Casey* got an email yesterday from his daughter’s teacher. He instantly panicked. In a few sentences, it seemed the teacher was informing him that his daughter was having severe behavior issues in the classroom.
So, Casey reread it. He vacillated on what to do. He called his spouse. He called a friend. He vented to co-workers. Eventually, he went back to the source: he re-connected with the teacher, but this time over the phone.
Hearing Casey’s voice, the teacher sensed his anxiety and assured him that the email had been misunderstood. The teacher had meant to convey, I’m going to explore some ways I can best support your daughter; but Casey had interpreted it as, your daughter needs some immediate behavioral interventions.
This misunderstanding, and all the anxiety that came along with it, could have been avoided by skipping the email and picking up the phone instead.
As teachers, our lives are hectic. We have to manage our time, and often an email appears to be the quickest route for parent/guardian communication. We hop on Skyward, grab the parent/guardian’s email address, open Outlook and we’re off—just a few clicks, some tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, and we’re all set. Communication home is done. But, in truth, it’s rarely that simple.
In my last classroom, the phone was on the other side of the room from my computer. Calling home meant (1) clicking into Skyward, (2) writing down the number [and crossing my fingers that it wasn’t a long-distance number since my classroom phone blocked such calls], (3) walking across the room to dial, (4) crossing my fingers that the parent/guardian picked up, while also (5) crossing my fingers that if s/he did there were only questions asked that I could answer without having to reference something on my computer which was still across the room... But, despite this complicated process, it was worth it.
Calling home has power:
While, calling home can may be daunting to some, here are three ways to make it more manageable.
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When thinking back to when my brothers and I were in school, the phone calls my parents received from teachers and administrators were almost always negative. One of us had been in the principal’s office, one of us had an unexcused absence, or one of us was struggling in math class. Where were the phone calls when I had been selected to attend a poetry workshop, when my brother got a ribbon in the science fair, or when my other brother had managed to not be in the principal’s office for an entire month?
This is where the strategy “8 Greats” comes into play.
If you’d like to read more on this idea--or similar ones--consider exploring the following:
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Make a Sandwich
I’m from the generation labeled as ‘xennials’. Much like many of my millennial counterparts, I am uncomfortable making phone calls. I’d prefer to send a text, an email, or even leave a voicemail. The thought of actually having to talk on the phone with someone gives me anxiety.
Whether you are of a similar generation or are simply not sure what to say once you get someone on the other end of the line, the “Make a Sandwich” strategy might be for you.
Start each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive opening.
In the middle, add in the details, listen, and adjust. Know that the more complicated or negative the message, the more effort we need to use when selecting our words and tone.
End each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive finish.
If you’d like to read more on this idea, consider exploring chapter 6 “Positive Communication with Parents” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore; as well as chapter 13, “Delivering Bad News.”
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Making phone calls doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A few years ago I worked with a middle school teacher who often had students make the calls home, whether the news be uplifting or difficult. There was power in how these students took ownership of communication with their parent(s)/guardian(s).
This is where the strategy “Quick Calls” works well.
No matter what information is shared, imagine the conversations that will happen between those students and those parent(s)/guardian(s) when, later that day, they get picked up after school or sit down at the dinner table.
Whatever structure you use to make phone calls home, keep parents/guardians like Casey in mind. We want to work collaboratively with our students and their important adults, and that often begins by picking up the phone.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
*The name of this parent has been changed for data privacy purposes.
It’s seventh hour and students begin to settle into their seats. Their teacher has greeted them at the door and when they come in they look up on the board for the question they are supposed to answer in their journals. Sounds pretty typical, right? The next part is where the magic happens. After they’ve written for five minutes they get into small groups of four and everyone shares one part of their writing. There is no teacher directing their discussion but students know the routine and they all talk, share, and laugh.
The power in this classroom is that everyone in class is expected to do everything. All students write, all students share, and all students give feedback to each other. No one is able to opt out and all are engaged.
In many classrooms, this same scenario often happens but with one change. After students write or respond, one or two students are chosen to share. Typically, these end up being the same students each day, while the same students remain silent. This silence turns into apathy. Eventually, disengagement.
In 2014, Alexis Wiggins, a fifteen year teaching veteran and daughter of Grant Wiggins wrote a blog post about what she experienced after shadowing two students before beginning as an instructional coach. This is a summary of her first two key takeaways:
Key Takeaway #1:
The teacher (that’s me) greets students as they make their way to the door.
Students are a lot like adults in that their anxiety level is raised when they are about to meet a new person. By greeting each student, I take care of this anxious moment quickly and help the student put a face with the name. I continue to greet the students at the door as the year progresses. The greeting also allows me to give quick instructions to students who may have been, or soon will be, gone from class.
The room is arranged in double rows allowing for a quick share/pair with a partner or a lab group discussion. The student’s name is written on an index card on his/her assigned seat. There is also a handout entitled: “Class Rules for Conduct and Grading” set out for easy access.
Giving a student an assigned seat to start the period has many advantages that help to support student learning. The teacher knows where his/her students are so that (s)he can quickly and efficiently take roll and the student knows that you have a place reserved for them and that (s)he can quickly get started on the warm-up activity for the day. A seating chart gives the students a predictable starting position and allows the teacher to easily transition to the day’s activities. As opposed to a seating chart, a seating arrangement only informs the teacher and class of the location of desks. No matter the seating arrangement, I always have the students start the day in an assigned seat.
(To read more about various seating arrangements, please visit our previous posts entitled “Room Arrangement Matters”.)
“Objective: To learn the first few of our class routines as a foundation for future learning.”
“Assignment: Record the homework assignment in your notebook/planner..."
After taking attendance, I turn the class’s attention towards me with a raised hand and an attention getter. I pause for a moment and then tell the class that we will start each day with assigned seats and a warm up. I then formally introduce myself to the whole class and then state two truths and a lie about me. I pause for them to guess as to which is the lie and them talk about my truths.
I have students pair with their elbow buddy and take turns listing two truths and a lie. I give the students a few minutes to go through the process. I will use the same attention getter when it is time to end the activity. I collect the index cards and keep them for reference.
With this simple routine, the students see that there will be steps to follow when going in and out of groups. The same procedure is used for each activity that the class will do throughout the year. I describe the activity and make sure the students know how I plan to get their attention for transition to the next activity.
A well planned first day lays the groundwork for the coming days by helping our students know that you are a teacher who has a place for them in class and that you will use procedures and routines to assist them in their learning.
I was wrong.
Needless to say, this has been an eye-opening, learning experience. It has changed my thinking. Soon, when I return to “my own” classroom next year, it will change my actions. Here are some things I now plan to do:
Have a one-page summary of class policies and procedures.
If I were to go by what students tell me as a substitute, the teacher never collects homework, students work in groups while laying on the floor, nobody ever brings paper or pencil to class, they always work outside or in the hall, restroom passes are given freely to anyone and everyone multiple times, friends from other classes are welcome to join at any time, they always line up at the door 10 minutes before class ends, they always use phones and iPads, and the teacher plays music for them throughout the entire class period.
I know I won't be able to keep my students from trying to bend the rules, but it won’t be hard to create a list that includes the following:
- My definition of tardy (in the door, in the seat, a one–minute grace period, etc.)
- What materials students access through me (where I keep the classroom set of textbooks/iPads/calculators, where I keep extra pencils and paper should they be provided, etc.)
- My policy with passes (not given out during first/last ten minutes of class, written in back of the student planner, accessed via QR code on their iPad, etc.)
- My standards for how students do daily work (in pairs, groups, with/without ear-buds in, etc.)
- My flexibility with student movement around the room (there's a group that sits in the corner during work time, I don't allow students to work in the hallway, students can switch seats during work time but not before that, etc.)
- How I have my students turn in materials (basket on the front table, folder attached to the whiteboard, pile on the corner of my desk, etc.)
- Where my students find materials handed out previous days (on my website www. .com, in the binder at the front of the room, from their 'class buddy', etc.)
- A list of areas in my classroom that are off limits to students (my desk, a computer at the front of the room, the art supplies in the cupboard, etc.): believe me, students know where you hide your candy and they will take it or attempt to convince the sub that the teacher hands it out generously.
Have an up-to-date, marked or highlighted seating chart--with pictures.
Attendance is a nightmare for a sub. (Don't believe me, check out the Comedy Central skit "Substitute Teacher" by Key and Peele...) Names are difficult to pronounce. Calling roll is time-consuming and emphasizes the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, and gives the students a perfect chance to start the hour by playing all kinds of name-changing games. On the other hand, a great seating chart can be a sub’s best-friend. With a great seating chart I can get attendance taken in under a minute and know a variety of information about the students in the class.
When I return to the classroom, my seating chart will certainly include:
- Pictures (this is a must)
- Some markings on the chart (where the desks are in relation to the windows, my teacher desk, the podium, etc.) so the sub can get oriented: this is especially important should I have tables or desks that aren’t in simple rows
- Notes of any seating changes made since the chart was printed
- A key with marks to let the sub know:
- Special Ed students
- Students who can be trusted to answer policy and procedure questions
- Students who are most likely to need some redirection
- Potential conflicts between students
Have an assignment that is relevant to the class and for which students will be accountable.
This is perhaps my biggest takeaway from my experience. In the past I would either ask the sub to play a DVD of the TV show Numbers or tell the students to work on any missing assignments. There are problems with both of these: showing a video requires turning off the lights and it often becomes impossible for students to work on missing assignments because they have either finished it, left it at home, need the teacher to explain it, or have to work with a partner who isn’t in the class that day. Even if a class is not a management problem and the students talk quietly all hour, there is nothing slower than the minute hand of a clock when a sub is just sitting at a desk watching students talk with each other (plus, what learning is happening then?). Okay, there is one other thing slower--the clock when it is the fifth time the sub has watched that same episode of Numbers...
In the future, I’ll just ask the sub to continue with whatever assignment is next in my lesson plan. It may be a little rough, but if I teach the same course more than once, the sub will be great after the first time through. If it is just not possible, see my next suggestion.
Have a set of folders with a variety of stand-alone assignments.
When I return to my own classroom, I’ll be sure to have a variety of stand-alone tasks, and I'll mark each as 10-minute, 25-minute, or a full class period in length. For math, these will be an assortment of logic puzzles or real-world use of math that is at least somewhat connected to the course. It won’t fit perfectly with the day and current standard, but it will be something the students can turn in at the end of the hour for feedback that I can give them later. On the front of each folder will be the time needed for the assignment and a chance for the sub to record the date and hour it was used so I know what can be set out again in the future. (These are also great for when your absence is sudden and you have no opportunity to prepare for a sub ahead of time.)
Foster a respectful classroom environment.
I know this sounds like a cliché, but a class doesn’t change overnight. If I have a class that is built on positive relationships and consistency, I won’t have to threaten them to get them to behave for a sub. On the other hand, if class management is based on fear or there is no consistency, the class won’t respect the sub even if I, the classroom teacher, threatens to write up or assign double detention to every name the sub writes down. A sub can come in and work with any class that has a respectful classroom environment already established, but she'll surely struggle if there is not such an environment already present.
Oh, and one last thing: I’ll hide some chocolate and let the sub know where it is.
Feel free to connect with Dave Pugh via email
The start of the second semester is the perfect time to reflect on our own practice. What is my own philosophy for teaching and learning? How do I see my philosophy reflected in that of my students? Do I see any patterns in student learning? Are any of these patterns based on gender, class, ethnicity in the students I have? How can I adjust my practice to address these patterns?
