Hopes and Dreams & Rule Making

We finished our first full week! It actually amazes me how quickly students catch on and grow with our routines. Sometimes I get a confused thinking, "Why can't they remember this... or that?" but then I remember, it's only been 9 days! When I think of that, it puts things back into perspective and makes me realize that we are off to a great start this year! I really do have a great bunch of sweeties and hope we have a great year together.

I'm linking up with Miss Nelson's Saturday Snapshots to give a peek into setting up or classroom expectations.

To help us set ourselves up for success we write hopes and dreams and create our classroom rules. This process is driven by the students and guided by myself. This was the third time I've done this now, and each time when it's done, I hear of a different way to do it to make it easier. It wasn't the smoothest process, but it was a learning one (for both me and the students).

We started by writing our hopes and dreams. We brainstormed different specific topics for reading, writing, math, and social instances. They chose one and wrote out their hope and dream. The sentence stems I used for this first hope and dream were:

"My hope and dream for 3rd grade is __________. To reach my hope and dream, I will _____________." When we revisit them in January, we'll add more components to it. But I found this was difficult enough for my kiddos. They then wrote in their best handwriting on a little pennant, and I attached them to a piece of ribbon. They are now hung by our curtain as a reminder of our goals this year. 

Once we have our hopes and dreams, we discuss that in order for us to reach these, we need to establish some rules. We split rule making up over 3 days.

Day 1- we brainstorm any and all rules we think we could have. We usually end up with close to 30.
Day 2- we try to categorize and combine the rules. Some are very similar so we either erase one or combine them. I tried this year to sort the rules by our school CARES (cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, self control). This worked, but it wasn't the smoothest.
Day 3- we looked at each of the CARES and the rules we selected and tried to come up with 1 rule, forcing us to synthesis our current ideas. This is hard for them (some of them were easier than others because the rules were practically identical), but some students managed to come up with some good overall rules and shared them with the class.

Students then worked in their groups to write out 1 of the rules. We posted them on our classroom community board and then the following day we signed them into 'law.' Each person signed their name agreeing to follow them.

Now we discussed what happens if you should break a classroom rule. We discussed 'logical consequences' and I showed them a triangle to help remind them.  Our logical consequences include:
1. You break it, you fix it (including materials or peoples feelings- you break it, you need to fix it)
2. Loss of privilege
3. Take a break (see my post about it here)

Finally, I put one more safety net into place: our peace rug.

Really its just back in our library because it's removed from our table groups and whole group meeting area. I modeled with a students the parts to a peace rug conference. This is great for when kids are tattling on each other. It forces them to discuss the issue with the person and not have an adult intervene. I modeled appropriate language and listening skills and we brainstormed different situations that might require a peace rug. Lastly, I told them that sometimes I might send people back there to resolve the issue, or you may ask someone to go to the peace rug to share your feelings and make a plan.

That was a super long post! However, now that we have all this in place and the fact that the students created most of it, we are ready to dive into our content for the year. More on that in a later post!

The weather is beautiful here in MN today. I hope it is where you are also!


Week 1: Getting back into RC

The week seemed super long (and it was only a 4 day week) but it was a really great first week with my new students! It's crazy how much more prepared I feel this second year. Don't get me wrong, I'm still super flustered throughout the day (We have first prep which means after that, I have 2 1/2 solid hours without a break... not to mention this past week we ate lunch with our class so I then only had about 10 minutes to get ready for our afternoon.), but I knew what I was doing for the most part and got a lot more completed this first week than last year.

I'm linking up with Tara's Monday Made It on a little behavior management tool I've added to my Take a Break chair this year.

We are an RC school (Responsive Classroom). I agree with a lot of the RC practices and believe in it's success (which I didn't always when I was in some of my practicums). RC believes in taking the first 6 weeks to establish classroom routines, community, and rules. And while that sounds amazing- it's just not realistic with the academic demands now. So we push 6 weeks into about 2 which means it's a lot of teacher modeling, practicing routines, creating goals (hopes and dreams) for the school year, establishing classroom rules together as a class and getting our 'safety nets' into place for behaviors. I'm really against clip charts (not knocking anyone who uses them- some find they bring great success!), and luckily RC uses other management systems to help students manage and reflect on their behavior as oppose to tracking it. One of those practices is the 'Take a Break' chair.

