I am officially on the 72-hour watch. No, I am not sick or contagious. Actually, I am very healthy and even ran this morning . However, I am within the short window when students in Maryland report back to school (if they have not done so already). It’s easy to be gung ho after an amazing summer vacation, but too often educators get caught up with everything that school entails and misses out on a lot.
Here is a list of tips to create a great school year for classroom teachers gathered from my PLN and a recent article in NEA Today:
Use your time wisely
Too often I get caught up in creating my daily lesson plans and forget about the other important times that are just as vital as any lesson being taught. First, and foremost, teachers need to take time for themselves. Do not feel bad because a worn down teacher is not begin effective. For instance, I am at my best during the early morning hours so I protect this time slot for me. I like to use it (a minimum twice a week) for a short 2-3 mile jog. If I am not up for a run, I like to go into school before others come in and reflect in peace and quiet. I refuse to open my Outlook and sip on a cup of coffee.
Another example of using time wisely comes from networking with a PLN. Unfortunately, I am not the smartest educator and there is so much to learn from others (especially via Twitter). I often use my early morning time to review certain hashtags (i.e. #mdedchat #edtech #apchat #elachat #engchat #mschat) to see if anything new is trending from my colleagues. Also, I will read a certain set of bloggers which I have come to be constantly inspired by their work (Jon Harper, Eric Sheninger, Joe Mazza, and Chris Wooleyhand to name a few).
Create a Plan for Your Classroom
Once you are personally healthy and mentally charged to give it your all, remember why you are in your position — to improve the lives of students. Modeling rules and procedures is great, but fostering an environment with respect and trust is vital to student success. I create the trust by not posting classroom rules and allow students to work together to form what is acceptable and not acceptable (with a little guidance). As we work through scenarios of how something might happen with and without these agreed upon guidelines, students buy-in to the system.
Unfortunately, my students are coming with baggage that I cannot even imagine. Some have been living in the trenches of life forever and want someone to care for them. I grew up in a less than perfect home and often get down and personal with kids by sharing my testimony. I want them to know what I have endured and how perseverance changed my life. Often this leads us into great conversations (and later conversations).
One way I manage my students is giving them ample time to communicate with one another and be kids. If they’re talking with one another more than usual when coming into class, I’ll let them go by quietly standing in the back of the room. As they routinely get out their materials, one or two notice me quietly waiting and within a few seconds it quiets down and I have their full attention … they’re ready to begin learning.
Go Where the Kids Go
One of the best ways of communicating with kids comes after “earning the right to be heard.”
Sometimes my role as a “teacher” is not enough to make them respect me. Maybe they had a bad experience with a teacher or their is a lack of respect stemming from something else. Regardless, I need to earn their respect. I find this comes easily be being active in-school and out of school activities (i.e. local baseball/football games, attend high school sporting events, host one club at school, attend a youth group fundraiser, etc.). Being visual makes a huger difference and it gives you a great conversation starter during homeroom, lunch, or while in the hallways. I even go to the point of always purchasing something from a student doing a fundraiser.
Brand your class/learning with Social Media
Actively connecting with kids makes them feel valuable because you are willing to work with them outside of normal school hours. My classroom instruction utilizes Twitter, Instagram, and blogging. These platforms are shared with parents and meant to promote learning opportunities and artifacts sometimes lost on bulletin boards in the classroom that only I see. I make a point to post once a day during a school week and constantly brag to others about my students’ work. Do not be afraid to share everything awesome going on in your classroom. I want to my students knowing community stakeholders and school district personnel are seeing the great things being produced in B217.
Educate the Whole Child
Looking beyond a standardized test and what school data goes a lot farther than you will ever know. Five years into teaching I had a student come back to me and share with me how I inspired her to become a writer. She recalled a conversation we had about expectations and how I wanted people to look beyond the rigid facade she put on for people. Allegedly, my encouragement pushed her to write outside of her comfort zone and share it with her peers. She is now a senior at the high school and using her skills as a finals candidate for Miss Teen Maryland.
…who would have ever thought?
A colleague of mine stated, “The world is our stage, therefore it is our responsibility to be the best performers we can be.” Teachers do not always get a do over with students. We are constantly performing and every word choice and interaction can make a huge difference. Make sure you make your difference this year as students arrive.