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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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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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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Ready-to-Go Lesson Plans – 7 Ways They Can Backfire

As classroom teachers we sometimes get bored with the same old lessons. But trying new ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire. Here’s why.

Lesson Plans BackfireA million years ago when I first started teaching, I spent way too much time and money at the Teacher Supply Store hunting for teaching ideas and ready-to-go lesson plans.

Today it’s Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, Education World, and other on-line databases instead of the Teacher Supply Store, but the idea is the name – fresh new activities to do with your class.

We tend to think we need to keep coming up with brand-new ways of presenting information to our students so they won’t get bored. And that’s true, as long as we don’t overdo it.

But changing things up all the time in our classes may not always be the best strategy because it can waste valuable instructional time and undermine our classroom management.

Here are seven ways ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire:

Backfire #1 – You Won’t Be as “With-It”

A key to great classroom management is “withitness” – the ability read the room and take the right action to prevent problems before they occur. When we are concentrating on following an unfamiliar lesson plan or leading an activity for the first time, some of our attention will be used up and we won’t be as “with-it.”

Backfire #2 – Boredom

This lesson plan backfire is counter-intuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to keep it interesting by doing things differently? But when we are using a new teaching method, we will need to give more instructions, directions, and explanations to our students, which many students find boring. Bored students sometimes misbehave just to keep things interesting.

Backfire #3 – Lost Confidence

Many students enjoy feeling capable. It gives them confidence to know the “right” way to approach a learning task. When we change it up too much, some students can feel uncertain or lost. And unfortunately, sometimes this feeling causes them to act up in an attempt to feel better.

Backfire #4 – Avoidance Misbehavior

Some of our students use misbehavior to get out of an activity if they perceive it as “too hard.” And learning a new procedure at the same time they are trying to learn new content can be too much.

Backfire #5 – Rocky Transitions

Misbehavior MagnetSmooth transitions are crucial for good classroom management. Transitions that are confusing or that take too long are student misbehavior magnets. This is why effective teachers spend weeks developing systems around transitions, and teaching them to their students. When you introduce a new type of lesson plan, even a ready-to-go lesson plan, there will be new transitions to learn, and they will not be as smooth.

Backfire #6 – Teacher Stress

Even if you are excited about a new type of activity, leading it for the first time can be stressful. Stress can make it difficult to respond well to your students.

Backfire #7 – Choppy Momentum

One of the best ways to avoid behavior issues in the classroom is to keep things moving. Even if the ready-to-go lesson comes with great directions, you may need to pause and refer to them from time to time. This can stop momentum and cause student misbehavior.

What To Do Instead

When you find a cool new activity or idea on Pinterest, see if you can fit it into the learning routines your students already know. Or if you decide to try a brand-new learning method, use that method for more than one lesson. Not only will you make it less likely for the lesson to backfire, you will be able to shift more of the responsibility for learning onto your students, go deeper academically, and save yourself tons of time.

How about you? Do you agree that changing routines can lead to behavior problems? I’m always interested to hear what you think.

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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Poor Results From Your Classroom Management Plan?

Results. We all want them, and if you’re like me, you want them NOW!

Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management Plan?“I put Alicia on a behavior plan, but she still acts out constantly. Why haven’t I seen any results?”

“I work hard to build rapport with my students, but they still challenge me from the moment they walk through the door.”

“Teaching behavior expectations doesn’t work. We go over procedures again and again with no results. The students STILL do whatever they want.”

It’s frustrating when you try interventions that are research based and/or work for other teachers, but don’t seem to generate the same results for you.

Too often, we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

One year I borrowed a classroom currency program from another teacher. She swore it was like magic for her. I borrowed her masters and printed up the class money and checkbook registers. I thoroughly studied the program. I set it up exactly like she did, only to find that my students’ behavior was still out of control. Not only that, but I had to deal with a few additional problems, like counterfeiting, extortion, and theft. Not exactly the results I was looking for.

Reasons For Poor Results

There are many reasons a system can work for one teacher or class and not work for another. For example, you may be trying to implement without understanding the underlying principles. (This was the problem with my classroom currency. I was trying to use it to manipulate or “bribe” my students, while the other teacher was using it as a celebration of their achievements. Looks the same on the surface, but the kids can feel the difference.) Or maybe the students aren’t developmentally ready for that particular intervention. Or possibly it’s not culturally appropriate. The list goes on and on.

But one thing I find again and again is that educators don’t give the system time to work. We put Alicia on a behavior plan, and if we aren’t seeing results in a couple of days, we’re off to something different. We think greeting students at the door or creating a “lunch with your teacher” program will instantly generate rapport. We think we’ve reminded them about the pencil sharpener enough times that by now they should get it.

