1. Express gratitude: Write down what you're grateful for either at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. I also encourage you to share your gratitude with someone close to you and encourage them to share what they're grateful for. It's a wonderful way to get closer with a love one or simply pass on positive joy to a friend.
2. Get physical: Spend at least a half hour a day getting some physical exercise or focusing on your body in some way - whether you take time for meditation and are taking thoughtful breaths, whether you practice yoga, you work out at the gym, or you take a walk, get your body moving. Considering we have 24 hours in a day, and if you sleep 8 hours and work 10 hours, you still have 6 hours - 360 minutes to find 30 minutes for some physical movement. As we know, physical exercise will not only make you feel happier but will improve your health and might even help you live longer!
3. Laugh: Whether you look at a funny video, make weird crazy faces while at a stop light, or talk to someone you know you usually laugh with, do whatever you need to find a moment of laughter each day. For instance, I have a student who makes the funniest expression when I explain anything to the class - that's his thinking face, but it literally makes my day! Try even having a giant smile for a while and see what happens to you! Laughing is so important - it will fill you with joy and will hopefully remind you to appreciate all the good things in your life.
4. Fuel your passion: Do what you love as often as possible. If you don't have a job you love, then find another job! Okay, I realize many people don't always love their jobs, in fact, at times it can feel taxing, but perhaps try to find something about your job that you love - whether it's going for a walk, talking with a co-worker, completing a particular task, etc. I also encourage you to find something you love outside of your job - whether it's painting, writing, reading a book, reading a funny article, cooking, eating chocolate, going dancing, spending time with someone you care about, learning something new, taking a bicycle ride, looking at the sunset, going to the airport to celebrate good landings, whatever it is you want to do that just fills your heart with joy, do it.
5. Schedule time for happiness: Take control of your hours in the day and plan time for your happiness - whether it's time with friends, family, someone important, or time to yourself, rest time, break time, pampering time, please take the time to love yourself. There's always time for you - you just have to make sure you give the time you deserve to yourself to find joy, happiness, and then pass that joy on to others.
What do you do to bring happiness to your life?
1. Chip Wood's Yardsticks: (Great Resource Book)
Anyone who is teaching/raising kids ages 4-14 needs to read this book! It's a go to resource that I look through pretty often! Great in terms of children's development and getting a sense of what you might expect socially, emotionally, along with appropriate curriculum ideas for each age group. Of course, differentiation is key, and each kid will fall along the continuum in each category, but I've just found it to be helpful in my planning, curriculum development, and in conferences with parents!
2. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's How To Talk So Kids Can Learn: (Great tips!)
I've found this book to be incredibly helpful over the years. I've become fascinated with the language we use, or often don't use enough of, in classrooms and how this directly impacts relationships, safety, and learning.
3. Responsive Classroom's First Six Weeks of School: (Helpful guide)
I picked this book up a few years into my teaching career and loved it. I've also had the opportunity to train in levels 1 and 2 of Responsive Classroom and have incorporated the morning meeting strategies and many of the other tools in my classroom. While I initially was moved by Harry Wong's The First Days of School (and I appreciated all I gathered from that book), I found this book to be quite helpful when it came to planning out my year at the beginning. I actually highly recommend several of the Responsive Classroom books - but would suggest a training to get a better sense of the program and to utilize the philosophy as intended.
4. Debbie Silver's Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers: (Uplifting viewpoint)
I loved this book - it's an easy read - with lovely poems sprinkled in. If you find yourself frustrated and want to be uplifted, or you're searching for some lovely ideas to love on each kid and find ways to differentiate your instruction, this is a definite go to!
5. William Glasser's Choice Theory: (Great read on behavior)
I appreciate this book as a lot of my own classroom management strategies stem from a few of his core tenants, such as: the only behavior we can control is our own. This may not immediately jump out as an educational book, but I include it here as we often get sucked into reading just in our own 'educational' books. It's important to look at psychology, business, arts, science, and books in all fields really, to find the connections to our own work. While I don't agree with all of Glasser's points, and even question a few of his bold statements, I found this to be an interesting read and one that I often think about when it comes to classroom management.
What are some of your favorite books?
