Classroom Design – Less is More

Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Walking in your classroom has to be, at the very minimum, possible. At best it should be easy. If you are tripping over desks to get to kids and/or unable to get from one side to the other, you aren’t doing it right. Organizing a classroom design to let you walk around unencumbered will yield results. Feng Shui and general aesthetic principles guide architects toward minimalism every day. Less in the room is more in that it yields creativity and relieves tension. Having open space in a class is becoming more and more challenging. With internet for classrooms taking up necessary computer space, we are hard-pressed to create that calming, freeing space we want. Still, the internet and other computer tools are doing much in education so we have to make a space for them.

Teachers are given a mix of school furniture each year and usually the items are minimal. However, one should consider how much extra clutter a room needs. Getting rid of the unneeded furniture in place of items that add to the learning environment can be an excellent decision. At the same time, moving something like a bookshelf can open worlds of wonder to a classroom. It is amazing how much I have seen change by changing the wall my bookshelf was on. This will of course vary teacher to teacher according to preference.

As we look to the future and consider the virtual classroom, the physical room environment should continue to be at the forefront. As hybrids continue to emerge, we may see that the classroom is not less important but more because kids are in it less. Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Monetary vs. Non Monetary Rewards in the Classroom

Here’s another topic for my teacher journal and I hope to get some external input in the comments on it. In every class there should be some sort of rewards system. Kids are small adults and adults work for rewards, why shouldn’t they? In teaching, I have found the PC and mainstream way most teachers take is the way of monetary rewards. Kids follow the rules and get junk the teacher buys with her/his own money or other sources. There is a problem I see with this monetized rewards system. If kids do right to get a tangible physical reward, they will only do right when they can get a reward. This is a poor way to prepare kids for life because many times in life we are not rewarded monetarily for doing the right thing.

I prefer non monetary rewards. When I was a Pizza Hut manager, the trainers told us that people will do more for a compliment than they will for a slight raise. People want to be seen. Again, students are small people so why wouldn’t they behave the same way grownups do? Throughout the day, I make sure I am giving high fives and compliments when they are warranted. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of monetary “prizes” for my students. Once in a while I will buy my kids stuff but I keep this few and far between because I know training them to crave non-monetary rewards is a more suitable training for the world we all live and work in.

It’s possible I’m a little bitter because in 1997 something happened in my classroom that really changed me. I bought a small mechanized Harley Davidson motorcycle toy to give away at the end of the month. (I also regularly bought monetary rewards for my class at that time). The $40 toy was stolen off my desk and I never retrieved it. The kids never revealed who and how it was taken. I decided pretty soon after that event that it was not the best idea to have monetary rewards in the classroom. That’s my view, what do you think?

3 Things to Ask in a Parent Teacher Conference

The parent teacher conference is an excellent time for teachers to meet parents and find out how their child is doing in class. You might say it’s the great “demystifier” for the rest of the year. Teachers have questions which are answered in teaching degrees. If parents have any questions, they should be resolved in the parent conference. Along with presenting their scores, it’s a great opportunity for you to get information from parents. Information from parents is so important it should be taught in teacher degree requirements. Here are 3 invaluable questions to ask in a parent teacher conference.

  1. What is your child like at home? They may be shy about this one. Try to resist clarification as you want the answer to not be coached. This information is highly valuable to you as it will give you points of contact with the child as you teach her/him throughout the year.
  2. What book is your child reading currently? This opens the conversation to discuss reading and how valuable it is in education. Encourage them to talk with their child about what book she/he is reading and ask them questions about the polt and characters.
  3. Do they have any questions for you? Give parents the opportunity to ask you questions. Let your guard down and professionally answer any questions they give you.

We always talk in parent teacher conferences but we sometimes miss a golden opportunity to listen to parents. When we open up and listen to parents, we get all sorts of persuasive tools to use with the student. For example, if a parent says: “Comic books, comic books, he wants to write them one day.” I can use that for example by saying things like:

“This math concept is something you could use when designing a comic book!” And hopefully I will get “buy-in” more readily from that student . The next time you meet with a parent, try these three questions and see if you are helped by them. I think parent input is worth more than a handful of teaching degrees.

