What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

In my role as a substitute teacher, my number one goal is the same as a doctor’s – do no harm.

I want the regular teacher to come back the next day with no messes to clean up or discipline issues to resolve, so that the class can move forward as if the regular teacher had never left.

Well, that’s the goal.

What's the BEST Classroom Management Strategy. Watch on Awesome Teacher Nation TV on YouTubeThis week I subbed in a really great class. The kids were calm when they came in. They seemed willing to give me a chance. They went along with my incentive program. They were flexible. They were helpful. They had to be patient because their teacher was unexpectedly sick and had not left very detailed plans. I was winging it and the students knew it. We got along pretty well the first day.

I thought the second day would be easy. I had a better idea of the routine and was able to be better prepared academically. But when I opened the classroom door I saw the students’ faces fall. Their beloved teacher was gone again! As the day wore on their behavior deteriorated. They were less focused, less flexible, less helpful. Less nice. I reacted by becoming more controlling, less understanding, and more negative. The class and I were de-evolving in lower life forms.

As you can imagine, this is a little disheartening for a classroom management “expert” like myself. Why didn’t my classroom management techniques and strategies work?

It’s because the regular teacher uses the very best classroom management technique there is. She builds positive relationships with her students. On her wall it says “In here we treat each other with respect and kindness,” and her students clearly know they are loved. As a stranger I could be politely tolerated, but my fancy-pants techniques and strategies weren’t nearly as effective as her yearlong quest to develop a positive relationship with each and every student.

Developing those relationships (especially with THOSE students) is not always easy. It takes time and effort, sometimes superhuman effort. But in the end, love is the best classroom management technique there is.

Now go make it a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Why Ignoring Misbehavior Won’t Extinguish It

Students who misbehave to get the teacher's attentionI had just about had it with one of my 3rd graders. All day long it had been one thing after another. Shouting out, clowning around, throwing things, making faces and fart noises, wandering the room… you name it, this student was doing it.

Students who get in your face while you are talkingI finally just about lost it when he walked up to me while I was addressing the class and interrupted me mid-sentence to show me his new watch. Couldn’t he see I was busy? And then I finally realized he was acting out to get attention.

Common wisdom says the way to “extinguish” attention-getting behavior is to ignore it. In my experience, this doesn’t really work. I find what usually happens is the attention-getting misbehavior will keep accelerating until you finally snap and react in some way. Once the misbehaving student gets a reaction, the misbehavior is reinforced, making it more likely to happen again.

Preventative Attention - attention you give a student to prevent attention-getting misbehavior
If you have students who tend to act out to get attention, shower them with attention the moment they arrive in your room, before they’ve had a chance to start misbehaving. Say hello when they walk in. Ask their opinion about something (anything!) Ask them to show another student how to do something. Notice and comment on something they are doing right. Do not be fake and weird about it, but keep it going as consistently as you can for as long as you can.

If your students are already acting out, do what you need to do to stop the misbehavior, then start the positive attention routine as soon as possible. For example, when the 3rd grader tried to show me his watch during direct instruction, I smiled and said, “Show me during recess, honey,” and gestured toward his desk for him to sit down. Then I quickly called on him to answer a question I knew he could answer.

It may seem like this takes a lot of time and energy, and it does. But it takes even more time and energy to deal with all that attention-getting misbehavior all day long while trying to stay positive and maintain your sanity.

Do yourself a favor and give your needy students a little preventative attention. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Why You Can't Extinguish Misbehavior by Ignoring It

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Why You Need to Spend 6 Weeks Teaching Classroom Routines

I remember the first time someone told me I needed to spend 4-6 weeks (4 to 6 WEEKS!) teaching my students how to do simple things like putting their names on their papers, bringing their notebooks to class, and closing the classroom door quietly.

Watch Behaviors Before AcademicsI felt overwhelmed and panicky, and my first thought was, “I don’t have time for that! I have too much curriculum to cover!”

Can you relate?

To answer your question, “Do I really need to spend weeks on classroom routines?” The answer is YES.

Out-of-Control ClassOne year I had a really great class, so I didn’t think I needed to spend as much time teaching behavioral skills. WHAT A MISTAKE! Their behaviors started getting worse and worse until I eventually completely lost control of the class – to the point that I reached the point of no return. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get my “nice” class back.

