Saturday, August 15, 2015

Back to School: Classroom Management Tips

          The day had finally arrived. I had just graduated from college with my teaching credential a few months earlier. My classroom was organized, decorated, and prepared for the year. I anxiously awaited the arrival of my new 34 students! I was only 22 years old, and while my carefully laid out lesson plans, strategies for differentiation, and sheer excitement for teaching gave me confidence, one area that I realized I was not prepared was classroom management - specifically, how do I get 34 completely different students to cooperate, listen, and "buy-in" for the year. Thankfully, I had a wonderful grade-level team and an incredible principal and mentor who helped me establish classroom routines, procedures, rules, and expectations that made that first year a success. I could not have done it without them!
          So, for all of you first year teachers, and even those who may have been in the classroom for a long time, here are my top seven tips for successful classroom management:

1. Articulate Your Expectations
          If you fail to clearly communicate what you expect from your students, they will inevitably fail to live up to your standards. Now, this requires that you actually decide what your expectations are. Begin by selecting what behaviors you want to teach. What expectations do you have for transitions? Turning in work? Needing to use the restroom? Getting books from the classroom library? Noise level? Sharpening pencils? Asking for help? Dismissal? The list goes on and on. However, choose which procedures you have specific expectations for and go from there. Remember, you can't teach the behavior unless you have determined your expectations for it. So, spend some time mapping it out - it is time well spent!

2. Practice, Practice, Practice
         I always spend the first few weeks of school practicing the different procedures in the classroom over and over again - making sure the students know exactly what it looks like and sounds like to carry out the procedure correctly. Yes, we literally spend time walking from the playground to the classroom, passing in blank papers, pretending it is the end of the day - multiple times! Although it can be incredibly tempting to fly through the teaching of classroom procedures and expectations to get to all of the academic stuff, don't do it! If you want to have an effective learning environment, you are going to have to spend time teaching and practicing procedures. If you do it the beginning of the year, you can establish clear expectations with a receptive audience in a positive light. Otherwise, you will inevitably spend time during the year battling for control of your classroom or trying to get your students to "un-learn" what they have been doing for their procedures all year. Trust me, taking time in the beginning is SOOOO worth it!

3. Look for Every Opportunity to Catch Kids Doing the Right Thing
          Everyone appreciates praise for doing something well. So, especially in those first few weeks of school, help your students learn and apply the classroom rules, procedures, and expectations, by highlighting the students who are doing these things well. Be specific in your compliments so that others can learn from their example. Rather than say, "Great job, Leah!" you might say, "I really appreciate how Leah quietly came in from recess, took her seat, and now has her eyes on me." Or "Thank you, James, for raising your hand before you speak." The kids usually catch on pretty quickly. When students are receiving specific feedback and attention from you (and even the rest of the class), it gives them less reason to act out in hopes of receiving negative attention.

4. Establish Classroom Rules
          This might be a "no-brainer," but having classroom rules in place is an essential component of a successful classroom management plan. Now, the debate goes on as to whether to create rules as a class or to have your own rules established when you begin the first day. I have used both and both have been effective - the choice is yours (or perhaps your schools). However, when establishing rules make sure that they are fairly global in scope - otherwise you will end up with way too many. So, rather than "Don't lean back in your chairs" or "Only walking feet in the classroom," use a rule such as "Be safe." Both of the previous rules are encompassed in that general rule without having to create a list of 25 different rules addressing safety. On that note, however, spend some time discussing what that general rule might look like in the classroom. In my classroom, we always brainstorm at least 10-12 examples of what following that rule looks like and what following that rule does not look like. for the younger kiddos, having picture cards also really helps! Again, just like procedures, spend some time on this one. If your students truly understand the rules, you will have far fewer struggles enforcing them.

5. Be Consistent with Consequences
          This perhaps is the hardest one for me - especially in those first few days and weeks of school. I so desperately want the students to know how much I care about them, that it can be incredibly difficult to "reprimand" those cuties for what might seem like small offenses. The reality, however, is that those adorable little kiddos are smart. And if they know they can smile, sniffle, or plea their way out of a consequence, they will! So, be consistent! If your students come in the classroom unacceptably, make them do it again, and again, until it is right. If you use a behavior clip chart, colored cards, or some other method to hold students accountable, start using it right away. I don't usually send home a weekly report for behavior that first week of school, so this is a perfect opportunity to teach your students that you have expectations and that you will be consistent in holding them accountable. Believe it or not, students actually find comfort in knowing boundaries, and being consistent assists in making those boundaries clear.  

6. Establish Positive Teacher-Parent Relationships Early
          While building relationships with parents may seem out of place in a discussion about classroom management, I have found that building positive relationships with parents makes a huge impact on what happens in the classroom. When parents understand that you want the best for their child and that you want to partner with them in helping their student grow, they are much more receptive to a phone call or meeting in which you have to address a challenge that has arisen. Begin by making a positive phone call in the first 2 weeks of school. Most parents dread the "phone call from the teacher," so make the first call purely positive and be specific. As a parent myself, nothing warms my heart quite like hearing a specific compliment about my child. Communicate with parents early and regularly. Ask them questions. Let them know that you are on their team and you are invested in each student. Building these relationships is a tremendous asset in understanding student behavior in the classroom. Parents are able to share insights from home and you are able to share insights from school. Together, you can partner to make the school year successful for each student, which aids greatly in classroom management.

