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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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

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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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What About The Student You Can’t Reach?

“Wheeee!” Savante screamed as he spun the teacher chair around in circles, narrowly missing several of his classmates and slamming into the bookshelf. A few of the second graders gamely tried to continue reading with their buddies, but most just watched him careen around and tried to stay out of the way.

What About The Student You Can't Reach?I pride myself on being able to handle most situations, but I couldn’t reach Savante. I called the office for help.

Two years later, Savante showed up in my husband Keith’s 4th grade classroom. Savante no longer spun around in chairs. Instead, he got in fights, destroyed office supplies, and yelled obscenities. My husband couldn’t reach him, either.

We’ve all tried to work with students we just can’t reach. The ones we stay up late worrying about and wish we didn’t have to face in the morning. The ones that can make us feel like failures. It’s easy to get discouraged and think maybe we don’t belong in education.

Have a Little Faith

And then something happens to remind us that we’re not failures just because we can’t reach every student, every time. We only have to do our best during the window of time we have with the Savantes of the world, and have faith that someone else will be there to continue the work.

You see, Savante showed up at Keith’s school a few years later to visit his elementary teachers. He was polite and well-spoken. He had an after-school job. He was passing all his classes in high school. And he came back to say thank you.

Have a Little FaithSo when you are tempted to give up on a student you can’t reach, just remember… Your job is not to fix them. That responsibility belongs to them. Your job is to do everything you can for them, and have faith that the right person will show up to take over when your part is done.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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3 Surprising Classroom Management Myths

If you are struggling with out-of-control student behavior, you may be buying into one or more of these common classroom management myths.

3 Classroom Management MythsMyth #1 – If you are struggling with student discipline, you need a stronger punishment to bring the kids in line.

This classroom management myth is totally untrue. Stronger punishments will only create an authoritarian atmosphere in your classroom that will eventually trigger outright rebellion.

What To Do Instead

Create reasonable expectations and proactively teach them to your students instead of just reacting when things go wrong. Be consistent and fair, and correct student misbehavior instead of punishing it. Learning how to do this takes training and practice.

Taming the ChaosTaming the Chaos, an entertaining video showing a step-by-step process for creating and teaching classroom routines, is now available in the Awesome Teacher Nation Resource Library in the “All Educators” section. Not a member? Join here for free!

Myth #2 – Some students will never change. It’s just the way they are, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This classroom management myth is also untrue and is a dangerous mindset for educators.

Here’s the Truth

Every person on this planet is developing and changing at all times. No one is “set.” In order to be effective at classroom management, you must learn how to discipline behavior, instead of students. While bad behavior definitely exists, there is no such thing as a bad student. They all have hopes and dreams but need to learn a better way to get them.

Myth #3 – Some students respond best to frequent reminders and redirection

Actually, the opposite is true. Multiple warnings and repeated requests cause students to continue their misbehavior to test your limits.

What to Do Instead

Students are smart. When you give them multiple chances, they will take them. You need to prompt once and then follow through consistently so students will know you say what you mean and mean what you say.

So try replacing harsh punishments with clear expectations, labels and assumptions with hope, and multiple warnings with consistent follow through. You may be surprised how quickly your classroom goes from chaos to calm.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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An Unusual Approach to Stopping Student Misbehavior

Showing genuine appreciation for our students’ gifts, talents, and enthusiasms can melt away their defiant and disruptive behavior. I was taught this lesson not long ago by a high school student.

As a teacher, I’ve received numerous presents and tokens of appreciation, including countless drawings, a few daisy chains, and even a homemade snow globe or two. But one of my most unusual gifts was also one of the most heartfelt. It was a roll of gaffer’s tape, given to me by a student I had never even taught.

This student was kind of geeky. Actually, he was VERY geeky. His principal appreciated his geek skills, and asked him to come to school on his day off and be the “tech guy” for a professional development day where I was speaking.

He did a good job, too. Everything was set up perfectly and worked great. He wasn’t much on the social skills, though, and barely answered when I spoke to him. Until I asked him about the strange brown tape he used to secure the computer cables.

