How to Teach Classroom Procedures – Part 2

How to Teach Classroom Procedures – Part 2

Today we pick up at Step 4. If you need to review the previous steps please click here.

If you or your friends are parents, this idea would work at home too. So feel free to share this blog with anybody you know that has children at home that may benefit from this as well.

How to Teach Classroom Procedures

  1. Define what procedures need to be taught
  2. Brainstorm the steps of the procedure
  3. Break the process down into as many steps as needed by asking yourself questions 
  4. Answer the questions by thinking through how you want the procedure to go
  5. Explain the importance of the procedure
  6. Determine age-appropriate ways to teach the procedure–use the model, practice, review approach
  7. Practice until you feel comfortable with students’ understanding of the procedure

Answer the questions by thinking through how you want the procedure to go

Step four is answering the questions you just came up with, and thinking through each part of the procedure. Using the lining up example again, I knew that I wanted them to put their materials away, push their chairs in, and I knew exactly how I wanted them to walk in the line. I wanted it to be something that was very smooth, no pushing, no shoving, no racing to the front, walking very calmly and in control on a certain path to line up only after being sure their materials were picked up properly and their chair was pushed in if they were sitting in their seats. 

**Side note– Most of the ideas I share with you are not completely original to me. That’s one of the things that good teachers do – They seek out advice and help from other teachers.
Blogs and social media have really made a huge impact in this area. It’s the whole reason I am writing this post (and probably why you are reading it!) – to share ideas to make teaching easier and more efficient. Teaching how to line up is one of my favorite procedures to teach because of Leslie at the blog Kindergarten Works. She has a great idea for teaching this particular topic that I used and just tweaked and made it my own, like we all do. We get the idea from someone, but then we make the necessary changes to make it work in our own classroom. And it just worked like a charm.

And so once I had defined for myself the exact steps I wanted them to follow, I had to think about how to teach it to the kids. And this is where Leslie’s idea came in. She uses a great analogy of the drive-thru. And the best thing about using the drive-thru example is that almost every kid has experienced this. Even for those beginning kindergartners I was teaching, most of them at some point had gone through a drive-thru somewhere to be able to have some background knowledge for what you’re talking about. 

Explain the importance of the procedure

Then what you need to do for step five, (and this is key for student buy-in)  is to explain the importance of the procedure, aka why do they need to know this? So, if I’m talking about lining up, I need to let them know that it’s important that they do it this way for safety reasons and so that we all can get to where we’re going in the most timely and efficient manner possible.

This same idea holds true at home. If you’re teaching a bedtime routine, you want to tell them that it’s important for them to understand this so that they don’t forget something and then have to get up, which would interrupt their sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for children to function well the next day.

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If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at michelle@yourteachingmentor.com or send me a DM on Instagram @yourteachingmentor. 

How to Teach Classroom Procedures – Part 2

How to Teach Classroom Procedures – Part 1

Today’s blog post is going to focus on one of the most important things we have to do once the kids arrive for the start of the school year – teaching procedures.  This is crucial at the beginning of the year to set the tone of the classroom, but it is also important to revisit many times throughout the school year. Having a specific method to follow will help you be consistent no matter where or when you teach or review your procedures.

Also, this is a topic that’s not just reserved for teachers. If you or your friends are parents, this idea would work at home too. So feel free to share this blog with anybody you know that has children at home that may benefit from this as well. 

I’ve got a step by step process for you that would work with pretty much anything that you may need to teach. And I’ll give you an example along the way as well. 

How to Teach Classroom Procedures

  1. Define what procedures need to be taught
  2. Brainstorm the steps of the procedure
  3. Break the process down into as many steps as needed by asking yourself questions 
  4. Answer the questions by thinking through how you want the procedure to go
  5. Explain the importance of the procedure
  6. Determine age-appropriate ways to teach the procedure–use the model, practice, review approach
  7. Practice until you feel comfortable with students’ understanding of the procedure

Define what procedures need to be taught

The very first thing that you need to do well before the students arrive is to define what procedures need to be taught both for you and for the students. You need to think about what things kids are going to be doing on a routine basis. For example, in the classroom, that might be things like arrival procedures, dismissal procedures, lining up, or turning in work. All of those are things that kids are going to do on a regular basis and something that most teachers have a certain way that they want it done in their classrooms. If you’re at home, you may have a bedtime routine or a homework routine. So any of those ideas would apply for this particular topic. 

