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


  1. Sandy,

    Thank you for your honest reflections and I'm sure your students will be that class that makes a difference in the world! I'm sure you are a wonderful "warm demander":) keep up the good fight and I look forward to your continued reflections with this group!


  2. You are sooooo smart and brave. Thanks

  3. You are sooooo smart and brave. Thanks

  4. Thank you Jon and Ericka for taking the time to read. Your support means the world to me.