FAQ: Where to Start
One of the questions I get the most – sounds the most simple – where do I start? – four seemingly harmless little words packed with so much ammo. I can literally hear the overwhelmed, mounting panic behind those words. And in the mantra of this week’s posts – I hear ya. Oh good god do I hear ya. I just wish you could all see the legal pads FILLED with to do lists I clung to my first year teaching. I also wish you could have all seen my face when I walked into my classroom on my very first day teaching to be greeted with some old tables and bookshelves and a computer. Yep. That’s it. Those loaded four little screeched in my head – where do I start???
So nobody is probably in the empty-classroom phase but I can imagine that some of you are in the I’ve-got-my-feet-wet-but-now-I-need-to-kick-into-high-gear stage. You have long passed your honeymoon phase and have some behavior interventions under your belt. You know your students. You have had a taste of what it could be and you want to make it better. Let’s get there.
My suggestion on getting started is – start small! I know it’s so hard to do that. I am a embarrassing perfectionist so I understand. But, it’s better to do a few things great than a lot of things mediocre. Create a few stations and make them good. Make them really good. You can always do the same rotation of stations twice a day if they are good! You can always add more later. It’s overwhelming at first.
- You can ‘plan ahead’ for your classroom revamp. Maybe you set up the stations and then spend a few days/weeks just having your students practice rotating around the stations. Instead of doing beautifully individualized data driven work – students can complete easy independent tasks. They will learn transitioning and new expectations without the added stress of challenging work.
- Before jumping into academic group work like a reading based morning group or guided reading groups – spend some real time work on group behavior. Can you students take turns? Follow along in the book? Raise their hands? Keep their hands to themselves? Attend to others? Build these skills before jumping into academic work.
- Same with test/quiz taking. Before starting to take quizzes and tests (either written questions or orally read questions) – my students spend A LOT of time practicing this skill with mastered, basic questions. I would ask them “what is your favorite color? what school do you go to?” etc. just so they could practice writing the answer without saying it out loud.
- Make a stupid amount of independent work tasks. Seriously – go overboard. Make them long and time consuming. You need to get your kids busy and working. You will always use those tasks. It’s great to have a stockpile you can rotate between. Keep some independent tasks at each station in case students are done with their work early. Hit up the dollar store! Check out my two work task pinterest boards (tasks and file folders):
- Write some grants to get some stuff! Use donors choose! They have been providing a coupon code for new grants for match your donation. So if you friends/family donate their donation will be matched! Don’t spend your whole pay check on your classroom – load up laminating pages, velcro, dry erase markers, sensory toys, pencils, markers, etc. Also check out this post for teaching on a budget.
- For data – again start small. Pick a few areas to take great data on and continue on from there. Check out this post and this post for how to make awesome data sheets (these a freebie template in there!).
- For behavior – am I starting to sound redundant – start small. Pick the worst, most disruptive, most annoying, most dangerous behavior and target that. You would be surprised how many other inappropriate behaviors disappear from other students once you get that behavior under control.
- Last but not least: make you and your classroom a fun and reinforcing place. You want your class to be a place your students want to be. Load up on plenty of praise. It goes a long way
Good luck! Hang in there! And I promise it gets better!
PS: freebie alert for tomorrow on facebook!