Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Create a Positive Classroom Climate


As we head into a new school year, I always reflect on what really worked last year (and what didn't). For the last few years, I've been working extra hard to create a positive classroom climate. It's always been important to me that my students feel safe and happy at school. Here are a few things that worked for me that you can try in your own classroom!

Let students have a say in the rules.

The first day of school, have students brainstorm the rules that are the most important to them. Not only does this tell you what they want your class to be like, it also helps them buy into the rules. Here are the rules my 4th graders came up with last year. You can see that we focused on the few that were most important to them, and they happen to be the most important to me too!


Set a meeting time.

Too often we make announcements when students are in la-la land. Maybe you need to talk to your class about their behavior in the cafeteria, or make an announcement about a fundraiser. The best way to do this is during morning meeting. Morning meeting is when you have students gather together (preferably on a carpet or some place where they can sit close as a group) during a special time of the day to make important announcements and recognize students for exceptional work (see Recognizing Student Strengths below). I found that once a week on Friday morning worked well, but one year with an extra difficult class I had to do morning meeting every day for a couple of months.

My students always get SO excited about morning meeting, even though we often talk about things like behavior and expectations. I make sure to keep it positive and keep the discussion open so that students feel like they can share and add to it. When I had that very difficult class who had a daily morning meeting, they were actually more open to discussion and reflection than any other class I had before. This showed me that the morning meeting really helped us grow as a class.

Set goals.

One of the biggest classroom management problems is motivation. I can easily handle an unruly kid, but those kids that just don't want to do anything are tough. At the beginning of the year, have students set specific goals using the SMART goals format. These are really hard to write, so practice goal setting once a week for the first few weeks. After that, set aside a time where students can journal about their goals and set new ones on their own.

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Relevant, Rigorous, Realistic, and Results Focused
T = Timely and Trackable

A SMART goal would be something like this: I will carefully take notes and ask for help in math so that I will meet or exceed the standards this quarter. 

Recognize Student Strengths.

By the end of the first month you should have recognized each student for something positive. It's harder with some than others, but it's necessary for all students to feel like an important part of the classroom. 

One of my favorite ways to recognize students is with Brag Tags. These tags are just laminated pieces of paper, but they are the best reward EVER! Students proudly display their accomplishments on a necklace that they add to throughout the year. My goal is to make sure that each student gets at least one tag every month. 

I recognize students with brag tags at morning meeting every Friday. This makes morning meeting a positive experience, even though we're sometimes addressing some negative behaviors.

Click here for more information on using brag tags!

Click here to find out what supplies you'll need to make brag tags!

Be positive.

I know this sounds silly, but it's hard to stay positive sometimes. Always do your best to be positive and professional with your students, even when you're having a tough day. They pick up on your energy and can feed off of it! Not only will being positive keep your students calm and happy, but it'll help you feel better as well. 


SaveSave

Sunday, June 26, 2016

4 Reasons I Use Brag Tags in Upper Elementary


I think there is a widely held misconception that brag tags are just for the lower grades. People see them as an alternative to the treasure box and therefore attribute them to younger children. Many teachers think that brag tags are just for the little guys who can easily be fooled into thinking that a little piece of paper is cool. WRONG! Yes, brag tags are great in lower elementary. Yes, brag tags can be a replacement for the expensive junk  prizes in the treasure box. But brag tags are so much more. Big guys think they are cool too! Let me show you how brag tags can efficiently be used in upper elementary!


Brag tags are earned in my class when a student meets an academic or behavior goal. Every student will NOT receive the same tags! This is not like the sports team that gives every kid the same trophy.  When I meet with students during guided small groups or writing conferences, we work together to set goals. For example, every student doesn’t need to focus on improving classroom behavior (or at least I hope not). The students who have behavior goals will be the ones working to earn the behavior tag.


That means, the sweet girl who never gets in trouble may not earn the behavior tag. It doesn't mean she has a behavior problem. It means that behavior is not a goal she is currently working on. She may be working on teamwork or organization. When students are focused on individually tailored goals, the reward is much more meaningful.


