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! 

Flexible Seating Reflection

Flexible Seating Reflection

Flexible Seating Mistakes

We all make mistakes. Here’s a little teacher flexible seating reflection- I didn’t launch flexible seating as well as I should have. I made a lot of assumptions I should not have made. Each class you have is different and comes in with different experiences and background knowledge. While I applied that to my content teaching, I didn’t think about flexible seating! 🤦‍♀️Things weren’t working. Instead of flexible seating providing powerful choice and agency it was standing in the way of our learning. Instead of learning conflict resolution we were constantly tattling. Finally, we just needed a fresh start. 

Adding IN a Flexible Seating Reflection

We scaled it way back to a new launch. I made all of the decisions for my students. Every few days, I assigned students a new seating option to learn about how to work in that space. The student who sat there before taught them a few tips about their new spot and at the end of their time, they rated their seating options and reflected on their learning while sitting in a particular spot. This flexible seating reflection was precisely what they needed! It provided the structure that they still needed and provided “choice” even though I was doing the choosing. They also had input in the choice through their refections.

After a month and a half, we were ready to try to fly free again and make our own choices. I wanted them to do one more final reflection about their learning before we got the decision back. A reflection that would remind them that we exist in our classroom to learn (and have some fun). I developed this fun reflection that we completed on Seesaw. It was simple, but it was just what we needed, and their thoughts blew me out of the water!

Using the photo tool in Seesaw, kids took pictures of the spots that worked well and didn't work well for them. Then they added words using the label feature to the final section. We then recorded a short verbal explanation and clicked submit!

Reflection Conversation

Once we finished our flexible seating reflection, we had a conversation as a class. It turned out that most students said they preferred to work alone in a quiet spot. They only liked 1-2 people sitting near them. Most kids didn’t like sitting in a place where the air conditioner blew directly on them. Kids loved sitting on the couch and didn’t like sitting at tables, particularly the big tables that were supposed to seat 6. 

We posted this information on our whiteboard and worked to make improved flexible seating choices. From time to time, some assistance is needed in making choices, but for the most part, we’re doing well. I don’t know why I’ve never thought to launch flexible seating in this way before. I will 100% start the year off with something similar next year. 

Feel free to steal the image above and upload it into Seesaw for your learners! 

Am I Wrong? Balanced Literacy and the Science of Reading

Am I Wrong? Balanced Literacy and the Science of Reading

Teachers Need Reflection Too

In international teaching, I’ve noticed the conversation of phonics comes up much more with parents than it does in the US. Especially considering the British system (that I admittedly don’t know much about) places a lot of weight on phonics. So, when I saw this debate light up again on Facebook and Instagram this fall, I wanted to learn more. My background with dyslexia, phonics, and guided reading is really skewed, and I’ve never really known what to think about the whole debate. I never really believe that something is 100% the right way and something else is 100% the wrong way. I think things are more on a continuum. I’m going to share my background story with dyslexia and balanced literacy with you so that you know where I am coming from- a very confusing place. I’m not the most credible and knowledgeable voice in this debate. 

My Background

During the beginning of my teaching career, a new reading specialist came into our building. She was studying dyslexia and would share the information she learned from time to time. I found it interesting because I didn’t know a lot about dyslexia and I LOVE to learn!

She would come into my classroom and tell me that in my class of eighteen, at least five students had dyslexia. Or she would come in to share a quick thing she learned about in an article. It felt normal, and our second-grade team liked our morning chats with her until suddenly things weren’t so normal anymore.

The App Diagnosis

One day she found a fantastic app ever that could diagnose dyslexia in children. I was skeptical of this app at best. I don’t believe that it is our job to diagnose children, and I don’t believe a new app is how to do it. She came in unannounced to test it out on my class during reader’s workshop. Not only was she extremely disruptive to the flow of our classroom during this time, but she also ended up diagnosing my entire class with dyslexia. I brushed this off and continued teaching, surely my whole class didn’t have dyslexia, right?

