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Discipline with Reasonable and Logical Consequences

Another important part of a successful classroom management program is being able to discipline with reasonable and logical consequences. I do not believe that disciplining is synonymous with punishment. Students must have structure so they can learn how to impose limits on their own behavior. Having just finished my first week with my new class of first graders, I have been busy putting my classroom management plan in action.

On day one, we discussed why we have rules (to keep us safe, to understand what behavior is expected of us) and who has to follow rules (students and adults). My students and I wrote our own class rules together.

They are as follows:
1. Be nice.
2. Keep your hands to yourself.
3. Do your best work.
4. No Talking when the teacher is talking.
5. Follow directions the first time.

Inevitably, when I ask students to share with me what rules we should have, they always come up with some extreme answers such as no biting, no spitting, no throwing chairs etc. I fake a horrified expression and tell them that I hope that never happened in their kindergarten classroom and I know it will not happen in mine. And then I go on to explain how those actions would fit under the umbrella of “being nice” to one another, which is rule number one!

Every day this past week, a few times a day, we reviewed our class rules and consequences. I did have to give out several sad sticks for rules that were broken, but I took time to explain why a sad stick was earned and we discussed what could be done differently next time. When we wrote our class rules, students also agreed to our consequences. Slowly but surely, students are beginning to understand that it is they who are choosing the consequence when they chose to break a rule. On the other hand, if they are choosing to follow the class rules that they helped to write, they are rewarded with praise and stickers galore on their incentive chart.

We did do quite a bit of role-playing about how to solve behavior problems this week. There were also many interesting behavior solving situations that came up naturally. I always take the time these first several weeks of school to begin to lay the groundwork of teaching my students how to problem solve on their own. This following course of action can be used between a teacher and student or with two or more students. After a problem arises, I ask the student to use their words to describe the problem, what caused it and how they feel about it. I model active listening and train others to do the same, restating what the upset student has said. I then ask for solutions to the problem and have the student choose one. Finally, it is agreed that the solution will be given a try to see if it worked. If not, we will offer up more solutions and try again.

Remember, if a student misbehaves they are only repeating behavior, that in the past gained them attention, gave them power or masked an inadequate feeling. In my classroom, it is my job to praise the positive and give matter of fact, non-emotional attention to the negative. The consequences have already been laid out and agreed to, there is no worth to getting angry or showing disapproval, a student must learn that they are responsible for their choices and the rewards or consequences that come with those choices. Setting up the rules and reasonable consequences takes away the opportunity for arbitrarily imposed discipline and allows your students to feel they are in a safe, fair learning environment. Teaching your students to choose between acceptable and unacceptable actions is a skill they will use for a lifetime.

"Experience is a great teacher and sometimes a pretty teacher is a great experience." Evan Esar

Dr. Haim Ginott

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After one week of 12 hour plus days in staff development and setting up my classroom, I would like to share a favorite quote with you on the day before my first, and maybe your first day, with new students.

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Dr. Haim Ginott

I have seen this quote used in so many different situations, it is a testament to the power of the message. I believe it is a comment that all adults should consider. I have had it displayed in my classroom since the very first day of my teaching career, and I read it often as a gentle reminder of my ability to bring joy and courage to my students. To all those who begin a new school year tomorrow, or within the next few weeks, or maybe you have already started! I wish you the best year, with many successes, smiles and some strategically chosen mental health days!

"It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others-and less trouble." Mark Twain

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Rewarding Positive Behavior

In my previous blog, I took time to discuss using effective praise with your students. I want to continue that area of thought and connect it to my discipline plan that I shared in my blog “Classroom Management That Works”. Since we are dealing with young children, I do motivate them with a combination of intrinsic awards (motivating from within and modeling that with effective praise) and extrinsic awards, which I will discuss here.