7. Make Sure Your Students Understand that You Are On Their Team 
          While I have alluded to this in other tips, building relationships with your students and reminding them that you support them, believe in them, and want the best for them is the essential component that binds all of these strategies together. Look for the best in each of your students, and as your relationships grow, I have found that issues with classroom management dwindle. All of the rules and procedures will not be nearly as effective unless the students first believe the teacher is in their corner. 

“No man can be a good teacher unless he has feelings of warm affection toward his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he believes to be of value.”- Bertrand Russell

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my tips. I hope they give you some strategies to implement as you begin this school year. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts on successful classroom management strategies!         

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday Spotlight - Editable Name Activities

Happy Saturday! For those of you who are already back in the classroom, I hope you are truly able to relax after what I am sure was a busy week! For those of you who are still on vacation, enjoy one of the last few weekends in which you don't have homework to prepare, papers to grade, or lesson plans to attend to. I am so excited to team up with Erin from Kindergarten Dragons for this Spotlight Saturday!

This week I am highlighting my Editable Name Activities.

When heading back to school, one of the most important skills that those PreK and Kinder students need to learn is how to write, spell, and recognize their name. So, I designed this activity packet with exactly that in mind. And since it is editable, each of your students gets a page that is uniquely their own! 
Students get practice writing their name with these fun dotted letters!

Students also have multiple opportunities to practice spelling their name and recognize their name. The gumball name page is always a favorite!

 I have also included 4 different class activities for students to see how their name compares to other students in their class.

I also just updated the file so that it can be edited in either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Power Point. My kids have loved these activities and I hope yours do too! Have a lovely start to your school year and be sure to head back to the this week's Kindergarten Dragons Link-up for other great ideas and resources!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

First Day Tried and True Linky Party

Ah, the first day of school. Can you believe it is approaching so quickly?? I am honored to link up with Chrissie Rissmiller of Undercover Classroom and Sarah Tighe of Education Electrification for their First Day Tried and True Back to School Linky Party! Be sure to check out all of the other wonderful first day ideas in this link-up!

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One of the activities that has been a staple on the first day of school since the first time I had my own classroom was a "Get to Know Your Teacher" Power Point presentation and quiz. Sometime in the morning, I tell the students that school has started and it is time for their first test.

This is always met with groans, gasps, and a few heads inevitably hit their tables or desks. However, once I pass out the papers, they smile, laugh, and breath huge sighs of relief when the "test" is really just a "quiz" on how well they think they know their teacher. I have a series of about 12-15 questions, usually multiple choice, for students to answer about me. Once the students have answered the questions, we fire up the projector and start the power point. On the power point, I have the same questions that are on the test. So, I show the question and give some students an opportunity to share their projected answer. On some questions, I call out the possible answer choices and have students "vote" for what they predict to be the answer. For the younger kids, I don't pass out paper "tests," I just show them the power point question and allow several to make guesses.

Then, this is where the fun begins. I show them the answer to the question and usually include a picture related to the answer. So, I will include pictures of my family, my dog, and even some pictures of me as a kid. I cannot tell you how much they love this! They get especially excited when the sport you played or the instrument you learned is something that they do as well! They really get a kick out of seeing pictures of me as a kid -so I encourage you to include this if at all possible! We go through the entire "quiz" and, by the end, the students feel a little more at home in my classroom.

I have found that this short activity goes a long way in building student relationships. When the students can make any type of connection with you, it goes a long way. Also, seeing me as a "real person" not just "the teacher" helps to lighten any worries, fears, or anxieties they have about the school year. It's always a fun way to begin the year, and I must say, every year I have students referencing things from the "quiz" throughout the year - even May and June!

I have created an Editable Get to Know Your Teacher Power Point to assist you, if you would like to use this in your classroom this year.

I didn't include a paper quiz because I always liked making the "wrong answers" something to talk about as well. For example, maybe I didn't take dance class as a kid, but I loved watching my sister dance and even ended up taking a couple of classes in high school! That way, even though the answer isn't totally correct, it still gives them a little more insight into my life.

 Following this activity, I give them their first piece of "homework" for the year. I know, a test AND homework on the first day?!?!? Since they got to learn about me, it's my opportunity to learn more about them, I give each of them a box paper bag (the lunch bag size), and if I'm really on top of things, I have it decorated with their name and other accents (maybe the school mascot, decorative ribbon, etc). Their homework is to gather 5 things that tell me about themselves. It can be actual items or pictures of their items. We brainstorm different ideas of what could be included - a picture of their family, something that represents a sport they like to play, an item that shows what they would like to be when they grow up, etc. Some years I specifically assign items: 1) Someone that you love very much 2) Something you like to do in your spare time 3) Something you did this summer 4) What you want to be when you grow up 5) A place that you love to visit. Whether it is assigned or more open is up to you!

The next day and in the days that follow, I have 5-7 students share their bags. While they share, I take notes about each student's interests. I cannot tell you how valuable this information has been in building relationships and making learning meaningful to the students. I have also found that this not only helps me build relationships, but it encourages relationships among the students as well!

This is a great way to start the school year and I hope you have the opportunity to try it! Make sure you check out the other wonderful ideas on this link-up!