Launch Your Classroom Right!

Launching your classroom the right way is so important! When you take the time to be intentional and teach explicitly, it saves you loads of time and headaches later on. Whether your new school year started a few weeks ago, or it's just about to start, make sure you check out any posts you missed in this series! Click each picture to be taken to the post covering that topic.

In this post, I cover interactive modeling and guided discovery. I show you the steps involved in each and included some videos that Responsive Classroom uploaded onto their YouTube channel. (By the way... do you visit their YouTube channel? No? GO NOW! You'll thank me later.) I even have a little trick for all of you neat freaks out there!

I think that this post is key in getting your kids to follow your rules. Involving your kids in rule generation gets kids to invest in making good choices, and so does connecting the rules to their hopes and dreams for the year. Even if you've already written rules for your classroom, it's not too late to refresh or restart with these ideas!

I'm going to tell you a secret. Yes. Yes, time out really is helpful. BUT! It's also really detrimental to kids if you're not teaching it the right way. Time out is the same as taking a break when you need to calm down. Nothing more, nothing less. Let me show you how to use this tool to make your classroom a happier space.

Don't bite off more than you can chew for the first few days or weeks of school. Launch your meetings calmly and in an organized way. It'll help make Morning Meeting everyone's favorite part of the day!

These tricks are my favorite tricks for beasting it in the parent communication department. The thought of communicating with families is enough to give some teachers heart palpitations. I'm here to show you that it's actually a breeze with a few tweaks here and there! Let me help you reframe your mind here. There are a few things I do that make a world of difference for me each year. Click that picture above if you feel your palms getting sweaty just thinking about parent contact!!

And, of course, if parent contact makes you feel faint, then Back To School Night is probably a huge ordeal for you. I like communicating with families, but Back To School Night really made me weak in the knees. I'd get butterflies in my stomach, and I'd feel like time was slowing down (and not in the good way!). Believe it or not, Back To School Night is one of my favorite parts of the school year now. Since making the switch to leading my Back To School Night like a Morning Meeting, my attitude towards this major school event has been super positive. Families like it this way too! If hosting a Morning Meeting styled Back To School Night isn't your cup of tea, there's still some great tips on here for you.

And, finally, I've shared my tips for how to confer like a boss. Some of these tips I've gathered through working with Columbia Teacher's College staff developers, some I've gathered from who knows where. All I can tell you is that before I learned all of this stuff, my conferences were. A. HOT. MESS. Hot mess. But don't tell my principle that. If any administrators are reading this, I will have you know that I've always been an expert at conferring. (Guys, do you think I fooled them!?) Okay, seriously though. These tricks are amazing and they really help my teaching points to stick with the kids.

When did school start for you? I start tomorrow (without kids), and then my first day back is Tuesday the 6th! EEEK! That means I'll be posting what my new classroom looks like pretty soon... I'm trying flexible seating for the first time, and I have to say, my room is COMPLETELY different. It's also a lot more open so far. What's going on in your room right now? 

How To Confer Like A Boss

How To Confer Like A Boss by A Word On Third

Conferring can be really tough for a lot of reasons... finding the time, figuring out what to teach, getting your students to practice effectively, keeping them short... the list goes on! I'm going to share my favorite conferring tips with you. These have totally changed my way of conferring and have improved my instruction ten fold.

FIRST... Find a record keeping system that works for you!

Some people love to do things on the crazy interwebs. There are apps like Confer and EverNote that can help you organize all of your data. A LOT of my colleagues rave about Confer in particular. I'm thinking about trying it this year, but I'm not sure if I want to make the switch to conferring with a device. People tend to like to like Confer because:

  • You don't need to lug around a heavy binder everywhere.
  • Your notes are available anywhere you bring your device, which makes for easy planning and report card commenting.
  • You can tag students as needing help with a certain skill, and the app creates strategy groups for you.
I'm nervous about trying it because I like seeing my paper/pencil version right in front of me--I can see who I've met with, when I've met with them, etc. I'm sure that Confer does this too, I just need to get used to it. Honestly, it's probably a better system, but I don't like change. Confer also costs money, so that's a down-side unless you get your school/district to pay for it.

If you are more of a paper and pencil gal (which I think I may be in this case), you will need to fiddle around with your system until you find what's perfect for you. Personally, I have
a big grid with everyone's name on it and I write my notes in each box. On the back of the previous page's notes (which is right next to the notes I'm writing), I put sticky notes on and write about the strategy groups I teach on those notes. I put checkmarks next to each student who gets strategy group instruction on my grid paper. Now I see how many times I've met with each student each week. Here is what my conferring system looks like:

How To Confer Like A Boss by A Word On Third

As you can see, the sticky notes on the left have been moved so the names of students who worked on skills are kept confidential, but you get the idea.

Now, let's move onto the format of an epic conference! If you follow this order and keep it short, you'll see results and get to more students.

