I wonder if you have ever felt like I did? That feeling of never getting on top of things. Coming to school frazzled, leaving at the end of the day feeling just the same. It just didn’t seem to end. Lucky for me, after I went back to teaching after the birth of my first son, I put into place some simple classroom habits that made my day so much easier and want to share them with you today! My only regret, that I only wish I had started doing these simple classroom habits earlier!
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My Past, Without Any Simple Classroom Habits!
I am a high maintenance teacher, I admit I am, I know I am! I have always liked things done a certain way and would spend hours at school, after school, early mornings, every weekend. I used to take Saturday’s off to play netty, that was about it. Then I moved to a school where we didn’t have an alarm key, and couldn’t get into the building unless the principal was there. No more early morning starts and no more weekends!
So instead, as soon as I walked in at 7.45am it would be go, go, go. I would get annoyed at other teachers who tried to talk to me while I was clearly trying to get stuff done. Then the students would come in and I would realise I hadn’t written on the board yet, or didn’t have those copies done that I needed. There was one photocopier in the school and it was a long way away! I was in desperate need of some serious changes in habits, and time to just take a breath!
It wasn’t until later on that I needed to share my time with other people (my husband and then soon after our son), that I realised I needed to somehow juggle all of this with less stress, more organisation and either work smarter, not harder or pick and choose what I needed to do. So I developed some simple habits that made my life so much easier.
Simple Classroom Habit 1 – Planning A Week Ahead
Planning a week ahead sounds easy enough to say, but how exactly do you do it? My advice here is to plan electronically. I still like having a physical teacher planner (Mrs Edgars are my favourite) but I usually use it to write reminders, meeting notes and assessment. By planning electronically I have a template that takes less than 5 seconds to copy every week. Then when lessons run over or I need to add in an extra lesson to reinforce a concept, I just move the lesson along, and into the next week. It happens quickly, easily and in the time it would take to write myself a note.
I used to think that the students were getting bored when I used the same structure, did the same procedures every week. A HUGE misjudgement on my part – students thrive on routine and I spent 2 WHOLE YEARS confusing my class before I figured this one out! By having all of this in a planning template, I just need to fill in the learning intention, success criteria and lesson, everything else is there ready to use!
Then when I sit down on a Thursday to plan the next week, there are already some activities in there as well as all my usual routines that happen every week. We always did reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, maths, everything at the same time every week! It’s not boring, its sensible!
As much as I wanted to get out of school straight away on a Friday afternoon, spending half an hour to set up for Monday is a godsend. Making sure your copies are done, books have been collected for reading and any other resources you might need are ready to go, will make for a much better start to the week!
My advice, even if you are a graduate teacher, have next weeks planner blank on your computer ready to go and spend 5 minutes at recess or lunch to copy across things that haven’t got done. Or quickly type in that handwriting lesson. Or if you are lucky enough to be in a larger school with colleagues at the same year level, copy across activities from a joint planner.
It gave me my weekends back!
When I left teaching before having our first son, we had a house with a small yard and a puppy. I could work all weekend and it really wouldn’t bother anyone. Between then and when I went back after he was born, I not only had a child, but we bought a farm and were building a kit home. I simply didn’t have time to work constantly at home, and I didn’t want to anyway! I needed my weekends to recharge, spend time with my family and enjoy life!
I promise once you start and get on a roll, you will stay ahead and it is so worth it!
Simple Classroom Habit 2 – Walking Out Ready For Tomorrow
As a Mum, this was probably the most important habit I started. I would walk out everyday with tomorrow’s schedule written on the board and any worksheets and resources ready to go on my desk. The reason? I learnt fairly early on that anything could happen overnight when you are a Mum. You thought you were going to school the next day, then gastro strikes, or a raging temperature. I needed to leave that room everyday so that if I needed a relief teacher the next day, they could walk in and find everything they needed, with very limited explanation.
99% of the time, I was in teaching the next day, and today’s me, thanked yesterday’s me for getting organised.
Simple Classroom Habit 3 – Cleaning My Desk Everyday
My next simple classroom habit was to clean my desk everyday. Even if some days it was a 30 second clean where papers were piled and things quickly put back in their spots, it was clean. For me a clean desk equals a clean mind. I can walk in the next day and get straight to work and know where everything is! All those administration papers you get, put them in your teacher diary, that way, they are not sitting around on your desk for anyone to read. I am not a spotless teacher, but leaving a clean desk always makes me feel better.
Simple Classroom Habit 4 – Get Students to Clean the Room!
Rewind 10 years ago, every Friday I would be at school for at least another hour, cleaning the classroom, putting things away, sharpening and re-organising pencils, switching books over etc. I soon learnt that I didn’t need to do this – I had 22 little workers who love doing jobs who could easily do a job each and I got an hour back! Now I am not talking about bringing out the disinfectant spray and sponges (although a packet of baby wipes in the classroom is incredibly handy), I am talking about everyday tidying that helps reset your classroom for the next week. So my final simple classroom habit is have students clean the room!
Our Friday after lunch routine would be to have show and tell/finishing off time then clean tub/desk/locker, do jobs then have Friday Fun (Developmental Play). Those students who always had a messy tub (you know the ones), soon become motivated to keep their tubs clean so they have more Friday Fun. Those who had finished work on time, got to start Friday Fun earlier. I always capped the amount of time we were finishing off activities for to allow all students time to clean and have a quick play, even if they hadn’t finished all their work.
By having Friday Fun at the end of the day (after everything was cleaned up), it gave me time to clean up too, get organised for the next week and reset the room. Any jobs I didn’t want the students doing, I could do during this time! The perfect, less stressful, way to end the week.
Some jobs students can do to help you include:
- Tidying maths resources
- Sharpening pencils
- Resetting shared resources (scissors, gluesticks etc)
- Wiping out boxes (use baby wipes)
- Tidying piles of papers
- Rearranging books
- Switching books over in classroom library
- Returning resources to storerooms
- Taking down displays
- Handing out work/art projects
- Creating displays
How successful this is all comes back to time management, keep on eye on the time so you have plenty of time for the students to clean up, not you! Pack up with an extra 5 minutes to spare at the end of the day, so that the tables are cleaned, the floor doesn’t have paper on it and you are ready for learning for the next day.
I like to play a game called Magic Spot. I choose something out of place in the classroom, a pencil on the floor, a piece of paper, a book that on the bean bag or a jumper in the bag area etc and that is my magic spot. Students have one minute to fix something not right in the room, the person who fixes the magic spot, gets a sticker, a house point, a happy point (whatever your classroom management system is). The students love it and the room is cleaned in under one minute. A simple, but clever game!
So some advice from an experienced teacher to you – simple habits, things that take hardly any time at all, can make your day and make everything easier. You can better handle day to day changes, emergencies (you know the ones, all the sudden you have before school duty) and student behaviours. Find out what habits you could start to do so that you aren’t like the old me!