The months of January and February were tough because we were battling cabin fever. We had a snow day (or 2) almost every week. We had February vacation. We had Valentine's Day, the 100th day and many other very "excitable" events in our classroom. I know this sounds like fun. What's wrong with a bunch of snow days and a vacation?! But from the teacher's shoes, snow days, vacations and holidays can sometimes be our worst nightmare. I paid for every single snow day we had. Disruptions in routines are the downfall of my classroom and all of these fun filled and unexpected events caused our class to unravel in the days we were together. Some days it felt like it was September again. My kids were forgetting our simple classroom rules like raising hands, saying please and thank you and walking in the hallway. They were forgetting how to be nice to each other. They were irritable. They were fighting with each other. They were driving each other bonkers!
So what is a teacher to do when her class is unraveling? Well, I'm not entirely sure if there is one answer for this. But here is what I had to do.
I took away everything fun. I KNOW. It seems heartless but all of my other behavior systems had failed me and I needed the shock factor to really get them to understand that I was serious and that we could not go on like we had been.
At the end of what I can only describe as our worst day all year, I took all of our toys out of the classroom as my kids sat and watched. I put garbage bags on all of our computers. I took away our "Scrap Monster" which is really just our recycling bin but the kids have free reign over it to make crafts. I needed them to understand that school is FUN and the things we do and have we are LUCKY to have and we don't just get them because we are supposed to. We get them because we deserve and earn them! It was a sad day and I felt that inner conflict that all teachers are familiar with. Was I being too harsh? Was this going to work? Would they even care?
The lone chair sat where we once had our kitchen, our toy shelf with blocks, Legos, Knex, figurines, etc. Such a sad day!
I sat down with my principal after school and asked her for her support. My kids really respect and love her so I knew if she helped me it would help them. We came up with a plan. She kept all of the toys in her office where we could easily see them every time we walked by. I took photos of the toys and made puzzles out of them. On Monday I told the kids that we had to earn each toy back ONE puzzle piece at a time. The only way to earn a piece was by following the rules, trying our best and BEING NICE TO EACH OTHER!! We talked a lot about different scenarios and how we should behave, how we should treat each other. The kids learned that going on the computer during math or reading isn't just "part of school", it is STILL a privilege. They didn't like doing paper and pencil work during that time!
It took a LOT of management, praise and encouragement but the kids did it. One toy, one day at a time. They worked together to get each thing back. Every time we earned something back, the child who earned the last piece to the puzzle got to go to the principal's office and get the toy. We cheered each time something came back. It took the full week to earn everything back. I was really, really proud of them and noticed a huge change in behavior. Slowly but surely I had gotten my class back!
Now here's the thing...
More often than not, I blame myself for bad weeks and bad days at school, wondering what I could do differently or how I can improve our class. Although I needed to do something drastic for the kids to make a change, I also used this rock bottom as a way to reflect on the things I was doing each day. I reflected on my groups of students. Was this a bad combination of kids that led to behavior problems? I reflected on my timing. Was I leaving enough time for us to line up for music class quietly or did the kids feel rushed and chaotic? I reflected on my planning. Was I planning lessons that were keeping them interested and engaged? Despite my students needing strict routines, there is something to be said about a change of scenery helping everyone get out of a funk. I decided to rearrange our classroom, reorganize the way we did centers and find some new things for them to work for.
It was a tough winter, but this was back in February and the past two or three weeks have been full of good behavior and I couldn't be prouder of my kiddos for working through it! In many ways it was the spring cleaning that we desperately needed!