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!

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Why Do We Have to Learn This?

At some point you will hear (or have already heard) a loud refrain from a child in your class:  “Why do we have to learn this?!”

Instinct may make you defensive, but this is a valid question.  And the answer can’t be — because it will be on the test or because I said so.  Students must feel their work has meaning and is valuable to them. If a child struggles to see value, they may go through the motions of the work, but they may not truly learn. The content has to be relevant to them today.why

For example, most elementary students are expected to learn about U.S. Presidents or significant historical dates and places.  Is the objective to merely memorize trivia?  Or are we challenging students to learn about characteristics of leadership, the principles of a Democratic society or how governing decisions affect our lives? 

Instruction of this type can be more than fact-based; it can be an opportunity to instill values (such as tolerance, obedience, leadership, cooperation.)  It can also provide an atmosphere for developing analytical or discussion skills.  (Ask students to compare and contrast political candidates or the impact of a local legal decision.)  

Clearly there are some facts and figures that students just have to learn.  And making it immediately relevant can be tough.  In that case, you can make the work engaging by providing different modes of delivery: books, movie clips, experiments, student-led discussions, etc.

As the teacher you must model for them how to go about problem solving. Navigating a confusing lesson is a problem that must be solved.  Talk through the topic and show your approach: what questions do you ask yourself as you make sense of a difficulty?  Celebrate when they accomplish something, teach them positive self-talk, demonstrate it for them.

Help them see that all learning is an opportunity, not an obligation.  With these tactics in play, eventually the refrain will change from “Why do we have to learn this?” to “When can we learn more about this?”

 

 

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.

 

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.

Visitors Welcome

When I was a teacher, I wanted my Principal and Assistant Principal to come to my room frequently; I didn’t want their first glimpse of my teaching to be on observation day! I hoped they could visit often and see my students in action, to monitor and applaud their progress. I was proud of them and wanted others to share in that pride. I also wanted the leadership team to see my approach to teaching:Welcome-Mat.jpg if I coaxed two sentences out of a reluctant reader, I wanted them there to witness the moment and celebrate with the student.

When I became an administrator, I vowed to visit classrooms regularly.  My goal is to see the full spectrum of what’s going on in the class and look for strengths in my teachers, offer suggestions, or share a simple word of encouragement. In addition, I want students to be comfortable with my presence in the room.

Teachers should also be encouraged to invite fellow faculty members into their rooms.  The administrator should take the lead to build this habit into the school’s culture, either by subbing for an hour or two to allow the teacher to observe in another room or by hiring a substitute to clear the decks.  It takes some time and effort to coordinate, but teachers can gain real insight by watching their peers lead a lesson or engage with their students.