Friday, May 30, 2014

Three Strategies to Support Classroom Management

Great classroom management quote:

So many teachers and other educators have consistently shared with me that once they changed their emotions they didn’t need to change their management plan.  Gary Alderman

This quote is true; however, even the best classroom managers might have difficulties during the final weeks of school.  Spring is quickly turning into summer and there are still 10 days to make a positive difference in a child’s life.  This is the time of year when minds start to wander and student behaviors might become problematic, decreasing the likelihood for a strong finish to the school year.  It is important to maintain consistency during the final days of school; however, you might need a couple of extra strategies.  I will usually suggest a change in classroom management procedures to raise a student’s level of concern and motivate them to stay on task.  Below are a couple of possible examples that you and your students might enjoy:

Classroom Compliment Chain
Each time your class gets a compliment from a parent, teacher, principal, etc. your class can get a link.  Once you get 10 links, your class can get an extra five minutes of recess.  Suggestion: use different colored links to reinforce place value concepts.  This is a fun and easy way to raise the level of concern for your students and does not take a lot of planning, which is great for the final couple weeks of school. 

Secret Student Leaders
Pick one child as a “Secret Leader” when going somewhere or doing something within your classroom (transition, independent work, recess, assembly, going to lunch, walking in hall, being a good friend, etc.). Pick one boy and one girl (pull names out of a hat) and don’t tell them who the “Secret Leader” is until you return back from your destination or the activity is finished.  This raises the level of concern for students because they might be the “Secret Leader," and it is fun!  If the “Secret Leader” was not quiet or was inappropriate, simply state, "My Secret Leader did not meet the expectation of a Leader." and put the name back into the hat.  Don’t tell who it is. This strategy helps students self-regulate, and it is fun!  At another time, away from the class, talk to the misbehaving student to reinforce good behavior. 

Students get one "Oops" per day for minor infractions, with minimal consequence besides knowing they made a mistake.  A second "Oops" in a day results in loss of privilege, a third 3rd "Oops" is a call home.  Track the "Oops" in a discrete way so that you and the child receiving the "Oops" are the only ones knowing.  Saving face increases likelihood that behaviors will decrease.  Those who don’t receive any for the week get a prize from the treasure box, extra recess, special note home, etc.  This teaches self-regulation and promotes ownership for behavior.  If you have a classroom full of baseball fans, you can utilize three strikes and you are out, same concept as "Oops."

These three strategies are easy and can quickly be implemented.  They will also generate great conversation and self-regulation during the last few days of the school year. 

Lastly, it is most important to stay connected with your students, always recognizing the importance of relationships, and celebrating the great learning and friendships that flourished during the school year!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What do you LOVE about teaching?

My number one goal as an educator is to improve the experiences students and teachers have each and every day.  I truly believe that we are at a crossroad in public education.  The educational landscape is changing with amazing modern learning strategies and opportunities that are getting a lot of attention; however, funding continues to be decimated while political uncertainties and accountability from the state are increasing, along with educator stress.  The educational politics, and at times the amount of tedious busy work required, can be overwhelming.  My goal as a principal, needs to be focused on decreasing that type of work for us, and increasing our time being cognitively engaged with our students.  Busy work… not something I would ask teachers to provide to their students, so why would I require that of teachers?  We talk about students being cognitively engaged and empowered.  Just as important, I need to help teachers, and myself, become more cognitively engaged and empowered to do the greatest job in the world… teaching children!

In keeping with the theme from my last post (Be the Positive Voice), rather than pointing out the negative attributes in education, I would like to showcase the amazing things our staff loves about teaching.  We created a large list as a staff last year, a few highlights are below.  Each day, I can tell that we continue to hold strong to these beliefs.  Please join us and continue to Be the Positive Voice in education!

What do we LOVE about teaching?

-          #1 for all of us - Working with Children!  Forming positive relationships with students and families.
-          Helping those who need it the most – it is our calling. 
-          Each day is a new challenge with the ability to make positive changes in the world… one child at a time. 
-          Guiding children to be empowered to learn and inspire. 
-          Daily humor – kids are funny (you can’t make this stuff up).
-          Educational Family Nights – making connections with the community.
-          Autonomy in the classroom – Once a teacher starts the day, they really are the ones who decide what’s going to happen.  Not many jobs provide an individual with so much room to be creative and autonomous each day.  You have curriculum to follow, but you can be creative in your delivery.
-          Individual conferencing with students – watching growth on individualized goals.
-          Back to School Nights, Halloween, Parent/Teacher Conferences, Family Nights, Vocal Music/Instrumental Concert, Art Show, Kindergarten info night, Ice Cream Social, etc… All things that highlight our building in a positive way – events that students will never forget – things that make our culture and climate so positive.
-          Great teachers who support children, colleagues and families.

