Diving into Classroom Culture

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As the school year comes to a close, you and your students may be taking time to reflect on the year, especially the culture of your classroom. What went well? What would you change? Perhaps you feel like you and your students built the bond of a lifetime! Or, maybe things felt a little off.

Since the building of class culture starts the very first day of school, summer can be a great time to plan how you want to build your culture next year. Since every educator’s summer plans are different, Teaching Channel has a variety of learning options for how you can deepen your understanding of building class culture, including a brand new course. You may even be able to do some of these options poolside, lakeside, or wherever your summer vacation takes you.

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Five Worthwhile Risks for New Teachers

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The concept seems contradictory, right? You’ve been trained to keep your head down, do your work, and try not to get noticed. You’re a new teacher; tenure is two to four years away, and you’re just trying to survive. But these first few years are not only pivotal in creating your own teacher identity but also, and perhaps more importantly, to establishing your own happiness in the field.

Teacher retention is a huge issue in education today, and I’d argue that one reason (out of a litany of other reasons) newer teachers choose to leave the field is because of this very concept: self-imposed isolation until tenure.

There are a million books out there that provide tangible strategies for new teachers, offering suggestions on the importance of classroom management or connecting with kids and so much more, and all of that is great. But I’d like to present to you, the new(er) teacher, a paradigm shift: don’t wait to take risks. The time is now for you to be you, and here are five areas in education for you to begin taking risks as soon as yesterday.

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Integrate Social and Emotional Learning with Ease

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It’s finally spring! The end of the school year is getting closer, yet with high-stakes testing, final projects, and countless end-of-year activities on the horizon, you and your students may be feeling a little anxious or overwhelmed. You all might need to pause and take a deep breath. If social and emotional learning (SEL) is a seamless part of your classroom, now is probably a good time to practice those skills or even learn a few more. If SEL is not a part of your practice, it’s never too late to start!

Teaching Channel has plenty of resources to get you started, including a brand new, three-credit course created in partnership with the team at Ashford University.
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Combating the Chaos: 3 Cs for a Well-Managed Classroom

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Classroom management provides for us perhaps the greatest of juxtapositions between frustration and comedy. When we take the time to look back on some of our classroom management challenges, the stories come pouring out.

Don’t believe me? Next time you have lunch with a group of colleagues, ask them to share their favorite classroom management stories; you’ll laugh for days. However, in the moment, the mismanaged classroom can easily ruin not just that specific class period, but the entire day and, potentially, an entire year or semester.

We’ve all had that one class that, by November, you dreaded going to because you knew every single minute would be a battle. Of course, there are countless strategies to help deal with classroom management issues, but at its core, combating the chaos rests in understanding and honoring humanity. As you consider some of your most challenging students or classes, think about your approach to classroom management through the lens of these three areas: connection, consistency, and compassion.

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All-School Read: Building Community & Promoting Understanding

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In the spring of 2017, our middle school experienced an eruption of racist slurs and hate speech, from swastikas drawn on the cheeks of unsuspecting students at lunch, to “KKK” mysteriously appearing on the Google image linked with our school’s website. And we were not the only ones. Newspaper headlines highlighting intolerance at schools were popping up all over the country.

Our school community felt broken, and we knew we needed to do something. One idea kept coming up: an all-school read, where every student, teacher, and staff member reads the same book at the same time. We already knew that stories help readers develop empathy. Having everyone read the same story at the same time seemed the perfect opportunity to build school community and promote understanding.

With only a couple months left in the school year, we set our sights on the fall of 2017.

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Recognize the Importance of Your Team

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I’m sure by now you’ve heard — a brilliant star went dark in the cosmos.

Dr. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist who overcame ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14th at the age of 76.

On August 17, 2016, I was invited to meet with Dr. Hawking at Cambridge University’s Research Centre for Theoretical Cosmology to talk about community access and voice output machines. As I noted in an article for the Oregon Education Association’s quarterly magazine,

“Over the years as a special education teacher, I have had over a dozen students who use voice output devices. To inspire my students, I have shared videos of Dr. Stephen Hawking. ‘If he didn’t use his talker,’ I told one student, ‘nobody would know he was the smartest man in the world.’ Believe me when I say that Dr. Stephen Hawking is my hero.”

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Stephen Hawking, Para, and Brett Bigham

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Teachers Who Stay Connected Teach Longer

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As a new teacher, the demands of the career can be overwhelming at times. During my first year of teaching, I felt alone and I was unsure about whether I was doing a good job. So I turned to the internet, and I was both surprised and delighted to find that there was a bustling teacher community around every corner.

Building community is essential for teachers to feel connected, supported, and to share their ideas with peers. And when teachers feel heard and supported, they’ll be more satisfied with their career and more likely to stay in the classroom with the kids who need them. If you’re a teacher with a strong support system, online communities and social networks can be a welcome addition. But if you feel a little more like you’ve been making a go of it alone, these spaces can be a much-needed lifeline.

Teacher blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter are three online resources that have helped me to stay connected, engaged, inspired, and to continue learning with a community of like-minded educators.

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Five Strategies to Add to Your Coaching Toolbox

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Whether you’re teaching or coaching, it’s easy to get into a rut. But these five videos are here to help! Clocking in at just five minutes each, these videos will expand your ideas about what coaching can be and push you to try new strategies.

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The Human Side of Teacher Teams and PLCs

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When it comes right down to it, teaching in general, and working as part of a professional learning community (PLC) specifically, are very human endeavors. Our charge as educators and the interactions we have with each other in pursuit of that charge are very personal, indeed.

As such, it’s easy to forget when we’re in the throes of a PLC meeting and working on processes like writing SMART goals, that we’re dealing with people, and with all of the talents, knowledge, curiosities, skepticisms — and yes, baggage — they bring to the table.

By comparison, it’s easier to blindly forge through and tick off items on an agenda than to be in touch with and respond to the interpersonal dynamics that play out as those agenda items are executed. This is the road less traveled, in a sense; acknowledging and honoring the humanity of teacher teams, and not forgetting for an instant that everything we accomplish (or not) happens squarely in this context.

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