Kids, Choices, and Consequences

Successful teaching requires a “choice and consequence” system. These are my experiences and a few tips I have found useful in my 4th grade classroom.

I’m not sure any college can fully teach you how to become a teacher completely. There’s a lot of stuff you can only learn while doing it. A police friend I know has been shot at, threatened and scared half to death by some of the criminals he’s dealt with. Another fireman has almost destroyed his back pulling people out of burning buildings. So the issue is raised: What does it take to be a teacher? We deal with something every day just as ominous: surly kids. In my career I’ve had issues with kids that that few non-teachers will ever comprehend. I’ve had kids flat out tell me “no” to my face. I’ve had kids shout profanity at me. I’ve had kids tell me they are sending their dad, uncle or brother to beat me up. (yes that happened once). It can be difficult to stay focused and motivated toward teaching when so many behavior problems exist. The good news is, there are ways to get through them.

Along with the challenges there is plenty of good I must add. Teaching certification is rigorous for a reason. In addition to the small number of students who have tested me, many more have made me so glad and happy to be a teacher. Let’s talk about how to deal with these challenging kids, because teachers are always going to have them.

There are so many plans at your disposal as a teacher to control behavior in the class. You can have a warning/consequences chart, you can do positive reinforcements, you can even take entire blocks of time to model your rules and consequences. In my opinion, nothing works better than a certain type of psychology with kids who won’t behave, it is called “Choice and Consequences” teaching. Let me explain:

When a kid misbehaves it is usually either because 1) They don’t realize it and are just being “slap-happy” as kids are wont to do while young -or- 2) They know it’s wrong and they do it anyway hoping they won’t be seen or caught. You should only give consequences if the child disobeys or is defiant. The first consequence is: give them a warning. Make sure you state clearly the rule they have broken when you do so. ie;

Johnny, you kicked someone’s leg and they complained to me. You did not respect your classmate and that is rule 3 on our list on the wall. If you do it again, you will get a consequence.

Now the child knows what to refrain from. If s/he continues, it is defiance and deserves the next consequence. When they do it again, here is the only thing you should say:

Johnny (Jenny), I asked you to not do that and you did it. Now you have another consequence.

Do you practice “choice and consequences” in your class? There are sites for teachers discussing that right now. In fact, our discussion is below. I hope you’ll leave your 2 cents.

Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value

I have learned the value of these three words”Create. Innovate, and Integrate.” Whether you are teaching creative writing jobs or the alphabet, as a teacher your innovation will always yield a lot of value.

Teachers who invent solutions are my heroes! Sometimes after getting a teaching degree, one is surprised that what they learned isn’t reality. In other words, for some challenges, there is no beaten path. This can be due to legislative changes or just the needs of a particular area in education. In those situations, I have learned the value of these three words”Create. Innovate, and Integrate.” Whether you are teaching creative writing jobs or the alphabet, as a teacher your innovation will always yield a lot of value.

The teaching certificate is just the beginning. After that you must conform to your classroom needs and use all your talents to meet them. Here are a few examples, feel free to add more of your own in the comments. This will help us all be better. Continue reading “Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value”

Goals Help Solve the Riddle of Setting up a Classroom

If you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when review measurable progress toward goals, you decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you are a success or not in your classroom, only you should determine that.

I wrote this post last year upon setting up my classroom. After reading it just a couple weeks before I do the same this year, I found it had some very helpful reminders. Today was my first day setting up my classroom. I made a LOT of planning notes and I am far from done. It was a challenge as always and at times overwhelming. There is so much you COULD be doing that you often get caught up majoring in the minors. I am proud to say I was a success today based on my goals set beforehand. My dad shared with me in my youth the concept of SPIDOG. It stands for “Set priorities in direction of goals.” The theory being that if you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when you review measurable progress toward goals, decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you succeed, only you should determine that.

