Our Hopes and Dreams – What I Do On the First Day of School

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of classroom management and the five key elements that you MUST do to be successful. Today, I want to share my Our Hopes & Dreams lesson plan that I use to start that discussion with my students on the very first day of school. It’s not an icebreaker, it’s not a game … this is an activity that has meaning for the rest of the year!

You know how that first day can be! It’s stressful. It’s probably the longest day of the year. I used to spend time making endless lists of plans to keep everyone busy and happy for that first day and half of it never even got touched. What a waste of time!

Now, instead of those endless lists, I use this as a way to get to know my students, build community, establish and discuss our classroom expectations and routines, and incorporate ALL 5 Cs! That last one is big in my district:) This lesson plan is also a part of our Responsive Classroom strategies, so when I say I’m hitting everything, I really mean I’m fitting in everything I’m intentionally trying to work on in my classroom! And by the end of the day, I have a simple classroom display, along with our classroom expectations posters that we make collaboratively, that can be posted on a bulletin board or wall in the classroom for the rest of the year as a reminder of our reason for working hard and following the rules! It’s a win win!

It all starts with one question, “What are your hopes and dreams for the future?” If you’d like a copy of this first day lesson plan that will have meaning and make a difference for the rest of your school year, you can get it by going to my shop or clicking here!

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The Most Important Thing Teachers Must Do to Have the Best Year Ever

What’s your Classroom and Behavior Management Plan?

No matter who you are or what you use, your classroom and behavior management plan is the key to your classroom’s success! You can plan amazing lessons, room transformations, and activities. None of that will be as meaningful without a solid classroom management plan. In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve found five key rules for any management plan to work.

Relationships

Your students need to know that you respect them and care about them. They need to feel valued; that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are important to you.

Building positive relationships doesn’t mean that you are their friend. Being their friend puts you on their level. This is not where you want to be if you want to hold the authority in your classroom. This means that you need to make sure they see you as an ally and mentor; someone who will treat them with value and lead them in a positive direction.

I begin building these relationships on day one. I join in on their conversations. I ask about them and take time to listen to their stories. I tell them they are important to me and I speak to them with respect and honesty. I’m straightforward. I tell my students that our relationships matter towards having a successful year. I tell them that I may make mistakes sometimes (I’m human) but that I will try my best to be honest and fair. We have a realistic discussion about what they expect from me as their teacher and I tell them that they can hold me to these expectations. We are ALL in this together.

Throughout the year, I join in on their conversations and games at recess. Sometimes I eat lunch with them. Sometimes I join in on resource/specials classes with them. I make sure we have time to smile together. And when it’s necessary, I make sure we have time to be serious and talk about more difficult things together. I share my emotions with my students. To me, it’s important that the students know emotions are okay, and that we all have them. To me, it’s important to show that I am a real human (a professional human, of course).

Clear Expectations and Consequences

Whether you have printed Bitmoji rules posters already made or you make the rules together as a class (or school), it is extremely important to make sure your students understand your expectations and the consequences for meeting or not meeting them.

Your expectations should be high, yet fair! Students need to be motivated intrinsically to meet the classroom expectations. They are only going to feel this intrinsic motivation if they feel like they are capable of meeting the classroom expectations or following the rules. Your consequences must also be fair and clear. Your students need to know what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations and what will happen if they do.

You also need to make it clear that you are here to help them. I let my students know that they can always talk to me if they are having a bad day and may need a little extra help from me to be successful.

Your language needs to be clear. You may feel like you’re on repeat, but if you tell your students exactly what you want them to do, give clear directions, etc. they are more likely to do those things. Even when what you’re telling them is a direction you give every day, it’s important that you give those directions – “push in your chairs and line up quietly”. Many teachers use music, door bells, call and responses for these daily routines and expected behaviors. Those only work if you have given very clear directions, many times, about what you expect them to do before you use those techniques.

Consistency

No matter what, you must consistently reinforce the expectations and consequences. I think this is the hardest part of it all. Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s easy to fall into the misconception that if you get on them or punish them for not meeting your expectations, they won’t like you or they’ll think that you’re mean. That’s not true! Remember, you are trying to earn their respect and you can’t do that if you’re a pushover. You’ve established the expectations and consequences. You’re working hard to meet the expectations they’ve set for you. You MUST consistently hold them to your expectations. This doesn’t just mean that they get in trouble for every misbehavior. Consistency must also go towards reinforcing the positive behaviors. And, just because a student is getting a consequence for a negative behavior, it doesn’t mean that you have to enforce that consequence with anger. It won’t be important to your students if they don’t think it’s important to you, and that’s where consistency comes into play!

Be Fair

I mean several things when I say to “be fair”. I mentioned above that your expectations need to be fair. What I mean is that they need to be reachable. Your consequences must be fair. They must make sense with the level of misbehavior or the level of positive behavior. You must hold ALL of your students to the same level of expectations and consequences. I promise you, your students will notice if they think one student is getting away with misbehaviors for ANY reason. They’ll also notice if one student is being reinforced for positive behaviors way more often than others. For inclusion classrooms like mine, this may mean that you have preventative measures like social skills lessons, behavior tools, verbal prompts, whatever else, in order to help some students meet your expectations and have the same chance as everyone else in the room. This may also mean that you have to work harder to keep a more positive outlook and mindset. It can be really easy to get sucked into the negative mindset and only notice misbehaviors. Again, your job is to help your students meet the classroom expectations, and that means you have to work as hard to help them as you expect them to work towards their positive behaviors.

With fairness, I also mean that you need to be fair in how you treat the students when they don’t meet your expectations. If being yelled at in front of everyone is not something that you would like done to you when you make a mistake, you should not be doing that when your students make mistakes. Also, if you do happen to have that student who consistently makes those mistakes, be fair in how you watch and manage his/her behavior. You can’t allow yourself to only focus on the misbehaviors. Your students will never make positive changes if you don’t also reinforce the positive behaviors they exhibit.

Listen

Your students WILL want to talk to you. They’ll want to tell you stories. They’ll want to explain themselves when they make mistakes. You HAVE TO take time to listen to them. It’s a huge part in the positive, respectful relationships you’re building with them. I think many of us believe that we don’t have time to listen to our students. I feel this way too, sometimes. But, there are definitely times throughout your day that you can make time to listen – pull that student a few minutes during resource/specials, lunch, recess, or arrival. I’m sure when you really think about it, you do have a few minutes somewhere in your day that you can use to make that student feel listened to. I promise you, it’s worth your time!

It doesn’t matter if you use a behavior chart, Class Dojo, an economy system, etc. Without these five elements, none of those will be successful. These five elements come into play when collaborating with your students’ families also. It’s important that you work with and build positive relationships with them, and it’s important that you all are setting clear classroom expectations, being consistent, fair, and listening to each other.

So … now that you know the five key elements to any successful classroom management plan, it’s time to prepare what works for you. What are your expectations? What are your consequences? How will you keep track of the behaviors? How will you manage the daily routines? If you haven’t thought about this, now is a great time to start! It’s the most important thing you can do to prepare for having your best school year ever!

Have a great school year! And if you’d like to know more about how I implement these things in my classroom, please leave a comment/question or get in touch!

My Back-to-School Beach-themed Room Transformation

For those of you who go back to school in early August like I do, you know what I’m talking about when I say getting the students engaged in the curriculum while competing with Summer out the window is crazy difficult!  My solution … take your kids back to the beach.  Bring Summer inside!

It started with a pacing guide.  I begin the year teaching genres on the third day of school.  I know it’s review for my fourth graders, but it’s always a difficult unit in my class.  It’s not hard getting them to remember the vocabulary.  It’s hard getting them to apply that knowledge and use it to determine the genre when reading.  Well, with that in mind, and my own mind still having a hard time getting it’s school brain back and off the beach, I decided to use this as an opportunity.  EVERYBODY LOVES TO READ ON THE BEACH, RIGHT?  Then I looked at the pacing guide again, and this time I noticed the change from last year.  Not only was I teaching genres, but I was also introducing use of reference materials (including ABC order and guide words).  Oh no!  It’s only the third day of school!  So instead of doing the common genre book tasting that I usually start with, a simple wish that I was still at the beach turned into my first room transformation (I’m channeling my inner @elementaryshenanigans).  I had an idea … I’ll bring in my beach chairs, some yellow table cloths for sand, and an umbrella and we’ll “read on the beach” while we analyze the characteristics of the different genres.   What did I read on the beach this year, “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.

At first it felt crazy.  Why put myself through so much work, and how was I going to also include using reference materials? 

The genres part was easy.  After having the students analyze and take note of the characteristics of each of our genres, we threw a beach ball around the room (that I had written each of our genres on) and the students shared a characteristic of the genre they were reading when they caught the ball.  I used that game to create our anchor chart.  Next, I projected different book summaries and the students worked with a team to determine the genre.  Of course, each student had to write their own answer first,  before they were allowed to collaborate and generate a team answer.  The teams with the correct answer got a chance to throw in a modified game of cornhole to earn points for their team (one throw per team with the correct answer after each book summary).  They LOVED it!

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Next week, we’ll continue in reading groups by creating genre sand castles.  Students will read a summary, determine the genre, and then use the decorations key to decorate their sand castles (ex. realistic fiction = purple seashells).

As I gave it more time and thought, I realized I could use beach-themed words to change my reference materials unit.  Why not put words in ABC order in paper chains and create an octopus or a jellyfish?  We could use crab families to determine which entry words fit with the guide words.  I gave my students scenarios that centered around different beaches and ocean animals when deciding which reference material to use.  

In comparison to my usual first weeks activities, this week was incredible!  My classes entered the room dancing to hula music, smiling, and excited to find out what we would be doing each day!  At first I was worried about behavior since it was ONLY the third day of school.  I worried that it would be too exciting, too early in the year, and that my students would forget all of the expectations, procedures, and routines that we’d only barely practiced in the first two days of school.  They did just fine and we had an unforgettable first full week of school.  My students begged for more vacation time next week (okay, sure, I love the beach, why not) and are asking what I might have in mind next.  It only took borrowing from family members and a few dollars from the summer section at Walmart and I’m amazed at the difference it made.

If you’ve been considering a room transformation, or if you’ve been looking for new ideas to get your students engaged, I recommend reading “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.  And, just go for it!  Step outside of your box a little and have fun teaching!  It’s SO WORTH IT!

thanks for reading!

Back to School

We're so #cool

I changed the theme of my room this year and that means ALL NEW decorations (yippeee!!!).  I absolutely love setting up my room.  It seriously keeps me awake at night thinking about it:)!  So, while I’ve been wakefully dreaming for hours each night, one of the decorations on my mind was a cute, SIMPLE bulletin board display and student gift for our Back To School night and for the beginning of the year.  For fun, I’ve decided to go with a popsicle paint chip theme for my room for the beginning of the year.  (I can’t wait to show it you when it’s all set up!)

This popsicle-themed bulletin board display includes popsicle images and text that says, “We’re so #cool in (grades 1-5)”.  Student gift tags are super cute and say, “Thanks for Pop-pin in!” and look great tied to unfrozen ice pops!  Grab it here for FREE!

thanks for reading!