How to Set up Democratic Classroom Jobs

When you set up your classroom, is democracy a mindful priority?

Background

I’ve never forgotten the story of how one of my favorite college professors was begged out of retirement to teach 2nd grade–the evening before school started. When she walked into her classroom on the first day of school, it was to bare walls, stacked desks, and puzzled students.

They sat down on the floor together. Eventually, a 7 year-old timidly shared that things felt a little off, to which the others agreed.  When my professor asked them what a classroom should consist of, one girl raised her hand and said, “Well, last year, we had chairs.” They set to work arranging the furniture, and then regrouped. Then, another boy offered, “We also normally have pencils.” Together, they procured a supply.  And so it went for the first part of the school year.

I’ve always remembered the ending to her story: that those students owned that classroom as none of her students had before or since. And with a wink, she added that she didn’t necessarily recommend having zero preparation before the school year started–at least for the sake of school administrators’ sanity.

The Set Up

The idea of incorporating classroom jobs centers around ownership. This is more than about classroom management or clean-up–it’s about empowering students with the understanding that the feel of their learning environment is in their hands.

Hold a class meeting early in the school year to discuss the shared nature of your classroom’s physical, emotional, and academic space.  Brainstorm tasks you all feel are necessary for smooth maintenance, safety, and support.  You may opt to show students your list from the previous year, and then allow them to help you modify it based on their unique needs.  Or you may choose to go the way of my professor, and allow your students to start from scratch!

Pass out a job application so students can list their top choices and reasons they believe they would qualify for the job.

Additional options to consider:
  • Interview each student before assigning jobs.  I’ve had groups that enjoyed dressing up for a more formal and “official” experience.
  • Set aside “job time” at the end or beginning of the day for those students whose jobs require some time; you may choose to have the other students read, journal, etc., during that time.

List of Job Ideas

Whatever your approach, below are jobs that have all been tried by my fifth graders (with the exception of a “social media manager,” which I plan on trying out as soon as I resume teaching)!  The number to the side is how many students I’ve typically had doing the job, but be sure to base things on your class needs and size!  Also note that some are combos based on how much time some jobs took. Feel free to share these with your students to help them get inspired!

