How to Make the Most of Your Prep Time at School

By Andrew Hawk

How to Make the Most of Your Prep Time at SchoolMost school days are full of tasks that teachers need to complete before they are prepared to instruct students. Mercifully, many teaching positions come with built-in prep time. How much time a teacher gets for prep depends heavily on his or her teaching position and school system (my first teaching position did not allow for prep time). In most positions, teachers are given around forty-five minutes during the school day to prepare for their classes. While this amount of time will not be enough for most teachers to complete all of their tasks, it can, at the very least, be a starting point. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your prep time.

Prioritize Tasks
During my planning period, I always try to complete the tasks that have to be completed in the school building. Items on this list include copying, laminating, die cutting, and anything that involves using a paper cutter or a binding machine. While I have known colleagues who owned all of the devices needed for these tasks, most people will need to rely on the school for these things.

Make a List
Don’t let tasks slip through the cracks! Keep a notepad nearby and write down tasks that you need to complete throughout the day. I know that writing a list is hardly a groundbreaking idea. However, it continues to be a highly effective way to organize and complete tasks.

Stay Focused
One of the biggest challenges teachers face is the amount of time they spend away from one another. Most teachers spend the majority of their day with students. This can cause us to socialize with coworkers when we could save an hour or two at the end of the day by completing tasks. Try to limit distractions. Keep hallway and mailbox conversations to only a couple of minutes. Find a friend who has the same prep time that you do, and complete your tasks together. To make the most out of your prep time, you will need to find a creative balance between socializing and completing work.

Be a Mentor
Across our country, Response to Intervention (RTI) teams brainstorm ways to improve the behavior of challenging students. Often, these students’ behavior can be improved by giving them the opportunity to develop a positive relationship with an adult. In the case of mentors and mentees, the mentor should not be a disciplinarian to the mentee. This automatically eliminates administrators. Classroom teachers cannot mentor students who are in their classes. The idea behind setting up a mentor-mentee relationship with a student during your prep time is to have the student assist you while you complete your work. Over the course of helping, a positive relationship will hopefully develop.

This strategy may not be a fit for all teachers. Many of us use our prep times to regroup for the rest of the day. If you are willing and able to serve in this capacity, you will be a great asset to your school and to your RTI team.

Plan Lessons
By the end of their first year of teaching, most teachers have found a lesson-planning routine that works for them. If you find yourself spending more time than you’d like on planning lessons outside of work, consider completing some of your lesson planning during your prep time. In general, if you dedicate twenty minutes of your prep time per day to lesson planning, then (most weeks) you will be completing an hour and forty minutes of planning. If this is not enough time for all of your planning, it is at least a good start.

Don’t Forget Your Email
It may sound silly, but at one of my former schools, teachers were so bad about checking their email that our principal mandated that it had to be checked before we left each day. Depending on your school and position, email can be a time killer all by itself. Working as a special education teacher, I usually receive anywhere from twenty to forty emails every day. It is probably a good idea to add checking your email to your prep time routine if you don’t already.

Do Some Grading
My second year of teaching, I let myself get a couple of days behind on my grading. It took me two months to get caught up. It’s always a good idea to find some time to grade student work during prep. Staying up-to-date on grading takes a systematic approach.

Find Your Balance
Selecting which tasks to complete during prep time is a matter of taste. Experiment for a few days and figure out what works best for you. Some teachers like to work on one task until it is finished. Other teachers like to split their time and work on several different tasks. It may work best for you to approach your prep time on a day-to-day basis. As long as you are completing productive tasks, you are moving forward.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Suggested Resource
Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Elementary Angle | Tagged | Leave a comment

Teaching Kids the Importance of Respect

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Teaching Kids the Importance of RespectRespect includes qualities like acceptance, courtesy, manners, being considerate of the feelings of others, peacekeeping, and appreciating differences. This core value is encapsulated by the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Did you know that over a dozen cultures, religions, and organizations hold this ideal? Ask your students to research the Golden Rule to see how many versions they can find, and try the following activities to encourage respectful interactions in your character building program.