She then started printing off worksheet after worksheet and dropping off stacks in my classroom to help with my 100% dyslexic class. I was overwhelmed by this. This interventionist was known to blow up at teachers, so I always accepted the worksheets, and they found their way to the recycling. I didn’t want conflict (type 9 enneagram here!), but I did not want all of these resources. My kids were showing growth using balanced literacy, and if they were showing growth, I didn’t see a need to change.

Working Together

Later on that year, we decided one of my students who was reading at a level K in mid-March would benefit from some time with a reading interventionist. They needed to work on decoding longer words and deeper level comprehension. They weren’t too far behind grade level, so the team figured a short term intervention would give them the boost they needed. We also knew they would thrive in a 1:1 setting, and short-term interventions like this had helped them in the past.

The interventionist that worked with our grade level was all booked up, so this student went to the dyslexia researcher. After one session, she came into my classroom screaming (when my whole class was enjoying snack) that the kid couldn’t read at all. She was yelling and blaming me for being a lousy teacher by teaching balanced literacy in front of all of my students!

No teacher wants to hear they’re not doing a good job- especially in front of their whole class. We’re all doing the best with what we have. I was following our district curriculum, and there wasn’t anything else I could have done. What she was ranting about was super confusing to me, too, because they were reading Frog and Toad and loving them. They could decode at a level K and comprehend for the most part. Something happened when they tried an L, and they needed a bit more help. This student was reading Nate the Great and solving mystery after mystery how were they unable to read? What does that even mean? They were reading every single day with me.

What Was the Reading Intervention?

When she started working with them, she focused on teaching them phonics instead of doing the intervention that we had discussed as a team. During our class phonics lessons, they did reasonably well. I’m not sure what work they were doing with her because whenever I asked, she talked in circles and threw out names of programs. She would argue all the time that she was Orton Gillingham trained. I didn’t care about her training. I knew Orton Gillingham and had seen it work wonders with kids. I wanted to know what their intervention consisted of so that I could support that work in our classroom. I would try to ask more specific questions, but she would not break down the 30-minute lesson and explain what she was doing. It was beyond frustrating. 

How Can I Support This Child?

Soon, they had slipped back to a level J and then to a level I. One day I handed them our story during guided reading, and they declared that they couldn’t read books and gave the book back; they asked for a list of words. I didn’t understand what was going on. How could this kid who loved books suddenly refuse to read books? I had my literacy coach come in and observe because let’s be real- I was panicking. I needed to figure out what to do next. My literacy coach was also confused. She was their reading interventionist the year before and said she was shocked by some of the things she saw them doing. 

As I worked with my literacy coach to try to figure out what I could do to support this little diamond, she was also stumped. She asked what they were working on in intervention. I filled her in on all the strange conversations I had and that I didn’t know what was happening. She said that she’s sure dyslexia is underdiagnosed but is also confident that my whole class probably doesn’t have it. And even if this diamond does have dyslexia, this intervention isn’t working.

It Kept Getting Weirder

Even stranger things happened after this. The interventionist went into one of my colleague’s classrooms and took all the Mo Willems books declaring that students should read dumb stuff. She started trying to start rumors about our literacy coach, even coming and asking me if I was being treated ok by her. She went low and said that the lit coach’s daughter had dyslexia, and that’s why she was anti-dyslexia. Our lit coach wasn’t anti-dyslexia but got accused of a whole bunch because she was leading us in balanced literacy. She went into another room and told the teacher classroom libraries were dumb and unnecessary. She launched attack after attack on our literacy coach via Facebook posts. I unfriended her because I don’t want to be associated with teachers who attack each other on Facebook. More things happened, but you get the gist.

To be honest, I never understood why dyslexia and balanced literacy were at war. Why was she so anti our balanced literacy framework? The way I understood it was dyslexic students needed something different than what was provided in a balanced literacy framework. There are, of course, kids who need different teaching than the teaching happening in the classroom. Shouldn’t we accommodate them? 

