Friday, May 18, 2018

Every Opportunity

Can you believe that it is already May 18! It is amazing how quickly a school year can come to a conclusion.

It will be June in no time at all! During these final weeks it is easy for us to forget what is truly important due to end of the year assessments, activities, paperwork, field trips, assemblies, fundraisers, etc… you get the idea! We are busy this time of year! With that said, we still need to finish strong and focus on the truly important aspects of learning: Building relationships that supports a culture of joy and learning!

Last month I saw a great post from @Jennifer_Hogan, We must Maslow before we Bloom.  

@Jennifer_Hogan encourages educators to reflect on the relationships that we have developed during the school year and asks if there is anything more we can do as we enter the final stage of the school year. Within her post she included an Every Opportunity video that highlights the importance of being intentional with our interactions. Check it out!

I hope you find @Jennifer_Hogan’s post helpful. I encourage you to follow the #compelledtribe which is a group of educators who commit to educational blogging. #compelledtrib is a great place to sustaining learning, reflection, and collaboration. I would encourage anyone looking for inspiration to check out the #compelledtribe.

I appreciate everything you do each day to sustain a welcoming environment at our schools and in your classrooms! Teachers are great!!!!  Enjoy the final weeks of the school year!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Intentional Planning - Relationships & Strategies

Welcome Back!!!  I hope everyone enjoyed a well deserved break with family and friends.  As educators return after a long break it is always good to review our intentional plans for sustaining a positive learning environment.  

“A quality teacher-student relationship means more than the combined power of all teaching and discipline techniques known to humankind.”
Love and logic Teacher-ism

I love this quote!  Establishing positive relationships with your students, while creating an atmosphere where children have positive relationships with each other, will truly benefit any classroom, family, or community.  Quality teacher-student and student-student relationships will support and increase a positive community where children want to thrive. It also makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable!  

As we move into the final months of the school year it is important to re-establish classroom expectations and learning missions that will empower students to be their best during warmer months.  

The best managed classrooms and positive learning environments do not happen by accident.  Talented educators are intentional in their planning.  Children, in general, will exhibit some type of minor or major behavior challenge during their childhood.  The key is to keep minor behaviors just that… minor.  As a teacher, administrator, and parent I have experienced a variety of behavior challenges that can be supported with simple Tier 1 redirection and distraction techniques.  Below are two posts that highlight the importance of intentional planning surrounding relationships and distraction, time, and Love and Logic techniques to support learning. Check them out if you are looking for additional strategies.

Before implementing behavior strategies it is important to solidify positive relationships.  Check out a few of my favorite relationship building techniques below:

Now that relationships are established, distractions techniques have a better chance of being successful.  Check out these techniques that will support learning.

I hope you find this helpful.  I appreciate everything you do each day to sustain a welcoming environment at our schools and in your classrooms!  Teachers are great!!!!

I will leave you with this Love and Logic Quote:

Rules provided without relationship result in rebellion.
Consequences given without relationship lead to resentment.
Rewards without relationship feel like bribes.
Love and Logic Teacher-isms

Enjoy teaching and learning!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Conferences 2017

When I was a principal, conferences were among my favorite times of the year!  Time after time, they reaffirmed an essential belief that I hold: our teachers are great!  As parents were leaving the building, many would stop by my office to give accolades about our teachers and praise the learning experiences their children were having throughout the year.  This provided terrific informal data that supported the positive relationships and learning environment we created together.  What a great feeling for our teachers and families!

Fall conferences might be the first time teachers are meeting parents, other than a friendly, "hello" during drop off or pick up, and the occasional family night.  Conferences are a time when teachers get 10-15 minutes (depending on the district) to showcase academic, social and emotional learning goals that students are setting and demonstrating progress toward throughout the school year.  Sometimes, parents don’t know what to expect … and neither do teachers!  It is extremely important that we are confident in our abilities to showcase the academic, social, and emotional progress and future goals that empower students to grow throughout the school year.  

The conference is an important event to make a great impression with parents and provide descriptive feedback of their student’s progress and goals.  Please help parents believe what we already know… there is no better teacher for their child!

