7 Tricks to Keep Yourself (& Your Students) Engaged After Lunch

tired

 

GUEST POST by Shundalyn Allen, University Instructor & Contributor to Wisewire

What time of day are your students most disruptive? When asked this question, many teachers identified the transition from lunch back to the classroom. Tiredness after meals is common because energy diverts to digestion. How can you boost your energy after lunch? Here are seven tips to boost your energy and keep your students engaged after eating.

1. Get Moving

When blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, you feel energized and alert. Get your blood circulating with some light exercise. Walking around your building or stretching for a few moments are simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your day.

2. De-stress

Exercise is not a one-trick pony. It directly affects stress. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that make you feel good. Don’t panic if you don’t have a lot of spare time or don’t feel fit enough for a high-impact workout. The Mayo Clinic reports that three ten-minute walks can take the place of one thirty-minute walk. You might even incorporate walking into a work duty. For instance, if you supervise recess or lunch, you can move around the playground, gym, or cafeteria as you monitor the students.

3. Stay Hydrated

Water prevents dehydration, which causes fatigue and makes it difficult for your body to operate properly. Drinking plenty of water will help your body maintain a state of alertness. For an additional boost, add a little lemon juice to your water bottle. Studies have shown that the smell of lemon promotes concentration, memory, and accuracy. In fact, it’s common in Japan to diffuse lemon-scented essential oils through the ventilation systems of businesses because it stimulates the mind while calming emotions.

Bonus: It tastes good! Track and maintain your daily water intake with this app.

4. See Yourself Where You Want to Be

Tired of being tired? Practice visualization by creating a mental picture of a desired outcome. For instance, teachers who mentally immerse themselves in a scene of a successful lunch-to-lesson transition increase the likelihood that they will experience the same smooth transition in real life. How can you do it? Picture your students’ engaged faces, the sounds of them pulling out their chairs to sit down, an intriguing question or problem written on the white erase board, and so on.

Another type of visualization involves envisioning each step of a process. Athletes do it all the time, but studies reveal that it also benefits the average person. In one study published by the Library of Medicine, thirty young volunteers exercised or visualized using their muscles. At the end of twelve weeks, both groups were stronger. The researchers concluded: “The mental training employed by this study enhances the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.” In other words, when people imagine physical activity, the brain’s responds almost as if they were exercising in real life. The benefits of visualization aren’t limited to physical tasks. What an ideal option for teachers with little time for a full workout! Educators who incorporate visualization skills, such as guided imagery, into their lessons notice that students focus more on the subject matter. Will you try it out in your lesson plan?

5. Implement a Routine

Have you heard of the PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG)? According to the Game’s website, players work towards shared goals, cooperate with one another, and “self-regulate.” These skills translate to more engaged learning and significantly less time-wasting disruptions. Research indicates that the GBG reduces aggressive and disruptive behaviors in elementary school classrooms.

Even upper-grade classrooms flourish with an effective routine. Structure facilitates calm and focus. Whatever re-centering activity you choose—from answering a writing prompt in a journal to solving an equation or watching a short video—students should know the daily expectations. That way, they can begin working on the task as soon as they return to the classroom. And remember, routines shouldn’t be boring. Anticipating a fun video or an active game will give everyone something to look forward to in the afternoon.

6. Tap into Animal Energy

Playing with animals releases oxytocin, a hormone that inhibits stress and promotes focus and tranquility, according to a research study by the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. You probably can’t bring your dog to school, but some schools do allow small classroom pet, such as a goldfish, hamster, or lizard. Even watching the birds outside your window or installing a fuzzy bunny screensaver on your laptop can raise your spirits. Researcher Jessica Gall Myrick discovered that even people who viewed cat videos on the Internet experienced heightened energy levels and an increase in positive emotions.

7. Take a Nap

In Mediterranean cultures, it’s traditional to take a short nap called a siesta after the midday meal. Does sleep affect stress levels? Yes, according to SEMERGEN (Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians), brief naps improve heart function, mental alertness, and recall. One caveat, however, is that the benefits only appear if you nap on a regular basis. You might dismiss the idea of taking a nap at work. Who has the time? However, sleep expert Sara C. Mednick says that “you can get incredible benefits from [as little as] 15. . .minutes of napping.” Can you arrange your schedule to include a brief power nap during your free period or take a short nap after school before you start grading? If so, you can stave off the after-lunch drag.

