Re-thinking “morning work”

How many adults wake up and start their day with a worksheet?

None that I know of.

Whether it is called “bell work” “morning work” or a “a daily warm up” lots of students begin their day by completing a worksheet, answering questions or a doing a pre-planned activity – all of which have been decided for them by the teacher.

Just check out Google or Pinterest to see all the different varieties:

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But how do people start their day in their ‘real world’?

I start my day by scrolling through my Twitter.

My husband starts his day by meditating.

My mother starts her day by doing a crossword puzzle.

My father starts his day by playing chess.

My best friend starts her day by working out.

My mother-in-law starts her day by reading.

My father-in-law starts his day checking sports scores.

All different. All valuable. All self-chosen.

Why can’t students start their school days like this? Why can’t students choose how they start their own school days? Perhaps if we allowed students to choose how to begin their school day we would not have to stand in the halls and count down from 10 and compel our students to enter the classroom. Perhaps they would want to enter because they are excited and happy to be at school and start their day. I know teachers have many administrative responsibilities at the beginning of the day like attendance and collecting field trip forms, so a 10 – 15 minute window of time is needed to ensure these responsibilities are met. But why are we dictating how students spend those first 10-15 minutes warming up to their day?

Next year I plan to have a discussion with my students about how humans start their days. I plan to share how my friends and family begin their days, and I hope my students will share how their friends and family begin their day. I hope we can use this to create a list of possibilities about how students might start their day and post it somewhere in our room. Then I plan to respect their freedom and choice over how they start their school day while I am competing my administrative responsibilities.

Imagine the learning that might happen….

Imagine the connections that might happen….

Imagine the skills that might be developed….

Imagine no longer needing to find, photocopy and mark “bell work”…

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My plan for a more fair and free place to learn…

Yesterday I shared my thoughts and reflections about my own practice creating a democratic community in the classroom and I promised to share my plan for next year- once I had one. Well, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and as a result a plan has started to take shape, so here are my initial ideas, as promised!

Classroom Set-up

In the past I would spent the summer coming up with a blueprint for my classroom set-up and then during the week before students would arrive, I would spend countless hours setting it all up on my own. This year I plan to hold off on any classroom set-up until the first day of school. Once the students arrive and attendance has been taken, we can come together for the first time as a community and together decide how we want our learning space to be set-up. From there I am hoping we can break off into task-forces (classroom library, physical set-up, boards, resources and manipulates, school supplies etc.) where I can support students in coming up with a plan, putting that plan into action and then reflecting on how things went. I have to be prepared to let go, allow the process to unfold and resist the urge to jump in and rescue or veto. Overtime, I think the natural consequences of any design flaws will appear and as a community we can come back as a group and discuss what is working and what might need to change to better serve the needs of our learning community.

Systems and Routines

This will be the hardest for me. Every year that I have taught, I have started the year with a clearly laid of plan for every routine imaginable within the teaching day. This year, I plan to come up with these systems with my students. As a community, we can brainstorm all the times in the day it would be beneficial to have a routine, and then discuss what routines they might have used in other classes. From there we can discuss the pros and cons of different approaches and vote on the ones we want to try. I think it would be helpful at this point to document the why, how and what of each routine in a visible spot somewhere in the room – perhaps with some criteria for how we will know it is working, and clues for when we might need to revisit and refine our plans.

Community Building 

Obviously it is essential at the beginning of a new school year to build a sense of community and help students get to know each other. Similar to classroom set-up and classroom routines, this has been something I have spent hours in the summer planning – to the point that when I started a new school year, the first five day plans were fully filled out and ready to go! This fall I would like to develop this alongside my students. I plan to start with the why – and stimulate a discussion about why it is important to build relationships with the people in our community. From there we can dive into the question – how do humans build relationships? Hopefully this provides a long list of potential activities that we can use throughout the week to build a strong community.

Schedule

In the past I have always built our class schedule alone – without the input or ideas of my students. This year I’d like to try and build it with them. I have been given a schedule template (which accounts for all my specialist classes) but aside from those specified times I plan to leave the rest blank until the students arrive. When the students arrive I’d like to invite them to help build our class schedule. In order to make informed decisions, I think it would be important to first inquire into learning – how do people learn, why do people learn, how do other schools and classes schedule their learning. I also think at this point it would be important to be transparent about our limits and boundaries with regards to curriculum and programming. As an IB school that has adopted the Common Core, I think it is important for students to inquire into “what” they are supposed to learn and also “how” they are supposed to learn. Once students are familiar with what they are supposed to learn in Grade 4, how they are supposed to learn as IB students along with what options are out there for structuring a school day – then we can work together to design a schedule that meets our needs. Perhaps students will breakout into groups or work on their own to come up with a proposed schedule and then we can vote on which one, we as a community, like best.