AppreciationHe immediately brightened up and told me all about gaffer’s tape and how great it is. How it doesn’t leave a residue on the floor yet holds the cord down. He told me to get the 3-inch kind, and gave me several suggestions on how to get the best price. He showed me the proper technique for pulling up the tape at the end of the day (you stand on the cable to hold it down, and THEN pull up the tape so that it won’t wrap around the cable and make a big mess.) I thanked him, and told him I appreciated his suggestions, because as a speaker I always worry that someone is going to trip on a cable.

He disappeared into a closet and reappeared with a brand-new roll of tape, which he insisted on giving me. He offered to help me pack up, and carried some of my equipment to the car.

This student’s attitude had changed totally. He went from being a bit surly to being friendly, open, cooperative, and generous. All it took was a little appreciation.

The Transformation

I have seen this transformation happen again and again. When students feel valued by a teacher, the defiance seems to melt away and the cooperation sets in. The key is being genuine and sincere in our appreciation. When you are fake, it will backfire.

So take a look at your disruptive students. What can you genuinely appreciate about them? Is there something they are into or good at that you can take an interest in? Sometimes this approach can take time, especially if there has been a lack of trust in the past. But sometimes it can be instantaneous, like it was with my geeky high school friend.

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Why Joy Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

Joy can sometimes get lost in the checklists, schedules, and gazillions of details that need our attention in the classroom every day. And while joy may seem like a bonus extra, I believe it can be an important strategy for encouraging positive student behavior.

Magic Joy Moments

Why Joy is a Good Classroom Management StrategyHave you ever had one of those magic moments when your students were completely “into” an activity? A light bulb moment when the class seems to “get it?” An instant of community over a shared joke or experience? Those moments are all examples of joy showing up in our classrooms.

When student are into what they are doing, or into you, their teacher, there’s little need for fancy classroom management techniques, rewards, and consequences. Students may misbehave out of ignorance, habit, or getting carried away, but that willful defiance disappears. If you think about this for a minute, you know it’s true. When you were a student, which of your teachers did you behave the best for? The playful, enthusiastic ones, or the grumpy ones? Right.

Even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing.

So where does this joy come from? Many times, it comes from you! When you’re enthusiastic about your subject, or enjoy kids, or simply like to play, your kids catch that energy from you. And even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing. In other words, geek out a little! Get excited about making a connection with a vocabulary word. Admire the beauty of a perfect geometry proof.

I once knew a teacher who was able to easily manage a very difficult student using his somewhat nerdy love of plants. I even wrote an earlier article about him. Read it here.

Why Sharing What You’re Into Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

What if you are frustrated and have lost your joy? Sometimes, all it takes is a step back from all the intensity. Remember why you started teaching in the first place. Remember your own zesty teachers. Take a joy break!

Now let your joy shine, and go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStratgies.com

Joy Checklist

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Why Sharing What You’re Into Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

A bunch of us are eating lunch together in the staff room. The topic of discussion is the antics of a certain student. He’s definitely having one of those days. We “professionally” compare notes, and it is clear that the student has disrupted every class so far – except one. He was fine in Mr. Garcia’s class. In fact, Mr. Garcia never has any problem with him.

Why Sharing What You're Into Is a Good Classroom Management StrategyAs we jokingly tease Mr. Garcia about his superpowers as a teacher, a strange idea dawns in my head. Mr. Garcia is a little nerdy. His room is filled with plants – hanging from the ceiling, climbing from the walls… every possible place where a plant could be, there is one. And guess who is also into plants, and in fact comes in before school every day to help water Mr. Garcia’s plants? You guessed it – that student.

Don’t get so focused on your long teaching to-do list that you forget to be yourself.

So what am I saying? That every classroom should have a million plants in it? No, what I’m saying is let your students see and know what you’re into.  If you love a certain sports team, wear the colors on game day. If you sew medieval costumes, bring them in so the students can see them. Love shoes? Mountain biking? Poodles? Handmade pasta? Square dancing? Balloon animals? Whatever it is, share it! And don’t get so focused on your long teaching to-do list that you forget to be yourself.

Even if your students think you’re weird for liking whatever it is, it will make you more human to them. After, all the human connection is what teaching is all about. Plus – big bonus – students will challenge you less if they can relate to you as a person.

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

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Would You Like a New Class?

My first year of teaching, I had what I thought was a horrible class. Every day I would dream those awful kids were gone, and a brand-new set of kids was in their place. Nice kids who would listen and not taunt me all day long.  I wanted a new class.

