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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

The Two Most Dreaded Words…

Indoor Recess! Two of the most dreaded words any teacher must utter.

How can you take the difficult challenge of indoor recess and turn it into a positive?  Well, it’s impossible to make it as much fun as outdoor recess, but here are a few small suggestions to make it bearable for you and your kids:

  • Offer some structured activities that don’t seem too structured.  Part of what makes kids love recess is that its “their” free time, and you don’t want to mess with that too much.  Offer choices and give the kids the opportunity to select the activities that interest them that day.
  • In anticipation of the inevitable indoor recess day, fill a bin with board games, puzzles, comic books, toys, travel games, craft projects, and art supplies.  You might check your local thrift store or ask for “hand me downs” from parents in upper grades.  It’s important that these items be reserved only for indoor recess day.  If these items are exclusively available for only those times, they will feel like a treat and add some unique excitement and fun to the day.
  • Give students the components of a game (a few beanbags, some tape, rolled-up socks, paper towel rolls, yarn, etc.)  Challenge them to invent a new game or adapt an existing sport into something that’s safe and fun for indoor play.
  • Gather the group and watch a movie or Youtube clip (something fun.) Add a play component to the viewing by creating a scavenger hunt or BINGO game, specific to the clip you’re viewing.  Example:  when you see someone wearing a hat in the clip, you can check it off your list, get a point, or mark it on your BINGO card.

 

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.

Happy Day To All Teachers!

teacher appreciation day