Brainstorm the steps of the procedure

Next, brainstorm the specific steps you want children to follow for the procedure you have in mind first. You want to make sure that you know exactly what it is you want the students to be able to do. You also have to think about how you want to explain that to the students. This probably goes without saying, but explaining a procedure to a six year old kindergarten student is very different than explaining even the same procedure to a fifteen year old sophomore in high school.  It sounds crazy, but just because you know what you want them to do, doesn’t mean that you necessarily have the language for teaching them. So you want to think about your age group–your target audience, so to speak–and how you can best explain that procedure to them. 

Break the process down into as many steps as needed by asking yourself questions 

Step three is to break that procedure down into as many steps as you possibly can, not to make it a bunch of steps, but to make sure that you don’t forget anything. For example, let’s talk about lining up.  That’s something that probably every elementary classroom in the world does at some point. And it’s actually one of my favorite procedures to teach. I had to stop and think, what is it that I need them to do? Well, I had to think about how I wanted them to transition from whatever it was we were doing to where it was they were going. I had to think about these things:

  • Are they sitting on the carpet? 
  • Are they sitting in their chairs? 
  • Where will the line be?
  • Where are they going? 
  • What are they going to need to do before we can even line up? 
  • Do they need to take things with them?

Then, I had to think about how I wanted them to line up…

  • Does it matter if they’re in one line or two? 
  • Is there a line order?
  • Does it matter which way they go to get to the line? 
  • Does it matter if they walk or can they run?

I mean, I don’t know any classroom in the world that would let kids just run up to the line. But again, those are the kinds of things that you want to think through in this third step. As teachers, we realize that running would not be a plausible idea, but kids need to be specifically told that. Be sure you think of everything that you would want them to know, and then how you’re going to teach it. 

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If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at michelle@yourteachingmentor.com or send me a DM on Instagram @yourteachingmentor. 

Top 5 tips for student writing conferences

Top 5 tips for student writing conferences

In my humble opinion, student writing conferences are really the heart of a writer’s workshop. Sure, it is important to have strong, succinct mini-lessons (more on that in a future blog post!) and it is important for writers to have the opportunity to share their writing with others (yep, that’s a future blog post topic too!), but conferring is the precious time we get to have one-on-one with students to really get to know and understand their writing, but more importantly, get to know them. What a wonderful gift—for us and them! Over the years, I have learned a lot about conferring and I want to share my best tips for your student writing conferences, so you can make the most of this special time with your students.

  1. In his book, How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers, (which is a must-have for any writing teacher’s professional library) Carl Anderson refers to conferences as conversations. As a first-year teacher and beyond, we often make the mistake of talking at, not with, our students. By adopting this strategy, we aren’t building those crucial relationships with students, both to understand them as people and as writers. Anderson himself even admits that he almost quit after his first year because of this very thing. I’ve said it many times—the quote that has had the most impact on me as an educator is this: “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” We must take every opportunity that we have to nurture the relationship we have with our students.

  2. Conversations have a point and a structure. We have all been in conversations that we know are just going nowhere—either because we (or who we are conversing with) have no interest in the subject or don’t want to be there, or there is a communication barrier. When we have a student writing conference, both the student and the teacher have a vested interest in the conversation. Students typically are eager to share when their writing is going well, and often (not always!) appreciate help when they are experiencing difficulty. Teachers want to understand what the student is working on and help them improve.

    Conversations also have a structure. You know how every night you and your spouse have the same conversation? I bet it goes like this:
    “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
    “I don’t know; what do you want?”
    “Hmmm, I’m not sure. What are you hungry for?”

    And back and forth until somebody finally suggests something or you just call for takeout (or is that just my house?) Just like that conversation with your spouse about what’s for dinner, writing conferences with students have a predictable structure as well. We invite students into a conversation about their writing. We let them take the lead, sharing the writing work they have been doing. As they talk, we listen and look. We then share with them a strategy to help them as a writer or help them to help themselves. (My personal favorite!) When students know what to expect from the writing conference, they can be better prepared and they will, in turn, be more productive.

