Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keeping Time With Classroom Management

With the first full week of school being in the book and the foundation for a great year being laid, I am reminded classroom management is a dance between my class and me.  As soon as I think I am in control of the dance… I am already out of time with the music! Classroom management is a joint effort with mutual respect, expectations and responsibility being the primary steps. The students are watching me to see if I actually am accountable in these areas… just as I am watching them for the same thing! They want to know if I will be their consistent partner in this education dance and that this partnership is a commitment. The children are watching my eyes and my actions while wondering if “they” are really my first priority. My job and a big part of classroom management, is to show them by my words and actions that I truly am there for them. This dance is about the love of learning.  Children are quick to learn these simple truths. My moves must be consistent with my heart. This dynamic is such an important part of the dance. Will you be there when your partner needs you? New partnerships take time to develop trust. It’s so easy to want to jump ahead and teach the next move, but I know too much too fast won’t last. The children are trying their best to figure out just what the steps are to this new dance, while I am trying to see who is a natural dancer and determine the children who need a bit of help getting on the dance floor! Sometimes when children aren’t sure what is coming up next, I see negative behaviors or missteps in our new routine! If I am careful to foreshadow the upcoming steps, we are able to complete the twists and turns effortlessly. Eric Jensen says when students lack choices and control, negative behaviors increase. On the contrary, Jensen says when children have choices, behaviors are much more manageable.

As we navigate our dance, I am constantly on the lookout for places the children can create and name the moves of the dance. I find myself wanting to push ahead to the next sequence but I am quickly reminded we need time with these steps. They are still new. The more we practice, the closer we get to moving in the right direction. Daily routines and rituals will enable us to perform in way we can learn our best while encouraging others to learn their best too. I must say these first graders are becoming familiar with the beat of their new dance and in time, they will be realizing their fancy moves will set them up for a crescendo in learning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

This mentor teacher has a lot to learn from her protege!

The last few years I have been called upon to share, present and host visitors in my classroom. This has been a rewarding experience because often educators don’t get the feedback from the work they put into the classroom. This year is a bit different.  I am a mentor. I have been a mentor in the past and have tried very hard to avoid this situation because it can be time consuming and down-right draining! But this year… the bright little spark plug that I have the honor of working with has brought a fresh perspective to my surroundings. We meet and I listen to her concerns, but I’m doing a significant amount of observing as well. I haven’t been in to observe her in action yet… but I am more fascinated by her organization of materials. Have you ever noticed there is no clutter in your first year of teaching? You haven’t accumulated your clutter yet! You don’t have the lovely bookends from the class of ’04 or the plaque from a former student who graduated and was in your first class ever! The new teacher rooms use a minimalist approach. It is with a refreshed and energized heart I am now able to let go of the literacy games I handmade that haven’t been touched in years! If I am not using it, I don’t need it! (Or at least I hope I don’t!!)
As I have watched this protege observe the interactions and quick exchanges between the veteran teachers, I know she is trying to see where she fits in. I want to do my best to see she has a good introduction to our profession. It is important to show her high expectations for myself without imposing them on others. I want her to see me set goals that are challenging but realistic and to persevere in the face of barriers. I want her to know the 3 non-negotiable in teaching; collaboration, thinking and change! She is a talent and the education world needs her. A professional and nurturing environment is imperative. As I am observing her, I am seeing my former self- fresh out of college. The mentor and protege are on parallel courses. She is filling her bag with teaching tricks and I continue to fill my bag with teaching tricks as well.
This new protege is so excited and grabs on to all the new information and easily sorts it and retrieves it at an amazing speed! I on the other hand, think… ‘Which book did I read that in?’ ‘Which book study was that?’ ‘Where did I file that?’ and I consider myself an organized person! After years of workshops and ‘the significant training of the season’, I now know, you don’t hold on to all of it. You hold on to the pieces you know to be accurate, helpful and true to work for kids. Over time, when you have experience and worthwhile training, you can weigh to determine the most important piece. You know, the piece or pieces that are going to make the most significant difference in the classroom. It is inevitable your bag of tricks will grow with experience.  I am also finding it is inevitable you will need to place lesser important information on the back burner or sometimes in the recycling bin to allow the cream to rise to the top.
So, as I clean out my cabinets and make room for clear space and new information, I know my job with my protegee is to listen, paraphrase and consult when it’s necessary. But along the way, I’m noticing… it can be done without the clutter… you know all the unused ‘treasures’ in our cabinets.  The protege is showing me the ‘treasures’ don’t make the learning happen. The teaching clutter in the cabinets can actually inhibit your craft. It’s the efficacious teacher who makes it happen. This mentor teacher has a lot to learn from her protege.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New School Year

Well, yet again, it's time for a new school year. The cicadas are winding down and reminding me it is the end of summer. I have had time to relax, rejuvenate and pray I am ready for the challenges the new school year brings. After 16 years of teaching, I thought it might be fun to shake things up a bit by blogging the experiences in our first grade classroom. It's always more fun to share the joys and discoveries. I hope you will join me and share your experiences too.

The tasks of  this week are seriously monumental; meeting and greeting the new families with hopeful faces and getting in the 1st two days of school.  Each family needs to be assured their child will be valued, heard and honored in our classroom. My job is to make that happen. Each family has written me a letter to tell me about their child. This helps me on so many different levels. From matching children to special book interests or simply making sure we have the unique snack request on hand. The more upfront information parents can give me, the more prepared I am to initiate that bond between students and teachers that is essential to learning to read and write.

As teachers, we work so hard to make our classrooms the 'home away from home' for our students. We want an inviting experience that says, "This is where I belong." When I look around my room, my walls are bare except for the signs that say, "Waiting for the Splendid Work of Your Child."  Brightly colored planters are loaded in the windowsills. The seven read alouds for each day are already picked for the first week of school. This is my favorite part! From First Day Jitters  by Julie Dannenberg to Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Botner, it's fun to pick the books that will set the tone for our year. I've taken some time revisit the important routines that need to be in place for the children to take charge of their learning. The sooner these routines and transitions are in place, the sooner I can get out of their way and let them shine. I have notes to remind me to hold down the teacher talk and remember to let them share often.

This is an adventure. After 15 years, parts feel the same but the anticipation is always special.