Back to School Basics: Some Relationship Advice

Now, I know some of my teacher friends have argued that it’s hard to date and teach, but that’s not the relationship advice I’m here to give. I’m talking about the relationships you have with your colleagues in your building.

Do you remember the show Scrubs? It’s a favorite of mine. A running theme throughout the show is that JD, a new doctor, insists that veteran Dr. Cox is his mentor. Then Dr. Cox usually has some reason why he is unfit to be a mentor and brushes off this title. Throughout the years of the show, even as JD becomes older and more experienced, he is still seeking that mentoring relationship. He remains hungry for learning and advice, and seeks it from the person his gut tells him to follow. I can think of a few fellow teachers whom I have sought this relationship from and I can honestly say having been mentored in several different aspects of my career, I have grown exponentially.

I’ve been reading a lot about peer coaching and teacher mentoring programs, and how it is much more effective than traditional professional development. This is someone startling and saddening to see from my perspective, given that I own an organization with the primary purpose of providing professional development. However, we are carefully looking at this research and considering ways to incorporate more follow-up and coaching aspects into our PD sessions. Why? Well, consider this chart from Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators (Joyce & Calhoun, 2010, p. 79).

While interactive, engaging professional development (which is one of our core principles) appears to have an impact in the short-term for teachers, without follow-up and further engagement the effects taper off with only 5-10% of teachers implementing what was covered in the training. However, if a peer coach is involved, the rate of implementation remained steady around 90%. That’s a big difference.

The Microsoft Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project states: Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish when particular support conditions are in place. These conditions include:

  • Teacher collaboration that focuses on peer support and the sharing of teaching practices
  • Professional development that involves the active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new methods
  • A school culture that offers a common vision of innovation as well as a consistent support that encourages new types of teaching. (Microsoft, 2011, p. 12).

 Consider those points and think about your professional practice. Do you share ideas with your fellow teachers? Do you seek out engaging learning opportunities? Does your school administration support your development and learning goals?

I am challenging you now: seek out a peer coach or a mentor in your school. Someone who can guide you, offer ideas, and support you. Even veteran teachers can benefit from this relationship. Or, perhaps, you can coach someone else. Here are some attributes to look for in a peer coach:

  • Is able to build trust with peers
  • Builds on what a teacher needs
  • Communicates well and listens to teachers
  • Is flexible
  • Provides a safe, risk-taking environment and is non-threatening, nonjudgmental, and accepting
  • Is recognized by staff as a strong / outstanding teacher (Foltos, 2013; Meyer et al. 2011).

Whichever side of the relationship you feel ready to be on – coach or colleague, mentor or mentee – take the time to recognize the power of this bond. Both teachers will find themselves learning from each other and discovering new ways to impact their classrooms.

Back to School Basics: Gooooooaaaaaaaallllllll!

With the gusto of soccer announcer Andrés Cantor, you need to celebrate your goals. Well, maybe before we start dancing in the streets, let’s back up a second and think about your goals. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of lofty goals as to why you’re a teacher: I want to impact the future. I want to be the reason a child becomes great. I want to create lifelong learners. That fluff-stuff is for your Philosophy of Education that you have to submit with your resume to get the job. But, now you’re hired, here, and ready to start off a new school year that may include new faces or new places.

In Teach, Reflect, Learn, Hall and Simeral (2015, ASCD) argue, “With so many professional responsibilities determined for us in education […], it is essential to our continued growth – not to mention our sanity – to have some semblance of ownership over our own development.” Do you even know what you want to do beyond pure survival? Setting goals outside of curriculum maps and mastery levels can keep you focused on your mission to, as Ghandi so eloquently put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or whatever quote you pulled into your philosophy statement back in college.

Set one attainable goal in each of these areas outside of academics: student social-emotional well-being, professional practice, and personal balance. Here are some reflection questions to get you through goal setting:

Student Social-Emotional Well-Being

  • How will I make time to get to know my students?
  • How will I establish my room as a safe place for students both physically and emotionally?
  • What can I do to show students that I care?
  • What normative beliefs can I promote for respect, integrity, and kindness?
  • Research shows that one caring adult makes a big difference in the success of a child. How will I be that adult for a child who needs me?

Professional Practice

  • What topics do I want to attend training on?
  • Do I want to further my education and seek another degree or certification?
  • What new skill do I want to try? How will I learn the skill, observe the skill, or try the skill?
  • What professional books do I want to read?
  • Can I access a peer coach, instructional partner, or mentoring teacher?
  • What Professional Learning Communities do I have access to within my school or district?
  • How can I connect with other education professionals on social media?

Personal Balance

  • What projects around the house do I want to complete?
  • Do I have any fitness goals that I can work towards?
  • Is there a vacation that I am longing for?
  • How will I make time for my family and friends?
  • What limits will I set to not overwhelm myself with work while I am at home?

Remember, set goals that you can reach. They can small goals, such as, “Paint the bathroom over Fall Break” or tall goals, “Enroll in a Master’s program at a local university.”  Either way, you have to have a plan for reaching them. You can download many goal templates (I’m a fan of the SMART plan: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) or simply write your goal on a sticky note. Choose what you are working for, and then go out there and get it. Pick a reward that you will celebrate with – even if it’s just jumping up and down in your classroom and screaming at the top of your lungs, “GOOOOOoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!”

Back to School Basics: Don’t Recreate the Wheel

I can’t tell you how many times I recreated the wheel as a teacher. I’d spend hours developing a worksheet, or labor over making sure I had all of the information for a form and then a colleague would say, “Oh I could have sent you one that I use!” or I see a teacher-friend on social media post a link to an online resource that was exactly what I needed. It’s frustrating to be sure. So, before you take your precious time to create a resource that already exists… check with the teacher next door, ask your friends, or look online. Make a pledge to yourself that this is the year you become more efficient and make use of your amazing colleagues who have blazed the trails before you.