Homework

In previous years as a classroom teacher I have decided what is for homework, why it is for homework and when it is for homework. When I started to think about going back in the classroom I decided that there would be no homework ever. Now that I think about that, I have realized that either way I am deciding something on the students behalf – which I would like to avoid. Instead of a blanket decision for the entire class one way or another, I have decided to open it up to a personal and family decision. Again, in order to make informed decisions I think it would be important to inquire into the different perspectives around homework (student, parent, teacher, administrator, research etc.) and share those discoveries with the parents community. From there each student, along with their parents, can decide if they want homework. Then, I can support the students who have opted for homework to come up with a personal plan – starting with why, then working out the how and what.

Conflict Resolution

When you force 24 humans to spend 5 days a week, 7 hours a day together in one room, conflict is bound to occur. And in the past when conflict has happened, I have been the judge, the jury, and the mediator. I have had a plan for how I would deal with conflicts in the classroom, but this year I want students to not only be part of the decision, but also part of the actual processes once they are decided. At first I was going to impose a model of “council meetings” like they have at Free School, shown in this documentary from minute 23-32. But then I realized making that decision on my own for them, was just as un-democratic. So instead I’d like to discuss as a class, how humans in the real world solve conflicts. I’m hoping this leads to discussion of strategies for small conflicts and also options for when people with unresolved conflicts look for extra support form the community (i.e.. mediators, councils, town halls, judiciary committees etc.). We can inquire into how humans solve conflict in the real world, then we can see how schools have adopted these practices and then finally decide as a community which one(s) we would like to have as options when conflicts arise.

Goal Setting 

Usually the week before school starts I am exhausted from setting up the classroom and planning the first week of school….but since I won’t be doing any of that this year without my students I am anticipating a lot of unused time on my hands. In thinking about building a democratic classroom community, it is not only important that students have a voice, but also that parents have a voice. So I think a great use of my free time would be to invite parents in to meet with me for a pre-school year conference. I would love to sit down with parents and ask them what their goals are for their child for the year and what they would like from me in order to support those goals. I would also love to ask them to tell me about their child’s needs, interests, skills and passions. I think this would be a really great to lay the foundation for a collaborative partnership with my students’ families and also a great way to show that their voice, knowledge, opinion and perspectives are not only welcome, but also valued.

Thinking in this way has been a huge challenge for me. I am still very inclined to come up with these plans on my own during the summer and I actually have to force myself to stop, but becoming aware of those tendencies has helped me see more clearly the power structures that have existed in my previous classrooms. I am really excited to take this new approach and I am hopeful that the time invested to have these conversations, conduct these inquires and democratically make these decisions will lead to a really powerful and productive learning community. I know as the school year gets underway, I will need to think about how to democratically approach things like curriculum, units, assessment and reporting… but for now, I am happy with my plan in these seven aforementioned areas. And, as always, I will report back and let you know how it goes!

How do you plan to establish a more democratic classroom this school year?

How do you plan to ensure your students’ voices are equal to yours?

How democratic is your classroom?

I am currently in a summer course called Alternative Approaches to Schooling – which is BLOWING my mind – with concepts of free-schooling, willed-curriculum, unschooling, holistic education, critical pedagogy and democratic education. We have also been reading an amazing book called Tuning Points, which chronicles the personal journeys of 35 education revolutionaries.

All of this new knowledge is provoking my own thinking about my plans for next year. Am I helping to develop the whole child? Will my students experience freedoms and personal liberties? What structures of power will exist?

And the question that has been circling my mind the most…

How democratic will my classroom be? 

I used to think my approach to teaching was very democratic and that I helped to set up a community of learners where students had ample voice and choice…. but the more I have read, thought, discussed and watched real examples of democratic classrooms, the more I am beginning to wonder. Schools like Summerhill and Windsor House are living breathing examples of how trusting children to participate in real and important decisions can be quite magical. Watching a student-led “council meeting” from minute 23-32 on this documentary shows just how powerful true democratic processes can be in the classroom.

