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.

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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!”

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Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Your first interaction with parents has to be a positive one! They may have heard through the ‘grapevine’ of other parents, teachers or students the kind of teacher you are. firstimpressionYour job is to confirm their already positive opinion of you or to win them over despite what they’ve heard. In reality, Open House may be the only time you have parents for face-to-face communication – make the best of it!

Open House/Meet the Teacher Night is the perfect place to start.  To ensure things go smoothly, begin getting ready for open house before school starts. Once pre-planning begins there are other things that will compete for your attention, so start early!

Put together an informational packet for parents that also has a questionnaire. Include questions about parent expectations for the year, things that have worked well/haven’t worked well in past years, what mode of communication they prefer, do they have skills/interests that could enrich your class. Parents are more than willing to give you information about their student. By asking, you are letting parents know that you too are interested in their success.

Put together a class handbook, include portions of the school handbook but add classroom specific information. studenthandbookInclude a bit of personal information about yourself so you create affinity with parents. Brag a bit on your qualifications; it is reassuring for parents to know that the teacher likes school and continues to learn and hone their craft. Let parents know what you will be doing to ensure the safety of their student. 

If you have an open house where you are expected to make a presentation, use pictures from the previous year of engaging lessons, classroom activities, lunch and the playground for a presentation. Video students talking about something they are studying. Include slides that spell out the class expectations.

Let parents know that they can expect you to communicate with them. Talk about your newsletter and what kind of information it will include. I’ve found that a newsletter every 2 weeks is plenty. If you send it each week, it just becomes noise and unimportant. If you send it with graded classwork, it’s more likely to be read.

An innovative idea that I’m intending on starting this coming school year is an electronic newsletter via QRC code. My hope is to pass out a QRC code at Open House for parents to scan, then update it with newsletter items for them to read. I’m not even sure if that exists but some version of it might!

In general, parents want to be involved in their student’s education. Have a list of in-class and out of class jobs they could do. Give parents an index card with a few questions they can ask their student after the first day of school.  firstdayFor example; What was the best part of the day?; Was there anything that was hard/challenging?; What was easy?’; What are you looking forward to this year?.

 

 

All in all, parents want to know several things that you can address at the open house:

  • Parents want to know that you expect their student to be successful. Tell parents how you plan to accomplish that very goal.
  • Parents want to know the important things. Be organized and prepared! Rehearse what you will say to parents at open house. Don’t waste their time.
  • Parents want to know how they can help. Give suggestions on how they can volunteer both in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

Don’t know what to do with all that time in the summer? P.L.A.N.

P.L.A.N – Prioritize; Lessons; Anticipate; Narrow

Before you begin planning, spend some time prioritizing the things that need the most attention. For me, it was the standards. This past year my district was beginning the process of converting our standards to scales in order to help teachers and students see where they were in the progression from below proficiency to proficiency to above proficiency. As teachers, we were to analyze the standard and decide what declarative (need to know) and procedural (skill) information was needed to move students. This was difficult during the year, we were only able to get a few completed before school was out. downloadMy goal was to work on them during the summer. For me, it is easier to focus and really dig in if there is not much else going on, so summer it is!!

 

During the year, I keep a lesson notebook. If a lesson goes really well, I make a note and ask myself if there is anything to make it even better. Likewise, if a lesson flops, I make a note. I try to figure out why it was a flop, there could be a number of reasons; preparedness of me or students; student interest; interruptions; behavior. Whatever the reason, I brainstorm ways to remedy the problem. Sometimes it may be that I just need to scrap that lesson and come up with another way to teach the skill.

Unless you’re new to teaching or new to a school you have an idea of all the events of the year and a roadmap of where you’re going. To anticipate, highlight certain activities on your yearly calendar like report cards, holidays and testing. Use the curriculum to determine where students should end up at certain points of the year and then ultimately at the end of the year and then work backward for an overall picture. imagesPlan out each unit and quarter then decide how to get students there. Use your lesson notebook to add time to skills that require more practice or teaching time. 

Another thing to anticipate is getting new students and losing students. Getting new students might throw you for a loop if you’re not expecting it and sometimes they can just show up at your door with an administrator. Have at your fingertips a packet with getting to know you questions or reading/writing and math activities for them to start with. This gives them a few minutes to acclimate to you and the class while having something to focus on. This will also give you a few minutes to finish the lesson or get students working so that you can then spend some time with the new student.

In my years in administration, I’ve learned that teachers are lesson hoarders and being a teacher, I’m in that category too! If I find a lesson that I really like or enjoy, I’ll keep using it year after year, admittedly even if it doesn’t quite fit the skill anymore, I’ll keep it in the rotation. messydeskI have to narrow my lessons each summer and purge the ones that just don’t fit anymore. Sometimes I get rid of them completely; other times I’ll rework them to include technology or cooperative learning. Be open to creating new lessons that include things that students are interested in. Do some research and find out what the big thing is for the age level you teach and try to incorporate it into a new lesson. For example, you could incorporate a ‘texting’ feature into a lesson on finding the main idea. Even though there won’t be any actual texting, the idea of a lesson looking and sounding like texting might be fun or interesting for students.

All Aboard the Technology Train

If you are age 35 or younger, you can stop reading this post now:  This post is written for us “old fogies,” especially those of us who have come to use computers late in life.  

If you’ve been teaching for 20 years or more, you may be surprised how tech savvy your students and their parents really are.  Most parents with elementary age kids were born in the mid-80s or later, and have spent most of their lives with access to laptops, the Internet, and digital tools.  They aren’t intimidated by it, and in some cases, they expect you to use technology to reach them.

If you’ve been resistant to get on board the “technology train,” rest assured, you can learn.  I am half a century old (!) and have learned to embrace technology out of necessity, and then out of appreciation.  After I got over the initial hump, I began to learn that most technology is relatively easy to use, once you start.  Just getting going is half the battle.  Use YouTube as a resource.  There are fantastic tutorials online there (and in other places) to show you how to get up to speed quickly.  A peer or friend can show you too, but I’d recommend the “hands on” approach.  You’ll learn more quickly and completely if you’re the one making the mistakes and being forced to figure things out.  If you get stuck, simply Google your question, and an answer is probably a click or two away.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, technology is a great way to involve parents.  Using email is certainly an essential mechanism, and it has the most privacy controls, but social media has a wealth of potential too.  computee.JPG Create a class Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account (or whatever the latest social media fad is by the time you read this post.)  Students can even get involved in creating or sharing content (as long as you monitor their activity.)  If you think videos could be fun and effective, consider setting up a class YouTube or Vimeo channel.  Please note: for any social media projects or online activities, it’s important to get parents to grant permission or sign a general release.

These ideas also create a unique opportunity for parental involvement and volunteering.  A busy professional may not have time to volunteer in the classroom during the day, but putting in a few hours during their off time to update your Facebook page or add pictures to your class blog is a wonderful way to get them to participate.

Once you’ve established your communication outlet(s), you can use them for these and other ideas:

  • Send updates to parents about class activities, special announcements and upcoming lessons.
  • Research and suggest apps for parents to download for students to use.
  • Send an article or link to parenting tips on blogs and online publications.
  • Record lessons or special activities and upload to your video channel; send links out for parents who aren’t able to attend.
  • Set up a Shutterfly, Flickr, Google Drive or Instagram account share pictures.
  • Learn to create QR Codes to make it easy to share links and connections.

To make it easy on less-savvy parents, you can always print out copies of the information and send it home with the kids or through traditional means.  

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.)

 

Benefits of Student Engagement

When you think of student engagement you think about students being drawn into their learning. To know if your class is engaged we must first define engagement.  Phil Schlecty “Increasing Student Engagement.” Missouri Leadership Academy; (Jan. 1994) says students who are engaged exhibit three characteristics:

  • they are attracted to their work,eager-student
  • they persist in their work despite challenges and obstacles, and
  • they take visible delight in accomplishing their work.

Some lessons will hit all three targets, but there are objectives that aren’t that exciting but still need to be taught.  Things like long division, editing/revisions, fractions (need I say more?) may present a challenge for engagement.

Think about activities that you are excited to engage in:

  • What motivates you to participate in those activities?
  • What skills do you draw upon to engage in the activity?
  • What are your expectations for the outcome of the activity?

As adults we can choose we have options.  We can choose the activities and learning that we’ll spend time to pursue. Our strengths and interests guide us and push us towards engagement. When we succeed we can then transfer those skills to other possibly less desirable activities.

For students who don’t have the same freedom, it is the teacher’s job to create lessons that motivate students to fully engage in the learning process. Students must be engaged in all of ‘school’ — in its global form —  academics, interpersonal, extracurricular, social and relational.

Check back in for posts about academic and social engagement.

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.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Classroom management takes up a significant part of most teachers’ day. To me there is a significant difference between classroom management and behavior management. Behavior management is when you are responding to, encouraging and correcting the student’s response to classroom rules and not being a distraction to themselves or others.

Classroom management are the things that contribute to the smooth operation of the learning environment.  (Though they are related — how you manage the classroom often affects student behavior.)  Classroom management can include aspects of the lesson you’ve prepared, procedures for material distribution, leaving and entering the classroom, expectations for behavior both inside and outside of the room.21833569

Just as each student in your class is different, so are teachers.  A teacher who has young learners for the entire day has a different set of demands than one in upper grades who may “share” the child with other teachers over the course of the day. Each teacher’s rules, attitude, demeanor and approach will vary.  As a result, you need to be very explicit in what you expect from your students, and set your own procedures that work best for you and your students.  If you aren’t proactive in mastering classroom management, the class will manage you!

Taking time to devise simple routines can pay big dividends.  Talk specifically with students about tasks that they will do every day.  Set clear and consistent expectations for the following:

  • What to do at the beginning of class
  • How you handle passing out papers
  • Turning in assignments
  • Lining up
  • Leaving class for the restroom
  • Transitioning from task to task
  • Packing up at the end of class
  • What to do if an assignment is completed early

Non-instructional time can open the door for misbehavior; setting expectations at the start of the year can eliminate unwanted behavior later on.

Try to think of all the activities that constitute a typical day.  Write down what you would expect for each to go smoothly and efficiently, and list everything you’d like the students to know and what their role should be. Arrange the room to accommodate this plan. 

Here’s the most important part:  on the first day of school announce that you will be explaining the procedures for the class.  (If you call them rules there will be at least one kid whose mind will instantly start plotting ways to break them!)  Start by discussing what a procedure is — using examples like video games, sports or playing an instrument.  (In video games, you have to learn how to use the controller, create your character, and have enough memory on the card to store your progress.)  Equate these rote activities with positive outcomes, explain the procedure in detail, and then practice. Keep practicing until they get it right. Give lots of verbal praise for successes, and instruct with specifics when things go south. 

On the second day of school, practice the procedures again; let’s see who can remember them.  Then practice!  For the first week or two of school, practicing procedures is one of the most important things you can do.  Once the procedures are habitual, learning can follow.  Sure, you are giving up some instruction time, but the investment will pay off in spades.  As winter break approaches and other teachers are having to ‘remind’ students how to behave, your class will be sailing through their objectives.  You will gain back that “lost” instruction time as the year progresses.

You may have to practice once or twice again after winter break, but having solid procedures in place will alleviate stress.  An added benefit will be on the day you have a substitute, your class will run smoothly because your students are in the habit of following the procedures.

Reflecting and Adjusting Behaviors

As adults we ‘reflect’ on events and situations all throughout our day.  Sometimes we do so without even realizing it:  burning our tongue on a hot beverage causes us to adjust our behavior.  We blow into the cup or let it cool before sipping again.  We reflect and adjust in traffic — getting a speeding ticket makes us reflect on our behavior — and we drive a little slower (for a while.) mirror

Reflecting and adjusting is the essence of the learning process. If we don’t reflect and make adjustments we’ll continue to make the same errors time and again. Through years of experience we’ve learned to reflect automatically on some things but have to make a conscious effort for others.  When we see red brake lights ahead of us on the road, an experienced driver doesn’t consciously apply the brake.  It’s a reflex.  A student driver’s response to red is much more conscious, and in some cases, the adjustment is too severe (they slam on the brakes.)  If that student failed to hit the brakes and rear-ended the driver in front, there’s a good chance they’d learn the lesson of adjusting.

If you’re trying a new recipe for home baked chocolate chip cookies, the reflect-and-adjust process is top of mind.  “Will the oven temperature be accurate?  How long should the cookies bake?  Are the eggs in the fridge fresh enough to use?”  If the cookies burn, you’ll approach the task differently the next time.  Does the recipe need to be changed?  Or is it the over temperature that’s at fault?

When we reflect on what went wrong, we evaluate each aspect of the process and try to find the cause of the error. From the example above, we can’t say that the cookies are just bad-tasting cookies. An adjustment needs to be made.

In his article, Mark Clements sites the classic example of a hot stove:  if I touch the burner and hurt my hand, I immediately reflect.  If I’m reflecting properly, I’ll change my behavior (by quickly removing my hand from the hot burner.)  And then I adjust for the future; I won’t simply assume that all stoves are bad; it’s just the ones that are hot that should give me pause.

In learning environments, students must have reflection time in order to assess their errors and determine how to fix them.  Reflecting on success is also important.  The student should analyze their results and capitalize on the “win” so they can build on it. If a student performs poorly on an assignment, and the teacher just hands it back without an opportunity to reflect and make corrections, progress is halted.   For real learning to occur, students need to understand their mistakes and have a chance to correct them.

In the classroom, reflection is not a default skill for most students.  It must be taught and encouraged.

The First Teacher

The moment children are born they begin learning. Infants immediately start building trust with their parents, relatives, and caregivers. When a baby cries and someone responds — whether it’s for food, a diaper change, or just to be held — they begin to trust that their needs will be met.21019585

As children grow, they are figuring out the way things work; when they coo and make noise, they get your attention and you respond to them.  They get encouragement and praise as they sit up, roll over and begin to walk. Through this relationship the parent/caregiver becomes the first teacher a child has.

An article on thinkport.org references research from the US Department of Education and offers some tips on how to use everyday experiences to begin to establish your role as your child’s first teacher!