smooth sailing

School doesn’t start back until after Labor Day for us here in New York (sorry to make you jealous!), but of course I’ve already started planning ahead. I’ve teamed up with a fantastic group of teacher bloggers to share ideas for making the start of the school year easier AND give away some great prizes.

Let’s start with the tips and tricks. One major challenge during the first week of school is organizing all the supplies that kids bring in and teaching them how to store everything away appropriately. I used to ask my third graders to put the communal supplies (like Kleenex and printer paper) in a designated spot on a table, and then put all of their personal school supplies away “neatly” in their desks. I’d get distracted by all the other first day of school tasks and find myself peeking in the kids’ desks a week later to find bits of crayon wrapper, balled up pieces of paper, and mountains of broken pencils piled on top of crooked stacks of books.

“Does this look clean to you?” I’d ask. The kids would stare at me blankly, move some things around, and then show me a desk three seconds later that looked only marginally better. And that’s when I realized that MY expectations for a clean desk were completely different than the KIDS’ expectations. And it was time I figured out a way to get us on the same page. I drew this clean desk diagram and hung it up at the front of the room:

teaching kids how to organize their school supplies

I then introduced my expectations in a mini lesson which taught students how to use the diagram to clean their desks and check to see if their desks were clean. I encouraged them to figure out the reason why each aspect of the diagram was included and how it would help them to find and care for their materials more easily.

After the introductory mini lesson, I’d conduct periodic desk checks. These weren’t done in a crazy drill sergeant way–they were actually fun for the kids because I’d made cleaning up into a game, and the kids were anxious to see if their desks would match up to the diagram and pass inspection. We had a lot of fun with it!  The first desk check I did was usually later the same day that I taught the mini lesson so students’ desks were still fairly neat and it wouldn’t take long. I modeled how to do a desk check by reading each element and checking a student’s desk to see if it matched, narrating my thoughts as I went: “Let’s see…#1…two pencils and an eraser…nope, I only see one pencil, so let me get another out of the supply box. Okay, now #1 matches.  #2…all supplies in the pencil box which should be on top of the books or between the stacks, yep, got that…#3…” and so on. Then I gave students about one minute to read each element on the diagram and check their desks in the same way.

The clean desk diagram worked wonders in terms of making sure kids understood exactly what was expected. But of course, the kids didn’t automatically keep their desks clean just because I’d shown them how! They needed reminders and practice opportunities all throughout the year. I usually conducted desk checks once a day at the beginning of the school year and once a week for the rest of the year. The good news is that the “desk checks” became quicker and more efficient as students become familiar with the clean desk criteria and begin to internalize it.  As students learned how to care for and organize their belongings, they realized their supplies lasted longer and were easier to find. My hope is that students will continue to see the value in organization and carry those skills all throughout their lives.

clean desk diagram

(If you’d rather not draw your own Clean Desk Diagram, you can download the one you see above, which I created in conjunction with the fabulous Ashley Hughes of The School Supply Addict. The download includes 8 printable versions of the diagram with different “clean desk criteria” on them, as well as a two page mini lesson that gives you ideas for what to say when introducing the diagram to your students. Click here to get it for $2.)

The Cornerstone Book

That’s just one of hundreds of ideas for classroom management that I share in my eBook The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. The eBook uses photos of my classrooms through the years, forms, and dialogue examples to guidesyou through each step of communicating and reinforcing your expectations for all types of classroom procedures and routines. 

The Cornerstone has 500 PAGES of resources in eBook form for only $15! The entire first section of the book provides tips on starting the school year right, including classroom set up and organization, planning for the first few weeks of school, and creating a phenomenal Open House/Back to School Night experience for parents. Check out the Table of Contents to see what else is covered in the book, or learn more about the difference print copy/eBook options available for purchase on my site.

To help you get ahold of The Cornerstone and other great back-to-school resources, I am giving away FIVE $10 gift cards to TeachersPayTeachers! Your entry via the Rafflecopter below will also qualify you to win The Grand Prize: a collaborative  product giveaway where one winner will get nearly $300 worth of intermediate (grades 3-6) products for back to school, including an eBook copy of The Cornerstone AND a Clean Desk Diagram. Enter to win here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Be sure to stop by the blogs featured above: you’ll get more great tips and you can enter to win $50 worth of gift cards from each of them, as well: every giveaway you enter not only qualifies you for that blogger’s gift card prize, but puts you in the running for the collaborative  product giveaway, too! The contest ends Saturday, August 2nd. Good luck!

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Hey, it keeps the kids busy and quiet, so it works for me!
I don’t care what the “research” says, it works in my classroom.
So what if that’s a better way, this is working for me!
Yeah, using technology would probably improve it, but what I’m doing is working, so I’ll pass.
How can anyone tell me not to do things that way when it works for me?

We use those kind of phrases a lot to defend educational practices. And to some extent, I agree with them. No one knows your students better than you, their teacher. You’re the one who is in the trenches each day, constantly trying out new things and experimenting with ways to meet each student’s needs.

But I think it’s helpful to ask ourselves what we actually mean by the phrase “it works for me.” Do we mean that what we’re doing makes kids compliant and quiet, or builds intrinsic motivation and gets them engaged? Does it just make the teacher’s job easier, or does it improve student learning?

Is what you’re doing really working for all kids, or just for most of them?

Is what you’re doing centered mostly on what meets your needs or theirs?

There’s nothing wrong with choosing instructional practices that keep an orderly classroom and simplify your teaching. But those are only a few of the many factors to consider when reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.

I encourage you to really think about those knee-jerk reactions when you say, “It works for me, so I’m not changing.” Think about your behavior management system, for example. Does it REALLY produce the results you want–independent thinking, self-motivated, self-reliant, responsible students? If you’re complaining all the way until the end of June about how lazy kids are and how you just can’t get them to behave, then the answer is NO, your system actually doesn’t work for you, because it doesn’t really work for your kids.

There is no one right way to teach that will result in success for all students. No tried and true formula for success, right? So we have to stay open-minded and continually look for new ideas. What worked for last year’s class might not work for this year’s class, and shoe-horning a new group of kids into the same old teaching practices just because they’re familiar to you is only going to result in frustration for everyone involved.

As you plan for the coming school year, I encourage you to keep asking yourself: Does this work? How do I know it’s working? Is there something else I could try that might work better?

questions to ask when reflecting on your teaching practices

Be the lifelong learner you want your students to be. Keep reflecting, keep growing, keep trying new things. It can be discouraging when other people question your teaching methods, but it’s EMPOWERING to question yourself.

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how to tell people no

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separate ponds of educators

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tptvegas14

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Follett Classroom Connections eBooks

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#ISTE2014 Atlanta

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GameUp by BrainPOP

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group work

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why teachers don

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John Lodle picture

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always a teacher

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highly decorated classrooms study

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Join the Awakened Summer Book Club & get re-inspired to teach!

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Awakened online book club and Bible study

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secrets of teachers who love their jobs: stay in awe of the learning process

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Entrepreneur on Fire podcast: Angela Watson shares her journey

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alternatives to reading logs: authentic ways to manage students

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6 ways to connect with kids during the last week of school

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Passionate Learners by Pernille Ripp

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