I think back to my pages and pages of detailed classroom layouts that I would sketch in the summer, showing exactly where every piece of furniture would be, all to be set up before any student stepped foot into the classroom…

I think of my pages and pages of detailed systems and routines for being quite, moving spots, going to the bathroom, starting the day, ending the day, cleaning up, packing up, solving problems that I would plan on my own and train students to follow during the first few weeks of school…

I think of all the “community meetings” where I controlled what was discussed, how it was discussed and who participated in the discussion and when….

And I’m feeling like, perhaps, my classrooom was psuedo-democractic at best. Where I always had the final voice and veto and I would carefully decide what decisions and plans students were allowed to participate in.

This year I would like to try and do better. I would like to try and become a truly democratic community, where students and I make plans and decisions together. Where all of our votes count for one. Where students are trusted with real responsibility to make real decisions that actually matter. Where the classroom looks and feels and functions more like the real world.

How? I have no idea yet… but when I figure it out I’ll be sure to share it with you here! 

In your classroom and school, are you teaching about democracy… or through democracy?

How much have you planned  for next year without your students?

My Magic Answer

As PYP Coordinator, I am honoured to be considered a resource for teachers when they have questions about teaching, learning and everything in between. The questions I am asked cover a wide range of curiosities:

“How should I set up my classroom?”

“How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

“How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

“How can I get my students attention?”

“What should the timeline be for this project?”

“How can I be a better teacher?”

Even though I get asked a wide range of questions, I noticed something interesting. Something very interesting! I can answer all of the questions above – and most of the questions I get asked throughout the day – with the same answer:

“Ask your students.”

Go ahead, try it. Go back through the list and see if that answer doesn’t work for any of those questions…

Teacher: “How should I set up my classroom?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I get my students attention?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should the timeline be for this project?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I be a better teacher?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

See! It is magic! It works for every question! Let’s try some more…

Teacher: “How can I build a classroom community?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I use Twitter in the classroom?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should I put up on my inquiry cycle?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students reflect on their learning?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What resources will help my students inquire into ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I tune in to what my students already know about ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher:“Why are my students not engaged?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Oftentimes teachers are so busy and bogged down… now I know why! They are doing the thinking on behalf of all of their students. Why not share the load? They say two heads are better than one, so surely 20+ heads are way better than one!

Why not invite student voice into your decision making?

Why not share problems of teaching, learning and everything in between with your students?

Why not turn the questions we have as teachers into collaborative inquiries with your class?

Why not trust your students to have creative, brilliant solutions that you maybe haven’t thought of?

Why not get rid of “secret teacher business” altogether?

Why not trust students to tackle the problems we grapple with as adults?

So next time you have a question why not try turning it over to your class first, because you know what my (magic) answer will be anyway…

Ask your students. 

 

Connecting with Students

At the beginning of the year, I chose the word connect to guide my intentions, goals and actions for the year. I wanted to connect more with students, teachers, parents and the on-line PYP community. Three months in, as I reflect on my growth so far, I can see that I have made the most progress connecting with students. As I try to unpack “why is it like that?” (causation) I can identify a few  factors that have helped me.

Here are the 10 things I’ve tried that I think have helped me connect more with students:

  1. Smile at them – a simple act that makes a big difference. I notice that when I smile at a student, their usual first reaction is shock and surprise, always followed by a smile back. I often wonder why students are so shocked to have a teacher or adult smile at them? Is it that rare? I truly hope not.
  2. Say hello and goodbye – As often as possible, I try to position myself in a place that allows me to greet students in the morning and send them off at then end of the day.
  3. Learn names. Use names. Pronounce them properly – Recently I read a quote that said some students can go a full day at school without ever hearing a teacher/adult say their name. How heartbreaking! This year, I have intentionally tried to learn as many names as possible and use them in my interactions and conversations with students. Whether its a greeting, a question, a compliment, I find using their name adds a nice personal touch. I’ve also tried my best to pronounce each name properly. This often requires lots of practice and seeking out feedback from students. But the students are always so appreciative of the effort. It has taken me three years to master “Ahmed”! My next challenge is “Khaled”.
  4. Ask questions and care about the answer – Edna Sackson advises us to go beyond learning students’ names and start learning their stories. How can we do this without asking questions? How was your weekend? How is your family? How was your day? This year I have tried to ask questions, not just to ask, but to really listen and care about the answer. It has been amazing to learn about students’ lives outside of school.
  5. Inquire into their interests – 90% of my conversation with the Grade 5 boys at my school are about WWE. I have absolutely no interest in WWE myself, but I love hearing their passion and excitement when they talk about their favourite wrestlers, favourite matches and favourite moves. Whether it is WWE, Trash Packs, Bey Blades, Geronimo Stilton, Premiere League or Frozen, there is such power in learning about the interests of each student. You don’t need to care about the same thing, but you can still acknowledge their interest and ask them questions about it to show you are interested in them.
  6. Care for themThe Relevant Educator has a great post explaining the difference between caring about students and caring for students. This has been my inspiration for actively seeking opportunities to care for students. Whether that means picking up something they dropped, holding a door open for them, helping them carry a heavy backpack or teaching them how to to tie their shoe. Small, simple acts of kindness can go a long way to show you care.
  7. Take interest in their language, culture and religion – As an international teacher, most of the students at my school are from a different culture, speak a different language and practice a different religion than me. I find the more I ask, listen and learn about their language, culture and religion the better I understand them as people and our relationship becomes stronger. I enjoy being able to use simple phrases or hand gestures that students understand. It is great to be able to acknowledge and wish them well for an upcoming holiday. It is clear that they appreciate the interest and the effort.
  8. Take their problems seriously – Sometimes I find we minimize students’ problems. I think it would be helpful to reflect on how we would feel experiencing those same problems as adults. How upset would you be if your money was stolen out of your purse? Could you focus on your job if you and your best friend were in a fight? This year I have tried to empathize more with students when they are looking for help solving their problems – both big and small. I have tried to put myself in their shoes and consider how I would be feeling if I were them, and it has helped me invest more time in listening to their problems and supporting them through solving those problems.
  9. Have a sense of humor – I love having jokes with students. One student calls me Cruela Daville, one student gives me points when she sees me drinking water and takes points away when she sees me drinking coffee, one student thanks me for the Starbucks I left on his desk (which I never do) and I love it. I love joking around with students. I love laughing with students. I love being invited to see that side of their personality.
  10. Play with them – This is the jackpot. Whether it is playing tic-tac-toe, who can reach my hand when I wear high heels, stella-ella-ola, solve the riddle, a moon walking contest or the latest version of rock-paper-scissors (which requires going into the splits!)  I find that playing with students is the best way that I can build genuine relationships with them. I try to force myself to go out for recesses that I am not on duty, specifically to play with the students. (Not to mention it provides fresh air, exercise and stress relief for me!) 

It’s interesting that sometimes you hear teacher’s say “I don’t have enough time to build relationships with students”. As PYP coordinator, none of my direct responsibilities involve students, but I actively seek out opportunities to purposefully connect with students. For me, building relationships with students is intentional… and essential… and the best part of working in the field of education! I often ask myself, Who have I not connected with yet? What can I do to form a bond with this student? and I purposefully invest the time and effort to build that bond. And the investment is so worth it. I am proud to say I have numerous authentic, meaningful relationships with many of the students at my school. I love when they run to my office to share their learning with me. I am honoured that they trust me with their problems. I enjoy the inside jokes we share. I appreciate that they listen to me when I have a reminder or redirection about their safety or behavior. I like being invited to take the Bean Boozled challenge! (If you don’t know what this is, consider yourself lucky!) 

I can also acknowledge that connecting with students is not accidental. It’s  a causal relationship. I invest in the relationship in purposeful ways and I reap the benefits daily.

Which of these do you already do?

Which of these might you want to start doing?

What else do you do to intentionally connect with the students?

 

Goodbye clip charts. Hello individualized behaviour plans.

The term ‘behaviour management‘ has always bothered me. It gives the impression, that as teachers, all we are trying to do is ‘manage‘ behaviours in hopes of getting by and surviving the day. If our focus is only on managing behaviours are we missing an amazing opportunity to help develop good humans? I think so.

In my opinion one of the biggest culprits of ‘managing‘ behaviour is the good ol’ whole class behaviour plan.

