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Friday, December 1, 2017

5 Tips to Help Tired Teachers Survive Until Winter Break

Winter break is in sight and the students all know it. This time of year can be the toughest for even the most seasoned of teachers. It's important to maintain control over your classroom yet still find the strength to enjoy the holidays with your students. Becoming a Scrooge or the Grinch isn't fun for anyone, including yourself. So here are my five tips for surviving until winter break.

1. Resist the Urge to Ease Up on Expectations!
This time of year finds teachers struggling to stay sane and composed, especially when you have a classroom of students who know you are at the end of your rope. The perfect time for them to get away with doing things they don't normally get away with doing. Resist the urge to loosen your expectations and classroom rules. I promise you it will backfire! A lackadaisical teacher will only compound the chaos in the room. Students can smell a tired teacher from a mile away. Take a breath and a second to remind students of the rules and correct whenever necessary, every. single. time.

2. Make a List and Prioritize!
Make a list of everything you need to get done in your classroom from now until break. Yes, you do have time to sit down and make a list! It takes a few minutes but it's worth it in the end. Now read through all that is on the list. If you are anything like me, there are things on that list that are non-negotiable. Find time for these in your teacher planner. Semester exams created and printed? Time to get grades done? Check. Christmas program practices? Check. Now that you know what you have to get done, you can schedule in a few (A FEW) fun activities for the holidays. One activity I always do in my classroom is put up a tree and ask my students to make ELA-related ornaments. It's a simple activity and takes less than a class period, while giving your students (and yourself) a chance to spread some holiday cheer. This free "Reading is a Gift Ornament" template can be found in my TpT store.
My classroom tree from last year.

3. Sleep, Eat, Drink, Move. Repeat.
Sleep: A tired teacher is an unhappy teacher. Taking care of yourself is a must, especially during the weeks before winter break. Resist staying up late each night, preparing for the next day. Loss of sleep makes it harder to think and worsens our (already short) patience. There is nothing wrong with a short catnap when you get home from school to get reinvigorated.

Eat: Even thought it's always easier to grab something on the run when we are busy and tired. Resist high carb, high fat meals. Not to mention the endless stream of sweets in the teacher's lounge. I'm not saying abstain...just keep it all in check. Extra pounds and a sloggy metabolism won't help you to keep your mood and energy up.

Drink: Dehydration can impact your mood and mental clarity in a very short time. Remember to take water with you to school and drink water often. Also, imbibe in small doses. A glass of wine at night can help everyone unwind from a day with students.

Move: Even five minutes of exercise can boost your mood. Head outside for a walk at lunch to clear your mind. The crisp air will wake up your senses and invigorate your body. Find time to exercise 30 minutes at least three times a week to help burn off negative energy.

4. "Just For You" Time
Take some time to do whatever makes you happy and relaxed. Get your nails done...walk the for holiday gifts...get a massage...take a drive...go to dinner with friends. Do something to ease your stress and allow your brain to center itself. A frazzled teacher can run out of steam quickly, especially the few weeks (and days) before break.

5. Prepare for January
It's always hard to get back into the swing of things when you return in January. Do your future-self a favor and get plans done for the first week back. Make copies that you will need, create new seating charts, take down holiday decorations. Anything you can do to make things easier on yourself in January will be appreciated by "future you". No one likes to come back to a mess or a long must-do lists.

When stress begins to rise, think about the well-deserved time off you will soon be enjoying. Use the break to rest, relax, and recharge. For tips on regaining your sanity during break, see my post titled "10 Ways to Regain Your Sanity During Christmas Break" from last year's 12 Days of December.

Remember there are two more teacher-authors that are included in today's blog hop: Cullom Corner and OC Beach Teacher. Be sure to head over to their blogs for more useful information.
12 Days of December Day Two Teacher-Authors

Come check out the other 10 days of teacher-authors for more chances to win some great prizes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

10 Classroom Procedures to Establish at Start of School Year

Every teacher wants a classroom that resembles a well-oiled machine. Students know what to do and how to do it. Students know the teacher's expectations of them. Students are not left wondering and they can feel confident and ready to learn. When students are anxious and confused about how the classroom operates, they aren't able to put their best foot forward. In my classroom, there are 10 essential classroom procedures that I focus on the first week of school. This allows me to get my students dialed in to my expectations quickly and the classroom runs more efficiently. Teachers, myself included, thrive on efficiency. 

The procedures I focus on the first week of school are:

1. Entering the classroom--If your students are anything like mine, they wait until the last minute to rush into the classroom. This creates a problem when they are all trying to squeeze in the door at the same time and get to their seat before they get marked tardy. To keep this from happening, I establish a strict expectation for entering the classroom for my students. It's important to get this procedure started from day one of the school year. It's much tougher to break the habit of pre-class chaos than it is to bite the bullet and teach the procedure right away. Create a solid tardy policy and enforce it from the beginning. For example, my students are considered tardy if they are not in their seat and working on warm-up when the bell rings. We are a very small school and students do not have to go far to travel from class to class so this works for my classroom. Figure out what works for your classroom. I have always thought that most of the discipline issues at the start of class can be remedied with a solid, specific procedure for entering the classroom. 

2. Warm-ups / bell ringers--Warm-ups get students working immediately upon entering my classroom. They are effective because they take the first five to seven minutes of the class period to get students "warmed up" for whatever is being introduced, reviewed, or re-taught in class that day. In my classroom, I put the To-Do on the interactive whiteboard and the students know to check when they enter the room.  Once this routine is established, students know they should be in their seats and working when the bell rings. This is essential to the flow of my classroom because it allows me time to take attendance or answer homework questions while the class is working on their warm-up. Once the time is up, we move on to the content for the day. 

3. Cell phones--It is policy at my school that students cannot have their cell phones out at all during class. Even though this is the policy, I always had students that tried to push the rule. Because of that, I made a place specifically for cell phones to go in my room. If you are in my room, your phone must be parked in the cell parking lot (picture below). That is the expectation. As soon as students enter my classroom, they know they are expected to place their cell phone (turned off) in the pocket that matches their number.  When the bell rings at the end of class, students know to pick up their phone on the way out of class. Again, this works in my classroom. This may or may not work in yours. As is the case with all procedures, you must figure out how your classroom will run. 

4. Restroom--Students need to know the appropriate time to use the restroom in your class. It is important to share your expectation with them. In my classroom, students can only leave to go to the restroom during individual work time. I understand that emergencies happen and I would never keep a student that was in distress away from the restroom. That being said, it is still crucial that my students understand the procedure for going to the restroom. In my school, students must have their planner filled out and teacher signature before they can leave. This is why they can only leave to the restroom during individual work time.  If this procedure was not in place, students would be interrupting class activities and discussions.  Learning is still the priority and I explain this at the start of the school year. I have seen many ways to deal with restroom breaks. Again, it depends on what you expect out of your students and your classroom.

5. Turning in work--Typically teachers have set aside a location in the classroom for students to turn in work. It is important that this location is labeled and the procedure explained. Do not assume because the location is labeled with their class name that students will know what it is for. Teach the procedure explicitly. Because my school is 1:1, most of the work is done and submitted in Google Classroom. Most of the time, there is no tangible paper to place in a basket or bin. There are times though that my students turn in something they have handwritten. It's especially important that I remind students often where to turn in work, especially because they don't use it often. 

6. Agenda board--It is important for students to always know what the plan is for the week. It helps them to stay on top of assignments and aware of what is happening in the class each day. Every Monday, students get out their planners and copy the information from the agenda board. I go around a check each planner as they are working. Students that have correct get a reward coupon. This is a procedure I teach at the start of the school year. Students know they can always refer to this agenda board and their planner to see what is planned for each day, especially handy if they are absent.

7. Leaving class--It never fails...each year I have students who try to pack up five minutes early during those first few days of the school year. To stop this, I created a procedure that tells students exactly what they need to do to leave my classroom. I call it "The Two Minute Countdown" (poster example can be found below). I teach this procedure explicitly at the start if each school year and I have a sign up as a reminder. This has helped the "early packers" and gained me extra minutes of instruction.

8. Signal for attention--There is nothing worse than waiting for the class to settle down enough so class can begin, begin again, and again...Some students (many students) like to talk with those around them and are many times unaware that a teacher is trying to get their attention. As a new teacher, I was bad about standing and waiting for my class to notice me. This took valuable class time away from content. Because of this, I created a procedure to get my students' attention. I flicker the lights off and on. I teach this procedure the first day of class and we practice it often.  Choose a signal that works for you. I have seen teachers use sounds, music, lights, and hand gestures as signals.  

9. Small groups--Students know how to talk with each other, but they typically do not know how to work collaboratively. In my classroom, students sit three to four at a table. Collaborative activities happen every day in my classroom. I cannot assume that students know what this looks like. This needs to be taught explicitly during the first few days of the year. If your classroom does not tend to have a lot of collaborative activities, you can hold off on this procedure until later. Again, decide what works in your classroom.

10. Classroom library--I teach this procedure on the second day of class no matter what. It is important to me that my students learn to enjoy reading. To do this, they have to have books in their hands from the start. Checking books in and out of my classroom library ensures there are records of the books students have read and keeps my books from disappearing. It's a win-win. I walk my students through the process as they check out their first books. It usually takes most students a few times to get the hang of this. It's important to repeat the explanation of this procedure often. In my classroom, I use Booksource's Classroom Organizer to manage my classroom library. It's student friendly and easy to manage as a teacher. 

None of these procedures are a one-time explanation. They all require multiple times of explicit teaching. All of these procedures are included in the syllabus that I give to my students at the beginning of the class. I use a flipbook design that is glued into student interactive notebooks. This ensures that they don't get lost and are always at student fingertips. You can find this editable syllabus at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Always remember the words of Harry and Rosemary Wong, "Effective teachers have a classroom management plan with all the procedures necessary for a classroom to run consistently and smooth for learning to take place." Have a great start of the school year!