1. Set the tone for the conference. 

Sit down with the student you've picked and ask him/her what he/she is working on. If the student tells you he/she is working on reading fiction, get the student to be more specific. Is he/she working on envisioning, retelling, accumulating text, etc.? If he/she can't be more specific, or the he/she says that they are working on the part where (insert what is happening in story here) you've got your teaching point right there for you! You've got to teach about goal setting and helping this student to be more self-directed to work on specific skills. If not, great! You can have a talk about what that kid is doing. Your conversation might look like this:

Teacher: Hi, David! I want to meet with you to talk about your reading. Is now a good time?
Student: Sure! Let me finish this part real quick. --Ok. I'm ready.
Teacher: What are you working on as a reader today?
Student: I'm working on reading more fluently. I'm trying to read the punctuation smoothly to add more meaning.
Teacher: Ok. Can you show me what you've been working on by reading to me?

Remember... it takes time to get your kids to talk like this, so spend time teaching what you expect to happen in conferences in the beginning of the year! You could even have a lesson with a sample script like this and have kids talk about what they notice in the conference. You NEED to teach this if you want it to happen in your classroom.

2. Start researching.

Hopefully, your student has been able to identify what he/she is working on and your conversation was similar to what you saw above. You can ask students to read during this part of the conference and just listen to what they are doing. If students are working on that skill they said they were practicing, take note of it and look for possible next steps. If not, you can help with a different skill. You might need to ask questions like, "What did that word/part mean?" if you need more information. Is the student stopping to think about the text? Pay attention to every behavior here.

This should really only take you a minute or two. I know it's hard to stick to a minute or two, but it's best to do that. If you can't find anything in a minute or two, consider having a compliment conference. This is a conference in which you tell the student what they are doing well and tell them you don't have anything new to teach. You might plop that student in an enrichment strategy group later on.

For the sake of this post, we're going to pretend that the student you observed didn't know what a word meant and kept reading ahead without attempting to figure it out. We're going to teach him how to use context clues to figure out word meanings later.

3. Get prepared.

Tell the student to stop reading and that you know what you want to teach. Tell them to read on their own for a moment while you prepare. Rather than teaching in the child's book, I recommend finding a place in a mentor text where you can model the strategy you're going to teach. Afterwards, the child can practice the strategy in their own book. This prevents you from doing the work for the child and gives them an authentic place to practice. 

Once you've found the spot in your book where you'll model for the student, jot down your teaching point and the student's name on a post-it (post-its get lost easily, and I find the names make a big difference in my room!)

4. Compliment.

ALWAYS start with a compliment! It's short. Tell the student what you noticed them doing, and tell them that that is something that strong readers do. "I noticed you really worked hard to read fluently by reading the punctuation. You picked a goal for your reading today, and you stuck with it too. Those are both things that strong readers do. Good for you!" 

Use your language wisely here. It's not about what you like that they're doing ("I like how you read the punctuation!"). It's about what they are doing well--a little language tweak makes a big difference in terms of intrinsic motivation. 

5. Model the teaching point.

Now tell the kids that because of that good work they showed you (your compliment), you know they are ready for their next step. Model what you're going to teach. Let's pretend you want to teach figuring out a word meaning by using context clues. You're going to tell the student what you're modeling and why it's important for readers to do that. Then you're going to show how you might do that in YOUR OWN MENTOR TEXT. Bonus points if the students read it before, but it's OK if they haven't. Show how to do that once or twice.

As you teach, refer to your post-it note with the teaching point and the child's name as a visual. It's like a little mini anchor chart for that child. You might even have a drawing or example on your post-it.

6. Give the student a chance to practice.

The student should now go back to the book they were reading and try that strategy you just taught. Now they have an authentic opportunity to practice this. And truthfully--it doesn't matter if they succeed. It matters that they practice. I mean, it's nice if they succeed. And if they don't, take note. But it JUST matters that you get to see them practice this.

7. Send the student off.

Before you send the child away to keep reading, I like to leave the student with a physical reminder of what we did. I give the student their post-it note from earlier and tell them to hold onto it and use it. I ask them to tell me what they are going to practice for the next few days, and they should be able to restate the teaching point in their own words. If they can't, remind them and ask them again.

VIOLA! You have just confered. Like a boss. Like the big, bad boss that you are!

I'm going to be honest with you--I still find fitting conferring into my workshop period to be hard. I am developing a tool that I think has the power to be a game-changer in many classrooms. I have been developing it for a few months now, and I want to hear from you. Please share your answers with me below, because I want to make a tool that is as effective and helpful for other teachers as possible. Your answers will be kept confidential!

How To Have An Epic Back To School Night

How To Have An Epic Back To School Night by A Word On Third

Back To School Night (which I will refer to as BTSN because who wants to type/read all that!?) should be epic. It should be epic for you. It should be epic for families. It should be enjoyable. It's a celebration of all the potential for the year, and it is a way to inform parents of all of the awesomeness in your classroom. But, we're usually stressed about it, or we don't know what to do, or we're tired. I have a few tips that I hope will help you make yours epic, since it's such an important part of launching your classroom right!

1. Run your BTSN like a Morning Meeting.

I run the beginning of my Back To School Night as I would a typical Morning Meeting in my classroom, which is an idea I got from the book Parents & Teachers Working Together by Alice Yang and Carol Davis. After we finish the meeting portion, I'll move right into the rest of my presentation. Having a greeting, share, activity, and morning (or in this case, evening) message before the presentation makes the night fun and breaks the ice.

