What Time Is It?

Admit it, you’re shocked when you see the first ‘Back – To – School’ ads on TV backtoschooladin early July or the circular that comes in the newspaper; just like when you see Christmas ads before Halloween!

For me BACK to school suggests that we ended or quit something that now we have decided to begin again. True, we do stop physically going to a building we call ‘school’ but in reality, learning should be a year long activity. Most kids are excited for school to begin again. They wonder, ‘What will be different this year?’, ‘What will my teacher be like?’, ‘Will I struggle or will it be easy?’. Honestly, as a teacher, I wonder the same things!

  • As teachers, we must spend time honing our craft and growing. There are always new approaches and new techniques to read about and study. For me, one question I ask myself is “What could I have done differently this year to reach that one student?” Whether it’s a social emotional or academic issue that affects students, master teachers will strive to find the one thing that will reach them and help them be successful.
  • The second area I focus on is, ‘What can I do that will make me more efficient?’ I try to remember and make a list listof the non-teaching tasks I  spent a lot of time doing during the year. Was it running copies, grading papers, filing papers, searching for reading passages or other ideas on the web or Pinterest?  Once I have a list, I prioritize and spend time brainstorming/working on how to streamline the tasks.

Having some tools or ideas to work with gives me a focus and can make

Back – To – School a less stressful time.

Good News!!

Many of you who are teachers know that there are times when hilarious things happen. You say to yourself, “I have to write that one down!”, but during the hectic activity of the day, you forget and then it is gone.

Well, I have made a concerted effort to capture some of the highlights of my teaching and administrative career, and now that I have my ‘blogging’ feet wet I’m going to venture into the realm of “Wait until you hear what one of my kids said today”. There will also be the occasional “That parent said what?”!

I hope you enjoy these humorous, true and sometimes eye opening stories.

One day as I made my way back to my office I met the preschool teacher headed my way with a student in tow. She brought him in and proceeded to tell me that he would not listen, he had been running in class during instruction time and throwing things. She had made attempts to redirect and stop the behavior. The student’s reaction to the teacher was to laugh and say it was fun to be in trouble.

studentprincipal

Unfortunately, this was not the first time the student had visited me in my office. On the last visit I had spoken with the student’s mom and she said she wanted me to call her if/when he returned to see me for such behavior. Knowing these were her expectations, I told the student I would be calling his mom. His demeanor suddenly changed. He sat quietly and began to tear up. poutWhen I got his mom on the phone, she asked to speak to him; in a very sheepish and tearful voice, I heard him tell her that he was running in the room, throwing things and not listening to the teacher.

 

He responded to her agreeing that those were not good choices and then in a very confident voice he said, “but the good news is that I finally pooped in the potty!”

p1

Back To Class!

Well, it’s been a year since “Teacher, teacher!” has been up and running. A lot has happened in that year. I moved and changed jobs! I went back to the classroom, 4th grade more specifically. I decided to take a break from posting and focus on teaching (it has been 16 years since I was in the classroom as a teacher)! backtoclassIt was a successful year and I am eager to get back at it; both school and posting.

 

I hope you will find my posts both informative and helpful. Feel free to use any of the information or ideas you find here. I will be posting helpful hints, lessons I’ve learned, successes and failures, recipes, and humorous stories.

Stay tuned!

staytuned2

Happy Day To All Teachers!

teacher appreciation day

Take Care of Yourself

At our core, teachers are caring professionals who dream of making a difference in the lives of students. We take on the challenge of shaping the future, lighting the spark of curiosity and preparing students for productive lives. The world often sees us in a different light:  teachers are those who can’t do anything else, or teach so they can have a long summer break.

The fact is that most teachers are committed, sacrificial, and hard-working professionals, who defy that stereotype routinely.  Some of us defy the stereotype to our own detriment, running ourselves into the ground while working unpaid overtime on lesson plans and grading papers, taking graduate school courses, serving on committees, volunteering for social causes, coaching teams, or sponsoring extracurricular clubs. Help_Help_small (This doesn’t even factor in family commitments.)  The mental and physical health of most educators is often at risk, and the normal stresses of the job are compounded by the scrutiny of parents, administrators, state & federal mandates.