Our teachers do a great job planning and providing parents with a terrific information and strategies of support; however, at times it is based on what we think parents need to hear rather than what they want to hear.  It is important to have a nice balance of both. So, what questions do you think parents really want answered when attending a conference?  These are the questions parents might not ask …but might just have on their mind.  Below are 10 questions to consider:

  1. Is my child safe (socially, emotionally, physically) at school? Do they have friends?
  2. Is my child’s teacher a happy person and is my child happy at school?
  3. Does my child’s teacher love kids?
  4. Does the teacher look for the uniqueness in my child?
  5. Is the teacher finding joy within the teaching profession?
  6. Is the teacher competent?  Is it evident that the teachers knows curriculum and how to impart knowledge?  
  7. Is my child learning … and more importantly, does my child love learning from this teacher?
  8. Is the teacher consistent?  Does the teacher do what they say?
  9. Does my child’s teacher clearly communicate expectations?
  10. Is homework purposeful?  Is homework targeted and differentiated practice, allowing for choice that empowers students to assume responsibility of their own learning?  

I am sure you can think of other questions that parents might consider.  Again, these are questions that may not be asked; however, parents will be thinking about them when sitting across the table from you during conferences. Or at least these were some of the questions my wife and I considered when at parent/teacher conferences.   

Most importantly, make sure parents leave your room with no question in their mind, you are the best teacher for their child!  It all comes down to positive relationships with teachers, parents, and ultimately students, that will enhance success during conferences and throughout the year.  Enjoy conferences, making it a great experience for everyone!

Monday, September 4, 2017

How do you foster a positive learning environment?

School starts Tuesday!!!!  As we look forward to meeting our students it is important to start the year strong, creating positive and long lasting relations with our students.  From my experience, students will have more success if they feel loved, important, and safe.  Below you will find 10 suggesting to get the year started:

1.     Morning Circle Time – Many of our teachers have morning meetings to start the school day.  Creating a morning meeting, allowing for students to learn about each other beyond school life, builds a classroom community of genuine respect and rapport.  Daily questions can focus on student backgrounds, culture, interests, events of the weekend, favorite foods/music/movies/games, special events, etc.  Becoming familiar with each other on a deeper level will support student self-awareness and acceptance of differences, which will decrease the likelihood of relationship issues during the school year.  Daily questions can focus on favorite experiences, field trips, project based learning activities, individual/class accomplishment or anything that was unique to your classroom.  

2.     Classroom Motto (start the year strong) – One teacher at our school starts the day by reciting the classroom motto.  He tells the students to push the button on their desk and all student proudly recites together, “feel good about yourself!”  Students truly feel good about themselves… not because they say it… because of the sustained teaching that goes along with saying it, creating a community of students who feel good about themselves.  His students feel good about: being a good classmate/friend, the effort they put into an assignment, learning new vocabulary words, solving problems on their own, being a good son/daughter/sibling, improving their writing skills, understanding their target learning, etc.  It works because it is a consistent approach implemented with empathy and support.  

3.     The Unlikely Student – It is “easy to connect” with students who demand your attention due to an outgoing personality, academic needs, or behavioral problems.  Something to consider, write one student’s name in your plan book each day (those who do not demand your time).  Make sure you are connecting with that child throughout the day by noticing their effort:  “Wow! Johnny did a great job on the writing assignment because he added exceptional detail”… and share those accolades with the class.  Notice things that go beyond school life: new shoes/shirt/haircut, asking about weekend, sporting event, video game, recess, family, etc.  It is important that you have a plan to connect, because if you don’t… the “easy to connect” students will demand that time and the “unlikely” student will not be noticed.

4.     Student Inventory – Look for the uniqueness of each child – Have students fill out a student inventory at the start of the year.  Revisit the student inventory that students provided you throughout the year.  Did anything change?  Student inventory example is below:

·         What do you like to do outside of school?
·         What is your favorite season?
·         List 2 of your favorite foods.
·         List 3 games you like to play.
·         What is your favorite animal, color, sport?
·         List your favorite type of music.
·         Do you like to read? What type of books do you like?
·         List 3 movies you like to watch.
·         Who do you like to play with/why?  Friend, parents, grandparents, sister, brother, other.
·         What is your favorite part of the school day?
·         What is your least favorite part of the school day?
·         What is your favorite special/subject?
Higher level inventory questions:
·         What are your dreams?
·         What do you want to be when you grow up?
·         Who would you consider to be your hero and why?
·         If you had unlimited money and could only use it to help people… who would you help and why?