I'm starting this way because I find it to be so important to help parents and families form relationships with each other, and of course, with me! I promise that if you take the plunge and try this, it will really strengthen your classroom community! It may seem daunting at first, but I guarantee it will set a contagiously enthusiastic and awesome tone for the rest of the year. The response I got from parents when I made this change was overwhelming, and I found that my relationships and comfort levels with families became really incredible. All of a sudden, these families started seeing me as a real person, and we were able to connect about our common interest (their children) much more easily. They also saw how much I cared for their children as individuals when I did this because they experienced first-hand how I tried to make them comfortable during BTSN.

I shared a lot of information about this in the past here and here. I think the first link I shared is the better link to visit. This will give you the run down of what to do to run BTSN like a Morning Meeting, and it will give you some great ideas for which greetings to use, what to share, etc. It gives ideas for things that are fun, fast, and low-risk so everyone feels comfortable. However, your school district might have a different format for BTSN. In mine, we have an hour with all parents at the same time. If yours is different (maybe it involves kids, maybe you have more than one BTSN), reach out to me, and let's brainstorm ways to make this successful and do-able for you!

2. Use visuals during your BTSN.

I hope you have a projector in your class, but if you don't, there's still stuff to read here, so hear me out.

First of all, whether you have a smart board or use a wireless mouse, I suggest you use a PowerPoint presentation. We've got all types of learners in our classrooms, right? So the same goes for parents. Don't be a doofus and read word-for-word off of your presentation though. Just put the key things on there and speak from the heart!

Second, think about the things you want your parents to be familiar with. Make sure to have concrete examples of these. For example, if you send home Scholastic catalogs during the year, show parents what a catalog looks like and share a few words about why you send them home. If you want parents to look for newsletters or weekly exit tickets in a child's agenda, show them what to look for. This is going to be really helpful for parents because there will be no question of what to look for.

If you have a class website, I suggest having it up and running in a minimized tab. Show them where to look for important information.

3. Post a wish list.

What do you need? Paperclips? A mentor text you've been eyeing? Ask for them at BTSN! I highly recommend asking for gift cards to places like Amazon, Walmart, Target, and whatever book store is close to you. They will come in handy during the year, even if they are only $10.00! I recommend asking for more than one gift card to the places where you shop the most

Each BTSN, I set up a laminated poster board that has some play on words about wishing on a star, and then I stick post-it notes to it with whatever items are on my wish list for the year. Family members can grab a post-it (YAY FOR TANGIBLE REMINDERS!) and send the wish list item in to school with their child.

If you work in a low-income district, get creative. Do you need empty cereal boxes for a project? Toilet paper rolls? I think it's important to ask for things that are in-line with what families can contribute. This isn't really the time to ask for that $80 yoga ball you've been eyeing for your flexible seating ideas.

4. Recruit volunteers.
As I mentioned in my post about improving relationships with families, BTSN is a great time to ask for class helpers. Parents who are willing to chaperone, be a class parent, make extra copies, etc. should sign up! Some teachers have a conference sign-up sheet out as well for goal-setting conferences. If you can list all of the open slots for this, it'll save you some time from making a master schedule; you'll only have to make a few tweaks at the end! Don't forget to send confirmations later.

5. Greet families at the door.
Just as it's best practice to greet your kids with a smile, do the same with families. A warm smile does wonders to easing an anxious parent's mind or opening a cynical parent's mind.

6. Give families a way to communicate with you.
It's great practice to add a slide with your email address and any other relevant information to your BTSN presentation. If you use the app RemindMe or have a class Twitter account, add it. Even if it's in your presentation, it's nice to give parents a small slip with this written down somewhere.

7. Share your goals with families.
What are your goals for your students? What social-emotional and academic things do you want to accomplish? Talk about it, and share your philosophy about how you plan to get there.

8. Tell parents what curriculum you'll cover.
I have a great freebie in my store that I use for this each year. On BTSN, I distribute it to parents. It's a template you can use to share literacy, math, science, and social studies curriculum at-a-glance. You don't need to get into the nitty-gritty. Just tell what you're teaching.

9. Make sure student work is displayed.
Parents want to see that their kids are busy learning already. Do you have some STEM community building activity you can leave out? Did you use interactive modeling to introduce the art supplies and now have artwork that you can hang? Perfect! Even if it's small, put it out.

10. Give parents an activity to do.
I like to have my parents do a scavenger hunt around the room. They look for a few interesting things that make our room special. I don't have them search for too much, because we're limited on time. They look for the monarch butterflies that we raise together in the beginning of the year, their child's desk, our class library, and a few other things.

I've also used parent quizzes on BTSN, which end up being pretty silly. They are entertaining for the parents while they are waiting for everyone to arrive and be seated. It's a nice thing to put on each child's desk along with a letter. Here's one I've used in the past:

I also think it's great to have parents publish hopes and dreams for their child. I like to have parents think about this while people are filing in. Now that I'm going to be using flexible seating, this might be a better activity for me!

11. Have each student write a short letter to his/her family.
Only a paragraph is necessary, but it makes parents feel good. Bonus points if you get them to write back to their children. I only suggest you do this if you are willing to check all of the letters and write to every kid who does not have a letter. Sometimes parents forget this even if they attend!

12. Set boundaries and practice self-care in advance.
Some parents think that this is a good time to try to get a parent-conference out of you. Have a response ready. Something like, "Oh, Sally is doing great in class! If you would like to talk more about her, let's set up a time to talk. Please email me some times that work for you." This is really not the time.

As for self-care, make sure your dinner is ready for you. Slow cookers are my favorite thing in the world, or you might choose to have leftovers ready to pop in the microwave when you get home. Maybe you will decide on take-out ahead of time. Whatever it is, you'll be happy it's planned. Bring extra water to school with you if you can't go home in-between dismissal and the start of BTSN. Enlist your family members to help out that night. Whatever it is that you do each night after school, figure out what you can do to make it faster and easier for you. I will pick out my clothes for school the night before, so maybe the night before BTSN, I'll pick out two outfits so I can just collapse as soon as I get home.

What do you do to make sure BTSN is a success? What's a hit with parents? What still makes you nervous?

13 Easy Practices That Will Improve Relationships With Families

13 Easy Practices That Will Improve Relationships With Families by A Word On Third

Communicating with parents throughout the year is something we all have to do, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to do it well. Good communication takes a lot of time and effort, and if you don’t have a system for it, it’ll drive you crazy! I’m going to share my best tips for keeping parents in the loop so that you have a good working relationship and healthy rapport with all of your students’ parents. 

I'm also sharing a bunch of FREEBIES (and a few... inexpensive-ies? Is that what I should call them?), so don't miss out on downloading all of the goodies!

1. Start referring to all of your students’ parents as families.
This may sound silly, but I think this subtle language shift made a big difference in my classroom. All families are different, and it can alienate some families if you just call a guardian a “parent.” What about step-parents, grandparents, and other adults raising kids? I think referring to parents and caretakers as “Families” in your newsletters and emails sets a more inclusive tone right from the get go.

2. Send out a questionnaire about each student at the beginning of the school year.
At the beginning of the year, I send out a questionnaire that asks a few important questions to each family. I ask about worries the family has, challenges the child has, hopes each family has for their child, etc. I ask if there are any concerns families want to share with me, and that section especially tends to be very telling. I put it in my welcome letter and ask that kids bring it to school on the first day, but I will send additional papers home to parents who do not fill it out. Read these, be aware of their content, and communicate about any relevant information. Here's an example of one found from a quick Pinterest search. Click the picture to download it.

3. Give families a way to contact each other.
I also send home a contact sheet so families can communicate with each other outside of school. On each contact sheet, I ask for parent names, email addresses, phone numbers, and home addresses. Eventually these forms will be compiled (hopefully by a parent volunteer) and turned into a Class Phone Book. I also put a box at the bottom of the page that parents have to check if they want to be included in or excluded from the phone book, but I require that they fill out the contact information regardless so I can communicate with families. So far, I’ve only had one family choose not to be included in the class phone book.

4. Make positive contact with each family within the first week of school.
Without fail, I reach out to each family in the first week of school to say something great that their child did. It can be as simple as noticing that someone shares well or is polite. A mere 4 or 5 sentences in an email will go a long way. Once I did this and a parent cried to me, stating that they had never received a positive email or phone call from any of their child’s previous teachers. I realized at that moment that my extremely small effort made a huge impact, and was worth repeating. Keep a clipboard handy during the first week so you can jot down things you see. By the end of the week, you’ll have at least 1 thing about each child you can send. I don’t care if your email is the same few sentences for every student. As long as there is SOMETHING unique about each student, it’s great. All you have to say is, “Dear ___, I wanted to reach out to you to share some good news about ___. Today I noticed ____. I’m so excited to continue getting to know ___ this year. Sincerely, You.” BOOM. Done.

Want to be even cooler? Do this at least once a month. It's great to set a good first impression, but you want your first impression to fit with who you are. I'm telling you, a simple checklist makes this super do-able. You should use a checklist. Get a checklist. Did I mention that a checklist might be helpful? Positive reinforcement is just as important for families as it is for each child--parents want to hear that their child is doing well and is a valued member of your classroom

5. Send home a meaningful weekly newsletter.
Newsletters are SO IMPORTANT since they let families feel like they are involved in their child’s learning experience, but ironically, every teacher I know tends to hate writing them. They say that they are either too time consuming, that they worry about what to say… the list goes on. Guess what? If you hate writing newsletters, you’re doing them wrong. 

In a previous post, I shared how to make a meaningful newsletter that teaches families about what’s going on in the classroom, is short enough that they do not get overlooked, reminds parents about important upcoming events, and, best of all, ONLY TAKES YOU 5 MINUTES TO FINISH. 

Yeah, I’m not kidding. That five minute investment each week does wonders for my classroom. Read how to do this by clicking the picture below. If you really don't feel like doing it yourself, download my template for under a dollar.

6. Send home an individualized reflection of each student’s own learning to each family.
While newsletters give families a great snapshot into the classroom, it’s important to let families know about how each child is doing as an individual too. Sending some a child's written self-reflection lets families see how each child perceives school. This won't be the end-all and be-all: a child's perception will differ from yours sometimes. However, families still need to know their child's perception of school. 

I have a weekly exit ticket you can use to accomplish just that. Every family member who reads it will now have more information to have a meaningful conversation with his/her child. It’s free, and after you’ve taught your students how to fill out a meaningful exit ticket, it will only take them a few minutes. I assign it as morning work on Fridays. Download my exit ticket by clicking the picture below.

7. Set your class community’s tone at Back To School Night.
I like to do this by setting up Back To School Night like a Morning Meeting. I’ve written about that already here. I suggest you read it! If you are a believer in Responsive Classroom and you implement a daily Morning Meeting, including one in your Back To School Night will show your families how your classroom runs.  They will have a feel for how you are as a teacher, and they will feel comfortable with having their child in your classroom. I will be writing more about Back to School Night in my next post, but for now I'll tell you that parents tell me this is a blast. It was also the least stressful Back To School Night for me!

Should you choose to go this route, which I recommend, I have an editable Back To School Night presentation available to you to use. 

8. Give families a chance to be involved.
On Back To School Night, I ask for family volunteers for all sorts of things. More often than not, most families like to be involved in their child’s learning. Due to all sorts of limitations, some family members can’t be involved in typical ways. I make sure to give all family members some option to help out or feel involved. I ask for class parents/family members, chaperones, and volunteers at Back To School Night.  I always ask for more than 1 class parent so more than 1 parent can be involved. This also lightens the load for each helper, which is often appreciated. I also have a Back To School Night wish list, which includes a few things that will make the year easier (Barnes & Noble gift card, Amazon gift card, books for the classroom library, etc.).

When I need more supplies later on in the year or I want to invite family members in for an event, I send out a editable Google Doc so families can indicate preferences or tell how they are able to help out. The little things make a big difference here.

9. Have a goal setting conference
By starting the year with this, parents feel heard. You can’t be expected to give a proper parent-teacher conference after knowing a child for just a few weeks. Sure, maybe you've got a reading assessment, but you don't know that child the way you do after several months. The family members are the true experts on each child (especially at this point in the year), so ask them for their input. What do they want to see? What social-emotional and academic goals do they have for their child? I ask parents to come prepared to conferences with these 2 big goals in mind and we brainstorm ways we might meet them. Sure, I will show some student work and state what I’m seeing, but goal-setting makes a bigger impact in the beginning of the year. 

If your school doesn’t hold conferences at the beginning of the year, can you make phone calls during your prep periods or make one at the beginning of the day or end of the day? After a few weeks, you can talk to everyone.  If you’d like to be super prepared for conferences, you can download my free conference template here. By the way, I recommend meeting later in the year with everyone to discuss how goals are being met. Don’t wait until the very end of the year, because if a goal hasn’t been met, you can’t do anything to try to address it.

I've got a free conference-planning template here for you, which has space for those goals. Click the picture to download it in my store.

10. Be aware of language barriers.
If you are sending home emails to a family member who speaks a different language, will they understand everything? Maybe, but maybe not. Think about what you learned in college about emergent readers; it only takes a few unknown words to completely break down meaning. If your permission slip has 1,000 words on it and a parent only understands 90% of it, that means there are 100 words that that parent cannot understand. I guarantee they aren't the little words either. 

Can you call home if they speak better than they read? Can you get an interpreter to help out? (Foreign language teachers can point you in the right direction if they can't help themselves.) You might want to mention your willingness about this at Back To School Night so nobody feels singled out. Maybe this isn't an issue for you, but it's something to be aware of.

11. Listen to family input and try to hear what is important to each family.
At your goal setting conference or at some different point in the year, you might find that your priorities for each student are different than each family’s priorities. That’s OK. Nobody is right or wrong. 

It's easy to think that you will be open-minded about this, but I've seen some of the sweetest, most empathetic teachers get wrapped up in this. Maybe you think homework needs to be done when families want kids to play after school instead. Maybe you think kids should play but families stick their child into a Kumon class. Maybe you wish your student would read for 10 minutes every night and you're frustrated that that parent won't sit down and read with his/her child every night. Perhaps the parent is not sharing that he/she is extremely stressed out from working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. You just don't know what's going on at that child's home, and it's important to remember that it isn't our place to judge. Regardless of the reasons behind differing priorities, you need to find a way to hear each other and work together. Every culture is different and values different things—be aware of how you speak to families.

12. Keep parents in the loop as soon as you hear about something.
I like to email as SOON as I get info about PTA meetings, school closings, etc. I recommend using the app RemindMe or having a class Twitter account parents can subscribe to so you can text about things that are urgent. It gives parents a chance to plan accordingly. I have heard some very angry parent conversations about one child's teacher giving way more notice about something than another child's teacher. I get that our plates are full... but this is one hill I don't want to die on. As soon as I get an important email to forward, I send it out on its way. This might mean that you need to check your email each day. Spend 5 minutes before and after school every day looking through your inbox. I leave emails I cannot get to right away marked as "unread," but now you will be able to give families as much notice about things as you receive yourself! 

13. Give parents more than 1 reminder.
If your child can write about something important in their agenda, you can send home a reminder slip about it, and you can send it out in an email or through the RemindMe app, you’re going to have some happy families. We all know life is busy, and while some of us are more organized than others, everyone has moments where they forget things. I happen to like getting text messages to remind me of things, whereas someone else might like having a paper copy to put on their fridge. If we teach for all learners, we need to communicate with all learners when communicating with family members. It's not over-kill--it's consistency.

What is your go-to trick for forming good relationships with families? Share your awesome tricks with everyone below!

How To Introduce Exciting and Successful Morning Meetings

How To Introduce Exciting and Successful Morning Meetings by A Word On Third

According to Responsive Classroom, "Morning Meeting is an engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for success socially and academically." Once the classroom is up and running, they should last around 20-30 minutes. Today I'm going to talk about how to launch Morning Meetings so they are effective in building your community. You really can't just jump into Morning Meeting as it is and expect it to be successful!

As I've discussed in several previous posts, Morning Meetings have four main components, which are in a specific order and have a specific purpose:

1. Greeting - meant to make each child feel welcome and give them a sense of belonging
2. Share - meant to make each child feel significant
3. Activity - meant to give each child a sense of fun
4. Morning Message (previously called News & Announcements) - meant to prepare students for the day's events and transition them into the rest of the school day

So, in many classrooms, on day 1, teachers will start with all 4 components. I find that starting slow with this makes for a better run Morning Meeting throughout the school year. Here are my tips for introducing Morning Meetings.

Teach rules for Morning Meetings.
On the first day of school, you will not have generated rules with your class yet, so I have a small anchor chart with the rules I expect them to follow. I discuss what each rule means and I teach the kids how to come to the meeting area. The rules usually are:

  • Come to meeting with empty hands.
  • Listen to the speaker.
  • Raise your hand when you want to talk.
  • Sit respectfully.
Eventually, our class rules will cover this, but for now, it keeps order during meeting time.

Introduce the 4 components slowly based on your students' needs.
In the first days of school, you will want to start with a greeting first and then read through your Morning Message. Starting on day 1, I have my Morning Message out so kids can read it as they enter the room for the day. However, you'll want to start teaching your procedures for greetings with interactive modeling. Even though you don't have all 4 components of a typical Morning Meeting in your first Morning Meetings, expect it to take as long. You are teaching expectations for this structure.

Once students have a grasp on how to greet effectively, only then should you start teaching activities. Again, use interactive modeling for this. Finally, once they can move through activities successfully and pretty quickly, then you can teach into sharing. Sharing is the hardest--kids need to know how to communicate clearly and ask and answer questions. Do not introduce new components until the previous ones are solid. It's OK if this takes a few weeks. Remember, each class is different!

Start with low-risk activities.
Kids are nervous on the first days of school, and Morning Meeting can require a lot of emotional risks. If we want to build a warm, respectful community, we need to... well... be respectful!! Be patient with kids. Don't make them shake hands at first. Let them learn names and say hello with eye contact. As the first weeks move on, you can choose some higher risk activities and gradually challenge kids to get to know each other at a safe pace.

For example, you might choose to start your sharing component out by having kids share a short answer to a question, like "What is your favorite school subject?" The answer is short (a word or two) as opposed to something that makes them feel more vulnerable. Later on, kids can share about something more open-ended (like "What did you do this weekend?") and then you can have kids share about anything they want to share about when they are ready.

Eventually, your classroom will have a Morning Meeting that is up and running nicely. If you are patient with your students, you will have a meeting that really focuses on building core principals like cooperation, empathy, responsibility, assertion, and self-control.

What do you like to do in your Morning Meetings in the first six weeks of school?  Comment below!

Is Time Out Really Helpful?

Is Time Out Really Helpful? by A Word On Third

So, after you've set your class rules, what do you do next? In the third post of the Launch Your Classroom Right series, I'm going to show you how to use time out so you can implement logical consequences when students need to rethink their behavior.


Actually, that's only true half of the time. If you associate time out with dunce caps, sitting in the corner facing the wall, yelling, or other negative emotions... yes. I will agree 100% with you that time out is mean and terrible and stinky! That does not help your students. It only shames them into behaving obediently for fear of embarrassment, anger, or something else unpleasant.

Time out is VERY helpful when you use it correctly!!

Time out is something all adults need sometimes! It is supposed to be exactly what it sounds like... some time out to regroup. When you think about how overwhelming life can get, that should sound nice, right? Well, it is! And it should be for kids. So I'm going to show you how to use time out positively in your classroom. Positive time out is a logical consequence that lets kids reflect on self-monitor. It's a skill we must teach our children, and it happens to benefit us greatly.

1. Introduce the idea of time out.
I'm guessing that almost all of your students have some previous negative experiences with time out. Talk about it. What does time out make them think or feel? Has anyone ever been upset in time out before? Was it embarrassing or aggravating? Any personal stories you can share about this are important. Tell the kids that there are going to be times when everyone breaks the rules that you made together, even though they are very important. Let's be real... we have all broken rules before. If you ask the kids if they've broken the rules, they should all be raising their hands, and you should too.

Next, tell the kids you will be having time out in your classroom, but it's going to be very different than what they are used to. When a child goes to time out, it is not a punishment. I tell the kids that time out is a tool to help you calm down and regain self-control. I like to call it something different than time out (I've called it "Take a Break" in the past, and I'll refer to it as such in the rest of this post), and I like to have the class vote on the name.

2. Model time out through interactive modeling.

Interactive modeling, which I talked about in detail in this post, is going to be your best friend. I model time out for my students, and it makes a huge difference in how they see it. Here is a video of someone else modeling how to take a break which can be found on Responsive Classroom's YouTube channel.

Now, as I've always said, you should model time out exactly as you want the children to do it. I actually model taking a break in a different way than I model everything else. First, I do a normal interactive modeling of taking a break. Next, I model how I think when I take a break. I put a "microphone" up to my brain (which is just my finger) and I think aloud what I'm feeling. It's really important to show kids that this is about calming down, not necessarily reflecting on choices or behaviors. It's natural that the two may overlap, but they might not. Finally, I model it quickly one more time without thinking aloud--because the last thing you need is to have a bunch of kids narrating their time out sessions! Ha!

3. Give students a chance to practice.
Interactive modeling requires all students to practice anyway, but I like to have kids practicing one or two at a time. That way, I can see exactly what they do well with and what they still need to work on, and I can give them immediate coaching.

Some important things to remember when asking kids to take a break:

  • Taking a break is for ALL STUDENTS, not just "trouble makers."
  • Ask students to take a break in a calm, respectful, and matter of fact tone.
  • Wait for follow-through. If you ask a child to take a break and he/she stays put, your job is to redirect them and wait until they do.
  • Sometimes two kids might need to take a break at the same time. For that reason, I like to have two chairs designated for ONLY taking a break (so these chairs are always empty when nobody is taking a break)! I place them in a location that is involved in the room yet away from distractions. Don't put this right next to the pattern blocks.
  • If three or more students need to take a break, you can always ask a student to take a break and specify the location they should use. (Ex: if you are at the whole-class meeting area, you might say, "Take a break at your desk.")
  • Teach other students what their job is if a classmate is taking a break. Remind them to be respectful and give them privacy so they can calm down.
  • Re-model taking a break often--and tell the kids sometimes you will ask them to take a break just for practice! Re-model the deep breaths, the closed eyes (to block out distractions), etc.
  • Remember, time out is one example of a logical consequence when rules are broken. It won't work for every child in every situation. It's best to use this at the very onset of misbehavior rather than waiting for it to evolve into something bigger.
You can learn more about time out here. What are your experiences with time out? Do you use it in your classroom? What does your class call it? How might you change your time out procedure? Comment below!

How To Create Strong Rules Kids Actually Like

How To Create Strong Rules Kids Actually Like by A Word On Third

It's no secret that creating class rules can be hard, so for the second post in my Launch Your Classroom Right series, that's what we're covering. It can be a struggle to figure out how many rules to create, how to create them, what they should be, when they should be introduced... the list goes on. Generating rules can be one of the most powerful things you do to manage your classroom. When I learned about how to generate rules a few years back, it was mid-year. I re-vamped my classroom in January and noticed a difference almost immediately. If you stick to this system, I promise you will have effective rules that are good for both you and your students.

Step 1: Generate Hopes and Dreams

This is a really important step in the process--don't skip it!! Talk with the kids about what they come to school for. Discuss all of the things they'd like to accomplish. These things might include things like:
  • making friends
  • reading a chapter book
  • keeping an organized desk or folder
  • managing time well
  • completing homework
  • learning how to multiply
I like to first have a conversation about this and have kids brainstorm with each other about things they might want to accomplish. I usually give them a questionnaire to work on in partnerships (though their answers might be different from each other) with reflective questions. I ask them to think about what was hard in previous years, what they are worried about for the upcoming year, what they are good at, what they are excited to do, etc. When they have brainstormed some ideas as a class and reflected on their school history in partnerships, they are ready to pick a hope and dream to stick with for the year. After we pick the hopes and dreams we will use for the year, we publish them.

You can have them write and draw or just write depending on the age of your students, but I really like to publish ours on paper butterflies at the beginning of the year since we study Monarch Butterflies. In January, I will often have kids re-visit hopes and dreams since many have been met by that time, and I use this template, available for free in my store. Click the picture to download it!

Step 2: Generate Ideas For Rules

Now that you've published and celebrated setting goals for the year, your class is almost ready for another discussion about how to reach those goals. First, I make sure basic routines are set and everyone has started getting to know each other. I'd say I start step #2 in the second week of school. Before that, I expect appropriate behavior, but I don't think the kids are ready for this discussion until they understand they have a warm, welcoming environment and have gotten into "school mode." Once the kids are ready, I start out by discussing how amazing it will feel to reach all of their goals, and then I ask the class what they need to reach their goal.

I write down E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. that they say on chart paper! 

Every idea is great. I sometimes ask questions to prompt them if they are quiet at first. Make sure you ask questions about conserving materials ("How might we need to treat books if we want to read chapter books?" "If we want to make a collage about dinosaurs, what might we need to do with our glue and markers?") That gets overlooked a lot. You might ask some questions the kids reflected on in step 1 again to get the ideas flowing.

The list ends up being huge, so expect this to take time. This usually takes my class one or two class periods of generating ideas. It's tempting to rush, but this is going to set the tone for your class all year. If the class is too antsy, tell them this is important work and we can continue working on it again another day. This is TOO important not to take seriously. Did I mention you should take your time on this? Take your time!!

When you chart what the kids say, make sure that your kids word things positively in your list of generated rules. So, if a kid says something like, "One time someone said something mean to me, and it really hurt my feelings. I think we need to remember to not be mean so we can reach our hopes and dreams," then you can respond with, "If we're not being mean, what will we be doing?" Then the child might say they will use kind words, be kind, be polite, or something else. I think it's really important to honor each child's precise words. If you change them, ask for permission before writing different words down. There will be some repeats (maybe even word for word!), so I put little check marks next to ideas that get repeated.

Finally, if there's something REALLY important on the list that you don't see, suggest it. You should have a hope and dream too, so maybe you'll say that you feel like you need something in particular in order to reach your hope and dream. My hope and dream is usually to create a warm, joyful environment in which my students enjoy learning and playing.

Step 3: Consolidate The Rules

This can be time consuming, but I think it's OK to take a few short-cuts in this step. The rules have been finished, and you have a few slices of chart paper with possible rules scribbled on them. I say to the kids that their ideas will make for a great community, but that it will be very hard to remember 23948234908 rules. I then say that I see some patterns in the rules and that I think certain ones can be combined. Usually I'll say something like "'Keep your feet to yourself' and 'keep your hands to yourself' sound really similar. I think it makes sense to group these two rules into one rule."

The kids agree and we end up consolidating into 3-5 rules each year. There are always 3 rules that have to do with taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of the environment. My kids will add something like "Have fun" sometimes, but sometimes they consider that to be the same as taking care of yourself.

Some rules will fit into more than one category. That's OK. Don't get worked up about that.

I find that the best way to consolidate the rules is to circle each rule with a corresponding color. So, all rules that have to do with taking care of the environment (like putting the caps on markers, cleaning up after class, being careful with the magnifying glasses, etc.) are circled in green. Other categories get other colors. Then, after everything has been circled (and remember, some may have more than one color), we read all of the rules for that color and come up with a way to say it. Sometimes there are many ideas for how to word them, so do your best to guide the class to work as a team and agree. Sometimes you may have to vote. The big idea is that we now know EXACTLY what each rule means.

Step 4: Publish The Rules

Now is the fun part!! You get to publish your class rules. I actually break my class into several groups and have each group make a poster of the rules. I have one bigger poster that everyone signs, and we talk about things we can draw on our rule posters. I usually write the rules in pencil and have the kids trace them. I remind my class that the poster is meant to be a reference to use all year, so I suggest that they do not draw on the actual words. They might draw pictures of kids sharing, clean materials, etc.

Finally, it's time to hang these in the room. One goes on the front of my door without fail. Another will sometimes go on the back of my door. One is very visible from the meeting area. Some teachers even make traveling rules that children are responsible for bringing to lunch, recess, art, gym, etc. I think that 4 or 5 posters should be plenty.

Now, when you deal with managing student behavior later, you've got some GREAT rules to talk about. And, yes, sometimes the rules will be broken. But now,  you've got concrete ideas to refer to when you give positive reinforcement or redirect students. The kids feel pride in the rules they created and are more likely to follow them. The tone for the community is being established as a place in which students are respected decision-makers with feelings that matter.

How do you create your rules? Do you ever run into problems using this method? Comment below!

Best Year Ever Sale Starts NOW!

Surprise!! Today starts the Best Year Ever sale over on TeachersPayTeachers, and there are 2 things that you don't want to miss while they are on sale. They will only be on sale until August 2nd at midnight, so head on over to get 28% off in my entire store and at least 10% off site-wide.

The first thing you should grab is my classroom newsletter template, which you can use every week forever and ever to improve parent communication. Click that link or the picture above to download it in my store. As I've mentioned in this post, you can make your own classroom newsletter... or you can save yourself some serious time and grab the one I made for LESS. THAN. A. DOLLAR. Either way, you should definitely click one of those links, because you will be BEASTING IT with your parents in less than 5 minutes each week. No lie! That's all it takes to let parents see what goes on every week. It beats hours of composing emails.

The next thing to do is to download my editable Back To School Night presentation (which will make an awesome first impression with parents). I wrote about how I ran my Back To School Night like a Morning Meeting here, which totally changed my view of the night. I really enjoyed it, and several parents told me it was their most engaging Back To School Night they've attended. All of the teachers I know who use this strategy say that they get the same kinds of comments from their students' parents also. This bad boy gets downloaded a LOT in my store, and I walk you through exactly how to use it. I've already thought about the most important things you'll want to share about your classroom. When you download this powerpoint, make sure you look at the notes section on the bottom of each slide! I've got you covered!!

These parent communication techniques are going to be discussed in my future Launch Your Classroom Right posts, so I will be sharing everything you need to know about how to use these. I cannot believe how much these two things changed the culture of my class community.

Do you have a sale going on in your store? Any items on TPT on your wish lists that I should know about?! Comment below!