After returning to the high school classroom in 2011, arriving each day in the predawn darkness, and struggling physically (often, emotionally and spiritually) for 3 1/2 years, leaving it was both a necessity and a blessing that is reinforced daily as I drive to my new campus. A beautiful sunrise greets me with a smile and a promise, one that’s never broken.
While I miss my own students, I now work with dedicated teachers and their students in their classrooms, incredibly thankful for the opportunity, and though I don’t need reminding to be thankful, the sunrise is a welcome start that warms my soul.
Because as teachers and as parents, it’s our responsibility to our students/children.
My two cents??
Teach kids the definition of integrity: what you do when no one is looking,” … and get out of the way.
Ever wonder why some teachers seem to just have it all together? You walk into their room and things are humming along. These folks might be your colleagues or they might be your own kids’/grandkids’ teachers. What makes things different in these classrooms?
If you’re a teacher with a classroom, a student in a classroom, or have visited a classroom, how would you describe it? Chaotic? Organized? Learning-centric? Student-centric? Teacher-centric? Lacking any learning at all?
My goal is simple: Make myself unnecessary to my students.
Let students own their learning, own their behavior, own our daily routines, and let them know they’re in control. If you’ve dealt with a toddler, tween, or teen, you KNOW what I’m talking about.
Let students/children do what they choose, within established parameters. Teach them to run the classroom, so when a Substitute Teacher (hardest job on a campus!) fills in, students can carry on their daily routines. Whether they actually do can be a 50/50 crapshoot, but set the standard and watch for the outcome. When they miss the mark, it’s time to pay the piper. When they shine, it’s time to celebrate!
It’s not perfect, but Subs often report after my absence, “Great day! These are good kids. Please call on me anytime.” THAT is what I want to hear. Students are in control – of themselves and our classroom. Bravo!
So what works? (usually)
What I’ve learned in 20 years….
As I write this and think about kiddos in general, I think these five could be applied to home life, too, right? Kids need structure and organization. Heck, we all do … to be successful. Well, the seating chart might be a bit overboard for home ….
1. Establish policies and procedures. Spend time thinking about how you want things to look and sound in your classroom. Make a list. Be clear about policies vs. procedures. Then, describe in detail, all of the policies (what we do) and the procedures (how we do) for your class, in writing, in your syllabus/Wk 1 packet. Leave nothing to chance.
Want students to sign in to the orange notebook by the front door and put their tardy pass in the blue basket if they arrive late to class? Then say it. In writing. In person. In practice. (This continues to be a struggle for some of my students… really?!?)
One of the most common things I hear from fellow teachers is, “Students should know what to do.” And I think, Really? Do you just know all the policies and procedures when you start a new job? Or, does someone give you an employee handbook and maybe some tips/guidelines? Give your students a handbook. Leave nothing to chance.
Teach students to follow written and verbal directions. I get The.Most.Pushback from students on this one. I tell them, “Bosses expect you to follow directions. Clients expect you to follow directions. Test-makers expect you to follow directions. College admissions officers expect you to follow directions.” When asked why they didn’t follow the directions that are on the board – in writing – and repeated verbally – students say (when pressed beyond I don’t know), “.. because I’m lazy.” It’s true. Students admit ‘lazy’ all the time in my classroom. I admit being lazy sometimes, too. Kids are shocked to hear this. Lazy is easy. Tip to kids: It’s a two-way street. We’re in it together. Now, let’s get past lazy and get things done.
2. Color-code everything. Yes, even in high school! Think about it: Isn’t it more efficient to say to a student who asks (and some always do!), “What did I miss yesterday?” to go check the pinknotebook on the shelf than to say, “Go check the notebook on the shelf” and there are three other notebooks. What’s the student say next? “Which notebook?” (even though they’ve asked you ten times already this year). Now you’ve got lots of extra discussion. Avoid it. Color-code everything (including notebooks and baskets) and teach students from Day 1 the routines (When you are absent, you will check the pink notebook when you return to class).
3. Create a seating chart. For sure, there are several ways to go about this. I’ve tried most. Try and try again, right?? Here’s my take on a few:
Option A: Let students sit where they want for the first day or two of school. This allows you to (covertly) identify potential issues (buddies sitting together, slackers/sleepers), etc…. ~ Once you’ve identified the potential issues, build YOUR seating preferences and have it ready to go when students walk in. Be ready for whining. Too bad, so sad. Nonnegotiable. Thank you (with a smile).
Option B: Have a seating chart the first day students walk in. Meet students at the door. Greet them. Give them a ticket or sticky note with a # on it that corresponds to a number on your roster (b/c yes, students will swap tickets). Direct them to find their designated seat. This helps with attendance and establishes your classroom management from Minute #1 (always a good thing).
