Tag Archives: New School Year

Great Start to a New Year

For many of you school has begun, and for the rest of you it will begin this week. It is such an exciting time for everyone. New beginnings! Everyone involved has some level of stress associated with beginning a new school year, parents, administrators, teachers, support staff, students, and yes, custodial staff. I’ve now been out of the classroom for my 3rd year, but my excitement and passion for success for all is still alive. I want to wish you all the best year ever.

If I may, a few points of advice:

  1. Plan, plan, plan and plan some more. Have a Plan A, Plan B, and a Plan C. This goes for everything content and non-content related. I know it’s difficult enough to have a documented lesson plan that’s required by your administrators or your subject leaders that must contain an enormous amount of detail, but having an informal outline, list of resources, and list of questions and activities for your “backups” is a must.
  2. Be flexible and don’t let’em see you sweat. On a school-wide scale, many new schedules and procedures are put into place, be it lunchroom schedule, recess and break schedule, traffic patterns or bus release plan. Show patience and flexibility to handle things when they don’t go according to the desired plan. When working with hundreds of students at a time with many factors in play that can affect the execution of the plan, “stuff” happens. Keep in mind that the students’ safety and well-being is your first priority. Keep a cool head, keep the students under control and happy, keep a smile and everything will work out.
  3. Stay on top of things as they come in. The beginning of the year is a busy, busy time; however, there are critical deadlines that need to be met. This may include the return of student paperwork/information, schedule changes, work requests, parent correspondence, website authoring, setting up grade book, and any required online courses/learning activities.
  4. Give EVERY student a chance. Please, regardless of what you know about your students before they enter your classroom, allow each and every student a clean slate. Provide them an opportunity to make a change if it’s in their hearts. Too often students simply live up to the expectations we set for them. If you truly want your students to live up to their potential, let them start fresh. With that said, I want to caution you on saying one thing to the whole class because it sounds great, but treat individual students differently when others are not around. There’s no faster way to break the trust of not only that one student, but virtually every student you teach and everyone they know. Word will get around that your word is no good, and it will stick with students forever.
  5. Rely on your professional peers and administrators. Ask for help when you need it. Find those peers that welcome questions and discussion. Brainstorm with subject-similar colleagues for instructional and disciplinary strategies. Don’t fall into the pit of the negative talk and gossip. Everyone has problems. Find solutions for yourself and listen other’s problems when they need it. Realize that you should only provide advice to those peers who want to listen to your suggestions; otherwise it will fall on deaf ears and potentially fuel jealousy and animosity. Educators should behave as a team, but as in every team, not everyone is a team player.

I hope this helps you have a great new year. Please send me your questions or concerns. I’m here for you. I can be a sounding board and someone you can brainstorm with. I taught middle school math/algebra for 10 years. I’m happy to help. Best of luck!

 

Shannon Richards

Parent Communication

Year after year, after year, there always seems to be more to do at the beginning of the school year than any human can possibly accomplish. I would like to emphasize one, and only one thing, for the first  3 -4 weeks to accomplish. This would be parent communication. Please make at least one contact home, verbally speaking with a parent or guardian, within the first 3-4 weeks of school. This is a valuable opportunity to make a connection to home; to put your best foot forward; to stress the passion you have for educating their child or student. If at all possible, I would recommend moving those students that are already pushing your buttons to the front of that call line; however, I would only say nice things.

I know…I know….there are some students that are really showing their true colors in the first week of school. Keep in mind…these students are instituting their best defenses during this period. This may just be a front to protect their integrity, their ego, and their pride. These students may be trying to make a place for themselves in the only society they know…school. Let them. However, make a connection home to let their parent(s) or guardians know that you have their best interests in mind. Let them know that you will work with them to insure that “Johnny” or “Susie” have the best year ever. Let them know that the communication lines are always open, in both directions. It’s amazing what positive gains will occur with a simple, casual conversation.

With that said, I would suggest a cheat-sheet of sorts to use when you call parents/guardians the first time. Try to be consistent with the information you give to all parents. As we all know, parents do talk with one another. You’re laughing, but mark my words…. say X, Y and Z to parent A, and G, H, I to parent B, parent A and B talk, …you know what will come your way.

Don’t be afraid to encourage parents/guardians to come into your class for a class period. Some will take you up on it and others will not. When they do, don’t put on a show. Be yourself. Keep your normal routines. Maintain the same expectations. This will paint a real picture for them. For the ones that take you up on this offer, be sure to continue communications home throughout the year, good and bad. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child. With that said, I would also keep a record sheet for each student to record the parental contact you have made and the reasons for doing so, including returning phone calls from parents. Come April or May, this will prove to be a value resource for those students that have been “high-flyers” all year.

The key is communication home. I certainly do not want to disillusion you into thinking that every parent or guardian will be responsive to you making calls home. Some will and some won’t. The key is to do what you should on your end….and that’s making sure that the line is open. Sometimes, it’s just one-sided.

Best of luck!

