Thursday, July 5, 2018

Supply Management in the Classroom

In light of #NewTeacherTipTuesday, I felt like I should share the story behind my "You'll Need" supply icons. Classroom management in general has always been an important component of teaching to me. I have spent five years as a Collab teacher (in my district, this means that all of the students in Special Education/with IEPs are placed in one classroom in each grade level and have some type of support from a Special Education co-teacher) and I have had students with a variety of needs- autism at varying levels, DeGeorge syndrome, Oppositional Defiance, emotional disturbances, anxiety disorders, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, etc. Without established routines and procedures, my room can become a war zone.
Like- furniture flying, head banging, F-bomb dropping, finger flipping war zone.
And no learning goes on when that happens.

So what do you do when you have a class that can go from ZERO to SIXTY in just seconds? You work on solving the problems that are within your realm of control. You work on the things that can cause the most disruptions, and transitional times were a BIG one in our classroom. I looped up from 4th Grade to 5th Grade with a particularly needy class in between the 16/17 and 17/18 school year. People on my campus thought I was NUTS for wanting to move up with this particular class. When my principal first asked me, I told him I didn't know if I could do it. But when all my options were weighed, it was the right thing to do. These kids needed someone to keep sticking it out for them. Needed someone to keep showing up for them. Needed someone to PUSH them. So up I went, fully aware of the problems I needed to solve between June and August.

Knowing full well who I was going to be with, I knew that listening and following directions was going to continue being an issue. But I also knew how badly some of my students with special needs wanted to FEEL like they were "normal." While my co-teacher and I always strive to make everyone appear on a level playing field, by the time kids reach 5th Grade, they know who is "special" and who is not. Some of my students had physical markers of their differently-abledness. You could see and hear differently-abledness by the way they spoke, or hardly spoke at all, and responded to simple situations. And there was no hiding from needing more teacher guidance than their peers just to make it to the end of the school day without a visit from the behavior teacher.

So I decided that pictures were going to be the way we would transition. 

I would make a visual for every supply my kids could possibly need and post them in one clear area at the change of each subject. At the start of the year, relying on the icons was taught just like any other procedure. The trick to making this actually work in my classroom? I no longer answered questions about what kids needed. I would say it ONCE, post the icons, and ignore all questions until I was ready to begin my lesson. Some of you are probably freaking out- SHE DIDN'T ANSWER THEIR QUESTIONS?! THAT'S HER JOB! Yeah, it's part of it. But it's also my job not to continue perpetuating learned helplessness.

Fortunately, my dry erase board is magnetic, so all I had to do was add a strip of magnetic tape to the back of my icons to get them to adhere to my board. You can also try Velcro! 

So did it really work? Sure, at first I still had a few kids that weren't prepared with what they needed, but peer pressure smoothed out those problems and even my students with behavioral issues didn't want to be the last one ready to go. When I found myself running to grab papers, set up the projector, jot something on the board, etc., one of my reliable students would put the icons up for me. For several of them, it almost became a battle of who could get up to the board first to pull out what we were going to need.

One of my sweet, reliable girls changing out icons for me!

Once I had made the icons for myself, I knew this could be something that helped a lot of other teachers so I decided to post it in my TpT Shop- You can find the bundle of all the icons here! Currently the bundle has more than 300 icons (it honestly may be 400 or more- I have stopped counting!) that includes separate sets for Math Manipulatives, Science Lab Materials, and Technology. The bundle will also be editable in the coming weeks! I have an entire list of things that I will continue to add to the bundle throughout this summer and into the school year. Follow me on TeachersPayTeachers so you don't miss out on any new products or updates!

If you don't need several hundred icons with individually colored items, I made a simplified version called "Basics" that are available here! These are intended for middle and high school teachers or teachers who are departmentalized and don't need everything that the Bundle has to offer. The cool part about the Basics is that if you need a particular set of icons from the Bundle (say you teach Math, and you just need the Math Manipulatives and not a bunch of Science or Tech icons), they're available individually, too! I have plans Check out the individual sets here:

I keep this handy magnetic pouch right below where I display my icons on my board. 

If you've made it this far, there is still even MORE to tell you about these icons. A digital version that's moveable and projectable via PowerPoint or Google Slides is also an option if you're wanting to save yourself some printing and cutting, or if you want something that travels and is tech friendly! The digital icons haven't been updated with all of the amazing new icons, but that's coming as well. It's just time consuming to put every single piece into Google and with a toddler who will not let me on the computer during her waking hours, it takes even longer! Good thing she's super cute and I love her to pieces. Anyways, check out the digital icons here!
[If you're not quite sure about the digital icons, head over to my Instagram @TheTexasTeacher14 to watch my InstaStories on these guys! I walk you through how it works from start to finish!]

Here's a fairly decent pic of the digital icons in use in my classroom! Adding the typed directions is super helpful! No writing anything out. 

So should you make it to the end of this post and still not have found quite what you're looking for- the icons are also available in Spanish and French. Please feel free to comment, email, Instagram-message, smoke signal... whatever your preferred method of contact is if you have questions about using this method in your classroom. I am seriously happy to help however I can!

Monday, July 2, 2018

#NewTeacherTipTuesday: Community First!

This may seem like a strange first #newteachertiptuesday piece of advice, but community in the classroom is imperative to having a solid learning environment. It may seem like you’ll waltz gingerly into your classroom that first day and your students are sitting there, new clothes and supplies in hand, eager to learn, and highly attentive. You bust open a textbook at the front of the room and you’re on your way to teaching greatness. 

But from every classroom that I have ever been in, that just isn’t the case. You’ll have a few students who show up eager to learn, but many who do not. You may have students who are shy or anxious about a new year, students who are new to your school and haven’t met anyone yet, or kids who are just simply relieved that summer is over so they can come to school for some structure and predictability. So as their teacher (because they are all yours), what are you going to do to meet those needs and make sure that your classroom is setup so every student can learn? 

It’s certainly no easy task- trying to meet the needs of 20-30 different children with different backgrounds, experiences, and expectations. But any effort at all towards making your room a conscious learning environment is going to pay off. Promise.

There’s no need to try to plan out every detail of the community you want in your classroom before school even starts. After all, you can’t do this until you have met and gotten to know your most important ingredient- your students. But as a new educator (and even as one with a few years under your belt!), you can start thinking about ways in which you want to build community in your classroom. Here are a few things to start considering as we head towards Back to School. 

  • How do you want your classroom to feel when your student’s enter on the first day? What can you do to make it feel that way?
  • What routines or activities do you want to try to incorporate in the first weeks to start building community?
  • How will you make sure that every student in your class feels like a part of your room? 

These questions can really be answered any way that you see fit. The way they’re answered depends on who you teach, what you teach, and where you teach. But I’ll try to give you a pinch of insight into how I’d answer these questions! 

How do you want your classroom to feel when your student’s enter on the first day? What can you do to make it feel that way?

I want my classroom to feel like a home away from home- an extension of the home I hope my students are coming from. One full of love, a safe place for mistakes, one where there is structure, but plenty of time for fun and enjoyment in learning. On that very first day, and really every day, I want them to all feel welcomed. When students feel like they aren’t welcome in your room, they certainly aren’t going to enter ready to learn from you. 

So how do I make my room feel like a home away from home? Simple. (Added bonus: Most of the things I do to accomplish this are completely free!) I start with a handshake each morning, requiring eye contact and I tell them good morning with a smile. I may quickly ask about their weekend, compliment a new haircut or a cool shirt, remind them of an inside joke, etc. This sets the tone that they’re wanted here. When behavior problems arise, I don't argue and I try really hard not to confront students publicly. Embarrassing children is not what teachers should be about. And if you do happen to embarrass a child- apologize. Yup- apologize to that student. It is ok to admit that you made a mistake and say that you're sorry for it. This way, when you find yourself asking one student to apologize to another, you yourself, were the example. Down the road, these type of topics might make for good classroom meetings. 

At the end of the day, find a few minutes for a recap of their learning for the day or time to mention highlights that aren't necessarily academic. This is a great opportunity to praise students, compliment them, and allow them to raise each other up. It can be as simple as a 1-2 minute procedure at dismissal that could really engage a student who was feeling alone. 

What routines or activities do you want to try to incorporate in the first weeks to start building community?

I like to get my student's interacting {positively} with one another immediately. After all, they're going to need to get along and work together the rest of the year. Any games or activities that we use the first weeks of school, I always participate in. That way, student's have a chance to get to know me, too. Be mindful of the activities you choose- I will never forget my first year teaching, (which was in a Collab class with about 50% students in Special Education with varying levels of need) I had planned to play a round of "Find Someone Who"- well, low and behold, I had several students who couldn't read the game board to be able to play, and one student who had a severe speech delay and was having trouble communicating whether or not he could sign his peer's boxes on their boards. It was a royal disaster and a great, big learning opportunity. Think through your choices- you'll be happy you did. :)

Check out this amazing post from Teaching with a Mountain View that is loaded with activities for the first weeks: Check it out here!

How will you make sure that every student in your class feels like a part of your room? 

We have all seen headlines lately that have shaken us to our core as educators. Student's being bullied, picked on, feeling like outcasts. Feelings so strong that they've injured others or even themselves. It is a massive task to reach each student, to make every single kid feel loved, but you can do it. Keep greeting every kid with a smile, shake every hand, keep track of compliments you pay kiddos (yes, it is certainly easier to compliment certain students rather than all students), help kids find someone to spend recess with, organize lunch seating so no one is left out, make positive phone calls home, and leave friendly notes on student desks. 

And if you have a student who isn't connecting, who just isn't quite fitting in? Get them help. Reach out to teachers on your team, counselors, and administrators. Let parents know what you see and ask for their advice/share your plan with them. That effort- that mindfulness- will not go unnoticed.