In his article from Education WeekChristopher Doyle spotlights the decline of teacher health and well-being.  He proposes a shift away from the excellence “rat race” that emphasizes perfection and increasing demands. He espouses that real change will only come from the top down.  Sadly, changes like these may not come in our lifetime.

In the meantime, we as teachers have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves from mental burnout and physical erosion.  Creating a balanced, healthy and restful lifestyle not only helps us, but it sets a great example for our students.

I know that you’re seeing that stack of papers or the unwritten lessons and thinking, no way.  My challenge to you would be to adopt a few personal practices that can bring refreshment and add margin.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Put it on the calendar.  Whether it’s a workout, a fun activity, a day trip, or even a nap, the best way to prioritize it is to put it in writing — when it’s on the calendar and the time is allocated, it’s harder to dismiss it.
  • Get quiet.  I’ve recently begun a daily meditation practice using a smartphone app called Headspace that makes it easy to begin a mindfulness habit. For me, the ten minutes it takes can be hard to carve out, but the benefits are worthwhile.  This simple practice really enhances my ability to focus and relaxes my mind for the tasks ahead.  If you aren’t ready for meditation, spend three or four minutes listening to your favorite song, and give your mind a short escape from the burdens of work.
  • Take a break.  Partner with another teacher and swap responsibilities to create space for a date night or personal break.  (If you have your own young children, offer to babysit for them in exchange for some time off when you need it.)
  • Exercise.  The billionaire industrialist Richard Branson gives credit to fitness as the source of his boundless energy and enviable string of accomplishments.  Working out on a regular basis can pay huge dividends in terms of energy, mental focus, and overall health.  Some experts suggest that the time you spend working out can be subtracted from the amount of time you need to sleep, due to the benefits of a healthy heart rate.
  • Pursue other activities.  If your focus is devoted strictly to school and teaching, your perspectives can narrow.  A well-rounded life that includes other interests and hobbies brings unique perspectives to your lesson plans and presentations.

I know it’s difficult, and I’ll admit I’m no master in this area.  Take a baby step toward treating yourself a little better.  You’ve earned it.  You’re a teacher.

(For more ideas on this topic, see this article Greater Good.)

 

The Most Important Times of the Day

With all the pressures of teaching, every minute is precious. But there are two times of the day when you can purposefully set the tone for learning: the first 10 minutes — un-wrap — and the last 10 minutes — wrap-up.

In the first 10 minutes, students need to know that you’re glad they are at school and happy to see them. Stand at the door 10-minute-clock-300x300and welcome them to class; make small talk with them; ask about the previous afternoon — inquire about a game they played in or what they did. Have an activity on the board or on their desks for them to plunge into; you need to create a sense of purpose to begin the day.  This could be an academic activity that encourages them to interact. Whether you do this or not, students will find ways to talk and socialize.  If you give them constructive opportunities to do so during un-wrap, it’s easier to engage them academically when necessary.  (Note:  I wouldn’t do this the first week of school. The first week or two should be completely orchestrated by you.) The morning arrival time needs to be structured, and it’s best to have a writing/drawing prompt or interest survey waiting for them.

We all like to prepare for the day ahead, and students are no different. Giving your students an agenda during un-wrap can help prevent the nagging questions they’re prone to raise throughout the day.  (What special do we have today; what’s for lunch; what are we doing in math?)

The last 10 minutes of the day are equally important.  Begin the wrap-up by recapping the day:  highlight what happened and emphasize key accomplishments. You should model this recap for them early in the year, but eventually turn it over to them. Give them an opportunity to identify what was fun or what they learned.  Encourage them to verbalize something that was difficult.

Other topics for wrap-up include a preview of tomorrow’s activities, which gives them something to anticipate. (Keep it positive.)  Provide a topic or question they can ask at home to keep parents involved.