And then we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

Here’s the truth. Changing habits is hard, and it takes time. Whenever you implement a something new, you are not only trying to change your students’ habits, you are also trying to change your own. Sometimes you even need to increase your effort to maintain your program after the initial novelty wears off, both for you and your students. And that takes effort. A lot of effort. When you focus only on results, it’s easy to become discouraged and give up too soon.

Focus on Effort, Not Results

So at least initially, try focusing on effort instead of results, for both you and your students. Is Alicia turning in her behavior card, even if she hasn’t instantly transformed into an angel? Celebrate! She’s developing the habit that will eventually help her learn more effective behaviors. Give yourself credit for changing your habits and greeting your students at the door. Rapport doesn’t develop instantly, and it sure won’t happen if you have the attitude that you are only doing it for the results you’ll get. Are you still teaching those behavior expectations? Good for you! The habit of continuing to teach until it’s learned will pay off with academics, too.

Celebrate and focus on your actions and efforts, and the results will flow naturally.

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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How to Have a Better Class Next Year

I know it seems a little early to be thinking about next year already, especially if you are wondering if you are even going to make it through THIS year. But Spring is actually the perfect time to revisit classroom routines and procedures.

Make Next Year BetterFor instance, let’s say you don’t like the way your students act after lunch. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by homework and are spending way too much time grading papers and chasing down missing assignments.

You have a few ideas you’d like to try, but is it too late in the year to make changes? Absolutely not! In fact, the novelty of a new routine can sometimes be a catalyst for improving student behavior.

A natural time to revisit classroom routines and procedures is right after  Spring Break. Add your new procedure into the mix, and see how it goes. You can even let your students know you’re testing out something for next year and ask for their suggestions.

Once you and your students have debugged your new routine, you can roll it out next year, confident that it works. And who knows? Your new system might even help make things a little better this year, too.

Whatever you do, don’t wait till next year to make needed changes. You don’t have to continue doing something that’s not working, just because you’ve always done it that way.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

WATCH: 2-Step Plan to Regain Control on YouTube

Watch Better Start on YouTube

PS – If you need help figuring out your new routine, I recommend two exercises from my book, The Take-Charge Teacher:

  • The What’s Bothering You exercise, where you make a list of things that are driving you crazy in your classroom, and
  • The Ideal Class exercise where you imagine everything going perfectly, and write it down, step by step.

TemplatesYou can get free templates for these two activities here, along with all the other resource materials from the book.

You may also want to ask your colleagues for suggestions, or search for ideas on educational websites or Pinterest. Or you could always ask your colleagues in our Awesome Teacher Nation private Facebook group. Ask to join here.

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Transitions – Save Time With This Simple Mind Shift

We’ve all had transitions go sideways in the classroom. You ask the students to do something simple like put away supplies, and suddenly chaos erupts. The noise level goes way up, the pencil sharpener grinds, and students roam everywhere. And you find yourself spending 10 minutes or more struggling to resettle the class so you can get on with the next thing.

Transitions can spiral out of control even when you explicitly teach the students your expectations and cue correctly. But if this happens often, it can cost you hours of instructional time. Think about it – 10 minutes for each transition of the day times 5 days a week – YIKES!

A Simple Mind Shift to Reclaim Your Transitions

If you’d like to reclaim your transitions, I suggest a simple mind shift. It has to do with your belief about what a transition actually is.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction?

Save Time on Transitions With This Simple Mind ShiftI’ve noticed that students and teachers both tend to think of transitions as break time. Students feel free to get a drink of water, come up and ask questions, and so on. A parent or other adult who would never interrupt a lesson thinks a transition is a good time to start a conversation with the teacher or a student. We ourselves often use transition time as a chance to take a sip of coffee, get our supplies ready for the next lesson, and so on. We are modeling “take a break” by our actions, if not our words.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction? That both you and the students have an important job to do, and that you would no more tolerate an interruption to a transition than you would an interruption in direct instruction?

Definition of Transition

The Dictionary.com definition of transition is “a process or period of changing from one state or condition to another.” Some synonyms are metamorphosis, alteration, and changeover. None of that sounds like break time to me! Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great idea for students and teachers to stay hydrated and to move around once in awhile. But I don’t think every transition needs to turn into a break.

One of the best ways to signal that a transition isn’t a break is to require the transition to be done without talking and/or within a short amount of time. Be active during transitions. Watch what’s happening. Correct students as needed, and reinforce those who are staying focused. If someone tries to talk to you, politely ask them to speak with you during independent work time, or during an actual break.

How to Fix Inefficient TransitionsFree Resource – How to Fix Inefficient Transitions

If your transitions are in need of some spiffing up, I recommend the Target-Challenge-Reward method of fixing inefficient transitions. Awesome Teacher Nation members can download it from the All EducatorsAll Educators section of our Resource Library. Not a member? Get free access here.

 

Katrina Ayres – PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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