  3. We must remember to teach the writer and not the writing! This is such a huge point that it deserves an exclamation point, quote card and probably its own blog post! It’s exactly why I advocate for calling this time of the school day “Writer’s Workshop” instead of “Writing Workshop.” Keeping the writer, and not the writing, at the forefront is key. When we are conferring with students, we must remember that whatever teaching we do, we should ask ourselves this question: Is the point I am about to make helping the student become a better writer, or is it just fixing a random point in this piece? Like the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for life,” or something like that. If we only focus on the red-pen slash and correct technique for an essay instead of teaching the student a strategy they can use in future work, we aren’t really helping them become better writers—and isn’t that the whole point of writer’s workshop in the first place? To build a community of proficient writers?
  4. We can initiate conferences formally or informally. When I was in the classroom, I had a specific schedule of when I was meeting with each student. I went so far as to color code bins so that students knew if their folder was in a certain color bin that meant I would be conferring with them on a certain day of the week. We can also informally confer with students as we are walking around the room during independent writing time. Sometimes these “pop up conferences” can be the most meaningful of all.
  5. We have to show students that we care—not just about the writing, but about them as writers and as people. We can do that by following the steps outlined above, but it is not enough. We have to really listen to what students have to say and think deeply about their perspective. If we are truly following a writer’s workshop model, then students will have choice in what they write—and sometimes they can use writing to work through some pretty powerful emotions, thoughts and circumstances. As we listen to them share their work, we have to be empathetic and at the same time recognize if they are sharing something that can easily be worked out (a conflict with a friend at recess, an annoying little brother who takes their favorite toy) or something deeper (parents going through a divorce, death of a friend or relative). As I mentioned before, we have to help the writer, not the writing. If they are using writing as an outlet to share something troubling, then we need to let them know that we will be talking to the appropriate personnel, but often they just need to work out emotions and feelings and find writing a cathartic way to do so. In those instances, we of course need to still listen but focus on helping them to use the writing as the tool it was intended for in this instance—as a tool for working through feelings, and that is ok!

I could easily talk about writer’s workshop all day, but I hope these tips are a great start for you to improve your writing conferences with students. Until next time, happy teaching!

Organization For New Teachers

Organization For New Teachers

Welcome to Week 3 of the Summer Workshop for New Teachers! This week we are talking about organization for new teachers – it is a necessary topic for all teachers! This could be the never-ending blog post if I tried to share all the organization resources, hacks, and teacher tips ever. 

Instead, I’ll go over the basics here and then continually update my Facebook and Instagram stories with new ideas and best practices.

So, what makes organization so important that I feel confident in saying this is a topic that applies to all teachers?  An organized classroom accomplishes several purposes:

  • Less distraction for your time and attention
  • Maintain a clearer focus on priorities
  • More time to teach (and for yourself!)
  • More control over your environment
  • Less stress!

It’s important to start by breaking organization into smaller categories. 

For instance, there is what I call “big picture” organization and “detail” organization.  Some examples of “big picture” organization are curriculum maps, school wide plans like MTSS, or learning systems like Google Classroom; whereas “detail” organization is how you are going to sort and contain guided reading materials or math manipulatives, individual lesson plans or a classroom reward system.

Workflow

One of the “big picture” ideas I like to advise people to think of first is their workflow. You would never come in and just wing it every day—you have lesson plans written, materials prepped, resources ready, etc.  Beyond that, though, is workflow. 

Workflow is knowing what tasks are best done when. 

For example, in my case, I usually had about an hour each day before school. I knew in that time I wanted to check email, have all my materials laid out for the day and confer with any other people (parent volunteers, student teachers, etc.) that might be working with me in the classroom that day. 

After school, I often chatted with colleagues, but was fortunate that most of the time they came to me.  During this time, I could pick up materials and put them back where they belonged, set up the schedule for the next day and clean up if needed, all while still having that important social interaction with friends.  

Since I preferred not to take work home, I stayed one night a week later than normal to copy and prep materials so that my plan time was truly used to plan or for just taking a break if I needed one—we’ve all been there, right?   

This is what worked for me in the stage of life I was in and schedule I had.  Your workflow will likely be different, and that is ok—the importance is in having one, not that it is identical to mine or anyone else’s. 

As a new teacher, this may take some time to figure out.  I would caution you, though, that just because you are new teacher, that doesn’t mean that you should be the first car in and the last car out of the parking lot every day.

Yes, you may put in more late nights or early mornings than some colleagues for awhile, but you don’t have to work all the time. We’ll talk more about that in future blog posts.

Basic Organization Tips for New Teachers

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if I shared every hack there ever was when it comes to organization, we would be here forever! But I do want to share a few important general tips for you.

The first one is what Rachelle Smith from What The Teacher Wants calls the ABC’s of organization. Assess, bundle, and containerize. You first have to assess your classroom space and materials. Then try to bundle like items together, and then decide how you will contain them.  This is a very individual process, but I will definitely share some ideas of things that have worked for myself or other teachers on my social media.

However, organization is very personal – some people prefer to have paper copies of things while others have everything organized digitally.  Whether you prefer paper or digital, there will always be some volume of paper to contend with, so you have to decide whether you want binders or file folders or bins for the paper. 

As you can see, if we went into all of that, this would be an extremely long post! Experiment with different options and see what feels right to you.

I would also recommend having one place to jot notes of things that come up throughout the school day.  Did you know that it has been reported that the average teacher makes 1,500 educational decisions in a day? (see my Facebook Page for the research).

That is four decisions per minute assuming a six-hour instructional day, so it doesn’t even account for time outside of that window. This makes teachers quite possibly the most decision-heavy profession of all. With all of those decisions to make, it is no wonder we get to the end of the day and forget to call Johnny’s mother like we said we would or that we need a class set of copies for the next day’s math lesson. 

This is why I recommend having one place in your room close to where you spend the most time to jot down reminders as they come to you.  This could be a section of your white board, an app on your phone or computer, or a master list. 

This week’s freebie is a master list based on workflow—a place to jot your reminders in the time frame you need to do them in. You can make multiple copies or a more eco-friendly version would be to size it to fit an 8 x 10 or 5 x 7 frame and use a dry erase marker. 

Just enter your information below to get that freebie ⬇️⬇️

Hopefully, this post will help you get one step closer to being the most organized teacher you can be! Happy teaching!

Classroom Theme – How To Choose

Classroom Theme – How To Choose

Choosing a classroom theme is one of the most important early decisions a teacher will make.  Classroom themes vary widely from simple decoration to themes that become incorporated into every aspect of the classroom.  Every teacher is different, and that is okay!

A classroom theme during COVID-19

At the time of publication of this post, most of the world is grappling with Covid-19.

This pandemic is leaving most teachers uncertain as to whether or not they will be teaching in a classroom or remotely this coming school year.  However, just because learning may happen online this school year, doesn’t mean that a theme isn’t necessary.

In this blog post, I am going to give reasons why you should choose a theme no matter how instruction is delivered as well as tips on choosing and implementing your theme.

Personality Shines

The best reason to choose a theme is to show off your personality! Whether you’re an avid beach lover, wannabe astronaut, or committed sustainability advocate, (or any of hundreds of other options) choosing a theme that matches your hobbies, interests or passions is a great way to incorporate those ideas into your classroom and help your students, parents, colleagues, and administrators get to know you.

Bringing it All Together

It can also give your classroom and the materials you use a cohesive look and feel.  As I mentioned before, themes can be as elaborate or simple as you choose to make them.  They can simply be a decoration for your classroom, or your can carry it throughout multiple areas.

Incorporating a classroom theme in multiple areas shows creativity and effort.  This could, in turn, possibly translate into positive remarks in your evaluation, depending on what framework your district uses.

If you are uncertain of what classroom theme you want to go with, social media can be very helpful.  Instagram and Pinterest are wonderful places to start looking for ideas.

Some great accounts to follow are:

There are many, many more that I could list, but this is a great starting point for you! Also, be sure to grab our freebie checklist for things to consider when choosing a theme.

Classroom Theme Chosen – now what?

After you have chosen a theme, start brainstorming ways to incorporate the theme and how you will do so. The most obvious way that you can incorporate the theme is in your classroom decoration.  This can vary from just a simple color scheme to coordinated everything—labels, nametags, signs, posters, etc.

Only you can decide how much is enough for you.

Also, be sure to set a budget.

Starting from scratch as a new teacher or completely overhauling existing themes can be very costly.  Start small and add on a little at a time.  Ask friends and family members for donations, or just tell them what your theme is and they may offer items for you.

One of my former themes was rainforest.  It tied to our broad concept of making a difference (a broad concept is often seen in inquiry classrooms to provide cohesion to curriculum) so it was very interwoven into everything we did.

I began to be known as the “rainforest lady” and, in fact, when my principal’s sister went to Costa Rica on vacation, she brought back items for my classroom and we hadn’t even officially met—she just knew about it from conversations with her family!

I also had a jungle animal theme for a few years well after that, and when a new teacher in my building chose the same theme, I gave her items I had purchased but never used because I was transitioning to a new theme that same year.

Just a final word of caution—while collecting items and having continuity of a theme can be great, be mindful that it doesn’t become cluttered or a distraction.

Virtual Classroom Themes

Themes aren’t just for physical spaces—they can definitely be incorporated into virtual learning as well.

If you have a dedicated area of your home that you are doing video conferencing with students, you could bring some of your theme into that area.

If you are using software like Zoom, you could choose a background that compliments your theme.  (Creative Teaching Press offers free virtual backgrounds to match many of their popular themes.)