Behavioral skills such as bringing materials to class, putting your name on your paper, asking for help, sharing space with other students, and so on, are foundational to academic learning. Behaviors that facilitate learning come first – THEN you can cover your curriculum effectively.

Jumping right into teaching your curriculum without thoroughly teaching classroom routines is the same as trying to teach essay-writing before your students know the alphabet – it’s just going to be frustrating and counterproductive for everyone.

So take a deep breath, quell your panic, and commit to helping your students create positive learning habits that will serve them for a lifetime. The time you invest now will save you hours later on.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading

Watch Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading on YouTubeWhen my class was out of control, I didn’t get much work out of my students. I was wasting so much time on power struggles, warnings, arguments, and waiting for the class to be quiet that there wasn’t much time left for class work.

Stop Taking Grading HomeOnce I got my class under control, I started to have another problem – how to keep up with all the work my students were turning in! Maybe you’ve been there, too – you give your students a few assignments, and suddenly, you have a huge pile of papers to sort, grade, and record.  It looks like hours and hours worth of work, and your weekend is looking like another boring round of sitting on the couch, watching TV and trying to get through it all.

Use Notebooks to Collect Student WorkOne way to cut through the clutter and possibly reclaim at least some or your weekend from the Paper Mountain of Doom is to have your students work in spiral notebooks or lab books.

For elementary classrooms, I recommend a different color notebook for each subject, say one for writing, one for math, and one for science or social studies.  For secondary, you can have one color of notebook for each period of the day.  That way you can tell at a glance what the notebooks are, and you don’t have to spend lots of time sorting all that paperwork out.

Kids can copy assignments off the document camera or board, or out of workbooks.  If the students are too young to do that, or if you need worksheets with lots of detail that would take forever to copy, the students can glue the worksheets into the spiral binders.

When you want to check work for completeness (but not for correctness) have the students open their spirals or lab books to the correct page and lay them flat on their desks. You can do this for homework at the beginning of the day, or at the end of the period as a dismissal procedure. The teacher, an instructional assistant, a parent volunteer, or student volunteer can go around and check for completeness while the students are occupied with the next activity, such as a reading assignment, small group discussion, or lab.

To check work for correctness, collect the notebooks from a quarter of your students every day, Monday through Thursday. Have the students stack the notebooks in a pile on your desk, open to the first unchecked assignment.  Then between classes, or when you have 5 minutes here or there, check one, make corrections to it, and close it up.  You’ll be surprised how many notebooks you can get done if you don’t have to get them out at put them away every time you want to work on them.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Avoid Teacher Burnout

As any educator can tell you, the beginning of the year is the most time-consuming, crazy-busy time there is. It’s like moving in to a new house, starting a new job, finishing up your Master’s thesis, and hosting a big party all in the same week.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it. Everyone is busy the first six weeks or so, and everyone puts in extra hours – even educators who’ve been at it for years. But for some, the busyness becomes more manageable as the year goes on, and for some it doesn’t. And you don’t need me to tell you that the first-of-the-year level of activity just isn’t sustainable, especially if you want to have what’s commonly known in the non-teaching community as “a life.”

So how do you convert the crazy-busy time into a sustainable schedule? I believe it all comes down to habits – actions we take automatically in response to a situation.

Play Video ThumbnailThe cool thing about habits is they don’t require a lot of thought once they are learned. They just become what we automatically do. That’s why I believe the most important thing to do in the first six weeks of school is teach the students (and ourselves) habits that will automatically save us time. If we do this, we will eventually have a sustainable schedule instead of a burned-out-train-wreck schedule.

Think about it. If the students have the habit of running around for 15 minutes before class starts, you will be wasting time getting them to settle down – time you could be using to take care of all those little administrative tasks you need to do, like checking in homework.

If the students instead have the habit of putting away their things, preparing for the day’s activities, and getting started immediately on the first learning task, you won’t have to use your prep time for the administrative tasks. And the students will feel more in-control and successful, too.

So use these first weeks of school to create good habits and enjoy the benefits for the rest of the year.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Spring Fever – 7 Ways to Deal With It

The top definition of Spring Fever in Urban Dictionary is:

spring fever

  1. wanting the present moment to become summer
  2. slacking off in school because the year is almost over
  3. wanting to be outside every day rather than inside

Teachers encounter Spring Fever on two levels – we have it and our students have it. It seems everyone is tired, distracted, and just DONE. So how do we squeeze in those 500 remaining Lucy Calkins lessons before the end of the year without sparking a rebellion?

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #1

Some teachers pretend Spring Fever doesn’t exist. They crack down extra hard and load students up with high-stakes assignments, projects, and tests. This definitely keeps everyone busy, but it also tends to keep everyone stressed-out. And there can be other unintended consequences, which I wrote about in a previous Sanity Boost.

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #2

Other teachers just give up on getting anything academic done and facilitate the Spring Fever slacking. These teachers plan a lot of fluff activities like extra recesses, parties, and dress-up days. Their thinking? You can’t get the students to do anything, so you might as well have some fun. There are several reasons this approach is ineffective (besides the fact that you’re slacking on the academics.)

1- Students who struggle the most with behavior also usually need the most structure. If the structure is suddenly taken away, their behavior can get out of control, and there goes your low-stress, fun activity.

2- Unless you plan to let the students do literally ANYTHING, you will still need to plan the activities and set up your behavior guidelines. This can be even more work than continuing with the routines you already have set up.

3- Believe it or not, some of your students actually like to learn and will resent wasting time when they could be learning. (I know this is a rare one, but don’t we want to honor this attitude?) Parents and administrators may also want students to continue learning.

Finding the Balance

It is possible to accommodate Spring Fever and still complete important tasks. Here are few suggestions and things to try.

1- Let your students know exactly what still needs to be accomplished academically. Put a list on the board, or give them a calendar, list, or agenda. This can be motivating to both teachers and students. It also lets the students know you aren’t just giving them meaningless busywork.

2- Do a low-key countdown, such as writing the number of days left on the board. This helps prepare students for the transition for summer, and you can also say, “We only have ___ days left to get everything done before our end-of-the year party. Let’s stay focused now so we can play later.” You can encourage them to make their last __ days memorable and fun.

3- Refrain from taking down your walls until the second-to-last day. Taking down your decorations, posters, and anchor charts too early communicates that learning is over.

4- Integrate content and skills with activities that help students reflect on their year or look forward to next year. For example, students can write a letter of introduction to their next year’s teacher or a thank-you letter to a previous teacher.

5- Consider adopting a class currency, token economy, or incentive plan that students can use to purchase prizes (such as unused supplies or books) on the last day of school. This can be a good opportunity to learn about keeping track of money, as well as a way to keep students focused.End of the Year Jobs for Students

6- If individual students finish projects early or lose focus to the point of being unable to work, you can give them a sorting or organizing job to do. Often this short break helps them get their focus back, and it helps you get ready for year-end, too. Check our Awesome Teacher Nation Resource Library under “Educator Resources” for a list of possible jobs.

7- Take your class outside from time to time when the activity will allow it. You can do it “just because” or use it as an incentive or reward.

Now it’s your turn. How do you find the balance when dealing with Spring Fever in your classroom? Feel free to comment below, post in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. I always like to hear from you!

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Cell Phones in Class – Yes or No?

There are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves.

As part of the Classroom Management Strategies That Work seminar, I ask teachers to brainstorm a list of student behaviors that drive them crazy. Cell phones are always on the list. Always. In fact, I think cell phones may now rival pencil sharpeners for their ability to annoy teachers.

Cell Phones Off and AwayLast week I subbed in a middle school. As I walked through the halls, I saw lots of notices about cell phones – everything from “Keep your electronics off and out of sight” to “No phone zone” to this hilarious Top 10 list.

At this school, there is no rule against cell phones, but plenty of teachers are banning them anyway.

As the students arrived in my class, several of them asked if they could listen to music on their phones during work time. “Our teacher always lets us,” they said, which is middle school code for anything forbidden by the regular teacher that the students sneak around and do anyway.

I realized I needed to come up with a cell phone policy, ASAP. So I said, “I’ll explain my electronics policy after class starts,” which of course was my way of buying time to figure out what I was going to say. Ban cell phones and risk power struggles all period? Allow them and face constant negotiations and monitoring to ensure acceptable use?

My Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan

The thing is, there are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves. Aha! Sounds like a Teach-To to me! And just like that, my Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan was born:

  1. Taught the students the command “Electronics Away!” I told them specifically what I wanted – laptop lids completely closed, earphones out of ears, and phones completely out of sight in a backpack, pocket, or binder. If they followed this command, they would be allowed to use their electronics during appropriate times, such as independent work.
  2. Explained I would revoke individuals’ cell phone privileges if what they were doing was a distraction to me, other students, or themselves. Followed through when needed by saying, “Looks like your phone is distracting your neighbor. I need you to put it away, please.” (No warnings.)
  3. Before independent work time, explained very specifically what was okay, such as music with earphones, and what was not, such as texting. Requested they ask me if in doubt.

It’s true cell phones can be abused by our students. But so can rulers, pencils, glue, markers, paper, scissors, books, and every other educational tool. It’s our job to teach students how to use all tools effectively, including cell phones.

Now it’s your turn. Do you agree that cell phones are appropriate for the classroom? What is your cell phone policy? Feel free to email me, comment in our private Awesome Teacher Nation Facebook Group, or post in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Should Teachers Take Away Fidgets and Toys?

Whirling, twirling gadgets with levers, switches, and knobs

Troll-doll pencil toppers with fluffy pink hair-dos

Modeling clay that snaps, pops, and bounces

Spiky neon squeeze toys that light up and flash

Fidgets and Toys... Should Teachers Take Them Away?If you’ve been a teacher 2 minutes or so, you’ve certainly run across similar items in your classroom. Or if by some miracle you haven’t seen any of these, I bet you’ve seen the Artistic Water Bottle Flip, the Fabulous Ruler Spin, or the Paperclip Deconstruction Project.

A week or so ago I was assisting in a 2nd grade math class, moving from student to student to help them with their work. One cute little guy suddenly zoned off while I was trying to help him, distracted by his panda eraser. Without thinking I said, “If your eraser is going to keep you from listening, I’m going to have to take it away.”

He immediately pulled the eraser protectively to his chest and shouted, “No!” I realized I had just made an empty threat. There was no way I was going to wrestle Mr. Panda away from him, and it wouldn’t have helped him concentrate if I did. So I apologized, assured him I wasn’t going to take the eraser, and kept trying to help him with his math.

But now he was even more distracted. Even though he was trying to listen, his hand still curved protectively around Mr. Panda and he kept glancing at it while he was doing his work. Congratulations, Katrina, you just took a small problem and made it into a big one.

Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down

Is Taking Stuff Away a Good Practice?

This incident got me thinking about the common classroom practice of taking away distractions from students. I admit, I do it all the time, sometimes even without warning. That twirling ruler suddenly disappears off the pencil and reappears on my desk. The neon squeeze toy magically lands in my hand when it’s thrown into the air. Sure enough, taking away the distracting stuff makes the problem go away – most of the time.

Sometimes the cost can be high, though. Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down. Trust can be violated. Parents may become involved. Confiscated items (especially phones) can be lost or stolen. And what seems to be a little trinket to us may have an important emotional significance to the student.

Just to be clear, I never keep students’ possessions very long. I always give them back with a little lecture about putting them away or using them appropriately.

Still… is this a good solution? Even if the offending object is banned by the school, is it a good practice to confiscate it? Probably not.

What Should Teachers Do Instead?

If you don’t take the distraction away, the student is likely to get it out again, right? Is it fair to the other students who may be unable to pay attention while the distraction is going on? And what about our inability to teach effectively if we are worried about whether the fidget toy is going to spin off the desk and hit someone in the eye?

I think there are 3 reasons to take away distracting objects:

  1. When it is an immediate safety issue,
  2. When it has been specifically banned by the school, or
  3. When it pops up like Whac-a-Mole after you’ve asked for it to be put away.

Even then, we need to be careful how and when we take things away from students. Have the students been made aware of the problem and given a chance to fix it? If you must take something away, try to do it with as little drama as possible and be clear how and when the object will be returned. Then make every effort to keep your students’ belongings out of sight in your desk or other safe place.

What About You?

Do you take toys or other distractions away from students? If so, how do you handle it fairly? As always, I’d love to hear from you either in an email, in our Facebook group, or in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Helping Students Manage the Social Cost of Doing the Right Thing

How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet.

Have you ever had to separate students because they were distracting each other? Me too. In fact, it’s a rare day I DON’T find myself saying something along the lines of “Do you think you two can stay focused if you sit together? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to have to separate you.”

That Was a Surprise!

So the astonishing thing that happened the other day wasn’t that I had to separate two students who were goofing around. The astonishing thing was what one of the students said after I moved her. She said, “Thank you, Mrs. Ayres.”

Thank you? How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet. Now, it’s true this student is a teacher’s child. And it’s also true we had a respectful, problem-solving-focused discussion before I moved her. But still – thank you?

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different.

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different. How many are relieved someone intervened, set a limit, and changed the situation so they could course-correct without losing face in front of their friends?

Social Risk

It’s risky for students to tell their friends they want to work instead of talk. They may be afraid of looking like the teacher’s pet. Or they may be worried about hurting their friend’s feelings. By enforcing the rules and following through, we don’t just keep order in our classroom. We also give students a way to make the right choices in a socially acceptable way.

Even if my students sigh and complain when I correct them, I intend to help them out anyway. Who knows how many are silently saying thank you?

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Rethinking Assigned Seating

Differentiated seating is all the rage these days, with students working at their choice of short chairs, exercise balls, wobble chairs, bean bags, stand-up stations, and traditional desks. In most classrooms utilizing this model, students are empowered to move at will, and their choices are only limited if they are off task or disturbing others.

Two years ago I wrote a Sanity Boost explaining why I thought assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom. So I started wondering… was I wrong? See what you think.

Should Students Sit Where They Want?

Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Where to Sit?No. End of story. Have a nice day.

Haha! Just kidding. I can actually think of two good reasons for students to choose where they sit:

  • As a reward or incentive.
  • So the teacher can learn which students are dysfunctional when they sit together and separate them when making a seating chart.

On the other hand, I can think of more than 20 reasons to assign seats. A few of the reasons have to do with making things easier for the teacher, but most make it better for the students in some way. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Reduces anxiety for students – Most people like knowing what to expect. Your students are no different. When they don’t know where they are going to sit, they can feel insecure.
  • Cuts down on bullying opportunities – Some students intimidate other students to get preferred seating. Having a seating chart makes this less likely to happen.
  • When given a choice, the more eager students are likely to sit up front and the students who struggle will sit in back. The students who struggle will then struggle even more.
  • It’s real world practice for your students –In the real world, you don’t always get to sit by who you want (particularly on airplanes) and your students need to learn how to cope.
  • Allows for differentiation for multiple special needs, including:
    • ADD/distraction
    • Left-handed vs right-handed
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Movement needs (such as standing at their seat or walking around)
  • Saves steps for the teacher – Putting students who need extra help near the teacher saves steps for the teacher and allows the student to get help faster. (That’s really two reasons.)
  • Is usually perceived by the students as more fair than letting dominant student get the best seats.
  • Helps the teacher learn students’ names, a great way to develop positive relationships with students.
  • Helps a sub (assuming the students actually sit in their seats).
  • Makes attendance easier – No need to call out names or ask students to report who is absent. Just look for empty seats.
  • Can facilitate efficient paper passing – If you can create a seating chart that is aligned with your grade book, it can save you hours.
  • Can help students make new friends – I discovered one of my best friends in high school when we were assigned seats next to each other.
  • Tardy students don’t have to disrupt class to find a seat – They already know where they belong.
  • Can make sure desks and chairs are the appropriate size – Have you ever sat in a too-small chair or tried to write on a too-tall table? You can make needed adjustments when the student uses the same chair each day.

Do you agree that assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom? Why or why not? Feel free to email me with your comments, or go on over to www.Facebook.com/PositiveTeachingStrategies and leave your comments there. (April 5, 2015)


I still think there are many advantages to having students have a “home” area to sit in. Having an assigned seat doesn’t mean they have to sit in a traditional chair, or that every chair needs to be the same. It also doesn’t mean they have to stay in the same seat for the whole year, or even the whole class period. I often allow students to sit or lie on the floor, stand, sit on their knees, move to another desk to work with a partner, etc, during appropriate times of the day. 

I’ve also noticed that most teachers using the differentiated seating model require students to sit at a carpet area or other group meeting area for direct instruction and/or have different seating patterns for different activities. Some even have assigned seats during these times. This model is really no different than allowing students to move around the room once direct instruction is over.

The one difference I see is the “coffee shop” look. And I do think this is cool. Very cool.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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