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Week -2: Classroom Management – Create a positive, well-managed classroom environment

This post is my contribution to this week’s  #MTBoS Sunday Funday challenge: Classroom Management.  I wouldn’t call it a “challenge” but rather an “invitation to blog” every week on a pre-selected topic.  You then submit your blog post using this Google Form.  On Sunday, Julie  @jreulbach  will post the week’s list of amazing blogs to go read! I can’t wait to read all of the goodness my peers have to offer!!

This week’s challenge is “Classroom Mangagement.”  This stymied me because I have awesome kiddos every year, and the “typical” management issues just aren’t in my room.  Not bragging except about how amazing my students are….they are in my room to learn, to experience new things and to have fun!

As I reflect, thought, I do believe these three things are critical for a smooth running classroom: be organized, be positive and authentic, keep students cognitively engaged.  I find if my students understand expectations, feel safe, and have engaging experiences, the management issues usually don’t arise.  So I’ll share some of my “management” strategies with you.

Be Organized

Know where you are going – so your kids will follow

I use an Excel spreadsheet to map out the year for each course.  I used to use paper copies of this, but now I’ve gone electronic; easier to copy from year to year, easy to edit and easy to share with course colleagues.  I can also color code….just love the colors!  I love to plan out my year in detail (with the mental permission to change at will – you know, when a great idea shows up on a blog or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever) so I know I’ve got time for critical content and engagement activities.  I used to hate when teachers took their time early in the year but then crammed so much in the last 3 weeks of a semester “because we got behind.”  I purposely budget a couple of blank days later in each semester as “buffers” for unanticipated time needs.

Excel Planning

Know what you want your kids to know, so they can show you.

I have learning targets for my course posted on my daily agendas (more info below) but after reading about #SBG and various blogs by @druinok, @mathequalslove, @samshah, @lisa_tilmon, among others, I decided to create ones I can share at the beginning of the year with students:


Share daily agendas

I learned this early in my career.  If I I had a daily plan but didn’t share it with my students, we more often than not got derailed.  Let students in on your plans for the day. We use a Learning Management System (LMS) at our school called Schoology, so I post the week’s agendas by Monday.  One of the nice things is shared agendas actually build buy in; we all know what the learning and experiences for the day and work towards completing it.  However, I also make adjustment right in front of the class if the agenda was too ambitious or an unexpected event (sing happy birthday, important school-wide announcement, xerox machine crashed, etc.) caused a loss of time.  And the agendas are based on student feedback (see below for exit slips information).  Attached to the agenda for the day are the required materials in electronic form; student simply download to Notability or Evernote. A great spin-off is that as students become accustomed to the procedure, when they are absent, they still check the daily agendas for what happened in class; they know it is the most up-to-date account of the class experience.

Be Positive and Authentic

Know how you want the classroom to run, so kids can embrace your vision

This is so, so important!  Spend time thinking and envisioning what you truly want your classroom environment to look like, to sound like, and to be.  It is important that you have a clear and solid vision so you can communicate to your charges through your words, actions, learning experiences and expectations.  Remember, some of your students may never have experienced what you believe are characteristics of a perfect classroom environment. So dream away, read a lot and write it down. Be willing to try things, give yourself permission to make mistakes, listen to your students.  Be careful, thought!  Your classroom MUST FIT YOUR PERSONALITY not your classroom neighbor, your mentor teacher, your favorite blog author  or whomever.  Then, condense your vision into succinct words/phrases that embody your vision.  Finally, think about how to foster those ideals in your classroom.

Know how your kids are doing, so let them tell you

Students need a way to voice how they are doing in class.  Be aware, if you do this well, as students feel safe in your classroom, they will give you unsolicited feedback.  This is really good (and a bit scary) so you need to be flexible and willing to listen and respond in an authentic way while also honoring what is important to you.  Tricky stuff.

I use daily exit slips to take the pulse of my students’ academic, emotional and physical well-being.  There are many places to collect great question and unique ways to elicit authentic feedback.  Research supports that giving students time and space to reflect and self-assess their progress is a critical part of the learning.  Eventually, you will be able to read your classes and create prompts that really work for them.

This year I plan to use the learning targets more purposefully.  In the table folders (more next week), students will track for me where they believe they are in attaining the learning targets for the unit: NY = Not Yet, P = Proficient, M = Mastered. Each student will self-assess/communicate daily progress on the various critical learning targets for the unit.I will see these every day and this will also help me make timely adjustment to instruction and experiences.