More Than A Little Confused

As you can imagine, that experience left me more than a little bit confused about dyslexia. All I knew was a kid who was doing well in reading got an unofficial dyslexia diagnosis by a teacher who wasn’t the most stable, and then he got worse and worse as a reader. His reading level at the end of the year was lower than at the start of the year. 

Logically I knew that this was an odd case, and she wasn’t the greatest, but it was tough to get past all of her irrational and abrasive behavior. After this incident, I didn’t think about dyslexia for a long time. 

Phonics P.D.

Then, a few years ago my school (a different one than the school above) had professional development with the principal from a school that specializes in dyslexia. She talked a lot about the importance of phonics. We reviewed phonics rules and I met with her one on one to discuss the teaching of phonics. We had just switched to Fountas and Pinnell Phonics and it was the first time our school had a phonics/ word study program. We talked for a long time about what rules to teach kids and what rules not to teach, how to build in phonics support into the reading and writing workshop. If I could work for this principal I would. She was so knowledgable and I left her session with millions of ideas to pull into the classroom. It didn’t seem as though there was a huge disconnect from what I was doing in my classroom using balanced literacy and the phonics PD that I attended. They seemed to work in harmony which was the opposite of what I had always been told. 

Phonics is a Part of Balanced Literacy

I feel there is a misconception that phonics is not taught in a balanced literacy framework. That isn’t true (if things are happening correctly- I know sometimes they aren’t). Phonics is taught in part of the program, often referred to as word study. The way phonics is taught depends on what program or philosophy a school is following. I’ve used Fountas and Pinnell Phonics, which follows the workshop approach and teaches in on one specific phonics piece each lesson. I’ve also used Words Their Way and Word Journeys to teach phonics through sorting and making connections between other words. I would say the whole goal of word study in balanced literacy is for skills to transfer back into reading and writing. We might not teach all of the cute phonics rhymes we learned as kids. This is usually because the cute rhymes tie in with the exceptions, not the rules. Perhaps people behind the Science of Reading would like a more rigorous phonics component to balanced literacy. I’m not opposed to that, and I don’t think many are. We want to teach transferrable phonics skills to our kids as phonics knowledge is needed for decoding. 

M,S,V and the Science of Reading

Last year I led our school in learning Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System, and part of that system is MSV. If you don’t know, MSV stands for Meaning, Structure, and Visual. These are considered the three cueing system readers use as they read. When readers encounter an unknown word and attempt to decode it, they ask: Does this make sense? Does this sound right? Does this look right? Often in a balanced literacy approach, more weight is placed on meaning than on phonics for the in the moment decoding while reading. 

While preparing for that training, I came across research that MSV wasn’t valid, and I read it. I knew that there were teachers extremely frustrated by B.A.S., and they would find this research. I also think it is good practice to read things that you disagree with. It furthers your reflection and your own ideas. What I found was fascinating. Researchers show that the English language is much more decodable than we’ve been led to believe. It is a topic that I would like to learn about more. I do notice that children who come into our schools from the British system are much, much better decoders but have limited comprehension skills.

I recently joined a Facebook group for teachers who support the Science of Reading. Currently, I’m disappointed I haven’t learned more from the group as it is right now focused on bashing balanced literacy programs and leaders and less focused on sharing information on the science of reading. Hopefully, I can begin to learn more from them as a teacher.

So, Am I Wrong?

It isn’t a good feeling to think that you’re wrong about your core beliefs on a topic, but it is a good time for reflection. Am I wrong? Should I stop using a balanced literacy approach and focus more on phonics? The Science of Reading people say yes. I don’t know, but I don’t think so at this moment. I want to learn more and strengthen my phonics instruction, and I don’t believe that kids in younger grades should just read decodable texts, BUT I do think decodables are beneficial for some readers. 

Could we include more decodable reading within the phonics portion of balanced literacy? What compromises could be made to support both? I don’t know but I am sure there are some.

This whole debate reminded me of a conversation we had with a literacy consultant at the start of the year. We were providing a scaffolded support tool that the majority of students actually didn’t need. We removed that support from the kids who didn’t need it and kept it for the kids who did need it. I feel like giving all kids decodables instead of the books they currently have would be similar. We would be putting up supports for all kids that they might not need. Dyslexia is underdiagnosed, and teachers need a lot more support and education in this area. I am sure that what works for dyslexic students will work for all students, but is it what’s best for them? I don’t know. I’m going to continue to research and listen to both sides of the argument. We’ll see what I discover. 

Additional Resources

The Science of Reading

Please know that if you’re using a balanced literacy approach some of these may be hard to read because of the teacher-bashing in them. I’m not about that. Couldn’t we have this debate without bashing teachers and name-calling? 

What is the Science of Reading?

Beyond the Reading Wars: How the Science of Reading Can Improve Literacy

The Science of Teaching Reading

The Science of Reading- A PowerPoint Presentation

Timothy Shanahan Blog

 

Balanced Literacy

I’m only including the responses from Lucy Calkins and Irene and Gay Su Pinnell because they’re the only responses I know of right now. If you know of additional responses please share them in the comments.

No One Gets To Own the Term “Science of Reading” -Lucy Calkins

A Word on Phonics with Fountas and Pinnell

Thoughts?

Let’s build a productive conversation around this topic in the comments below. 

What are your thoughts? What does your education and experience lead you to? 

Just a forewarning, any teacher-bashing comments will be deleted. That isn’t productive for either side. Try to figure out a way to phrase your comment in a way that doesn’t bash the teacher but teaches. 

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Going back to school after winter break can be ROUGH! We’ve all been there. Transitioning back into the new year can be tricky. The kids are still in vacation mode, and you might be too. Here are five tips to help reign it in and get back to business after a long break.

Getting Back to School After winter Break

One

Catch Up With Each Other

You just had a break! Take a minute to catch up and share all about your holidays. As an international teacher, students often travel to different countries and places over breaks. We usually get out the map and look where everyone went on holiday. This is a lot of fun. Kids also share what I call smiles and frowns. Smiles are those significant parts of vacation and frowns the not so great part. 


After a break ease back in and take a moment to check in as a community. Maybe that doesn’t look like getting down the map. Maybe it looks like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or tea and talking about the best parts of our break. Maybe it means taking a moment to write a story about the break. Any way you do it is great. Isn’t the best part of coming back to school after a break catching up with your teacher friends? Let your kids enjoy that too.

Two

Get Back Into Routines

Routines are like the glue that holds all the learning together. I like to remind students of expectations and keep them to it after a break. We usually spend the first weeks back after break reviewing our routines and practicing them. Don’t wait too long to get back into them, or it might feel like you never will. Remember that time spent reviewing routines now will save you time later. Make sure you’ve all got your routines back down before diving too far into learning.

Three

Have some Fun

Joy and laughter are so important in the classroom. Don’t forget while reviewing those routines and diving back into content to take some time for fun. Fun can be anything! Maybe it’s a fun hidden picture, and perhaps it’s an extra Go Noodle video, maybe it’s playing four corners. Just make sure that there’s some fun and laughter in your classroom during your first days back as a teacher.

FOur

Take Time For Yourself

Don’t burn yourself out! Hopefully, you took the vacay to live your non-teacher life. So now, don’t spend the first weeks back living at school. Utilize those prep times and try not to stay too late. Take time to invest in your life outside of school as well. The more you invest in yourself as a person, the better you are as a teacher. Trust me.

Five

Give Yourself Grace

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything worked out perfectly after a holiday? Yeah, I can dream about that world, but realistically it doesn’t. Give yourself grace. Take that time away from yourself. Look into using Calm or another meditation app for those moments when things are too much. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a quick emergency calm session when the kids went to specials. Remember, you’ll get there. You will get back into learning and all of the routines that make your classroom a beautiful place. Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

How do you like to set your self up for success after a break? 

Weekly Wisdom

The objective of education is not to fill a man's mind with facts; it is to teach him how to use his mind in thinking. Henry Ford