If your students are rowdy after lunch and your energy is at its all-day low, you might find it extremely tough to get your class on task. Don’t lose hope. With a few small tweaks to your afternoon routine, you can turn your most challenging time into your favorite period of the day.
Shundalyn Allen is a University Instructor & Contributor to Wisewire. She started her career as a high-school French/ESL teacher in 2004. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s helping her clients, such as Grammarly and Wisewire, to provide engaging and practical content for their readers.

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more.

A few days ago, The Educator’s Room Facebook page shared a post a teacher had written that outlined the pensions of a Texas educator and a Texas legislator. Needless to say, the teacher didn’t compare favorably. As usual, two points were made:

Texas teachers are paid poorly, and their pensions will be relatively paltry as a result.

Texas teachers work a lot harder than those bums in the legislature.

Both of which are true.

But the writer couldn’t help herself. She had to prove just how selfless and hard-working teachers are:

They are expected to work for free during the summer by attending professional development and preparing for the next school year. Their average workday during the school year is 12 hours and most devote weekend time to planning and grading.
In addition, most districts arrange to pay teachers for a ten-month contract over 12 months. This creates a common misconception that teachers have paid vacation over the summer. Actually, the teachers are providing an interest-free loan to the districts and are paid back during the summer. Teachers are contractors who work from year to year, contract to contract, but are only able to write off $250 of their business expenses like classroom supplies, tissues & hand sanitizer, and snacks for hungry kids. The average teacher spends $500 and many spend $1000+ on their classroom annually – and as budgets are cut, teachers take up the slack.

Some good points, to be sure. But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working!

Whether or not you’re paid by the hour or earn a salary, you are involved in a transaction. You give your time and effort in return for compensation. In reality, all jobs are paid hourly.  Someone who earns $100,000 but works 80-hour weeks may have twice the money, but they only have half the time of someone who gets paid $50,000 for 40-hour weeks.

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours.

Let’s consider two teachers:

Teacher A, we’ll call her Mrs. Balance, gets to work an hour before the kids and leaves about 15 minutes after they do. She doesn’t volunteer for extra responsibilities and says no to additional paid work because her time is more valuable than what the district offers for an hourly stipend. She works a 40-hour week and makes $40,000 per year.

Rate of pay: $40,000 / 1600 hours (40 hours x 40 weeks) = $25/hour

Teacher B, let’s call him Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, also arrives an hour before the kids, but he stays three hours after. When he gets home, he works another hour checking papers. On weekends, he puts in four hours every Sunday to get ready for the week. He’s on a few committees and does some paid advisory work. He also works over breaks and throughout the summer. Mr. Burnout-in-Progress averages about 55 hours per week, and he works about 46 weeks per year.  The extra duties earn him more than Mrs. Balance. He makes $50,000.

Hourly rate of pay: $50,000 / 2530 (55 hours x 46 weeks) = $19.76

Both teachers have reason to complain about their salaries. Mrs. Balance makes just $40,000, and Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, when he thinks about how much he works, feels like his district is getting a steal by paying him 50k.

And he’s right. His district is taking advantage of him. And the reason his district is taking advantage of him is the same reason Huffpo doesn’t pay its bloggers: He has allowed them to.

If you’re going to work for free, then why in the world would a school district ever pay you?

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms for open houses and preparing plans for the first week of school. They’ll give and give and give some more. And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.

 

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A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.

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One Way Teachers Can Fight Exhaustion Before It Starts

 

One of the best things about being a teacher is we get to start anew each fall. With the school year around the corner, exhaustion is probably far from your mind. After a restorative summer, you are likely itching to get started. You have new ideas you picked up at conferences, new strategies for dealing with behavior you can’t wait to try, new technology in your classroom, new colleagues or principals, and what feels like a new lease on your career. The stress and fatigue you felt at the end of last year has drifted away like a dandelion fluff on the summer breeze.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for raining on your vacation and dousing your enthusiasm.

The stress and exhaustion will be coming back unless you do something different this year.

There are many steps you can take, all of which I outline in my forthcoming book, Exhausted, but there is one you must absolutely do if you hope to have more energy at the end of your work days. And you must start before students show up on the first day of school. What is it?

Plan and Perfect As Many Procedures As Possible

Every teacher knows the importance of teaching, modeling, and practicing classroom routines until students have them down. Teachers who want to avoid student confusion and the resultant behavior problems know they must establish procedures for nearly everything that happens in their classrooms. We also know that well-executed procedures make our classrooms more efficient: students get more done when routines are followed.

What many teachers don’t realize is that having routines can help with their own fatigue.