Keep Students Cognitively Engaged

Openers/Bell Ringers/Starters…or whatever you call them!

There are so many ways to begin class, but my students know that they are to work on a task as soon as they walk in the door.  The class procedure is to open your iPad, pull up the agenda and begin the Opener.  To help students initially embrace this procedure, I use blatant bribery to reward those who get right to it.  I covertly lay a piece of penny candy next students who immediately follow these three steps. Students in the group who don’t get the candy start asking immediately why they didn’t get one.  I simply say, “you can figure it out,” and they usually do (or their peers fill them in).  If, in good conscience, you can’t give students candy, find some other low stakes reward: raisins, pack of carrots, stickers.

My openers do one of three main things for the day:

  1. Recall yesterday’s learnings to gauge level of understanding
  2. Review foundational skills/concepts for today’s experiences,
  3. Set up today’s lesson with an exploration or data collection opportunity

Use Table Groups

My students are in table groups of 4 for most days (except assessment times) and this strategy is one of the most efficient yet effective management strategy I employ.   I use group roles (team captain, facilitator, reporter, resource manager) and found the roles help with behavior management and student accountability too.  I couldn’t imagine my class without the table group benefits of student talk, shared supplies, and peer support.  There is so much information and support ideas on the web about using table groups!  Just begin exploring.

By having students in groups it is very easy to use active engagement experiences because students are already used to working together.   I use things like Desmos or Geogebra explorations, 15 minute posters and gallery walks, Musical chairs practice, Review Stations, etc. to use the power of group collaboration and problem-solving.

I didn’t expect this post to go on so long!  And I have so much more to say!!!  But maybe for a post later this year.

What are some management strategies you use that you couldn’t live without in your classroom?  Would love to hear from you!





Week -4: Goals and Dreams for 2017-18

It has been a while since I blogged.  I think my type-A, perfectionist over-exuberance at wanting to blog at what I envisioned was “top-level” just burned me out.  But since getting back to Twitter (and getting in on the flurry of conversations about TMC, #MTBoS, and #PushSend ) I’ve realized that the reflective nature of blogging feeds my teacher soul.

Last year I dropped blogging early in the school year because I was doing too much. And writing doesn’t come easy to me so my blogs were taking 1-2 hours to complete – I so admire those who type fast and write succinctly…can you school me?? Everything in my life was suffering and so blogging was the first (but not the last) thing to be purged.  Now as I look back at the year this summer I realize the rest of my school year lost its glitter.  Without the daily reflecting in writing via blogging and taking pictures of my kiddos while they were learning, the excitement fizzled and “Killer Routine” took over.  Now don’t get me wrong, I did reflect but it tended to be quick, on the fly and lacked depth;  I didn’t have a running commentary to look back on to review my progress, to relive the successes and to reminiscence about the changes that worked.

But I also realize I can’t keep up with blogging for each of the 180 days of the school year. So Blog 180 was out for me! As luck would have it, I learned through Twitter that during TMC17, Carl Oliver gave a keynote, Hitting the Darn ‘Send’ Button at TMC (Twitter Math Camp). He said just #PushSend; what you write doesn’t have to be perfect and what you have to say will resonate with someone. Most importantly for me I realized, the act of putting my thoughts to paper is an amazing growth experience.  All of this talk about blogging inspired me. So I gave myself permission to blog once a week. In my mind I call it my new initiative: Blog 36+… I’ll blog once a week (but maybe more).

The stars aligned because soon after TMC, the #MTBoS got busy, spearheaded by Julie @jreulbach to revive the #MTBoS Sunday Funday challenge . I wouldn’t call it a “challenge” but rather an “invitation to blog” every week on a pre-selected topic; this week’s is Goals. You then submit your blog post using this Google Form.  On Sunday, Julie will post the week’s list of amazing blogs to go read! I can’t wait to read all of the goodness my peers have to offer!!  But I also realize I need to contribute….so my blogging life begins anew!

2017-2018 Goals and Dreams – at least planning for Goals

We don’t start school until August 30th, so my school brain is still on vacation!  And I’m not sure I’m ready to have my goals set in “electronic stone” yet.  So instead, I’ll share my first steps in creating goals for a new school year.

Here’s how I’ve done my goal-setting for many, many years.  In early June, when I begin to get twinges of frustration and end-of-year-itis, I start my “Beginning of Year ‘##” folder.  I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years and I really love to see how some things have come and gone, while others have become my pedagogical “rocks.”


