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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Wrist Bands: Individual Behavior Supports for Music Class

With so many students to teach and so little time with each class, managing to give each student the kind of individual support we'd like to is a monumental task! And often when individual students are struggling in school, music teachers are left out of any individual plans that are created for them. I've found a few strategies in the last few years that have been very helpful for students who need individualized support that are realistic for me to implement as a music teacher. I hope they will be helpful for others as well. One strategy that has been helpful for targeting one specific behavior goal for individual students has been the rubber band method. I've since learned that this strategy is fairly well-known within some circles, but it was new to me when the school psychologist shared it with me a few years ago and it has been very effective for some situations!


I have used this strategy as a way to give a student a silent reminder when they are working to reduce the frequency of a specific targeted behavior. That could be roaming the room when it's not appropriate to do so, calling out/ interrupting, name-calling, throwing, or any other behavior that the student exhibits frequently within a class period.

The basic idea is simple: I start with a certain number of rubber bands on one wrist. Any time the student exhibits the targeted behavior, I silently move a rubber band from one wrist to the other. The goal is for there to be at least 1 band left on the first arm when the class period is over. Once the student starts to adjust their behavior and is consistently successful, I can reduce the number of bands that I have to start with.

This strategy works within the context of my job as an elementary music teacher because I can just put the bands on my arm in the morning whenever I know I have that student in class that day, and if I happen to need it for more than one student within the building I can use the same bands and just replace them after each class leaves. I don't have to create a new individual chart for them, and I don't have to set something up for that student that stays out in the room somewhere (like many homeroom teachers might do with a visual on their desk etc).

The rubber band strategy works in general because it doesn't draw attention to the behavior- for the other students in the class, who generally don't even notice me moving bands so it doesn't create any sense of shame for the student, or for the individual student, for whom it avoids giving any sort of positive reinforcement for the behavior but still gives them the reminders that they need. It also works because it's very concrete, and it allows us to work with realistic goals- we aren't expecting a behavior to immediately disappear, but to help students be more aware and gradually correct it over time. And it helps me keep track of data without having to stop to write things down, which is never convenient, and often it helps me see the student making progress more easily- it can be hard to remain patient when a student's progress is slow, but it's easier to notice that gradual progress happen when I notice I only have to move 3 bands instead of 5, etc.

When I have used this I have done it in tandem with an individual behavior plan that the support team creates for the student for their overall school time, so I fill out their chart, give them a sticker, check off a list, or whatever they are using outside of my room based on how they did with the rubber bands in my class. It saves me some of the headache of trying to remember lots of different individual plans while I'm in the middle of teaching, while still working with whatever they are doing in the rest of their classes with other teachers.

I hope this helps you find manageable ways to support students in their behavior goals! I'm planning to share more of my favorite strategies for individual behavior supports in the future. What are some tools that you use in your own teaching practice? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments below! And if you want to learn about how I build a classroom community and foster positive character in my music classes you can read about all of my procedures and strategies in this post.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Power of a Sticky Note: Individual Behavior Supports for Music Class

With so many students to teach and so little time with each class, managing to give each student the kind of individual support we'd like to is a monumental task! And often when individual students are struggling in school, music teachers are left out of any individual plans that are created for them. I've found a few strategies in the last few years that have been very helpful for students who need individualized support that are realistic for me to implement as a music teacher. I hope they will be helpful for others as well. One of the most effective tools I have implemented in my classroom for individual behavior support has been the sticky notes and pencil I keep in the corner of the back table of my classroom. Many of my students don't even know they're there, and most of them never use them. But for certain students and specific situations it has been an invaluable strategy!


I use the sticky notes pad for 2 situations:
  1. students who need more individual attention than I can give them in the normal running of my classes (usually demonstrated by frequent calling-out and/or disruptions, seemingly overly-dramatic responses, and other attention-seeking behavior), and
  2. students who are upset about something but are too upset/ shy/ nervous to talk about it.
Of course I try to be mindful of giving students the attention they need to feel comfortable in my class (a lot of this can be addressed in seating assignments- read about that in this post), but for some students it's just not possible, with the time constraints we have, for me to give them the attention they need in the moment they need it in order to participate fully in class. For those students, I pull them aside privately and tell them about the sticky notes. I tell them that if they ever need to tell me something but I can't listen to them right away, I will quietly point to the sticky notes and that means they can go write down what they want to tell me and hand it to me. This was so much more helpful than I ever could have imagined for quite a few of my most "disruptive" students! Besides being heard, which is so important, I've learned that often those students are the ones who see things happening that I don't catch, are confidants for quiet students who would never speak up themselves when they're hurt, or otherwise genuinely just have more things that they need to tell me that occupy their thoughts if they don't get a chance to express them.

On the flip side of students who talk too much, of course, are the students who don't talk enough: as much as I pride myself on fostering relationships with all of my students, none of us can ever expect to connect on a deep level with every single child that enters our classrooms. And sometimes something happens that is so disturbing to a child that they just can't find a way to voice it out loud. If I'm trying to ask a student what happened and they aren't answering, I offer them 2 alternatives that often are appealing to them: talking to another adult in the building, or writing something down to give me. I've been surprised at how often a student who was refusing to tell me the problem verbally is happy to write it down for me to read.