Paper Passers/Absentee Buddies:
  • Description: Passes out any appropriate papers daily and picks up papers from groups. During job time, they get materials gathered for any students that are absent, write down assignments for the day, and leaves them neatly on their desks.  (2)
  • Qualities:  FAST, excellent attendance, organized, hand-writing
Folder Filer
  • Description: Files all graded papers and handouts into each student’s file of papers that are to go home. (2)
  • Qualities: Memory skills, FAST
Lunch/Classroom Maintenance
  • Description: Carries lunch basket daily. Also gets the room ready for projector use when needed by quickly pulling down the projector screen, turning off the lights, closing the blinds, and turning on the projector. During job time, they check all the walls for repairs & remind tables to clean up desks/floors. Takes care of all other classroom maintenance as called upon.  (2)
  • Qualities:  Strong, lines up quickly at beginning of line, tall, takes initiative
Homework Checker
  • Description: Checks all planners at the end of the day during job time.  They also check for completion of the homework journal/project each Friday morning, and reports and missing work to the teacher in the morning.
  • Qualities: Responsible, thorough, organized. (1)
Birthday Coordinator
  • Description: Makes birthday cards for each student on their birthday/half birthday, and then get signatures from everyone in the class.
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, artistic, thoughtful, AMAZING memory! (1)
Question of the Week Keeper
  • Description: Comes up with brainteaser questions and answers for the Question of the Week and lets the payroll know who gets bonuses for getting it right. (1)
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, likes puzzles, organized. (1)
Event Manager
  • Description: Updates the daily schedule and keeps the monthly calendar correct.
  • Qualities:  Tall, memory skills, VERY neat handwriting (1)
Assistant Event Manager
  • Description: Assists the event manager with anything he/she needs help with.
  • Qualities: Neat handwriting, tall, organized, memory skills
Board Eraser
  • Description: This person will need to erase the board after each recess and whenever else it is needed. Thoroughly cleans the board during job time. (1)
  • Qualities:  Tall, strong, pays attention, neat
Payroll
  • Description:  Reminds all students to add their paychecks to their check registers every payday.  They also check with students who have bonuses each day during job time to make sure they’ve recorded in their check registers.  (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, math money skills, honest
Debt Collector
  • Description: During job time each day, they check with any students who have fines to make sure they’ve recorded them in their check registers. (1)
  • Qualities:  organized, listener, math money skills
Cashier/Pledge Leader
  • Description: Handles money during the class store by helping students write checks and subtract from their check registers. Assigns prices to class store items. Also stands and leads the pledge every morning. (1)
  • Qualities: honest, math money skills, organized, memory skills
Behavior Recorder/Assistant Room Manager
  • Description: Writes down daily fines and bonuses and then records them on the board during job time. Also assists the room manager with filling in for absent students. (1)
  • Qualities: responsible, great memory, honest
Room Manager
  • Description: Makes sure that everyone is doing their job daily. Also fills in for any job if a student is absent. (Must know responsibilities of all jobs) Takes care of all other leadership/management tasks as called upon. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, attentive, fast Learner, leadership
Line Leader
  • Description: Leads the line daily. Learns assigned places to stop & keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file. (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, respectful
Line Ender
  • Description: Ends the line daily to all destinations and turns off the light as class leaves. If any student has to return to the classroom to retrieve a forgotten item, the line ender is required to go with them. Keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file.
  • Qualities:  Fast, good listener great memory, respectful
Class Journal Keeper
  • Description: Updates the class journal each day during job time with a description/illustration of the day’s events. (1)
  • Qualities: Artistic, neat handwriting
Class Photographer
  • Description: This person must have access to a digital camera that he/she can bring to school on a regular basis.  They are in charge to taking pictures of exciting experiments, debates, parties, and anything else; they then need to email pictures from home to me occasionally.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Takes initiative, very responsible, photography/technology skills
Messenger
  • Description: Runs any notes or errands throughout building throughout the day.  Collects Mrs. Wade’s mailbox items from the front office every job time.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Knows school and different teachers, communicator, fast walker, polite, honest
Lunch Counter
  • Description: Also, each morning makes sure all students have moved lunch magnets and then counts/writes down how many for each option. Moves the magnets back at the end of the day.  (1)
  • Qualities: organized, memory skills, fast
Sanitation Specialist
  • Description: Using disinfectant wipes, cleans all desks, tables, (and if time), chairs at the end of each day during job time. Cleans other surfaces as needed. (2)
  • Qualities: Attention to detail, helpful, respectful to others’ belongings
Organization Expert
  • Description: Helps keep the entire class organized; organizes the guided reading desk/teacher area as needed, helps other students with organizing their desks, organizes other things around the class when it gets cluttered. (1)
  • Qualities: Um, organized.  🙂 Also, takes initiative, meaning they don’t need to be asked to notice & jump in to help.
Class Medic/End of Day Caller
  • Description: Keeps band-aids in their desk and distributes to students. Also makes sure everyone takes home their lunch boxes/coats/backpacks.(1)
  • Qualities:  Fast, memory skills, reliable
Clubhouse keeper
  • Description: Straightens up the clubhouse and sorts the books during job time every day. Checks for any damages to books and fixes them or reports them to the teacher as needed. Maintains all other clubhouse materials to keep things looking nice. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, respectful to books
Scribe/Word Wall Attendant
  • Description:  On Monday Meetings, this person will write down all the items of business discussed and report at the end. This person also maintains the word wall chart during job time by neatly writing great words we encounter as a class. This person will also take notes whenever we go over important things, remind the teacher of things, and advance PowerPoint presentations during lessons. (1)
  • Qualities:  handwriting, organized, memory skills, strong computer skills
Supplies Station Manager
  • Description:  Sharpens pencils at the end of the day and keeps track of/replenishes all supplies that are running low.  Also cleans up/disinfects the entire supplies station area daily. (1)
  • Qualities:  Great memory, dedicated, attentive to detail, organization skills
Social Media Manager

For a printable version of my list, click here! And if you have additional jobs that your students have loved, please share in the comments!
Photo Credit (featured image): maaco

Assessments: How to Increase Accuracy, Efficiency, & Transparency

B+, 4, O, 73%–these marks and the like are terrible storytellers.  After all, how can one impassive mark describe a student’s chronicle of small triumphs, daily perseverance, and long-term growth? On the other hand, is it even possible to record and convey complex learning journeys in a way that isn’t cumbersome?


If any of this sounds familiar, explore Google Drive as a possible solution to strike the balance!  Increase your accuracy, efficiency, and transparency by checking out some examples and tips below.

Increasing ACCURACY

Your clipboard and pen still have a place in certain formative assessment note-taking. But for more in-depth situations, a Google Form with prefilled lists to choose from can help you generate much more comprehensive–and accessible–notes.  In a recent #5thchat, @Mr_Ullman shared his forms for writing and reading conferences.  We especially love his use of drop-down menus to easily select student names, writing cycle stages, and comprehension strategies, and more.

Other Accuracy Possibilities:
  • Use the Scale feature (ie 1 to 5) to record students’ confidence in their book selections.
  • Use the Checkboxes feature on which outcome(s) students are currently working toward.
  • Use the Grid feature for assessing progress in a class-generated science rubric.

Increasing EFFICIENCY

benchmark data sheetMost schools require benchmarks assessments, typically at the beginning, middle, and end of the year.  Ready-made benchmark programs often come with assessment sheets, but why not create your own multifunctional and tailored document?  For example, I decided to consolidate reading, writing, math, and behavior benchmarks all into one Google Document.  I also made student-friendly alterations so we could use the same sheets during our student-led parent teacher conferences (see extra resources & how-to here); I also added grade-level-specific rubrics, tables, and data.

Other Efficiency Possibilities:
  • Take items directly from your school’s report card (such as behavior descriptors), and turn them into a Google Form. Then, convert your quarter-long formative notes into summatives as you observe patterns and/or calculate averages in the responses spreadsheet.
  • Using tables to record data across the year saves you more than just time and paper–it also allows students and parents to better track and discuss growth themselves.
  • Share a form with students as a quick exit ticket after a lesson or unit.

Increasing TRANSPARENCY

Sharing assessment data with students can be accompanied with uncertainty–how much should we share? How do we keep them from becoming preoccupied with numbers? Will they feel defined by scores?  However, I’ve come to realize that as long as we discuss data in the context of process over product, it can become yet another way to empower students with ownership over their learning. In addition, the share features in Google Drive are ideal for fostering communication among students, parents, and teachers.  We are advocates for harnessing technology for more in-depth and authentic collaboration among all involved in student learning!

Other Transparency Possibilities:
  • Duplicate Google Documents like the benchmark data sheet so each student (and their parents) can access their own online version.
  • Share forms you use for formative assessments with parents to give them a clear picture of what’s happening in class.
  • Invite parents to leave comments for you or for their student!

How else have you used Google Documents and Forms for more accurate, efficient, and transparent assessments? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Photo Credits

Student-Led Conferences: Practical Guide & Resources

Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions?  Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement?  Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?  Then consider shifting to student led conferences!


Background

After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value.  Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential.  Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded.  All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.

Step-by-Step Guide

Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary.  However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences. 

Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
  • Kathy Cassidy
    Kathy Cassidy

    Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.

