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Going in Circles: How to slow down and manage the educational demands this time of year

PictureWe all know the demands this time of year places on educators:

-Report cards for second trimester due now or due very very soon.

-Parent-teacher conferences are happening now or within the next week.

-Closing out grades so report cards can be completed.

-Comments to write in the report cards. Even the canned comments take time.

-Tests and all other accountability tracking evidence complete and evaluated for conference sharing or IEP meetings.

-Finishing with current math units, reading novels, writing assessments and journal entries; graded and compiled.

-Data ready to share with parents.

-Students’ finishing their self-assessments with goals and new goals established.

All of this and more rest mostly on us, teachers.

Add this to our regular day-to-day teaching and arranging conferences before and after school, some of us even add time during our lunch hour or specials, to reach everyone!

UGH. The list keeps expanding. On top of this flu and cold season can wreak havoc on our immune systems.

May I offer a few tips to help with this stressFUL time and get your circular wheel of stress to slow down a bit? I’ve used these things through my 33 + years as a teacher and they help: some more than others but I figure anything I can suggest may help someone and for that, this post is worth it!

-TIME FOR YOURSELF: I gave myself time to take a bath or hot shower when I got home after a LONG LONG day. I wrapped myself in my favorite pjs and grabbed a cup of tea. I watched my favorite Hallmark movie or read a book or just sat and snoozed on the couch. My husband and kids knew this week of conferences and conferences prep prior to it! were NOT going to see family meals. Pizza delivery, cereal, eggs, Chick-Fil-A were our go-tos for this two week period. They didn’t seem to mind and were grateful for the extra relaxed mood.  I gave myself permission to let things go around the house too: laundry and cleaning were secondary.

Lesson learned: life is stressful as an educator at times and grace is given by myself, for me and from my family to me. A few times over the years, I got my act together and made 1 or 2 meals ahead of time, freezing them. This didn’t happen very often but it does help and I realized I felt better about handling this time of year as a few simply prepared meals made me realize I could control my stress a bit more.


Treats in my room for my families who showed up for conferences.

This may seem an overstretch BUT I have taken time to prepare (or buy from the store!) cookies. I bring in several dozen and keep a plate on my conference table. I have coffee in a coffee maker in my room OR just inside the door. This instantly calms the family as they sit and relax, enjoying a coffee or hot chocolate and a cookie. They are very surprised and touched I took the time to do this for them. The discussion is 100 times more friendly, even if a not so positive message is shared.  I think this time spent up front makes a huge difference for them and for the work I put into the prep.


Report cards

THIS takes time, even if it is electronic in nature. I worry : have I put the correct grades in for everyone? Did I forget a comment or a grade? How do I defend my comment on a particular social column? Do I have my notes ready to go? I have learned to take simple notes about any student I am concerned about, placing them in their file folder, ready to share during conferences. I can’t remember every single thing I need to share during a 20 minute period. My notes help me to relax. I look for the positives too: as we all do. I’d rather start a report card note with a positive by far, than a negative. This may seem natural but at this time of year, we may feel more pressure to get our students in shape for the final stretch; preparing them for the next level of learning.

There have been times through the years when I didn’t enter grades as I went along with my teaching, entering unit tests, journal progress monitoring and such. BIG mistake.

I now enter grades weekly: progress monitoring formal assessments. Entrance and exit tickets, quick writes, conference observations; you name it. I like to have data galore both electronically for parents and students to see and ready to go in a file folder for each student. I never know when my principal or SpEd teacher, parent wants to know the latest about a particular student. It is equally valuable for the students to know where they are in their learning progression. Keeping up to date data tracking is worth all the time it takes. I build in a specific time each week to make sure this data is up to date. Whether in my electronic database, my file folders, my assessments: being ready to share this information is valuable and knowing I have it ready is a piece of mind I need.


Student portfolios

The spring has always seemed a good time for students to share their work progression. I like to hold spring conferences with their families. I give them a general sheet they complete and store in their file folders for the occasion. We include tests, writing samples, written responses and experiments in science, social studies reflections, math activities, their review sheets, and whatever else they feel gives a solid picture of themself as an academic and a person. I let them lead the conferences and it is such a joy to showcase them! These portfolios are available all year for sharing with families: they can check them out for a day or two, returning them to our room.  This takes some responsibility from me and places it on my students: they enjoy this opportunity to show what they know and what they want to work on.


