Back to School. I love the clothes shopping, seeing my colleagues again, and of course, seeing the middle schoolers now taller than me. Each year, I start out with the best intentions to be more organized, more efficient, and less stressed than the last year. To that end, this summer, I started researching good resources for educators--for both teachers and school psychologists alike. With Response to Intervention (RtI) becoming all the rage, (albeit kind of at a glacially slow pace in some schools and districts), school psychologists are more and more needing to have a good understanding of class-wide interventions and curriculum. I know, we are usually the gate keepers to one particular intervention (special education), but we really are evolving from gate keepers into key masters and key mistresses of all interventions through RtI. Should I get make us all Key Mistress shirts and sell them on the blog? No? Too much?
Anyhoo. As a reader of many blogs, I am always looking for ones that offer practical, research-based advice for teachers. We all know that theory and practice are disconnected sometimes, especially for new teachers. As school psychologists, we often consult with teachers about particular students, but at times, the solution can be classroom wide and help all students. And I give you, the mother of all practical resources: The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable.
This book is by Angela Watson (formally Powell), one of my go-to gals for interventions. She has a website for teachers and writes a great blog. She put together this fab resource in her SPARE TIME. The book covers everything from organizing your room at the beginning of the year, figuring out all your procedures for managing paperwork, setting up a class-wide positive behavior classroom management plan, to specifics for running centers, handling peer conflicts, and bathroom breaks. I mean, this woman has thought of all contingencies.
I sat down with Angela in her Florida home one Saturday afternoon with mint juleps, and interviewed her. Actually, I'm lying. I wish I was in Florida with a mint julep. I emailed her and asked her these burning questions:
1) What gave you the idea to start your blog and create The Cornerstone book for teachers?
When I first started teaching, I visited lots of teacher message boards to see what other people were doing. I didn't have a lot of ideas of my own yet, but I shared some of my basic classroom management strategies and people were like, wow, I never thought of that--it's so simple and yet it totally works! Eventually I noticed teachers were asking the same type of questions over and over (How do you get kids to be quiet in the hallway? What can I do about their disgustingly messy desks?), so I thought it would be easier to type up one response and put it on a web page, then just link people to my answer. That was 2003, and Ms. Powell's Management Ideas for Teachers was born! Over the years, I kept adding new classroom photos and printables. The blog and book just felt like the next natural steps.
2) Um, when did you have the time to write this gem? I mean, seriously, are you the world champion of time management and organization?
The book's motto is "Learn how to create a self-running classroom that frees you to teach" and I apply the same principles to my life: all my routine tasks are basically self-running which frees me to, well, do what I love and share it with other people. I cook large, simple meals 2 or 3 times a week and eat variations of the leftovers on the other days. My beloved Roomba vacuums for me. All my bills are automatically debited from my account online and I only run errands if something can't possibly be handled on the Internet. Even my cat's life is totally self-running: she has an automated litter box cleaner, an automatic waterer, and a food dispenser that puts out 1/2 cup every twelve hours. I spend a total of 5 minutes a week on cat upkeep. My husband is old-school and thinks I'm a bit over the top, but you can't argue with what works.
3) How do you think school psychologists could use this resource? (I know for one, that the movement to RtI means that school psychologists will be in the classrooms more than ever, and need resources for teachers)
Since working in a school somehow means you're destined to be surrounded by massive amounts of paper, I think the ideas for easy-to-maintain organizational systems, avoiding the paper trap, and keeping documentation records will be useful for school psychs. I also think it will help them relate to children in a large group setting; the story you tell in The Teachable Moment about your disastrous first attempt at conducting a whole class discussion is really common! It takes a special skill set to keep 30 squirming or surly kids engaged, and I've tried to convey some innovative ways to do that through the book.
4) Pretend I'm a first year teacher. What is THE most important thing they don't teach me in teacher preparation programs?
Having clearly-defined, modeled, and reinforced procedures will truly save your sanity. Otherwise you will spend four hours preparing a fabulous lesson, only to have it ruined by a kid who gets up in the middle to use the noisy pencil sharpener (leaving shavings all over the desk and floor), which will serve as the impetus for seven other children to suddenly decide that they, too, have impossibly dull pencils and must race over to sharpen them right. this. second, and then make a meandering trip over to the water fountain on the way back to their seats. There are lots of different ways to solve practical problems like these, so I've suggested a bunch of different options so teachers can choose what works for them, and then use a basic set of steps to introduce the expectation to students and train them how to be successful at meeting it.
5) Your book is super practical. Where have you been all my life? Do you find most education resources to be theory-based rather than practical? Where can teachers and school psychologists go for additional resources when they are in the trenches and nothing they learned in graduate school seems to be working as planned?
I love that teachers don't have to rely solely on formal professional development classes anymore--you can find pretty much anything you need online. I have a fabulous network of people that I rely on for ideas and resource recommendations through their websites, blogs (Google Reader is a lifesaver), Twitter feeds, and Facebook. The edu-tech gurus call this creating your own personal learning community or network (PLC/PLN). There are so many new resources being created daily for teachers, and lots of them are free. I love to explore online, and then compile the best stuff I find on my website.
6) Anything else you want to share? Please say new book, please say new book....
Yes, book #2 is in the works! The Cornerstone is the practical guide to managing a classroom, but there's actually something even more critical to effective teaching: the right attitude. It's so easy to get discouraged, frustrated, and bogged down in all the bureaucratic nonsense that teachers have to juggle, especially in urban classrooms. I'm hoping to share ways teachers can establish a mindset that will get them through even the toughest of days.
You know you want this book. Click on the Cornerstone icon on the right side of this blog under "Go on, Buy Yourself Something Pretty." Mama gets a 4 cent kickback, I think. In 10 years, I could buy a latte.