1. Model positive body language: Have you ever noticed that when you smile at someone, they usually smile back? How about those people that seem so happy to see you - don't you get excited to see them too? For those of us with dogs, think about how happy your dog is when you come home - aren't you happy to see your dog too? We tend to mirror the body language that we encounter. If we see our boss happy and smiling and walking towards us, we feel good. Imagine, however, seeing your boss looking upset and walking towards you - wouldn't you shut down, walk away, or try to avoid your boss? It's the same in the classroom. Start by smiling, a genuine smile. Have an open body position - avoid arms crossed and a frown, welcome students with a smile. You can even tilt your head with a smile - this is inviting - just notice how students respond to you! Often, I'll have students smile at me to show me that they're ready - at times I'll have them hold their smile for an uncomfortably long time, which often leads to some laughter. This is good - the mood has been lifted and you've just made the classroom feel a bit happier.
2. Use an appropriate sense of humor: I had to add appropriate, as it really depends upon the grade level and subject you're teaching. It's important to know students' development and realize what jokes are appropriate and whether or not sarcasm is an appropriate or a demeaning form of humor to use in the classroom. I tend to avoid sarcasm as I don't consider it to be friendly and I also think it sets a rather negative tone in the classroom. I also don't mean knock knock jokes, but rather a playful sense of humor to break any tension or to lift the mood in the classroom is always enjoyable.
3. Be playful: For instance, when I was teaching fifth grade, we decorated our pencil sharpener - gave him eyes, hair and even a mustache! We called him Mr. Mustachio. The students thought it was hilarious. When Mr. Mustachio's eyes were closed that meant we couldn't bother him to sharpen pencils. Instead, we would place our pencils in the pencil hospital and retrieve another pencil that was already sharpened. But sometimes, Mr. Mustachio was awake and those were the times to sharpen pencils. This set the procedure for sharpening pencils in a playful way and students were obsessed.
4. Get to know your students and what makes them happy: This seems obvious but often we forget that students make up 99% of the classroom! If you don't know what your students like, love, enjoy, or what makes them laugh, find out! Incorporate this information into tests, quizzes, homework assignments, and class activities - they will feel heard, appreciated and might really enjoy doing a math problem that deals with the number of Drake records sold. Or perhaps, they would be excited to receive a secret mission to complete that relates to their interests while still tackling some core content standards.
5. Meditate and encourage moments of quiet/stillness: Students are coming from some place of chaos before they come to your classroom - a great way to get them all settled is by taking some moments to breathe together, to meditate, to even practice some yoga together, whatever works to get them all calm, settled, and realize they're in a safe space where they are cared for, where they are valued, and where they will have fun while learning. I do this frequently in my classroom and it's amazing to feel the difference shift from some anxiety, negativity, and wild behaviors to a calm and happier balanced classroom. Try to start your classes this way or also close out in this way before they share their learning take-away and you dismiss students from your classroom. This will set the tone for your classroom and they will know that no matter what they experienced before they came to your room, they'll have the chance to take a breath, slow down, connect with themselves, and be fully present. My 8th graders often ask that we start class this way and they smile when they hear the meditation music - because they have a moment to just relax and breathe.
What's worked for you to foster a happier classroom?
1. All in one: Put everything in one place. I recommend a binder that can hold all the subjects. Each subject area should go under a different tab and in each tab, have the student organize that subject by classwork, tests/quizzes, and you can further label the categories, if you so wish. Things become difficult for students who need to balance multiple folders, binders, and books. I realize not everything can be consolidated, but try to consolidate as much as possible.
2. Designated work area: Students need a designated space to work on homework at home with a calendar posted or available that lists all upcoming assignments/assessments.
3. Write it down: Students need to write everything down that needs to be done and then prioritize what needs to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. It is incredibly helpful for students to become acquainted with to do lists/check lists. Make sure students write down what needs to be done, how long the task may take, and when it will be done! Some students use planners, some use iPads, some use a piece of paper, but it needs to be written down. Most of the trouble my students encounter is when they rely on their parents, on a website, or another system where they aren't responsible for keeping track of it themselves- they forget more easily and more readily what needs to be done!
4. Color Code: Give each subject a color - anything that has to do with that subject should go in that color tab. I also recommend book sleeves that match the color designated to the subject for their textbooks.
5. Homework Folder: This can be in the front of the binder, but must be the first thing the student sees - one section should be labeled: "To Do" and the other section: "Turn In"
6. Regular Cleaning Sessions: Students must take the time to clean out lockers/desks/backpacks at least once a week and to go through their large binder/folder/organizer to make sure all is in order. Some things can probably be recycled if they're no longer needed or put into a storage binder in case. Regular cleaning sessions will help students start the new week out fresh.