Would you like a new classThen one day the counselor had to take over because my students had gotten out of control. Within seconds she had them all sitting up straight, quiet, and listening with respect. Wait! Why wouldn’t they do that for me? They were like a new class, but with the same students.

Why the big difference? Human beings (aka our students) will respond differently depending on the situation. In the case of the counselor, they had an ongoing relationship with her that was different than their relationship with me. She knew what they were interested in. She knew their families. And she even knew their secrets. So they acted different when she was in charge.

This brings me to the first thing that needs to change if you want a new class: interactions.

Change InteractionsInteractions

If you find your interactions with your students have become a list of to-dos and not-to-dos, try talking to them about non-school things every once and awhile. Ask about their interests. Let them feel that you notice them as people. While I can’t guarantee that changing your interactions will instantly transform your students into a whole new class, I have seen this strategy work when nothing else will.

environmentPhysical Environment

Secondly, change the physical environment. Rearrange the seating. Change the colors. Change the lighting. Add in music. Add a carpet. Take away some clutter. People (including our students) respond to their physical surroundings. When those surroundings change, chances are their behavior will too. It’s like a whole new class!

Change Systems and RoutinesSystems and Routines

And finally, change up your systems and routines. If the old way isn’t working, it’s time for a new way.

I recommend two exercises from my book The Take-Charge Teacher: “What’s Bothering You?” followed by “The Ideal Class Activity.”

The “What’s Bothering You” activity isn’t hard: make a list of anything that’s bothering you in your class.

Then for the “Ideal Class Activity,” imagine what a perfect class would do, step by step. This will then turn into your new systems and routines.

TemplatesWould you like templates for these two activities? You can get them here, along with all the other resource materials from The Take-Charge Teacher, totally free. Just let me know where to send them, and they’ll be on their way.

Instead of spending the rest of the school year wishing and hoping for a new class, why not try new interactions, a new environment, and some new routines? Things will almost certainly improve, at least a little. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even get that brand new class you’re wishing for.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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An Unbelievably Simple Back-to-School Transition Strategy

It’s back-to-school time. Not the one at the beginning of the school year – the one that happens after a long weekend or break. This back-to-school transition is just as important, but you may not have as much time to spend on getting-to-know-you activities, expectations, and classroom routines. You need something quick and easy to help your students transition back to school. Luckily, I know just the thing!

Who Are These People?

You need to rebuild rapport and re-establish expectations and routines, but with less time to do it, and far less receptive students.

Sometimes when you open the door after an extended break, you hardly recognize your students.  They’re taller and/or thicker and almost look like they belong in the next grade. There are new haircuts and new hair colors. Braces have been added (or removed.) It’s like you have a whole new batch of students.

And it’s up to you transition these “new” students back to school. You need to rebuild rapport and re-establish expectations and routines, but with less time to do it, and far less receptive students.

At the beginning of the year, students are curious about how things work in your room, and getting -to-know-you activities seem natural and fun. Curriculum pressure hasn’t started yet, and testing is a long way off. Now it’s a different story.

Quick and Easy Back-to-School Transition Strategy

Luckily there’s a quick and easy back-to-school transition strategy that builds rapport and also communicates that it’s time to learn.

Luckily there’s a quick and easy back-to-school transition strategy that builds rapport and also communicates that it’s time to learn. Simply gift your students with new school supplies, such as a brand-new pencil, pen, spiral notebook, sticky notes, or fine-tipped marker.  If you have extra time, you can package the new supplies in gift bags with a welcome-back note.

This back-to-school transition strategy can be especially powerful when paired with a new seating arrangement, a class meeting to revisit and revise class agreements, and/or a new incentive system. Then when you jump back into academics, your students will have a fresh new start and a reminder of expectations.

And no excuses for not having their supplies, at least for a minute or two.

This back-to-school transition strategy can be especially powerful when paired with a new seating arrangement, a class meeting to revisit and revise class agreements, and/or a new incentive system.

What Is Your Back-to-School Transition Strategy?

Have you tried giving out new supplies after a break, or do you have another back-to-school transition strategy that works well for you? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment and let us know what works for you.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

An Unbelievably Simple Way to Help Your Students Readjust to School After a Long Break

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