Summer is Here!

Summer is here! The school year is over, grades are posted and things are packed up awaiting the fall. This is the perfect time to reflect on the past year. There are two specific areas that I like to consider and assess how to improve or be more efficient. It’s generally easier for me to do this at the end of the year when things are still fresh.

Classroom management

  • Review your classroom rules. Were there rules that were repeatedly broken? Were there rules that were not needed?  Each year your group of students will pose different challenges (fidget spinners, water bottle toss, slime) that you will need to set boundaries for.
  • Recognition and consequences – Decide before the year starts how you will handle consequences. If something didn’t work in the past, ditch it and move on to something new. Make sure to use recognition of hard work and appropriate behavior as part of your classroom management and I don’t mean the typical, “I like the way so and so is doing whatever.” It must be genuine and specific. For me, I like to recognize students when they show growth in a certain area, academic or behavioral. We all like to be recognized when we’ve worked hard and achieved a goal.

Classroom Efficiency and Routines

  • Collecting work from students and getting it back to them after grading was tricky for me my first year back in the classroom. It took several attempts to get to something I could live with, but as I look back, there has to be a better way.  Is instruction time wasted when students turn in work? With little counter space, there wasn’t much room for separate bins for each subject, so it all got jumbled together. I spent time sorting and searching for papers from students. My goal for returning work was to get it back to them with notes for improvement. This was nearly impossible without a set filing system. Try different filing systems (milk crate with folders, magazine holders taped together, mailbox boxes) and find one that works for you. Change it if it isn’t working!
  • Getting students ready for the day is one of the key priorities. I start day one of the school year with an agenda on the board. When students enter the room they look at the board and read directions. I list all of the supplies and books they will need for the day. I also have a short assignment for them to complete. This is their time to get ready for the day and there is no talking allowed, I stress the importance of focusing and getting prepared and organized for the day. This time also allows me time to take attendance and take care of any notes or last minute issues with students. Most importantly it gives me the opportunity to greet each student and make sure they know I’m glad they are at school!

Make notes of things you’ll want to try and tweak for the beginning of the school year. Remember it’s easier to reflect and jot down any changes you want to make as you wrap up the year.

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What Time Is It?

Admit it, you’re shocked when you see the first ‘Back – To – School’ ads on TV backtoschooladin early July or the circular that comes in the newspaper; just like when you see Christmas ads before Halloween!

For me BACK to school suggests that we ended or quit something that now we have decided to begin again. True, we do stop physically going to a building we call ‘school’ but in reality, learning should be a year long activity. Most kids are excited for school to begin again. They wonder, ‘What will be different this year?’, ‘What will my teacher be like?’, ‘Will I struggle or will it be easy?’. Honestly, as a teacher, I wonder the same things!

  • As teachers, we must spend time honing our craft and growing. There are always new approaches and new techniques to read about and study. For me, one question I ask myself is “What could I have done differently this year to reach that one student?” Whether it’s a social emotional or academic issue that affects students, master teachers will strive to find the one thing that will reach them and help them be successful.
  • The second area I focus on is, ‘What can I do that will make me more efficient?’ I try to remember and make a list listof the non-teaching tasks I  spent a lot of time doing during the year. Was it running copies, grading papers, filing papers, searching for reading passages or other ideas on the web or Pinterest?  Once I have a list, I prioritize and spend time brainstorming/working on how to streamline the tasks.

Having some tools or ideas to work with gives me a focus and can make

Back – To – School a less stressful time.

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.