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Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Want to know the best way I have found to curb excess talking? How about the most equitable and easy way I found to handle classroom jobs? These two seemingly small changes made a huge impact in my classroom!

Let’s talk about ways to curb the chatting first, shall we?

Every morning, each student got 3 bands. I used the hair ties that came in packs of 100 for $1 at Dollar Tree and just kept them in a tin I had from a gift I had received years ago!

I bought 5-6 packs at the beginning of the year and that usually lasted us the entire year—you could even think about putting them on your supply list or wish list for your classroom.  Invariably, I would have some break, or accidentally go home with a child. They also just wore out after a while—at 100 for $1, they aren’t necessarily the highest quality item you will find!

Here’s how the idea works:

The students could wear them on their wrist, keep them on their nametags, supply boxes, or whatever you choose. Each time they blurt out, they put one back in the container we keep them in.

I even developed a nonverbal cue to let them know that they had lost a band, so that I didn’t have to disrupt my teaching.  I would make eye contact with them and just tap my wrist and then point to the tin where the bands were kept.

This way I could keep going with what I was doing, and they simply got up and put the band back in the tin.  They knew right where it was kept (for me it was right on top of our mailboxes, so it was easily accessible, and they saw it often) and they could do that without any further disruption.

In over 20 years of teaching, I had tried several things, but this was by far the one that worked the best for me. It’s great because it’s a visual reminder for the kids, and this way you can be sure you have given them 3 warnings first before giving a more serious consequence. Win/win in my book!!!

The other so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-think-of-it-sooner hack is how I handled classroom jobs.

It was another classroom “chore” that I tried multiple ways of managing before I finally settled on a great, easy solution.  When I was first teaching I had only a few jobs, but kids felt left out because only a few students ever got to help.

Then I purchased a pre-made bulletin board kit, but their jobs didn’t meet my needs.  Then I came up with a list of jobs so that every child had a job that I was changing every week.  Except that I would often forget.

I had students complain that some jobs were almost never used, while others were used multiple times a day.  There was even a year where I thought I would tie persuasive writing to the class jobs, so that kids could convince me that they were the right person for the job.

All in all, no matter what approach I took, it was just a headache that I never looked forward to dealing with until I came up with the idea that I will share with you here.

Some of you may already be familiar with Tara West and her blog Little Minds at Work.

She has tons of great ideas for primary grades.  She did a blog post with a printable for a “Lucky Duck.”  She used it to choose a mystery student for staying on task.

However, one day when I was particularly frustrated with jobs and kids complaining about them, I decided to make my “Lucky Duck” the helper for the day.  So each day, during our morning meeting, I pulled one stick and that person was the person who did any job that was needed that day—passing out papers or other materials, helping with calendar (this was a kindergarten classroom), taking things to the office or to other teachers, etc.

If I needed more than one person to help, I just had the Lucky Duck from the previous day fill that position so that there were no arguments.  Once I had selected the Lucky Duck, I put the stick back in the jar with the duck side down, so I knew that student had been selected.  Once all the sticks were duck side down, I knew everyone had had a turn and I could flip them over and start again.  Something else I thought of on my third year making them, that I will save you right now from making the same mistake, is that I just put numbers on the sticks instead of names.  This way they are reusable from year to year.  Just match the number on the stick with your student’s number on your roster. Easy peasy.

Both ideas were simple, low prep and effective while making my teaching life easier and more streamlined.  I hope they are as helpful for you!

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Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting

Morning meeting is one of my nonnegotiable times of the day. It is also one of my favorite times of the day! I don’t know of any other block of time in our schedule that accomplishes so much:

  • All 6 of the language arts (reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing)? Check.
  • Social/Emotional Learning (SEL)? Check.
  • Routines, rules and procedures? Check.
  • Community building? Check.

What is a morning meeting?

If you ask me, that is a pretty powerful 20-30 minutes! There are many ways to run your morning meeting. If you are just starting out, I highly recommend The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. That was the book that started it all for me. There are so many great, helpful tips in this book. There are also dozens and dozens of other bloggers extolling its praises. Everyone does things just a little bit differently, so I am going to share what has worked best for me.

My morning meeting consisted of Greeting, Share, Activity, Schedule, Rules and then I wrapped it up by picking our “lucky duck.” Other people also do News and Announcements, where the teacher handwrites or projects a message about the day’s events; Reflection, where students reflect on their learning; Poems; Singing/saying a class song or motto; Exercise or movement (GoNoodle is great for this); Reviewing behavior expectations and/or learning targets for the day; or Mindfulness/Yoga. The possibilities are endless! You have to decide what will give you the most bang for your buck and meet the needs of your students. For me, the routine listed above did just that.

Teach the kids first

Before I ever began morning meeting, I taught the procedure we would follow. This step is crucial no matter what you are trying to implement. Kids need to know what is expected of them to be successful. So we take each component on its own at the beginning of the year and teach the routine and procedure specifically. For example, I started by teaching the way we would begin the meeting each day. I called the students one table at a time to hang their things up and go to the carpet.