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You know the one. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve used it. Maybe you’ve experienced it as a child. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is shaped like a guitar. Sometimes it looks like a stoplight. Sometimes it uses IB language. Sometimes there are stickers involved. Other times, clothespins. Lately it has made its way online in the form of  Class Dojo. No matter how you slice it, it is what it is. A whole class behaviour plan. Very public. Very one-size-fits-no-one. Google image search “Whole Class Behaviour Plan” to see the full spectrum of options!

I’m not the first blogger to launch an attack on the whole class behaviour plan…

So What’s My Problem with Public Behaviour Charts?

Why I Will Never Use a Behaviour Chart Again

6 Reasons to Reject Class Dojo 

But I do want to take a different approach when re-thinking the whole class behaviour plan. I have decided to interview the most child-centered educator I have ever worked with. You may know her as the Globally Minded Counsellor or follow her on Twitter @h_sopierce. I know her as Heidi, my colleague, sounding board and friend. I have decided to interview her in order to explore the debate about whole class behaviour plans from a counselling lens – with the student’s best interest at the heart of it all.

Press play on the podcast below to listen to what Heidi had to say about whole class behaviour plans versus individualized behaviour success plans:

Here is a summary of the major points from Heidi’s podcast:

From a counselling lens, what do you think about whole class behaviour plans with regards to classroom management?

  • only manages behaviours at a surface level, but unless we look at what each individual students needs they will only be management tools to help the teacher succeed, but not necessarily impact the students’ behaviour
  • more about keeping a classroom in control, than changing students’  behaviours
  • sets the tone that the teacher believes that students will fail in their behaviour somehow
  • shaming and calling students out in public are harmful to the student in the long run

Is there ever a time when a whole-class behaviour plan is needed?

  • need to reflect on strategies teachers are using and perhaps gaps in systems, routines, consistency, boundaries that might make it seem like a whole-class behaviour plan is needed
  • might need to identify behaviours that 2 or 3 students need to change, not usually all 20 students need to change

What can teachers do who want to move away from the use of whole-class behaviour plans?

  • build authentic, genuine relationships with students (greet each student at the door – make eye contact, shake their hand use their names; get to know them as individuals – what motivates them, what’s happening at home, what are their interests)
  • reach out to other teachers and counsellors and see what works, what they suggest, and what resources are available

How do you know when an individualized behaviour success plan is needed?

  • after you have tried a variety of differentiated strategies for behaviour supports for your students and they still aren’t working that might indicate that a student would benefit from an individualized behaviour success plan
  • the 1 or 2 students who need to be “taught” about their behaviour and not just “told” or “reminded” about their behaviour

What advice to do you have for teachers who want to create an individualized behaviour success plan?

  • sit with a counsellor or administrator and consult about wanting to set this up
  • create it with the student – sit with student and discuss behaviour; pick one or two specific behaviours to focus on;
  • ensure it is goal oriented – make it specific, not general and vague
  • make it developmentally appropriate
  • ensure the plan allows for the student to celebrate success
  • have a ‘celebration’- high five, chat with the teacher, playing with teacher etc.
  • build in time to re-set
  • praise, praise, praise, praise – share the good stuff with their family!
  • keep it simple
  • make it a working document that is revisited
  • needs to be consistent
  • be okay with trial and error
  • involve student in tracking and self-reflection in an age-appropriate way

(To read more about Heidi’s perspective on the impact whole class behaviour plans can have on students, check out her blog post: How your classroom management practices led to counselling.)

To sum it all up, I will use a famous “Heidi question” that I hear Heidi ask all day, every day (it’s what makes her such an amazing, truly student-centred educator)…

What’s best for students?

If we use this question to re-think our use of whole class behaviour plans and drive our process when building individualized behaviour success plans, we can rest assured the we too are keeping our student’s wellbeing at the heart of everything we do.

What are your thoughts on whole-class behaviour plans?

What are your thoughts on individualized behaviour success plans?

How do you ensure you practices align with what is best for students?

 

These are a few of my favourite routines

I have to admit, when I was in the classroom I was obsessed with classroom routines! The more my students knew what to do, when to do it and how to do it, the more independent they could be and the more time for learning we all had. Now that I am out of the classroom, I love going in to other teachers’ classrooms and helping them develop routines that meet the needs of their students. So I thought I’d share some of my all-time favourites here, with all of you too!

Here are 20 of my all-time favourite routines…

Start of the Day:

  1. The meet and greet – I would stand in the door way and greet every student by name with a “hello” and “how are you today?” It took some practice about how to politely respond, but eventually it shifted and I would stand in the door way and the students would greet me!
  2. The daily warm-up – Each day I would have a few tasks written on the board so the students would know exactly what to do and how to get ready for the day. Early on in my teaching journey this started as closed-tasks- worksheets and assignments – but eventually it morphed into some of the best inquiry time of the whole day!
  3. The morning show – I pressed play on the 45 second “Hawaii 5.0” theme song and students would tidy up and head to the carpet. We greeted each other, we talked about the date, talked about the weather and then came the special guests of the morning show – a few students each day who came ‘on the show’ to share news, sports or entertainment. For the first few months I was the host of the morning show, but once we were in a routine I transferred that responsibility over to students and they each took turns being the host!

Transitions:

  1. The transition song – Whenever moving from the carpet to desks or desks to the carpet, we always used the same transition song. Students became familiar with the chunk of time they had to either tidy up and move locations or move locations and get learning materials prepared. By the end of the song everyone was expected to be where they were supposed to be… And if we had extra music to spare, we rewarded ourselves with a dance party to use up the remainder of the song!
  2. The squiggly, wiggly spider – if I was waiting for my students to settle down and get ready for a lesson or instructions I would use my squiggly, wiggly spider to play catch with my students. The squiggly, wiggly spider only likes to get thrown to students who are ready to go… And low and behold, once I start throwing that thing around all of the students want a turn and get themselves settled!
  3. Clean, quiet and _____ – In order to ensure our classroom community was properly cared for, before going out for break I would dismiss them one group at a time. Each day I would say, “I’m looking for a group that is clean, quiet and ______” and which ever group met all 3 criteria would be dismissed first and so on. To keep it fun, each day I would change the third criteria…. Some days it was “clean, quiet and happy” other days it was “clean, quiet and asleep” other days it was “clean, quiet and statuesque!”.
  4. Gems – it was really important to me that my students were respectful of people learning and working when we walked through the halls… But to be honest, that is a big ask and often needs a little extra support. Before leaving the class, once all students were in line, I would count down… Sometimes from 5, sometimes from 10… And I would stop at whatever number the entire class was straight and silent by. I would hold up that many fingers for our entire trip (to the gym or the library) and if I heard a sound I would go down by one. If I was really impressed, I might also go up by one! How ever many fingers I held up when we got to our destination was the number of gems we would add to our gem cup. When the gem cup was full, we would decide as a class, how to celebrate our accomplishments!

gems squiggly wiggly spider

Attention Getters:

  1. Simon says – Simon says is a great quick-and-easy body break that allows students to stand up, jump around, reach for the sky, touch your toes and sit back down. It’s also a great way to shape listening behaviours: “Simon says sit criss-cross”, “Simon say hands in your lap”, “Simon says eyes on the speaker”.
  2. If you can hear my voice – I love this one because you never need to go louder than a whisper! You start out by whispering a direction, “If you can hear my voice touch your shoulders” only a few students will hear at first, so then you do it again with something different, “If you can hear my voice touch your head”, when you know you have a few students that are participating make sure the next instruction is sound-related, “If you can hear my voice clap three times” or “If you can hear my voice say cha-cha-cha”. This gets the attention of the other students, but does not require you to raise your voice!
  3. Make it rain – This is one of my secret favourites! The first few times you do it, structure it like follow the leader – the students copy exactly what you do when you do it. After your class has done it a few times, all you will need to do it start rubbing your hands together to signal the beginning of the rainstorm and the class will join in. This is really effective because it allows students to get out some energy with the clapping and stomping, but then brings the energy right back down to a calm atmosphere. Here is a what it looks like in action:

Learning times:

  1. Red dot, yellow dot, green dot – Before each learning task we would decide as a class which colour dot would best help us learn. A red dot  which means silent, a yellow dot which means whisper voices or a green dot which means indoor voice. Throughout the activity we would reflect on whether we made the right choice and whether or not our volume matched the dot we chose.
  2. Red cup, yellow cup, green cup – What a waste of energy it is to sit with your hand in the air until your teacher comes over to help you! So students would have a stack of 3 cups and place the colour on top that signifies how they are doing. Green means we are rolling along. Yellow means we think we are on the right track but might need a quick check in. Red means we are stuck and need help ASAP. The best thing about this system is that once you put your colour cups up, you have all your hands and energy to spend on continuing to try at the learning task!