Respect Reflections
Use these prompts for discussion starters or role plays.

  1. Josiah often makes unkind remarks about what one of his classmates is wearing, even though he knows it’s not respectful to judge someone based on their clothing. If you were one of Josiah’s friends, what could you say or do to help him show respect?
  2. Addison’s group is working on building a structure out of noodles and marshmallows in maker class. Just as the group is about to finish, Addison accidentally bumps their structure and a part of it falls down. Jake gets mad and starts shouting at Addison. What could the other students in Addison’s group do to help Jake show tolerance for mistakes and respect toward Addison?
  3. Zariah’s parents have told her that she can’t go to her friend’s house without their permission. Her friend Emma calls Zariah before Zariah’s parents get home and asks her to play. When Zariah declines, Emma argues that no one will find out since Zariah will be back before her parents return. What can Zariah say and do to make sure that she shows respect toward her parents and their rules?
  4. Some fourth-grade boys are playing soccer during recess. Julio keeps pushing his teammates out of the way, stealing the ball, dribbling solo down the field, and taking shots at the goal. What might you suggest to help Julio show more respect toward the other students on the field?

A RESPECT Acrostic
Ask students to write an acrostic poem using the word RESPECT. (Here is a worksheet you can use as a model or handout.) What does the R stand for? What could the E represent? How about the S? Get students thinking about how they show respect toward self, teachers, family members, pets, neighbors, and friends. Encourage students to use their acrostic to set goals for self-improvement as they practice walking the talk.

Differences by the Book
So many strong titles have an underlying theme of respect for differences. One of my favorites, the classic story of Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, is a tale about a baby fruit bat that is separated from her mother and finds her way into a nest of birds. Little Stellaluna learns many lessons about respecting the customs and rituals of birds as she adapts to her new family. From the frustration of having to give up eating fruit for eating bugs to the embarrassment of learning to land gracefully on a branch, the book’s heroine learns to respect the birds’ behavior, rituals, traditions, and culture. It concludes with a simple yet profound thought when Stellaluna’s adoptive bird brother asks a question that captures the essence of respect: “How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

Use the following or similar questions for discussion after sharing the story aloud:

  1. Why did Stellaluna have to promise to respect and abide by the rules?
  2. How do you think it felt when Stellaluna realized that she was hanging upside down? Does it ever seem like her whole world has turned upside down?
  3. Why do you think it’s important to respect the traditions, culture, and ways of others even if they’re different from yours?
  4. Despite many differences, Stellaluna comes to really care about her bird family. What can we learn from her about acceptance and respect?
  5. What do you think it means to “agree to disagree”? How can you do that respectfully?
  6. Do you have friends who are different from you in some way? How are they different?
  7. Have your differences from your friends ever caused problems? If so, how did you resolve them?

A New Viewpoint
Share this clip from an animated version of Stellaluna to reinforce the importance of adapting to and accepting differences. Then encourage students to write a reflective point-of-view essay, switching places with Stellaluna using this prompt: From the loss of her mother to her abrupt introduction into the world of her feathered friends, Stellaluna has a lot of adjusting to do. Imagine that you are Stellaluna. What has this change been like? Write about your experience crossing cultures, describing your reactions to and feelings about the journey.

Words of Wisdom
A poster hanging in my son’s classroom says, “Respect: Knowing it is showing it. Giving it is living it.” This poster made me wonder what students might write if they were to produce their own poster. Scribe their thoughts about respect after asking, “What does respect look like?” or “How does respect sound?” or “What does respect feel like?”

Have students write their personal words of wisdom about what respect means to them on 4″ x 4″ squares of colored paper. Then have them glue craft sticks to all four sides of the square to make a frame. Add one or two thin magnetic strips on the back so students can display their reflection frames on a refrigerator or a filing cabinet.

Want to integrate technology into your lesson? Encourage students to take a digital picture to use as a backdrop and superimpose their quote about respect on the photograph using PowerPoint or picmonkey.com.