On my “Good Citizen” bulletin board, each student has two places where their name is placed. I can fit two student names sideways on a library card and once on their own incentive chart. The library pocket houses sad sticks, a craft stick with a sad face drawn on it. A student only receives a sad stick when they chose not to follow a class rule. Otherwise the sad sticks sit in a little container by my “Good Citizen” board.
Good_citizen_board_close_up

The incentive chart is where the student receives stickers to reward positive behavior. The incentive chart does not need to be a fancy store bought chart. I have used die-cuts, notepad pages, and construction paper cut into shapes. No matter what I use, the amount of stickers a student has to earn to fill their chart up is 20. Once a student has 20 stickers, they get to pick out of the treasure box.
Good_citizen_board_incentive_charts

Each morning, I give every student who did not receive a sad stick a sticker. I make a big deal when someone reaches 20 stickers and I place their incentive chart by the homework folders to remind me to let them pick out of the treasure box that afternoon. I put a new incentive chart up and students get to take the old one home to save. If a student did have a sad stick, I simply remove it and remind everyone that today is a brand new day and everyone gets to start with the ability to earn a stickers by making good choices for their behavior.

The beauty of this system is that I can give as many stickers as I want to whomever I choose. Yes, the student is guaranteed to receive one sticker each morning for following the class rules, but students can earn many more stickers throughout the day to reward positive behavior. This works especially well at the beginning of the year when excellent behavior and classroom routines need to be reinforced. It just takes ten seconds to say, “I just love the way Erryka is helping Catarina tie her shoe. She took the time to help a friend, how nice. I am going to give her a sticker for that!” and to place a sticker on that child’s chart. By doing this you are using effective praise and rewarding positive behavior simultaneously.

I do not keep it a secret that I give extra stickers out to reward positive behavior. I even have a chart on my “Good Citizen” board that is titled “How can you earn extra stars?” I will share that list with you. Download how_can_you_earn_extra_stars.doc Of course there are many things I give stickers for that are not on that list, so feel free to reward any positive behavior that you want to reinforce. The spontaneity of your sticker giving will keep your students on your toes and will give you a reason to use effective praise on a regular basis!

"Build slowly, joyfully, sequentially…always taking care of the human soul." Zoltan Kodoly

Effective Praise

One of the most integral parts of any classroom management program is the use of effective praise. Children know when you are being sincere and when you are just placating them. You want to get into the habit of using praise with your students that motivates them to continue to exhibit positive behavior and productive work effort.

Effective Praise…
• provides information
• specifies commendable aspects of the task
• attributes success to effort and ability
• implies that similar successes can be expected in the future
• encourages student appreciation for their effort
• is expressed sincerely, showing spontaneity, variety and other non-verbal signs of recognition

Let’s take the previous information just a step further. When you give effective praise…
⇒ Identify a specific accomplishment:
“Sizzling was an excellent choice of adjective that you used to describe the sun.”
⇒ Give a particular student attention:
“Jason, I really like the way you got right to work on your journaling, you must have some interesting things to share today.”
⇒ Focus the student on their positive behavior:
“You should be proud of the way you are sitting quietly and following directions.”
⇒ Help the student to understand the value of his or her accomplishments:
“Your explanation of how you answered that word problem helped your classmates to see a new way that they might want to use to try to solve a similar problem.”
⇒ Be constructive in your praise.
“I like how Monique is waiting so patiently for her turn to drink.”
⇒ Help the student appreciate their own progress:
“I am so impressed how you leave such clear spaces between your words, you don’t even need to use your finger to remind you anymore!”
⇒ Recognize old and new accomplishments:
“First you learned to count to ten and now you can add numbers that are more then ten.”
⇒ Credit the student’s effort to succeed:
“I see that you are working hard to improve your spelling, you spelled more words correctly this week then you did last week.”
⇒ Show the student you focused on their work because you could see that they were enjoying their learning process.
“I admire how you added some amazing details to your illustration. You looked like you were really enjoying what you were doing.”

Encourage your students to strive for improvement, NOT perfection, in personal as well as academic areas. Recognize effort and accomplishments, even the small ones. Emphasize strengths and minimize weaknesses. Teach students to learn from their mistakes, and to understand that mistakes are not failures. Promote motivation from within and let students know that you have faith in their abilities. Finally, have faith in yourself to work on your own self-improvements and praise your own accomplishments small and large.

