When Extra Work Means Less Headache

20130111-144253.jpgSometimes with certain classes, you have to do extra work in order to avoid headaches. One example of a headache is another teacher coming to you complaining about your class’ running or misbehaving at recess or dismissal. You can say it’s not your duty time but it will always come back to affect your reputation as a teacher, unavoidably. Define your target. Sometimes a little extra work takes care of it. My students get rowdy at dismissal. I have tried warning them to walk and be respectful but even after teaching rules and holding the whole class in all day as punishment, I still got two teacher complaints. It’s time to become more of a hawk eye with this class.

At that point, one has to decide, do I work a little outside my duty and walk them like smaller kids to the gate every day or risk letting them continue without my intense guidance and get more complaints further affecting my reputation as a teacher. It is an extra few minutes I agree and I am not required by contract to do it. At the same time, with some classes, one must accept they are too immature to do it alone and lead them out. I’ve given my current class every chance to improve and yet they are still, running and screaming and running into other kids. In the big picture they are my responsibility and I really don’t expect this class to ever be autonomous 4th graders in these activities, even though I’ve had much more mature kids who could handle it in the past. Sometimes a little extra work makes for less headache.

Breaks Produce Innovation and Creativity

Workaholic teachers and “civilians” sometimes question the effort teachers put forth. They think we enjoy time off only to return complacent and unable to affect change in the educational world. While it may be true for some, I know it is not true for the majority of teachers I come in contact with. My perspective is that teachers are very hard working professionals who deserve a break when they can get it.

I also find it troubling when people refer to teacher’s days off as “vacation.” We are not paid for these days. They are contractual days off that are negotiated and they figure in to our annual salary. College loans do not get forgiven (though I understand there are programs now Obama has created for new teachers) and the expense of time in college learning how to be a great teacher remain forever. We deal with bloody noses, kids that have special learning needs, unruly kids who do not respect us, administrative demands, and so forth. When you hear a teacher is taking time off, wish them rest and renewal. We most certainly need it when we return “to front” teaching the future citizens of the world. Teachers should learn to relax to do their optimal job with kids. To my colleagues out there still working or on breaks I say …

Let your inner hippie come out teachers! You deserve a break.

Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Positive with KidsWhen I was young, in the 70’s, I recall a book called Free to be You and Me. In that book, my mom had it on her shelf, they talked about the emotions of people and how they have an impact for good or bad. The good things we tell people were calm warm fuzzies, the negative things were called cold pricklies. The idea was that is people heard more warm fuzzies, it would come around and make the whole world a better place. I love the concepts of the 70’s. This philosophy is true with adults and kids. I have seen it exemplified with my students time and time again. I have seen kids that were social problems on the playground and in the classroom turn around and be better kids because I purposefully gave them warm fuzzies ie; “I like your shirt today!” Continue reading “Warm Fuzzy Experiment”

Getting Buy in from Students

Power of Positive with KidsMost the years I’ve taught I’ve been able to produce results in my students’ motivation. This year it has been especially challenging. Maybe it’s because the test and the academics thereof have become the primary focus of school. Perhaps this has understandably burned out student motivation. In doing so it’s given way to days consisting of “A, B, C, or D” answers. I’ve been trying some new things this year that are working to get buy-in and I wanted to share them with you. Check this out:

  1. To go along with your assessment strategies, have them grade each other’s papers. This will add peer pressure and praise to the mix. It can help them realize what they do is observed by others.
  2. Give them “pseudo” assessments that look like the final standardized test in May. This will ease their nerves and help them see that success on the test can be attained.
  3. Send a note home with the score on one of these tests. Let parents know how their kids are doing but if you do so, make sure you have suggestions for parents on how to improve their child’s score.
  4. Have a lot of ongoing student recognition. Tomorrow I am allowing all the students who got 80-100% to have lunch with me in the classroom. These kids need to be rewarded for their student academic achievement and of course, this will probably rub off on some of the kids who scored below 80%.

I firmly believe that kids in elementary learning as well as higher will do better when they have buy-in. Just like a company offers stock options to employees to keep them productive, so teachers should seek buy-in from their students. Remember this from my experience and probably yours too about work in general:

To get results from students or workers, you must have their “buy-in.”

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.

Believe in Students

This is just a brief reminder of what I’ve been relearning lately: to believe in students.

When kids tell whoppers, it doesn’t hurt to believe them.

Let me explain: since beginning my new assignment teaching Read180 to pullout rotations, I’ve been challenged with learning 70+ new names in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 and the student personalities that go along with them. As they’ve come through my classroom, many have given me stories I don’t necessarily believe. Rather than challenge what they say, I’ve chosen to take them at face value and it seems to be making the whole class trust me more than ever in my career.

I seem to gain trust by believing a “whopper” like “My mom knows the President” than by taking valuable time asking more questions. This may seem obvious but I know that by erring on the side of believing in them, it sends a message that I am open and accepting rather than critical and exclusive. I’ve even noticed later that some kids with the biggest stories come back and clarify later, which gives me an opportunity once again to show they will not be rejected but embraced for sharing no matter what they choose to say. This is something I chose to write about today as an observation I have made recently in the classroom. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to leave a comment.

Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

Continue reading “Puppet Communication”

Pods of the Future and Automation

Pods from the Future School Built 1987 (3)I read the title of this post with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek. These pods at my school were made in the mid 80’s and really serve no special function other than retro aesthetic. I used the picture to make the point of how technology is always changing. I recall in 1997 when I started teaching in Santa Ana Unified, the computers were all early iMacs. Remember those ugly beasts? If it ate your CD-Rom, you had to send it out. AND they were inordinately heavy. We had the money to buy tons of equipment that no one knew how to use. It was often a drag when you wanted to scan something but no one had taken it out of the box yet due to ignorance. Still, we knew classroom websites were coming and we believed they would happen to us. Unofrtunately, with technology in education you have to make things happen. It rarely “happens to you.” Now, all these years later, similar bottlenecks stall progress. In addition, much technology lines the halls of storage rooms never to be used, now completely obsolete. Continue reading “Pods of the Future and Automation”