Class Contracts
Just like weeds have the power to choke out the flowers in our gardens, disrespect has the power to keep us from growing a strong culture of respect among our school family. Extend this metaphor to your “flowers” by asking students (and/or faculty) to brainstorm a list of the behaviors they consider to be “weeds.” Expect answers like teasing, name-calling, excluding, bullying, stereotyping, closed-mindedness, harassment, violence, threats, and discrimination. How will you keep the “weeds” out of your garden? Draw up a class contract in which everyone promises to engage in the respectful character choices and behaviors that will act as fertilizer to help your “flowers” grow healthy and strong. To symbolize this promise, have each student sign the contract or add a thumb print, and ask everyone to hold one another accountable for not allowing the “weeds” to take root in your school.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Character Education, Counselor's Corner | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Enter to win The Survival Guide for Money Smarts!

We’re giving away copies of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts to five lucky readers! This lively guide introduces the basics of financial literacy and money management to kids—from earning and saving money to spending and donating it.

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you encourage kids to be “money smart.”

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, September 23, 2016.

The winners will be contacted via email on or around September 26, 2016, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winners must be U.S. residents, 18 years of age or older.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Character Education, Free Spirit News | Tagged , , | 51 Comments

Teaching Twice-Exceptional Students

By Susan Winebrenner, M.S., author of Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom

Teaching Twice-Exceptional StudentsDo any of these kids remind you of students you have taught over the years?

Consider Jon, whose oral storytelling skills create vivid images in the listener’s mind, but who absolutely refuses to write anything down.

Or Achmed, a walking encyclopedia who starts every conversation by saying, “Do you wanna know something?” If you say yes, you may find it impossible to get away because he fills you in on a topic he’s currently into with reams of information. But responding with “no” makes you seem like a teacher who is uninterested in new learning!

Or how about Alyssa, who is creating a book of her own illustrations that clearly connect all the information you’ve covered in a particular unit, but who simply can’t remember her number facts?

Or even Jared, who was born with muscular dystrophy, is totally dependent on a wheelchair, and requires a full-time assistant to complete a day of school, yet he knows a huge amount of information about the biology of mammals.

For decades, educators did not know what to do with these students who were often given labels such as “Absent-Minded Professor” or “Not Working Up to His/Her Potential.” However, with our developing understanding of the brain issues experienced by these students we know that their strengths are authentic and are not compromised by their learning challenges, which require more sophisticated interventions than simply telling students to “try harder.”

Therefore, to best support twice-exceptional students when working with them in their strength areas, make sure they:

  • Experience the appropriate compacting and differentiation opportunities required by their advanced learning capacities
  • Are never limited to grade-level standards
  • Are allowed to work on an ongoing independent study linked to a topic they are passionately interested in, whether or not the topic is directly connected to a required standard

When working with twice-exceptional students in their areas of challenge, be sure to:

  • Present content in a format that relies mostly on their visual, tactile, and/or kinesthetic modalities, and much less on their listening abilities
  • Allow them to work at their own challenge levels using their preferred modalities without waiting for them to fail at grade-level standards first
  • Never take time away from their areas of learning strength in order to provide more learning time in their areas of supposed weakness

When you follow these guidelines, your twice-exceptional students will make noticeably faster progress in areas that have formerly been extremely frustrating for them.

Finally, for all students who are twice- or multi-exceptional, provide ongoing opportunities for them to understand their special learning strengths and needs. Reading biographies of people they admire and then discussing how those people encountered and overcame their own learning and life challenges is a very powerful tool.

Author Susan WinebrennerSusan Winebrenner, M.S., is a full-time consultant in staff development. She presents workshops and seminars nationally and internationally, helping educators translate educational research into classroom practice.


Free Spirit books by Susan Winebrenner:

Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s ClassroomTeaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in Today’s ClassroomThe Cluster Grouping Handbook


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Gifted Education, Teaching Strategies, Learning Disabilities | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Can Teachers Do When Students with Special Needs Are Bullied?