I recently wrote about my goals for the 2011-2012 school year. I followed them the entire 8 hours I was working. It saved me from time wasting. In fact, according to my goals, I was darn productive if I do say so myself. Below are a couple shots taken on my iPhone. They show first day progress toward consequence based rules, my primary goal this year. I am putting the desks in a “U” so I can walk around easily. I did other actions based on the goal of consequence based rules. Are you setting priorities in direction of goals thi year?

U desk formation left side
U Desk formation Right
Taping names on the desk for calling on random non-volunteers is part of a consequence based rules system

Tell me about your goals for setting up your classroom …

What Does it Take to be a Teacher?

We know cops went into their job because they appreciated justice. Graphic designers enjoy seeing a project through. But what about teachers? What is the impetus (in general) that drives people to pursue a career teaching?

My School DeskBeing a teacher, we often get mixed reviews in our cultures. Sometimes, we are seen as “world changers” and other times not as highly. I think a lot of people think they know because everyone has had an experience with teachers. This brings up the question: What does it take to be a teacher? Let me give you a few of my observations:

Teachers are people who use their education.

Some of my friends I run across did not put their excellent education to work. Others did and went into various trades but in most cases, teachers used it to keep getting educated. All teachers have at least a Bachelor’s degree. At this point in time, most districts require an advanced degree or they won’t consider hiring you. Continue reading “What Does it Take to be a Teacher?”

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

3 Tips for Teacher Success When Starting Their Career

Once you accept the challenges of teaching, you can be a lifelong success and make a difference with your students. Here are some teaching tips on how to make that happen.


There is a lot you can do to be successful at teaching. Being great at what you do in the field of education has many roadblocks though.  Getting your teaching certificate is just the first challenge. But, once you accept the challenge, you can be successful and make a difference with your students. Again there is so much you can do but here are 3 simple teaching tips on how to make that happen.

At work we a have a single job to do but everyone knows there is so much more to work than that. For example: 1. Effective lessons are crucial and require careful planning, 2. Avoid getting overly involved with your colleagues personally (this is just my personal opinion but it has helped my success), and 3. Practice creating solutions to your teaching challenges.

Effective lessons are very important. You will find many helps on this blog alone. After that of course, a simple search on Google will yield many teacher tips on how to craft and deliver excellent lessons. Devote yourself to this. It is the cornerstone of an effective teacher.

It may seem healthy and productive to spend time after school talking to other teachers but I have found it of little value. In my case, and of course everyone has a different personality, I have found that a staff will expand, contract, and change in number. The faces will change but the challenge is the same: to teach effectively. Especially at the beginning of your career, extra-professional relationships at work can distract you. I have decided to keep colleague relationships, other than collaboration for planning lessons, to a minimum. I leave you to make your own conclusions here.


Finally, be an innovator! There was a psychological study done in the 70’s where a guy looked up in the middle of Central Park. He was looking at nothing but he never looked down. People would walk by and most looked up with him. The message here is to be an innovator or leader in what you do. Others may follow but that shouldn’t be your primary motive. Success is the lighthouse. Classroom and online teaching degrees are great careers but you have to get out there and do them! There are some great books on making a living in online teaching available. This is an example of real innovation. You need grand innovative habits to succeed in teaching.

In conclusion, everyone in their heart wants to be successful. Unfortunately there are a host of forces working all the time against us. I have given only three tips this post. These are three tips that are very important to teacher success. What do you think of them? Please join the conversation in the comments with other tips for teacher success.

The Power of Believing in Your Dreams

If you believe in your dream you once held of becoming a teacher, you will be a better one than you are now. If you can visualize something to do in your classroom to spread your belief, the whole class will benefit. Remember that you work with children who have not seen much of life or the world. They see life through your eyes many times every day. What is important is not what you think your boss sees or what your colleagues see, but what they see. The fire you ignite in their hearts, minds, and eyes is the fire that leads the civilization of tomorrow. You have the gift to work with kids, now make sure you take the time to meditate on what is best and profitable to them and for them. I know from personal experience this is an incredibly rewarding direction to take.

Teach with vision, believe in your dream.