If you use breakout groups, you could name the groups according to your theme.  You could create or use digital stickers or postcards with your theme. If you use Google Slides to organize or present instruction, you could incorporate your theme in those.

The same could be said for any print materials, newsletters or other items you send home in hard copy format.  The possibilities are truly endless!

No matter what you choose for a theme or how much you incorporate it in your classroom, this shouldn’t be a stressful process.  Don’t worry about having everything perfect, especially if this is your first year teaching. Just take your time and do what feels natural to you.

You will likely keep the same theme for awhile (it is costly, time consuming and stressful to try to completely revamp your entire theme each year!) so be sure it is something that fits you and make it your own! I’d love to know what classroom themes you have chosen!

Leave a comment below or tag me on social media (@yourteachingmentor) in your classroom theme posts.  Happy teaching!

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Stop Living In the “What If’”

Stop Living In the “What If’”

Last Saturday was graduation day at the university I teach at. It looked different, because the world is different.

No crowds of students in caps and gowns, no families vying for parking and cursing the early start, no diplomas – or in our case, “Welcome to the Alumni Association” papers (grades aren’t official until after the ceremony, so diplomas are mailed.)

However, there were still faculty members in regalia reading names of students and celebrating their achievements, it was just over zoom instead of in person.

Many classrooms are winding down much the same way – end of school celebrations have become virtual and the countdown is on. There is so much uncertainty about the fall.

Government officials are saying that it is unlikely that the level of testing needed, or a vaccine, will be available by the time school starts in the fall. It’s leaving teachers in limbo wondering how to prepare for back to school.

All the “What Ifs”

Like many people, I have felt anxious about what to do about preparing for the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Will we go back to campus or will we teach online again?
  • If we go back, what changes will need to take place in our spaces?
  • In our routines?
  • Will it only be half of the class at a time?
  • Will it be shorter days?
  • Will face masks be required?

So many “what if’s!!”

Adapting

It was leaving my head spinning and feeling helpless to be able to share advice and recommendations. I was upset and confused but then all of a sudden it dawned on me; I had a week – one week! – when all of this hit to figure out how to take my course from face to face to online.

I had been a participant in plenty of zoom meetings, but never led one. I had zero experience with distance learning and the next assignment on our syllabus was a community observation where the students go out and observe literacy in a community setting outside of school – how in the world were they going to complete that when stay at home orders were in place?

I had more questions than answers, but like usual, all my teacher friends rallied together.

All of a sudden there were dozens of zoom trainings, ideas for instruction, and for the elementary classes, tons and tons of free online resources. Huge companies like Zoom, Google and Epic! made their formerly paid resources free to help with the transition. So, I figured it all out, as did every teacher I know, and actually finished the semester on a positive note making learning meaningful and developing our relationships further. All in one week. In a global pandemic.

Let that sink in for a minute – I completely changed gears and restructured my entire course in one week – just like every elementary teacher I have met. When you think about it, it is pretty darn amazing how quickly we all figured out our new reality.

Less worry…

So, like a light bulb going off over my head, it occurred to me that it was silly to worry about how to plan for next year for two reasons.

Some things won’t change

I realized some things won’t change – the format of delivery maybe; but how I connect with my students, formulate best practices, and what beliefs I hold—no.

Who I am and what I believe about good teaching doesn’t change no matter what platform or proximity I have. To paraphrase Brendon Burchard, I am still going to build on my beliefs in the summer and launch my classroom in the fall, whether that is remotely or in person.

PIVOT!

And two, if it just so happens that I plan for one thing and actually get another, well then I will just channel my inner Ross from Friends and PIVOT! I’ve done it once in an extremely short time, so I know I can do it again if I have to. I cannot let the “what if’s” win!

Moving Forward

To that end, I have designed a summer workshop series to help prepare for back to school, whether it is year one or thirty-one for you!

As always, there will be some topics that are particularly relevant to those new graduates I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post –

  • tips for interviewing (whether it be in person or online),
  • what to prioritize,
  • how to connect with new colleagues,
  • and developing relationships with students.

I am also planning a book study – I’ll be polling the members of my Facebook group (Happy Classroom Collective) about which book will serve their needs best. There will be freebies here on the blog too to go along with many topics.

I know many of you are wrapping up your school year and everyone needs a break, so we won’t start until June 1. Check back here or on the Facebook page for updates.

In the meantime, what topic do you for sure need me to cover? Let me know in the comments or on FB… And happy teaching!

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