Closing grades, finishing units, preparing for the next things on the horizon.

I like to be ready for conferences and grades before spring break. I like to have my next units for all academic subjects ready to go BEFORE I walk out the door for a break. This does add stress that I place on myself BUT I know the end results will leave me refreshed and ready to move forward when I return to work.

So I relax when I can; work hard to keep up with things, and know this period too shall pass. It isn’t the entire school year and for that I am grateful!

May some of these tips help you in your circular run this time of year. Give yourself grace when you can, time to relax, and time to finish what you feel needs to be done. We are all experts at our profession and whatever is on your mind to finish: prioritize to help alleviate tasks (and the days you need to complete each task). You can do this!

 

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Snow-beautiful: Time to reflect & refresh

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Time to reflect, refresh, and wander

How often have we all experienced that feeling in ourselves when we say we need to take a break, step back, refresh, recoup, regroup, chill out? All of us from time to time need space to be ourselves or by ourselves. Life gets too stressful or too much for us to handle. Whether we take a day, an hour, a week, a month or longer, it is this time and space we put ourselves in to give our minds and bodies the opportunity to restart again anew, to face whatever we need to do.

Students need the same thing in their world. Academic stress, competition, personal challenges all create havoc and pressure on students as young as Kindergartners, causing high anxiety. We have seen the signs in our classrooms. We know when Johnny or Sally needs a movement break. We hear it in the frustrations and reactions of our kids when they say, “Not another test!” Why don’t we give them a break too?

Providing destress manipulatives, quiet places to sit, relaxing music and a break from the routine, even if for 10 minutes, can make the difference in our students’ minds. They’ll appreciate it as much as we do. These breaks allowing students to look out the window and dream for a few minutes, listen to a story, doodle, close their eyes for 5, help the brain to relax and reengage for the next activity.

I have allowed students to doodle and play with clay while I read aloud.  I give each student a stick of Crayola brand clay, ordered from the district supply catalog at the start of the year. Each child has one stick, placed in a small baggie with their name on it and a sheet of notebook paper. Whenever I have read aloud or they need a quick break, they can take the clay out and work it, using the notebook paper to set it on. Active hands making creations while relaxing is so therapeutic! They can take the clay home at the end of the school year. It was common to see many exchange colors to create new shades of this miracle de-stressor!

I have also given out wiki sticks and pipe cleaners in baggies for students to keep; a quiet calming tool. Plastic hourglass shapes with the oozing lava were always available for anyone needing a few minutes to sit and watch the lava flow back and forth.

Like a relaxing car ride for me, I can provide tools to help them destress.

What tools do you use?

 

 

 

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Geometry in Nature Photo Project

8ed33f2f-a5e4-4b87-937f-155bef1ecb3cDon’t we all want our students t to be engaged in their learning….taking the project or assignment further than the expected, eager to learn and show more?

I decided several years ago to challenge my students while learning Geometry. There’s nothing like having to remember the complicated shapes such as Acute Isosceles triangle or a Pentagonal Rhombus besides the traditional hexagons and trapezoids. I needed to help them remember the unusual shapes in a fun way. That’s when I decided to go to the great outdoors for support and inspiration!

Students and I trekked outdoors to walk around the building and to the nearby park, taking photos with their laptop cameras of geometric shapes and structures we had been studying. The photos would later be collected and created into individual slide show presentations complete with music to reflect moods and explanations.

The finished products astonished me! Many went above the expected guidelines, adding additional examples of various shapes they found. Some were more difficult to find than others and they quickly supported each other on these. Trying to find a pentagon in nature or in architecture is difficult!

Using the outdoors as a lab is a wonderful opportunity to take kids out and explore!

Enjoy!

What shapes can you find in the light reflections on my photo?

 

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Puzzles

Puzzle : Seeing things more clearly

Determination and time…

Several weeks into this puzzle and it is not easier to see each piece and its special place in the whole.

