I was already two weeks into the school year when I had my first “off” day. This was, without a doubt, a personal record. In past years, the first two weeks of school felt frenetic and extremely draining. What had I done differently that made the first couple weeks feel smooth and simple? I don’t mean to suggest they were easy, but they just felt…better.
After some serious reflection, I identified two important factors: A) I feel more competent (this came with time in the profession), and B) I spent in the summer setting up (experimental) new classroom procedures and systems to help students be more independent (that actually worked). I moved classrooms over the summer from a large space with sinks, easy-to-clean linoleum, and abundant storage. I was spoiled. That room was – rightly – converted into a space for science classes, and I moved to a smaller, carpeted room with limited storage and no sink. I had to get creative about how to best use the space to the advantage of students. Some of my new procedures and systems include a new self-serve absent work bin inspired by this very organized teacher, containers for loaner pencils labeled “Ready to Write!” and “Time to Sharpen!” next to my pencil sharpener, and, my crowning achievement, a station with the (non-supply) items students ask for most often:
I also presented my classroom rules and procedures differently – I decided to call them “Pro Tips,” (for professional students), and provided them in a jigsaw format so that students were reading and collaborating on day one. I was more intentional about cultivating a sense of community in each class by playing get-to-know-you games and facilitating icebreakers in the first few days of school. It paid off – students opened up to me and advocated for themselves more readily than in years past. Here’s what went well: students instantly took ownership of the classroom as “theirs.” They navigated it easily from day one. Students have already commented that my classroom is a welcoming place where they know they have to work hard and do their best.
It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows – that first “off” day was hard. Setting up a classroom that helps students be independent is time-consuming. Dealing with my own shortcomings is painful, and learning from my mistakes is awkward. However, I wouldn’t have made any positive change if I hadn’t spent the time reflecting on past failings and making adjustments.
Are you using any new classroom procedures this year that are helping you and your students feel more successful? How did you turn your summer reflection into first-month action? Jump on Twitter this Sunday, September 24th at 7 PM for a #WATeachLead Twitter Chat on Reflecting & Recharging to join the conversation!