We should talk about an important disease that most (if not all) teachers get during the summer, after they’ve relaxed for a few weeks and start thinking about school again.
This disease ultimately sets us up for disappointment by October time and time again.
It’s called “This Year Will Be Perfect!” syndrome. TYWBP for short.
Here’s how it works: once we feel rested and recovered, our teacher brain turns on again. We start thinking about next school year. We think about the hard times of last school year–the struggles we had with the kids, our barely organized chaos of a desk, whatever left us feeling tired and exhausted by the end of the year.
And then we start browsing Pinterest for ideas on how to make this next school year better. We collect cute classroom organization ideas, lesson plan ideas, whatever will keep those bad things from last year happening again. Because the blogger teachers have it together, right? So doing what they do will make your school year perfect too.
I’m aware of the irony, yes.
Anyway, we tell ourselves “this year will be perfect!” and set about collecting all the ways, and spending all of our money on, stuff that will make this year perfect.
And think hard about this, how many times have we done this and still been using those things or doing those things by October? Christmas?
Yeah, I’ve fallen into that trap too.
Fortunately, I have a cure.
At least, I have a method that won’t lead to disappointment by October. It’s called BYCFPF: Build Your Classroom From Procedures First. Taken with a healthy dose of honesty, you’ll find this system works better than what you’ve been trying before.
Here’s how it works:
1/ List all the procedures that you follow for yourself.
2/ List all the procedures that you want your kids to follow (and that you’ll actually enforce).
3/ Find the tools that will help you and your kids to follow 1 and 2 above.
4/ Design spaces in your classroom for you and your students to implement the procedures.
Let’s start with number one.
(Also, I created a FREE workbook to go along with this post. You can download it here.)
List procedures for you, the teacher
Mentally step through your day, if you’re on break, or take a journal one day and record your activities throughout the day.
For each of the following tasks, write down how you accomplish the task, what you use to accomplish the task, and what time of day (or time during the class period) that you do the task:
- Collect papers
- Hand papers back
- Grade papers
- Take attendance
- Keep track of kids who are not in the room (on a bathroom break, at the nurse, etc.)
- Signal a transition to another activity
- Use formative assessment during a lesson
- Monitor the progress of each kid during a lesson
- Distribute supplies to students
- Collect supplies from students
Those are the big ones, but I’m sure you can add more as you move through the day. Depending on the age of your kids, you might push a few of these onto the kids themselves.
Take this list and mark any procedures that you felt took too long or caused confusion (for the kids or for you). These are the procedures that you might want to change. For the rest? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least, don’t try to “improve” anything without fixing the broke ones first.
List procedures that your kids will follow
Ok, so we need to do the same thing as above, but with what you expect the kids to do. Write down how you want them to do each task, what they need to use to accomplish it, and when they are expected to do it.
- Turning in papers
- Sharpening pencils and/or getting supplies
- Transitioning to a new activity
- Bathroom breaks/Going to the nurse, etc.
- Early finishers
- Asking for help
- Entering the classroom
- Leaving the classroom
- Get work that they missed when absent
Once again, look at each procedure and identify any that take too much time or don’t work well. Those are the ones you need to fix. And again, for the ones that are working well, don’t try and improve them (yet).
Gather the tools you need to implement the procedures above
Ok, so you have procedures that work and some that don’t.
For the ones that don’t, that’s when you go to Pinterest (or other teachers, or whatever your source is for teacher tips) to find new ideas. When doing this, though, be honest with yourself. Every new procedure requires breaking in yourself as well as the kids. If you aren’t willing to expend the energy to do that particular thing, however awesome it is, then you’re just wasting time and money.
Also, troubleshoot any new procedure ahead of time. Practice going through with that new formative assessment tool, or that new way of signalling for quiet, or whatever, and see how it feels. Will new problems open up if you have your kids use Socrative instead of post it notes? Will asking students to sign a tardy log digitally take more time than having them sign in on paper?
Sometimes a broken procedure just needs a small update. Maybe Socrative doesn’t work well for your class, but something like Plickers would.
Once you’ve got the new procedures in place for the old, broken ones, take a look at what tools you need to successfully do each one. Do you need a set of clipboards for each section? Are some of your binders falling apart and “leaking” papers? Do any of the apps you plan to use require significant use of battery to complete (and thus you need a charger/portable charger)?
This is where you make a list of what you need and spend your money on those things.
“But we haven’t gotten to the cute themes or the decorating part yet!” you might protest.
If Depression-era artists could create fine art with cardboard and tempura paint, your classroom can look cute using pennies. It doesn’t matter if your classroom looks cute if it doesn’t function well. Put your investment into your procedures. I promise, you’ll thank me later.
Create spaces for you and the kids to implement your procedures
Take a second look at your updated procedures list and think about the space you’ll need or your kids will need to complete them. You need to distribute or return supplies (or your kids do)? You need a designated space for that. Your kids need to sharpen their pencils before the bell rings? They need a space for that. Your kids need to turn in their work as they leave? They need a space for that.
For small classrooms, this might be a “student table” where you put the sharpener, turn in trays, and whatever supplies they need for that day on it. Or, you hang some bins on your walls for kids to pull from.
I have a great post about designing classroom space. But the key point of this section is: for everything you ask yourself and your kids to do, you need to have space designated to do it. And then, you need to keep that space sacred. Don’t put extra credit work where the regular credit worksheets are for your kids to grab. Don’t dump unnecessary papers on your desk when that’s the space you use to grade papers (let’s be real, those extra flyers and such can go in the trash).
A kid should be able to go around your room and say “This is where I go to for supplies. This other place is where I turn in my work. This other other place is where I find stuff to do when I’m done….”
Similarly, you should be able to say to yourself, “This is where I grade papers. This other place is where I grab supplies for the day. This other other place is where….”
And now you can get cute
Now that you’ve spent your money on the important stuff first, you can spend the rest of your budget on making the classroom look cute. Since there’s 10 millions Pinterest pins that would give you better ideas than me, I will leave that to your imagination and searching.
But now, you can rest easy knowing that your classroom looks cute AND you’ve set yourself up for success this school year. If you want to go into bonus round, you can break yourself into new procedures by practicing some lessons ahead of time to get used to it before your kids enter the classroom. Just a thought.
How do you approach designing your classroom space? I would love to know what works (or doesn’t work) for you in the comments below!
(And don’t forget, you can download the workbook that goes with this post for FREE here.)