Let’s Do Lunch

Many schools have duty-free lunch for teachers, i.e. the teacher has a break while lunchroom monitors supervise the students.eater It’s a wonderful benefit that provides a much-needed respite.  Even though it might seem like a minor thing, kicking off a new school year with a few simple strategies can make duty-free lunch a “win-win” for you and the monitors that serve you. 

Students have a tendency to act differently when the teacher is not around.  To counteract that, you’ll need to create an expectation for your kids to do the right thing all the time. How do you set that tone?

  • Training appropriate behavior requires consistency and vigilance. Consider having lunch with your students in the cafeteria the first week of school. You’ll gain an opportunity to reinforce good manners, address outbursts and conflict, and encourage healthy eating habits.    
  • Do a surprise “pop in” and make yourself visible a few times in the first month or so. This will sit in the back of their minds, and serve as a subtle, lasting cue to behave.
  • I also like to invite them to have lunch with me in the classroom on occasion. By taking the time to do this you are showing them that you are interested in their lives.  When students sense that you truly care, they want to please you and behave correctly.
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Germ-Free Bathroom Pass

Here’s a quick suggestion to make bathroom nametagvisits a little more sanitary.  Create clip-on bathroom passes for your students: one labeled for BOYS and another for GIRLS. You can use a name tag like you might have at a meeting or conference.  The benefit is that once it’s clipped on, their hands are free to do their business and wash up without touching the pass. Have hand sanitizer within easy reach of where you store the bathroom pass, as an extra measure to help kill pesky germs. 

They’re “Yours” No Matter Where They Go

If you teach at a school where your students go to a specials class (i.e. art, music, P.E., etc.) it’s a good idea to intentionally connect with those teachers to find out what their expectations are for your students. Once you understand their procedures, you should emphasize them with your students; help them understand the importance of carrying over your expectations for good behavior into those classrooms. 9086-0-1453912396Then during the first two or three weeks of school, check in with the specials teachers and see how it’s going. Inquire for specific feedback; if there are ways you can follow up or reiterate their concerns, do so. You should treat your relationship to these teachers as a partnership and do what you can to remedy difficult situations.

When a student is assigned to your class, you should treat them as “your students” no matter where they are in the building. You can’t afford to take the stance that when they are out of your sight they are someone else’s responsibility. Students will pick up on this and sense that you only care about them when they’re in your class. It’s my belief that the key to being an effective teacher is to show genuine care for your students well being.

Think about it from this perspective: how would you feel if you thought that your spouse, friends or own parents only cared about you when you were physically near.  Those relationships would feel pretty hollow, and the value would be superficial at best. 

As the teacher and leader in the class it is your responsibility to reinforce the expectations for other classes. Certainly, the specials teachers should set their own classroom expectations and enforce them, but your students need to know that you support those teachers and expect obedience and achievement in any location, not just your room.

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.

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.

 

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.

Should Students Get Rewards?

We all like to be rewarded for a job well done. We expect to get our checks on payday, and we enjoy the occasional casual day or tickets to leave early.  Why would students be any different?

Having a reward system in your class can be tricky. Ideally you want students behave properly, not just for a reward, but because it’s the right thing to do.  But let’s face it, a little extra motivation from time to time can’t hurt.  After years of experimenting with different reward systems, I’ve found a few that seem effective.