Rearrangement of the desks or students offers a perfect opportunity for reestablishing expectations for behavior. When students move to a new location in the room they feel less at ease and in need of reassurance of expectations and norms. Use this opportunity to reengage students in resetting and redefining their classroom norms. Finally, now that you have established the norms, remind students of expectations each time you transitions into and out of group activities. Reward students after the transitions for their good behavior with praise.
Reject the idea that student teacher relationships are set in stone because they evolve and change throughout the year. Find opportunities to reconnect with your students by giving them group tasks that require communication with you as the instructor. For instance, assign students to the role of group communicator in charge of relaying information between you and the student group during activities. Use each of these small interactions to build relationships.
Finally, take care of good old number one. Find time outside of the school to enjoy time with friends and family. Reengage in the recreational activities that help you to rejuvenate, relax and recharge. In taking take care of yourself; you are re-energized and ready for your students.
1. Set expectations
Remind your students of how you want them to share their ideas. One author calls this “important participation.” It might sound something like this: “I know you are all anxious to share your thoughts and you have a lot to say. I’m going to give you a number of chances to turn and talk to a partner as well as time to share. To keep things interesting and fun I need you to keep your comments or thoughts in your head until we have a talking time." For students who are having a particularly hard time, schedule a one-on-one conversation to talk with them about your pride in their great ideas but your goal for them to let others share as well.
2. Set Up Routines that give students wait time
When you ask a question, give students time to stop and jot down a few ideas before they share. This gives everyone time to think and reassures students that their ideas won’t be lost.
3. Plan for academic conversations every ten minutes
Students are less likely to blurt out if they know they’ll have time to chart. Research suggests that students need two minutes to process information every ten minutes in a lesson. You can make this work quickly and efficiently by assigning talking partners and by planning these stops into your PowerPoints if you use these to help organize your lesson.
4. Post your expectations for discussions and refer to them
Have a discussion with your students about what a productive discussion or contribution looks like. Create a chart that captures these ideas and refer to them when you need to reteach expectations or redirect behavior.
5. Give your chronic blurters a bit of one-on-one time
If you know you have a student that has a difficult time waiting to share ideas, try to give them a minute of one-on-one time as they come in the door. Often this bit of attention will help them feel valued and will make them less likely to steal the show later.
If you are having a difficult time with one class hour, remember you can connect with your instructional coach for more ideas.
Ideas inspired by the Scholastic article "Seven Ways to Cure the Blurts: How one teacher curbs disruptions and keeps things running smoothly" by Ruth Sidney Charney.
My first year of teaching I traveled from room to room with all my textbooks on a cart. Because I taught in five different classrooms, all of which were setup by five different teachers, I learned quickly to adapt to various room arrangements. My first class of the day was all in traditional rows, my second in pairs all facing the board, my third in groups of four, my fourth in rows again but with students all facing the center of the room, and my final class of the day in a ‘U’ formation. It only took me about a week to realize that there were definite benefits and sometimes detriments to each set-up. Here is what I found…
Years later, after being given the opportunity to have two-person tables instead of desks, I opted for a ‘U’ formation—I had one large outer ‘U’ with one smaller ‘U’ nested inside. Of all the arrangements I’ve personally used, this has by far been my favorite. Again, it made partners shares simple, one table could join another to quickly create a group of four, and large group discussions and debates flowed naturally with this structure. The added pros being that I could also place myself in the center of the ‘U’, making myself a fellow learner rather than a teacher standing at the front of the room, and it was easy to turn the ‘U’ into an inner and outer square for our frequent Fishbowl Discussions. Of course, independent work was less simple, but I found that by teaching and re-teaching what I expected during such times made it rarely an issue.
As you begin another school year, I encourage you to consider your space and what activities you anticipate doing in your classroom—arrange your room accordingly. And remember: if the arrangement you opt for doesn’t work for a certain activity, desks and tables do move.
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Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective