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Elementary Teacher Questions Answered Part 1 [episode 114]

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Click below to hear elementary teacher questions answered with teacher approved responses:

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Overview of episode 114:

When we have challenges as teachers, we often feel like we’re the only one who is experiencing it or if we reach out for help it shows weakness. But in reality, if one teacher is struggling with a problem, it’s likely more teachers are dealing with the same thing. This is why we wanted to address some of the challenges teachers are having on the show. So in today’s episode, we’re answering elementary teacher questions and giving them a teacher approved response. 

Although there are many elementary teacher questions out there, we chose to give a teacher approved response to five. But in these five questions, it shows the range of emotions teachers go through and the various aspects of teaching. We share our advice on ways to take care of yourself, how to identify your teaching philosophy, and our teacher approved best practices for spiral review and retrieval practice.

Our goal is to always help teachers by giving them teacher approved strategies and tips, which is exactly what we’re doing with these elementary teacher questions. Not only will they help answer some challenging aspects of teaching, but also show you that you’re not alone.

Highlights from the episode:

[00:47] Today’s morning message: how do you welcome new students?

[3:13] Teaching Question #1

[7:40] Teaching Question #2

[11:45] Teaching Question #3

[13:41] Teaching Question #4

[16:58] Teaching Question #5

[21:32] Today’s teacher approved tip for using surprise and delight to boost morale.

Resources:

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Read the transcript for episode 114, Elementary Teacher Questions Answered Part 1:

Emily

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re answering your teaching questions and sharing a teacher approved tip for some mid winter surprise and delight.

Heidi

We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is how do you welcome new students?

Emily

Oh, yeah, it’s that time of year feels like every January I’d get a new student or three new students always. So yeah, let’s talk about some teacher approved ways of helping them settle in.

Heidi

I didn’t do anything special. I think I did what most teachers do, and try to prepare for new students when I was preparing for the first day of school. So you know, as I’m running around, gathering all the stuff for my new class, I set aside specific supplies for new students.

Heidi

And it was just such a relief to have a bag of materials, assessment forms, and parent information just all ready to go when you get that email that you have 20 minutes to set up before the new student comes.

Emily

Oh, I remember that sense of relief when I pull out one of those bags of Okay, all in here, good to go. Dale in our Facebook group does the same thing. He says I have a few packs of supplies ready in a closet, including a stack of textbooks and notebooks that match what everyone else has also named tags and labels for anything else named in the room ready to go. I really try to have this all labeled before the student arrives. They’re always so nervous about not having the same as their new classmates.

Heidi

That is such an important point that kids feel more at home. If they can blend in with their classmates. You know, our new little guys, they’re already feeling like outsiders. They don’t want to be singled out even more by you know, having a different kind of name tag than everyone else.

Emily

Right. I also really like this tip from Jennifer. She said I just got a new student before the break, and I incorporated into our morning meetings that week an SEL review about feelings we have when doing something new. It involves everyone without necessarily singling out the new student and helps the rest of the class with empathy while welcoming our newest member of the class.

Heidi

I love that idea. And if you have some tips for helping new students settle in, we would love to have you join the conversation over in our Teacher Approved Facebook group.

Heidi

We are doing something new today and we are dedicating this episode to answering some of your tricky teaching questions.

Emily

We recently sent out a survey and several teachers shared some of their current headaches. And you know if it’s giving one teacher a headache, it’s probably a problem a lot of teachers are dealing with. So we decided to use today’s episode to offer some teacher approved solutions for them and for you.

Heidi

Let’s jump into our first question. CMRick says January seems to be a drag of a month in general with weather etc. So agreed. And they add teacher morale seems to go down as well. Any suggestions?

Emily

Gosh, do I feel that it was just complaining to Heidi, about January. Every term of teaching comes with its own challenges and fighting the energy to make it through another day in term three is very much its own special challenge.

Heidi

You have the dark and the cold and the non stop coughing, all layered on top of students who are way too comfortable pushing back on your expectations. This time of year is definitely heavy and frustrating and exhausting and all the rest of it.

Emily

And the coats won’t stay on the coat hooks and they’re stomping around in their boots.

Heidi

Their boots are starting to smell. Yes, they never get dry.

Emily

Snow everywhere Gosh. Because it’s so exhausting, the first thing I would suggest is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. The difference between thriving in the winter and just surviving until the spring is having the resources to cope. If you’re tired or hungry or stressed all of the other winter headaches will become so much harder to manage.