It doesn’t matter where you start. It is all about working hard to grow. The sweet student who reads on a 6th grade level on the first day of 5th grade will not automatically receive the Remarkable Reader tag. She has to grow. Maybe she needs to work on her reading response or she needs to read more genre varieties. So the high or well behaved kids don’t just get all the tags. Even they will need to work for it! 


However, my low guys have a chance too! It's not like a behavior chart that only rewards the top kids. When the 4th grader finally masters his 3rd grade sight words- he can have a tag! And he may be the kiddo who has almost never received an award for his academics. Just picture the smile on his face! Are you starting to see how it can be more than just a piece of paper?


Everyone likes to be noticed for their hard work! Even adults! My husband gets a daisy pin from his boss when patients write positive reviews of his work. It’s just a pin! And it has a girly flower on it! But he likes earning them because he feels that his hard work has been noticed.


Kids are no different. They want to know that you noticed their extra effort. When you have a student who is still struggling with basic math facts and he works hard all year- he will be so proud to wear the Mastering Math Facts tag! Can you just imagine that sweet beaming face! It is a constant reminder for him of how hard work pays off. And you better believe that he will keep working at those darn math facts!


I have to teach a lot of standards. The state says so. However, some of the most meaningful lessons that I get to teach are those that help students to be a person with good character. I take this part of my job very seriously! I choose a character trait to focus on each month. I issue challenges to my students and watch as they practice being responsible, optimistic, confident, etc. When I notice a student truly showing the character trait- I reward them with a character trait brag tag!


They encourage kids to put in that extra effort until it becomes a habit that they do without a reward. The reality is that life is much more than spelling words and raising your hand before you speak. Brag tags help me to reward my students for the character traits that count.

As you can see, brag tags aren’t just for the little guys! I love using brag tags in upper elementary! If you want to read more about how I use the tags in my classroom, you can check out THIS blog post.


If you are looking for brag tags to use in your classroom, you can check these ones out in my store.




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

8 Things I Wish I Would Have Known as a New Teacher


I just finished my 11th year of teaching and am beginning to plan and prepare myself for my 12th year. I finally feel like I have turned the corner from being a "new teacher" to a more experienced one. While I still have so much to learn as a teacher, I have recently started to reflect on how much I have grown during the past 11 years. There is so much that I have learned that I wish I would have known when I was just starting out. If you are a new teacher, or a more experienced one just needing a little boost, I hope that some of my experiences might open your eyes to some of the possibilities of teaching!! Here's what I have learned....


During my first few years of teaching, I thought my students needed to be perfectly quiet when the principal walked into the classroom. I believed it was a sign that my class was well managed and that that was what my principal wanted to see. It didn’t take me long to realize that very little collaboration, cooperation, and learning can take place when students are perfectly quiet. Over the years, I learned to teach my students to work, communicate, and learn from each other in a way that is productive, but of course, not TOO loud! It can be very easy to tell the difference between on-task and off-task noise level. There is a time and place for students to be working quietly and independently, but ultimately I strive for good cooperative learning!!


Some of the best lessons are not in the plans. There are times when a book, a conversation, or something a student shares, turns into a lesson of it's own. I used to feel so much pressure to get to everything that I wrote into my lesson plans. Then I would rush from one lesson to the next, just to make sure I got to everything each day. There were days when I would get through everything in my plans, but then look back and wonder how much my students actually gained from each of those lessons. I finally had to give myself permission to "throw out" lessons (or at least move them to the next day) so that students could enjoy more authentic learning experiences!! If you are a Type A teacher like me, it helps to "plan" to leave a little bit of wiggle room throughout your week, so that if another great lesson goes astray, you have the time to see it through!!