*Wish I could get into my room to take a photo of all of my previous folders!!

On the inside left flap I have lots of categories: Goals, Keep-Change-Try, Theme/Focus. These help me think through the big picture for my classroom.  Still adding thoughts as I read tweets and the many awesome blog posts shared this week!

  • Goals include student, professional and personal goals for the year…these are actually the final culmination of the other things.
  • Keep-Change-Try is just that, a running list of what I want to keep from my past practices, change or revise for the next year, and new things to try because they sound so promising.
  • Theme/Focus is the catch phrase that encapsulates all of the above thinking, especially the goal.  Usually a word or phrase that I post in big letters.

On the inside right flap I have lots of focuses that support the Goals and Theme: Engagement, Climate-Relationships, Retention, SBG, Technology, and Procedures.

  • Engagement helps me think through authentic engagement experiences rather than “fun” activities that don’t move students’ learning forward.
  • Climate-Relationships is a new focus for me this year.  Although student evaluations say I do a great job at this, my personal perspective is that I need to work at this better to connect with EVERY student.
  • Retention includes thoughts about how to insure long-term retention. This became a goal for our department last year (which I was so happy about – cartwheels in the aisles) so there was so much more collaboration around retention and how to help students with it.
  • Standards Based Grading (SBG) is also a new addition, although I have been reading and thinking about it for a few years. I’ve found some good resources online, but don’t have any face-to-face colleague to share and reflect with…yay for Twitter.  I am getting some help there.
  • Technology has been an ongoing focus since I can remember!  It is so fun to see how much technology has evolved over the years as well as how my practice in including it has changed so dramatically.  And the use of technology has grown from just a tool to a learning-enhancing opportunity for students if used thoughtfully.
  • Procedures is the last focus this year. I have been at this a long time, but every year some procedures need to change, mostly to keep my sanity and to make my classroom more studentcentric (is that even a word?!). Things that “bug” me in June are procedures crying out to be changed in August.

Already today, because of tweeting and reading blogs, my lists are expanding and evolving.  So what are your goals and dreams for 2017-2018? Can’t wait to hear about them (and maybe revise mine based on your amazing thoughts) so just #pushsend!!

Day 71: Teaching Station

One of the most important areas for me in the classroom is my teaching station.  Although I am not there for any length of time, it is important to have everything in its place and “staged” so that I can “do my thang” during class without trying to find things last minute.


  • I use colored folders to organize for each class.  These folders have a clear front pocket in which I place the seating chart; then I can use a dry erase to quickly take attendance.  Inside the folders, I keep make-up quizzes with my students’ names on them, copies of notes and any other pertinent info for that particular class.
  • On the first shelf, I have my remote control and TI Nspire handy along with storing the attendance folders.
  • On the larger shelf, I  keep a bin of extra pencils and stacks of papers that I might use that day.  This is also where my classroom speakers and TI-Navigator access point reside.
  • There is also a mini shelf that holds paper when I use the doc camera and a second mini shelf that holds the docking station for my computer.
  • I also have a roller wire basket shelf where I keep essentials like tape, postits, etc., a bin of red and green pens for Frappys, scratch paper, and a bin of paint pens for students to mark their personal Nspires.  On top of the wire basket shelf I placed an extra wood panel so I can place the document camera and a bin of needed writing tools: colored pens, highlighters and pencils along with scissors  There are paper clips and styluses too.  Next to it I have a bin of plastic mini-white boards with dry erase markers when I need them on the spur of the moment.
  • Although it is hard to see, I have zip-tied an outlet strip to the side of the cart so I can readily plug in electronic devices that I might need.


Behind the cart I have a bookshelf I found at a garage sale (did I say how much I love to garage sale in the summer to outfit my classroom?!).  It holds extra copies of the textbooks, make-up test forms, my Barron’s AP Stats MC flash cards, VCR/DVD player, hand sanitizer and jar of “Brain Breaks.”  The purple shelf next to it holds electronic gadgets and cords, band-aids, etc. along with my DVDs for AP Stats.


As the year progresses, other things get added as needed.  This organizational method helps me stay sane and not waste time during the class period.  What do you do to keep yourself organized for class?


Day 182: Movin’ Movin’ Movin’

Because our school is adding on 10 new rooms (we are busting our seams!), and our department was given two of them, our department is doing the big shuffle of rooms.  I am getting a general purpose science room since the science department is getting 4 new rooms, including a robotics room.  Lucky me!  The room is bigger and actually has windows! Lots more room to store project equipment and to set up areas to collect data. And it may actually be a little closer to the office, but farther from the parking lot.  That just means I get to my 10000 steps much quicker on my phone’s daily step tracker.


Since my current room lost its windows because that wall is where two rooms were added, it is dark, stuffy and somewhat dreary since there are not windows (you can compare the difference in the two photos).  Same wall, same angle, same time of year, very different feel.  I’ve never thought of myself as being affected by having sunlight, but day after day of not knowing if its sunny, rainy or if a tornado is coming is more depressing than I thought.

20140514_085502 rev 20150615_130122

So I’m moving.  Lots of work packing – using my awesome students to help although things are just getting stuffed into moving boxes without rhyme or reason.  So much more fun to unpack the surprises later!!  We will be allowed back in the building in August (hopefully) because I fear it will take me forever to unpack, organize and make the science room feel warm and inviting.  I’ll be sharing more about my moving progress probably in August!  So stay tuned for my new room make-over.


What are some of your favorite room organization ideas you’ve found over the years?  I’m all ears and eyes!!!

Day 162: May Madness – Testing, Late Starts, and More Testing!

Although we are not as unfortunate as some eastern states, we are losing lots of time and days to the craziness of testing: SBAC, ELA, EOC, oh-my!  This week because of the late starts, our classes are 30 minutes and the block day classes is 55 minutes.  Due to our teacher walk-out day in support of fully funding public education, we had one block day (and subsequent testing day) moved to next week.  So our schedule looks like this:


Then next week, we finish the first phase of testing, but have the required HIV-AIDS training during our advisory class.  Oh why wasn’t this done in February when we were desperate for a good lesson?  The week after is our state’s End of Course exams for math, which means two more days with 30 minute classes after a late start.  The week after is graduation with the last week of finals.  Will I survive this craziness?!  Of course, I always do, but this year seems particularly frantic and rushed.

I was so planned out for the year so that the curriculum could be covered in a thoughtful and #slowmath way. I used a method I found at TM4T (Time Management for Teachers) written by Joe Durham which worked great for my brain!  I will have to revisit this rich resource over the summer – add it to my summer planning list – although I must warn you that you need to pick and choose what you take away from Joe’s advice. Unfortunately, the last few weeks of plans are out the window.  The light gray day is the one we lost due to the walk-out.  We have a 4-day Memorial Day week-end (yay!) and then continue with the madness that is May.

crazy calendar

How is your end of year going?

Day 102: Binding Together

I love my garage sale find for $20.  It is a GBC ComboBind machine with the combs included!  The lady I inherited this wonderful apparatus used it occasionally for college, but not as much as she thought she would, so she wanted to get rid of it.  Her loss, my gain!!  Score!20150211_142047

I bind my notes for a chapter/unit and then pull out the comb at the end and reuse for the next chapter.

20150211_142329 20150211_142321

It is so convenient for writing notes with students under the document camera and keeping the papers together in one place.  One of the best $20 purchases I’ve ever made.  What is/are the best garage sale finds you’ve had for your classroom?


Day 101: Messy Desk Day

Do you ever have one of these days?  My weekend was crazy busy and today was equally so…filled with meetings and obligations during my “off” time.  So my desk paid the price!  The creative process is so taxing on organization!



Day 87: Getting Ready for the End

Today is the day before final exams.  I give my students self-directed time to work on the review and to ask questions.  It seems that any other activity might be distracting and counter-productive, while also instilling angst and stress.  I used to do review games, etc., but not enough seemed to get covered and we’d get bogged down in minutia, or narrow questions that only a few students had rather than focusing on individual needs. I also didn’t find that Review Stations worked with such a large body of content…again, focused on too many insignificant details rather than the big picture and essential long-term skills and procedures.  Students shared that having time in class to work in their own way was the best use of class time.

Day 15: Returning Student Work Woes


The white shelf was a great garage-sale find and it makes me feel like my room is not so institutionalized.  But i have to figure out how to hand back papers to students this year.  Even though my goal is to be relatively paperless, there are times that the paper-pencil activity is a necessary assessment or activity tool.  Although I count on students to pick up their own paper, or hand back papers when they finish inclass work, the pile still can become unwieldy.  How do you hand back papers to your students?

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