Friday Five: Back to School

Three kids walking towards school wearing neon backpacks.

AHHH!!! Back to School Time! This is the time of year that I have the hardest time keeping a work/life balance. I want to start the year with my best foot forward, but this year, I’m focusing on myself throughout the back to school whirlwind. Here are five tips for keeping your cool during back to school! (😂Kills me! I just think that little rhyme is hilarious!) 

One

Set Working Hours

In the last few years, I set working hours for myself, and I made myself stick to them. If I thought of something that needed to be done outside of my working hours, I jotted a note, and I took care of it during my working hours. This allowed me to take time for my friends and family. I wasn’t turning down dinner invitations because I was working on classroom stuff. I worked hard during my working hours, and then I did other things with the rest of my day. I highly recommend setting some working hours for yourself. I chose not to set any working hours over the weekend, but maybe someone would want to spend a few hours working. Everyone will have different working hours during back to school. It all depends on where you’re at as a teacher. Did you just switch schools? Did you change grade levels? Are you returning to the same classroom? These situations might require different working hours than those of us returning to the same school and the same grade level. 

Two

Prioritize Your To Do List

I make incredibly detailed to-do lists during back to school. I make one list that is for things that need to be copied. One list of things that need to be created. One for tasks to accomplish in the classroom. One for tasks that can be accomplished at home.  Make a list that works for you. Personally, I like to write them out on different post-its. Find what works for you. HERE are a few different templates for you to try out, including one where you can label the lists! 

Three

Plan Out the First Two Weeks

I like to map out my first few weeks of school and ensure that I have enough planned. There’s nothing worse than not having enough planned during those first few weeks. Create a detailed plan for the first day of school. Plan out how you’re going to build your classroom community. How are you going to get to know each other? How are you going to learn procedures? When are you going to start teaching your content? What do students in your classroom need to know to be successful? What parent communication are you going to send home in the first few weeks? There’s a lot to plan out, and there’s no such thing as being overprepared in the first weeks. 

FOur

Enlist help if Needed

One year I switched schools and walked into my new classroom to find boxes and boxes of copies. It turned out that our team ordered all of our copies for the entire year! I was so overwhelmed. All of the file cabinets were filled.  I asked the other teachers, and they explained that they keep the boxes and get stuff out as needed. I don’t do clutter in my classroom, and there was no way I was going to be able just to keep the boxes. I called my mom, and she spent hours labeling file folders, organizing the copies by subject, and filing away all the sheets. I managed to fit all of the copies in my file cabinets and felt so relieved. If you need help, grab friends, family, whoever to help you! 

Five

Take Time For Yourself

Make sure to take time for yourself at the beginning of the year. Honor those working hours you set up and take time for yourself. I make sure to plan time to hang out with my friends during back to school time this way, I invest in myself as well as my teacher life. Do something fun. Plan out relaxing or energizing activities for your weekend, but don’t forget to take time for yourself. You don’t want to begin the school year burned out. 

How do you ensure to make time for yourself during back to school time? 

What are your back to school non-negotiables? 

Leave a comment below! 

Resetting After a Substitute Teacher

Resetting After a Substitute Teacher

Resetting After a Substitute Teacher

Have you ever returned from a day away from the classroom and noticed your class needed a major reset after a substitute teacher? Some of these situations might sound familiar to you. 

You’re out of your classroom for the day. You walk back in the last 10 minutes only to find your kids going bananas and your room is in disarray! 

Or maybe…

You get a text from a friend while you’re out for the day. She shares all the shenanigans your class has been up to in your absence. 

Or maybe…

You get back from a day out of the classroom to find notes from a sub that it didn’t go well while you were out. 

Can you imagine any of those situations? If you’re an elementary teacher, I bet you can. I bet you even have some more stories of your own to add on to these examples. How do you pull things back together and recover as a class after a wild day with a substitute? Sometimes you have to freeze and reset after a substitute teacher, which is, of course, easier said than done. Here’s how we reset as a classroom community after a crazy day. 

Have the Students Reflect

I always have my students reflect after we’ve had a sub, even if everything was terrific. This way, when I have them reflect when things weren’t too great, it is nothing out of the ordinary. 

I currently use the reflection on the right, but I have several other versions of this available on the resources tab or by clicking on the picture. 

My all-time favorite part of the reflection is the last question at the bottom. Sometimes after you’re gone, kids have a million things to tell you. When you are resetting after a substitute teacher you don’t have the time to listen to each and every story. This reflection takes care of it. They can write or sketch out whatever they need to say on the back. They got it off their chest, and you can read it and take any necessary actions. 

One time a student wrote that our class made the IT teacher’s day because we followed all the directions and asked good questions. One time I found out that another student’s feelings were hurt because of something someone else said. Once I found out that the sub threw a kid’s shoes away. TRUE STORY!!! 😲😲You never know. 

This reflection can be such a great help in piecing together what happened while you were out. I find that if your class is pretty knowledgeable about reflections, they’re pretty honest about their behavior. 

I have the kids complete these reflections before (or after) morning meeting when I return. That way, they can get everything out, and you can figure out what you need to. 

Prioritize

You don’t need to get to the bottom of every incident that occurred. That would take forever, and I guarantee there would be a few unsolved mysteries in the bunch. What are the things that went wrong that you must address? What happened, and what must be justified?

Do a little investigative work (but not too much). Talk to the teachers next door to find out more information if you need to. Talk to a few students in your class. Read the notes from the sub (although sometimes they just said the day went well). Read the class reflection sheets. Find out what you can and then address what you need to. 

THINK: What are the pressing issues that need to be addressed? What do I want to reinforce? What is the best order to handle things?

Decide How to Address the Issues

Sometimes I want to give lectures to my students after something like this happens. I don’t know why I feel that need, but I do. The thing is these lectures really only benefit the teacher who feels like she’s accomplishing something. The kids usually aren’t listening, or it goes in one ear and out the other.

So, I try not to give in to the urge to lecture. Depending on what happened, some reteaching may be in order.  Some apologies might have to be given out. Perhaps some notes to parents might need to be written. Maybe your admin already stepped in and handled some things or maybe you’ll need them to step in.

THINK: How are you going to handle these pressing issues? What can I do that will be meaningful to students and help them grow into caring and considerate community members? How can I help them learn not just for this situation but for the rest of life? 

Address the Issues

If you are going to address concerns they have to be addressed straight away. Maybe the community needs to come together and apologize to one another. Maybe a review of class expectations needs to occur. My tip to you is don’t wait too long when addressing the issues. I try to address all sub concerns before snack but realistically before lunch recess. I don’t want to lose an entire day of learning because our community is out of sorts. 

THINK: When can I address these concerns? Do I need to address the whole group, small groups, one on one? Do we need some healing as a community? If yes, perhaps Tap Someone Who could be an activity for your morning! 

Set Up For Success

I follow a fashion blogger on Instagram, Fancy Ashley. During back to school a few years ago she talked about her family routine to set up for success. The night before they prepare all the things so their morning is a bit less hectic. I loved the phrase set up for success and stole it. Thanks, Ashley! Next time you’re planning on being out, set your classroom up for success. 

Take time to preview the schedule for the day and preview the different activities they’ll have. Let them know who their substitute teacher will be if you already know. My greatest tool is a behavior map I made with my students this year. A blank version is available by clicking the picture on the left. This isn’t a poster you’ll want to make ahead of time. The real value isn’t what is even written on the paper but in the conversations, we had as we worked through the social story. I put this anchor chart up each and every time we have a sub and I plan to have the kids share different pieces about it during our morning meeting. 

Also, just a little tip- Treat yo sub! I always let my substitute teacher know where the chocolate drawer is in my classroom (don’t act like you don’t have one). When I remember, and when I taught in the US, I would also leave a few quarters to grab a soda from the vending machine. Those little touches can make your subs day a bit better. Nothing brightens up my day like a bit of chocolate and all those bright smiling faces! 

Share Your Ideas

I once attended professional development where the speaker shared that two heads are better than one, and three heads make a genius! Let’s put our heads together by sharing comments on things that really work for you when the class goes bananas and any questions that you have about resetting your class after a substitute teacher. 

Please share any of your thoughts below. Personally, my best teacher learning comes from the teacher down the hall! Join in the conversation! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Early Intervention

The most effective intervention is implemented early in a child’s career- before the cycle of failure is established.

-Irene Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell

I’ve seen early interventions work wonders. I am trained in Reading Recovery and a huge believer in early intervention. As a third grade teacher, I can tell you that the difference between students who received early intervention and those who were allowed to struggle a little longer is huge. HUGE! The sooner we boost up our students the less they fall behind their peers. 

 

What are your thoughts on early interventions? 

Weekly Wisdom

Quote: "Children need practice resolving their "childish" disputes so they can become grown-ups who can peacefully resolve their adult disputes. -How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

Weekly Wisdom

Children's Emotions