Thursday, August 25, 2016

How I'm Developing the Culture of my Classroom

I'm going to be completely honest here.  I have not been my best teacher self the last few years.  My room has been working on creating a safe environment, so I'm going to extend that to this forum.  

My classroom has been a hot mess the last few years and there is one huge thing that I can pin that on...I have not been conscious enough of building my classroom culture from the start of the year.  I had been trying to simply deal with things as they came about, but that was not working.

My students were out of control because I was always in control.

As one of my favorite pastors (Hi, Dad!) says, "The more you try to control others, the more out of control YOU get."  Ain't that the truth.  I was trying to control things that didn't need to be run by me.  
One of the biggest things that I had let slide was a morning meeting time.  We had intervention right at 8 each morning and then I was placing all the emphasis on academics for the rest of the day.  I don't like to put that out there, but there is a huge emphasis on the content in classrooms.  Gotta get those standards in, darn it.  Breakfast started at 7:40, intervention started at 8:00 and the day took off from there.  I wasn't allowing the time to slow down and figure out my kids.

This year I have incorporated a Responsive Classroom morning meeting approach to my classroom.  No matter what, we are greeting each other and playing or talking with each other for 20 minutes every day.  No excuses. So far (3 and 1/2 weeks), we've been successful!   This morning the class talked together to decide when and how to celebrate birthdays in our classroom this year.  It was amazing to hear them guide each other and take charge of getting to an answer together.

Another thing I have introduced is Zones of Regulation.  I have quite the mix of needs this year.   I was introduced to Zones by the occupational therapist of my student with autism.  Being the daughter of a school counselor and the teacher of an English Language Learner class I found this approach immediately appealing.  Students have already started identifying themselves (and others!) in certain zones and how that affects their ability to interact with their classmates.  

I was sick last week with the worst cold I've had in a while and used it to start a dialogue with my class.  Thursday was the day I felt the worst so I let them know that since I was starting the day in the blue zone it was easier for me to get into the yellow and red zones.  I then explained that this was not their issue to deal with, but mine.  I needed to be more aware of my triggers and how to deal with what I was feeling during that time.  This was so helpful to begin communicating our emotions to each other.

Another helpful thing that has come from using Zones is that students have been better able to identify which zone they are in even if they can't name the emotion.  This is helpful because the emotions that my students are familiar with are happy, sad and mad.   I have had students discuss how another behavior puts them into a certain zone that makes it hard to learn.  My kids have had some great discussions already about how to deal with the behaviors that come with each zone. 

What are you doing to develop the culture in your classroom?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Flexible Seating: The Best Thing I Could Have Done

Last winter I kept stumbling on posts about Flexible Seating.  "I could never do that," I'd tell myself.  However, I was in a teaching rut.  My students weren't getting what they needed from me: CONTROL.  Control over their environment.  I was pushing them to take control of their own learning, while unintentionally limiting them in so many other ways.

Along came this post by Kayla Deltzer of Top Dog Teaching.  It was the inspiration I needed to take the plunge.  
This is what my classroom looked like at the beginning of last year.

What da heck, J?! I can barely breathe looking at the way the space used to be.  I was constantly tripping over chairs and running into desks.  The students were no better.   What could I expect?  There were 27 of them crammed into this space with all this darn furniture!

We had a three day week right before Spring Break, so I decided to let the kids design the new room.  I used tables that the school already had and no one was using and either took the legs off or raised them all the way up, snagged a couple of benches from a teacher moving out of a classroom, bought some canvas chairs at FIVE Below (5 at $5 each), brought in some old pillows from home, and learned that I am a minimalist at heart.  I surprisingly (I have NO IDEA WHY NOT) have no pictures of the classroom at this time!

I spent the summer trying to find cheap, but quality additions to the room.  I snagged stools from IKEA (10 at $5 each), white side tables from Target used as stools (2 at $8 each), and 3 child benches made by our corporate sponsor Lippert Components.  

Here's what the room looked like after the first 2 days of school:

Bench table and standing table

Floor table

 How we store our workbooks and read-to-self books

 Classroom library
It's the hot spot in the room.

 My space
The cleanest it will be all darn year.

 Table with "stools" from Target
At least one child tips over on these a day.  Someone asked if I was going to take them away and reminded them that second graders can fall of anything...including the flat ground if given the chance.  Hahahahaha!
The bench in the background was re-appropriated from around the school.

 One small group area with IKEA stools
Those are a favorite in the room.  I will definitely need to get more since we are always trying to find them for small group time!

 Small group area 2
The room often has kids working independently and up to 3 small groups happening at a time.

 Small group area and stage
The kids LOVE having a stage!  We use it for everything.  They scramble to present things in class so they can stand on it.  They also volunteer more to write things on the whiteboard since they get to stand up there to do it.

I say it's what it looked like 2 weeks ago because it's already changed!  That's the joy of flexible seating!  It changes as my students' needs change.

Here is what it looks like in action:

Items travel around the room all day long.  The only reminder they get is they own the room and the way the come into it the next day is the way they left it.  

If you have been considering Flexible Seating I would encourage you to GO FOR IT.  It's been the best thing I've ever done for my students.  An added bonus is that when I get over 25 students in the room it never feels like there are that many people in there.  SCORE!  Plus, I'm a huge fan of being on the floor, sitting on the counter cross-legged, and laying down to get as close to my students' level as I can.  Now I don't look like a dork doing it. :) 

Go ahead and try something that scares you this week!

Mrs. B