7. Organization/Study Buddy: Have students connect with another student who turns in assignments on time and seems to be organized to develop study habits from a peer.
8. Break it down: Take big projects and break them into smaller tasks that can be done over time on a daily basis. Spend time breaking down assignments and tasks with students and have them insert these tasks into their planner/calendaring system. Over time, give them the task to break down larger assignments and have them create their own mini-due dates and check-ins.
9. Do what you've got to do before you can do what you want to do! Enough said!
10. Nightly ritual: Encourage each student to pack his/her backpack the night before and double check that all items that are needed for the next day are actually in the bag. Encourage students to also lay out the clothes he/she will wear the next day to make the morning a bit easier. Especially as students get older, the more they will crave their sleep. The more stress that a student encounters in the morning, the more disorganized they are going to be during the day as they will feel rushed and unsure about what needs to be done.
What else works when it comes to student organization? Share your ideas and stories below!
Parent Teacher Conferences can be stressful, scary, and nerve-wracking, but they should be informative, fun, productive, and focus on ways to help each child be as successful as possible to reach their own goals, parents' goals, and teacher(s)' goals.
1. Be prepared: I know this seems obvious - but go that extra mile. I recommend reading over the report carefully and finding patterns. Note the areas of strengths and challenges per subject and see if these fall under larger categories.
Soandso Student's areas of strength: Participation, understanding of content, and work ethic
Soandso Student's areas of stretch: Organization and study habits
Also, try to have samples of student work that shows their success/growth and other works that demonstrate a need for areas of stretch.
2. Parents have questions and comments - invite them to go first: Many parents come with notes or questions about various areas and it helps them to share these when you get started. By doing so, you can see if you're on the same page or discover any discrepancies.
3. LISTEN: Truly listen and write down what parents have to share. Encourage them to share positives first about their child as they are quite quick to jump to what isn't working and what their child needs to improve upon (as these areas are what parents often see first in report cards!). Too often, I've seen teachers dominate the conference not allowing the parents to say much at all.
4. Parents view children as extensions of themselves: Be sensitive to this and be supportive! Parents work very hard to help their child become the person you encounter on a regular basis. When a child isn't working to their full potential, parents can often view this as a personal attack.
5. Include the Child's Perspective: If the child cannot be at the conference, I highly recommend you have students reflect upon their learning, their areas of strength/stretch and set goals for themselves along with their action plans to reach those goals. Share these with the parents as this sometimes correlates with teachers' and parents' viewpoints, and often highlight discrepancies. Ideally, having the student present is amazing as the pathway to open communication can be much clearer.
6. Remember to start with positives and end with positives. You can insert the areas of stretch in between, but it's important to share the highlights and have the parents remember all the successes their child is having in school - no matter how small - they're relevant.
7. Focus on solutions and stop harping on the problems. When parents and teachers just complain about a child's lack of organizational skills, nothing gets accomplished - come up with an action plan - such as a way to compile all students' subject folders into one binder and having a clear folder that is labeled: Homework/Work To Do and Homework/Work To Turn In. Parents appreciate proactive positive problem-solving and helpful solutions more than just being stuck and rehashing their child's struggle.
8. Don't make assumptions! Have extra copies of the report ready to distribute. Don't assume parents have read the report - some of them may not have had time or access if their internet wasn't working (for online reports) or if their printer was jammed, or if they just couldn't seem to locate it. Also, don't assume parents know of all their child's successes in school. Perhaps their child goes home and doesn't share much at all of what they're doing, learning, or what's happening socially. Share these items and you'll be surprised how much parents may not know about their child's successes and/or struggles.
9. Provide extra resources: This tip really goes hand in hand with the preparation tip, but it's a lovely way to end the conference. Give a list of websites that can help stretch students' skills in various subject areas that you have found to be beneficial. Also, provide handouts from Chip Wood's Yardsticks for what to expect at different grade levels, academically, socially, and emotionally (have copies for your grade level, the one below, and the one above your grade level to help parents see where their child falls in various categories). Any other resources that you think would be beneficial to distribute and relevant (such as ways to stay organized or study tips), provide these as well (I recommend having these resources also available online in case they misplace the items you give them).
10. Spread the love: Just as children need our love and support - so do parents. They need to know you care about their child (genuinely) and that you are there to help and support the child. Part of your job is to also spread that love to the parents - it's a partnership after all!
11. Be available: While the conference is a perfect place to talk about successes and areas of stretch, it's not the only time you should check in with parents. Invite them to reach out to you with questions/comments by e-mail/phone (whatever you are most comfortable with). I have a policy that I get back to all within 24 hours. If, for some reason, they do not hear back from me after 24 hours, I ask that they re-send their e-mail or leave another voicemail to help me get back to them in a timely fashion.
What have you found to be successful for parent teacher conferences?
1. Home for everything: Have a clearly marked home for everything in your classroom. Spend time in making it look presentable so you feel happy, comfortable, and proud of the space.
2. Colors and Numbers: Color code and number your items. Have your students learn the color coding/numbering system or, depending upon their age, have them help you. I have four large pillars in my classroom. These are decorated with different colors and numbers. This allows me to have students meet in groups by number or color and they know where to go. I also number students' binders and expect them to return their binders back to their designated shelf in number order. Their numbers also correlate with their seating charts. I like to keep the same number throughout the year so students have a clear space/home every time they come to my classroom. However, I mix students up a lot in a variety of group work and partner work and they physically pick new areas to work in on a regular basis.
3. Accessibility: All materials need to be clearly labeled and easily accessible for students. Items that are only for you, the teacher, should be out of the reach or placed in a secure place. If your supplies are next to student supplies, don't be surprised if students use your personal supplies. Also, make sure that there are no blind spots in your classroom. Organize the desks/furniture in a way that you can see the whole room and you can easily move around the classroom. Finally, only have things out that you don't mind students touching or interacting with. I wouldn't have rulers available unless an activity calls for them. This eliminates the "ow, so-and-so hit me with a ruler" - no ruler, no hitting with a ruler!
4. Defined place for each student: Every student should have a clearly marked spot in the classroom - a place they can call their own - whether it's their own desk, their own cubby and/or their own hook for elementary students or their own consistent place to sit for middle/high school students. If you have students come to the carpet as well as their own desk - provide them with a spot on the carpet as well. Knowing that every activity and lesson will provide them with a space they can call their own is comforting and extremely needed for some students! Students crave predictability and it helps everyone to know that a space is reserved just for them. If a student arrives late, their spot is waiting for them. This sends a signal that they are missed. Imagine the signal it sends when a student arrives late and the carpet seems full and now students have to adjust to allow the other student a place to fit. If you choose to have students choose their own seat, some students will inevitably feel left out and it will encourage more of a social experience. Some will gravitate towards the back and corners, hoping to be invisible. Some will look uncertain of where to sit and where they will feel safe. Enough social and emotional elements are happening during the school day. Provide a seating chart, that you can always change if a student speaks to you about it or if you notice that some seat assignments aren't helping the students do their best work.
5. Lighting/Accessories: Invest in lighting and comfortable furniture that make the classroom space feel more inviting and less sterile! This makes a huge difference! I like the clip on lights you can clip onto bulletin boards, floor lamps in corners of rooms, and table lamps in corners of the rooms. If you can invest in lighting or even a dimmer switch, go for it! Research indicates that we tend to be more creative in a room that isn't as bright. I avoid florescent lights like the plague (which means, they are mostly off in my classroom). For those who've experienced wedding planning, spend as much time thinking about your classroom design as you may have thought about for your own wedding.
6. Displays: Post information/art work at students' eye level - be careful of posting things too high that you really want your students to see and interact with. Try to post things created BY, WITH, and FOR your students - make it belong to the classroom. Make the displays neat, clean, and don't feel the need to fill up the walls. Too much can also be distracting to the students.
7. Organization Checks: Encourage your students to be organized with their materials and conduct regular checks to help them keep their areas neat and tidy.
8. Material Managers: Have students take on the job of material manager, help them keep their areas clean and organized.
9. Play Music: Play a song during set-up of activities that require certain materials and during clean-up to make the process more enjoyable - it can also act as the time limit to get the room set and cleaned! I play music at the beginning of many of my classes as we start with a meditation. This music is calm and it magically makes the kids act as if they're entering a zen sanctuary. Without the music it feels like another regular classroom. It is important to model and demonstrate your expectations before students know what to do in response to the music you play!
10. Teacher Daily Closing Procedure: After the students are gone, spend the last 30 minutes of each day closing out your classroom/day. Spend 10-15 minutes setting up for the next day (Reset your schedule, post your morning message, check that things are where they belong, set the first activity on desks if applicable). Then spend the last 10-15 minutes at your work station - reorganizing, filing, and putting things away, while also taking out anything you feel you will need.
What ideas do you have to make your classroom cozy and organized?