One of the major causes of teacher exhaustion is decision fatigue. Every time you make a decision, you use some of your limited store of self-regulatory resources, often called willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it gets fatigued the more you use it. Each decision you make is like another rep in the gym. And just like your muscles, the strength of your willpower fades with more and more decisions.

Teachers make a ton of decisions, which is one reason they come home feeling drained. Although you intended to go to the gym, you can’t get off the couch. You meant to cook a healthy dinner, but it was easier to drive through McDonald’s. You planned to finally check those math tests, but you can’t bring yourself to even think about work. Those are the results of decision fatigue.

One trick to coming home with more energy is to make fewer decisions. You do this is by establishing habits. It’s estimated that 40% of the actions you take in a day are the result of habits, from hitting the snooze twice, to putting your left leg in your pants first, to the route you take to work, to ignoring most of the menu at a favorite restaurant because you always order the same two or three items. There are many choices for which we don’t use mental energy because they are ingrained as habits.

A procedure is a habit you want students to internalize. When they learn it, it saves them and you from deciding.

Instead of students asking you where to turn in their papers and you having to decide how you’d like them to do so every single time, you establish a routine for students to turn in their work. Instead of deciding each time whether it’s okay for a student to get out of their seat to grab a Kleenex or sharpen a pencil, establish set times during the day for these activities and teach routines so that students don’t have to ask you and you don’t have to decide. Instead of deciding for a student what he or she can do when she’s finished with her work, make a poster of all possible options ahead of time.

Small decisions add up. The fewer of them you make, the less tired you will be.

Be proactive by going through your entire school day and deciding ahead of time, while you have the energy that summer provides, which components of your day can be turned into a routine. If you find yourself making too many decisions once the school year starts, ask yourself if a new procedure is needed. Figure out ways to decide ahead of time so you don’t have to make decision after decision in the moment. Your future self will thank you.

Here is the list of procedures I teach:

procedures

 

 

 

 

 

I teach third grade, so not all will apply. Feel free to make a copy and change what you need to.

For help on how to teach routines, check out these posts by Michael Linsin:

How to Teach Routines
How to Use Music to Make Routines More Fun and Effective
How to Use the Power of One Strategy to Improve Behavior

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Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/584/decision200602-15vohs.pdf)

For more information about willpower and decision fatigue, read the book Willpower.

Also read:

Why Teachers Are So Tired

6 Ways to Prepare for Next Year Before Students Leave

Because summer vacation should actually feel like a vacation, add these six items to your end-of-the-year to-do list and check them off before students leave. Getting them done will make your summer more enjoyable, and they’ll make the transition to a new year in the fall less stressful.

Get Rid of Stuff

Things accumulate. My stuff tends to pile up in three places: my teacher cabinet, my closet, and my filing cabinets. The hustle and bustle of our busy days means things don’t always get put where they belong. After a materials-intensive project, we might shove things into the closet just to get them out of sight. Worthless worksheets get dropped back into a file folder instead of in the trash where they belong. Dried out highlighters take up residence in our cabinets.

There are three reasons to get rid of stuff while students are still around. First, it cuts down on waste. Students will take just about anything home. A teacher’s detritus in the hands of a student can become a creative craft project. Let them have the empty stapler boxes and orphaned marker caps. Second, students are a source of free labor. Give them the tub of markers and have them test and throw out the duds. You’ll save time and they’ll enjoy doing it. Third, they’re done listening to you anyway. This will give them something productive to do.

Organize Your Files

I have Google Classroom and most of the documents I create throughout the year end up in a hot mess. I make sure to find time during the last two weeks to open unnamed files and see if they’re worth keeping (and naming). I put every worthy file into a relevantly-named folder. This helps me find things much quicker next year when the search function fails because I named the file something stupid.

Go through the filing cabinets, too. My rule is simple. If I haven’t used it in two years, it goes in the trash. I’ve gotten rid of entire cabinets with this rule. Again, have students assist. I have file folders with multiple copies of worksheets. The extras are taking up space. Have students pull the extra papers and put them in a box. That becomes scratch paper for next year, while your files stay nice and slim and easy to flip through.

Organize the Classroom Library

I used to come in a week before school to organize my classroom library. Now I have my students do it before they leave. Assign five or six responsible students to return books to their proper baskets. Have them put books they’re not sure about on a back table. Those will be the only ones you have to organize. If labels have torn, students can make new ones. In fact, your classroom library might be ready for a total makeover. Pass out blank index cards, a tub of markers, some glitter glue, stickers, and whatever else you have around and let students design and affix the new labels.

