Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Become part of the #AussieTeacherTribe

Are you an Aussie Teacher that enjoys blogging about your teaching experiences? Perhaps you like to share what happens in your classroom, good or bad? Or maybe you're an ex-pat residing in the great land of Oz and you want to connect with like-minded bloggers and educators? Then pop-on over to the #AussieTeacherTribe Facebook page that was set up by Steph from Fishing for Education. 

This is a group to connect with other Aussie teacher bloggers and classroom educators, a place to ask questions, seek advice and help each other out. Link ups, helpful informational posts, asks for help are all very welcome. This group exists to help each other and grow our blogs.

Grab the button, paste it to your blog to show you're part of the #AussieTeacherTribe! And don't forget to check out the Australian Teachers blog and join up to share your blog!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Casual Teacher Survival Guide

Getting that phone call for your first casual teaching day can be exciting yet daunting all in the same moment. Being a casual teacher is probably the toughest teaching job going - you're expected to walk into a classroom full of students you don't know, teach them, keep them safe and engaged.

The following information about being a casual or temporary teacher can be found on the DEC website:
  • As a casual teacher you are employed on a day-to-day basis replacing permanent teachers who are absent or participating in other activities. Casual teachers are paid a daily rate, based on years of training and experience, which is loaded to include a component for sick leave and vacation pay.
  •  As a temporary teacher you are employed full-time for four weeks to a year or part-time for two terms or more. Temporary teachers receive most of the entitlements of permanent teachers, including annual salary, on a pro-rata basis.
  • Engaged to provide release for permanent teachers who are absent or participating in other activities, casual and temporary teachers ensure that a positive and challenging learning environment for students is maintained. They are responsible for providing proper and adequate supervision of classes or areas assigned to them, ensuring the safety and well being of students at all times.
  • Your role involves:
  • knowing your lesson content well
  • preparing lessons;
  • providing homework where appropriate and follow up the homework;
  • participating in whole school activities;
  • performing any rostered playground duty; and
  • contributing to school or faculty activities, special events, excursions or meetings.
While being a casual teacher can have its benefits, including providing a new or returning teacher the
opportunity to gain vital classroom and teaching, flexibility and the opportunity to gain professional skills when working towards obtaining a permanent job, it can, however see many teachers' leave the profession before having their own class due to difficulty in managing student behaviour. To ensure that you don't end up in that position, I am sharing the following strategies that I have gained during my own experiences, as well as from reading and talking to other teachers:

Have a survival plan:

Make sure you arrive at the school as early as possible (I aim for an hour before school commences). Introduce yourself to executive, administration and other teaching staff, especially those who will be in surrounding classrooms to you. While prior planning is important and schools that provide sufficient warning will be rewarded with a better prepared teacher and a less disruptive day, unfortunately that is not always possible. It is vitally important that you have a range of planned activities in your teaching bag - make sure you have things for each stage/year, ability and subject as well as a range of reward and behaviour management strategies that align with the school's policy.

Check school procedures and policy:

Once you arrive, ask about school policy on discipline, rewards (class points, school points, use of sweets etc.), removal of students and also whole school and class procedures - this could include lining up at the end of each break/bell time, eating time in class, procedures for sport/music/art etc. Also ask about what is expected of teachers when on playground duty and how to enforce rules. 

Check on students with special needs, behavioural and emotional needs:

Some students may have medical conditions that you need to be aware of, and asking about these things tells the school you are 'on the ball'. You should also ask if there are any specific learning needs in the class, students on behaviour contracts and how to cater best for these students.

Familiarise yourself with the classroom, school grounds and class program:

Once you get shown to the classroom you'll be in for the day (or the classes if you're in a high school) set up your equipment and then familiarise yourself with the layout of the classroom and where equipment can be found. Hopefully the class teacher has left work for you to work through with the students with detailed instructions of where to find equipment, classroom procedures, class jobs etc. etc. If there is no work for you, get out something you have and make time to get any photocopying done and organise any equipment you'll need. Then go out and get acquainted with the school grounds and some of the students.
(***If you think there will be an issue with seating then create a seating plan for your time with the class. It is often worth isolating the more difficult students in strategic positions rather then allowing these students to sit together and create havoc).

Establish a timetable for the day:

Check out this great example of a class timetable by Ms A.
A written or visual timetable on the board demonstrates that you are prepared and have a plan. This
could be the usual class timetable or something you have created to work with your planned activities. A timetable will also help students who have ASD, processing disorders or poor time management skills prepare for events the day.

Gaining initial attention and respect:

This will be your hardest skill to accomplish, especially in a new setting where you don't have the luxury of knowing students' names and circumstances. Demonstrating an assertive but pleasant manner will show that you are in control and aren't going to be duped.
  • Establish expectations: It's not always possible to have a class discussion about class rules, but a few minutes spend establishing your expectations will be time well spent.
  • Build in a class reward/mystery element: A built in reward or surprise will keep the class motivated, even if you follow the regular class timetable. Place it strategically, generally towards the end of the day (or lesson) and try and make it something that the students will really enjoy e.g. one hour to play board games; an outdoor game; listen to their favourite music etc. Write this on the board with the timetable, but don't give too much away - just write MYSTERY PRIZE or SURPRISE. 
  • Establish routines: This is where you can refer to the class routines or create your own. Use or create a class job list, explicitly state how you want students to enter and exit the classroom, how they can get your attention etc. Read more about classroom routines here.

Get to work!:

Academic engagement is the biggest factor in preventing disruptive behaviour. If you don't understand the work left by the classroom teacher then use your own grade appropriate activities - try not to use time-fillers (check out my TpT store for some great activity packs and fun games). Plan your whole day around a story or activity and make sure you mark any work!!!!! 

Concluding the day:

Always try to finish the day on a positive note - despite of how tough your day might have been! Try to identify a positive incident, student or group from the day. 

Leave relevant notes for the teacher:

Ensure you mark any work done by students throughout the day and leave relevant notes regarding significant events or child behaviour (good and bad) that occured. Make sure you check in with the admin staff, executive staff and the teacher doing casuals on your way out.  (You can find a free printable sheet at my TpT store).

Teaching can be an extremely rewarding career - and at the same time a challenging one. At the beginning stage of your career you are finding out who you are, what your style and strengths are (if you don't know what your teaching style is, take this quiz to find out your teaching and learning style and this quiz to find out what type of teacher you are) and how to use these to work with a group of students you may or may not be familiar with. I hope these strategies help you prepare for your entry (or re-entry) in the world of teaching and give you strength and confidence in yourself.

For more information about surviving as a casual teacher, here are some sites for your to peruse and I highly suggest joining the Facebook groups as they're a great form of support and help:

Survival Kit for Casual Teachers - Ocean View Learning Centre

Relief Teaching Activities - Australian Curriculum Lessons

Relief Teaching Ideas Community

Casual Relief Teachers in Australia

Surviving Casual Teaching

Konza, D., Grainger, J. & Bradshaw, K. (2006). Classroom Management: A Survivial Guide. Social Science Press: South Melbourne.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Netball Ambassador Coaching Clinic

Due to my position as Netball Coach at the Illawarra Sports High School I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to attend the Netball Australia Ambassador Coaching course on May 3rd at Allphones Arena, Sydney Olympic Park. Not only were we treated to two and half hours of coaching advice from Diane Brown AND Rob Wright, coach of the NSW Swifts in a corporate box (with lunch and drinks provided), we got to watch the NSW Swifts play the Melbourne Vixens - a great and long standing rivalry. 

So apart from watching a great great game - and seeing the Swifts win - I got a lot out of the time spent with some amazing coaches. Usually coaches keep their trade secrets close to their chest, but Diane Brown is very open to sharing her knowledge and tips and tricks. 

Our main focus was game day preparation, which included the setting of individual, zone/unit and team goals. We also looked the Seven Steps of Skill Progression, dynamic warm-ups and court strategies.

While I've got loads to share, and will do so in future posts, these are the important things for coaches to remember:

Training Sessions:

  • Ensure that all training sessions are organised - equipment, courts, players, drills etc.
  • Explain why a particular drill is being taught - relate it to the game.
  • Make note of the individual learning styles of the players in your team and ensure that they understand the concept that is being taught.
  • Prepare players for their opponents.
  • Know and remind players of the time and court number they are playing on the weekend.
  • Make your expectations of where the team will meet up, the time and warm-up.

Game Day:

  • Have a smiling face - if your players see and feel your positivity then that will rub off.
  • Have a game plan organised for the game that allows each child equal time (for Netta's and Juniors) and strategic plans for older children and players.
  • Encourage players to drink water throughout the game - have a water caddy with players water bottles together so that at quarter and half time breaks they come straight to you as a collective.

 Before the Game:

  • Instruct a quality warm-up and hand out positional tags.
  • Talk to individual players about their positions and responsibilities of that position.

During the Game:

  • Encourage players, emphasising well-executed plays and discuss improvements that could be made.
  • Watch for injured layers and rotate where necessary.

After the Game:

  • Congratulate players on a well-played game (don't focus on the score).
  • Collect tags, balls and hand back drink bottles.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Follow Frenzy - #TpTSellerChallenge

#TpTSellerChallenge Week 4 - Follow Frenzy

Joining up with the #TpTSellerChallenge has been amazing!!! I've met some incredible educators and bloggers throughout the past month and am really enjoying making connections and sharing our experiences and resources. Instagram has been our main mode of communication, but some of us have now established a Facebook group for our #AussieTeacherTribe.

You can check out some of my newest friends at Fishing for Education, Jem's Bright Buttons, Little Lifelong Learners and I Teach Prep. They all have a lot of quality information to share, and through them I continue to meet new people everyday!

I look forward to growing my online-teacher-friend base! It's great talking to people who are like-minded, are happy to share their resources and knowledge. Hopefully one day we can organise an Australian teacher blogger catch-up (I don't know about you but I was insanely jealous of all those attending #TpTVegas2015). One day I'll get there too!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Make your Masterpiece - #TpTSellerChallenge

#TpTSellerChallenge Week 3 - Make your Masterpiece

I'm posting this a week late as I was laid up in bed with the flu (teachers' holiday curse). So here it is... my masterpiece! The Human Body Literacy Pack is a project I've had going for a few years. I originally made up the comprehension activities to be completed during our Literacy sessions to accompany our Human Body unit for Science and Technology/PDHPE. I wanted to create comprehension activities that would engage students and increase their knowledge on the human body, but not on typical things that'd already explored. The kids really enjoyed working through the activities and the other activities used to accompany them. This challenge was the push I needed to complete the pack by creating an eye-catching cover page, cheat sheets for the teacher, links to related sites and a clearer layout and more engaging activities. 

What is YOUR Masterpiece? Share links to yours below so I can check it out and follow you!

Friday, 10 July 2015

"Making it a Success" - Sue Larkey workshop

I've returned home from the Sue Larkey "Making it a Success" workshop and like the other two Professional Development courses I have attended this year (read about the Tony Attwood workshop and the Genevieve Jereb workshop) I have come away FILLED with information and practical applications for the classroom and home! 

"The two biggest challenges that children 
with ASD face are Anxiety 
and having Limited Problem Solving skills"
 - Sue Larkey

To understand this more, we began our day with a little task which had us reflect on how we structured our morning to ensure we arrived at our destination on time, calm and composed ready to learn - most answers centered around managing time, having routines, using sensory stimulus and having information to help keep us calm. We need to remember that the same applies to our children with ASD - and we also need to remember that we need to explicitly teach our kids HOW they can handle situations that cause them stress by using a range of strategies:
  • Time - anxiety management
  • Routine - know what is happening now and next
  • Visuals - used to refer back to
  • Information - calming; used for planning
  • Sensory - music, drink, fiddle toys.
  • Social - information, help etc.
(This is also important to remember for your neuro-typical children if you want to avoid tantrums and make transitions easier for all).
Click to access this
& other tip sheets.

While I could go on and on about all the things that were discussed and shared at the course, I'll list some of the major things that I took away from the day.
  • No = Never! Kids with ASD hear NO and think it means never. Choose your words wisely.
  • Special Interests or 'obsessions' can provide calm time for children with ASD - This can be screen-time, gaming time, flapping, rocking or humming. But boundaries MUST be put in place and a replacement behaviour should be chosen by adults/teachers.
  •  Kids on the spectrum won't start things unless they know they can finish it - THEY LIKE TO COMPLETE TASKS! They often struggle to know when things are finished, so visuals should be provided. Give them time to finish, warn of the transition by informing them of the next task, and remind them of the next opportunity to do special interest.
  •  Explicitly teaching social skills is vitally important for children with ASD - teach them to ask their peers for help before approaching a teacher - "see two then see me".
There were so many more points, so if you can only attend one course then I highly recommend that you attend Sue's course! Being a teacher, Sue presents a fast-paced (you're in and out in under 6 hours, and this includes a morning-tea AND lunch break), practical and light-hearted course that is sure to have you leaving filled with enthusiasm and skills that will help both you and the children you work with.

And remember the 3 golden rules of working with children with Autism:
1. To know someone with autism is NOT knowing autism;
2. Strategies wear out; and
3. Strategies may only work for 1 in 10 children, but that 1 strategy could be the difference.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Why routines in the classroom are important.

I'm an organised person and I like order to create a sense of calm, not only as a parent but also as a teacher. Just as having a routine at home ensures children feel safe and secure, having a routine in the classroom provides students with an organised and predictable environment that fosters the same feelings. 

One of the most daunting aspects of teaching is behaviour management, especially for graduate and returning teachers. Disruptive beahviour, which can include excessive talking and interupting to the more serious offenses of defiant and aggressive behaviour, can become a major cause of stress and teacher burnout. Accommodating for all the individual needs within a class can seem like a big task, but a wise teacher acknowledges the differences and makes an effort to understand where each student may be "coming from". These teachers will also recognise the importance of the 'tone' or feeling of the classroom and the importance of developing an emotional emotional climate. One of the ways in which to create a positive emotional climate is to negotiate and establish rules and routines with students.

Routines in the classroom not only ensure that you get through the things that need to be done each day, research has shown that the use of specific routines for classroom activities can increase time on task (Konza, Grainger & Bradshaw. 2006. p48). Teachers who clearly communicate rules and expectations regarding desired behaviours have more successful students. Careful consideration needs to be given to how you establish a workable routine and organise your classroom - this includes the physical layout of your classroom, the organisation of equipment and organisation of transitions - so that you are minimising the chance of interuptions and disruptions. 

Some of the routines and strategies you should consider are:
How do you want your students
entering and exiting the classroom?
  • Entry and Exit Procedures: Explicitly explain to students how you want them to line up outside the door before entering the classroom and what they should do once they've entered the classroom, such as putting equipment away/getting equipment out, sitting at their desks or on the floor. The same needs to happen for the end of a learning activity - explicitly explain to students that the teacher will direct them to pack up, explain how equipment/books will be collected and how they will be dismissed.
  • Gaining Student Attention: You need to establish a strategy for gaining students' attention - for infant students it may be repeating a simple clapping rhythm for them to copy, using a key word or phrase such as 'freeze' or 'eyes to me', ringing a bell or playing chimes. For primary and high school students you may want to gain eye contact with a few students, use a key phrase, thank or reward those cooperating and identify students not paying attention by name.
  • Gaining Teacher Attention: You need to set clear expectations of how students can get your attention - this could be as simple raising their hand or using a sign. You may need to establish different methods for different lessons and this will be an individual thing.
Provide activities for
those that finish their work early.
  • Fast Finishers: Provide motivating activities for when students finish their set work early to lessen the chance of them creating a distraction and disruption. If you have the same students finishing their work fast consistently then you may need to look at establishing an extension program.
  • Collection and Distribution of Materials: Different systems work but SOME system is needed - this could be using colour-coded trays for books, labeled trays and containers on desks and side boards for equipment such as pens, pencils, textas, paint, brushes etc.
  • Classroom roles and responsibilities: Create a set of classroom jobs and rotate students through these - this will foster a sense of responsibility in students and ensure order and routine in the classroom (you won't have 10 kids running to hand out books, or 5 kids clambering to turn on/off the lights).
Check out my Classroom Organisation Pinterest board for inspiration and ideas.
Remember, kids are not mind readers. Take time at the beginning of the school year (or when you start teaching a new class) establishing and practising routines to help ensure you are making the best use of your classroom time. Consider allocating 20 -30minutes at the start of each day for the first week or two training students in such things as classroom communication, transitions between activities, entering and exiting the classroom, distributing books and equipment, starting work etc. 

***NOTE: You should also try to limit the number of distractions and interruptions that could come from other teachers and staff members by means of requests for equipment, messages and communication from the office. If you feel that interruptions of this nature are interfering with your teaching then bring this up at a staff meeting - schools are responsible for ensuring their communication systems facilitate your teaching, not hinder it (Konza, et. al. 2006).

Konza, D., Grainger, J. & Bradshaw, K. (2006). Classroom Management: A Survivial Guide. Social Science Press: South Melbourne.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Why I use routine with my kids.

Before our eldest was born I got a lot of advice about being a parent and how to raise a baby - it comes with the territory once your belly starts to swell. But one of the best pieces of advice my husband and I got was around routines. A close friend and a cousin of my husband both used the Tizzie Hall Save our Sleep routine. We borrowed the book and both of us were sold - we are both routine creatures and as first time parents it was good having a set plan of when to feed, change and put the baby to sleep - we didn't have to play the guessing game of why our little bundle was crying.

Now our boys are four and two, I often get questioned as to why I still keep such a strict routine - "Doesn't it restrict you?", "Isn't it boring?", "Can't you just let it go for a day?". But a routine is helpful and allows me to get through the things I need to each day and ensures that the needs of my family are being met. I can organise our little family, make time for us to be together and help our four-some and extended family know who should do what, when, in what order and how often.

If you are expecting your own little bundle of joy, or already have little ones, and are wondering if a routine would benefit you and your family then consider the following points:

Routines are good for babies because:

  • It helps them feel safe and secure - they will know that their needs are being met resulting in a happy and content baby (although do expect times of tears and crankiness);
  • It can help establish their body clock - having the same sleep times during the day and at night will help a baby's body know when it's time to sleep.
  • It can help establish good sleep patterns and will help teach your baby to self-settle between sleep cycles.

Routines are good for children because:

  • An organised and predictable home environment helps young children feel safe and secure - humans are afraid of many things, and a child's fear can include everything from a suspicious new food to a major life event. Change can be handled best if it occurs in the context of a familiar and consistent routine.
  • It eliminates the power struggles - children start to learn that certain activities happen at that specific time of day and this reduces nagging and the bossing around.
  • They help kids cooperate - stress and anxiety for everyone is reduced as everyone knows what comes next and there is fair warning for transitions.
  • They help children become independent - If you forget a step in the routine, you'll be sure your little one will remind you that it's time to brush teeth or pack their bag. Kids love being in charge of themselves and having a sense of independence and this results in less opposition and rebellious behaviour. 
  • It helps children establish a sense of time - while they don't yet grasp the concept of time (in terms of minutes, hours etc.) they order their day by the events that happen. They begin to have a better understanding of their world, know what to expect and can start to make predictions. They will also start understand concepts such as 'before' and 'after'. 

Routines are beneficial for parents because:

  • They can help new parents learn to interpret their baby's cries - when following a routine you will begin the distinguish between a baby's hungry, tired or bored cries. 
  • You can plan your day - you can organise doctor's appointments, school drop-offs and pick-ups, extra-curricula activities and ME time (treat yourself to a massage or a hair cut).
  • If things change and become hectic, a routine can help you feel organised and keep stress levels down. 
  • You can complete daily tasks effectively and efficiently - there is time to get that load of washing done or do some vacuuming, go out and do the grocery shopping or go to the gym/yoga/pilates.
  • You can have time for yourself and your partner in the evening - the Save our Sleep routine has the kids in bed at 7pm which means you should have a few hours at night to spend as a couple, which is important to ensure you maintain a strong and loving relationship. 
If you need more reason as to why routines are important, a study of 10,000 children showed that inconsistent and late bedtimes are associated with behavioural difficulties such as hyperactivity, acting out (hitting, biting, kicking and not getting on with peers) and emotional withdrawal. The study also found that children who did not have a regular bedtime scored lower on reading, math and spatial skill tests then those who did. 

Sleep is crucial for physical, mental, intellectual and emotional development - during sleep our brain forms long-term memories, our body repairs itself and produces hormones that are needed to fight off disease and strengthen our immune system. 
From a personal perspective, I enjoy having a plan each day (I'm such a teacher). I know our day starts and ends at the same time, I can plan my daily and weekly activities, and if we have an event or something unexpected pops up I can keep myself calm by upholding the routines, which will help keep the boys calm. If you have any questions about establishing and maintaining routines feel free to ask.