Are You a Hot Mess Teacher?

Let’s be honest, at some point/s in the year we are all a hot mess. Usually it’s around report card time… or, right before a break.

However, there are also those teachers that are hot messes all year long… either you know who I am talking about, or you’re the hot mess.

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All of these examples are based on my life… (not currently…it’s summer… but at some point, all of these things have been true for me).

I just want to go on the record and say… if you are not, or never was, a hot mess teacher — you’re a unicorn!!

As a fourth year teacher, I’ve finally eliminated a couple of these phenomenon from my teacher life (not permanently, every once in a while they sneak up on me…but I’m doing better).

I’ve gotten into a routine with writing objectives in my planner… but my biggest accomplishment this past year, was to minimize (I won’t say eliminate) paperwork and keep on top of grading.

Grading Expiration Dates

If you haven’t graded something within 2 days of the students working on it, unless it’s a summative assessment – toss it. The feedback a grade will provide is useless after 2 days… students can no longer make the necessary adjustments to their learning/thinking.

Even better – don’t assign meaningless work that you don’t have time to grade. Assign performance tasks or use technology to formatively assess students – cutting back on manual grading.

Weekly Copies

Develop a system for organizing copies that requires cleaning out every week.

I have a drawer in my filing cabinet that has 5 sections (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and each section has a divider for every subject. I also have dividers for ‘to copy’ for master copies.

I have to clear out the folders every week – otherwise I have nowhere to put new copies for the week.

Master Copies

Have binders, folders, a filing cabinet…something – where you can put resources that you want to keep for next year.

I have another drawer in my filing cabinet for math and reading standards, there are also dividers for writing, science, and social studies. I put master copies of new resources in these folders – so as I am given a resource or as I find one… I have somewhere to put it. If it’s too complicated to put these masters away immediately – make a folder/divider for “to file”… and file masters away weekly.

That’s about it… it’s not rocket science, but it definitely took me some time to find a system that works for me. This may not be your system… but the key is to have a home for every type of paper that may be bestowed upon you, by students, parents, administrators, and coworkers. And…. throw things out!!! At the end of every day I make sure that all loose papers have been put away… it takes all of 2-3 minutes and saves my sanity! 

Were you a hot mess teacher last year? Are you currently a hot mess teacher? Or a recovering hot mess teacher like me? 

How do you keep organized with paperwork? Let us know in the comments – heaven knows we can use all the tips and advice we can get!! 

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One Thing You Can Do Today To Instill Independence In Your Students

There is one thing, as a fourth grade teacher, that frustrates me more than most things.

I’m sure I’m not the only one…please tell me I’m not the only one….

I try to be patient… I really do….

The one thing that frustrates me the most is students’ inability to read & then follow directions.

It’s not the challenge of actually reading/comprehending the directions… although I do know that sometimes that’s what the issue is… as well as language barriers…. but in general… when the directions are right there…. and they still ask those silly questions….  you know the ones…

Anyway… reading deficiencies and language barriers aside, here is something I implement in my classroom to help instill and reinforce both students’ direction reading and independence.

My Morning Routine:

  • Before students arrive I put on music, turn on the SMARTboard, open up my morning SMARTboard, and turn my lamps on…
  • Students walk in and I greet them (I greet every single student – sometimes I take grading with me to the door, but for the first few months I am always standing at the door ready to greet each student)
  • They unpack & check the SMARTboard (you could use an easel/whiteboard)
    • On the SMARTboard I put a welcome message, directions for everything they need to do during breakfast, and any important announcements for the day
    • I use student friendly vocabulary, for primary grades or ELL students, you could include pictures
    • I try not to include too many steps – to ensure the type is large enough for students to see & read
  • They follow the directions until announcements begin
  • I reinforce the behavior with class dojo points
  • If students ask me what to do – I refer them to the board… if a student is not following the directions, I remind them to check the board

I have an expectation that this routine is done in silence… of course I allow quiet greetings, but overall – students know that they are to come in calmly and get ready for the day. I’ve found that if I allow talking, it very quickly gets out of control and that calm environment is lost.

As I mentioned in my dismissal routine post, many of my students live in chaotic situations, neighborhoods, or homes – I want them to know that our classroom is a calm and orderly place where they know what to expect (most of the time…).

After the first couple of months, it is like a well oiled machine. I leave the SMARTboard for substitutes to use too and have received comments about how smoothly the morning routine has gone, because the students know exactly what to do. I’ve also noticed that students who struggle with focusing and organization, and anxious students really benefit and appreciate the list.