This took time! Determination, stamina, grit, patience. You name it and I needed it!

We could all learn these lessons if we each had time to solve a puzzle.

Whether you teach, have taught, or will soon start in this noble profession, consider a puzzle in your room. All these skills and traits come to surface without even realizing it.

The puzzle is almost complete. The sky and trees are all that is left. I can breathe easier now, knowing I have stuck with the task.

Our students should also feel this as well, even if they aren’t solving a puzzle you’ve placed in your room. I would encourage a puzzle though! Fun times and a reason to celebrate as a class, even if some found only one piece: they were all part of the whole effort.

 

What will your puzzle be?

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ACHIEV…

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We all know what this word is, even without seeing the last letter.

We know what this means and I would bet we each have a slightly different definition and understanding what it takes to do this in our daily lives and under certain circumstances.

Each of us has experienced times in our teaching and personal lives which called for work and determination. Whether it was a test to pass to obtain our degrees, support our students in small groups to understand division, run another 12 miles until we reach the finish line of the race, sit during our lunch hour with several kiddos who need help working through their friendship troubles. All call for an effort and determination to achieve the goal or task.

I would ask if our students truly understand this word and what it means in their own lives?

To achieve…

What qualities are mentally necessary to reach a goal? What actions are necessary to celebrate success?  Does this change with each different task, struggle, or challenge or does it matter?

These questions and students’ thoughts reveal much about our inner values.

It would be a great discussion and self-journal reflection to investigate with your students. Take the leap and see what they can ACHIEVE in their thinking!

 

 

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Farm Fresh

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Like many other educators around the world, I use my weekends for two purposes:

-Relax and Refresh while completing things around the house I didn’t get to during the week.

-Look at the previous week to gather “fresh moments” from my teaching and my students’ learning.

I like to look at the previous M-F, asking myself what worked and what didn’t with my students and why. What lessons and teaching practices I used captured their attention, kept them focused and engaged, brought us closer together? What nuances from small group or whole class conversations did I have that made for someone’s day, helped a student to try one more time, gave me an “ah-ha” about a quiz or exit ticket? What action or practice I did might have unintentionally hindered a student’s learning?

It is from these little moments I take away the “farm fresh” moments I want to continue in my practice the following week. Some of these treasures are as simple as remembering to have my prep work complete: papers stacked, labeled, and sticky-noted for each subject and day of the week, placed in folders ready to go. It may be a reminder to myself to have all dry erase markers ready and the small hand boards cleaned. It may be to set the classroom mood lighting Wednesday when I start a new Social Studies Unit and have the chart paper ready with markers for small group Chalk Talk. Whatever it is, I hang on to these moments and reminders. They do make a difference in my teaching craft. I’ll write them in my notes or lesson plans.

When I finish looking for these moments, I also look at “what didn’t go so well” or was complete devastation for me or my students? Do I need to give more time to look through notes before writing a quick write? Do I need to keep certain students apart to allow for greater success away from each other? These moments, and I have them alot, as we all do (we’re only human!) help me learn and grow as a professional! I look to improve my craft: what went wrong or bombed is as important as what went right or better than expected.

As I look at the past week, readying for the new week, my hope is to create a better learning space for my students and myself. It is also a good thing to have students look at what worked and what didn’t for themselves, to learn from and grow from. This is a great closing activity Friday afternoons.

Stay “farm fresh” every week: look at your craft from both perspectives and grow from them.

 

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Technology: Tool or Toy?

 

Technology has evolved since I first started teaching 33+ years ago. I was the person in the room who had the computer and students went to the computer lab to access technology. Cell phones today should really be called personal portable computers that also happen to have phone capability.  Cell phones can be used to access the internet to find any information instantly.  I see kids even as young as 2 using these tools fluently and successfully!  I hear people in the workplace, at coffee shops saying things such as   “Google it”, “IM me”, “”Ping me”, ” Let’s FactTime” among others.

With instant access to information, education faces a challenge. How do we as educators effectively use this tool and other tech tools such as laptops, ipads, effectively in classroom learning to optimize this tool?

