Archive | December 2015

Breathe New Life into your Classroom

After the much anticipated holiday break, everyone returns to their classrooms, teachers and students alike feeling renewed.

This is a great time to start fresh.  Over the holidays, take some time out to think about things you’d like to add, change, fix, or improve in your classroom.

Some things you might want to consider are;

  • new improved seating plan

Think about ‘hot spots’. Are there students sitting within close proximity to each other who really need to have some distance? Are there students who need a ‘friend’ to sit beside?

Consider the flow of traffic in your room. Is there a better way to configure the desks to improve traffic flow?

  • tweak your daily schedule

Consider if there is not enough movement between subjects to allow students to blow off some steam naturally.  Think about changing up the amount of time in their seats, lesson time, activity time etc. to create a more natural flow throughout the day that works best to keep the harmony in the classroom.

  • clean slate for your behavior challenges

Take some time at the start of the new year to talk individually with your behavior students and work out a plan with them to help them manage some of their disruptive behaviors. Check out my October post Cheer for the Underdog! for behavior management strategies.

  • new classroom management system

If you find yourself dealing with the same problems over and over, try to find a solution.  There are a lot of great resources out there for classroom management ideas.  Take a bit of time and research some. My post in September deals with this issue The Trouble Shooting Mechanic!

  • do some cleaning and tidying

On the first day back, have yourself and students do some much needed cleaning and organizing in the classroom.  An organized classroom and desk area is conducive to a smooth running classroom for yourself and your students. Get rid of the clutter! Clutter is stress inducing.  An earlier post in September Keep it Simple! talks about aiming for less is more!

  • classroom expectations

Set some new ground rules that you wish you had implemented earlier on in the school year.  This is your opportunity to use ‘hindsight is 20/20’ to your advantage.  Use what you already know about a group of students, to improve their overall experience in your classroom.

  • personal goal setting

Take time out for yourself each day to look after some aspect of your physical, emotional and nutritional well being.  See my post in October Happy Teacher…Happy Students! for more tips on improving your overall well being and how it can impact the classroom.

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Dealing with Parents

Dealing with parents is a skill in itself which teachers must master. Parents can become friend or foe depending on how you handle them.  Here are some key tips teachers can consider when trying to keep the peace with parents of students in their room.

  • keep parents informed about curriculum and activities

Send home a monthly newsletter highlighting curriculum and special classroom activities to keep parents well informed of goings on in your classroom. Taking the guess work out of what you are doing in the classroom will make for happier parents.


  • Keep parents informed about incidents or concerns at school

Parents do not like surprises about their children.  Inform parents quickly and professionally about any concerns at school.


  • Create a welcoming environment for parents

A pleasant smile, hand shake and introduction, or brief discussion at your door to set up a time for a longer discussion will help parents feel welcome.


  • Keep administration informed about any parent concerns that have been voiced to you

If you see a potential for a problem with a parent or an actual concern, let your superior know as soon as possible. Administrators are able to ‘calm’ and ‘reassure’ parents about an issue when they have all the needed information beforehand.


  • let parents have their say

Parents advocate passionately for their children and often all they need is to be heard.


  • keep your students happy in your classroom because happy students create happy parents

Students returning home at the end of the day with an unhappy experience in or outside of your classroom creates unhappy parents. Creating a climate of warmth, kindness and mutual respect for all within your classroom is a first step to ensuring students return home happy at the end of the day.  Instill in your students that you are their ‘go to’ person at school if there is a problem in or outside of the classroom.  You can often solve the problem at school before it goes home when you are informed.


  • a positive reputation in a school will carry you far with parents

Parents talk among themselves and you have no control over this.  You want a positive reputation so do your best to win parents over.


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Students with Mental Illness

In my career of 27 years there were only two students whom I would say were unreachable due to mental illness.  One was diagnosed, and the other was not.

Those were tough years.

I’ve also had my share of challenging students.  We’ve all had them.

They are the ones who come to school with tons of baggage due to circumstances beyond their control. They can make teaching a classroom of students a living nightmare.

These students can however be salvaged while they are in your classroom. They will take up a lot of your mental energy, time, patience and every ounce of stamina you have, but you can make some headway with these students.

The ones with mental illness are a different story.  No amount of behavior interventions can make long term differences with these students.

Each day becomes survival mode for yourself and the rest of the students in the classroom.  I know this sounds negative but it’s a reality.

One of the most unnerving behaviors both these students presented was the way they tracked me around the room with their eyes.  Their eye contact was a direct challenge. It was mentally exhausting trying to ignore the eye tracking and avoiding making eye contact.

The eye tracking started to permeate my whole being and I kept waiting for ‘it’ to happen.  The ‘it’ could be a violent or explosive event which circumvented myself and my students being evacuated from the classroom. This was the safety plan.

After one of the evacuations, it took 15 adults 30 minutes to put my classroom back into some sort of order at the end of the day.  He was 7 years old.

No one can understand the power this eye tracking has on you until you have experienced it. You try to explain it to colleagues, family, friends but you end up stopping because you can’t explain it.  You begin to question your own mental health.

A teacher can ‘figure out’ most students after a certain amount of time, but students with mental illness cannot be ‘figured out’. You will be asked what their triggers are and you’ll shrug your shoulders. You will be asked what you can do to de-escalate the situation and you’ll shrug again.

All you can do is try to smile, maintain your composure and attempt to keep everyone safe through it all. To help yourself and your students get through the year, gather as many allies on your side as you can; support personnel, parents, administrators, colleagues.

Parents of the other children in your classroom need to know the situation at school.  A parent can be a great advocate for you to help have this student removed from your classroom or placed on a shortened school day.

Support staff and colleagues need to understand that they are on call for any kind of SOS from yourself and your students.

Administration needs to know the severity of the problem.  They need to understand that it just isn’t a matter of you not being able to ‘handle’ or ‘manage’ the student. They need to be one board with the severity of the the situation with this student.

Lastly, look after your own mental health, get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise.

You’ll need it.