Closing Your Classroom for Summer

Congratulations EdCats!

Some of you are closing out your very first semester of teaching. YOU DID IT! Other EdCats are celebrating validation of the rumor they heard–the second year sails by when you know more about what to expect and have greater confidence in your teaching. The great equalizer, whether your it’s your first year or fifteenth, is it’s time to think about closing your classroom for the year. Here are some of our tips combined with advice from veteran teachers and your fellow EdCats!

1. Communicate with administration/facilities to determine what is happening to your classroom this summer. Schools begin to hum with facilities repairs and projects once the final dismissal bell rings. Perhaps your room will be used for summer school or this summer may be your classroom’s turn in the annual rotation of floor stripping and waxing. Knowing what is ahead will help you make good decisions on moving and storing items.

2. Purge. Stacy Dillinger, 5th grade, shares, I ‘pretend’ I am leaving each year. It forces me to clean out that messy desk or cabinet that I wouldn’t do otherwise. It also helps me to purge what I really don’t need. Anna Kohake, K-8 Spanish & Reading, agrees. Chances are if you didn’t use it this year, you’re not going to use it next year.

3.  Think ahead to next year. After summer break, I often forget why I ordered organizers, clip boards, specific folders, specific supplies, etc. so I write down my ideas/reasons for ordering an item and staple the note to my copy of the purchase order, says Jill Rehg-Baith 5th. I keep a Google Doc going titled ‘to-do before August’ and update it.  Sarah Campbell, secondary ESL, keeps a running list of “things to buy this summer” Post-it in her planner. Angie Bretches, 6th, encourages, Force yourself to take down bulletin boards. It makes you more creative for the next year when you come to set up. Something as simple as a new board can invigorate a boring classroom. Sarah Campbell, secondary ESL, wants us to take a photo before we start taking things down. Crystal Holzer, Middle School Avid Instructor, wants to remind us that when we take things down we should LAMINATE EVERYTHING!

4. Label boxes and objects. This author lost the battle of the podium. I came back after the summer break and unbeknownst to our department, the custodians put all of our classroom objects in the hallway and mixed them all together. One podium was old and rickety and the other was newer and nicer. You guessed it, my podium (the newer one) was put back into another classroom and without sharing the drama, I lost the battle. If I had been as smart as one of our EdCats (who wishes to remain anonymous) and used painter’s tape, I could have clearly marked my classroom belongings. She recommends the blue painter’s tape and a sharpie so as not to damage any surfaces. Another helpful hint is to photograph your classroom or any important information on bulletin boards before you take it down.

Sarah's photo

5. Enlist the help of your students. We like the idea of having this year’s students make a bulletin board or wall display for next year’s students with advice for succeeding in that grade level or classroom. To get additional ideas for including students as you close your classroom, Wynn Godbold offers 5 Practical and Ingenious Tips for Closing your Classroom here.

Do you have additional ideas for the EdCat Community? Feel free to add your advice in our comments section. Here’s our advice:

ENJOY YOUR SUMMER!

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Culturally Supported Students

On a recent visit to Apache Innovative School in the Shawnee Mission School District, students were actively engaged in the building’s Makerspace. The student featured in this photo was particularly happy as she and her classmates sorted through a bin of Lego shapes and characters.  As she found her favorite Lego she shrieked, “I just love it here!” Drawn to her excitement, we asked, “Why do you love it here?”

Her reply? “I love this school because they have Legos that look like me.”

According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRES), “…effective teaching and learning occur in a culturally-supported, learner-centered context, whereby the strengths students bring to school are identified, nurtured, and utilized to promote student achievement.” We EdCats certainly want to be effective teachers, so what are some strategies for creating a culturally-supported, learner-centered context?

  1. Self-reflection. The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has some excellent strategies for self-examination of our own cultural-bound assumptions about other cultures and the assumptions that may influence our teaching. We want to constantly ask ourselves how our course materials, resources (yes, even Legos), activities, assignments, grouping configurations, and assessments are relevant and accessible to all students.
  2. Overcome Stereotypes. We need to know our students as individuals rather than relying on cultural/racial/ethnic stereotypes or prior experiences with other students of the same background. Find some good ideas and resources for mythbusting stereotypes here from Teaching Tolerance Magazine’s great website and resources.
  3. Conduct a scavenger hunt in your classroom and building. Do you see all of your students’ cultural backgrounds represented? Do each of your students look around and think, “My teacher sees me and values me.” Posters, photos, guest speakers, multicultural literature representing your students, flags, maps, and opportunities for students to bring in beloved objects from their families can teach students to value their own cultural heritage and gain appreciation of classmates’ communities as well.  Keep in mind our featured student photo. One of the reasons she loves her school is a Lego that looks like her.  Does your classroom contain items that make your students feel happy and valued?
  4. Get to know the biographies of your students. It’s never too late! Students move in and out. Most “get acquainted” activities happen at the beginning of the year and a lot may have changed since August. We like the activity Everyone Is Unique: Spin a Classroom Web that 5th grade teacher Melissa Walker has posted on Scholastic’s website. The activity can be modified for all grade levels and is a powerful way to build community. Jennifer Gonzalez has a clever, 4-part system for getting to know students on her blog, Cult of Pedagogy that we think EdCats will like.
  5. Finally, don’t forget our ever-growing Pinterest board on Diverse Learners where you will find additional ideas for meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The topics of diversity, culturally competent teaching strategies, and meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families are certainly too vast to cover in a single blog post–or a single college course for that matter. As lifelong learners, EdCats will always need to seek new and different ways to reach and teach all learners. Let’s keep the conversations going!