  • Hand out the “During Conference Checklist” students will use.  With this, students should:
    • Write down 2 items or areas of the classroom they want to share during the first part of conferences.
    • Write down their current feelings about reading, writing, math, and behavior.
    • Choose a writing and math sample. (I had my students keep their portfolios on blogs, so I gave them the option to present digital samples as well).
  • Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences.  Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
  • Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
  • Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards.  Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound).  I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
  • Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
  • Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
  • Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work.  I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
  • Double-check the finalized goals.
  • If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you.  Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.).  Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
  • Go over the “During Conference” checklist together.  Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Stage #4: Final Preparations
  • Send letters home to parents from teacher and/or from students to prepare them for student-led conferences. If you want to provide questions in advance to help prepare parents, students, and yourself, check out our printable Student-Led Conferences Guided Questions list!
  • Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards).  Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Stage #5: After Conference Tips

Student and Parent Response

After each conference, I surveyed parents and students.  Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.

Meme
Meme Binge

Students loved:

  • Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
  • The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
  • How professional they felt as they took the lead.

Parents loved:

  • How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
  • Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
  • How students explained their report cards themselves.
  • The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
  • Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class.  This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
  • Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
  • Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence.  Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
  • Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference.  However, very few parents completed the assignment.  We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences.  Some of the questions we asked included:
    • What made you feel proud?
    • Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve?  If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
    • How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?

List of Resources Linked Throughout:

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image: Claire Burge

Kathy Cassidy

Meme Binge

3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons

10 Teacher Summer Projects to Try

Amid vacations, home projects, and quality family time, here are 10 professional activities to choose from this summer to keep sharp for next year!


#1: Build Your PLN!
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
#2: Explore ONE New Edtech Strategy

Flipped Learning, Student Blogging, BYOD, Mircroblogging with Twitter, etc.

Jeremy Keith
Jeremy Keith
#3: Explore ONE New Tool That Will Genuinely Help Students

(See 3 Tech-Savvy Alternatives to Powerpoint)

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
#4: Amp Up Your Class Blog’s Usefulness

(See 10 Tips to Increase Class Blog Interest)

DeclanTM
DeclanTM
#5: Scan Your Filing Cabinet

Seriously, it is SO worth the time you waste each year hunting through those metal drawers!  See our tips on teacher organization.

DeathtoStock_Creative Community4 compressed
Death to the Stock Photo
#6: Participate in Webinars, e-Courses, and TweetChats (sort “Topics” by Education)
Joe St. Pierre
Joe St. Pierre
#7: Read Literature on Your Students’ Level!

(See our post on read alouds for upper grades!)

George Thomas
George Thomas
#8: Reevaluate Student Desk Arrangements

We love Edna Sackson’s post on 10 ways to rethink your learning space, particularly because it gets us thinking about how the physical arrangement of a classroom reflects our values as  teachers.

ryuu ji 竜次
ryuu ji 竜次
#9: Honestly Evaluate Where You Stand as a 21st Century Teacher
Denise Krebs
Denise Krebs
#10: Make Enjoyable Summer Memories!

You need rejuvenation, and students need to know you’re not just a educational machine–which pictures help prove.  Win-win!

Death to the Stock Photo
Death to the Stock Photo

If you have a another fantastic project already in mind for this summer, we would love to hear it in the comments! Happy Summer!

Featured Image Credit:

Case Wade (with permission)

10 Tips for Teacher Organization

With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder.  Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!


#1: Get Rid of Your Desk

Karen Cardoza
Karen Cardoza

For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day.  If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead.  Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart.  Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!

#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)

Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students.  Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.

#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet

Jodimichelle
Jodimichelle

While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous.  Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away.  Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it!  Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer.  This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!

#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files

If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs!  Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills.  Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!

#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More

Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom.  CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.

#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork

Dazed81
Dazed81

Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms.  Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box.  You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!

#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You

Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)!  Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs.  Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!

#8: Adopt Google Drive

Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive!  Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage!  Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues.  Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!

#9: Enlist Student Help

Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization!  Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!

#10: Make a Display Wall

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Ali Edwards

This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards.  Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces.  If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!

What about you?  Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized?  Please share in the comments!

Photo Credits:

 

5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley