Friday, December 18, 2009


As the semester winds to a close and we all prepare for our Winter Break, I am brought to mind of the importance of reflection. So often we rush ourselves through day by day without stopping to take the time to reflect on our classroom practices and the effects of those practices on ourselves and our students. It is so easy to forget this important part of teaching because there are so many other activities and demands on our time. The problem is that this kind of rushing around is not good for anyone. It is so important to slow down, take a breath, and think back over what we've done. This reflection helps us then move forward and plan for the future. Below are some different topics and questions to help you reflect over your teaching practices this semester.

1) The Classroom - Is your classroom arranged in a welcoming way that encourages student learning? Does the flow of the room help or hinder learning? Are the visual elements of your classroom distracting or do they encourage learning and motivate students? Do you and students feel comfortable in the classroom?

2) Classroom Routines - What routines did you use that you feel were effective this semester? Which ones need an overhaul? How can you change them so that they are more effective for you and for the students? What new routines would you like to put in place for the new semester? Think about the ideal flow of daily activities and events in the classroom.

3) Parent Communication - What level of parent communication did you encourage this semester? Were parents actively involved in the classroom? Do you feel you kept them adequately informed of what was happening in the classroom? What made you the most nervous about calling and talking with parents? What can you do to ease that nervousness? What can you do to encourage more parent involvement? Did you find yourself calling parents as it was needed, or putting off the phone calls? How has the parent response been to you in the classroom? What can you do to help parent response be positive?

4) End of Semester - What are your thoughts at the end of this grading period? What worked well in terms of lessons and units? What needs to be changed? How were your interactions with students, parents, and colleagues? What challenges are you currently facing? What are your thoughts on these challenges? How might you overcome/solve the issues facing you at this time? What new ideas do you plan to implement at the start of the new grading period?

These are just a few topics to consider at the end of the semester as you reflect and plan for the next semester. Our hope is that these questions will lead to further reflection over all areas of your teaching. Keep a journal over the holiday and jot down your thoughts and ideas to help you put them into a better frame of reference. You'll find that this type of reflection not only helps you put away past baggage, but also helps you re-energize for the upcoming semester.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Classroom Organization Tips

Organization is one of the keys to successful classroom management and to a less stressful year. When we are organized, we feel more confident and "together" each day. Below you'll find some tips to help you get yourself organized.

Tip 1: Daily Organization Folders

I just love Daily Folders! If you've heard this one before, please forgive me, but every year I am reminded of what a great organization tool this is! I take different colored file folders and label each one for a day of the week. As a secondary teacher, I do this for each class period and use stickers on the tab to differentiate between each period. I like to use cartoon figures like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy to represent each class period. Then I use an upright file box to hold all of my folders. Each class period has a gusseted hanging file to hold all five daily folders. Self-contained elementary is a bit easier with just 5 folders (one for each day).

Inside each folder I place my lesson plans, handouts/copies, notes to send home, administrative notices or memos, parent notices, and so on for that day. Each afternoon I:

  • Take out the folder for the next day
  • Check to be sure everything I need is inside
  • Put my sub folder just inside (on top)
  • Place the folder on top of my desk

Then I:

  • Set up my whiteboard for the next day
  • Get my bulky materials ready and out to be used (in an easily accessible place)

Now I feel that I am ready to begin the next day. What if something happens unexpectedly and I can't get to school? No problems – everything a substitute needs is right on my desk and near my podium or overhead. This looks great when the school administrator has to come in for a few minutes if no one else is available. The students know to get started on their board work (it is already up), my plans and materials are on my desk ready to go, and everyone has an easier transition!

Tip 2: Positive Notes

Another way to get organized is to create materials in bulk ahead of time. This can be done on weekends or during school holidays. One thing I like to create and have ready to hand out at any time are positive notes to students. I know that students love to get positive notes from me, but I just don't have the time to sit and write out a full note at the end of class! One solution is to brainstorm several different "positives", type them out, copy them on bright paper, and have them ready. I usually set up my page in four squares and type one positive message in a fun, yet easy-to-read font in each square. Then I copy these on colored card stock paper. I cut them out and place them into folders on my desk. (Other ideas include using a basket, hanging the folders on the wall instead of putting them in your filing cabinet (no dust collecting), or putting a stack on your overhead or podium).

Sample Positives:

  • Thank you for participating in class today!
  • Thank you for helping another student when they needed it!
  • Thank you for being such a good helper to me today!
  • Thanks for sharing your ideas with us!
  • Thanks for being on time!
  • Thanks for leading that group!
  • Thank you for sharing your materials!
  • Thanks for bringing in all your work on time!

What are some other specific "positives" you want to reinforce in your class? I also like to think of the life-skills – Cooperation, Teamwork, Honesty, Integrity, Friendship, Perseverance, Determination, Personal Best, and others.

Now choose and sign the note, put a smiley face on it, and hand it to the student as they leave the room!