Making the Switch – Common Core Standards – Mathematics

As we begin this new school year, how many of you will be implementing the new common core standards for mathematics? If so,

  • How are you feeling about this transition?
  • What are the challenges you’re facing?
  • Do you have a support group in place at the school, district, and/or state level?
  • Are you using social media to connect with fellow math teachers experiencing the same transition? If so, which ones?
If you’re not implementing the new standards until next school year, this is the year to reach out and learn from those who are! Please share and collaborate here.

Back To School Time


Wow, that time has rolled around yet again. Each and every year the summers seem to get shorter and shorter. The funny thing is, I’m not in the classroom any longer, yet I feel remorseful for my fellow teachers having to go back to work tomorrow. It seems like they just closed out the school year! I truly hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable summer break. But if you have to go back, here are a few words of wisdom I’d like to pass along.

 

(1) Have a Plan!

Have a plan for everything, from how you will greet the students that first time, to how students will interact with one another, to how students will complete assignments, to how you will manage students outside your classroom. Make these plans as simple as possible, with clear language for students to understand. Do not make a plan to simply say you have a plan for something. Make each and every rule, procedure, and routine purposeful and worthwhile. You should be able to justify to anyone why you do what you do, and how it positively affects the learning of your students. The plans you put in place set the tone for your instruction. Have a plan that promotes a positive and safe learning environment for all!

(2) Steal from New and Old

It is often thought that the “veteran” teachers have all the great ideas, the tried and true. I’ve met a few amazing new teachers in my time that are excellent counterexamples to that idea. During pre-planning time, roam the school, peek into a variety of classrooms, both within your content/grade and out. It’s amazing what you will find. Don’t feel awkward about going in and asking those teachers why they do what they do. They are more than happy sharing with you! It’s the best compliment a teacher can get. Any conversation that begins with, “I like what you have done with… How do you utilize that with your students?” It’s amazing what great ideas come out of conversations such as this, for both parties. It’s through this type of sharing and collaboration that teachers get stronger, communities within the school are built, and students prosper. It’s not a competition. Everyone is in it for the same end result….student success! So SHARE AND ASK QUESTIONS!!!!

(3) Get Organized

Take the time to think about what will be coming in, going out, and staying. By this I mean anything from papers (both from students, parents, and the school office), textbooks and resources, and classroom supplies.

  • Consider color coding the categories you have defined as the most frequent. I remembered that my system consisted of student related materials were in yellow file folders, administrative materials were in red, and parent documentation was in green. These certainly were not the only categories I had, but they were the most prevalent. Take the time to clear out a file cabinet, or even just a plastic file bin, to help to get the organization system under way. I recommend investing a few extra dollars in the box of 5-color file folders. Only use these for such organization, and not for other projects….that would defeat the color coding system.
  • I would also recommend a single manila file folder, one per student, labeled by last name, per class period, to store any documentation that may need to be collected. This could involve signed documents from parents, grade reports, discipline notes, and student work. These are amazing resources to have during a parent conference.
  • In addition to a single file folder per child, I would create a single parent contact sheet per student you teach, organized either by class period or by last name. This sheet should be populated with parent contact information, including names of parents/guardians, phone numbers, and email addresses. These can be easily stored in a small binder. Each time contact home is made, it should be recorded on that student’s sheet. This allows a running log to be kept throughout the year. Once a week, I would recommend making 3-5 additional positive phone calls to student’s parents/guardians randomly selected from the binder. This helps build that bridge between home and school for many students.
  • (These are just a few…keep posted for new entries to this section. I could write a book on just this aspect of teaching)
(4) Assign Seats
       Some may disagree with me on this one, but I did teach middle school. Seating charts are an absolute must for more than 3/4 of the school year, and in some cases the entire school year. Yes, they are a pain, especially if you don’t know your students just yet. Alphabetizing students the first few weeks does make learning names and accounting for all of your students easier, but realize that your peer teachers may be doing so as well. Your students may get quite familiar with each other sooner than you anticipate, thus increasing the chance of classroom disruptions. Consider an alternative method that makes things just as easy on you. Computer grading systems that can be set up to take attendance that has an editable floor plan capability are a great help, especially if these floor plans can be printed with the students’ names in the “furniture”. Other plans can be less-tech with the use of blank floor plan layouts and writing in students names, or with the use of post-it notes with student’s names on each so they can be moved around accordingly. (I’d suggest the super sticky ones!)
I’m going to pause here for this entry. I will be adding more details to these ideas soon.
You really can’t make a second first impression. How you begin the first 3-5 weeks really sets the tone for the whole year. Yes it’s difficult. I won’t lie. I encourage you to stay strong throughout the beginning-of-the-year period, stick to your plan, procedures and routines.
Please post your comments, questions, and suggestions. I’d love for this to be a community and a network where teachers are free share ideas and ask questions as needed. I wish you all the best as you prepare to welcome your new group of students. Good luck!

Positive Value Classroom Experience

So, you’ve had a few days with your new group of students and things seem to be going well. Well, of course! The first few weeks or so is the honeymoon phase. Most of your students are not showing you their true colors yet. You’re just as guilty. You’ve been so upbeat and positive, but firm and professional. If only the rest of the year could be like these first few days, school wouldn’t feel like, well, school. Let’s talk about ways in which this honeymoon phase can last a little longer, or at the very least, reappear from time to time throughout the year.

First and foremost, let’s understand why the students are so well behaved the first few weeks.

  • They don’t know you yet; therefore, they don’t know what buttons of yours they can push.
  • You don’t know them; therefore, you are providing them with the benefit of the doubt and being non-judgmental.
  • You’re interested in them. You’re asking them questions and trying to get to know them.
  • You’ve set the tone of who’s in charge and where the boundaries are.
  • You’re holding them accountable and making examples out of behaviors that are less than desirable.
  • You’re lesson planning like there’s no tomorrow. You have plans A, B and C. Your organized, with papers and supplies filed in all the right places. Students don’t have a second’s worth of time to be off task or disruptive.
  • You’ve got the classroom looking so nice. Everything in its place, nice and clean, supplies labeled.

There’s nothing like the first of the year. Unfortunately, time does go by and we, as teachers, get very bogged down with paperwork, parent phone calls and meetings. Little time is left to keep the classroom clean, papers filed, supplies organized, or to create a plan A, let alone a B or a C. Since your plans are not as tight as they once were, students now have time in class to engage in conversations and get off-task, some even becoming perpetual classroom disruptions. At this point, you’re just trying to keep your head above water and teach your students the standards. Lest not forget there’s standardized testing, curriculum benchmarks and exams that require us to stay on mark with the curriculum pacing. You’re students start to feel your stress. They don’t know how to take your new demeanor. They start to take things personally, as if you don’t like them. Realize you haven’t had much time to socialize with them or continue to get to know more about them. They see it as, “You don’t care about them”. Behavior starts to deteriorate. You’re falling behind in the curriculum. Student’s grades start to slip. You start to lose respect and confidence in the eyes of the students. Keep in mind; I’m estimating things start to feel this way come, oh, say October.

This is a sad situation that happens to many teachers, classrooms and schools across the nation. Not to add more stress to your pot, but it’s time we need to realize who’s at fault for this rapid decline. It’s you, the teacher. That’s simply the hard, cold facts. It’s painful, I know. However, look at it this way. Imagine you’ve just seen into the future. You see how things “could” end. Now, what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

Somehow, someway, you have to make sure that you keep that momentum in place throughout the year. You must stay consistent with your level of expectations for the students, for your performance as an educator, and for the culture you’ve created in the classroom. Simply doing this will keep a gain you a high level of respect from the students. With this comes respect and loyalty, as well as trust. You’re more than halfway there now!

Other ways to keep the focus on the students is to create a “What’s Happening” board. This of course can be called anything you’d like, but the focus is to capture student successes and learning. This can be achieved by posting high quality student work (keep an eye out for posting the same student’s papers time and time again), or out-of-the-ordinary student achievements. I would not say it this way to the students, but this may be reserved for those students who are below desired level, but makes substantial, but maybe intermittent, gains. This is for students who may struggle with concepts and not catch on to things as quickly as their peers. Celebrating these achievements in a public way creates a nurturing classroom culture that can be very motivating for all students. Finally, post pictures of students in the act of learning, doing a lab or an activity, ones that really capture the positive aspects you were requiring for that task. This is a motivator in and of itself. If students know they are only going to be showcased on the “What’s Happening” board by doing what they’re required to be doing, then you’re job has just become that much easier.

The suggestions above are what make teaching fun. Lesson planning, on the other hand, is not so much fun. Let’s face it. Teachers often times have to teach things they aren’t very interested in. Nonetheless, educators must look beyond a particular section or topic, and look at how to build a nice, solid foundation of knowledge for students. Skipping content does not achieve this. I suggest tapping into your resources to help you plan. The recent buzz word is Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs. These are learning environments within schools and districts that are designed to make teachers work smarter, not harder. Within these communities, teachers need to work together to create common items, be it activities, learning experiences, projects, quizzes or tests. Teachers do have to stop reinventing the wheel. This is such a time waster. Utilize your resources so that you can continue to make your plan A, along with your B and C. Last, but not least, two, three, or more heads are better than one, so put your heads together and create solid lessons to keep the level of learning high and the level of student disruptions low.

By incorporating these things into your daily or weekly routines, you’ll see  you’re not falling into the dark abyss most teachers find come the third or fourth month.  My final suggestion would be to print, or retype, and post the bulleted items I listed at the beginning of this post. Stick them in a location in the classroom that is highly visible to you. I would even suggest reading these over every Sunday night or Monday morning as you put your mind in focus for the week.

Let me know throughout this semester if you’ve found these ideas helpful. Good luck as you transition out of this honeymoon phase.

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