Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Do you agree that children grow into the intellectual life around them? What sort of intellectual life do you expose your students to within your classroom?  Within your school? What intellectual life are they exposed to outside of the walls of your school?

Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids

Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing waiting for all kids to be finished.

Why we wait

As teachers, we spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for our whole class to line up before taking them to specials. We wait for the whole class to sit on the carpet before beginning a lesson. We wait for all kids to finish eating snack before we move on. We wait patiently for all partners to finish before we bring the class back together. We wait for so many things and we wait for many reasons. One reason is so that all students feel like they had enough time to finish what they were doing or saying. We also wait so that we don’t have to repeat directions over and over again. We wait so that all kids are ready. But when we wait it starts to cause issues even if we don’t notice them right away.

What happens when we wait

When we always wait for kids we create a culture of waiting in the classroom. Kids know that we are going to wait for all kids to get to the carpet so they take their time. When they know that we are going to wait there is less of a sense of urgency. Kids losing their sense of urgency is one the worst things that can happen in your classroom. It happened in mine last year and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Another teacher would take my students to specials every day. Every day I would leave my classroom at this time to avoid being in the classroom for the chaos that was created by waiting. Natasha, why didn’t you stay and help? I will admit that I tried but this teacher was so convinced that we needed to wait for all students to be ready before leaving that I could do nothing. Within a few days, I found kids slowly dragging themselves to the carpet. They came slow as can be to reading groups. They moved at a snail’s pace because their time was never respected. Their on-time behavior was never rewarded. They saw no reason to do things quickly and on time because they would always have to wait for someone else.

This teacher once waited for 16 minutes before leaving. SIXTEEN! Kids can’t lose 16 minutes of instruction time! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Repeating yourself over and over doesn’t help the kids. You might think the longer you wait the more kids will be ready. WRONG! I can tell you from experience, the longer you wait the fewer kids are ready! Threatening with empty threats also does nothing. Do you know what does do something? What motivates those friends to get a move on? Leaving them behind and making them catch up. Creating a sense of urgency deep inside their little hearts.

Urgency in the Classroom

Teachers would all pretty much agree that there aren’t enough hours in the school day to accomplish the job we have been tasked to do. Every moment my students are with me is a precious moment for teaching. We don’t have any minutes to lose! If you visit my classroom you’ll find that I frequently send kids off using the phrase “Hurry! We have no time to lose!” Soon kids start using this phrase to others and our class has a sense of urgency. My kids know (because I tell them over and over) that we don’t waste time on things that aren’t important. If we are doing something it is one of the most important things in the world. Kids know that they will be left behind if they don’t hop in line for library. Kids know that when I say turn and talk they have to start talking immediately or they won’t get their chance. They know that snack is over we go to specials and we leave kids behind.

Waiting is your frienemy

Waiting might seem tempting. It might seem like you want to wait for the class to be ready. Guess what? Waiting is your frenemy. It isn’t your friend. It doesn’t have your best interests at heart. It is going to suck you in and tear you down. In the past, we’ve rationalized waiting with things like:
Kids will feel left out if we leave them behind.
Kids need to finish what they’re saying in a turn and talk.
We don’t want them to feel rushed.

While each of these statements does carry some truth, kids don’t feel these things when we teach with a sense of urgency. Maybe kids feel left out the first time they get left behind as the class walks to PE. The next time the class leaves that child will be right in line with everyone. Kids who have too much time for a turn and talk lose focus and get bored. If they know they only have a small moment they have to share quickly and there is no time for being off task. We don’t want to create anxiety in kids by teaching with urgency but instead show them that we have no precious moments of learning to waste. None.

Students in my class understand that their time won’t be wasted. Due to this, we are able to follow directions immediately. We have a collective understanding that every moment we are together is a good moment for learning. What we’re doing in the classroom matters and we won’t waste time for kids who aren’t with us.

Changing Our Thinking

I hope this small shift in thinking is helpful in your classroom tomorrow. Try it out. Don’t wait for all of your kids. Of course, you will be met with some complaints but soon your kids will be following your directions right away instead of in a few minutes.

Leave a comment below about your shift in thinking, any questions you might have, and how this is working for you within the classroom.

Flexible Seating Without Spending a Cent!

Flexible Seating Without Spending a Cent!
*While cleaning out my blog’s draft folder I found this gem from last year. Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be expensive!

Get Real!

Imagine that you are on your way to a professional development session. You walk in, see your teacher bestie and go to sit down. As soon as you reach her table she shakes her head and says, “we have to sit in assigned seats.” As you turn to find out where to sit you have a sinking feeling and want to be there even less than before. You find the table only to see that it has the hard metal folding chairs and not the ones with the slight cushion, forget it! The simple act of choosing where to sit and what to sit on is important to us as adults. It is also important to our students yet we rarely give them this choice.
Creating a space in which students have options in their seating can be tricky. A lot of schools don’t have extra money to buy new chairs and tables. Many teachers don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to the furniture in their classroom. Teachers also don’t want to spend even more money out of pocket on seating. Here are a few options when you don’t have any options.

Consider Your Options

1. Take the names off of the desks. You have desks (or tables) and you have chairs. One way to create flexible seating is to remove the names from desks and chairs. Find somewhere in the room for student “stuff” to go. I gave each student a drawer in the cubbies we already had. We put our math journals in one bin and our reading in another. Students were then allowed to choose the desk they sat in. It wasn’t much but it was a choice. I arranged the desks so that some were alone, some were in partners and some were in groups. Students loved being able to choose where to go.
2. Consider the furniture you do have. This year I looked around my classroom and sort of inventoried the furniture. I had my desk, two comfy chairs, four tables, 25 chairs and two carpets. I saw immediately that I could take the legs off of one of the tables, lower it to the floor and put a carpet underneath it. I could also keep one of my scooped tables and attempt to trade the others.
3. Listen in. I was in a friend’s classroom and she was getting rid of her teacher desk. I heard and asked if I could put it in my room. Listen to the teachers around you! Sometimes teachers rearrange. Sometimes they get rid of things that you have had your eyes on. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for things if you notice fellow teachers getting rid of them. Don’t be afraid to offer a swap if you see something you want. My second year teaching I swapped a round table for a rectangle table. It made a world of difference in my classroom.
4. Snoop around! I noticed that we had a ton of desks in our elementary commons area. I asked if I could swap some of my tables for some desks. My principal approved it, six desks came into my classroom and two tables went out. Desks give you many options. I decided to keep three at a normal height and raised three up to become standing desks. 
Within a few weeks, I had transformed my space into something new. I didn’t spend a single penny. The best part is that my kids love the new space! Other teachers are taking notice too! You can use the things that are available to you to create flexible seating. It might not be the beautiful dream you wished up while on Pinterest late at night but it will be functional.

Another option

Donors Choose- Now that I am no longer a teacher in the US, I can’t use Donor’s Choose. If you are a teacher in the United States, Donor’s Choose is a wonderful option for you. Two years ago I wrote a Donors Choose grant for Hokki Stools. These are wonderful! My students loved those stools. When they wiggled while they worked, they worked longer and harder. I highly recommend writing a donor’s choose grant for something. Hokki Stools, or wiggle seats or exercise balls are all excellent choices.

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Building Relationships

Building Relationships

As a teacher, I truly believe that building relationships is the key to creating a community of learners. Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Kids don’t learn from people they don’t trust. (Click here for a personal tale.) They learn from someone who cares about them. They learn from someone who takes time to learn about them. Something I know to be true about kids is that they know when people are being genuine and when people are being fake. One way I take time to learn about my students is to take time for morning meeting every day.  Morning meeting is also I time where I share things from my life that helps build relationships with my students. It has become one of my favorite times of the day.

Building Relationships- Morning Meeting

Wouldn’t life be so much greater if you, as a teacher, started school in a morning meeting? Actually, while typing that it made me realize that a school I student taught at did this. Each morning the teachers would gather outside of the office and great each other in a circle through some sort of activity. They would then share celebrations and successes that they saw each other doing and then we would head off to teach for the day. It was actually really nice… hmm, maybe if we began our days in morning meeting life would be a lot nicer and there would be more fountains and fewer drains (see post here). What I am trying to say that creating a classroom community is intentional.

Each and every morning we gather for a morning meeting. Kids know that when the bell chimes they put away their morning work and head to the carpet. Morning meeting has four parts shown above. We have a greeting, share, activity, and message. Once we finish morning meeting we are ready to begin our day.

Greet

We start with a greeting. The greeting is to allow students time to connect with each other and allow my assistant teacher and me time to connect with each student. On Mondays, our greeting is always the same. We share our smiles and we share our frowns from the weekend. Each child has an opportunity to share and every voice is heard on Monday morning. The rest of the week we choose a greeting from a list we have compiled. Every once in a while we learn a new greeting and add it to our list. The current class favorite is Hello Neighbor!

Share

Next, we have share. Now I have done many different things for share in the past. At the moment I am using School Tools TV as my share. Each day Rusty creates a 1-2 minute video reminding kids of various behavior topics. We learn about everything from feelings to bullies and friendships. At the end of each video, Rusty asks a question to the class. After the video is done we circle up and have a classroom conversation about the question. This year we are watching the video twice. With firstie EAL (English as an Additional Language) students they need to hear it twice because Rusty does speak quite quickly.

Activity

Due to time in our schedule this year I have had to cut the activity! It makes me so sad because such fun and happy memories are made during the activity. If you have time to complete the activity at your school I highly encourage you to complete it. Taking time to play a small game and engage kids right off the bat is extremely beneficial for a successful day.

Message

I don’t have a message written when kids walk through the door as some teachers do. I use the message time in morning meeting to model some habits of a writer. While students are gathered in front of me I model things writers do that I notice the class struggling with but that I believe are in their zones of proximal development. This can be anything from letter formation to spaces in between words to using the word wall. This is extremely valuable time to engage my young writers by thinking aloud and showing them what proficient writers do each time they write.

Variation- Poem

One year I replace activity with poetry. Each day we would read a new poem and discuss or continue reading a poem across the whole week. These poems were sometimes tied to instructional goals but the majority of the time they were just for fun. Students then would glue these poems into a poetry journal that they absolutely loved to read. By the time we made it to our poetry writing unit the poems they wrote were some of the most beautiful poems I have ever had kids write. It was amazing.

What’s Next?

Morning meeting has made such a difference in my relationships with students. It puts us all on the same playing field at the start of the day. Greeting allows me to look into every student’s eyes and welcome them to school that day. Creating a community of learners and building relationships with each child in your class isn’t easy but it is necessary to cultivate passionate little learners.

Do you use morning meeting within your classroom? Do you follow the standard morning meeting or do you switch it up a bit? Let me know! I love hearing how different teachers use morning meeting.