No- it's not a time out chair. Here's how it's different.

Time-out: Adult typically sends child to it with a 'forceful' tone and tells the child when they can get up.
Take a Break: Adult sends child to it with a firm voice, but the child determines when they can return to the group.

Time-out: Adult is the only one who puts child in it.
Take a Break: A child can send themselves there when they need some space.

We practice taking a break the first couple of weeks- meaning, I try to send each child there at least once so that they can practice the strategy of reflecting and correcting the behavior themselves. I model for them, their classmates model for them, and we even created these little signs to help them use when they are at Take a Break.

We brainstormed different ways to regain self-control when we are feeling hyper, upset, tired, etc. I then took pictures of students doing these things (blurred out their faces) and made them accessible for them to use when they go to Take a Break if they need an idea. One is hung on our curtain while the other was is in an envelope that I duct-taped. I've already seen a few kids use them since I hung them up on Friday!

I even Take a Break somedays when I am feeling frustrated or tired and need to refocus. It's nice for the kids to see that sometimes adults need also need to be redirected.

The key is to not use it as a punishment. Sometimes your emotions can get the best of you, but you need to keep a caring, but firm voice so that it doesn't turn into a shameful feeling. I even discuss at the beginning of the year that it's not a punishment and I'll try my very best to say it in a caring way. We also discuss that we don't argue if we are sent to take a break, but that after we calm down, we can raise our hand while we are still there and I will come over for a social conference to share ideas.

The Take a Break method really helps the child reflect (with my help) on the fact that their behavior is disrupting their learning or others learning. It helps them gain self- control again and correct the behavior. It allows me to problem solve with them if they can't find ways to fix their behavior. It really has saved face for many students and is effective for about 95% of my kiddos.

I'll be sharing our rule making process later on which includes our hopes and dreams work and our rule creating process. I hope you all are feeling well about the beginning of your year!


Open House Night: Meet the Teacher

It was one STEAMY week back to the classroom this week. In Minnesota, we had a week long heat wave of 90 degree weather with heat index levels anywhere from 100 to 110 degrees. Don't get me wrong, we have summer here (no, it's not cold all year long), we have 90 degree days in June, July, August and even sometimes September, but not this kind of heat. Minneapolis (who actually started with their students this past week... they are really the only ones up here to start prior to Labor Day) ended up canceling school Thursday and Friday after trying to keep up with the heat. Many schools up here don't have air conditioning throughout the building. For example, my school only has air conditioning in the library, gym, office and then the 'new wing' of our building which houses the music room and the kindergarten rooms. The rest of us sweat it out. Not to mention as you move farther away from the new wing, the temperature increases 15 degrees or so with every 5 steps it seems. Anyways, where was I going with this.... oh ya, it was HOT!

We had teacher workshop days Monday-Thursday and they tried to keep us in the air as best as they could (as some schools in my district do have air throughout the whole building). Thursday evening was our Open House and my room was a balmy one.

At our school, we have Open House before school starts. It's a chance for families to come to school, find out who their teacher is, sign up for conferences, check out their new room, and bring in supplies. We then start school the following week with our students. One incentive that helps get families to come is that they don't get to find out who their teacher is unless they come that night.

That being said, I had a GREAT turn out. I meet 24 of my 27 third graders this year and I'm SO excited for this new year with them all. I snapped some photos before they arrived to show how I got prepared. I tried some new things that worked great (and some things that didn't).

Communal Supplies

 This year, we changed our supply lists a bit and some of it is now communal. That meant we had to set up places in our room for them to dump these supplies.

I used book bins that we got at a professional development to separate them. Not everyone brings their supplies in this night and they actually were the perfect size!