Heidi

If you are someone that finds taking care of yourself to be a little tricky, you can try treating yourself like a toddler. Think of all the things that we do to keep toddlers from melting down. We give them time to play and explore. We bring along a little bag of snacks. We give them regular mealtimes and bedtimes and tuck them in with a story and a kiss.

Emily

Now toddlers definitely don’t appreciate all of those efforts. But I would not turn down the idea of a nanny whose job it was to hand me some goldfish crackers when I felt a little hangry.

Heidi

Until it is socially acceptable to have a nanny as an adult, which, seriously considering you have to be your own nanny, are you making sure you’re fed and rested every day? There’s no way you’re going to have the energy to break up another fight over the inside recess games. If you aren’t going to bed at a decent hour.

Emily

I don’t know why sticking to a reasonable bedtime is so hard when we know it’s so beneficial. But for some reason, it is definitely a challenge. Truly every day for me still.

Heidi

Well and Emily, we both know that if not better at bedtime than you are, you’re worse than me. And if you are also someone who resists bedtime, maybe you could put a limit on your expectation with something like I’m only going to bed early this week. And this is not something I have to commit to for the rest of my life. It can be easier to be temporarily wise and to have to make a whole lifetime change.

Emily

Plus, then it might be easier to keep doing it after you start feeling a lot better because you suddenly have had enough sleep.

Heidi

Well that’s the goal and the dream.

Emily

So besides treating yourself gently, another way to get through the winter is to give yourself something to look forward to. Spring break may be a couple months away, but that just means you have time to plan something wonderful.

Heidi

If you’re traveling for spring break, research, the best places to eat or the best activities to try. Knowing that you’ve got something fun ahead of you can remind you that this current situation is just temporary. Soon you’re going to be lounging by the sun or photographing migrating birds or whatever it is you enjoy.

Emily

If travel for spring break is not in your plans, you can still give yourself something to look forward to by planning your staycation. Start rounding up the books you want to read or recipes to try or local places you’ve never visited. Anticipating something fun is a huge mood boost.

Heidi

Probably like a lot of people January is my least favorite month. And when you’re I just couldn’t handle it. So I looked up a list of those national day holidays kind of you know, those wacky ones. And I chose one a day to celebrate and I made my calendar. So it’s something fun to look forward to every day. So you know, I had a nice bubble bath and bubble bath day for penguin Appreciation Day. I mean, my students walk around with beanbags on their feet.

Emily

My favorite thing is having my students do something where they look really silly, because it just like gives me so much joy. And I just saw you fall in love with them again.

Heidi

So and that really did give me a bright spot every day in a month that can feel really long.

Emily

You should have told me about this last month, I should have been doing this. So hopefully those ideas will help you get through the difficult January days.

Emily

Our next question comes from Whitney. She says students and parents aren’t very supportive of homework. What’s something exciting to get them motivated to do homework?

Heidi

Oh, can I answer a question with a question?

Emily

Well, you know, that’s very annoying.

Heidi

Oh, I know. It’s annoying, but I’m gonna do it anyway. So my question is, what is your philosophy of homework? As teachers, right, we really value homework. But I think that feeling often comes from our experiences students, and not from really examining what’s important now that we’re the ones in charge.

Emily

There’s been a lot of research on homework since we were kids. And it all basically points to the same conclusion that homework in elementary school doesn’t have a huge impact on student success. So really, unless you’re required to send homework, which is a different story, maybe you can skip it without worrying that you’re damaging your students.

Heidi

But all that being said, in my philosophy of homework, I think it still has a place.

Emily

Right. So if you’re clear on your purpose for homework, it can still benefit students. Our philosophy is that homework can act as another form of spiral review. And we all know how priceless spiral review is, if I have a way of adding more review to my students day I’m going to take it.

Heidi

Homework can also offer parents a valuable insight into how their student is progressing. If they see maybe that their student is struggling with homework that can be an alert that maybe their child needs some extra support.

Emily

But even if you decide that homework is beneficial, it doesn’t mean that families will agree. And since homework happens outside your class, the only tools you have to control are bribery and punishment.

Heidi

And that’s how I handled homework when I taught second grade. If a student didn’t do it at home, they had to finish it before going out to morning recess.

Emily

Are you like cringing while you say this?

Heidi

Yeah, I feel really bad about it now. The homework assignments were purposefully short and simple. So most of the kids still got a few minutes of recess every day. And if the kids were like taking a while and they weren’t gonna get much recess, I would generally still send them out so they would get some play time.

Heidi

But my little guys that needed recess the most were the ones who were missing it most often. Isn’t that how it always works out. So you know, teacher guilt for the win there.

Emily

Okay, so what would you do differently now if you could go back in time?

Heidi

So I think I would still assign homework, but I would make get completely optional. The return rates for mandatory homework and optional homework, it turns out that they’re about the same.

Emily

I believe that you’re either going to do it or not.

Heidi

That’s it exactly. But the students get much more out of it when you stress that this is extra practice to help them learn and not homework, which feels like a punishment. So I would make a much bigger deal about how it benefits students. Like oh, look, tonight’s practice is about money. I know a lot of you are still figuring out how to count quarters and this page can help you if you want to get better at counting coins.

Emily

I think you can also say things like, when you work on this at home, you can show your parents how good you are at counting money now or something to where they can see that there’s a benefit to sharing with their parents what they’re learning at school. Really helping students develop the intrinsic motivation to work is maybe even more useful to students than practicing a few skills.

Heidi

Well hopefully, and you will still get kids not returning it, even if you make it optional. But honestly, those kids aren’t going to return it anyway.

Emily

Right. So if you are interested in short, targeted spiral review Homework, we have bundles for first, second, and third. Each bundle contains 180 days of practice in math and ELA skills. We design the pages so students can do them independently. Since we know not every student has adult support at home. And also it’s designed to be able to be done in just a few minutes.

Heidi

You can check the link in the show notes. If you want more information about our homework bundles.

Emily

We also have a podcast episode all about homework back in episode 31. We share all our tips and tricks for managing homework. Be sure to check that out if you want more information.

Heidi

Okay Em, what’s our next question?

Emily

Well, this is a big one. This teacher asks, am I done with teaching in the classroom? What are my other options?

Heidi

Yeah, this is a really big question. And if it’s something that you are wrestling with, you are not alone.

Emily

Teaching is unlike other jobs in so many ways. We could for sure do a whole episode on this. But in the interest of time, I would say, don’t stay in teaching because you feel stuck in teaching, you do have options.

Heidi

And once you’re a teacher, being a teacher is such a huge part of our identity, that it can feel like a betrayal to consider another option. But that’s just not true. Teaching in reality is just a job. If your friend were burned out in her finance job, and resented going to work every day, wouldn’t you tell her to consider changing to something else?

Emily

Plus, you can always come back, maybe you need to do something else for a little while. But schools will always want and need good teachers.

Heidi

It can be hard for teachers to imagine what work looks like outside of the classroom. But it’s important to recognize that teaching gives you lots of skills that employers are looking for. If you want more details on how to transition out of the classroom, and account I really like on Instagram is Teacher Career Coach. She has lots of resources that can help you take that next step.

Emily

I got a kick out of something she posted recently that says one of the biggest challenges former teachers have in new jobs is adapting to the pace, not speeding up but slowing down.

Heidi

Yeah, that makes sense. When you’re used to doing everything at 90 miles an hour, working at a sustainable speed is going to feel glacial.

Emily

So good luck to anyone out there contemplating a switch we’re cheering you on, whether that’s in the classroom or out of it. If you do decide to stay, we hope we can be a resource to help you make your job a little bit more manageable.

Heidi

All right, time for our next question.

Emily

Our next question is what would be a good way to ramp up my third grade instruction so learning is more rigorous?

Heidi

This is a great question for this time of year as we are gearing up for everyone’s favorite season of testing season. We didn’t even practice that was good. And our favorite way of increasing rigor is to increase retrieval practice.

Emily

So as a reminder, retrieval practice is a learning strategy. The focus is on getting information out of our students brain, instead of focusing on putting new information in. The effort of having to call up relevant information when it is needed is what increases learning. The more difficult the retrieval practice is, the better it is for boosting learning.

Emily

That’s what I tell myself when I’m watching Jeopardy and I like can’t get can’t get it fast enough. Like this is helping me get faster. I’m getting smarter. Even when I’m like it’s in there. It’s in there somewhere. I just can’t call it up fast enough.

Heidi

But retrieval practice does more than just give us the right answer at the right time or slightly after the contestants have run in there so fast. It also makes our understanding more flexible. That means we are improving our students complex thinking and application skills. We’re reorganizing our students knowledge and transferring that knowledge to new concepts.

Emily

And what teacher doesn’t want that. So how do we apply retrieval practice to our classrooms? Well, you know, we love spiral review.

Heidi

Yes, spiral review should be happening every day in every classroom, Emily, and I like to incorporate it into our morning work, but you can really do retrieval practice anytime of day.

Emily

The nice thing about retrieval practice is that it can be as simple as flashcards. Online review games are great or you can do simple games where you give a question and have students respond on their whiteboards.

Heidi

Exit Tickets are another form of retrieval practice, maybe you didn’t already know that. Or you could do the opposite and have an opening ticket where you have students write down everything they remember from yesterday’s lesson.

Emily

Remember that the key to retrieval practice is having students recall information from their memories without any notes or clues. The hard work of having to remember is where the magic happens.

Heidi

And really retrieval practice does seem a little magical. I love this quote from cognitive scientists, Pooja Agarwal, and she said, “My colleagues and I looked at 50 experiments in classroom settings ranging from elementary school to medical school. And we wrote about how everything kind of just works, regardless of timing, frequency, question format, grade level and content area. The majority of experiments revealed medium to large effect sizes, indicating that retrieval practice improves learning consistently in real world classrooms.”

Heidi

So if you’re looking to increase the rigor in your instruction before testing season starts, make retrieval practice fun, or structured or simple or part of a large system, but just do retrieval practice somehow, in whatever way works for you. And make sure students are doing it every day.

Emily

We’re up to our last question from Jay Gifford. They ask I have the sweetest boys but they’re impulsive and immature. Any ideas?

Heidi

Well, I am feeling for you Jay Gifford because I have been there. Yes. One year with my particular set of students, I warned every substitute that those kids were like puppies. They weren’t trying to be naughty, they just couldn’t control their energy. And as the teacher I kind of approached how I handled this in two different ways.

Heidi

The first way was just white knuckling through the day constantly redirecting their overflowing energy until I was exhausted and short tempered. The second way I approached this was giving students tools to act more mindfully and manage their energy themselves.

Emily

Hmm, I wonder which one was more effective?

Heidi

Yeah, no surprise there. The focus on mindfulness really did help. And I don’t mean like it took the edge off. I mean, it made a huge difference. So here’s kind of an outline of what I did.

Heidi

We would have a normal morning routine. But then after correcting our morning work, everyone would stand up. And we would draw lazy eights, which are just like infinity symbols in the air with our hands, we would make sure and switch arms.

Emily

Lazy eights are a good routine because it forces the arm to cross the body’s midline. If you’re not familiar with that term, the midline is an imaginary line that runs down the center of your body movements that cross the midline force the hemispheres of your brain to coordinate better.

Heidi

And then after we would do our lazy eights in the air, we would trace them several times on scratch paper, we would use each hand you know, switch hands, and then we would do both hands together. And that is really tricky for some of our little guys.

Emily

Honestly, that feels tricky for me.

Heidi

And then we did morning meeting just like a normal morning, that particular set of students couldn’t handle playing a game like they were just that keyed up. So instead of a game, our group activity was a guided meditation that would end in deep breathing. I’ve mentioned this before, my favorite meditations came from the relaxed kids books. And there’s a link to those in the show notes.

Emily

Another good resource for meditation and mindfulness is the headspace app. And I think if you’re a teacher, you can get that app for free.

Emily/Heidi

Yeah, I would have really enjoyed that app. At another point in the day with these kids, we worked on focus. And even if you don’t have a high energy class, this could really come in handy. Again, as we’re heading into testing season, to help kind of build some of that focus stamina.

Heidi

So I drew a circle on the board and I would have all the kids look at it, they could blink while I timed them. And then as soon as someone in the class looked away, I would stop the timer. And then the next day they would try to beat their time. And as they got better at this I would make it harder by decreasing the point that they focused on till it was you know, just a little dot or I would try to playfully distract them when they’re supposed to be focusing.

Heidi

I also would print detailed coloring pages kind of like adult coloring books, but not the next you know what I mean? And then I would let them color those for a few minutes after specialty classes to kind of just release some of the energy that built up with those poor specialty teachers who are not equipped to deal with some of those kids.

Heidi

And then instead of our regular science and social studies lessons, I switched to lessons from the mind up curriculum. And I did feel a little guilty about this. And I didn’t ask for permission, because it wasn’t officially in the core. Honestly, the kids refer to those lessons throughout the day, like it came up in just classroom conversations. So it was definitely a worthwhile pivot.

