Monday, August 31, 2015

Tricks for Herding Cats

Our Principal, Susan Phillips, who was a Kindergarten teacher,  says that the first days of kindergarten are a lot like "herding cats."  It's a apt description of trying to get the class to work together when they are so used to doing their own thing.  While VPK has made a huge dent into the first days of kindergarten, there are still children that come to school on that first day who have never been away from mom. There are always anxious kids (and moms) and there is always at least one child that cries and another that you have to "peel off" the parent.  When you put all those children together, it really is like herding cats.

One of my favorite new kindergarten teachers asked me for my "tricks" for the first few days.  My first thought was, "I don't have any tricks!" but as I thought about that question I realized that what she called "tricks" were those little things that we have all learned from experience.  They are part of our tool box.  The trouble is that, with any list, the teacher using it has to have "with-it-ness." She has to be "reading her room" and know which "trick" is required in which situation and which "trick" might just work with which child. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to sit down and try to write a few hints that she (or any kindergarten teacher) might use, especially if they get "that" class.  As I was writing, I thought of all the really GREAT kindergarten teachers and behavior interventionists that are at my school.  So... I asked them to pen a few of their own "tricks." Not surprisingly, many of them were similar.  The following list is the result of many combined years of experience.  Thank you Susan Phillips, Elizabeth Conte, Melanie Holtsman, Maria Mallon. and Lourdes Smith.   

So... Kindergarten Teachers, these are just a few things that you might try if you happen to get that group of kids that makes you feel like you are really herding cats!

1. Give the "busy hands and body" child something important to hold and take care of as you transition around the school for lunch, recess and resource (aka- a job like clip board holder). It keeps his hands busy and most kids love to be a helper!

2. Put the  "busy" student is charge of something “very important” where she gets the opportunity to set a good example for others, like door holder, folder hander outer, flag holder for the pledge, etc.  - something she can take pride in doing.  Also, gives you something positive to write home about to start off with a positive interaction with the parents.

3. Make the most disruptive kid your line leader so you can keep him close to you. Close proximity can be a key.

4. Use upperclassmen (or patrols) as partners, helping you get to the room in the morning or to dismissal in the afternoon.  Two upperclassmen for each "busy" kinder will make the upperclassmen feel good and will give the "busy" kid someone to engage.

5.  Use a hand held or a computer with earphones and have the "busy" child watch a video such as Leap Frog's "Letter Factory."  This needs to be kept mostly out of sight of the other kids as to not be too distracting to the rest of the class, but it will give you, the class, and the kid about a 15 minute break. 

6.  Find something the disruptive student knows a lot about or interests him and have that child “teach” the class or a small group all about it.  Finding specific books on that topic will help engage the student as you begin independent reading in those early days, "I bought this book especially for you because I know how much you LOVE Thomas the Train!"

7.  Do a morning and an afternoon recess.  Two short breaks instead of one longer break can provide just the break (you and) the students need.

18. Use lots and lots of verbal praise, using the child's name. "I like the way Johnny has his eyes on me."  "I love how Johnny is reading his book.  Look how he's sitting with his book open and his eyes on the book."

8. Calm the environment before dismissal.  Plan for a quiet activity at the end of the day because if you are in a frenzy, the students will be too. 

9. Use more songs  (If You're Happy and You Know It, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,  Wheels on the Bus...) and more motion games ( 1-2-3 Do what I Do) than usual - the ones most of your students know - especially between transitions to get the wiggles out or even during a mini-lesson if you see you are losing them. 

10. Send the "busy" child for a walk on a "pretend" errand, if you have an extra adult to walk with her.

11. To settle the class have them take deep breaths.  One favorite is to have the children take a deep breath and hold it... then put up 5 fingers and have them blow out their "pretend" candles.  Do this about 3 times to calm everything down.

12.  To calm an individual child have him/her think about hot soup.   Tell the child to think about the soup that is hot like he is hot right then.  Then tell him to close his eyes and smell the soup taking in a deep breath through the nose to sniff the soup to inhale. Then blow on the soup to exhale.  Sometimes the visual can be very helpful. 

13. When you choose a signal to get the class' attention, choose one with motions so they actually have to watch you, such as "silent P.E."  Tell the students that if you start doing "silent PE", they should follow.  Do about 8 counts of an action and then switch to another action for about 8 counts and then a 3rd, if needed, to get everyone's attention. Wait... and wait...  until you have everyone's attention.  Usually even the active kids will look around as the room gets quiet and they usually enjoy actions.  Then... follow the actions with a whisper voice of instructions. 

14. Choose an individual signal for the "busy" child that you can give her throughout the day without disrupting the class to let her know that she is doing a good job.  Make eye contact with the child and then give the signal such as a wink and nod, the "okay sign" or thumbs up sign.  Let the child know often that you are watching and noticing her good behavior.

15.  A silent signal can also be used to let a child know to stop a behavior.  Make eye contact and then give a frown and a stop sign with the hand.  You can give silent signals almost without missing a beat and interrupting the flow of your lesson.

16..  Try having your most disruptive child sit between two students that know just what to do.  Sometimes the good behavior just rubs off.

17.  Consider sitting on the floor with your students having the busy child sitting close to you.  Close proximity can do wonders.  A gentle hand on her knee if she gets too wiggly without even a hint of disruption of the lesson can sometimes quiet a wiggly child. 

18. If the child literally cannot sit still or keep his hands quiet for group time, give him an area on the edge of the group (make a square or circle with duct tape).  Tell the child that he just has to stay inside the shape.  Ignore whatever he does even if the child  stands on his head.  The point is that the child is not roaming the room and touching other students.

19.  Sometimes physical things help the "busy" child get some energy out,  like stacking and then unstacking chairs or moving chairs from one table to another.  For instance, have the child stack all the chairs before recess and lunch and then have her unstack them after.

20. Get the parents involved as soon as possible. This will help you decide how much help they can be.  Sometimes that is all it takes, and, sometimes, you will decide that the behavior plan will be all on you, because the parents cannot or are not able to help.  It helps if you have already called the parent on the first day to make general contact and to say hello so that your first contact with them is not negative. Remember that no matter what the student has done, she is still their most precious child.

21. With a particularly difficult kid, pick your battles.  You can't change everything all at once.  Pick the most important behavior to work on first.  For instance, "keeping hands to self" is more important that "staying in seat." 

22. Start a behavior program quickly when you see a behavior that needs to be molded and needs extra intervention.  Fold three pieces of copy paper in half, staple as a booklet and invite the child to decorate the front.  Choose one focus to work on at a time, such as walking directly to the table after the mini-lesson, coming in the morning and putting backpack away and getting backpack in the afternoon, raising hand to speak, keeping hands to self...  When the child has 5/10 stickers on a page, she gets to pick a prize from the treasure box.  Then start a new page. Keep the plan out for the child to constantly see and let the student put on the reinforcer (sticker, smiley face...).  Have the child remind you why he is getting the reinforcer each time.

23. If stickers or stars aren't enough to motivate the child, figure out what that student's "currency" is.  What motivates her?  If you can't figure it out, ask the parents for hints about what she really likes to do or receive.  Make a personalized behavior plan to earn toward that currency.  The key is no matter what has happened before,  there is always an opportunity to earn.

24. Counting down (from 5) can be helpful.  Make sure the child can actually count down from 5! But this gives the child something to  concentrate on instead of how angry he is and the child can actually picture the anger coming down.  You can use this and teach the child to count down when he gets angry before he reacts and you can also use it when you want to give the child a minute to comply, "I need for you to sit in your chair now - 5...4...3...2...1...  If you count down and the child, doesn't comply, then there has to be a consequence so think about what you are going to do BEFORE you start the count down!  This is not a "gotcha!"  You want the child to comply.

25.  Have little talks during the day with the targeted child, such as "You are trying so hard.  I saw you get right in line when I called your table and I really admire that."  " I was watching you during the mini-lesson and I noticed that you really tried to follow every direction. Wow!" High five!

26. Enlist the help of another teacher as a "check in" teacher.  The child reports to that teacher at the beginning and end of the day.  In the morning, the teacher goes over the goal of the day and let's the child know she will be checking.  She then checks again during any free time during the day.  Finally the child checks in again with the teacher at the end of the day.  Sometimes this helps a child know that other people care about him.  At our school this is often the Media Specialist, "Miss KK" or the "Miss Julie" in the front office. 

27.  Read books about behavior.  No David is a great series.  Collect specialty books about cooperation, respect, bullying... to read at the beginning of a new year.

28. If a child is grumpy, show him how he looks in a mirror or take a picture on your phone to show how the grumpy face looks.  

29. If a child is really having a "fit,"  just ignore it until it is over.  In the heat of the moment the child is not rational and cannot reason, so trying to talk to him in the midst of the anger is a waste.  Stay very calm (even if your heart is racing) and reinforce the other children for ignoring the tantrum.  When the child is calm, go over how the child will handle the situation differently if it happens again (and it probably will!)

30. Sometimes you just need a break (or the child does).  Develop a relationship with another teacher.  Work out a plan with another teacher on your grade level or a completely different grade to either switch one student for 30 minutes to give each other a break or as a "reward" visit to the other class.

Hope this helps!  I am sure you have your own "tricks."  Please feel free to share them in the comments!

Monday, August 24, 2015

WOW em!

So the first day of a new year is all about students having a great day and wanting to come back tomorrow! What better way to start the year than with a circus!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A New Year Begins - 2015!

The circus is in town! This is just a sampling of the "big top" atmosphere as you walk through the downstairs hall. Free admission to all who dare to dream. It really is the greatest show on earth!

Each year Chets Creek transforms itself yet again into something new and exciting!  Teachers work so hard to make the outside and inside of their rooms inviting.  They wouldn't have to go to so much trouble.  Many of them come in during the summer and lots of them work the entire week before teachers return.  It would be much easier to just spruce up last year's décor a little and bounce in the week that you are actually paid to be there.  So why do teachers do it?  I think they do it because they care so much.  At Chets Creek, it's really not a competitive thing.  It's more like you are lifting up each other and the new décor just says, this group of children is so special.  I love what I am doing and I want the children to be as excited as I am.  Whatever the reasons, it really does put a smile on your face as you walk down the hall!