I also hung up signs for less obvious spots:
-loose leaf paper in the crate
-another bin for rulers
-pencil pile
-post-it note basket

This ran pretty smoothly and I'll do this again next year. I also posted a sign for what individual supplies go in student's desks.

Sign- ups
Families were asked to let me know daily transportation plans for after school as well as for the first day of school. Although this was on the checklist for them to do, many did not without me reminding them. Not everyone did it, but it is a start. This was pretty typical last year as well.

I also tried something different this year with volunteers. Last year, I had a lot of them. I sent home an individual sheet for each student. That meant, I had to go through all of them to make a master of what kinds of volunteers I had and such. So I tried a sign-up at Open House.... and it failed. I either don't have any interested volunteers or people were too hot to stick around and fill it out. I'll be sending home the individual sheet the first week in hopes I get at least a few.

Book Labeling

Last year, I wrote the student's names onto their math book on a label and put it on their desk for Open House. One of my teammates thought to have the students label their own books this year, so I thought I would try it. For 1 reason, that meant less labeling for me. For another reason, it gives them some ownership.

The downfall to this: again, not everyone did it, even though it was on the checklist. The following day, I had to walk around, peek in desks and figure out who didn't do it so I could put the books into their desk. Next year, I'll go back to doing it for them or change my check list to make it more obvious... we'll see.

Curriculum Table
I set up a table with a few different curriculum focuses. I had sample homework so they would know what it looked like. I had a sample RW binder/notebook so they could see how we'll track our reading progress and such. I also had an example of a writing project from last year in a class book we made, and lastly, just invited them to browse through the math activity book. 

Birthdays I added birthday tags for who's birthday is in that month. I did blur out any names of actual students on the following slides. I am trying to celebrate half birthdays this year to celebrate those kiddos who have summer birthdays so we'll see how that goes. 

Checklists & Forms

Last year I did a checklist... this year I did a checklist... I'll be revising it next year to make it more user friendly and to the point so that families do what I truly need them to do to help the first day go smoothly.    Some things I had them do was to find their attendance/lunch button and move it so they know what to do the first day, find their mail box, look through the classroom library and make a book suggestion, visit the communal supplies drop off section, label their books... it just got to be too much. So that will change. But hey, ya learn something new each year! I also gave them a pencil to go with our door decoration (again, blurred out the name).

 I also created a brochure that included our daily schedule, information on snacks, water bottles, and our website to name a few topics. I separately had a packet of forms (that way, they either all come back- or none). The forms included a home contact sheet with detailed info that was super valuable to me last year (such as- when would you like to be contacted, best means of contacting you, who lives with the child at home and their relations, etc). I also had a form where parents could share detailed info about their child including questions like, what motivates their child, their interests, their fears, their personality, and others. Lastly, I included a page about birthdays and whether the family wants me to recognize the child's birthday or not (as some cultures do not). On the back of the checklist was a letter from me.

Here is one final look of my room from my desk/small group area before open house. Many of the materials were on the student's desks ready to go. Oh- one new thing I did which I definitely would do next year: Nicknames. I had 8 or so kids who according to records say they go by a nickname. I'm always hesitant to just go with the nickname since sometimes kids and families change their mind year to year. This year, if a child had a nickname on record, I left a little note with 2 post-its. One post-it had their nickname, one had their given name. The note said to leave the name they wanted on their name tag. That way, I don't have to change them. I actually had 2 kiddos who wanted their given name- not their nickname. So I'm glad I did that.

I'm trying to get in the mindset that I'm teaching on Tuesday... it's a bit hard for me right now. The first couple weeks are so hard because we aren't in a routine. We are an RC school (Responsive Classroom) which means we put a lot of emphasis on routines, expectations, and modeling. So the first few weeks is heavily focused on getting those structures in place so behaviors are limited during our days. It's totally worth it! But it does take a while to get into our normal routines. Here's to a new year with new beginnings and new things to learn, for both me and my students!


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