Make Copies for Next Year

When’s the worst time to use the copy machine? When everyone else is using it. Most teachers don’t get organized for the start of next year until just before the start of next year. By getting a jump on the competition, you’ll save yourself the frustration of waiting for Joyce to figure out how to run a collated set of “Getting to Know You” worksheets. Since copy machines are often in less demand at the end of the year due to less student work and more teachers getting the hell of Dodge because it’s gorgeous outside, it’s the perfect time to make copies for the beginning of next year.

I try to get two sets of copies done before I leave for the summer. I always want my open house packet finished. My district is notorious for running computer updates and having technical problems the week before school starts and that usually messes with the printing and copying capabilities. Having my open house handouts done and in a filing cabinet eases my peace of mind. I also copy anything I’ll need during the first week of school. That way, while other teachers are swearing at a paper jam and wasting their planning time waiting for their colleagues, I can focus on other things (and during the first week, there are a lot of other things).

Survey your students

Before students leave, you should survey them and get their honest opinions about your class. Information from surveys almost always makes me question my practice. For example, I learned that this year’s students really liked being able to work with partners. I also learned they liked reading or listening to e-books much more than traditional books. Their favorite activities were ones where they got to create something, even something as simple as a slideshow for their vocabulary words. As a result, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate more partner work next year and brainstorming procedures to teach to make that work productive. I’m also curious to see what research says about the effectiveness of listening to e-books. I’ll also want to find more ways for students to make things.

Do a Procedures Audit

Procedures will make or break you. They’re what separates a well-run classroom from a zoo. List every procedure that happens in your class, whether you wanted it to or not. This can be hard to do because it makes you take an honest look about what really goes on in your classroom. If students leave their seats when they finish their work, write that down. If some students continually come up to you or blurt your name across the room when they need your help, record that. Those are procedures, whether you wanted them to be or not.

 

Once you have your list, assess each procedure. I type mine up and then color code them. Procedures that worked the way I wanted them to are turned blue. I’ll be teaching them just like I did this year. Procedures that are in place but could be better I turn yellow. That’s usually an indication that the procedure wasn’t modeled, practiced, or enforced well enough. Procedures that drive me nuts become red. These are usually the result of not teaching the procedure in the first place. For next year, I’ll find time during the first two weeks to model how I want it done.

The benefit of doing this audit while you still have this year’s students is you can ask them why a procedure didn’t work. I teach in a portable, so we don’t have lockers. We have hooks on one wall. My procedure for this year was that students who entered the classroom first had to put their backpacks on the back hooks, while later students would use the front hooks. But students wouldn’t do it no matter how many times I modeled and stressed its importance. Every day I ended up with backpacks on the front hooks and on the floor. Nobody used the back hooks. It wasn’t until I asked that I found out why. No one wanted the back hooks because they couldn’t access their backpacks during the day. If they needed gloves at recess, the front hook backpacks were in the way. If they forgot their library book and had to get it, they had to duck under other backpacks, wiggle their way behind them, and then try to get their backpack open. To them, it made more sense to leave their backpacks on the floor where they had easy access to them.

Doing the procedures audit at the end of the year also means you’ll be more likely to remember what happened in your room and assess the procedures honestly. Once summer starts we tend to forget how annoying it was that Jill walked across the room to personally tell us every time she needed a Kleenex.

Get it done now. Enlist students’ help. Then enjoy your summer and hit the ground running when you return in the fall.

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Thanks for reading. Please take the time to leave any end-of-the-year tips in the comments or on Facebook. If you’d like more articles sent to your inbox, you can subscribe here. It’s free!

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Other articles you may enjoy:

The Benefits of Doing Nothing

The Most Offensive F-Word in Education

5 End Of The Year Classroom Management Tips

 

Be a Better Teacher by Doing Less

teach less

 

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Like most new teachers, I read Harry Wong’s The First Days of School when I was starting out (I’ve also read it every August since). My favorite quote from the book is:
“The reason teachers are so tired at the end of the school day is that they have been working.  If I worked as hard as many teachers do, I’d be as tired too.  But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 0‘clock when the students leave? “Yea, yea, yea!”  Why are they so full of energy?  Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher does all the work.  The person who does all the work is the only one doing any learning!”
 
It took me years to internalize the truth of this. For most of my career, I have been the dominant presence in my classroom. My need to feel in control, my mistaken belief that my doing more would lead to greater student success, and the feeling that because I was the only one in the room getting paid to be there, I ought to be doing most of the work, all contributed. I was convinced that the more I did, the better teacher I’d be. I was wrong.

Doing less benefits me. It also benefits my students.