It will be fun for you and your students to see how they have changed or stayed the same over the school year! 

5.     Positive Proximity – Greet your students each morning with a smile and a friendly hello.  Seems simple because it is!   It is also much better than asking “do you have your homework?”  Be present during independent work, supporting students and noticing their efforts throughout the day.  It is even ok to stop by the cafeteria (gym is where we eat lunch) or even shoot a basket or two during recess, positive proximity doesn't need to stop in the classroom.  The extra 2-3 minutes of positive proximity outside your classroom will enhance the community feeling that you are establishing in your classroom. 

6.     Active Listening  – When we are busy it is easy to send students on their way with a quick response, knowing that you would give a better response if you had the time... we do this as parents too!  Next time try saying this:  “Your question/need/etc. is really important to me and you deserve more time than I can give right now… can you hold on for a few minutes/after lunch/until tomorrow/etc. and I will give you the attention you deserve.”  If you say this with empathy, the child will usually feel validated and will (most likely) wait for your attention… sometimes it gives them time to problem solve on their own. Obviously, don't use this approach if there is an emergency or safety issues. 

7.     Tone of Voice  – Be aware of tone, volume and cadence when teaching and managing your classroom.  Use a softer delivery when managing behaviors and classroom procedures, planning and using nonverbal cues.   Use voice fluctuation, storytelling (instead of lecturing), and suspense during your classroom discussions.  Students will love it!  I have been in a lot of classroom where I did not want to leave because the tone was so engaging.  Your voice can set the relationship tone (positively or negatively) within a classroom.  Charlie Brown’s teachers were funny but I don’t think they were building any relationships with their tone of voice.

8.  “I noticed” notes - How it works:  Simply place post-it notes on student’s desk when they least expect it!

I noticed you finished your project today… nice work with great detail!
I noticed you are being a good friend to Johnny… you are kind!
I noticed you helping Sally with her math at lunch… you are a good friend!
I noticed you put great voice in your writing today… nice focus on our target learning!
I noticed you being a good listener… you rock!
I noticed you asking for help on your assignment… way to take charge of your learning!
I noticed you using "active listening" strategies with Sally during turn and talk… keep it up!

You get the idea!  I would not walk around the room giving “I noticed” notes all day… it could decrease the value.  Use it sparingly, maybe three to five per day and keep track, making sure you are noticing everyone over time.  This also works well with number three from above - The Unlikely Student.  I love this strategy because it provides encouragement and accolades to support a positive relationship between you and your students.  It will also teach students to self-regulate their behaviors, assuming responsibility to academic and social learning.  Students will love it and so will you! 

9.     Humor – It is ok to laugh, smile, and tell an appropriate joke from time to time.  Children want to see us having fun during the start of a school year!  A morning joke can go a long way to support positive feelings.  We have children telling Friday jokes on the morning announcements, it’s a lot of fun!

Q: What did the math book say to the other math book?
A: I have a lot of problems!

I love a good joke and so will your students!

10. Closure to the day and year – Facilitate a reflection discussion at the end of each day, showcasing the academic and social learning that took place.  Give accolades to individuals for positive effort and remember the happy and/or humorous moments during the day… maybe even tell your corny joke again.  Set goals for tomorrow and end the day by saying “be kind to one another,” supporting and modeling the positive feelings you are establishing within your classroom.  Make this a consistent conclusion to your day and they will be eager to return in the morning.

I truly believe that children will not learn from people they do not like or if they do not feel safe within their learning environment.  It is important to make connections that will last a school year.  @mathequalslove gets it!  Check out her post: 21 Ideas for the First Week of School.  She provides so many amazing ideas.  How do you foster a positive learning environment?  Share your ideas in the comments!  Let us continue to learn together throughout the year!  

Have great start to the school year!!!!