colour cups

Secret Codes:

  1. Washroom – if students needed to go to the washroom, whether it was during a lesson, a guided group, or a one on one conference all they had to do yes make a ‘W’ with their fingers and I could either give them a thumbs up if they had permission, or thumbs down if it wasn’t a good time and they had to wait a moment or two.
  2. Drink – same thing for a drink of water, but a ‘D’ instead of a ‘W’
  3. “Me too” – students want you to know when they did something the same as another student, or thought the same as another student, so instead of having 20+ students always yelling out “me too” they would just snap their fingers and myself and the other students would automatically know that whatever had just been said by another classmate also applies to them… With interrupting the speaker or the flow of the lesson! A wink or a thumbs up is great way to non-verbally acknowledge the students snapping their “me too”.

washroom w

End of the day:

  1. The mystery item game – Each day I would pick one object that was out of place. Sometimes it was a big object, like a desk or a chair. Other times it was a small object, a pencil shaving or an eraser bit. Students had the length of the Love Inc. song “You’re a Super Star” to try and find the mystery object and put it where it belongs. When the song was over, if all students were back in their seats I would reveal the mystery item of the day and the detective who found it and  put it  back where it belongs!
  2. The pack up challenge – Every time students packed their bags at the end of the day, they tried to do so in order to leave enough time for one, fun thing. Sometimes if they packed their bags with 5 minutes to spare we would play a quick game of Sparkle or Desk Top Dodge Ball. If they were all packed up and ready to go with 10 minutes to spare we would read a chapter of Wizard of Oz. If they packed up with no time to spare, sadly we had to line up right away with no time for a fun activity. Each day I gave them the same amount of time (12 minutes) and the leftover time for fun was completely in their hands!
  3. The hand off – whether dismissing from inside the classroom or out on the playground, students had the choice of saying goodbye one of five ways: high five, hand shake, fist bump, chicken wing or hug. It differed from student to student, it even differed from day to day, but was so important to send them off smiling!

Just for fun:

There is SO much great thinking and learning to celebrate each day, I always liked to mix it up with a few of these fun alternatives to clapping:

  1. Round of applause – students clap their hands in a big ’round’ circle
  2. Crab clap – students interlace their fingers and clap together the heels of their hands
  3. WOW – students make a W with each hand and the O with their mouth and say “WOOOOW!”
  4. Standing ‘o’vation – students actually stand up, make a giant O with their arms and say “O!”
  5. Power whoosh – teacher count to 3 and everyone says swoosh and pretends to throw their positive energy in a classmate’s direction.

wow

The tricky thing with procedures is that they don’t ‘just happen’, they take a lot of thoughtful planning and a lot of practice with students. When I was developing routines with my students I would always follow this simple framework: Rehearse. Remind. Redo. Whichever routine I wanted to establish I made sure we had time to practice before we actually needed to use it. I would often model it, then we would rehearse as a class, then I would invite student ‘actors and actresses’ to show what it would look like in an actual situation. Once I was sure all students had ample time to rehearse the routine, I would start using it in class. For the first few times, I would ‘remind’ students who forgot about the routine we had practiced, “Don’t forget we have a secret code for that where you….”. Eventually I would invite individual students or the entire class to ‘redo’ something according to our special routine, “Let’s try that again the way we practiced.” These three steps are not linear. If I ever noticed we needed a lot of reminders and redos, that was often a clue to me that we might need to go back to the rehearsal phase. These three phases happened everyday, all year long, but the investment of time really pays off! The independence of my students and the amount of learning time these procedures allowed was worth every rehearsal, reminder or redo.

So where do you start? My advice, is to sit down and think about your teaching day. What parts of your day are taking up a lot of learning time? What parts of your day require a lot of ‘discipline’? What parts of your day drive you nuts? These are often clues that a procedure is missing!

Then what? Once you have a list of all the procedures you would like your class to have, prioritize them. Which ones are absolutely essential to begin practicing? Which ones can wait a day, a week, a month? Take it slow. Work on one procedure at a time. Wait until your students have mastered it, then introduce the next procedure on your list.

Here is a 6 minute video of an actual class: How many procedures can you spot? How much learning happens in 6 minutes because of the procedures? Which procedures might you want to adopt in your own teaching practice?