Here is an example of what I might have posted on my SMARTboard:

Morning routine learning wholeheartedly

If you teach primary grades, you could use pictures, just be sure to explicitly teach what each picture represents and what students should do when they see that picture.

It would be pretty easy to print off your morning list for students who would benefit from a physical check list on their desks too.

We are a Title I school – so we have breakfast available to all students in the classroom… so we have 20 minutes. If you get your day started as soon as all students are seated… you could still use something similar if you have seat work waiting for them, a warm up, or even if students come in and sit to get ready for a morning meeting. I’m sure most of us have at least 5 – 10 minutes where we are waiting for all our students to arrive and be ready to begin the day.

Bonus: Sometimes I sneak in something completely random, to see which students are actually reading every single step. Those students receive some sort of reward.

What do you do to ensure the morning starts off calmly? 

Have you noticed that your students also struggle with following written (or verbal) directions? How do you strengthen this skill throughout the day?

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What You Need to Know About Plickers

Tech Link Up Image

As teachers we all know how important it is to take the temperature of the room. To figure out if our students are following along and understanding the lesson. But, sometimes that can be difficult – we can do a “thumbs up, thumbs down” or “vote with your feet/toes” or even an every student response with white boards. However, there is an easier, more effective, and more efficient way to do this. There is an app called Plickers that has changed the way I check for understanding in my classroom.

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In this post you will find:

  • Pros & cons to using plickers
  • Ideas for using plickers in your classroom
  • Student reviews about plickers
  • What you need to know in order to use Plickers tomorrow (checklist freebie included)

Plickers Pros

 

Plickers Cons

Ways You Could Use Plickers in Your Classroom and at Your School:

  • formative assessments
  • take the temperature of the room (surveys)
  • self reflection (I use them with this daily outcome recording/reflection sheet)
  • lunch choice count collection
  • check in during rotations (from across the room)
  • staff surveys

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I recently did a Periscope tutorial on Plickers. In this 10 minute video you will learn everything you need to know in order to start using Plickers in your classroom tomorrow! You can also use this checklist (a freebie only available to my blog followers/readers) to ensure you’ve done everything you need to do before trying it out (it’s not complicated at all). For other exclusive freebies – be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

**If you’ve read this far – you deserve a special tip: I write the letter choices on the back of the Plicker cards (very very small) to help students ensure they put the correct letter choice up)**

I’d love to hear from you!

If you’ve tried Plickers before – let me know what you used it for and how it went in your classroom. If you’ve never tried it – let me know if you’re going to give it a try now…

If you’ve written a blog post on technology in the classroom (doesn’t have to be plickers) — join my link up below. And if you’d like to join up again next month – sign up for my tech link up newsletter here.

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Thanks to Meg @ Meg’s New Box of Crayons for the awesome conversation hearts stock image.

How to Change Your Students’ Lives

Isn’t this the big questions all teachers want to know? I know this is why I got into the profession – because we have such an amazing opportunity to shape the future leaders of our world. To help mould young children to become happy, kind, educated, passionate, and driven adults who can make a difference.

As a teacher, I know the feeling of despair when you have one or two (or five, or six) students in your class that you just can’t seem to reach. They’re the ones that keep you up at night, or have you in tears at the end of the day. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we can at least make a difference in the lives of 85% or 90% of the students in our class that year.

But, what if I told you that the GREAT teachers make a difference in 100% of the students lives in their class. I’m not talking about the standard “difference” teachers make by simply doing their jobs – I’m talking about substantial, life changing difference. What they do is not rocket science, and it’s not a secret…

Kim Bearden is one of those GREAT teachers.

If you don’t know who Kim is, I’ll give you a very brief overview – she is the cofounder of, and an ELA teacher at, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is also one of the most self-reflective, self-aware, passionate, whole-hearted people that you will ever get to know. 

You can get to know Kim through periscope (or watch her past broadcasts on katch.me) and through her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

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It is through this book that I have found the “recipe” for changing students’ lives. I think we can mostly agree (I wish I could say all, but I know that there are some nay-sayers) that the Ron Clark Academy is making a difference, and there are many many teachers who dream of recreating that magic in their classrooms and schools around the world. Well, in Crash Course, Kim gives us a very intimate glimpse into what the Ron Clark Academy is all about, and how any teacher willing to put in the work, can recreate that magic.

I’m going to start by giving you a brief review of the book itself, then I’ll share some of the key takeaways that I had while reading. Last, I’ll outline the things that I’m going to do differently to help bring some RCA magic into my classroom and school.