Please note that the information in this blog was modified from “Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis” by JE Brophy. A similar article you might be interested in reading is "Effective Praise" by Leah Davies, M.Ed.

"In elementary school, many a true word is spoken in guess." Harry Youngman

Classroom Management That Works

This year I will be in my second year of online mentoring through the University of Texas WINGS program with Jenny, a second year teacher here in Austin. I am also in my second year of mentoring my colleague, Jennifer Moody, who teaches first grade with me at Metz. Yes, that is three Jennifer’s between us! Thank goodness my apprentice teacher for this upcoming fall semester is named Molly or else I might have had to assign everyone a number like Christina did for her interns on Grey’s Anatomy!

I have a passion for working with new teachers and enjoy helping to guide them towards their own teaching style. I strive to give them a safe, relaxed place to learn and to ask any question they need answered. I show that I am also trying to acquire new skills, just like they are, and that the art of being a good teacher is that you learn from your mistakes.

Inevitably, new teachers are most worried about classroom management and I believe they have good reason to be. If you do not take the time to put a class management system in place from day one, you are setting yourself up for a very difficult nine months. I find that most first year teachers’ worry that they are behind their colleagues in lesson plans or that they aren’t teaching enough “important stuff”. They fail to understand that using the first several weeks of school to continuously review and reinforce their rules for respect, productive work and general “how to’s” is the most important thing they should be teaching during this time! By working on this with students, they are setting up a system that will allow the rest of their lessons to run smoothly and with maximum absorption of knowledge.

Expert teachers should have a classroom management plan that works for them, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. My management plan took a couple of years to perfect, but once I had it worked out, I have never changed it and I recommend it to all first year teachers I have worked with. I tell them to try it, use what they can from it and adapt it for their own teaching style. My plan doesn’t take away from teaching time, it lays the responsibility on the student in a constructive manner and it gets the teacher in the habit of recording infractions so they have a back-up reference if any one student shows a pattern of poor choices. Most importantly, it rewards positive behavior, because this is where your focus should be in the first place.

I am posting a copy of the discipline letter that I send home to my student’s parents on the first day of school. Please feel free to use it and modify it in any way that you would like. I also discuss and show photos of my “Good Citizen” bulletin board on my Scholastic classroom video tour, so I highly recommend that you watch that so you can get a visual image along with the written description.

Check back throughout this month to find my follow up blogs to “Classroom Management”:
• Effective Praise
• Rewarding Positive Behavior: How can students earn extra stars?
• Discipline with Reasonable and Logical Consequences
• Documenting Student Infractions
• Nice Notes and Red Notes
• Making the Call: Have a student call a parent to report their behavior
• Quick Q&A (What are sad sticks, what is in your treasure box, what are some alternatives to incentive charts etc?)
• More Classroom Management Ideas


Download ms. Atkinson's Discipline Plan.doc

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Staying Organized - Lists are the key

Some of my colleagues can show up for work on day one and are able to pull everything together in a way that works for them and I admire that very much. I, on the other hand, always have to work on my classroom a week or two before our first day of staff development so I can take the time to unpack my closets, organize my desk and student centers and take stock of what worked for my students and what I want to change. I actually enjoy this quiet contemplative time very much. Thoroughly organizing for the new school year, both in my classroom and in my lesson plans, helps me to be a better teacher and allows me to leave early most days during that first month of school when everything is so intense and you really need to head home and relax as soon a possible!

There are couple things that really help me stay organized and plan for the upcoming year, my laptop and my lists. My laptop carries almost all of the information I need to write quality lesson plans. I can access the Internet for information, I can move entire chunks of a unit from one page to another, I can make notes about student’s progress on the lesson and use that information for formative assessments, I can access my own lesson plans from past years for easy updating, I can create slideshows and power point presentations to share with my students and so much more. My laptop has become the most important tool I own and I highly recommend purchasing your own laptop if you can afford the investment. It allows me to streamline my work so I have more time for my personal life.

Speaking of my personal life, I am quickly approaching my 39th birthday. I have no complaints except that my brain doesn’t seem to be able to hold as much information as it used to! I can either expend much needed energy trying to remember scads of information or I can just write it down! So I have become a master of list making. Not for everyone, I am sure, but for me, it works! Lists help me condense several different ideas or “to do’s” into manageable areas. I have also learned to make excellent notes to myself throughout the school year on lesson plans and in my lists, so I am sure not to lose any creative epiphanies that hit me while I am in the thick of a lesson or attending a professional development class.

I thought that sharing some of my list titles with you might help you on your way to contemplating your new beginnings this year, whether it is your first new beginning or your 25th! Be sure to check out the other Scholastic Teacher Advisors blogs as well. They have wonderful ideas to share about classroom themes, monitoring our classroom language, preparing for a student teacher and setting goals for the school year. If you have any lists that you use to help you organize your classroom, I would love to hear about them!

Professional: This is where I update my professional resume. I also keep track of professional development classes, educational contributions I make outside of my school, instructional programs I am interested in and professional books I would like to read.

Educational Grants: I list grants I would like to apply for in order of their due date, in addition to jotting down ideas I have for writing grants.

Organizing My Computer: I update all of my passwords (and goodness knows we seem to have a lot to remember!) in one word document. I review organizational folders I have set up, create slideshows for units and more.

Cool Websites to Checkout: I list professional websites that have been recommended to me or that I have read about. I also list student websites, educational learning games and interesting educational videos I have heard about but haven’t had the time to watch.

Books: I love to purchase funny or heart-warming picture books to share with students. Sometimes I hear a colleague read a story I have never heard or I scout out books on our monthly Scholastic’s book order or the Scholastic website.

Lesson Plans: When I find an idea that I want to try to incorporate on a daily or weekly basis I record it here. I can also make notes about a teaching method or activity that went exceptionally well or maybe one that didn’t quit go as planned!

Centers: Centers are such an integral of any primary classrooms; I am constantly brainstorming new things to try and ways to modify for maximum learning potential.

Homework: I strive to assign homework that allows for student creativity and supports all learning levels, so this list helps me to organize possible homework assignments.

Don’t Forget! (To Do Before a New School Year, or before Winter Break or for Parent Conference etc.): In the new year, this covers creating take home learning bags to printing name tags for the birthday calendar. The mundane to the very important goes in this inventory. That way I can just read it, complete the task, and mark it off. Year after year, this varied list has been a huge time saving tool.

Apprentice Teacher: I categorize things I want to be sure and share with my apprentice teacher, as well as keep a list of tasks that I need help with over the semester. Everyone’s time is important and I always want to have something productive for my apprentice teacher to do.

Back Burner: These are things I would like to create or try, but aren’t pressing. Sometimes I get around to them, sometimes the ideas get transferred to a new list or sometimes I just remove it because it never happened and it lost its interest to me.

Students: Do I need to IMPACT a student, call a parent, write a nice note, arrange an appointment with a counselor, check back with them about an assignment, create a re-teach group, pair them up with a buddy etc? If so, I file this information here.

Tour Jennifer's 1st Grade Classroom

Jennifer Atkinson’s 1st graders at Metz Elementary in Austin, TX have inspired her to be a creative teacher — one where students learn, work and collaborate to succeed within her organized and joyful classroom environment. Learn more.

New Beginnings

One of the best things about the teaching profession is that we always have time over the summer to reflect on our previous year with students and incorporate fresh ideas into our classroom. Maybe you want to reinvent your classroom environment and tie it into a yearlong theme.  Perhaps you learned a new teaching method from a professional development class or book, and you want to incorporate in your lessons. It could be that you want to try something completely different that challenges your teaching style so you can grow as an educator. 

This year, I will be working on all of the above, and I am spending these next couple of weeks organizing my plan of attack! The beginning of a new school year is one of my favorite times as a teacher. I delight in contemplating all of the possibilities for my students, my colleagues and myself. It is in this calm before the storm that I am able to take the time to open my mind, create detailed plans, and work on my classroom environment.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Jennifer's 1st Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.