Doing less work means I have more energy and more personal time. I get home early and eat an early dinner (as recommended in my five-star book, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss (how’s that for a shameless plug?)). I achieve a healthy work-life balance by doing things I want to do instead of more work. I exercise, read, write, go to my daughter’s softball games, and just hang out with my wife on our deck. I get seven and a half hours of sleep every night, and I return to work the next day recharged.

I’m in a better mood at work because I’m less stressed. My better mood means I’m more patient with students.  Being well-rested means I’m less likely to make bad decisions and more likely to be calm, use humor, and build positive relationships with students and colleagues. It makes for a more pleasant environment for everybody.

My well-being directly impacts my students.

While doing less work benefits me, which in turn benefits my students, it also makes me a more effective teacher.

 When you do less, your students must do more. That means they’re more likely to learn. The person who does the work is the only one doing any learning.

Talk Less

I used to spend large parts of my day talking at students. Now, I try to present information in other ways. Sometimes, I ask students to read the information. Other times, I assign videos that teach what I would have taught. It’s arrogant to think we’re the only ones who can provide students with information or model a process. For directions, I’m transitioning to putting most of them in written form in Google Classroom, so my students can start working without having to listen to me.  In writing, I usually teach a short lesson, then let students actually write. They share their document with classmates. Those classmates are required to offer at least three comments about their writing. Instead of me giving all the feedback, I’ve shifted some over to the students.

Help Less

As I wrote in this article, I also try to help less. Helping less tells students that you believe in their abilities to figure out their own problems. It counteracts the helplessness many students have learned and empowers them to actually try. It allows students to fail, which allows them to learn.

Reduce Behavior Problems

Stepping back from my starring role at the head of the class has also helped those students with the greatest behavior challenges. Many of these students have a hard time sitting and listening. They get bored and wiggly. To entertain themselves, they make noises, leave their seats, or start bothering others. Many of these students do much better when they have work to do. By curtailing my role and increasing theirs, I cut down on the number of times during the day when these students are asked to sit still and listen, which is often when they get in trouble.

Plan Less

I’ve also tried to plan less. I used to do most of the work for students. I’d locate articles, copy them, require students to read them, and then ask them to respond in some way. I’d find exemplar texts for students to study before a writing unit. For a social studies unit, I’d locate all the texts, videos, and activities students would need. I’d compile a packet of worksheets. Then I’d guide students through each and every one of them.

But that’s now how anyone in the real world works. When I wrote my book Happy Teacher, no one gave me a stack of articles and books to read. No one provided links to the best web sites on happiness. I had to find them. I had to decide which ones best served my purposes. I had to select what information to use. I decided how much and what parts of each book to read. I had to evaluate the sources. This is the work students should be doing. When we do it for them, we miss powerful opportunities to teach authentic skills.

This year, for a unit on Native Americans, I did less work. Students did more. They collaborated to create a Google Slides presentation about three Native American groups that lived in Michigan. I provided the guidelines and different colored index cards to record notes. I modeled some of the skills outlined above. Then I set out every resource I had in my closet and let kids have at it. I allowed them to search online for videos. My role was limited to offering guidance, getting kids unstuck, and teaching lessons on evaluating the resources for how well they helped students meet the guidelines.

Assess Less

I didn’t do much assessment either. Students shared their slideshows with kids from other classes that had yet to study the topic. Those students were given a short form to complete that provided my students with feedback. They should know that my opinion on their work isn’t the only one that matters.

Some groups did well, others didn’t. They may not have all learned everything they were supposed to about Native Americans of Michigan, but they did all learn about working in a group, managing their time, evaluating resources, the importance of design in their presentations, and many other lessons that are more applicable to the real world that what kinds of houses the Chippewa built (wigwams, if you’re curious). And besides, they don’t all learn what they’re supposed to learn when I do all the work, either.

Enlist Their Help

In the last two years, I’ve also started to use student mentors. In math especially, there are students who are  head and shoulders about their classmates. These students often finish early and need more to do. In the past I gave them busy work, let them read, or gave them some free time. Sometimes I offered enrichment activities (which they usually resented). Now, these students become “coaches on the floor.” When they finish their work, they let me know. I check it for accuracy and write their names on the board as my mentors. When students raise their hands for help, the mentors assist me in providing it. Sometimes, the students are more patient and do a better job explaining things than I do. It also gives the mentors a chance to solidify their understanding. We learn best when we teach others.

So as I start thinking about next year, I’ll be looking for more areas where I can pull back and ask my students to step forward. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

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