One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
My 2016-2017 Classroom
During the first few days of school before the kids come in, every teacher is desperately trying to piece their room together in time for the big day. My process is usually quick (2 days) because I know exactly what I like and what I don't.
It's not unusual that over the course of these first few days that a few colleagues will ask me to take a look at their rooms, and offer any advice I have to make their room feel cozier, lighter, and clearer. I love to oblige to such flattering requests, and I thought I would share some of the hard and fast design rules I've developed over the last few years.
Symmetry is attractive
When you can, embrace symmetry. I visited a colleague's classroom and I offered simple changes to her room. She had 3 bookcases lined up on her front wall: tall, tall and small. I suggested she arrange them tall, small, tall. It made a big difference, and became more pleasing to the eye!
Never block a window!
Would you ever put a bookcase in front of a window at home? I hope the answer is no! Not only are you missing out on that beautiful natural light, but you are also making it harder to access the mechanisms to open said window. It's also important to work with the natural elements of your classrooms whenever you can.
Don't wait, just do!
The caretaker at my school and I have a running joke that I never need help for anything. It's far from true, but it started when he noticed me hammering nails to hang some frames. He offered to help, but I was already doing it! A few days later, he saw me climbing on my window ledges to install my curtains. He offered to help, but I was already up there!
What I'm trying to get to is that if you want to do something in your classroom, truly want to, you don't wait for someone to give you permission, or do it for you- you just do it! It's with this attitude that I quickly gathered the elements in my classroom toolbox. There's nothing major in there, only some light bulbs, tie-wraps, double-sided tape, Allen keys, and a multi-tool (screwdriver with all the tips). For everything else, I know the caretaker has the tools I need- and he let's me borrow without asking whenever I want!
The simplest way is often the best way
Once upon a time, I had a broken support system for my SmartBoard projector. It was taking the school board months to fix it, and I was tired of waiting. I lent the projector to my brother-in-law and he quickly built me a beautiful support for it out of wood and long metal screws.
However, once I brought the whole thing back to my classroom, the projector would slide down. I had to find a way for it to hold...at first I tried a million and one tie-wraps but the mess was so ugly, I chopped them all off and found a prettier, easier solution. I velcro-ed it in place. Whenever I am designing or creating something, I always consider the final look and function. Would 30 messy tie wraps have been attractive? how about sturdy? probably not. The best solution is often the simplest one. The same goes for placing classroom furniture!
People often tells me my classroom looks like a little home, or cafe. We seem to forget so quickly that for many of us, the hours we spend in school with our kids and colleagues far outnumber the hours we spend awake at home. We have so much artistic freedom as teachers- of course our rooms should be beautiful and function, like reflections of our homes! Your students will enjoy it more, and so will you!
Just like your home, you have to make your classroom yours. I have my signature touches, such as framing pictures of my student's playing or reading and hanging them up in class, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to do that. What are your musts? What are your signature touches?
I've also embarked on additional professional development. A few weeks ago I started my first online course through the University of British Columbia (UBC), as I work towards obtaining a Graduate Certificate in Technology-Based Learning for Schools.
I am enrolled in ETEC 510: Design of Technology Supported Learning Environment. Already, I am connecting knowledge from my courses at McGill and things are starting to make sense. To be more precise, I am starting to see that I want my classroom to be an inclusive, technology-supported class that has students learn through inquiry and real-word problems. I'll be sharing more about my process as I learn and grow, promise!
But first thing's first: how to store the things in a safe and aesthetically-pleasing way. Since we all got brand new locks on our classroom doors over winter break, that takes care of my security concern. As for my aesthetic solution: I quickly ruled out the expensive options (you know, the ones that are actually meant to store iPads....). Pinterest inspired me, and I conducted some research, and here's the best solution I could concoct.
A dish drainer from IKEA! This dish drainer from IKEA to me more precise. Only 10$, and perfectly holds 8 iPads!
Chapter 7: Twenty-first Century Skills
Second, I am an IB teacher in an IB school- and as members of the International Baccalaureate Organization, we benefit from a similar parallel curriculum to pair with our teaching. If you scroll down, you'll see an overview of the terms included in the IB program. I quickly made a lot of connections between the IB program and the list of skills suggested by Paul Solarz- no need to add on another project, since I already work with such a similar framework (sorry Paul!).
Yes, it's also a long list.
Yes, it can get way more detailed than what you see below.
And yes, it takes time to learn it all.