Then I showed them how to sit (we sat in a circle around the perimeter of our carpet—and I sure enough did use those words, so now we can add math to the list of standards met during this time!). I explained that although we normally sit in our assigned squares, for this time of day, they would get to choose where they sat as long as it was a good choice (and we discussed what “a good choice” meant in this instance as well). We also went over how to sit on the carpet and do whole body listening. I used the “Criss-Cross Applesauce” song by Harry Kindergarten to review exactly how they should sit.

We talked about the fact that morning meeting is a time when we could feel free to share our ideas without fear that anyone will laugh or think they are silly. I let students know that participation was voluntary (but it isn’t long before they are all participating in some way!) We discussed how they would respond (each section is different) and that it is important to always treat each other with kindness and respect. Then I began teaching the components of morning meeting we would use.

Step 1: Greeting

The first part for me is the greeting. This is when students greet one or more students depending on which greeting you choose. To begin with, I simply have one student turn to the one next to them and say “Good morning, __________.” Eventually we add a wave, a high five or some other gesture, but we build slowly. It is important for kids to feel comfortable with one step before moving on to another. There are lots of greeting ideas in The Morning Meeting Book, and I am working on a comprehensive product for my ‘teachers pay teachers’ store that will have many of them listed.

Step 2: Sharing

Next, is sharing time. This can also be done in many different ways. I typed all of my student’s names in a two column chart and just used a clothespin on the first and last student to share. We picked about 4-6 per day so that everyone had the chance to share once during the week. I let them share anything that they wanted to. Very rarely did I have to cut a student’s time off, but I did have the occasional chatty Cathy that would talk all morning if I let them! This was a great way to get to know the children as individuals. Another option would be to pick a discussion topic and let everyone contribute their idea on that topic.

Step 3: Activity

Next was an activity. For my class, I loved using the Chit Chat Messages from Deanna Jump. These were a perfect ELA review for my kiddos, and I had enough to last almost the entire year. She has several versions available in her TpT store. Sometimes, I would do sight word review or listen to an alphabet song (Jack Hartmann has lots of great options on his YouTube Channel!).

Step 4: Schedule for the day

Finally, we would go over the schedule for the day. When I first came to my school, we studied the work of Ruby Paine in high poverty schools (mine is about 80% low socioeconomic status) and one of the things that was stressed was the need for a visual schedule. Many times children of poverty live in homes with much randomness to their day, so providing them with the step-by-step plan of how our school day will unfold helps them understand planning and routine and allows them to feel in control of what will be coming next. I had a pocket chart with all of our daily activities with picture cues listed, and trust me, they noticed right away if something new popped up on our board!

Step 4: Review the rules

To wrap up our meeting, we would go over the rules. I used Whole Brain Teaching rules, which have gestures to accompany them. We would stand and say the rules and then I would pick our class helper (we called them the lucky duck because everyone wanted to be chosen!) and begin the rest of our day.

Morning meeting looks different in every classroom, but I think if you try it, you will find it becomes one of your favorites too!

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6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

When it comes to productivity, I was not always the greatest at managing my time well. I’d often find myself at school at 6:30 PM and feel like I had nothing to show for the three hours that had passed since school was over.  I knew I need to make a change, so I sought out blog articles and turned to Pinterest to help me.  Here are the things that worked best for me, and hopefully, they will help you too!!!

Whenever you are trying to develop a system for more productivity, I think the best thing to do is start with what I call a “Big Picture Breakdown.”

By this, I mean for you to think of the period you are trying to plan for—it could be a school year, a month, a week or a day. Whatever it is, think of all the tasks you want to accomplish during this period, and do a “Brain Dump,” as my friend Tiffany aka Coach Glitter calls it. What you will do is set a timer, and just write.  Get all your ideas down and don’t worry about censoring yourself, putting them in order, etc. JUST WRITE! Chances are the list will be overwhelming, and that is ok.  Tell yourself you are probably not going to get to all of these things, but the list is there so you can make your best plan to accomplish as much as possible.

From that list, look for things that you can batch.

For example, if I have both copying and laminating items on my list, I would batch those two together because the copier and laminator are side by side in our teacher workroom, so it makes sense to do those things together.  Some other things I like to batch are:

  1. Lesson Prep
    I am one of those people that writes out my lesson plans for the entire upcoming week on Friday. If I over plan, which commonly happens, it is ok because I can just move the items to the following week or save them for emergency sub plans (more on that later.) Some people like to plan day by day, and for more novice teachers, that may be a better idea until you feel more comfortable with pacing and knowing your students’ needs. Whatever works for you is what is best—there is no hard and fast rule for any of this.
  2. Emails/phone calls
    I try to set aside time each day after school to go through emails or Class Dojo messages and make parent or other phone calls. It is a good idea to make this policy known to your parents at the very beginning of the year, so that they will understand that you won’t typically be responding to them during the day.  Therefore, if they have an urgent message, they would need to use another avenue for that (i.e. call the office, etc.)
  3. I was definitely one to batch cleanup.
    This certainly will not work for everyone.  I can think of several colleagues right away that would cringe just to read this, but for me, it worked.  One set period to tidy everything up at once just fit better with my personality, but again, you have to do what works for you!!!

