Wednesday, September 7, 2016

High-5 Specialist

One of my (AS) boys came bouncing in my room after school really excited. I asked him what was up. He said, "Ms. King, today was the first day that you weren't at the door to give us a high-5 as we left. You had to grab your bus duty stuff.

But don't worry!!!

I gave everyone a high-5 for you as they left and reminded them to read."

I gave him a high-5 and made him my high-5 specialist (especially when I have duty). He left beaming with pride and excited to tell his mom.

Words can't even express what a big WIN this is! He's one of my biggest challenges and not very verbal.


Almost Back To the Drawing Board

I was so PROUD of my class today! We're FINALLY catching on about the importance of making quick and quiet transitions. We're FINALLY realizing the importance of keeping our classroom neat and organized. We're FINALLY being more independent and making good choices. And then....we went to an assembly.


My bad. I didn't explicitly talk about the expectations during an assembly. I didn't model. Modeling is a MUST DO with this class. They weren't terrible. But, I expect my kiddos to act appropriately for whatever type of an assembly that we watch. Usually, that means polite applause vs cat calling and other similar types of behaviors.

I love the Arts! Over the years, I've seen the expectations of behavior and dress standards go down the drain in the public arena. School assemblies are worse. Parents are often much worse than the kids. Call it old school, I still expect kids to act politely.

And so after the assembly, we came back and I modeled for them about what to do and what not to do. I had them laughing so hard that they cried, which made me laugh and I cried, which made them laugh harder! It was one of those experiences!

After we settled down, we had a good chat about how our class will behave regardless of what other kids in the school do. I think they got it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An Apple A Day...

After Labor Day Weekend, I've always tried to ease kids back into the working mode by starting off with an art project. It gave the kids time to relax, and share with their friends all the things that happened over the long weekend. We made 3-D pop-up apples--an art project that I haven't done for a long time.

We also had a great class meeting, went to the media center, and finished our class book, Among the Hidden. We all started our next book, Pax. Kids are hooked already after reading the first chapter. And...we also had time for independent reading which is quickly becoming a favorite time of day for the kids.

The kids also really enjoyed the MysteryScience lesson about why apples are different colors. I used cooperative learning for the discussions throughout the lesson. They always enjoy the opportunity to talk and share ideas especially when there really are no right or wrong answers.

For part of math, I read the Apple Fractions book. It's a little Primary but I still have a couple of kids struggling with the basic concepts of fractions. It was a way to review the basics without drawing attention to those couple of kids who are struggling.

At the end of the day, kids wrote a descriptive paragraph about their apple. Normally, we don't do writing at the end of the day, but because I switched the schedule around a bit, we wrote and without any complaining. :) We put all of the apples back in the basket. Tomorrow we'll read the paragraphs and see if we can match their description with the correct apple.

I was really proud of my class today. We laughed, had fun, and yet when we needed to, we were able to focus and do our work. (most of us)

Monday, September 5, 2016

THAT Class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity!

Starting a new year is always full of excitement and anticipation! We dream. We hope. We look forward to a new adventure. This year was no different. In fact, the thought of beginning another year, and possibly my last, made me more reflective about my legacy. My intention was to blog every day throughout the year as a commemoration of my 30th year in the classroom. I was highly motivated and inspired to document all of the great learning. Keyword=was. I had to put the “great learning blog posts” on hold.

School started about six weeks ago for me. (We’re on a year-round schedule.) The start was incredible! The first day of school I taught the kids a quiet signal and what “ready position” looked like. And then we played! We created with Legos and shared personal stories. The next day we “took a field trip” to our recycling bin and participated in the cardboard challenge. Each day in our morning meeting, we talked about learning, growth mindset, treating others with respect, and how to build a community of thinkers and innovators. Throughout the first few weeks, we participated in various STEM and team building activities. We read, wrote stories, and started on our journey of learning together.

My focus was to know more about my students and to build relationships. I learned about my students through play and casual conversations. It was a pleasure to make a positive phone call home about each student and to surprise their parents with good news. (Although to be entirely transparent, it was easier to make some phone calls more than others.)

So waaaaiit!!! Why is the title of this post: “THAT class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity”?

On the outside, it appeared that everything was humming along like a typical school year. But on the inside, I was struggling! I’ve never had issues with class management. However, this particular group of kids was/is challenging me on multiple levels. I feel like I’m in a constant game of Chess or Survival and am being forced to out think, outwit, and outlast. I had no “honeymoon” week or so of school. There have been a lot of behaviors that I’ve had to address. I could play the blame game and send kids to the office like others do, but those are games I don’t play. Instead, I’ve had to be very intentional about my practices and have used just about every tool in my toolbox. It's been exhausting!

I was asked by a friend and principal to share my frustration and how I've worked through the challenge. I hope that by sharing, that others (especially new teachers) will see that we all struggle! Teaching is hard! My epic fail is that I didn't blog each day to show the struggle. No one wants to be negative (especially at the start of a school year), and no teacher (veteran or otherwise) wants to be viewed as incompetent. But, we need to share both the good and the bad and that's why I'm blogging now and will make more of an effort to blog about this year's journey. It may not be pretty!

First of all, my class of 28 students is a group of kids with many diverse needs and abilities (aren’t all of our classes like that now). Colleagues wanted to warn me about so and so and give me a heads up about so and so’s parents, but I really didn’t want to hear it. I believe every student deserves a fresh start. In fact, I think that many of my kids are beaten and battered down by the labels slapped on their foreheads. I took the time to write down the potential that I see in each student. It’s that vision that drives me and motivates me to push through the hardest days.

Secondly, I don’t blame the kids for misbehavior. I have high expectations. If the kids are not meeting those expectations, I blame myself. Somehow, I’ve not communicated clearly enough what the expectations are by modeling. For this group of kids, I’ve had to “break it down” more than I’m used to. I’ve had to model, model, model. They’ve had to practice, practice, practice. I smile. Practicing procedures and manners is not a punishment. Some kids have never learned the common courtesies that I expect. (Think Ron Clark) This whole process makes me sometimes doubt myself and I can't help but wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Some use the word "strict" which has a negative connotation. I prefer to borrow the brilliance of my PLN and call it being a warm demander. I have reflected a lot about "old school", compliance, expectations, empowering students, etc. Having high expectations for my students have never failed me. I just can't go where others have gone. (Topic for another blog post)

Thirdly, our class meetings have proved invaluable! It’s here in our meetings where we’ve shared honest feelings and thoughts, celebrated growth and achievements, and where we’re building community. 

My "Go-To" strategies include (in no particular order): 

  • Greet every student every day by their name and with a personal comment.
  • Plan/prepare engaging lessons!
  • Walk around the room and use subtle proximity to manage the class. There is no “front of the room” in my classroom.
  • Teach from “the carpet” or an area where everyone can gather together- Yes, I do this with older kids, and they love it. It alleviates kids playing with stuff in their desks and keeps everyone on task.
  • I started off the year with students sitting where they wanted to. Since then, I’ve had to change seating strategically a couple of times. Kids think I’m doing it only because we’re doing team building activities. I’m actually changing where students sit as a management strategy.
  • Ready Position: Cleared off desk, clean floor, quiet, hands on desk, and optional to put head down on the desk
  • Transitions: I give kids about 5 seconds, but I have fun with this. Sometimes I use fractions, decimals, skip counting, etc. They’re hustling, but I can give them a few more seconds by adding in decimals.
  • Quiet Signals: I use a bell if I need their immediate attention. Kids freeze and must be ready to listen within 3 seconds. I use a chime if we’re working in cooperative learning groups. The chime means to finish your sentence and then get quiet. I also use “Give me 5” because that’s what our school uses. My students also have the power to say, “Give me 5.” (This takes some teaching.)
  • Procedures: Plan a procedure for everything so that there is no wasted time. (passing in papers, bathroom, sharpening a pencil, etc.)
  • Teams/Partners: I divide my class into groups of about four students. Each member has a number. Team member jobs rotate each day. I also use partners a lot. I use a variety of ways for kids to find and work with a partner.
  • Modes: I teach my students about different modes- work mode, relaxed mode, play mode, etc. We can laugh, joke, and have fun but when we need to get in “work mode” we have to focus quickly on completing a task.

These are the little tricks that I use- usually without thinking about them. I’m sure that I left many ideas off of this list. What would you add?

The bottom line is that a little “training” for lack of a better word at the first of the year, high expectations, practice, and preparation have huge pay-offs down the road. I’m a little behind teaching the required curriculum. I’m not panicked, though. I’m not quite to the state of pulling out my hair and going insane. My students have learned a lot about respecting others, working collaboratively, the growth mindset, effort, and what it means to be a good citizen.

The big picture is helping my students grow up to be productive adults who have a passion for learning.

So yes,

I have THAT class!
I have THAT class that is going to challenge me!
I have THAT class that will require me to model more!
I have THAT class that will help me to grow!
I have THAT class that will make a difference in the world!

There are many “tricks of the trade” that would help teachers when the “honeymoon” of starting school wears off. Refer to  Teach Like Champion by Doug Lemov