Every year teachers make goals to help inform and improve their classroom practices. This year I decided to focus on the non-academic side of my teaching. Specifically, how our classroom can be a place where the kids feel supported both academically and emotionally. While this could be one more thing added to my teacher plate, I am finding little things often can make a big difference.
As I do every August, I was preparing for new activities that I hope would make my class more engaging/run smoother/etc… I came across an Edutopia article discussing a teacher who greeted her students at the door with special handshakes. It was not the first time I’d seen the article. But for some reason this year it stuck. I could so do this without affecting the flow of morning routine, an important part of the day. As parents watched on the first day of school, I explained to the students how we were going to personally greet each other one on one before they went into the classroom. It wasn’t going to be a lot, just a handshake or high five (student choice) and a good morning. Not a lot of effort, but a big reward. Students seemed a little unsure, parents seemed happy. Fast forward a month and a half into the school year. Students are no longer unsure. Most greet me enthusiastically every morning. I watch those who don’t carefully. Is it a shy student still struggling with eye contact or just a sleepy morning? Maybe it’s already a bad day and the student needs an extra special good morning from me. Who knew I would be able to gage a whole lot about each child with such a little thing. Ok, maybe a lot of people, but for me it was eye-opening. (Note to my readers, make sure to use hand sanitizer afterwards. Pretty sure this sped up my first cold of the school year, but didn’t stop me from continuing afterward!)
A new thing for this year was “Things I Wish My Teacher Knew About Me”. Every year I spend some time having the students play “get to know each other” activities. This year I spent time for them to share with me and my sharing with them. It was a simple Google Form where they told me three things about themselves and asked one question about me. It took less than 10 minutes for them to complete the form and another 5 minutes for me to answer their questions. There were so many things I got to learn that would have taken months of small interactions that I learned within minutes. The questions they asked me were enlightening as well. Many asked the easy questions like my favorite color. (Pink, but not the basic pink, but the color of pink when the sun is setting on the ocean. They were blown away. Great way to introduce writing with details!) Other questions centered on school specific activities like how much homework we would have or did we have to do AR points (No to both brought several cheers). There were a few more personal questions that hinted at anxieties students had about the upcoming school year. Another “get to know you” activity that I changed up this year was mentioned in a previous blog, Frayer A Classmate. Normally I would have the students interview each other and then keep the paper. By having them give it to me I found out things students might share with each other but not necessarily the teacher. Again a little thing that made a big difference.
Teachers are always seeking how to motivate students that don’t stretch our already thin budgets. One of the ways I do this is by creating passes for various activities, like go to recess early or listen to music while working. Cost me nothing but mean a whole lot. Something I used to do that I brought back this year was the Lunch With Teacher pass. Kids can “purchase” the pass through class points. One of my girls bought the pass last week and decided to cash it in. She brought a friend and the three of us sat eating lunch in the classroom. What a great experience. They shared about themselves and asked me questions. It took 20 minutes of my time but gave me more insight into these two girls than I would have found in months on classroom interaction. Because these girls have relatives in other classes, I got even more out of it. Not sure why I gave up the practice years ago. Probably something about needing my break time more than spending time with the students. Boy was I wrong.
One of the most meaningful changes I made came from #ThankfulThursday. Because of some things going on outside my classroom and multiple social media posts I had been seeing about how thankless teaching has become, I decided to bring some thankfulness into my class. Each Thursday students write a thankful note to someone showing how they are thankful for that person. They can sign it or make it anonymous. We write to adults in our lives, sometimes specifically on our campus and other times anyone they know, children and even ourselves. The ones to ourselves are the most meaningful to me. I write my letter to myself and share it with the class as well. These kids are so insightful. It’s the ones who don’t know what to write that I focus on. I can give them an extra praise or ask more meaningful questions when I see them. For the letters written to adults on our campus, I have been quietly passing them out into staff mailboxes. Staff are pleasantly surprised when they get these notes, many of them anonymous. They want to do something back for those students. I quietly explain how that is thoughtful, the point of the activity is to get students to realize how their is positivity in the world. Brings a smile to the teacher and to me as they try to figure out who sent it. So far students have been loving it and remind me if I forget what day of the week it is. Funny that the mostly tech classroom is using a paper and pencil activity to bring her class together in all the best ways.
As the year progresses, I hope to bring more positivity and strong class culture into the classroom to benefit everyone. Would love to hear your ideas on how you have brought it into your classroom!
School started three weeks ago. We spent several days building class culture. Things like building card towers, Flipgrid to introduce ourselves to each other and Human Rock, Paper, Scissors. I learned a lot about the students and they learned about me. Even though there always feels like there's a need to "get things going", I decided we weren't ready for academics. Thankfully I had found Eduprotocols by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.
I have been lucky enough to see Jon present several of the eduprotocols over the last couple of years and had implemented one or two here and there. However, I hadn't really spent time with the why behind them or how I could use them effectively in my class. So this year, I decided to start the year off right.
We began with Frayer a Classmate. Students got to interview each other to learn what they liked and disliked. They found more in common with each other than if they had just walked around the room "Finding Someone Who", a frequent beginning of the year activity that I have used for years that really doesn't help anyone bond as a class. The best part of this activity was I got a bunch of information about my students that I would never have known without the activity. Now that the students have used the eduprotocol, I can use the same format for vocabulary words and content note-taking.
Next we tried the Iron Chef Slides. This is an activity I had done last year that the students really couldn't connect with. That was completely my fault. I hadn't showed them the benefit and ease of doing it. In a nutshell, the students (in groups of 4) split content and report as a team, similar to the Jigsaw method that has been utilized in many classrooms over the years only digital. We started with basic (read FUN) content this year to get the kids invested in the process. Our first Iron Chef was on Disney. What's more fun than that. When the kids told me they didn't know something to use in their particular slide (a common comment for the DisneyWorld slide since we live in Ca and an hour away from Disneyland!), they were amazed to learn they could look up the information on the internet and I didn't have to "teach" them for them to get the answers. As we move into more content areas (prefixes, natural regions of the US), the students are no longer asking how do they get the content and what do we have to do to complete the activity. They are finishing it in record time with great answers that worksheets wouldn't allow me to access.
Our third activity is the Cyber Sandwich. Another Jigsaw type activity also blends Venn diagrams and paragraph writing. Here the students read articles or watch videos that are the same as their partner or similar in content. They take notes then complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting their answers. This information is then used to writing at least a paragraph on the content. Students are able to integrate the information in a more engaging manner than if I had just told them to read the articles or watch the videos themselves. Like the Iron Chef, we started with something fun, The History of Chocolate! How more engaging can you get with students.
The last eduprotocol we are using for now is one I used a lot last year called the Fast and Curious. If you haven't tried Quizizz, I highly recommend it. This is a great one for quick vocabulary activities that can take a lot of class time without much retention. Students take a quick quiz (10 words) on Monday. We go over the answers for each of the words and take the quiz again immediately. Students try to beat their score (gamification at it's easiest). Almost every student can get at least 1 more correct after going over the words one time. We take the same quiz every day for 4 days. If students get 100% at any time of the week, they don't have to take the "FINAL TEST" on Friday. Since we go over the questions missed most often by the class every day, students are retaining the vocabulary without taking more than 10 minutes of class time. Since the goal of school is to get kids to learn the vocabulary and not to trick them, they have many opportunities to do this with the same words. When I did this eduprotocol last year, 90% of my students had retained the vocabulary words a month later. How often can teachers say that?!
There are soooo many other great activities to try in the book. We will be adding more as the year goes on as appropriate for the content. If you are looking for an easy way to get the students using the 4Cs and engaging with the content, I highly recommend checking out the book and website.
Every July and August the memes start. You know the ones about teachers trying to get into their classrooms as the school is still being cleaned. (Come on, the school couldn’t be THAT dirty, could it???) While most of us really need that summer break, even if it is spent working other jobs, the knowledge that school is about to start is a rush for two very different reasons.
First, there is that moment when you realize school is only a few days/weeks away and you are just getting into your classroom. Whether you consider yourself crafty or creative or not, there is pressure (whether it comes from within or from school culture) to have the “perfect” classroom. Don’t the kids deserve it? Don’t you deserve to have an environment that is pleasing to you as you go to work every day? There are so many pictures in various teacher groups showing off their finished classrooms. Some of these are theme based, (hello Harry Potter and cactus!) while others are decorated plainly but effectively. Some are lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) to have hallway bulletin boards or doors to decorate. Some have a wall of windows that leads to less space inside the classroom to fill. Then there is the planning for the school days. This alone can take several days and is made worse if you are changing schools, classrooms, or grade levels.
When my kids were little and came into the classroom with me to decorate, I would spend half a day (about as long as their patience of mom working would last) doing as much as I could for as many days as my admin would let me. I could stretch this out for two weeks ideally. As they got older and I worked on my own, I could still spend two weeks getting everything ready. What this really looked like was the first week of actually working in the classroom. The second week, once my colleagues returned, was full of the latest gossip and catching up. Mind you this was pre-social media and teachers didn’t know anything about what their peers did over the summer anymore than the students. Now we don’t get into our classrooms until maybe a week before class starts. This means decorating/planning/preparing on our own time at the same time we are trying to enjoy those last days of summer. Hence the rush.
The other rush is that feeling you get knowing you are about to start another year. What will your students be like? Will you be the teacher they need? Will they be ready for what you have to teach them? As you sit down to plan out the year, it’s a perfect time to change up what you do. Bring in more tech, start morning meetings, connect with other classrooms around the globe. There are so many possibilities. It’s a chance to get rid of that lesson that really hasn’t been working but you continue to try anyway. Or take a risk and finally try that one thing that has intrigued you. One of the best things about teaching is that you get a fresh start every year. Not sure there are many other careers where this happens. The rush that teachers get on that first day of school, even if it’s partially hidden by nerves, is one of the reasons we get into this profession. It’s also one I hope to never lose, no matter how long I’m teaching.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching