Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Open Classroom

As a new teacher, the most challenging thing was setting up for the beginning of the school year. How should the furniture be arranged? Was it important to have beautiful bulletin boards? And, most intimidating of all, what kind of routines needed to be established from Day 1? Ok, there were many other challenges, but starting the year off on the right foot is very important. This year, I was asked to share my thoughts on those questions in the form of an Open House for teachers. Here are the highlights of that presentation.

Physical Space

My "deconstructed" classroom 

First off, the physical space. This year, I am turning over the disposition of furniture to my students. Before school ended in June, they worked on a project detailing their ideal classroom, and in September they will have an opportunity to put their ideas into action. Therefore, my classroom is in a deconstructed state at the moment in order to give ownership of the physical space to my students from Day 1. In addition to that, I am exploring options for flexible seating. At the moment, we have some interlocking foam mats, a couple of exercise balls, a bench and a stationary bicycle, along with standard desks and chairs. My students have big plans for more options though! 

My self serve stations have all the things a student might need - paper, pencils, pens, rules, scissors, glue... For those of you wondering if this takes the onus off students to bring their supplies to class, I give you this poem that has been making the rounds :


Classroom routines
I always start the year by establishing certain routines that help things run smoothly. Over the years, these have evolved, but the driving force behind them remains the same : responsibility and autonomy. I am taking a proactive approach to incomplete work with my students this year. Rather than having them submit a page on the day something is due, these pages are meant to be used as a "heads up" from students that they may not have their work in on time. My hope is that this will help them to plan ahead, and to take responsibility for communicating with me prior to the due date. I have always encouraged students to do this, but I'd like to take a more formal approach this year. 

I have a hanging file at the back of my room where work is placed for students who are absent. It is their responsibility to check that file when they return. One of my classroom jobs is the Secretary, who is in charge of collecting any handouts and placing them in the folder with students' names on them.

My students engage in Sacred Writing Time at the beginning of each Language Arts period. They know to pick up their journal and begin writing immediately, no need for instructions. If you are a Language Arts teacher, I highly recommend you check out Corbett Harrison's resources!

I'm done! What do I do now?
Every day in my class, we start with a sharing circle. We pass around a small, smooth stone into which is etched the word Courage. Students talk about events going on in their lives, or how they are feeling, or simply share a "Good Morning" with one another. I find this practice centres us for the day, and gives me a quick check-in with every student. Sometimes, just their posture in the circle lets me know if they need some one-on-one attention.

When students complete work, there are many things they can do. I have a large selection of brain games to choose from (all of which can be played individually), as well as challenge cards. If students want to check in with me, they take a conference number and wait to be called (this allows them to continue working on something, rather than standing at my desk waiting their turn). I use a variety of physical brain breaks with students as well. 

Blogs, Twitter, and Tech Tools

I follow a lot of education blogs, as well as many Twitter users. Here is a small sampling of my current favourites :



Tech Tools

Sunday, August 5, 2018


I've been thinking a lot this summer about how much of teaching is relationship building. Knowing our students, understanding them as people, as learners, as individuals is so important. If they don't feel that we are interested in them, that we respect them, why would they believe they have anything to learn from us?

I'm working on some plans for classroom design, flexible seating, more inquiry based learning, passion projects... and what it keeps coming down to for me is having a relationship with my students that is built on trust and care.

Inspired by a tweet from Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd), I wrote my students a back to school letter that I will print and send to their homes the week before school starts. Although I taught most of the students who will be in my grade 8 class last year, we spent a very limited amount of time together. And after almost three months apart, I want to make sure they hear the message from me that they are important people, and that who they are matters.

Here is a copy of my letter, please feel free to copy/adapt any part of it if you plan on doing a similar thing. I used Bitmoji to create the image at the bottom (it looks more or less like me!), and the Magic Rainbow Unicorns add on for Google Docs to create the rainbow effect of the text.