About Crash Course:

The book is organized into 17 short chapters. With topics ranging from creativity and improvisation to faith and generosity. Each of these chapters includes vulnerable stories from Kim’s life. She is very transparent and honest in her writing, and never claims to have all the answers. These stories help the reader not only connect with Kim and her students, they are the backbone of the book – the life lessons her students taught her. They also helped me as a teacher, formulate a more detailed dream for my students. Every chapter ends with a bullet list of the chapter’s important points and homework. The homework lists 2-4 steps you can take to help with that area of your life and work as an educator. They are practical ways for you to reflect on the chapter’s lessons and synthesize what you learned and how you can apply it.

My Biggest Takeaways:

  • The recipe for recreating the magic at RCA: passion, creativity, rigor, and the importance of giving back to the community
  • The teachers at RCA are human… they’ve all been exactly where we are, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve struggled, and they still do
  • The students at RCA are just like my students and your students – Kim shares how new teachers at RCA always seem surprised to learn that the students’ transformation into what we all think of as “Ron Clark Academy students” begins with the teachers
  • The teachers have very very high expectations for their students (and themselves)- and accept nothing but their best efforts. They are also willing to do anything and everything it takes to make sure that every student reaches those expectations. The chapter on expectations was my favorite, and you can hear Kim talk about it here.
  • The school also fosters a culture of creativity, magic, play, and family. Kim writes about how schools today often destroy students’ sense of wonder… isn’t that heartbreaking?
  • We need to teach students in a way that prepares them for the world – they need to learn how to communicate not only their academic understandings, but their insights, their feelings, and their beliefs as people. They also need to learn how to handle the challenges that the real world will bring them – we need to teach students about race and culture and how it “will affect their reality”.
  • To reach all students, we need to take the time to get to know each and every single student. We need to find their gifts, nurture their creativity, and identify their fears. We need to ask them what they love, and then design lessons around those things. We need to sit at their desks and see life from their perspective. We need to start fresh every day – do whatever it takes to get every student excited about learning.
  • The smallest gestures can become the tiny seeds that will one day grow into amazing trees. What you say to students (through words or body language) matters. Taking time to get to know students and their families matters. Taking time to create special moments and memories with (and for) students matters.

Each and every one of these points (and many many more) are elaborated on in the book – with stories to help you understand how important they are and how they can change students’ lives. These points don’t even begin to do the book justice – if any of them resonate with you… do yourself (and your students/teachers) a favor and read the book.

My Personal Action Plan:

  • Develop deeper more meaningful relationships with my students by
    • taking the time to think about how each of them feels in my classroom, at school, at home
    • taking the time to ask them what they love
    • making it clear that I believe in them by holding them to high expectations
    • making each and every one of them feel like they are my favorite student
    • finding their unique gifts and talents
    • being intentional with my comments and compliments
    • finding out what their fears are, and helping them overcome those fears
    • letting students know that every day is a clean slate – when I “fuss” at them, once it’s done, it’s done
  • Create more magic in my classroom by
    • brainstorming ways to make lessons more magical (think classroom transformations, even on a smaller scale – simulations)
    • playing more
  • Teach my students how to support one another by
    • modeling how to encourage others
    • teaching them about other cultures
    • helping them help the community
  • Seek out relationships with people who fill my soul by
    • evaluating current relationships
    • spend more time with people who inspire me
  • Be more grateful by
    • keeping a gratitude journal & writing in it daily
    • letting others know I’m grateful for them
    • praying more

 

Now for some real talk…

I know that this is going to take a great deal of time and effort. Time out of my personal life… time that I will not be paid for. The effort required will be tough to give, because the results are going to take time. I know that if I dedicate myself to this – there will be times that I will want to give up.

I also know that there will be more tears, and many many sleepless nights. Because let’s face it, when you open your heart and make the effort to develop these deep and meaningful relationships with students – you are opening up yourself to hurt and failure. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Some of our students face very difficult lives, and I know that I will learn things that will break my heart, some of them will treat me badly. Also, I’m not always going to be enough. What I can do in my classroom (and out of it) will not always be enough.

But… this is why I became a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher to help students pass a test. I didn’t become a teacher to have fun with students from 8 – 3pm. I became a teacher to change lives – it’s my passion, it’s my calling, and I believe the difficult times and the failures I’m bound to experience are worth it. Because at least I can say I truly tried, I gave it my all.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, what’s the point?