So, as your reflect on the final days of the school year, remember to highlight the positive aspects of our profession.  Ask yourself thought provoking reflection questions via @johnhardison1 and always focus on What you LOVE about teaching!  

Enjoy the final days of the school year!  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What are we doing to our profession? Be the Positive Voice!

A couple of months ago I was frequenting a local coffee shop near my house, enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a hot cup of coffee, while checking out some educational twitter posts and blogs.  Very relaxing morning for me!  This is when I overheard a woman talking to her daughter, who looked to be in high school or early college.  I felt the need to eavesdrop when I heard, “I want to be a teacher!”

The daughter proclaimed this statement with great passion, which intrigued me to listen.  After listening for a few minutes I understood why she had such passion in her voice.  You see, mom is a teacher and she was discouraging her daughter from following her dreams.  I overheard everything that is wrong in education:

-          Pay cuts that might never recover.
-          Evaluation process and standardized testing that the government can't figure out.
-          Expectations and evening responsibilities increasing.  
-          Common Core isn't supported by everyone.
-          Parents who speculate.
-          Politics in the building... this is when I stopped listening!  

It wasn't a long conversation but it was packed with negativity... they may have had this conversation before???  I am not sure of the district she worked for or even the capacity of her position; however, I am positive that negative comments associated with of our profession will result in the loss of passionate young people who want to educate our future.  Yes, there are many things in education that we need to change; however, one thing that will never change is the importance of acquiring the best people to educate our children and work in our schools!  Our politicians and law makers need to remember this when setting the budget and creating mandates for our schools... sounds like a future post.  I digress...

We need to be the positive voice!  Please do not discourage talented and excited young people from following their dreams of educating children.  We need positive teachers to “take on the challenges” of our profession.  Our children deserve to have amazing people educating and empowering them into the future!

Our children deserve and need great teachers who will empower them to love learning!

So, as you come across capable and enthusiastic young people who are pursuing a degree in education, (or even individuals interested in a career change) support their decision and remind them of the amazing things that take place at our schools.  Be the voice, showcasing the positive and rewarding aspects of education. We love watching the proverbial light bulb go on when a student get it!  Help future educators understand that the profession is more than teaching.  It is about influencing and empowering children, while making a positive difference in their lives.  Our profession is about building relationships with all children that supports a culture of learning, while motivating students to be lifelong learners.  Why wouldn't you want to encourage great people (who like children and teaching) to be part of this?  

Why am I an educator?
Over the years my philosophy has evolved considerably; however, my focus continues to be the same, building leadership capacity in teachers and students while doing the greatest job in the world --- Teaching Children!  I enjoy creating a positive learning environment and energy for others.  I love the challenges surrounding an ever-changing educational landscape of modern learning, focusing on the things that we can control, which is creating amazing classrooms where students are excited to learn!  I can't imagine doing a job that didn't involve teaching!

Why are you an educator?  Please let us know by making a comment.  Let's be the positive voice that encourages great people to become educators... our children deserve it!!!

I will leave you with the following quote:
The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done. – Arnold Palmer

Teaching is challenging.  It can also be the most rewarding career a person can choose!  Please continue to encourage great people, who are passionate about educating children, to pursue their dreams and join our great profession. Our children and future depends on it!  

Enjoy the week!

Keith Howell

Sunday, May 11, 2014

22 more days to make a positive difference in a child's life... enjoy each one of them!

Can you believe we only have 22 more school days until the end of the year?  It is amazing how quickly a school year can come to a conclusion.  During these final days it is easy for teachers and students to forget what is truly important due to end of the year parties, 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 support a culture of learning, while motivating students to be excited to continue learning during the summer and next school year!

Below is a list of 10 relationship building ideas that will support a great finish to the school year.   We have 22 days to make a positive difference in a child’s life… enjoy each one of them!

1.     Morning Circle Time (reflecting on the year) – 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.  During the last 22 days of school you can utilize this time to reflect on learning from 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.  You can even create a top 10 list of learning activities for the summer, reflecting on the importance of finishing strong and continuing learning during the summer.

2.     Classroom Motto (finish 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 (extremely important to connect with these students as much as possible during the final few weeks) – 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 – Did something happen during the school year that sparked a new interest?  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 (It is easy to forget about this during these busy final days) – 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 final couple of weeks!  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.

Relationship building is the most important thing we can do for learning.  Please add a comment, highlighting your relationship building ideas so that we can learn together!  

Remember to finish strong!  We have 22 days to make a positive difference in a child’s life… enjoy each one of them!

Keith Howell

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What are you selling in your classroom? Are your students pressured or empowered to learn?

My wife and I finally purchased a camper!  (Shhhh, don’t tell our kids… we plan to surprise them before our first trip!)  We have been talking about buying a camper for the last couple of years.  We visited the local RV dealership and looked at campers online, not knowing what to expect or what we were doing.  Last week we did the same, visiting the local dealership and another that was bit further from our house.  Stay with me… I will connect this to educating children as you read on.  Our experience…

Dealer one:
·         Salesperson asked for contact information, our intent on buying, and wrote it on an invoice before showing campers.
·         Salesperson showed us two different campers that represented our desired options, stating that they only carry this brand because it is “topnotch.” 
·         Salesperson needed to get price from manager… the price was a secret. 
·         After showing the two campers, (which we liked) the salesperson didn’t give us any privacy to discuss.
·         Before leaving, the salesperson asked us to meet the manager.
·         Manager comments:
o   Why are you leaving so soon?
o   What can we do to get you into a camper today?
o   When do you plan on purchasing?
o   Which one are you leaning towards?
o   What is your timeframe?
o   We could probably do something to bring the price down.
o   Why don’t you come by this weekend and we can get you into one of those campers?
·         We asked for a copy of paperwork, with price listed; however, we were told that the paperwork is only for internal use. 

Don’t get me wrong, they were nice; however, they lacked genuine relationship skills and we felt a bit uncomfortable as we walked out of the dealership.  My wife and I walked in with a mindset to buy and walked out feeling pressured to buy. 

Dealer two:
·         Salesperson welcomed us into their shop, never asking for contact information.
·         Salesperson had five different campers that represented our desired options, stating that he can get any other campers that might fit our family camping specifications.   
·         All prices, options, and camper information was posted… prices and options were not a secret. 
·         Salesperson allowed us to tour all campers without hovering or asking us to make a decision. 
·         After seeing all five campers (which we liked), the salesperson answered our questions, gave us additional information and wished us luck, telling us to give him a call if we had any questions.  At no time did he ask us to make a purchase, give a timeframe for making a purchase, or make us feel uncomfortable with a process that should be exciting.  He even let us take his paperwork, which had all options and prices listed, unlike the first dealership salesperson and manager. 

What an excellent experience!  We felt great about discussing our options and dealer two empowered us throughout the purchasing process. 

It got me thinking… what are we “selling” in our classrooms and schools? 
Do we pressure or empower students to “buy” into learning?

·         Do we provide limited choices to learning, or do we give a multitude of choices of how a task can be completed?
·         Do we make learning a secret, or do we provide appropriate scaffolding to promote deeper levels of learning, tailored to individual student needs?
·         Do we hover over students, or do we facilitate intentional space to experience learning and collaborate with each other, providing supports along the way?
·         Do we put a timeframe on learning, or do we allow for it to happen when developmentally appropriate, while motivating students to love their learning experience?
·         Do we send students to the principal (manager) to pressure them into learning, or do we give students brain breaks when needed to reflect and consolidate their understanding to get back into a learning (purchasing) zone?
·         Do we say, “We could probably do something more to help you,” or do we try every possible strategy to help our students during the learning process?
·         When students ask questions about their learning, do we tell them it is not necessary for them to know (only for internal use), or do we provide them with a multitude of suggestions and information to support, better yet, empower them to learn and ask more questions?
·         Do we force students to learn, or do we motivate them while creating a culture that is conducive to taking risks throughout the learning process?

Our camper buying experience varied greatly between these two dealerships.  It was obvious…
Dealer one wanted to make a sale and dealer two wanted to create a situation where we would have a great family experience.  This salesperson at had a genuine passion for selling campers, but more importantly, a calling to support people along the way, helping us to make an informed and comfortable decision.  It was obvious that he enjoyed his job and helping others. 

As you move towards the final couple months of the school year, ask yourself… Are your students feeling pressured or empowered to “buy” what you are “selling?” Do we show genuine warmth and care for our students, exhibiting a genuine passion for our craft - teaching children? 

Make the end of the school year something your students want to “buy,” while giving them the motivation to be empowered to learn throughout the summer!

Enjoy making a difference!