Option C: Let students pick their seats and you fill in a chart. I do not recommend this for most K-12 classes. *Note: I had the opportunity to see this option play out early this school year, as a first-year teacher (and friend) decided to “trust her students and let them pick their own seats.” By Week three, she was crafting a carefully considered seating chart. 😉
In case you’re wondering, Option A stands for Awesome in my book. 🙂
5. Rock the wall space! Make it count. Display things that help students be successful, you be successful, and help classroom guests understand what they’re observing.
In Florida, teachers are currently evaluated under the Marzano model, with unending requirements, also known as 41 elements. While I agree with the philosophy behind the model, I am annoyed at ~ and exhausted by ~ the relentless directives about how to do things, all to get crappy ineffective teachers on board (or out the door). I’m annoyed because compliance doesn’t work. Ineffective teachers do a dog-and-pony show when someone walks in, then go back to doing crappy as soon as the door shuts, while the rest of us are exhausted, working 10+ hours a day just to keep up with all those ridiculous mandates. *Administrators, pleeeeaaase, get these people out of our schools!
Some teachers people have NO business being in the classroom (because they’re not teachers… they’re paycheck collectors).
Climbing down from the soapbox ……
Back to those walls….
Word Walls (yes, in high school ~ most important in content-area classrooms!)
lists of frequently used resources, such as Internet sites,
instructions for how to do something (sign in before using the computer)
college/career/military information prominently displayed
How about quotes that teach, inspire, and encourage? A few of those strategically placed, go a looong way. One of my first Community Building assignments (weeks 1 & 2) asks students to look carefully around the classroom, choose a quote that speaks to them, and write about it.
What kids choose, says a lot about them. What kids say, says even more.
Sooo… How unnecessary are you?
To your students? To your employees? To your family??
What can you teach others to do for themselves? How much are you willing to turn over?
If you home-school, do your children own it, or do you?
What would happen if you let go …. a little?
If your kids/grandkids are in school, what’s their teacher’s classroom looking/sounding like?
I’m often asked, “Robin, you always talk about ‘community‘ in your classroom. How do you build it?”
Great question! I’ve found over the years that building classroom community requires lots of “front-end loading” on my part, and as instructors, we can make a HUGE difference in our students’ learning experiences just by choosing to tackle these steps (or not).
What do I want my students to know about each other?
How will this information be useful, to my students and to me?
Determine how much time you will devote to building classroom community. One day? One week? More than a week? Ongoing? I write this into my lesson plans.
Choose methods and tools for collecting the information: surveys, assessments, open-ended responses, checklists, peer conversations in the classroom (live), online forums/threads, posts in an LMS (Learning Management System), skits, monologues, or possibly dialogues. The list is endless.
Prepare methods and tools for ease of use and in varying modalities: online, paper/pencil, creative versions.
Explain to students what will be happening – building a classroom community – and compare to neighborhoods. Talk about how and why to build a classroom community.
Engage students in the process, requiring purposeful conversations, reflective writing, and time for feedback/input.
Make notes about students as they share, interact, and ask questions: What are their strengths? What are theirinterests? Share results when appropriate, such as True Colors self-assessments.
Talk frequently with students about how working together strengthens learning and teaching experiences. They find this interesting.
Be open with students, sharing about yourself what you feel is appropriate – interests, challenges, goals, hobbies, frustrations. Students tell me this makes me ‘real’ and ‘approachable’ as a teacher. The thing my students probably find most fascinating about me is that reading makes me fall asleep. Since I’m a reading instructor by trade, they laugh at this!
Organize the course in advance, and change things frequently to keep the class fresh.
Now, I can hear some of you (many?) saying to me, “Robin, there is no way that I have time to do all that. And there’s no way that you do all that!”
Truth is, I’ve ‘tested’ my commitment to building community, and when I don’t take the time to do so, I have a significant increase in disciplinary issues, assignment misunderstandings, and not-so-positive phone calls from home, even at the college level!
On the contrary, when I do take the time to develop a sense of community, students take ownership of their learning environment and course management much more readily (not all, but most), and report a higher degree of satisfaction during and at the end of the course.
Why? Because we all want to feel valued, important, and needed. Taking the time to build the classroom community shows your commitment to students’ positive learning experiences.
And what happens when you don’t take the time and just go through the motions? Read the answers posted to a recent prompt onplinky.com, a website that asks a random question daily to spark your thinking. The prompt was, “Describe your worst teacher ever.” Surprisingly, the answers are similar across grade levels, elementary to college: lack of interest on the part of the instructor, boring, unmotivating, and the list goes on….
Does that mean we have to entertain students? No, I don’t believe so, but it does mean that we need to understand that ‘education’ has changed and we have a professional responsibility to meet students where they are, which we can’t do if we don’t know anything about them.
How would you answer the prompt? You can read my response here.