This looming question has brought about some innovative answers. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math,  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) , PBL (Project Based Learning) are forces behind the successful implementation of these academics using technology as a tool to further curious minds with collaboration and problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills. Educators across the country are diving into these learning structures with success. Students are discovering the importance of STEAM, STEM, PBL in their learning and loving the challenges these present.

I would like to remember when these purposeful activities or units aren’t running in the classroom environment, are we as educators using technology as a tool or toy? I ask this and I have been guilty myself, when  I let students use the laptops to play games when they had free time.  Ten minutes couldn’t hurt, could it?

Technology is so much more than a toy, especially in classrooms.  It is a tool when used to meet the needs of students on an individual or small group basis. Teachers who create customized lessons of reading passages, math skill races to memorize facts, blogging with others across the world, writing scripts for a presentation on shared documents.  These are purposeful examples of technology as a tool. Students understand the “why” behind the assigned lesson and its application to real-world experiences or skills. If my students can understand why they are learning their math facts and can see the increase of their facts which thereby support their work with multiplication problems, then technology is valuable.

Students are so tech-savvy today. They are on their cell phones, computers, tvs with tech games for hours. They have Instagram and other kids friendly apps and games.  As educators, it is up to us and I can proudly say to anyone who doubts this, we as teachers continue to use technology as a tool. There is plenty of time to use it as a toy outside the school day.

 

 

 

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Less is More

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If you haven’t figured it out from my earlier blog posts, I am a believer that “less is more”.  I have learned through the years as an educator, to try to minimize the amount of “Stuff” that I have. Having had many classroom transformations through the years and all of them of my own choosing, I discovered I couldn’t hang on to everything. I used to have two four-drawer filing cabinets, one two-drawer filing cabinet AND large chests filled with file folders and books and worksheets for every unit I taught. With every transformation, I learned to eliminate the “extra”. I used to hold onto everything thinking, “What if I need this in the future?”

With every classroom change I learned something valuable that I want to share now:

“It is all about the kids, not me”

Keeping all of the “stuff” year after year I now understand, was me hanging on to me. Let me explain.

All of the worksheets, units, transparencies, Google forms, cute posters, they were a reflection of me and my knowledge that I had to impart to my students.  I was the Leader, the Sage on the Stage. The students simply followed me on the learning journey. The key lies in that last sentence: The students followed me.  They didn’t lead with me or take me with them as they became passionate. I was the leader.

Sure in education today, even 33+ years ago and in between, I, as the teacher, am responsible for their safety and learning. There are times I have to monitor and take the leader role and I always will. But looking at teaching and more importantly, learning today, I realize I don’t need all the “stuff” I had so preciously held on to.

Letting go of much, in fact almost all of the old “stuff” I had was allowing me and giving myself the freedom and permission to let my students take hold of their learning. They could be the ones leading the way, learning as they go along with me right beside them, keeping what we needed in our explorations.

So in letting go and letting them lead, my room has transformed along with the learning journey. I keep only the absolute essentials in my room. My teacher’s closet is no longer in a shambles, filled to the brim. I keep my teacher’s guides and a few personal items but all are tucked away on what amounts to the inside of the teacher podium I now use which has replaced the huge and then smaller teacher desks.

When you walk into my room now you will see that less is more. There isn’t a teacher footprint, only student work and investigations, student questions and findings, student products and sharing.

I have given up more of myself in the room and given more to my students to lead.

Less is more.

Try it and see how it changes your perspective and increases your students’.

You’ll be amazed at what the future holds in your room today, for tomorrow.

Room Arrangement · Uncategorized

Student Storage in a Flexible Seating Classroom

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Storage

Have you seen the movie, “ET”? I love the scene when ET hides in the closet amid all the stuffed animals, acting as one of the stuffed toys. The closet is a fun mess!!!!

I wish I had unlimited storage in my classroom, space where I could easily place everything I needed nice and neatly with no concern, everything would come tumbling out of I opened the door. My classroom closet is just like the ET closet: I am literally nervous to open it, knowing there could be any combination of posters and anchor charts, yardsticks, sweaters tumbling out. I choose to keep it closed.