By Andrew Hawk

What Can Teachers Do When Students with Special Needs Are Bullied?The act of bullying may very well predate recorded history. However, only in the last couple of generations has it received any serious attention in mainstream society. This is especially true of the last ten years.

Social media has further complicated an already challenging matter. Previous generations of Americans did most of their bullying face-to-face. Today, young people do not even have to look the person they are bullying in the eye. This distance makes matters worse because the people doing the bullying may never know how deeply they have hurt their target.

Students with special needs are especially at risk for being bullied. This population is usually different from the rest of the student body in ways that are obvious to their peers. It has been my professional experience that students with speech impediments are almost always bullied at some point in their education careers. All students with exceptionalities are at a higher risk for being bullied than a typically functioning student.

Here are some ideas of what teachers can do if a kid with special needs is being bullied.

Understand Bullying
Bullying is often misidentified. People may categorize any kind of negative behavior as bullying. But bullying has a specific definition: unwanted, hurtful acts that students repeatedly commit against other students. The key word here is repeatedly. Isolated hurtful incidents are not bullying. Children and teenagers are impulsive beings. The first negative occurrence should be addressed but not categorized as bullying.

Don’t Jump to Punishments
Of course, it is easier to punish the instigator than it is to get to the root of the problem. Maybe we give students who bully detention or keep them inside at recess. These punishments are not even productive enough to be categorized as a Band-Aid. Chances are, the kid who bullied will spend the entire duration of the punishment resenting the person he or she targeted. If you catch a student bullying a special needs student, don’t immediately try to collect your pound of flesh. Reflect on productive ways to help the bullying student understand the effect she or he has had on other students.

Help Kids Develop Empathy
It is a worn-out notion that children who bully are insecure so they lash out at those around them. In my experience, students who bully are usually extroverts with a lot of self-confidence. What these children are really missing is a sense of empathy for other people. So how do you help bullying students develop empathy? That is the million dollar question. Here are some ideas.

  • Role playing. Role playing is one of the most popular ways to get children who display bullying behavior to see things from the other students’ points of view. The challenge here is to get everyone to take the role playing seriously. The best way I have found to do this is to get a group of relative strangers together. Taking students out of their comfort zones is a good first step to getting them to approach the role playing with a serious attitude.
  • Circle discussions. I once attended an all-day seminar on how to resolve conflicts using group circle discussions. This concept is not hard. People sit in a circle while an object is passed around. Only the person who is holding the object has permission to speak. The person leading the discussion poses questions to the group. The best strategy is for the leader to answer the question first and then pass the object. This approach sets a tone for the rest of the group. Group circle discussions are time-consuming but effective. It takes several sessions to really get the group to relax with each other.
  • Restitution-based consequences. Restitution-based discipline programs are great for character development if they have a creative facilitator. What would a restitution-based consequence be for someone who has repeatedly been caught bullying others? Put that student in charge of teaching others about the dangers of bullying.
  • Bringing them together. One reason that kids with special needs are bullied is that, often, the person bullying them only sees the students’ differences. Giving the bullying student the opportunity to spend time with the targeted student away from the rest of the crowd can work wonders in reducing the bullying behavior. An adult will need to facilitate this time. What the students do together depends on their grade level, but some general ideas include playing board games or eating lunch. The idea is to let kids who bully see the similarities between themselves and the targeted students.

Use the Whole School Community
Many schools have school-wide initiatives against bullying. If your school does not, try to spearhead a program. The idea is to create a strong community where students are brave enough to stick up for others. This method is another instance where a strong and creative facilitator makes a huge difference.

No single approach can completely eliminate bullying because bullying almost always takes place when the adult-to-student ratio is low, such as during lunch, at recess, or on the bus ride home. Events that happen off school property are even trickier to address. The best strategy is to stay positive and creative.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Bullying Prevention & Conflict Resolution, Elementary Angle, Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments