Sunday, November 15, 2009

Caring Learning Community Plan

As the class returns from their weeklong holiday break, I am expecting there to be some re-adjustment back into the classroom on Monday morning.  All children crave consistency and disrupting their schedule by offering them a time to celebrate Thanksgiving is sure to produce some emotional disturbance.  What they will be asking for upon their return is for clear boundaries to be set.  I will honor their request to define their boundaries and to reassure them that they are in a safe place by starting the day off with the well-know and loved "brain breakfast”.  This will give all of us fifteen minutes of a known, non-stressful activity that will start our day off on the right foot.  The second adjustment is that I will be the only teacher in the room.  This is another change to their schedule that I am sensitive to.  Because of these factors, I plan on taking the next 25 minutes to sit down with them and explain the schedule of the week with them.  During this time, I will facilitate a conversation with them where we will start to produce an agreed-upon set of rules, which our class can utilize throughout my take over. 

I have a strong belief that all students respond in the best light when they know exactly what is expected of them and they have the possibility of success.  In some ways, having a student teacher take over the room from their permanent teacher has the potential of being in conflict with this ideal.  Different teachers have different goals, objectives and expectations.  I believe taking time on the first and second day to share what they want from their classroom and what agreements they want to make with each other and their teacher will set the common connection that we will utilize throughout the week.  I want them to know that each student plays a critical role in the development of their classmates’ education.  I want them to articulate their wishes for what they think makes the best learning environment and agree to those shared values by signing they names to the agreement.  Each day I plan to review these agreements with them.

Instructional groups and how they are used and formed:

I have incorporated groups into many of my lessons, as it is my intention to teach social skills along with academic skills.  "Getting alone with others" is by far the most important skill a person can develop and I want to explicitly coach them on what makes a good classmate, friend, coworker and playmate throughout my week-long take over.   During my math lessons, the groups I use will reflect a careful matching of academic and social skills.  There are some good dynamics between particular pairings, and I wish to take advantage of the results made by developing and nurturing these connections between our students.  Paring and grouping is a fine art.  It is my intention to continue my constant observations, in an effort to utilize these pairings, while making any necessary adjustments, as needed. 

How students get water, materials, bathroom break.

I am a big fan of water!  Many studies have documented that most Americans are chronically dehydrated.  Other publications point out the beneficial effects of drinking water, especially as it related to brain activity.  Drinking water helps you think, as well as develop cognitively, so it is my intention to encourage water drinking more than other teachers may.  Because of this, my classroom might have more requests for bathroom breaks.  This is acceptable and provides another opportunity for discussion about social skills and managing personal needs. For example, when my kids come in from recess I will encourage them to visit the bathroom before my math class starts.  As I excuse them to recess I will encourage them to drink water before they exercise.  As a rule I will not let more than one student out of the room at a time, unless they are desperate. 

I will explain to the students that they are becoming more mature and gaining more opportunities for responsibility.  One way I can show my trust in their capacity is to honor the ability to take care of their personal needs.  From this intention, if they need to use the bathroom, I will let them sign out of the room by placing their name on the board in a designated area, and the time they left the room.  I will inform them that only one person at a time is permitted to leave the room. 

I will continue to use the system we currently have in place for dismissals.  Every day one child is responsible for dismissing, as well as taking the attendance chart to the office in the morning. 

Transitions into and out of the classroom.

We have a pattern of rotating students that act as 'class helper' for the day.  One responsibility they have is to dismiss students.  I will continue this tradition.  I will also continue to encourage them to use hand gel.  When students arrive in the morning, I greet every one of them by name and expect that they say hello, while looking at me.  This is another social skill that is easy to practice.  When students arrive back from recess I often have them meet as a group before we enter the room for a minute of stretching and breathing.  This ability of checking in with ones body and mind can mean the difference between a good math session and a great one.

Another technique I have been developing with the class is the idea of making silence. 
The students’ day is cluttered with business and taking a moment to relax and regroup can have great benefits.  Even taking just one minute out of our day to sit in silence is enough to ground oneself and lay the groundwork for positive cognitive and social development.  I see school as a place where people learn strategies.  Some of the strategies are mathematical, where we learn that knowing multiplication is a more efficient way to count groups.  Other strategies are social, such as knowing how to take a different perspective on the problem, or simply to take a deep breath and restructure the problem. This can be the difference between failure and success.  I believe we owe our students every opportunity to develop strategies, both academic and social that will help them develop a life that is both successful and enjoyable.

Getting students attention

I plan to bring in a chime to play when the room gets too noisy.  I will allow any student to ring the bell when they hear the room is too loud.  I have heard many times from the students of this class that they learn best when the room is peaceful.  I plan to provide such an environment by allowing them to signify when it has moved from quiet to noisy. 

I also plan to employ non-verbal clues such as holding a finger up, asking them non-verbally to follow my lead.  This has worked somewhat effectively and I hope to come to an agreement with the kids on the first day to address what I can do to recapture their attention.

During clean up times, I will play music as a way to signal that we are all cleaning up together.

How students are expected to respond and get help. 

I will hand out 'calling cards' to students.  This card enables the students to get my attention and non-verbally communicate to me that they need help.  I will be initiating this procedure before my takeover in attempt to maximize its potential and to create a routine.  Each student will receive a card with his or her name on it.  When they are in need of assistance from myself, they will hand me the card without any verbal conversation.  This will ensure that the student I am working with not experience the frustration of being interrupted (sometimes multiple times).  This will also honor the requests made from the student asking for assistance.  They will feel secure knowing, that together, we have created an equitable way for me to know whom I am responsible to help next. 

I will make an agreement with the student that when I am done working with the other student I will visit them.  Each student has the right to learn uninterrupted.  Learning is jeopardized when you are interrupted (for both the teacher or student) and this limits the effectiveness of the interaction.  I will therefore ask my students to manage their calling cards and use them when they are in need.  I will also encourage them to work with their classmates to solve their problems.  I will ask my class to make the assumption that we are all on the same team and that many times there is another student who can answer their question without the assistance of the teacher.  I often say, "ask your teammate for help".  My students are used to me using this term and it is my hope that they adopt this philosophy and develop a commitment to helping their classmates when appropriate. 

Dealing with interruptions.

Working with interruptions is a challenge.  There are several methods to meet this challenge ranging from authoritarian and threatening to cajoling and begging.  I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes.  It is my intention to develop a management style where the students and the teacher work together to form a copasetic relationship where educational, emotional and even spiritual development is possible.  One key element in meeting this lofty goal is developing trust between all parties involved.  Developing this trust takes time and experience and for this reason I put a lot of emphasis on laying the groundwork before I engage in teaching.  My experience with the students before my takeover is being used, in part, to lay that mutual foundation and to build trust.  The students who have the most potential for disrupting my class have had three months to work with me almost every day and already we share a great deal of common understanding.  It is my hope to build on that understanding and common ground on the first day, as we lay out our shared agreements.

During this school year, I have participated in practice fire and earthquake drills at the school.  The procedures and appropriate actions are clear to me in the event of similar drills or actual emergency event.  In the event that a student is late for class they will be required to obtain a ‘late slip’, which tells me they have signed in with the office to register their tardiness.  If a child needs to go to the office due to illness, I will fill out a notification telling the office about the students needs. 

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