The Suggestions That Caused The Sparks …

In the last couple of days, general suggestions have inspired me to make changes. It all started yesterday during our first Staff Meeting for the year. For those that don’t know me, I love to take minutes during Staff Meetings. I do so for a couple of reasons:

  • I remember more when I write it down.
  • I stay focused on what’s being shared. (These minutes are kind of like differentiated instruction/a good management strategy for the teacher — that being me. ūüôā )

There were lots of informational items shared during this first meeting, but one point that really stuck with me was when the principal, Gerry, was talking about “time on task.” I’m a really big believer in making the most out of the time in the classroom, and continuing to modify my program in order to do so. While overall, I’m happy with how things are going, there is one time that I wanted to change:¬†the end-of-nutrition-break time.

Until yesterday, when the bell went (at each nutrition break), my students tidied up, lined up, put their lunch bags away in their lockers, and then went to the bathroom as a class. There are many things that I dislike about this routine.

  • Line-ups almost always cause problems (in my experience). Students that find it difficult to focus or may have behavioural needs, struggle with standing in line for too long. Before you know it, there’s a problem, and I believe that I created this problem because I had the students stand still and quietly for an extended period of time.
  • When we’re trying to put our lunch¬†bags¬†away, other students are coming upstairs from recess. We need to delay our exit into the hallway, or we end up causing problems for the group that’s trying to pass us.
  • There is always a delay in cleaning up. A student has spilled something. A student has additional garbage to throw out. A student needs to have just one more bite of food.¬†With this lunch bag locker system, the whole class is delayed by one or two students. And since we need to go out into the hallway to put things away, the students aren’t actually doing anything during this delay — they are just standing there waiting to start moving.¬†See Problem #1 for what happens when students are in line for too long. ūüôā
  • Everyone walks down to the bathroom, but not everybody has to actually go to the bathroom. I really dislike full class bathroom breaks. Most of the time, the majority of students are just standing around in the hallway. Because we’re in the hallway and so close to other classrooms, we can’t talk either, so this time is wasted time. While I dislike a revolving door of bathroom breaks —¬†as then students are always missing important instructions¬†— I think that I dislike this full class option more.

And so, with Gerry’s mention of “time on task,” and my reflection on this system, I knew that I needed to make a change. Today I decided to try something different. I had my students put their lunch bags on the empty shelf in the classroom. During each nutrition break, I got a couple of students at a time to go to the bathroom. (The students quickly adjusted to this new routine and monitored the “bathroom parade.”) By the time the bell rang, everyone had gone to the bathroom, and the clean-up process only took a couple of minutes. Usually, we don’t start our lesson or activity until¬†at least 15 minutes after the bell has gone. Today, it only took 3 minutes to tidy-up, and then we were right into learning.¬†What a huge difference! This one change just gained us at least 24 minutes of additional instructional time a day!

I thought that the students would find it difficult to change routine, but they loved it. In fact, when I told them about the new routine, many of them mentioned that this was similar to what they did in Kindergarten. This helped them adjust right away. I know that this is a change that I’ll be continuing for sure.¬†Thanks Gerry for the spark that inspired the switch!

Now my second change was inspired by my previous superintendent, Sue Dunlop. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to interact and learn with Sue both online and in person. While I love her tweets, I also love her blog posts. Last night, I noticed that she published a new one:¬†I had to read it.¬†Her¬†post had me responding immediately.

While I know that she didn’t intend this, I actually felt very guilty after reading her post. I realized that while I’ve gone out of my way to connect with students, I haven’t connected quite as well with the new staff. As I’ve blogged about on a couple of occasions, I really struggle with unstructured social situations. I’m definitely an introvert, and while I can present to groups of adults and attend many workshops and conferences, small talk terrifies me. I also have a non-verbal learning disability, and as such, reading non-verbal cues and knowing how and when to begin discussions is incredibly hard.

I’ve learned strategies that work though —¬†largely, pre-planning and talking myself into “taking a risk” — and Sue’s post inspired me to do just that. So today, even though I was tempted to stay up in the classroom and work during the second nutrition break, I switched my plans. I had a prep right before the break, so I decided to go down a little early and do some work in the staffroom. I thought that I might do better if there was a smaller group of people to begin with, and I’m so glad that I made this decision. Even as I was working, it wasn’t long before I started chatting with an educational assistant, a couple of DECEs, and a teacher. I even learned about some friends and colleagues that we share. The discussions were really nice, and I must admit, I was sad when I had to leave. School is all about the kids, but connecting with the staff is important, as we do support the kids together!¬†Thanks to Sue’s spark, I started making more of these connections today.

What “suggestions” have sparked changes in your practices? What impact have these changes had? I’d love to hear about them! This week has definitely been another great week of learning, and I’m excited to see what next week brings.


6 thoughts on “The Suggestions That Caused The Sparks …

  1. Aviva, you write the most heartfelt honest blogs that I have ever read. Thanks for putting yourself out here and reflecting so openly on your thinking.

    I think all grades would benefit from looking at the previous year’s grade expectations and structures. I always say to teachers, you aren’t teaching grade one yet, you have kindergartens that will turn into grade ones this term. You don’t have grade fours yet, they are still grade threes, So,,what structures or supports helped them to be successful last spring? What could be implemented in the room each Fall to help ease the transition? What routines such as snack, reading, yoga, library etc. could remain the same from year to year? Why do our students have such an adjustment with a grade or room change? How can staff work together to ensure similar charts, alphabets, sight words are posted or available from the previous year? I believe we can do a lot more to ease the transition into each new grade.

    I am sure your students value the conversation you had about how to use time more effectively. They want their time honoured too.

    • Thank you so much for your comment (and kind words), Angie, and for making such an important point! We really do need to work with last year’s teachers to ensure that the transitions from year-to-year are not so extreme for our students. This helps lead to their success. It’s a good reminder that we can learn a lot from each other! It makes me think that I really need to touch base with more of the Kindergarten teachers and DECEs to see if they have other suggestions for increased student success. And yes, the students were VERY happy with the change, as they noticed how much more time they had to work and share. They definitely do want this time too!


  2. Hi Aviva,
    I really like your blog post about increasing instructional time. One of the teachers in grade 1 at the school that I am at has all the students place their lunch bags into a large bin, which is located near the door. This way the students have quick and easy access to their snacks and lunch without having to line up and gather their lunch bags. I read your blog posts on a regular basis and then reflect on them for my own professional learning. Thank you! Happy blogging!

    • Thanks for the comment, Maggie! I like this lunch bin idea too. The Grade 1 teacher next door to me does this as well. I’m lucky to have a large shelf at the front of my room, which is currently empty. It fits all of the lunch bags, and with a little additional space, allows for multiple students to be there at a time to retrieve their lunch bags and put them back. I’m so excited that this one change will lead to more time on task!


  3. So great for you to reflect and pursue changes in your practice. My students spark many changes on my teaching approach on a daily basis. My online colleagues always impact changes on my practice too. I think what is important is to daily reflect on changes and think about “what if ” in our daily lives for new experiences. What sparks me and impacts me the most is, how am I promoting ownership of learning. So great of you to connect with the new staff!

    • Thanks for the comment, Rola! You’re right: my students spark many changes for me too. This constant reflection is so important. I was talking to a colleague about this today. What we do really has to be based on where the students are at and what they need next — this may vary for individual students, and we need to be responsive to this. They’re terrific “sparks!”


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