Teacher Hacks to Use at Home Part I: Behavior Management

Teaching is often more than a job or career pathit is something that we educators practice even when we are outside of the classroom.  Much of what we do in class, while content-oriented, is meant to be translated to the real world. From study skills, to organization, to behavior management, teachers have a whole repertoire of strategies that could be of major assistance at home. So parents, what can teachers teach besides their subject area? A lot!

First-year teaching has sometimes been compared to bringing a baby home for the first time. It is terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, emotional, and exciting—basically a whirlwind of significant moments strung together. While teaching is not as dramatic as raising a newborn, it is a profession that involves constant giving. So, with regard to giving advice to parents struggling with behavior issues at home, first things first—we know your struggle. We too have had moments (probably many) when it seems as though we may never have a breakthrough with a particularly “feisty” child. But, there are certain keys to remember:

  • You are the adult. When it comes to those knock-down, drag-out tantrums or battles, remember that this is a child that you are dealing with. There is no negotiating unless you open that door. When kids push back, keep your head and say something like, “I’m sorry you are upset, but I gave you my answer. This conversation is over.” This lets them know that you are in charge and that no amount of effort on their behalf is going to change the decision you have made. Once you have made your decision, close the door on negotiating, begging, guilt-tripping, etc. Be sure to stand your ground—the second that you go back on your word, you’ve lost. Explain that no amount of disrespect or anger is going to help their cause, regardless of how much they argue, question or try to manipulate you.
  • Once you have stood your ground, you must try to remain calm and keep cool—even when the child is not. Easier said than done, I know. We teachers know all too well that emotionally engaging in an argument or tiff with a student is never beneficial. Again, you are the adult. The conversation ends when you end it; no need to fuel the fire.
  • Frame every decision so that it is in the best interest of your child. Show your child that you are not making decisions just to assert control or power. They need to understand that parenting is a decision-making role. Yes, they will have plenty of opportunities to make their own choices, but for now, they need guidance from the person who cares about their well-being above everything else. They may not show it, but they will eventually understand your sound reasoning.

Finally, gauge the emotions and recognize triggers for your child. After years in the classroom, teachers are masters at recognizing behavior patterns, trends, and triggers for different personalities and age groups. Of course, you know your child better than anyone. So, take mental note of when he or she begins to exhibit frustration. Isolate the root of the emotional response and act on that—they may be whining about homework, but the frustration may stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, or patience.

National Time Management Month: Advice from the Teacher

“Do as I say, not as I do” certainly applies to this topic of time management. As much as I know how to manage my time, the execution piece has always been a steady work in progress. Shamefully, I must admit that, like many other people, time management is one of my pitfalls. Since I can very personally relate to the struggle that is time management, I can also say that I spend a great deal of time—no pun intended—pondering how to improve my own tendency to procrastinate. Again, I am still working on this lifelong skill; however, I have found some strategies and reminders that prove to be very helpful in this area. As much as we adults struggle with managing our time, so do our students. And, being that they are still developing, maturing, and learning, adolescents can benefit greatly from modeling strategies when it comes to time management.

Students should categorize, then prioritize. In any given week, students may have personal or social obligations, academic obligations, family obligations, or extracurricular obligations—quite the full calendar for today’s teens. Not only can these packed schedules be stressful, but without proper time management, completion of all “to-dos” could prove impossible. Organization is key to prioritizing time.

First, students should categorize all events and due dates on a weekly or monthly calendar. This can be done with post-it notes or color-coordinated pens. After the to-do list has been organized by obligationschool, family, social, etc.—students should rank these items in order of importance for school, family, and extracurricular tasks. Have adolescents consider questions like, “Which assignment is going to take the longest?” “Which task is going to impact my grades the most?” “What family event is the most significant?” This prompts students to consider what items are most important to family members or significant at school, allowing them time to work carefully on the more difficult items. In terms of the social category, students may want to rank or prioritize items based on interest. This way, events or gatherings that teens are most eager to attend can take top priority during their free time.  

Take frequent, short breaks between tedious tasks. Again, planning these breaks ahead of time is helpful for managing one’s time. The idea is to avoid cramming as much as possible, especially when it comes to school-related tasks. When sectioning off study/work sessions, students should be mindful of their focus and attentiveness—a work session is only successful if the entire time slot is spent working efficiently. Students should treat the short breaks as though they are rewards for the “grind” and effort they are exerting. These breaks prevent burnout—which happens when students lose steam or motivation while cramming or working for hours straight. Breaks allow some breathing room so that assignments, tasks, or practices are not only completed, but completed thoroughly and proficiently.