Regardless of how we're using the sticky notes, the key to making this a successful strategy is following through on the notes that they give me. I always make sure I read any notes I get before the writer leaves my classroom, and I make sure to tell them how I plan to address the contents if I can't address it right away- often they just want to see me read it to know I heard them, but sometimes I ask for a follow-up conversation outside of class, or I promise to follow through with a consequence if they are reporting something. In that case, I have the added benefit of being able to pass the note along to the principal, homeroom teacher, counselor, etc (I always ask the student's permission before passing it along).

As with anything else, this strategy will only work in the context of a strong relationship with the student. There is no one thing you can do to take away the real work of building relationships with the children in our classrooms- and that's a great thing! But this is a tool that can help us better connect and communicate with individual students who need something different than what we can realistically give them in the context of an average music class.

I hope this helps you find new ways to connect with your students in real, meaningful ways! I'm planning to share more of my favorite strategies for individual behavior supports in the future. What are some tools that you use in your own teaching practice? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments below! And if you want to learn about how I build a classroom community and foster positive character in my music classes you can read about all of my procedures and strategies in this post.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Classroom Tour 2019-2020

It's ready! I still have a couple of weeks left before I go back to work but my classroom is set up for the 2019-2020 school year so today I'm going to show you around!


Rather than spam you with a million photos I've done a video tour again this year:


And here are some details about the things I mentioned in the video:
My behavior management systems
Color teams
Teacher music stand
Teacher desk area
Sub tub
Rainbow patterns posters

I also just wrote a post about how I think through my classroom setup, which explains what my priorities are and what I consider when I'm setting up my room each year:


I can't wait for the school year to get started- it's about to get real! Leave a comment below if you have any questions about anything in my classroom, and best wishes to everyone on their school year!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Divorce and Co-parenting Planner / Organizer (update)

I'm so happy to say that I've finally given my divorce and coparenting planner a small update! This is something that has always been very important to me, because I know first-hand how difficult the divorce process and co-parenting can be. I first published this organizer more than 3 years ago so it was due for an update- I hope you find these useful! I've included below the original explanation, and the link to the free download of the updated file.


I think most people know that going through a divorce, being a single parent, and co-parenting (to varying degrees of "co-" ness) are all difficult things to go through. I think most people also realize, if they stop and think about it for a minute, that there are naturally some added logistical challenges associated with managing a broken home. What I don't think people realize is just how much information and logistics you are expected to manage when you go through a divorce and/or share physical and/or legal custody with someone.

When I first started going through the legal divorce process, I was (and continue to be) amazed at how much information the courts, attorneys, and everyone else expected me to manage. You would think that, given the emotional state most of us are in when we go through this process, people would expect you to not be able to manage much additional information and paperwork and would help remind you, or ask you about, the minute details of the legal proceedings, paperwork, etc. Nope. I consider myself an organized person, and I have found myself scrambling to find paperwork, looking up details from agreements we made months or even years ago, on multiple occasions. If anything, people seemed surprised that I did not have this information already on-hand. Nobody ever once has given me any advice on how to keep all of this information organized- they seem to just expect that I will, and if I don't, the courts could end up making a ruling that negatively affects my children. So there is a lot riding on my ability to stay organized!

The other surprise for me has been that keeping information and paperwork organized digitally is not enough. I didn't realize that in court hearings, meetings with attorneys, and other meetings, people often either do not have internet access available and/or will not accept a digital copy of a document for use in a hearing or meeting- they want a hard copy. When I first started going through the divorce, I stored everything in a specific folder on a thumb drive that I took with me to every meeting, appointment, and hearing. I have since learned the importance of also printing out one or more hard copies and keeping them organized that way as well.

I've put together this planner for my own use, and I've also tried to create forms that I wish I had had when I was first entering and going through the initial divorce process. So there are pages that would be helpful for every stage of the divorce/co-parenting process. To get the best use out of them, I would suggest printing single-sided. That way you can change, remove, or add pages without having to replicate anything that you filled out on the other side of the page. When you print, just select the pages you need and print those. You may also want to print multiple copies of some pages if you need more room for certain information. What you need to organize and keep on hand will change over time, so having the flexibility to add and remove pages is important- keep everything in a binder of some kind rather than having it permanently bound in a way that doesn't allow you to change the inserts. I have stuck mine in the teacher/life planner that I have already, but you could of course keep this in a separate binder as well.

Here's an overview of what's included:
1. Custody schedule: year at a glance (good for mapping out alternating weekends, holidays etc)
2. Regular visitation schedule (includes 2 weeks on 1 page for those with every other week schedules)
3. Holidays/vacations/days off (space to note schedule and any agreements you need to remember)
4. Court dates (note dates, topics, and anything you need to bring or prepare in advance)
5. Important contacts (like attorneys, therapists, other related contacts)
6. Documents (keep track of what they are and where you have stored them)
7. Agreement references (keep track of where to find agreements within your divorce decree, parenting plan, or other documents so you can quickly reference as needed)
8. Expenses (use this during the divorce process to keep track of attorney and other expenses)
9. Support payments (keep track of child support, alimony, etc, either paying or receiving)
10. Reimbursements (track expenses that need reimbursement, like medical, educational, etc)
11. Goals/journal (prompts to help you set priorities for yourself and for your children, plus blank pages)

I know every situation is different, so if you have any suggestions of ways I can improve or add to this please let me know in the comments or send me an email ( caldwell.organized.chaos at gmail dot com ) and I will be happy to make those changes- I want this to be helpful to as many people as possible. If you are unsure how to use a certain part of the planner or have another question, leave a comment below or email me and I will be happy to answer them as well! Click the image below to download. I hope you find this helpful!