If you school doesn’t already provide you with tracking forms, lessson plan templates, or conference planners, I’m sharing with you here some amazing, FREE options that are available online. The best part – these are forms that you can type directly into.

  • Student Tracking Forms: With daily, weekly, or class period options in addition to a completely blank form for you to customize, you can easily track everything from attendance to homework to lunch orders.
  • Lesson Plan Templates: Includes 6 format options: Snapshot Lesson Plan, Weekly Lesson Plan, Traditional Lesson Plan, Self-Contained Classroom Daily Plan, Thematic Planner, Unit Planner
  • Parent Conference Planners: Six different planning templates to help prepare for parent-teacher conferences: Traditional Parent Teacher Conference,  Referral for Student Services Conference, Portfolio Review Conference, Student-led Conference (teacher planner), Student-led Conference (student planner), and Parent Planner

Looking for something more specific? There are thousands of amazing teacher-created materials out there online – and many of them are free! Here are some excellent sources that I check when looking for resources:

P.S. While you’re browsing those resources, you may start thinking to yourself, “Hey, I have great lessons of my own!” Why not take some time to format the lessons and create your own shop on one or more of these sites. Don’t be intimidated – you don’t need hundreds of lessons (although you certainly go that route if you’re inclined).  Personally, with 21 products in shops on Syllabuy and Teachers Pay Teachers, I earned about $500 last year. That was enough to take the family on a weekend getaway – just by sharing things I had already created for my own use! So, while you’re looking to avoid recreating the wheel in your classroom and saving yourself some time – why not get your ideas out there and do the same for someone else… and make a little cash too.

Back to School Basics: Create a Classroom Tour Video

Lights, camera, action! Once you’re done preparing your room, it’s time get out a camera or your smartphone and create a guided video tour of your classroom. When you’re done, upload this video to YouTube, and share the link on a classroom homepage or social media site. If you have availability to student or parent email addresses before the school year begins, send the link out. You could also send this during the first week of school, but sending it before the school year begins helps students feel a little more comfortable and relieve the first day jitters because they know exactly what to expect when they walk in the door. This also introduces you to parents so they can put a face to your name – it is especially helpful with parents at the middle / high school level who may never come into contact with their child’s teacher.

Here are a few things you may want to cover:

  • The basic layout of your classroom. Show the student desks, your desk. Where are student accessible materials? Where do they turn in homework? Do students store coats, lunch boxes, etc in the classroom or in lockers in the hallway? Is there a restroom in your classroom? Cover all of these areas and any other relevant information you can think of.
  • Is there a place within your classroom, or in the hallway where you post information such as field trips, conference sign ups, or other important information? Be sure to highlight this area so that parents can find it easily!
  • Have someone record you sitting in a comfortable place within your classroom (or, be really hip and use a selfie-stick). Behind your desk may come off as a little too sterile or intimidating. Introduce yourself and convey your excitement for the school year. Share your goals for the year. Remind parents where they can locate your contact information (don’t share your contact info in the video unless you are keeping the link private.)

Creating this virtual tour should set the tone for your classroom. Let students and parents alike see your passion for teaching, and how you take pride in this space. Be confident and speak clearly.

Other information videos you can create for your own classroom vlog (video blog) series can include:

  • An overview of your homework / classwork / grading policies.
  • If you have a self-contained classroom, or your entire homeroom follows the same schedule, overview this schedule. If you’re tech savvy, you can overlay pictures over the different areas within the school that the children will visit or even walk the school as you explain where you are going.
  • A walking video of how to get to your classroom from the front door of the school. For students coming into a large, new school this can really alleviate some anxiety.
  • Explain personal electronics policy / computer usage within the school.
  • Video screen navigation of how to access student grades online, locate information on the class website, or social media links for the class.

Post in the comments what other ideas you have for “How to” or informational videos teachers can create!

Back to School Basics: Proceed to Create Procedures

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some basic tips for getting your new school year off to a great start. We’ll get this party started with talking about procedures.

A colleague of mine once told me the first two weeks of school in my classroom was like attending bootcamp. I drilled my class on the proper procedures on everything from entering the classroom to throwing away garbage. There was a procedure for clean-up and a very specific procedure for morning meeting. However, after these first few intense weeks of learning routine, my classroom was a well-oiled machine. My substitute teacher plans did not have to be so detailed because even my 4 year old students could run the day on their own. It was only content and thematic elements that the sub needed to plug in. The First Days of School by Harry Wong, a text revered by many teachers, extols the glories of well-thought out procedures as does many other great texts on classroom management.

For those of you who aren’t a drill sergeant or a severe type-A control freak naturally graced by the ability to carefully plan every anticipated outcome and construct a seamless flow of behaviors, here’s a quick series of questions you can ask yourself to establish effective procedures in your classroom.

  1. What day-to-do routine behaviors are carried out in my classroom?
  2. What is the ideal outcome of each behavior?
  3. What are the particular steps to achieve this outcome?
  4. What do I need to do to prepare or have available?
  5. What are the specific expectations of the students?

Once you have determined what procedures you want to put in place, take the time to thoroughly explain the expectations to your students. Model the proper procedure, and don’t forget to give the students a practice run! Repeat the expectations aloud as they are practicing. The more they hear, see, and do, the sooner it will become second nature. In time, your classroom will be more efficient and your students will be more responsible as they master procedures and meet expectations.

Recommended books which address setting up procedures:

  • The First Days of School by: Harry Wong
  • Tools for Teaching by: Fred Jones
  • Skills Streaming Series by: Ellen McGinnis and Arnold P. Goldstein
  • What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by: Todd Whitaker