What If I Totally Blew It?

At the end of the school year, after the books are boxed up, the walls are stripped, and the furniture is stacked, it’s natural to reflect back over the year and think about what went well and what didn’t. Sometimes these memories are invited, and sometimes they sneak up and pounce on you when you least expect them – such as when you’re cracking open your first-of-the-summer trashy paperback novel or I-don’t-have-to-do-lesson-plans-this-weekend beer.

Watch How to Recover From a Really Big Mistake on YouTubeFor me, the unwelcome reflections usually involve some embarrassing and/or completely inexcusable mistake I made. Like the one I made last week when I totally forgot about a sub job I had committed to. I felt so horrible! I kept blaming myself and reflecting on how much I had inconvenienced everyone from the teacher I was supposed to work for, to the school secretary, to the rest of the staff at the school, to the kids.

Not helpful, really. My self-blame just made me feel worse, and did nothing to make the situation any better. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

Then I started thinking about our students. How do we coach them to deal with mistakes? If it’s an academic mistake, we may ask them to erase it and do it over. If it’s a social mistake, it might be to apologize and find a way to “make it right.” This is great, if it’s possible. But what if it’s not?

Maybe we can take the artist’s approach. I was taught that there are no mistakes in art. If something shows up that you didn’t intend, you try to see what it’s telling you and integrate it into the project in some way.

That’s what I’m doing now by writing this. It’s also what I encourage you to do if you look back over your year and notice some things that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Were there some actions you wouldn’t take again? If so, and if it’s possible, take the academics approach and correct it for next year. If that’s not possible, take the artist approach and ask yourself, “In what way could this mistake become a healthy part of my teaching practice? How could I use this story to help myself and others?”

Our profession isn’t easy, and it’s inevitable we will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Luckily we don’t have to be perfect to be effective. It takes courage to continue on, and faith to see that you ARE making a difference in the world. Thank you for all you do and for your willingness to try it again next year.

And now, break out that book or beer and have an amazing summer! We’ll see you next Fall!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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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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7 Strategies to Deal With The Pencil Sharpener

Nghhhhhhhhhhhhh.

There goes the pencil sharpener again, right in the middle of a spelling test. No one can hear the spelling words, and I actually feel as if the pencil sharpener is grinding into my skull.

7 Ways to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener“No pencil sharpening!” I screech. So the student sits down and immediately starts bothering everyone around him. He has nothing else to do, since he can’t take the spelling test without a pencil.

“Fine! Sharpen the pencil, but make it quick.”

And the entire class waits for the nghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh sound to stop so we can finish our activity. Then another student gives me a little smile as she presses down hard on her pencil. Snap! and the fun begins again.

The pencil sharpener is an annoyance for almost every teacher I know. Fortunately, there are many solutions. It’s just a matter of finding a something that works for you and your students. Here are seven ideas to try:

Pencil Sharpener Solution 1Teach the students when they can and cannot sharpen their pencils. No sharpening is allowed when anyone is talking or during whole-group instruction. During those times, students have to borrow a pencil from another student or the teacher. Sometimes there is a penalty for anyone who violates the pencil rule, such as having to clean the room after class. Sometimes a valuable object such as a shoe or a phone is held ransom for the pencil.

Pencil Sharpener Solution 2Teach the students what it means to be ready for class, including how many sharp pencils they should have and where they should keep them. Some teachers require two sharp pencils in the pencil tray on each student’s desk. Others ask their students to use pencil pouches with two spare pencils. I used to require my middle school students to show me a sharp pencil on their way into class.

Pencil Sharpener Solution 3Take away the big pencil sharpener altogether and ask the students to use hand sharpeners.

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 4Have the students use erasable pens or mechanical pencils.

 

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 5Keep a supply of sharp pencils on hand in a pencil can. Provide another pencil can for dull pencils. Students trade out their broken or dull pencil for a sharp one.

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 6Each table group has a caddy with supplies to share. One person in the group has the job of keeping the supplies in good order.

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 7Instead of using paper and pencil, use paperless options such as Google Docs and iPads as much as possible.

Do you have a solution for the Pencil Sharpener Problem that works well for you? If so, please share in the comments below so that none of us ever has to suffer through the ngggggghhhhhh interruption again!

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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Should Students Sit Where They Want?

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.

Use a seating chart, or let the students choose where to sit? http://www.positiveteachingstrategies.comOn the other hand, I can think of a whole bunch of 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.

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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Reflect So You Can Relax

Before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year.

Whoohooo! It’s finally the end of the school year! Time for some R’s – Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation!

If you had a tough year this year (as many of us did) you may be especially eager to leave it all behind and get on with your Summer Break. But before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I’d like you to take a moment for one other R – Reflect.

Specifically, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year (anything Rotten, to continue our R-word theme.)

Why Reflect on the Negatives?

Now why would I ask you to wallow in your misery instead of playing and having fun? Why be so negative? Why not reflect on the positive things that happened instead?

Because you want next year to be better, that’s why! And if you’re anything like me, you tend to get a little fuzzy about the specific details of what went wrong. You just remember that you didn’t like it, and rejoice (another R word) that you don’t have to face it for a few weeks. Then all that summer relaxation tends to erase it from your memory, and you forget to make a plan to fix it.

But things aren’t going to get better next year by accident. The definition of insanity is taking the same action and expecting different results.

Don’t Try to Fix It Now

I know you don’t have the energy right now to figure out how to fix everything, and I’m not asking you to do that. I’m just asking you to make a list of things you’d like to improve for next year. Then, once you’ve rested a little and you’re ready to think about next year, you’ll know what you need to work on.

So what drove you crazy this year? The transition after lunch? Tardies? Kids throwing things? Backtalk? Eyerolling? Side conversations? The pencil sharpener? Write it all down and lock it away in a drawer somewhere until you’re ready to start thinking about next year.

Reflect Now, Fix Later

Chaos CauserOnce you’re ready, dig your list out of your drawer and create a routine for each one of those “drove you crazy” items. I recommend using a process such those I teach in Taming the Chaos [video class] or the Take-Charge Teacher [DIY workbook.] Or use the Teach-To process from the Time to Teach Classroom Management Strategies That Work seminar, or any other process that works for you.

Making your “what went wrong” list now can help you let it go so you truly can Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate. Have a great break, and I’ll see you next year!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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End of Year Hint

This Sanity Boost was originally published May 31, 2015.

It was the last day of school, and we were having a class party to celebrate. A parent was leading some party games that took forever. I knew it was getting late, but I didn’t know just HOW late until I looked up at the clock. We had only 30 minutes to clean up after the party and completely clean out all the students’ desks and cubbies.

A wild scramble ensued, with me barking out orders and the kids running around like little sugar-fueled tornadoes. The last minute of school arrived, and then the last second. When the bell rang, my students rushed headlong out the door with all sorts of paper and debris trailing behind them. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, and the room was trashed.

Hours later when my teacher friends were busy toasting the end of the year at a party, I was desperately working to finish my end-of-the-year checklist.

It was horrible.

I am not a complete idiot, so why had I left everything to the last minute? Because a month before school ended, my principal directed us to make sure instruction continued right up to the last day of school. No shutting down early, she said.  I interpreted this to mean the room had to be completely set up with all materials out until the last day of school. I have since learned this is not true. The room can be prepared for the end-of-the-year shutdown AND learning can still occur. It’s a balance. You can avoid the disaster I experienced by keeping some things in mind:

  1. Your less socially able students need structure even more when a transition is nearing. You may be the most stable adult in your students’ lives. Try to keep routines in place as long as you can to avoid those students freaking out, acting out, and testing the boundaries.
  2. If possible, plan some sort of end-of-the-year project. One of my favorites is a keepsake book looking back over the major events of the school year. The students draw and write about each event in the book, and take it home on the last day. Older students can create a portfolio of their best work and write a letter of introduction to the next year’s teacher. Presentations, speeches, or demonstrations can also work well. Early project finishers can be recruited to organize books, pack boxes, and so on.
  3. Collect textbooks and materials long before the last day of school, and send things home gradually. You don’t want to scramble at the last minute like I did, nor do you want the students lugging bags of stuff home on the last day.
  4. Be strategic. Even though you collect many items ahead of time, your students still need activities to keep them engaged academically. One idea is to allow each student to choose a book from the class library to read during the last few days and then take home to keep.
  5. Make sure to leave time for some sort of a good-bye ritual on the last day of school. Students and teachers all need closure. Parties are good, and so are book or tee-shirt signings. Just make sure to set firm boundaries and allow plenty of time for cleanup.

Do you have any other tried and true methods to end the year? If so, I would love to hear from you! Email me your ideas, or post them on the Positive Teaching Strategies Facebook page.

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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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