The IBO has the benefit of being an established organization, with standard operating procedures- read: tricks and tips that can make a parallel curriculum accessible to all teachers. With ease-of-use and simplicity in mind, here are a few ways to make this parallel curriculum more user-friendly.
Teach through units
A novice teacher may think teaching individual stand-alone units is easier than planning a 4-6 week unit, but they would be wrong! While it takes some getting used to, planning and teaching in unit formats will save you time, effort, energy, and frustration in the long run. Here are a few reasons why I love units:
Divide & Regroup
Now that you are teaching in units (that was fast!), you can divide up your parallel curriculum, whether it be Solarz's 21st century skills, or the IBO program, or anything else and sprinkle the skills in your units throughout the year. What I mean by this is that you will not be able to hit all the skills and concepts you want to in one unit. That's okay. By focusing on 2 or 3 per unit, you can give each skill the time it deserves, and touch on most if not all of them throughout the year. Some skills also naturally lend themselves to certain units, so why not embrace that connection?
Keep it Documented
Through the IB program, teachers plan 6 units a year (6-8 weeks each). Each unit must touch on a few attitudes, attributes, and concepts. Since our units are so well documented, we teachers can ensure that all the outlined skills are taught during the year. When units are updated or retired, we can also make sure new units touch on the necessary skills.
Another benefit of the IB program, which I am not trying to sell, I'm just a big fan of such of this comprehensive and well-rounded program, is that the whole school has agreed to teach with this framework. This ensures all these skills are taught and reinforced every year, with every teacher! With teachers and students using the same vocabulary to highlight these skills, students are aware and reflective of this parallel curriculum.
In the end, whatever you choose to do, it doesn't have to be the IB program. Find a way to make it work for you. While I have no doubt that teachers are teaching a secondary curriculum, having a list, or program to refer to can help make sure you touch on all the skills you judge important. What system works best for you? for your school?
To buy the book for yourself, click here.
As we teachers are making our way into our classrooms after a nice long summer, the moment is ripe for
start with a blank slate
It's so hard to know what you have to work with when your room is cluttered with all you earthly possessions. I know I would miss a lot of the magic a room has to offer if I kept all the furniture and trinkets as I tried to re-jig my classroom.
Here's what I recommend:
* Fill your recycling bin! take all the posters, Bristol boards, construction paper and whatever else off the walls.
* pile up all your chairs, and if you can't move them out (or don't want to waste your arm strength), just shove all the big furniture to one side. (here's my secret tip: my boyfriend generously offers me one day of volunteering at school at the beginning of the school year, and one at the end of the year. It's priceless).
* Organize your possessions. Games all in one pile books in another, books together in one area. That allows you to see how much of each thing you own- sometimes we forget what our classroom library looks like because we have different categories of books all over the place.
Here's what my classroom looked like when I first walked in.
Since all the furniture was mainly piled together, I immediately started taking down everything from the display boards. Another reason this is important: you get to see what colors work best in the room. Since my room is painted light yellow and light blue, I'll use dark blue as an accent color- goodbye red!
* As a teacher, you have the power of deciding so much in your classroom. You can decide what makes it up on the walls, if you have tables or desks, what type of seating is available, everything really. As items make it back into your room, seriously evaluate if they are a must, or if there is a better way of doing things.
Teacher desk: do you need it? do you use it? how many times a day do you sit and work at your desk? is it just a spot for clutter to gather? How else could you organize your space?
Walls: Are you putting things up that you won't refer to all the time? Is it appealing to students? (I have hate towards cheesy clip art) Would the same message be more meaningful if it was student created? Is it meaningful to students? Are you putting things up because you always have, or because your colleagues do?
think like a student
Both you and your students are spending the better part of your day in school, in your classroom. In my school board, most kids eat lunch in their classes too- meaning they spend more time in the class than teachers do! It really is your home away from home.
So why not make it feel that way? I want my students to feel like they own the space, which is why I put up framed pictures of them playing or reading. Its also why there are plants, lamps, and comfortable seating around. Making your class into a comfortable, homey environment isn't difficult, and makes a big difference in the tone of your classroom.
It's also important to critically evaluate the implicit message your decor sends to your students. You may or may not have guessed I am opposed to teacher desks, and that's because I feel the message behind a teacher desk is: I am the teacher, and you are the student, and I am more important so I get a big imposing desk only I can sit at, and you get small tables you must share, and that is how child-adult relationships should be. Teacher desks say a lot!
Keep in mind...
These are some of the principles that guide my design decisions in the classroom. No classroom is flawless, and it can be demanding to break habits, and work with the permanent characteristics of a classroom, all while accommodating large class numbers, but it can be done when thinking creatively. Start small, but start!
6. Choose a planner
5. Prep visual aids
And I mean sketch, lightly. Talk to your colleagues to see if there are any units they want to bring back next year, or see if some things are off-limits because other grades do them. You can estimate how long the units will take, and if you're very ambitious, write out what you want students to gain by the end of the unit.
Since I belong to an IB school, the staff has already decided on units for the year, even though they may be tweeked along the way. Since I don't know (yet) what activities my colleagues have lined up, I've done a bit of "research" ahead of time, so I don't feel empty-hand.
And by research, I mean I created a bunch of boards on Pinterest. Still counts.
Even if you don't know what grade you're heading into in September, there are still things you can prepare ahead of time to save you some stress. Trust me, future-you will thank you!
7. Sketch out your year
Why not benefit year-long from having the time to finally do things just the way you like?
Spending a bit of my vacation time formatting, printing, cutting and sometimes coloring a bunch of visual aids is not at the top of my holiday musts. But I see it as an investment, because when the school year rolls around, I won't be stressed about having to make all these things- AND they will look just the way I want, not like a rushed- or half-done job!
Here are a few things I got ready over the last week:
- word wall letters
- alphabet banner
- daily schedule
- environmental print
- class calendar
- class responsibility chart
- visuals for class reward system
4. Sub lesson plans
Is there nothing worse than waking up from a terrible night's sleep with a pounding migraine, only to realize that if you want to stay in bed, it's going to cost you the time it takes to make plans for your sub? I've lived it so many times, I daresay I'm learning from my mistakes (gasp!). The next time I need to take a sick day, I'll be thankful for this!
Here's what I include in my sub folder:
- photocopy machine password
- annotated class list
- class schedule
- school procedures for getting from class to class
- class procedures (for morning work, recess, snack, and free time)
- enough lessons to occupy and challenge the kids all day
- some funtivities
3. Meet the teacher handouts
Meet the Teacher handouts
While my school only does the Meet the Teacher night a few weeks into the school year, it always seems to just creep up so fast! Why not cut down on some of that stress now, when you have the time?
Last year, I created this information flipbook to guide my presentation. This year, I'm starting off with the same template, and changing up some information as necessary. I know future me will be happy!
2. Make a wishful shopping list
I know the temptation of stocking up during summertime- but beware: all those little things add up quickly, and you haven't even started the school year yet!
This year, I've started drafting a wishlist of what I think is "missing" from my class. I use quotation mark because sometimes it feels like we'll never have enough stuff. But as I packed up my classroom at the end of the year, gearing up for yet another classroom move, I couldn't believe how much stuff I'd accumulated in just a few years of teaching! How much would it all up to? I hate to think of it!
Couldn't anyone have donated a lamp, if I had asked? Couldn't I look online for a secondhand computer chair? And what about some games I've bought that the kids never touched? Let's not forget the casualties I've lost along the way (the wicker teacher chair that a student loved to pull apart, the lamp a student accidentally smashed, or the Lego people that have one "missing"). Oh, the dollars spent.
That's why I decided to set myself a 100$ limit for spending on my class this year, with the objective that I'll become more resourceful and creative with what I already have and I will spend my money wisely!
Here's what's on my wishlist so far:
- a 5th curtain (new classroom has 5 gorgeous windows!!)
- book boxes for 2 sets of students
- teacher chair
- a sofa, or *I know it's a reach" a claw foot tub (for reading, of course!)
- storage for 40 kids' worth of daily work (I like this, but not the price tag)
- ink pads
- computer chair
1. List EVERYTHING you need to do once you get into your classroom
I know that a lot of teachers can't get into their classrooms until the very last minute (that has been my case every year of my teaching career!!) - which is why it's essential to make good use of those days before school. Keep a prioritized ongoing list during the summer to make sure your time is used efficiently! I like the GoogleApp Keep, but that's one of many available.
Here's are some things on my list so far:
- hang curtains
- write large numbers on the floor for our morning meeting
- take down any remnant papers on the bulletin boards
- set up area for communal supplies
- set up plants & lamps
- get a teacher library card from local library (to take out more books!)
What else do you include in your summer preparation for back-to-school?
My name is