Saturday, September 16, 2017

Whirlwind of Strategies to Build the Culture

The last three weeks were crazy. In addition to so many things occurring in the school, there was a slight hiccup with me being out to complete trainings in Boston and Tulsa. My goal of posting once a week had to be put on hold. I am going to try to summarize some of the greatest aspects of the last three weeks that involve building a culture that is ripe for PBL. Build the Culture is an essential element for teachers to implement PBL. BIE defines it as teachers explicitly and implicitly promote student independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, team spirit and attention to quality. In this post, I talk about strategies I used to promote independence and growth and team spirit.

Promoting Student Independence and Growth

Setting and Monitoring Expectations 
In order for students to be independent, they must be a part of setting the classroom routines and rituals. One way of doing this is having them set how we work together. As a part of the syllabus project, students created norms for me and for each other. They were able to submit their own suggestions for norms. I compiled the list and students voted for five. The top five voted norms were placed on a poster (see the list of norms below).

Although I haven't done a great job of it for the last few weeks, I try to recognize students who are following the norms and update the norms periodically. Before I was out of the classroom for a few days, I talked to students about the norms, specifically number 1 and 4. I explained how this is an expectation that is even higher when I am out of the building. It is important that they respect the substitute and our room. They need to speak politely and clean up their space. I had a student from each class period text me a picture of the classroom at the end of the class period. If the classroom was clean and there was no bad report from the substitute, they would receive candy. A small reward for following the norms. When I returned from my second time of being out of the classroom, I was happy to see these post it notes from the substitute. We had a lot of substitutes at the beginning of the month, it is easy for students to not follow the norms when a few of their classes were substitutes.

Ask 3 Before Me & Help Desk
Students are not used to leaning on themselves and each other to understand concepts. Ask 3 before me is a great strategy to help students to start to lean on each other rather than the teacher. For almost 7 weeks, I worked on students asking each other and modeling proper ways to help. Students also had the benefit of identified SMEs to get help. Some students had a hard time with this rule. One mentioned openly that he doesn't like getting help from students. While rubbing his back, I told him how I understand how he feels but the rule still applies. He needs to see the greatness in his fellow classmates.

After students learned how to lean on each other, I started to create another form of support that involved me. This helps me fulfill one of the norms they created for me. It is called the help desk. After students have received their first round of feedback, I have one to two class period where they continue to practice but can come to the help desk to get one on one help from me. Thankfully the implementation of the other supports, I don't have hardly any students who need the help desk.
Help desk is a section of the room where students get help.

Team Spirit

It is so important for students to feel connected to each other so that they help each other learn. In addition to doing team builder activities several times for the first few weeks of school, I try to do a team builder a week. Two of the team builders students did in the last few weeks is to choose a team name and symbol. Various competitions and tasks will be supported by their team name and symbol. It is a small way to help connect them together.
Example of Team Names and Symbols

How do you build culture in your classroom?


I have always had a hard time accepting compliments. It is not that I don't appreciate it. Sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like everyone's eyes are on me and I fight to find words to say. Other times I can't identify with what they see. I see all my faults rather than my strengths.

However, I love giving people compliments and telling them how much I appreciate them. I try to give a compliment or say thank you to everyone I encounter. Last year, people shared how I have impacted their life as 40th birthday gift. It was very humbling and made me realize I need to take in the compliments as well as the criticism.  As a start, I would like to share two great compliments I received last month.

I almost fell out of my chair when I read through my emails on August 9th. The state director of elementary mathematics and coordinator of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching shared with me that I was one of 3 state finalist (see email below). Although I may not be chosen at the national level, I am honored to be recognized for my teaching at the state level.
Email confirming my selection for PAEMST

Teacher of the Month
Marquee displaying James Womack and I as teacher of the month
At the beginning of September, I was informed by my principal that I was selected by my peers to be the teacher of the month along with another co-worker. I thought it was going to be just a simple recognition in the school newsletter. I was blown away when I saw my name on the school marquee. Although we do not need to put everyone's names up in lights, it is important to appreciate people. I realized this month that I can't stop appreciating people and it does feel good to be appreciated.

How do you show colleagues and students you appreciate them?