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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

The Morning Meeting

The Morning Meeting.  Establishing routines is a key to accomplishing goals in the elementary setting.  For many children, school may be the first environment where they’ve encountered a structured schedule.   The more you can create rhythms, habits and routines, the more quickly your students will learn to self-regulate their own time and energy, follow procedures, and achieve learning objectives.f2755a29d5f2d21057d9fb6be5252123

I like to start every day with a morning ritual that includes a greeting, daily agenda, goals for the day, and a sharing time.

Set the Tone.  I take about two minutes to welcome the group and give them an overview of what’s happening that day.  Use a positive tone to start the day upbeat, but make sure you’re businesslike and professional so they know that it’s time to get focused. Your manner will help kids focus their energy from “arrival” mode into “learning” mode.  

Daily Agenda.  Depending on what you’re teaching, try to identify two or three specific goals to highlight.  If something unique is going on during the day (a fire drill, a guest, or special activity) be sure to mention that too and quickly remind children about rules or procedures that might relate.  Be brief and stick to the big picture items. Kids will lose interest if you detail every individual piece of the day.

Care to Share.  The morning is a good time to encourage your students to report on things going on in their lives (if something big has happened, a child will want to share it anyway, and it might interrupt a lesson later in the day.)  Have a “baton” (it could be a stuffed animal, toy or special object) that you can pass around from child to child; if they don’t have anything to say, they can pass it on to the next person.  If you have a class of introverts, you might create a schedule or provide topics or prompts for certain students to prepare for in advance.

 

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. 

Get on the “Write” Track

The writer Donald Miller offers an interesting thought about journaling: “He captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen.”  

Numerous analysts celebrate the power of journal keeping, and its importance is especially critical for young learners.  I believe everyone can benefit from developing a practice of looking inward, recording actions and feelings, and observing their world with a critical eye.  So how do you take journal writing from an assignment to an opportunity?  How do you make it something that kids will look forward to continuing long beyond their time in your class?  Variety and consistency are two important things to incorporate as you move into this with your kids.Train-clip-art-free-free-clipart-images

For some students, the act of writing will be a foreign concept, and providing prompts and assignments can be helpful.  Your journaling assignment could take the form of a daily diary or creative writing.  (See examples below.)  Your students’ journals could be a series of responses to journal prompts, i.e. questions or considerations that ask the student to evaluate their mood, set or reflect on goals or objectives, or wrestle with life challenges and common situations that they might face.

The key is to just get started and encourage, encourage, encourage.  Here is a process you might consider:

  1. Begin the journal process by having students observe you modeling it; writing in a journal either on your ELMO, Smartboard or overhead projector.
  2. Brainstorm a list of topics that you might write about and list them in the front of your journal. Then each day for a week, share examples of how to write about a few of the topics. Go back and edit or revise something you’ve written; add to the topic list based on something you did the previous evening.
  3. After a week or so, have them begin their own topic list and journal writing.
  4. As they progress, conference with them about what they’ve written.  Use the time to nurture their early attempts to craft a story or communicate their ideas.  I would suggest that you avoid “grading” the writing itself.  You can track participation and even make the journal assignment mandatory, but the value of journaling comes more from the act of transferring thoughts into words than from the mechanics of writing.  Accuracy, sentence structure, and clarity aren’t as important as learning to process ideas and take thoughts captive in written form.  When a child begins to make progress in turning a phrase or communicating more clearly, celebrate their accomplishments, and challenge them to go to the next level.
  5. Have them refine their list of journal topics as their interests or experiences change. As the year goes by, model for them how to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate. 
  6. At the end of the year, have the students look back at their early work, and compare the ways they have matured or changed during the course of the school year.

If you choose to prompt your students to try their hand at different forms of writing other than a diary, here are some possible ideas:

  1. Poetry
  2. Photo captions
  3. Thank you notes
  4. Letters
  5. Lists
  6. Short stories
  7. News reports
  8. Biographies of friends or family members
  9. Interviews
  10. Instructions or How-To’s (recipes, playing a game, craft projects, etc.)

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.