Emily/Heidi

MindUp is a great resource, they have lessons for grades K through eight, and they’re pretty affordable, you can get them on Amazon, and we’ll link to those in the show notes as well.

Emily/Heidi

So that’s how I survived my little puppy dog class. Plus, we would stop throughout the day for deep breathing whenever any of us needed to reset, because I was just throwing so many things at them at once. I don’t know if it was one activity in particular that helped, or if it was just a combination of everything. But honestly, if I had a class like that, again, I would not hesitate to implement those changes if my students needed that support.

Emily

And that’s the end of our q&a for today if you have a problem that you’d like a teacher approved solution for, or if you have suggestions for any of these teachers that we talked about today, you can message us on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow and that is with a two or you can chime in on the teacher approved Facebook group or email us at hello@secondstorywindow.net.

Emily

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is use surprise and delight to boost morale. What can you tell us about this, Heidi?

Heidi

Well as CMRick pointed out earlier, it’s really hard to be a teacher in the winter. And Emily and I talked about making sure to take care of yourself and giving yourself something to look forward to. But another tool to boost morale is to incorporate more surprise and delight.

Emily

Surprise and delight is extra beneficial because it boosts your students engagement, as well as giving you something to enjoy.

Heidi

Right. Getting to be a fun teacher is way more enjoyable than having to be the nag teacher.

Emily

And we’ve got a whole episode that deep dives into surprise and delight, so make sure you check out episode 35 for more details.

Heidi

And we have a lot of fun suggestions in the episode. It’s our favorite episode. But I recently came across a fun idea from Crafty corner on Instagram. And I just thought this could be an excellent winter mood boost.

Heidi

So each day she puts a rubber duck on one of her students desks and then that student is the lucky duck for the day like how she does and she does lucky duck all year long. So the lucky duck of the day is the line leader in the paper passer as well as getting certain special privileges. But I think you could easily adapt this for the short term for maybe like a month to go through your whole class.

Heidi

Instead of having set lucky duck jobs. Maybe the lucky duck gets to sit in a special chair or to choose centers first or have extra technology time or spin the prize wheel. Anything that makes that child feel special for the day is going to be such a morale boost for everyone in the class.

Emily

I can see this working all year long. But I do love the idea of having an unexpected few weeks of lucky duck fun and then being done with it. It makes it so special plus and I’m not saying this is vital. But if you wanted an excuse to buy the cute seasonal rubber duck at Target puts out this could be your answer.

Heidi

A reason to visit Target and happy students like what more could anyone want?

Emily

I know. And if you do it for a little while at some point in the year and then like you bring it back again later in the year then they’re going to be so excited because they know how much fun it is and they got a break from doing it. So I think this is such a fun idea.

Heidi

To wrap up the show we are sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Emily what gets your extra credit?

Emily

I’m giving extra credit to the Goshi exfoliating shower towel. So it’s an exfoliating wash cloth that’s like the size of a big scarf. The only way to describe because wash cloth is making a new picture like so. So I’ve tried some cheap Japanese washcloth towels before and they were okay. They were made out of that like class, the shower loofa material but the Goshi Towel is a big improvement on that.

Emily

It’s made of like super soft fabric but it’s more effective and less abrasive than the cheap cloths of tried and it dries really fast. So if you hang it in your shower, you’re so you’re good to go. And my skin feels so smooth and soft after using it and your lotion will go on so nice. I have to give that a try. Yes, good for winter especially. Yes, definitely. What are you giving credit to?

Heidi

So my extra credit goes to a show I just discovered on PBS called Miriam and Alan Lost in Scotland. So it follows actors Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming as a tour around Scotland in an RV and it’s you know, those actors are thought of as hilarious

Heidi

Yeah, it’s really just everything you want in a travel show. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt. You see tiny corners of Scotland that don’t normally make it into the travel shows. And Miriam Margolyes is a Livewire just to put that my oh yeah, she’s she is something with a very earthy sense of humor. And it’s just really extra entertaining to watch Alan cope with that.

Emily

I’m gonna have to check that out.

Heidi

That’s it for today’s episode. Thanks to everyone who sent him questions. And if you have a headache that needs a teacher approved solution, make sure to reach out to us at hello@secondstorywindow.net or on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow and that’s what the two.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.