Just like the closet, my students need easily accessible storage space. The kind of storage space that won’t spill open its contents when opened, the kind that can be moved around the room at any moment, the kind that looks nice and can suit multiple purposes. I don’t need another closet for supplies. I need functional, nice-looking, and easily accessible storage. Student storage. Teacher-supplies storage. Materials /projects storage.

When I transitioned to flexible seating, I paid as much attention to storage as I did the flexible seating options.

Cubbies were a must: cubbies with plenty of storage bins, multiple sizes, accessible yet easily closed off so as not to provide what I refer to as “visual pollution”.

I had the good fortune of working with a company named MeTEOR Education. If you can afford or are given funds to completely change your room, I strongly suggest MeTEOR. They are fantastic: professional, passionate, and they’ll support you every step of the way in your process!

I knew my classroom storage carts had to have all of the tasks I mentioned above. I needed extra storage space to accommodate new students’ materials and any new supplies or projects as the year went on. In the photo, you will see several movable carts. One is purple and one is blue, the other is apple green. These are on wheels with colored doors that close and lock. I have an additional two open-shelf storage carts. The closed carts hold 40 bins each. I use these for students’ personal supplies. Each bin is numbered. I house my homeroom’s bins in one cubby and the two other classes’ bins in the green and blue cart. Yes, I teach Math to three fifth-grade classes of 28-32 students in each room.

I use the carts ALL.THE.TIME.

Yes

The backs of the carts I’ll use to place posters, directional charts, student work. I’ll place carts back to back or in “L” shaped configurations for cozy corners or room separators (even in the middle of the room! Carts are terrific as physical desks to stand and work at!

Think carts when you remove desks and need storage. Think doors on the carts as they hide the “messiness” of supplies. My open carts house bins with labeled supplies. I’ll place them with the supplies facing away from the visual line-of-sight. The backs serve as bulletin boards for hanging charts and such. Many times I will leave the backs empty just to see the pretty colors! The less the visual clutter, the better!

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The shelves you see here are ones in my third classroom transformation. My principal purchased two rolling carts with cubbies from one of the major library furniture companies: I believe it was DEMCO. I looked through the thick catalogs in the front office to find the ones I wanted.  Each cubby housed 0 slots with matching bins. You can see in the photo some students didn’t use their bins. I used those for extra storage of class community supplies, placed elsewhere in the room. Students learned to SIMPLIFY their materials! We don’t need 6 spirals and folders! What you see are the Math workbooks in their slots, a spiral, and possibly 2 folders. Pencil pouches were easier to store than the plastic boxes. Many students preferred simplifying their materials! They didn’t like having so many materials to keep track of. I agree with them! SImplify the class supply list whenever possible.

These storage carts are on wheels and we moved them many many times to suit our purposes: as dividers, as wall space on the back, as writing surfaces, as science experiment surfaces. Many purposes.

So think movable carts. Think multi-uses. Think functional as space dividers.

The possibilities are limitless!

Student Voice and Choice · Uncategorized

Student Seating: Choice and Comfort

 

Are your students comfortable and engaged in their learning? Do they sit where they want as long as they are on task? Are they working with others in small groups, huddled together?

My students have learned from many class discussions and creations of class expectation anchor charts, how to work in comfy chairs with their choice of work partners and they are loving it.

Students move furniture around as they need to, owning the classroom’s physical space. They are comfy and enjoy the room and I do too.

This didn’t happen overnight and the need to repeat expectations and sometimes move students to other areas of the room when many attempts to stay on task didn’t work, still makes for a successful learning environment that the students and I love walking into and working with.

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A flexible seating environment gives students greater voice and choice in their learning seating and location and work partners. As long as clear expectations are given, along with patience, students can and most often succeed and thrive in this type of environment.

The room becomes “ours” not “the teacher’s” even when I have to move students for independent work or testing, small group teacher time, or specific seating arrangements for a specific task; those times are not every day and all day. Our flexible seating classroom is almost every day, all day. Student voice and choice make a huge difference in their commitment to learning.

If you would love to know more or have questions and want support, I can be reached in my blog.

Let’s continue our conversation!

 

Kelly