In my first few years of teaching, I graded every item on every page of work that my students turned in!! I would spend HOURS and HOURS grading classwork, homework, tests, writing assignments, and projects!! Then I still wouldn't be done and my piles would grow higher and higher with each new day. Sometimes I would spend an entire weekend catching up, only to come in on Monday and have it start all over again!! Then one day I was given the advice from another teacher that EVERYTHING DOES NOT NEED TO BE GRADED!! All it took was those words and my world was changed. It took me some time to get used to the idea, but then I slowly started to find ways to ease the heavy burden of grading. I started grading homework with my students. When grading math, I would choose a small selection of problems to grade, to make sure my students we're getting the concepts and skills without grading the entire page. I used to assign about an essay a week to my 6th graders, but then decided that they would only "publish" one a month to be graded. I taught my students how to work together to check their own work, and work together to fix errors. All of this was life changing. I was no longer staying at work until almost dinner, coming in on the weekends, and generally just feeling miserable about the workload. If you are a teacher that is still grading every little thing, I am officially giving you permission to stop: EVERYTHING DOES NOT NEED TO BE GRADED!! 


This is my motto!! As a new teacher, I had so many ideas and I was so enthusiastic. I still am!! I wanted to do EVERYTHING!! I still do!! For awhile, teaching life was good!! I planned elaborate lessons, joined committees and teams, and generally said YES to everything. Then one day I realized that I was spread so thin, and completely overwhelmed with all of my ideas and commitments. I wanted to do it all, but I was EXHAUSTED!! My enthusiasm wavered and I started to feel like teaching had taken over my life. That's when I realized that I CAN DO ANYTHING, BUT NOT EVERYTHING. I had to start deciding what was most important to me. I am the type of person that gives 110% to everything I do. In order to do anything with that much effort, I had to pick and choose the ideas and commitments that were most important to me. I am still enthusiastic about teaching and I still want to do everything!! But now I realize that I can't do it all and I have truly learned how to balance my enthusiasm and priorities!!


With all of the planning, grading, committees, plus the energy it takes to be a teacher, it is so important that you always make time for yourself. There was a time when teaching took over my life, causing my relationships and other interests to suffer. Teaching takes a ton of energy and we need time away from it to rejuvenate so that we can give it our all during the school day. While there will be times when you use after school hours, weekends, and breaks to work on school work, be sure that you still give yourself some time away from it all. It took me years to learn to set limits with the work I brought home!! But ultimately, I am a better teacher when I can leave it behind and take time for myself and my family. Enjoy those nights, weekends, and breaks!!!


Teaching can be such a lonely profession. It's one of the only careers where you can be surrounded by 20 to 30 (34 in my case) individuals all day, and still feel like you are in it alone. Being a new teacher can be especially lonely. But still, NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP!  There are teachers at your school who have the answers. Believe it or not, teachers want to help and share more than you think. If you aren't receiving the help you need, don't be afraid to look beyond your school. Teaching blogs and social media have made it so easy for teachers to connect and share all over the world. As a young teacher, I learned so much from teachers that I connected with through blogs, Pinterest, and various Facebook groups. The nice thing about teachers in these different forums, is that there goal is to share and help other teachers. All you have to do is ask!!


One of the best things about the teaching profession is that each year is a fresh start!! While we want to give every year and every class our absolute best, teachers still have the chance to learn and grow from year to year. Some years are harder than others!! Use each school year as a learning experience, to develop as a teacher, and start over better and stronger the next year!!


In many ways, I still consider myself a new teacher. I learn and grow with every year. I remember when I first graduated and started my first teaching job, I felt like I knew it all. But with each new experience, whether it be a new grade level, a new colleague, or a challenging student, I am constantly learning!! I think it is so important that teachers, no matter how long they have been teaching, always be open to new ideas!! As much as you think you know, there is always so much more to learn!!

Teaching is such a rewarding profession, but it can also be a challenging one. Remember to be flexible, ask for help when needed, keep and open mind, and learn from every experience!!

Looking for more ideas and resources as a new teacher?!?! Check out our collection of FREEsources for new teachers....

Click HERE to download!

If you're a new teacher or just a teacher looking for some new ideas, be sure to follow our Upper Elementary Snapshots board on Pinterest!!