  • Whole group rewards – My heart fills with pride when someone compliments my class for walking quietly down the hall or displaying good manners in the cafeteria. I have a block chart in the classroom where we track class compliments.  When someone gives us praise, we color in a block. When a certain number of blocks are colored in, we enjoy a class treat. I may bring in doughnuts or popsicles, 21468471give them an extra recess, no homework for an evening, or a 15-minute free choice activity.
  • Small group rewards – Desks can be arranged so that students sit in cooperative groups of three or four.  When a group does exceptional work, works together well, or goes the extra mile on a task, their table gets a point.  At the end of a given period (a week or two weeks) or when a points benchmark is met, the group gets a small reward. Students might get to sit in a special place at lunch, or get to pick a friend to sit with them in the cafeteria.  Often, the reward itself isn’t important; just the fact that they are being recognized can reinforce good behavior.
  • Individual rewards – With individual rewards, you can customize and modify rewards based on student needs.  They can be given immediately or stored up to ‘cash in’ at a later date. Examples are: special trip to the office for recognition, phone call or note home, special coupon from a local restaurant.  I recommend using a “ticket system” to track behavior.  Students start the week (or designated period) with a certain number tickets.  If the child misbehaves or breaks a rule, he or she surrenders a ticket (or more depending on severity of the violation.)  When the week ends, the remaining tickets can be traded in for rewards.  You can customize the ticket system to work daily for students who need immediate recognition and then back away to include more days as they progress and you see more desired behavior.  Another version is where they earn the tickets throughout the day, collect them, and then cash them in at a later date.  (I prefer the immediacy and tangible nature of starting the week with tickets and counting down, rather than earning over time.  It seems to reinforce delayed gratification and help students recognize that bad behavior has immediate consequences.) For individual rewards you can modify it based on the needs of the children and work on specific target behaviors.
    • For individual rewards and behavior modification you might encounter a situation where students feel the expectations/rewards aren’t fair — especially if you’re working with a particular student on target behaviors. You may have to spend some time going over ‘fair versus equal.’  (See the related post.)

For older students, you might consider using a checkbook system (teaching math and money principles while they work toward rewards.)  As they do good deeds, perform the duties of their “job” in the classroom, or meet behavior expectations, “money” is deposited into their account.  (Withdrawals can be made for violations.)   At the end of the semester, have a class auction where they can purchase items donated by parents or local patrons.

Creating a Masterpiece

When a master craftsman works, he takes great care when selecting tools, preparing the work environment, and creating an end product.  Passion is the fuel that drives the craftsman to pursue excellence in their work.  Similarly, the passion for teaching — when coupled with care, preparation, and creativity — can produce masterpieces in the classroom.20680931

If you’re a passionate teacher — one who believes that impacting a young person through school can create lifelong change — you can approach your job with the same mindset as the master craftsman.  Here are a few things to have in mind:

  • Make your classroom into a workshop for learning.  The effectiveness of the setting can often dictate the depth of learning that occurs there.
  • Take care when selecting materials, curriculum or tools– use the best you can afford.
  • Be a master communicator. Prepare your words carefully, rehearse them fully, and assess their impact.  (See my other post about learning environments.)
  • Create wonder and interest in the lesson to move students to the next level. Recognize that it takes a lot to “wow” a kid in today’s world.  They have world-class entertainment at their fingertips at all times via smartphones, laptops, ipads, and other connected devices.  Ask yourself, “If I were a child in my class, what would it take to engage my interest and keep me focused on the content.”
  • Avoid judgment, criticism, and knee-jerk feedback.  The classroom needs to be a safe place for students to take risks, ask questions, and even fail.  Your response to their questions and mistakes can make or break their future.  One offhand remark or callous criticism can shut a student down and affect their attitude about learning for years, even decades.

 

Teacher, teacher…!

“Teacher, teacher…!” When you step into the classroom at the start of a school year, you become known as teacher (in rare cases you may be called mom or dad.)  No matter who is requesting your attention you’ll begin answering to almost anything. You’ll have 20 to 30 little humans in your room to love, nurture, inspire and teach. 13340484_sRecognizing and appreciating the differences in your students is the first step in caring for them. Students need to know that you care about every aspect of who they are before they can trust you to lead them academically.  Just showing up and being called a “teacher” can be easy. Being an effective teacher is difficult; it takes work. And the work is ongoing, with continuous pressures from parents, administrators, and governmental mandates.  The daunting nature of these challenges can be a big energy zapper, shaking the confidence of even the most prepared and committed teachers.  I have spent nearly 30 years in early childhood education, and I’ve noticed that the teachers who succeed are ones who constantly gather ideas, collaborate with others, evaluate their approach, and ask a lot of questions.  It is my hope that the Teacher Teacher Blog can serve as a source for your continued development and quest to be an effective teacher.  Please feel free to comment on the blog posts and reach out to me with questions, suggestions, or ideas.  Thanks for following! — Shelia