Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Make Teaching and Practicing Procedures a Pleasure

Procedures don't have to be painful. Try some of these ideas to spice up your procedure practice:

  • Vignettes- a vignette is a short scene in a movie or play. Write the name of several procedures on index cards. After practicing each procedure the first couple of times, distribute cards to groups of 4 or 5 students. Each group comes up with and performs a series of three still pictures that show the beginning, middle, and end of the procedure. No props allowed. Other groups call out guesses of which procedure they are showing. Tips: Start and end in a neutral position (feet shoulder width apart, hands at sides). Have students come back to a neutral position between each pose. This activity is particularly good for multi-step procedures. 
  • Beat Your Best: Some procedures lend themselves to being speedy. Say, you are practicing lining up. Time your class performing the procedure. The next time, challenge them to correctly execute the procedure in less time.
Displaying IMG_4277.PNG
I posted this to my instagram. My kids are still asking me to time them! You can follow me @myteacherfriend
  • Choral Response: Brainstorm ideas with your class that can serve as a summary of the procedure. My restroom procedure is as follows (my pass is a bottle of hand sanitizer):
    • The choral response could go:Teacher: Sign-out and Sanitizer. Exit Students:  Return, Sanitizer and Sign-in. 
    • At various times in the day, throw it in there. Choral responding is a research-based strategy to help students retain information. You can also use it with states and capitols or math facts. Two birds. 
  • Make a couple into songs. The librarian at my school sings a hallway song. "My hands are hanging by my sides, I'm standing straight and tall. My eyes are looking straight ahead. I'm ready for the hall." It is to the tune of Gilligan's Island. When she finishes the last word, the students are expected to be ready to go. 
  • Read a book about the procedure. Here are some of my favorites: 

 When to Whisper, Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker , Decibella and Her 6-Inch Voice , My Mouth Is a Volcano!, Interrupting Chicken

I hope these strategies will help you and your students enjoy procedures!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

5 Reasons Practicing Procedures Isn't For Me

Back-to-School is such a magical time of year. What other profession is afforded the opportunity to start fresh every year? While I do LOVE back-to-school and all of the ritual associated with it, one part of back-to-school can suck the soul right out of a teacher. Procedures.

The summer before my first official year teaching was consumed with procedures. Which procedures are the most important to teach first? How will I manage the pencils? What will students do to be excused to the restroom? How will I keep track of it all? Little did I know that deciding the procedures for my classroom would be the easy part. The hard part turned out to be actually teaching the students the procedures.

Fast forward 11 years. As a teacher with much more experience, I have learned that teaching procedures is more than just explaining them to students and then expecting them to carry out my wishes. Teaching procedures is hard work on my part. It requires me to be diligent and watchful, specific and clear. It requires practice and a little showmanship. 

But Honestly, practicing procedures is not for is for my students. 

Here's why. Teaching procedures and allowing each child the opportunity to practice gives students the 5 to 7 (give or take 2) repetitions that they need to retain the information. The vast majority of people cannot recall information after one exposure, especially without doing something with that information (like practicing, repeating it, writing it, drawing, etc.)

1. Practicing at the beginning of the year is good for the brain.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. Won't they be practicing the procedure multiple times throughout the year? 

Yes, but, will they be practicing the procedure correctly? Ensure that you are monitoring their practice. It is much harder to reteach the procedure if they ingrain it in their brain incorrectly. That brain pathway will have to be broken and then reformed correctly. All of that extra brain work equals time. 

2. Practicing procedures reduces discipline problems later. 

Providing opportunities to practice procedures sends a clear message to all students that you have a plan. If students see you making a point to provide each student an opportunity to practice, they will be more likely to take you and your rules and routines seriously. Effective discipline starts with classroom rituals and routines. 

3. It's respectful. 
When I learn something new, I value the chance to practice. It takes the pressure off for me to practice in a safe and structured way. Consider that some of your more shy or anxious students need the chance to try it before they have to actually carry the procedure out. I like the example of using a school restroom. If you aren't sure how to get permission to go, and you really have to GO, it could be extremely stressful!

4. Allowing students to practice procedures is good for parent relationships

Share the procedures and that you have practiced them with your students' parents. Ask that they sign that they have read and reviewed them with their children. Doing this can save you so much confusion with parents later. 

If you share your procedures, it sends the message that you are on the same team. It shows parents that you have thought things through and that you care about their child having a smooth and stress-free day. That is what you want! It also conveys the fact that you care enough to write it out, so you will probably care enough to stick to it. 

SO many times I have referred to my procedures when a behavior problem arose. A few of those times, I was not following my own procedure. I was able to reflect and share my mistake with the parent. Showing that you are willing to take responsibility is a huge trust builder. The same goes for student relationships. 

5. It isn't fair to assume that students know how to do anything

You never know if your students have been taught the correct way to use even a glue stick. And anyway, what is the correct way? Guided discoveries of materials can save you grief and time, not to mention money wasted on replacing misused materials. 

Every teacher has "their way" of using materials and supplies. A teacher friend of mine has an elaborate and over-the-top-way of teaching how to use a glue stick. I have witnessed her teaching the procedure. Her way was awesome, but I would never have done it that way. Think about all of the times your student has either learned how someone else expected them to do something or has been left with no instruction at all. Remove the guess work and spell it out for them.

Need a place to start? I love this resource from my friend Brooke Brown at Teach Outside the Box. Free Procedure Planner

Saturday, July 30, 2016

How I Solved a the MOST ANNOYING Traditional and Flexible Seating Problem

***This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links , I will receive a small commission on your purchase.***

We all know that storage solutions are total teacher eye candy. I have a particular little storage idea for you today that makes my heart go all a-flutter.

I originally saw the First Grade Teacher Lady using a stack of drawers as storage for her student groups in this post. Below is a picture of how she has her groups set up. As soon as I saw this idea, I was obsessing over it.

They solve the problem in the classroom that annoys me THE MOST. The handing out materials problem. I cannot stand to waste time handing out common materials.

I really like that students will be able to access all materials without me having to hand them out or allow them all to get up and retrieve things for each activity. There is no teacher pain quite like students all rushing the counter for lined paper.

I also LOVE that the materials don't have to be stored inside their desks. Take dry erase markers, for example. I love using dry erase boards and markers for a quick assessment or as an easy option for every single student to participate. Except that... my students are ALWAYS using them inappropriately. It doesn't matter how many times we do a guided discovery to teach how to use the supply. Every. Single. Year. I have a few students who can't keep their marker in good shape. Or they lose it. Or the tip is mushed in to the point of being unusable.

Once I have had enough, I take the markers. I am forced to hand them out for each use (and we use them a ton). I get tired of handing them out. They keep them in desks, and the vicious cycle continues. With these little drawers, I allow them access, but not within easy reach. Win-win!
I am not the only one, right?

Another storage problem that these little babies solve is the fact that we have tiny desks with next to no storage. My room this year is a tight squeeze. I hate chair pouches because of durability issues. We have no lockers. Drawers will keep everything within easy reach! I especially like to have students sit in small groups, so having a group of four will make the drawers a perfect fit for desk arrangements.

Once I talked myself in to the idea of storage drawers, I began to shop around. I love plastic storage, but Holy Hannah, that stuff is spendy. I needed a minimum of 5 carts. In my inspiration picture, I can see that Autumn used stacking drawers (probably Sterlite brand).

I was on the hunt for a cheap alternative that had wheels! I tend to move desks a lot, especially since we have our morning meeting on the floor in an itty bitty classroom.

I found these Iris 4-Drawer Storage Cart (affiliate) and was instantly in love. I had also looked these Sterilite 3 Drawer Cart, White Frame with Clear Drawers and Black Casters, 2-Pack(affiliate) and decided that they were too short for the desks for my big kids. I wanted the drawers to be at least close in height to the tops of our desks. Coming in at about 26.5 inches compared to 24 inches for the Sterlite drawers, I decided on the Iris brand. The Iris drawers also have built in stoppers to keep the drawers from falling out, which I like. If you are looking for a more inexpensive option, definitely check Amazon for the Sterlite drawers. At the time that I wrote this post, the 2-pack of Sterlite drawers was about 22 dollars. One Iris drawer cart was about that. With that being said, the prices on Amazon fluctuate. The prices were much closer when I originally purchased my drawers.
Oh, the possibilities!

I made some cute and colorful labels and taped them on the inside of the drawers. Here is how mine turned out.

I used contact paper to adhere the labels to the inside of the drawers. You can see the fancy scrapbook lamination I used. Honestly, the roll was in the room I moved into and I am so cheap  thrifty. For every other task in my room that calls for contact paper, or shelf paper, I use this stuff: Duck Brand Shelf Liner (affiliate).

It was super easy to eye-ball the size to cut it. I also got to avoid laminating the actual labels. You can see here how precise I was with the cutting!

Things I love about these drawer carts:
  • the wheels
  • the organizing tray at the top 
  • 4 drawers in two different sizes
  • when I ordered mine, they shipped for free with Prime
  • the color (I ordered white)
  • did I mention the wheels?
  • clear drawers make it easy to label
I am not delving into the flexible seating world just yet, but if I do, my storage will be ready to adapt. I am hoping to get my back-to-school procedures in place while I get to know my class. Maybe after Winter Break we will get rolling on a new seating system. If I were doing flexible seating like my pal Alexa, I would be keeping one of these bad boys in each seating area to hold paper, dry erase boards and markers, crayons, markers, and sticky notes. I feel like their ability to be moved around really make them game changers for flexible seating classrooms. Maybe they are the push I need to take the plunge!

You can snag the labels to make your own handy storage drawers here. They would be awesome for keeping other supplies handy too, which is why I made two versions. Ready-to-Print and Editable! Did I mention that they are free?

Monday, June 27, 2016

5 Stages of Classroom Library Organization: Relatable GIFs for any Big Organizational Project

Anyone who has taken on a huge project has experienced the five stages of grief. You know: denial, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.

I recently reorganized my schools entire giant collection of guided reading books. As the collection was, none of the newest staff members ever used the books. We had tons of great children's literature for book boxes, reading groups, projects, and lessons. 

The problem was that the books were inaccessible, hard to find, and confusing to look through. Some books had levels on them that meant nothing to me. Does a "1" mean first grade-level or some other arbitrary thing based on the "system" the book came with?

The books in our guided reading collection were also unattractively and messily displayed. I am not sure about you, but when I go shopping, presentation matters. The same can be said for "book shopping" in a school reading resource collection. If the materials are messy, teachers can't be bothered to take the time to browse them.
Teachers are busy? No! (insert sarcasm font)

Below you will find my journey through the five stages of Library Organization. 

My denial came in two stages. Initially, I was denying that the resources in my classroom even needed organizing. "They are fine," I would tell myself. "If someone really needs something, they will come and find it." In reality, the idea of reorganizing the materials that had been accumulated over the span of a couple of decades was overwhelming. It never seemed like the right time. 

I would have likely continued to ignore the half of my room that held the reading and math resources if it hadn't been for the issues in our state budget in Oklahoma. Two revenue failures led to the reduction of all Instructional Coaching positions in my district. I would be heading back to the classroom in the fall as a fourth grade teacher in the same building in which I coached. There is nothing quite like changing jobs and classrooms that will send you into an organizational frenzy! That left me about a month to come up with a plan to leave the materials "better than I had found them." I also liked the idea of the materials being easy to find and return since we had been focusing on reading engagement in professional development a lot lately.

Books and games piled up like they are a display at Goodwill? No big deal. 

I had the rest of state test season to think about my plan to organize the reading and math resources. Math would be easy. We had cabinet space. I would just need to move it all and label the doors. Reading would be more difficult. We had multiple sets of outdated materials and several different leveling systems in place for the guided reading books. Luckily, actively monitoring gave me plenty of time to brainstorm. 

My second stint of denial came when I had a plan of attack. I had visions of Pinterest-worthy resource collections. Once the organizational tubs had arrived at school, I was telling everyone about how awesome it was going to be. 

It's going to be the guided reading book collection of your dreams!

The next stage of my process was anger. It may have been partially fueled by the fact that I had very little time to get the books sorted and weeded. A month seems like a lot of time for a project, but I was also doing my full-time job of coaching. It was also the last month of school. Gulp. My suggestion to you is that you choose a less stressful time to take on such a large project!

The last straw was when I started to make efforts to find the guided reading levels for many of the books. It had been years since many of the guided reading sets had been purchased. One of the sets of books had 1990 as the most recent copyright! I was actually IN elementary school in '90. Yikes!

Why are these thirty year-old books still in this room!?

For each book the process would go something like this: 
1. Look for bar code
2. If book has bar code, hope that it is the ISBN bar code
3. Scan book with two different apps. 
4. Google book
5. Look for book on random spreadsheets found via Google, sourced from schools who published their guided reading book library spreadsheet online for some reason
6. Still don't find a level for book
7. Throw book in discard pile
8. Feel guilt for discarding book. 

Repeat as necessary, or until someone finds you sobbing under a pile of level-less discarded site word readers via 1990. 

Merida has been trying to find guided reading levels

I finally gave in and vented all of this to my principal who gave me the blessing to discard the old sets without searching for each title. Why didn't I just do that in the first place?

I haven't read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, if that is what it is called. I do have an idea of how freeing it could be to release things that do not bring me joy. What is it about books and discarding them that sends me into the anxiety shakes? 

My technology doesn't bring me joy. I reject it. 

One additional thing that would come close to making me black out with rage was when someone would comment about if I had completed the project yet. 

No, I am not done yet. Keep walking. 

Bargaining mostly took the form of me begging people to come in after school or at their planning periods to help me put stickers on books. Luckily, my awesome future teammate volunteered (ahem, volun-told) her college-age daughter to come and help me. Without Shelby, I would still be at school labeling books! 

We also came up with a plan to make the discarded books available to teachers and to use them as resources for inside recess, home book bags, and early finishers. Having an idea of what we would do with books without a level made me feel less stressed about tossing them. 

I want YOU to come and help sort books!

About 2 weeks in to the process, I hadn't seen the tops of my tables in days. Books were multiplying like rabbits. I had cracked hands from touching grit covered Amelia Bedelia titles.

I found myself dreading even going into my room. We are talking THOUSANDS of books. Would I finish? Is this even worth the trouble?

I don't wanna go in there,
The thing that got me over the hump was old rubber bands. Weird, right? Stay with me. 

Many of the book sets had been bound together with rubber bands. As I went through each bin of books, I kept noticing that sets of books had disintegrating rubber bands stuck to them. Gross.That means that for at least the last few years, not a single teacher had pulled those books for students to read. 

What is the point of having a room full of books that students can't access?  

While the process of touching each book, deeming it appropriate for students or worthy of being weeded, finding a level, labeling it, and then shelving it was daunting (to say the least), IT WAS WORTH IT.

I feel you buddy. 

Yes, I was still in for several weeks of hard work, but with the help of my teacher friends, we were able to get all books leveled, labeled, shelved, and moved into their new room. 

Don't ask me how I am. It makes it worse.
I can honestly say that I feel that teachers are going to be so much more likely to utilize the guided reading material collection that we have next year. As a part of the process, so many teachers helped me get the books finished up. Because everyone pitched in, they each know how to check out and return the books. 

Acceptance in this case is relaxing and accepting the compliments!

I can't wait to go book shopping next year!

It wasn't THAT bad. 
After all of the hard work, decisions, and stress, would I do it again. You bet! You are organizing your resources next week, you say? Ummmm, let me check my calendar and get back to you. 

Do I want to help you label your books?
If you have ever FINALLY gotten to the end of anything hard, you know exactly how it feels. I am not sure about you, but I was flooded with relief.

When nearing the end of a bog project I also do a terrible thing. I think about how I can make the project better, thus prolonging it. I am not sure why I do it. Anyone with me? This time I was unable to do that. The tight timeline I was working under kept me from seeking additional projects within my project. It was AWESOME to be done. Really done. I would be handing the collection off to another staff member, even. "Here is an amazingly organized and user-friendly system. DO NOT MESS IT UP." I am only partly joking about that last line. 

That feeling when you are REALLY done. 

Check back! I will share more about how I actually managed to get guided reading levels for the books and how they are organized to ensure that books are easy to check out and return. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

4 Bad Listening Habits to Avoid

Are you a good listener? Or do you just *think you are a good listener? Listening is an act that is so important to the relationships that matter to us. Teachers spend the majority of their day being listened to. It seems logical that so many of us are bad at JUST LISTENING to the people we work with. I made a specific and consistent effort to cultivate my skills as a listener this last year. I wanted the people that I work with to feel valued and trust that I feel that they are important.

Chances are that you are guilty of one or all of these unproductive listening patterns. I know I am! Even after a full school year of practicing, I STILL find myself doing all four of the patterns that you will read about below. Read on for examples and what you can do to promote good listening on your team, at meetings, and in all interactions at school. Being a teacher is stressful enough. These unproductive listening patterns can add unnecessary stress, wasted time, and hurt feelings to your school life.

Who knows?! If you make an effort to refrain from them and other bad listening habits (looking at your phone or computer while someone is talking to you) others in your school will follow and you will feel respected as a speaker. More about how you can spread good listening around your building below.

While these listening patterns are directly related to Instructional Coaching, if you are a classroom teacher, an administrator, or anyone who works with other people and not in a deep dark cave all by yourself, read on. I am sure you will find that the school examples could translate to many other venues.

Autobiographical Listening:
The story or situation that the speaker shares sparks an association in the listeners brain. The dangers of this unproductive pattern are that the listener's attention is now focused on their own recollection, that the listener's personal experience can influence them into judgment, and that the listener is now comparing their own experience instead of being immersed in listening to the speaker.

You are sharing a frustrating or wonderful classroom experience with colleagues. Your friend and mentor takes an opportunity to share a similar experience, taking the focus off of you. You are left to either find a way to bring the attention back to you or leave your story unfinished. Taking the focus off of the speaker sends the message that your story is more important, entertaining, or informative. The speaker can feel disrespected or undervalued.

Your teammate comes in for advice about a student. As she is sharing, you think of a similar student and then find that you have missed what she was saying. You were lost in your own thoughts. You have to either go off of only what you heard or ask her to repeat herself. Not giving your full attention to the speaker can leave them feeling disconnected with you. 

LOL SO TRUE POSTS - Funniest relatable posts on Tumblr.

Your friend is venting a frustrating situation with your administrator to you. The situation connects to a negative interaction that you previously had with the same administrator. You launch into that story. Your positive or negative emotions associated with your experiences can skew your perspective and lead you to take your focus from the person you are listening to.  


I am not saying to never share a story, but keep in mind that some of the above circumstances are real possibilities. Ask yourself, is this the right time and context to share this story? I can remember a year that a teammate of mine was very frustrated at being "trumped" by a colleague whenever she began to share. After I was paying attention, I noticed that she was, in fact, often cut off. She was hurt and I could see why. I am certain that the colleague wasn't intentionally falling into a autobiographical listening pattern. 

 I often find that sharing a story is something that is warranted during "bonding time" in a classroom after school while others are unwinding and sharing as well. I might not share a story if my role as listener, rather than speaker, is obvious. 

Solution Listening:
Solution listening is often intended to be helpful in nature. When someone shares with us, they are not always looking for ideas or solutions to their problems. Many times, we jump in with the solutions to a problem because we are eager to share and help. This can be a problem when the speaker isn't looking for ideas or in our haste to provide a "fix" we impair the higher-level thinking of the speaker.

You go to your principal to share a problem in your class regarding a writing unit. The provided curriculum that you used with students last year fell short of your expectations and you would like to try a different strategy that your teammate has had previous success with. Before you can get to the idea, your principal starts sharing a list of possible solutions to your writing unit. Not wanting to sound as if you disagree, you go back to your classroom and try to work out what just happened.

Your teammate is crying in her room. She has had a rough day in regards to classroom management and can't understand why the class is not listening. You start sharing ideas about how you think she could get the attention of the class. She could try some of the callbacks you use. She could make sure that the class knows the consequences of not complying. Instead of thinking about WHY her students are not listening herself, she tries your ideas the next day, fumbling through the strategies in turn, none of them quite hitting the mark.

Consider: Sometimes we are so eager to solve all of the problems of the world, we forget that listening can be exactly the solution that is needed. Our colleagues often just need an ear to vent frustrations. They might need someone to ask a question that helps them take the next step themselves.

This sums it up for me! Others might not want us to solve the problems for them...even if all of their sweaters are snagged.

Judgment and criticism both focus on the flaws in what the speaker is saying. Criticism is likely to stop a discussion before it can really start. Judgment implies that the speaker has the right answers.

You make a suggestion to help a student with organizational difficulties by providing them few materials to manage. Your teammate say that she has tried that with a previous student and it didn't work. The fact that she tried it and it failed implies criticism and that the idea is inferior, regardless of context.

As you are in a meeting discussing possible school-wide incentive programs, your assistant principal says that she likes Carol's idea. The message is sent that her judgment regarding the ideas shared is most important and is damaging to the self-confidence of others who shared ideas. Trust to share ideas freely can be lost.  

As you share with your teacher friend about a behavior issue in your classroom, she replies, "Why did you do that?" Using "why" questions can be negative and imply that the speaker should be defensive of her actions.

Judgement and Criticism Listening has a place. The problem is that when one becomes a PATTERN. Always poo-pooing ideas or saying that a strategy wouldn't work can be a sign that the listener is against trying new ideas before they are shared.

Using one person's idea over another's is inevitable. The key in this situation is to front-load what you like about each approach, or even better, gain buy-in from all members of the group, rather than stating "like" of one which could send the message that you dislike others.

Try using phrases that show your curiosity without the negative connotation of "why" questions. You could substitute a phrase like, "Tell me more about ______." One exception of using "why" questions could be using the 5 WHYs strategy in meetings. Watch this video to see more about it.

Inquisitive Listening: 
Curiosity can be a good thing, but it can also kill the cat... In the same way, asking questions that detract from the important part of what another is sharing can kill the share completely.  Inquisitive listening is what happens when asking questions about details can take away from the main idea the speaker is trying to get across.

okay, so if you click on the pic. it brings you to another page of gifs.. they are hilarious!!
You are sharing with your teammate about a negative parent conversation. All you want to do it get the situation off of your chest and out of your head, but she keeps interrupting with questions about the behavior incident that you were calling the parents about. When did it happen? What consequence did the student have? What was the name of the other student who was involved? You leave feeling unsatisfied and unheard.

Are you guilty? Know someone else who is? 

Where can  you go from here?

Start small. Choose one of the above listening patterns and create a goal. Share your goal with one person. Ask them to help you reach your goal by holding you accountable. As you are an example and you work on your goal, share it with others. Maybe your team or a colleague that you regularly interact with. Want to go big? Share your goal and these unproductive listening patterns with your administrator. The more good listeners in your building, the merrier!

Remember! Practicing good listening behaviors promotes trust and respect.

The book, Coaching Conversations, is an excellent resource to help you have growth conversations in your school.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Back to School Memes that You will {HEART}

I have been #obsessed with making memes. I blame Brooke Brown of Teaching Outside the Box.

With back to school upon us, all I can think about are the universal truths that we all face. How better to capture the human experience than with a meme! LOL!

Here are some funnies to help you keep your sanity during the most magical time of year, BACK TO SCHOOL!

Aca-believe it. Your summer is fading. Hey, at least you don't have nodes.

Every. Single. Summer. I don't regret the late nights of chatting with the hubs until the first full week of school.

I once had a school dream in which my class literally had to put our desks on top of another classes desks. It was like educational chicken. What is your worst school dream? 

I know you get this one, Teacher Friends! The struggle is real! All those little plastic scraps in your floor. Finding them later. In your couch. Stuck to your pants. At the grocery store. #truestory

Speaking of desks, it sure is nice to have some muscle in your back pocket to do the heavy lifting, especially if you are moving classrooms! 

 New teachers (and returning teachers) get it. My district is trying to maximize the time we get to actually set rooms up (and I am thankful). Is there ever really enough time?

 Just hand over the list and nobody gets hurt...Especially if you just wanna label stuff!

Back-to-school deals. Just keep me away from the dollar spot.

 That "first day over and nobody got lost" feeling.

Pop those collars. You did it!

Wishing you a happy and productive back-to-school season!