Determine your best time to work and hold it sacred.

Everyone has their “Golden Hour” for productivity.  Some teachers prefer to get to school at 6-7 AM (we had an 8:30 start time), and work before most other teachers are there.  Others would roll in right on time but stay until dark.  Others work contract hours only but did several hours of work at home. For me, I did a little before and a little after.  This was mostly due to necessity, but I made it work for me.  My daughter’s drop-off time for her school was an hour earlier than mine.  This gave me several quiet minutes at school at the start of the day, and let me tell you, I was NOT above closing my door and working with the lights off to avoid interruption.  During this time, I made sure everything was ready and organized for the day, and if there was extra time, I would peek at email, but I often didn’t have time for much then, so it was primarily dealt with after school.

After school, I often had friends drop by to chat and it was just fine with me.  I could socialize and still put materials away, papers in mailboxes and any leftover cleanup tasks.  Then I would work on switching everything for the next day—schedule, paperwork, etc.  Finally, with the time I had left I would work on email, then any copies/laminating/other prep needed.  I rarely took things home to work on once I was married and definitely not after Ellie came along.  I wanted school time to be focused on school things, but home time to be family time. That is not to say I didn’t ever bring anything home, but it was often things that could be done without distraction, like laminating to cut while helping Ellie with homework, or easy papers to check that could be done quickly while she was doing something else.  There were many times I never touched my school bag once I crossed the threshold to my house, and that was fine too.  I always looked at whatever I got done at home as a bonus.

Set a routine and use a checklist.

Once you have determined a best practice for something, make a checklist or template and use it to help speed up a process.  For example, I have been blessed to have many wonderful volunteers in my classroom.  I had one parent that loved to work on displays and was very artistic.  I could tell her the basics of what I wanted, and she would create something beyond my wildest dreams—it really was a beautiful thing! ?

However, I had another parent that preferred to make copies and prep materials.  I made a template on the computer that I filled out and left with everything she needed the day before she came.  I had other volunteers from a program through the university that came to help tutor students who needed help in language arts or math.  I designated a red bin for language arts and a blue one for math.  I made a template for each area and had a folder for each tutor.  I put the directions in their folder and then placed that folder and any materials they needed in the correct bin. This way, they could come in and get started right away without having to ask me what needed to be done.  I downloaded a lesson plan template on my computer and used the same one every week to fill in my lesson plans electronically.  I only printed them out if I felt I needed them. I also had a template for sub plans.

I took some time at the beginning of the year to type up dismissal lists, children who left the room for some type of intervention, a daily schedule, etc. and then put them all in a sub binder, so that all I had to do was fill in the lesson template, grab the materials, and put them all together.  I also had a green bin that I put worksheets we didn’t get to in (I told you we would come back to that!) and this was great for extra work in case the sub got through everything I had left with time remaining.  It rarely happened, but it was a comfort knowing he or she had plenty to do if need be.

This should probably be the very first one I listed!

Seriously, there is always far more to do than can ever be done as a teacher, and even more so if you try to do it all yourself.  Sure, there will be some things only you can do—lesson planning and report cards come to mind—but there is far more that you can let go of.  As I mentioned before, I always utilized volunteers when I could.  If you are fortunate enough to have a student teacher, they will have to have tasks delegated to them, and it is never too early to start.  And let’s not forget about the kids! Even in all my years in kindergarten, I always had plenty of jobs that kids could do, often after the first few weeks of school.  I never passed a paper out after September 1st! There is plenty more that kids can do, of course, depending on their age.  It helps them feel a greater part of the community and makes everyone accountable for the success in the classroom.

My final tip is to utilize technology.

I am a huge believer in cross-age partners (I promise there will be a blog post on that soon!) and I remember working on a project with our fifth-grade buddies and hearing a timer go off.  My colleague had programmed timers in her phone to correspond with when students had to leave to see an interventionist or take meds, etc.

I love Class Dojo because that one thing takes care of so many tasks.  My printed newsletter went from weekly to monthly after beginning to use that app.  All the things I would normally send home each week – behavior reports and reminders—could easily be handled through features on Class Dojo.  I am sure there are dozens more, since technology is evolving all the time, but those were definitely my two biggest go-tos. I’d love to hear how you use technology to help you be productive in the classroom—leave them in the comments below! We can all help each other!

Let me end with this disclaimerby no means was my classroom ever perfect, but these six tips kept me pretty well on track most days, and I would call that a win!

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