First Day of School 2013

Whew! It’s over! And everyone for home to the right place. That is enough to call it success, right?

I’m extremely tired and ready for bed, but I thought I would drop in to say that the first day back with kids was really good. I only had to move one student from his original seat (I let them choose the first day–I’m crazy, I know) due to excessive talking. Both of my classes almost got finished with our Social Contracts. All that is left is signing our names and adding borders to make it final.

Most importantly, these students were very respectful and listened as I stated my goals for us this year. I told them that I don’t expect them to LOVE various subjects, but I want them to have the confidence and willpower to try new things and all challenges I put forth.

I told them that it is ok to not know, but it is not ok to not try. I also made it a point to explain that it is ok to make mistakes–EVERYONE makes mistakes (“…except Jesus!”–from a few kids), but it’s what we learn from our mistakes that makes us stronger.

Hopefully they take the message to heart because I meant every word of it.

As I said yesterday, this is going to be a great year! I have lots of sweet kiddos, and I’m looking forward to learning and growing with them.

That’s all for now. Going to bed. Need to be ready for another day tomorrow. Until next time…

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Teacher Week 2013: 5 Tips & Tricks of Teaching

I’m linking up with Blog Hoppin’ again for the last linky party of the week.

Teacher Week

Today’s topic is tips and tricks that teachers use to help get us through those first few weeks of school.  Some of these things last all year, of course, but others are implemented at the beginning of the year for the most part.

photo 11. Social Contracts:  On the first day of school, I always create a social contract with each group of students.  I don’t like to give rules to my students.  Instead, I let them set the rules, and social contracts make this go much smoother.  I’ve found that the students are actually harder on themselves than I ever would be, and they always come up with the same rules that I would give them, but just worded in their own words.  For more information on how to manage this activity and some of the thinking behind it, click here –> Social Contracts.

2. Build the Climate: I like to have several class building and team building activities for the first few weeks.  Even though these students have been in school together for awhile, there are always new students that move in and others that are very shy and need help getting to know the other students in the room.  Kagan is a WONDERFUL resource for these activities.  My favorites are inside/outside circle, 4 corners, and think-pair-share.  I try to sprinkle these throughout the day.

3. Hand Shakes: Many teachers (and the school nurse) think I am absolutely crazy for shaking my students’ hands when they walk into my room every day, but I don’t care.  Teaching in a school with 78% of students coming from a low socioeconomic background means teaching things that aren’t on “the list.”  Shaking hands is a lifelong skill that these kids need to learn.  I think it also helps build that positive climate that we are all wanting.20130731-174532.jpg  For more information about this and the workshop where the idea was presented, click here –> Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

4. The Safe Place: In the back of my room is a special place where students can always go if they are angry, sad, or upset.  It’s nothing fancy, but a place for students to be away from all other students when they need it the most.  There are several ways to go about setting this up in your own classroom, and you just have to do what works for you.  I choose to put a bed pillow on the floor with a seat cushion and lots of stuffed animals to hug.  For more information on how to manage and implement your own “Safe Place,” click here –> The Safe Place.

5. Organization: One of the BEST ways to waste less time and get more bang for your buck is by staying organized.  This is where I have the most trouble.  I don’t have a problem starting the year organized, it’s keeping it that way!  I’m getting better and better at it, and this year I WILL stay organized all year.

Oh, and one more thing: KEEP SMILING!! The best medicine for any situation is a smile.  Breathe, relax, and remember: “This, too, shall pass!”  :)

Do you have any additional thoughts?  I would love to hear from you!

I wish all of you the best of luck beginning a new school year!

teacherweek2Head over to Blog Hoppin‘ for additional tips and tricks!

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Your rules or my rules?

Teaching isn’t easy. It never has been. It never will be. But Social Contracts can make a teacher’s life much easier if implemented correctly.

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Social Contract created by 2nd graders

The picture above is my very first Social Contract my students created. It’s messy. It’s colorful. It’s ALL created by the students. This is what makes it effective.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Social Contracts, pay attention! These things can make your classroom run much more smoothly if you let them. Social Contracts are “rules” created for the classroom by the students themselves. Instead of writing down the rules you expect the kids to follow, you allow the students to come up with the rules that they feel should be followed in order to feel safe and productive in the classroom. And I have to give it to them–they always come up with the same things I would write down, just stated a little differently.

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Social Contract created by 4th graders

I always want my students to follow 3 simple rules: Be safe, Be respectful, and Listen carefully. It never fails, students come up with many more rules than I would give them. There is always a different amount, from class to class, year to year. Some groups feel that they need LOTS of rules spelled out for them, while others can group many of them together into one rule in which they agree. I let the students decide how many there will be and how they are worded on the SC.

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Social Contract created by 4th graders

You’re probably wondering how this all comes about. First, I hand out marker boards and markers to each student and have them generate rules they think are necessary. Next, I put them into groups of about 4-5 and have them share out with each other. They come up with one list compiled from all the students in the group. After that, I ask each group to share out 1 rule that is on their list. We talk about it, what it looks like and sounds like, and then add it to the chart. Students are the only ones who write down the rules. This helps students to value it and take ownership of the rules they are creating. As each group shares out, any other group that has the same rule will cross it out so that there are no repeated rules on the chart. We do this until all groups have shared everything. If we feel that one rule can be categorized with another rule, we talk about it and if ALL students agree, we leave the rule as it stands on the chart. If even one student feels that the rule should be separate, then we add it. Once all rules are written down, each student is invited to sign their name on the contract.

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Social Contract created by 4th graders

As with anything else, there are other ways to do this. In lower grades, the teacher would have to write the rules or designate a child that already knows all of the letters and is capable of doing it. It doesn’t matter if everything is spelled correctly or not, as long as the students understand what the rules are.

If you don’t already use Social Contracts in your classroom, I strongly recommend that you start this year! If you have any questions on how to make this work for you, or if you currently use these and have something to add, please do!!

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