Lastly, and most importantly, put the electronics away. Social media, email, and television are my own vices when it comes to being productive with my time. As much as adolescents may fight this, the focus needs to be solely on the task at hand in order to manage time effectively. Instrumental music is an option for those students who prefer background noise, but truth be told, less is more with regard to distraction.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. By high school, students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, what specific skills should high schoolers attain before graduating? Let’s take a look.

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

Typing skills are one of those abilities that many people disregard. While most schools have done away with mandatory typing courses as a graduation requirement, the skill is more valuable than people think. Not only does the one-finger “pecking” appear juvenile or unprofessional, but it is also not efficient. Especially when students head off into the world of higher education, they will need to be able to type with precision and ease for lectures, papers, research, etc. The great news is that technology has greatly improved the methods for building standard typing skills. With games, races, and levels, students are much more engaged and able to easily track their improvement.

Email and technology etiquette is also up there in terms of skills that high schoolers should acquire before graduating. The key here is that, by high school, students have been completely immersed in the informal realm of texting and social media. With all of this connectedness comes the likelihood that high schoolers have gotten comfortable with internet “slang” or informal communication styles. Between the emojis, neglect of appropriate punctuation, and familiarity with an informal tone, students are often ill-prepared to correspond professionally via email. That said, content area courses should be sure to address the need for a formal tone and appropriate formatting when it comes to email in the academic or professional realm.

Research skills offer huge benefits to students, no matter what career goals they may have for the future. The truth is, research is not just limited to college coursework—we perform research every day in our personal lives without even realizing it. Effective research skills ensure that the information collected and created by students will not only hold up, but help to grow their understanding of a concept.

Proofreading and editing is another digitally-based skill that high schoolers would be wise to master. Of course, the crutch of spellcheck has resulted in today’s students being somewhat lazy in terms of editing abilities. The best way to improve proofreading skills is simply to practice it. There are many editing forums and technologies that greatly assist in the process of self-checking and peer editing.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Middle School

The use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access, analyze, and create using digital tools, even at the middle school level. Information, apps, and tools are everywhere—it is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished in middle school?

By middle school, students have been introduced to plenty of educational digital forums. Middle school educators must continue to teach students how to be digitally responsible. Parents and teachers are well-aware of the fact that adolescents are connected to all things digital on a grand scale. The unavoidable truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. The impulsive and somewhat self-absorbed mindset that comes with the adolescent years also presents the issue of cyberbullying, which has become a simply newer and easier way to hurt peers. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to monitor what students send, copy, post, or type. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be. Teachers also have the option to screenshot a student’s screen in order to share a concerning incident with parents.

Managing Digital Footprints

Instructing students about their digital footprints is also important in middle school. Not only are students receiving information at rapid rates, but their own digital output is of major concern, as well. A digital footprint is composed of a person’s online actions and behavior. Middle school students must be taught that anything that we post on the web is permanent—digital footprints will never vanish. As many of us know, it is typical of adolescents to dismiss the concept of the far-off future. However, middle school is the opportune time to discuss the likelihood of severe consequences after leaving a negative digital footprint for someone else to stumble across, even years later.

Resources

Having successfully prepared middle schoolers with the knowledge of safety and security in the digital realm, teachers are then able to utilize technologies to enhance learning like never before. Free resources like instagrok.com, Padlet, Powtoons, and Adobe Spark allow students to research and create in a more interactive and creative way. Using Google classroom as the starting point for assignments and lessons incorporating technology, students are able to go out into the digital world and bring back information and material at an alarming rate. The idea of cooperative learning, student choice, technological creativity, and collaborative synthesis are all possible when using forums such as Google classroom to gather students’ ideas and creations.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Elementary

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world as early as elementary school. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished at the elementary level?

Cyber Safety

One essential concept for elementary students to learn is cyber safety. The unfortunate, yet unavoidable, truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. Aside from cyberbullying and cyberstalking, which have become simply newer, easier ways to spread hate, teachers and parents must concern themselves with protecting elementary-aged students from the vast information available. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to limit what students can and cannot access. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be.

An initial elementary lesson on technology use should involve safe searches, handling cyberbullying, and managing safe digital footprints—the digital output of a person’s online actions and behavior. Remind students, even at the elementary age, that everything we search, post, share, comment on, or “like” can be copied and shared with anyone.

Lesson Ideas

For elementary school, students may come into the classroom with varying familiarities when it comes to internet use. Begin with something simple, and allow opportunities for enrichment as students develop search skills. For instance, if students are asked to outline the week’s weather forecast, provide them with previewed links or suggested sites that remove ads and pop-ups. For the most part, schools’ firewall settings will alleviate this issue beforehand, but it is best to double check sites before pushing them out to students.

For students that are well-versed in the digital realm, allow them to complete something like the weather outline via Google classroom. Post a digital form of the graphic organizer as a Google document. Students with less familiarity with technology can use a physical paper copy of the assignment. This option not only incorporates student choice, but it also allows students to work on their comfort level and technology skill development at their own pace.

Another idea for using technology in the elementary classroom involves the common “word of the day.” Students can be provided with URLs for sites such as dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com in order to search their vocabulary terms. These sites also provide options to hear how the terms are pronounced and see examples of the terms used in sentences. Allow students to keep a running Google document of new terms with definitions, parts of speech, and sentences for context. Teachers can also “share” a document with the entire class via Google classroom, allowing students to add, edit, or comment as the class dictionary evolves.

Combatting Stress in the Classroom

Illnesses in the classroom are inevitable. The highly social aspect of the classroom is one of the great parts of education—students working and learning closely together. Unfortunately, the flipside to this is that germs are spread in these enclosed social realms very, VERY easily.

As many parents are well-aware, students fall ill most frequently during the winter months. Whether it be a cold, stomach bug, or full-on flu, students are most susceptible during the colder months because of the tendency to remain indoors, where germs are more easily transmitted. Physical illnesses, however, are not the only noticeable health issues in the classroom. As teachers, we are also well-aware of the fact that school can be a major turning point when it comes to recognizing mental health issues in adolescents.

Yes, Lysol and antibacterial wipes go a long way in the classroom in terms of keeping our students healthy. However, much like the invisibility of dangerous germs in the classroom, mental health issues can be even more difficult to detect. Of course, school counsellors are much more knowledgeable when it comes to formal diagnosis, but teachers should know what to look for as well. One major indicator can be how a child responds to stress.

Stress can have a major impact on student success and well-being. As much as we try to minimize stress on our students, academia inevitably puts young people into stressful situations. Stress-management is a vital skill for students to acquire in their primary and secondary years of school, but what does it look like when stress becomes too much? When is it overwhelming on a destructive level?

Extremely stressed students will appear extremely lethargic, disinterested, or sluggish in the classroom. This low energy is a physical response to stress, anxiety, and/or depression. When things become overwhelming, adolescents sometimes cope by “shutting down.” Lethargy is a means of “checking out” or evading whatever it is that is stressing them out. It is also a sure sign that a student is not getting enough sleep due to stress or worry.

Task avoidance is another layer of low energy exhibited by stressed students. This can be marked by missed assignments, a sudden drop in grades, or an increase in school absences. Avoiding tasks or school altogether is a more direct manner of evading the stressors. The issue, however, is that missed school will only result in escalating the problem of falling behind, thus increasing stress.

Repetitive or ritualistic behavior could be an effect of anxiety caused by stress. Often a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the subtle routines become methods to self-soothe or irrationally alleviate stress. Students may also blink, tap, fidget, etc., as a distraction technique when they begin to feel overwhelmed.  

Sudden social issues are another sign that stress has reached an unmanageable level for adolescents. Because peer groups shift regularly and unpredictably, these “friend fluctuations” are difficult to distinguish as stress-related, or simply teenagers being teenagers. The key here is for teachers to recognize social withdrawal versus shifting friendships. A previously social or congenial student who suddenly appears lonely, withdrawn, or isolated is likely experiencing stress or anxiety. When this extreme introverted behavior lasts continuously for any length of time, it is important to look deeper at the situation.

Parent as the Teacher

The impact of parent involvement is immeasurable when it comes to student success. Decades of research indicates that involved parents are one of the main factors to a student’s educational success. As educators, we certainly recognize the extent to which parents are pivotal to our work in the classroom. A popular adage claims that “home is a child’s first classroom; parents, the first teachers.” According to data and experience in the classroom, teachers would almost unanimously agree to that notion—we cannot do it without the help of parents.

As educators, we must also be cognizant of the “parent as teacher” mindset that students unknowingly bring into the classroom. Kids only know what they see, hear, and live. Often times, a student’s behavior, manner of speaking, and opinions are greatly indicative of a few influential factors: friends and family. Parents intentionally and sometimes unintentionally teach or model certain behaviors or mindsets. When you do the math, parents are obviously the most influential figure in a child’s education. Any given year, children spend eight times as many hours at home than they do at school.   

That said, parents then become our greatest allies when it comes to knowing our students best. At the start of the year, many teachers prepare for the back-to-school night by creating some form of parent questionnaires. These small surveys or get-to-know-you cards inevitably get tossed in a drawer and likely forgotten. However, an easy tweaking of the questions could allow parents to “teach” their child’s teachers some of the vital information necessary for success in the classroom. Take a look at some questions that would allow parents to educate the teacher on their child’s learning styles.

How do you handle discipline at home? This question allows parents to explain what has or perhaps has not worked with their children in terms of behavior management. It also gives teachers some insight as to how familiar a student is with receiving consequences.

What activities or topics spark your child’s interest? How do you know when he/she is engaged? Both of these questions allow teachers to get some valuable background information as to how to best reach a student. Parents also provide teachers with the insight as to how a specific child displays interest.

How does your child exhibit frustration or stress? Again, emotional growth is something that children mostly develop outside of school among family and peers. Knowing exactly what it looks like before a child is pushed to the emotional edge will help teachers to recognize and ease frustrations before they become significant issues.

How much does your child depend on you for help with schoolwork at home? This question gives teachers an inside look at the level of academic independence and self-advocacy that they can expect from students. Of course, parents are always eager to help their children with anything; however, the level of support needed in the classroom is often reflective of how reliant the child is at home.

What is the best way to encourage your child? Like all of the previous questions, teachers can truly rely on parents as the experts when it comes to positive reinforcement and encouragement in the classroom. Some children respond to competition, while others may be more self-motivated. Some students like to know exactly how to manage time and assignments, while others prefer a more student-driven or creative approach to learning. Whatever the case, parents truly have the wherewithal to help teachers learn about their students quickly and accurately.

This expert knowledge of our students can really only come from one place—home. Therefore, when parents are more involved, teachers and students both reap the benefits of this sort of “insider information.”

Secrets of a Great Student: Part II

Great students have many characteristics in common—prioritizing, accepting challenges, adopting a positive outlook, self-checking, and advocating, among others. Of course, every learner is different, and what works for one will not necessarily suit another. However, here are five additional commonalities among great students.

1. Great students recognize the importance of learning. This may sound obvious, but education is not necessarily immediately appreciated by young learners. For many, school can be frustrating or boring—a negative experience at times. No matter how eager a learner, every student is going to be met with bouts of repetition, memorization, and deep focus—not always mentally-stimulating practices. However, academic success comes with the knowledge that learning can and should be a challenge—that anything difficult is going to come with frustration, but will be immeasurably beneficial.

2. Successful students step outside of their comfort zones to pick up new skills, hobbies, and talents. In the same way that we know that learning never ends, great learners embrace the idea of constantly trying to build their repertoire of knowledge. Whether it be a new topic, sport, artistic skill, social goal, or unfamiliar hobby, successful students are not satisfied unless they are soaking in something new. Their thirst for knowledge transcends what they know they are already good at—instead, they want to try for more. Great learners do not rest on their laurels, but rather recognize that past achievements are mere stepping stones for continuous growth.

3. Great students seek help from others. Much like advocating for oneself by asking questions and seeking help from teachers, learners work through struggles and difficulties by reaching out for assistance and advice from others. Whether this be advice from adults or peers, adolescents find success through collaboration and cooperation. The ability to recognize their own weaknesses as strengths in others helps students begin to utilize their peers. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—this is a sign of self-recognition and self-awareness. To know what you need help with is to strive for more knowledge from others.

4. Successful learners are eager to teach and/or share what they have learned. As many educators know, mastery of content or skill is best exhibited when students are able to instruct others. To teach someone else indicates that a student understands the inner workings of a concept. It is a crucial opportunity to take information or skills absorbed and articulate the concept in one’s own words.

5.  Successful students practice creativity and innovation. Again, to step outside of the box is a risk and is not always comfortable for young learners. However, this ability to try a new way of doing something exhibits strength, confidence, and ingenuity. Learning is all about growth and development of skills and knowledge. Great learners know that there are multiple roads to success in any given goal. Whether addressing a simple math problem or mapping out a plan for the future, great students know that trails to success are paved individually and creatively.

Secrets of a Great Student: Part I

Being studious is not necessarily innate. Sure, there are some children that seem to take to academia more readily; however, there is no denying that children can improve their propensity for learning. In fact, an important notion of education is that learning is infinite—it is never “over” or “maxed out.” Since learning truly never ends, we can also presume that learners are always improving and growing. So, what exactly do great students do to achieve greatness in the academic realm?  

A great student is sure to prioritize. This is not always easy, especially nowadays when children are overscheduled like never before. Practices, rehearsals, tournamentsall of these activities are likely familiar to school-age children. Families today are packing as much activity as possible into any given weekday. And, as much as athletics, arts, music, and other extracurricular activities are an integral part of education, successful students know that academics must take a top spot on the list of priorities.   

Great students accept and embrace challenges. The wise saying “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” certainly applies here. Students who not only accept challenges, but readily chase them, exhibit a few strong characteristics of great students. The pursuit of something difficult means that students are not afraid or intimidated by failure. They are likely confident in their abilities, but also, they know that failure is often a valuable learning experience. The notion that struggle makes you stronger is one that great students try to keep in the forefront when faced with difficulty.

With the grit and hardworking mentality of a great student also comes a positive outlook. Great students not only embrace challenges as mentioned above, they also keep a positive mindset during their endeavors. Remaining positive is quite possibly the most difficult practice for great students. It is natural to feel let down or discouraged when things do not go as planned. However, great students harness those feelings and use them as motivating factors for moving forward—they turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.

Great students self-check. They are able to recognize their weaknesses and areas of need in order to succeed. Because they are so in-touch with themselves as learners, they know how to study, organize, draft, and execute school work efficiently and effectively. They recognize when they have been able to retain information, and, conversely, when they may have zoned out or missed the mark. Being in tune with how they learn best ensures that time and energy is never wasted when studying or working.

Great students advocate for themselves. This type of productive accountability is often difficult to achieve in elementary school. Students with shy or reserved personalities tend to struggle with this concept at first—speaking to adults can be intimidating for them. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, great students learn to speak up, ask questions, and seek help when necessary. When students take initiative, this type of go-getter attitude also builds self-confidence.

Handwriting Day: Classroom Accommodations for Students

Sloppy handwriting can be frustrating for students, parents, and teachers alike. Because some students’ writing is difficult to read, it may appear as though these students are lazy or careless. While teachers have undoubtedly encountered some “charismatic” writing styles in the classroom, it is likely that they have also met some students who truly struggle with a learning disability that greatly affects their ability to put words on paper—dysgraphia.  Dysgraphia is much more complex than just careless or sloppy writing. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder or learning disability that affects a person’s written expression. It is characterized by difficulties with putting thoughts to paper in both an expressive sense and a physical sense. Children with dysgraphia may struggle with the thought process behind written spelling and sentence-writing or with the fine motor skills required to physically compose words on paper.

In every area of academics, students are going to need to write clearly, correctly, and somewhat quickly. However, a student who struggles with dysgraphia may find difficulty with one or all of these aspects of writing. Whether students must steadily copy notes in class, provide clearly written short answers, or compose accurate responses, it may not always be easy for students with dysgraphia to relay correct items onto paper. When this is a struggle, accommodations must be considered in order to ensure that students are able to access the curriculum and have a fair shot at success.

Below are helpful accommodations to help students who are diagnosed with dysgraphia. Consider, too, that a struggling student who has not been formally coded with this learning disability may still benefit from some of these best-teaching practices.

Teacher notes ensure that struggling students have accurate and clear notes. Depending on need, you can decide to provide an entire lecture’s notes, or modify it for fill-in-the-blank notes. Fill-in-the-blank helps to guarantee that students are not zoning out during instruction. Since they must follow along in order to fill in the appropriate notes, students are still motivated to listen and write certain important information down. Teacher notes provide students with essential information without the laborious and often stressful act of organizing and writing it all down themselves.

Outlines and graphic organizers—which most teachers use anyhow—prove to be lifesavers for students with dysgraphia who struggle to organize information. One processing difficulty that is often seen with dysgraphia is an inability to logically organize written work on a page. The thoughts are there, but writing them down becomes a roadblock. With outlines and organizers, students focus less organizing material themselves and more on the actual content.

A scribe is an accommodation seen with many students with IEPs or 504s; however, this can be used informally, as well. The learning expectation does not change at all—students must still answer correctly. However, instead of writing the answer or response, students respond orally for the teacher to record. Again, this accommodation removes the frustration of writing, but still ensures that the student has mastered the objective.

Providing student choice is another way to allow students with dysgraphia to circumvent written work. Giving students the option of the output or project they create not only increases student engagement, but it also ensures that students are given a fair shot at being successful. Instead of a written essay on a theme, for instance, students could create a visual representation. Students could also have the choice to give an oral presentation, prepare debate questions, or make a comic strip. Consider providing student choice for major projects or assignments to allow students with writing issues to shine in other ways.