You should not only talk about the academic side of things but social topics too. Students are very aware of what goes on in the class socially, e.g. who’s friends with whom, who got in trouble, who was mean to them, etc.  By talking about these things before students leave, you can put it in context, and prevent a simmering pot from turning into an explosion at home.  Often a child will suppress their feelings about a conflict or incident at school until a parent or sibling prompts them at home.  The sudden attention can result in an emotional (and often inaccurate) memory of events from the day.  Using wrap-up time to diffuse these emotions can head off angry phone calls from parents.

This reflection time is an important skill for students to learn so they can evaluate their day on their own and learn analytical and self-assessment methods.  It also provides insight to you about the efficacy of your  lessons; something you thought went well may not have had the same impact on students. Early in the year, wrap-up time can give you a chance to remind students of any materials they’ll need for homework or tomorrow’s assignments.  As time goes by, they will be doing this themselves; it will become a habit. They’ll learn to check everything before they leave and you won’t get the email or phone call saying Suzy left her book at school and couldn’t do her homework.

Encouraging leadership in your students

Encouraging leadership in students promotes a variety of qualities:

    1. Self confidence: By doing a job well students gain self confidence. They are able to assist others and make a contribution to the smooth running of the classroom. Once the classroom routine is up and running, you can spotlight a student of the week and/or leader of the month. By giving students jobs that they are capable of doing and doing well they gain confidence. Having their peers see them succeed promotes positive relationships as well. the-very-best-of-the-success-kid-meme
    2. Good decision making: Help students make a habit of weighing decisions and assessing pros and cons. When there’s conflict in the classroom, students should discuss options and outcomes. Role play various scenarios so that students know what is expected and have a framework for how to go about making the best choices. 
    3. Teamwork: In leadership roles students will learn to work cooperatively and appreciate others for their skills. Engage students in activities that highlight the strengths of individual students. Complete activities to show how we are the same/different. Pair students intentionally considering their strengths or interests, e.g. have a writer work with an artist to complete an assignment. 
    4. Organization:  Encourage students to voice their opinions about ways to organize things in the classroom. Have them discuss desk arrangement and talk through benefits and possible issues that might come up.  Hold students accountable to policing their own area. One idea is to name a group captain (or table captain) — someone who organizes supplies, leads clean-up time, or collects their work for submission.  This role can be rotated periodically to allow different students to explore leadership.

How to Make a Difference in the Classroom

What is a teacher’s job?  Educating students is the simple answer. But shepherding a child through an understanding of subject matter isn’t simple.  If that’s accomplished, and you stop there, you are doing a disservice to your students.  Taking it to the next level can be daunting, exhausting, and demanding, but it’s the route to making a difference in the classroom.   

Once there’s a basic mastery of the subject, students must be taught how to apply content to their world.  Young learners typically take facts at face value, and haven’t yet learned to question, probe, and expand their viewpoint.  The teacher’s job now becomes more than shepherd — it’s sherpa — leading the learner into new encounters, broader perspectives, and unchartered paths.  

How do you do this effectively?  First, it’s important to help students identify their learning style.  Provide different activities for the same learning objective and typically they’ll move toward their preferred style.  If not, you can assign a range of activities and assess their success with that particular style.

Second, explore techniques with your students that build connections. Teach them how to study and investigate their world. For example, remember when you were a student, and you’d think “When will I ever use this?”  As a teacher, every lesson plan should have that question answered before you begin teaching it.  If you can articulate real-world applications for the facts you are sharing, your students will more readily understand and more quickly make the knowledge their own. 

In time, as students begin to own their learning and see school as a doorway to the world outside, you will spark their imaginations and curiosity.  The student who learns how to learn is the student that become self-sufficient and accelerates beyond their baseline. This objective is the teacher’s real job, and the key to making a difference in the classroom.

Squad Goals

The life of an elementary teacher can be a lonely one.  In some schools, a solo teacher may be the only adult in their classroom and have little access to others.  If she or he is lucky, an assistant or college intern may spend some time in the room.  But it’s not uncommon for them to be the only adult in sight for hours at a time. New teachers, take note:  Being proactive in building a “squad” is an essential task.

Your “squad” should be a diverse support team assembled to make life easier, provide encouragement, and keep you sane when the stress of teaching builds.  squad

Look for immediate support in the form of other teachers (in your grade level and out) and the key staff members at your building (custodian, secretary, technology, nurse, counselor, cafeteria workers, etc.)  Sharing ideas and getting feedback is an obvious benefit, but just having friendly coworkers to chat with about life and outside activities is just as important.

Developing friendships outside of school is crucial too;  having a safe and objective listener to hear your concerns is vital.  This helps you avoid the temptation to “vent” to your fellow teachers or parents.  Those conversations are dangerous; they can quickly escalate into negativity, gossip or insubordination.

Develop a healthy and proactive rapport with parents.  You don’t want your first interaction with a parent to be a discipline issue or a discussion over a child’s poor performance.  Create consistent and positive touch points where you engage with parents early and often. (I will be posting more suggestions about this in a future blog post.)

At times teachers build a wall between themselves and the administration.  They see the Principal as the “enemy,” and prefer to keep their distance, believing that “out of sight, out of mind” is a smart strategy.  Working to include administrators on your squad may be tough, but it can have great rewards.  If your administrators are receptive, here are some ways to include them on your squad as well:

  • Ask the Principal or Assistant Principal to suggest some times when sending students to the office is most convenient.  During these times, you can make a regular practice of having children share their writing, journal entries, artwork, or special projects.  If a student is struggling in an area, getting help from the Principal or Assistant Principal can be helpful, and in some ways, it might even be a refreshing change of pace for someone whose days in the classroom are in the past. Administrators have things that come up unexpectedly, but for the most part, they are happy to set aside time for brief student visits.
  • Ask your administrator to come and read a story or share an experience with your children. This will not only make them feel closer to you, but it will also help reduce the intimidation factor for your students.  They will also have a chance to better understand what you are teaching and have an appreciation for your classroom management skills.  (And you probably don’t want your Principal’s first visit to your class to be during a formal observation, do you?)
  • If you have special occasions when parents or grandparents are “guest starring” in the class (like career day or a child’s birthday party), you might reach out to your Administrators to sub in for a parent whose work schedule prevents them from participating.  Being the ‘honored guest’ of those children helps build their self esteem. (The same tactic can work with other members of the staff too.)

Ask administrative assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers or counselors to visit your room regularly too. Students see their faces every day but they may rarely interact with them. Having them share with your students is a great way to open your classroom to a new world and build positive relationships.  Other adults in your school might be able to reach and impact a student’s behavior in a positive way that as the teacher you are not able.

Changing Bad Behavior into Good

“The cost of being positive, very little.  The benefit of being positive, tremendous.”
— Miguel Angel Soto

The quote above should probably be hanging prominently in every elementary classroom. Remaining positive when dealing with negatives can be difficult, and in many cases, the teacher’s attitude is particularly important, especially when the challenge is student behavior.  

Simply stating the rules and procedures in positive ways is easy; getting students to reflect those rules in the form of positive actions takes finesse. The behavioral expectations from the student’s home are the ones that he or she brings to school. But just because a certain behavior is okay at home doesn’t mean it’s okay at school.  Here are a few tips for getting students to accept and embrace that fact.

When a child interrupts, it’s the timing of the disruption that’s the problem, not the behavior itself.  To combat the problem, give the student an index card and a ‘special’ marker and when they feel the urge to blurt out, encourage them to write down a word or two on the card.  When instruction is completed, they can then share their thoughts with you. By redirecting the situation into a positive activity, you can manage the disruption and possibly retrain them toward more acceptable behavior.

If a student can’t stay seated when doing their work and are intruding on their classmates, try taping off a space on the floor around their work area.  Give the area a special name (call it “in bounds” or “work zone” or “inner space”) and let them stand at their desk or sit near their desk, as long as they stay in the taped-off area.  You’re providing them a degree of freedom to accommodate their needs, while keeping them from being a nuisance to others.  Note: managing this carefully can produce excellent results for students with sensory issues, ADHD, or excess energy.