and found a great way to teach long division. The idea is to pin-point what you can bring to the table.
Secondly, I would advise to narrow in your target market. At first, the smaller it can be, the better. Once you get going, you can expand, but start out with a narrow and specific group you are selling to.