While you are on winter break, you will likely be someplace with heat, hot water and food… So. Much. Food. For the most part, so will your students. While the majority of our students will be thrilled for all the joys accompanying winter break, there are some not looking forward to this time of year.
Picture the child living in a motel, sharing cramped space with a sibling, extended family member, or perhaps the son or daughter of the person their parent is currently dating; not knowing where they will live at the beginning of the month.
Picture the child living in a large home opening all the presents they asked for as their parents are getting ready to separate from one another the week after Christmas.
Picture the child spending winter break taking care of their four younger siblings all day because there wasn’t enough money for gifts let alone childcare; and picture the child who is terrified because they remember what happened the last time uncle Mark came to visit…
While the holiday season is stressful for all of us, we as adults have some control on how we cope with that stress or remove ourselves from it altogether. Our students don’t always have that.
While we can’t solve all of the world’s problems, we can acknowledge those students who may be going home to less than ideal situations. Depending on the relationship you’ve built with the student, you may be able to help keep them from a dangerous situation. The best thing you can do to support your students is to keep doing what you have been: working on building relationships with your students, and continuing to ensure they feel safe and welcome into your learning environment on a daily basis. Not sure what else you need to do? Ask a member of your administrative team, or your school counselor.
So, this is my favorite book right now! I was at a conference last month, and I had the absolute PLEASURE of hearing Grace Dearborn speak, and everything she had to say resonated with me. When we share classroom management strategies with new teachers, we often provide strategies which will work with most of our students. However, our new teachers often don’t have issues with “most” of their students. This is why I LOVE this book. Rick Smith and Grace Dearborn provide concrete strategies and tools teachers can use to reach even the most difficult students. In my 20 years of working with students, mostly in “at-risk” settings, I’ve seen it all. This book pretty much has an answer for any classroom management situation. If you want some tools to add to classroom management toolbox, get this book. It’s an easy read, and I guarantee you can take strategies you learn and apply them immediately.
To make it easy, I you can click on the link to visit the site to purchase, or you can click HERE.
As you wrap up your lessons before heading off to winter break, be sure to take some time with colleagues to reflect on what went well, as well as what could just some “tweaking”. While you will have 17 days of winter break, your students will as well; and it’s likely there won’t be a whole lot of structure at home in the coming weeks. When your students return to you in January, they may not have forgotten all of the procedures and routines you worked so hard to establish, but they will CERTAINLY check to see if you have.
Luckily, just like many of us, your students will also have taken some time to reflect upon what went well this past year, and what they could resolve to do better. You may want to even ask them if they care to share their New Year’s Resolution. This is the perfect time to harness this commitment to change, no matter how short-lived and use it to your advantage!
In the first week back from winter break, the best thing you can do is to treat that first week like the first week of school all over again. Your students will need to be reminded of the procedures, routines, and expectations you taught them what seems like “forever” ago; and they will need to practice them as well!
What’s great about this first week back is it can also be seen as a blank slate. If you had something in place which wasn’t working for you and your students, this is the perfect time to throw it out, and establish a new procedure, a new routine! Not sure if this new procedure is going to work? No worries! The end of the semester is only a few weeks away, and with it, time for another clean slate. The great thing about teaching is the fact we get to show students the importance of learning from our mistakes, and that the world isn’t going to swallow them whole if they make one. The same goes for you. Don’t feel you have to live with a procedure, routine, or expectation until June. You can certainly change it; especially if your plan to improve supports your students and more important; your sanity!
In schools, the days surrounding Halloween will feel like Christmas, especially with it being on a Tuesday night this year. Kids will have spent the weekend getting excited and some may have even attended a Halloween party or fall festival. This will carry over into Monday when the candy begins to show up in the lunchbox. The excitement will continue through Tuesday afternoon as thoughts of dressing up cloud all academic thinking. There will be a little lull Wednesday morning – Prepare for irritability due to late bed times, followed by a sugar buzz around lunch time, which will continue through the rest of the day as students sneak candy they transferred from their lunchboxes to their pockets, pencil pouches, or binders. Student brains will continue to malfunction due to the lack of protein. You will experience papers smeared with chocolate, sticky computer keys, and an aversion to work requiring any degree of focus. Hands-on activities requiring collaboration will be your best friends during this time!
This week will feel like you’ve been through a battle, especially if you haven’t nailed down those procedures and routines. You do have an ally in this fight, though…the reminder to students report cards will be coming soon, and parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner. Stand firm, stay positive, and use your resources!
The second and third weeks of school are usually pretty good. Routines have been established, school supplies are abundant, and any student who came to class crying those first few days has stopped. However, get to the end of the first month, and things can get interesting.
The honeymoon is over. The newness of the school year has worn off and students have become comfortable in class and with their peers; and are beginning to show their true colors. For some, coming out of one’s shell may be in the form of participating in class discussions without being prompted while others may trying on the “Class Clown” suit for the first time.
Just like a marriage, a class of students requires nurturing, upkeep, and a bit of variety to spice things up a little. Here are some things to do if you notice things are getting rocky.
Don’t Wait for a Problem to Fix Itself – If you notice a change in the climate of the classroom, and it’s a change you aren’t fond of, don’t wait to see if things fix themselves. It’s pretty likely they won’t. One of the easiest things to do is to take a few moments and review class procedures, routines, and expectations. Once these are reviewed, take a few minutes and contact your parents via email or group call to let them know class procedures were reviewed, and to discuss with their students this evening. If you have access to a class website or group page, post any materials you may use or display pertaining to procedures, routines and expectations. This way you can refer to them throughout the school year.
Check In With Your Students – By now, you should be on your way to establishing relationships with your students. You should have a general idea of what kind of day they are going to have when they walk in the door. While you should be greeting each by name as they come in each day you don’t always have time to “chat up” each of your students every day. That being said, it’s a good idea to do a bit of an extended check in with a few of your students each day on a rotating basis. You will also learn there will be some students you will need to check in with on a daily basis. These may become students who may benefit from some sort of “check in, check out” routine where you and the child, their parent, and ideally another staff member the student has a good relationship with sit down to draw up a point sheet for certain times of the day. You can then also determine some sort of reward system as incentive for the student completing the checklist on a regular basis. Your school may already have a system like this In place, so be sure to check with colleagues, your school counselor, or your administrator.
Change Doesn’t Need An Invitation – When you teach something and the students in your class just don’t get it, what do you do? You make a change and teach it another way. However, teachers often don’t attempt to change procedures supportive of a positive classroom climate. Don’t be afraid to move desks around, incorporate brain breaks into the day, or adjust your expectations. What sounded like a great idea at the beginning of the school year may not be working the way you expected. Cutting bait and moving on isn’t always a bad thing, as long as there is a method and rationale to your planned change.
Remember, teaching should never be a practice done completely in isolation. You are in a building full of colleagues with a TON of ideas and experiences to draw from. If something isn’t going the way you think it should, talk to someone. Have them come visit your classroom, give some feedback. See if you can visit their classroom too! Teaching isn’t just the process of helping students learn; its also about being a lifelong learner yourself.
A brief reminder. Kids LOVE stickers. I’m not just talking about Kindergartners or 1st Graders. 8th graders love them too. They just may not be as vocal about it. If your students turn in things electronically more than anything else, don’t forget about the digital badges out there…on Edmodo for example. Common Sense Education also has a whole PAGE dedicated to student badges. TeachwithICT also has some great ideas regarding digital badges. Have fun, be creative with this!