 

Getting on Board with the Makerspace Movement.

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K-State College of Education Makerspace

A spinoff of the Maker Faire movement, makerspaces are learning environments with tools that offer opportunities to create, learn, play, and invent. Spaces may run the gamut of non-profit, community spaces where people learn trades, to classrooms where project-based learning takes place. Many school libraries are currently being reconfigured to include areas that expose students to maker projects. Every makerspace is different because needs can be so different. Here are some ideas for getting on board with the the maker space movement.

  1.  One of our favorite websites for learning about all types of makerspaces offers a free “playbook” for getting your own space up and running. It’s a comprehensive guide and covers aspects such as what to put in your space, safety rules, and other helpful resources. You will also find photos and templates from maker spaces around the country to help you make decisions about your makerspace.
  2. School-based makerspaces are a fairly new concept for students and families. A resource we like (and it’s free on Amazon for Kindle) is Roselund and Rodgers’ Makerspaces, a great book for introducing your 4th grade and above students to the concept, content, and use of makerspaces.
  3. Want some additional tips for starting your own? Check out Colleen Graves’ article, Starting a School Makerspace From Scratch.
  4. Jen Walsh has put together 103 ideas on her Pinterest page for projects, challenges, and makerspace projects. We liked the design cycle she features as well.
  5. The design thinking process is certainly a great takeaway from the makerspace environment. keslerscience.com offers an awesome blog on the shift from making in the makerspace to becoming a maker outside the space.

Elementary teachers may want to get students involved in the makerspace mindset but have no formal space designated in the school. A corner of a classroom can certainly suffice. Supplies could be center-based or included in a content rotation. Makerspaces and students are a natural combination.  Be sure to make your materials needs known to parents and PTOs. With access to an array of materials, students may create something unique that has never been seen before.

Secondary teachers may want to meet with technical skills teachers to discuss goals and needs. School-to-community connections may be possible by offering maker nights that allow community members to work with teachers, students or on their own to develop new skills. If your building currently utilizes family math or literacy nights, how might making incorporate those contents?

Everyone has the potential to be a maker. Hopefully these ideas will give you inspiration and you will share your maker spaces with us! We would love to feature photos of your makerspaces in future blogs!

Easing Back Into the School Year

It’s time to go back.


The transition from winter vacations to back-to-school days can be challenging for all. Readiness to return can differ enormously–from students in dire need of food security to students that have been on luxurious ski vacations. Somehow teachers must find their own place in the school readiness continuum while supporting students as they make their journey back to relationships, relevance, and rigor at school. Here are some tips for navigating your way to second semester.

  1. Tidy up your classroom. You may have felt desperate to start the vacation and left some chores undone. Look at the learning space with a critical eye. Could a first semester tub be used to clear away items that will not be used anymore? How about your desk? Perhaps you want to revisit some of your ideas for setting up your classroom in the fall. Some Pinterest hopes may not have been practical. Other Fall ideas may still be viable now that you know your classroom community well.
  2. Review your curriculum. Everyone may struggle physically and mentally towards the school schedule. Ease into the curriculum by reviewing academic vocabulary and concepts. Make the first weeks more fun for you by collaborating with a colleague on an upcoming unit or project. If you are starting from scratch as a brand new teacher, it is okay to ask for help! New teachers need to keep in mind some “thank you’s” (a bottle of water and a granola bar on a desk can go a long way) for veteran teachers that take time to mentor and support.
  3. Anticipate challenges to the work-life balance. Frozen meals in the freezer? Grab and go snacks in the fridge? What types of time-friendly supports offer you and those you love some time together? Sometimes setting the alarm for 15 minutes of uninterrupted time can be a boost that lasts the whole day. One follower of this blog offered: This may sound crazy, but “Taco Tuesday” is sacred. We get caught up on each others’ lives and make our rest-of-the-week and weekend plans.
  4. Organize your mindset. This blog is a huge fan of Carol Dweck’s Mindset materials. Our mindset is the key to how we and our students experience reality. We may need visual reminders to help our minds land on thoughts that are energizing, empowering, and affirming. We may need to remind ourselves to compliment our students’ work efforts, not the just end product.
  5. Model your coping strategies. It is a new year, a new semester, and a new chapter of life! What are you doing to make 2017 a great year personally and professionally? As a successful professional, YOU have goals, grit, and a reflective practice to propel yourself into the new year. These good habits may only be available to your students from you. Including your students as you plan your work and work your plan may model some of the most important skills your students learn this semester.

As you all ease back into the school year, don’t forget to have fun! Teacherhub.com has some great ideas for you and your students to kick off the spring semester. We’ll be here, cheering you on and bringing you more ideas as we celebrate all things EdCats! #WeAreEdCats

 

When the Honeymoon is Over.

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The grind has started. New shoes are scuffed, knees in students’ jeans are starting to fade a bit, and the five extra minutes of sleep is worth more than the latte at the local coffee shop. Welcome to the REALITY WEEKS.

What’s different?

TIME… the beginning of the school year began after weeks of anticipation, Pinterest and preparation for your honeymoon, er…classroom. Now it seems that time is a commodity that is more valuable than you ever dreamed.

MONEY…you may not have the first paycheck of the year yet–if you have, it may have depleted quickly as you purchased personal and professional items that were long overdue.

You have gone from an outsider to an insider, and the view may be markedly different than you had anticipated.

So just like a relationship gone stale, it is important to know and understand ways to keep a vital, vibrant, engaging classroom on track:

  1. Keep the classroom alive. Look around. Have you changed the seating arrangement yet? Have you moved your desk? Can you see your desk? If parent conferences were tonight, would the room look inviting and tidy? In this Scholastic Article on organizing physical space, Linda Shalaway discusses ways to keep your classroom student-centered grades K-12.
  2. Get a reading of your instructional practices. Better yet, give them a survey to discover what’s going well and what could be improved. Robert Marzano has some excellent surveys to enhance your reflective practice. There is even a primary grade survey with smiles and frowns that could be read to students to gain information on how they perceive school is going.
  3. Stop and Smell the Roses. The season is changing. Is it cool enough to go outside and read in a shady spot? Can you open a window in the morning? What are some successes and achievements thus far? CELEBRATE! Any milestone can become a fun celebration.
  4. Bring in a Guest Speaker. Educator Michael Adams has 8 reasons bringing in a guest speaker is a good idea. Adams suggests that guest speakers provide student benefits–such as hearing a new voice, to teacher benefits–such as learning from the guest speaker and enhancing future lessons. Remember, guest speakers don’t physically have to be present, you can Skype, Face-time, or Zoom them right in! Many parents would love to visit and participate in a way that can be helpful.
  5. Take a risk. Try something you have never tried. Perhaps there is an app, an idea for a lesson to try, or something simple as getting under desks/tables rather than sitting at them. Switch things up! Perhaps you could swap teachers for a teacher trade for 15 minutes of calendar time, lesson introduction, or other creative endeavor?

Keep in mind that none of these tips can be helpful if you are exhausted and grumpy. As a new teacher you are laying the foundation for future years of teaching. What seems like an endless cycle of planning/teaching/grading will be much less intense in future years. Files and folders may only need a little tweaking next year! Take good care of YOU. Restock the treat drawer (or make a list of what treats to buy when that paycheck finally comes in), download a guilty pleasure on Netflix and watch 10 minutes while you eat lunch. Better yet, take a quick walk outside, inhale deeply, and reset for a minute. Need more ideas? Please consider checking out our EdCat Chats created by professors and partners in the College of Education. You’ll find some additional helpful hints for enhancing YOUR professional practice. Another great resource is the Before the Bell  news letter put out by the College of Ed. Thank you for all you are doing for students!

 

#WeAreEdCats

What an exciting time to be a part of the College of Education at Kansas State. We talk a lot about Family at Kansas State University. We talk it and we walk it. So welcome to a little family reunion right here on this blog.

Who are EdCats? College of Education students and alumni of the College of Education. Not sure if you are? Here’s a little quiz:

  1. The word Catalyst makes you smile.
  2. Bluemont Hall isn’t just a building, it’s a memory that includes all 5 senses.
  3. When people mention K-State in a conversation, you’re pretty sure they think they know…but they don’t know your K-State.

We want to keep your College of Education experience going. We want to continue to provide opportunities for growth and collaboration after you graduate. We want to see your classrooms, exchange your great innovations and ideas. We’re even planning to get together at a Tailgate next fall. (It doesn’t get more FAMILY than that, does it.) Join us!