In a recent conversation with the wonderful Darrell Wakelam (@DarrellWakelam) we discussed how there are so many lessons you learn following on from your teacher training. Often, they are things that make your life easier – referred to as #ClassroomHacks or something similar. Below, I have started to list some of these with the support of the online education community (#edutwitter). Feel free to send your own suggestions via Twitter!
Wall staple at an angle, or with a coin or lolly stick taped under the stapler, for easy removal. Don’t do this on low displays though as children might catch their arms on the staples if they brush past! Alternatively, use thumb tacks for easy display removal.
Layer paper on displays to use fewer staples. If you can overlap backing paper and use one staple instead of 2 or 3 then life is much easier when you come to remove it. Plus your staples last longer! I’d also recommend using hessian or other fabrics to back boards as if you put it up well it can last for years. Wallpaper and proper backing paper rolls are also better as they are bigger than sugar paper or large sheets and take less time to put up.
Cable tie tables together to avoid table migration. When you teach you will notice that the tables all shift towards you throughout the day. Cable ties keep them together in a herd, reducing table migration massively! Black tape lines on the floor also help children to realign tables back to how they should be.
Have spare, sharp pencils ready so no children waste time sharpening. Some children can spend hours sharpening pencils – it’s a great work avoidance tactic – so swapping their broken or blunt pencil for a sharp one is an easy fix.
Have classroom monitors for everything: board cleaners, pencil sharpeners, Ipad collectors, book stackers. This is a great behaviour tool as it gives sense of responsibility that can be added to or taken away as required. List who does what and enjoy the hive of activity when it all runs smoothly!
Wall mount book stands for easy 3D, accessible display features. You can put reading books, exercise books or even Ipads and Kindles in these for children to access.
Redistribute lost property by allowing children to smell it. This might be the most unusual advice I’ve ever typed, but children have superhuman smelling powers and they’ll match the lost kit to the owner like a skilled detective.
Keep a bag of spare glue and pen lids for when one inevitably gets lost or eaten. Who knows where all the lids go? Having a stash of spares saves glue sticks and pens from drying out – also make sure children match the right lid colours to the right pens so you know how many of each colour you have left!
Keep a list of who has had awards so far that year. In my school we send weekly certificates out in celebration assembly. By week 4 I have completely lost track of who has had one and who hasn’t, so a list is an absolute must! It also helps you to target children to ‘find the positives’ in what they do to line them up for a certificate or award.
Transition trick: the walk by. As you lead the line, make sure you pause at regular intervals (especially just around blind corners and on stairwells) and let the children walk past you. This gives you opportunities to intercept those louder children who always gravitate towards the back of the line. Often, your presence is enough to manage low level disruption as the children walk past. I’d then follow on from any who are really struggling and walk just behind them, praising them for making a positive change.
Ask children to collect books in open on the page that needs marking. Trust me, you’ll spend hours wasting your time flicking through books to find work, especially if you have notorious page missers in your class! Ask your book monitors to collect and pile books open and ready to mark. Save even more time by marking throughout the lesson so you don’t have to mark it later!
Ask children to self-mark as much as possible to save time. Sharing the answers and asking children to mark and reflect on where they made mistakes is not only a powerful learning tool, it also saves you heaps of ticking.
Slot marking pens on your lanyard or wear a mini apron to hold handy things. This means you’ll always have the tools of your trade to hand. If you have a multi-colour marking policy then those clicky pens with different colours are a life saver.
Use small coloured stickers on books to group them according to your class / table groupings. This makes collecting them in and giving them out much quicker and easier. I’m lucky enough to have smart sacks on chairs so children already have their books, but this is a speedy alternative.
Give every adult in the room a set of marking pens and encourage them to mark too. Every adult in the room should be seen and respected as a teacher by yourself as this will mean that children treat them the same way – ideal if they cover you or if you need to pop out. If you’re worried about their quality of marking just mark a few books together and they’ll be flying in no time.
Always carry something you can take notes on at the start and end of the school day so you don’t forget by the time you return to class. I use my planner – AKA my teacher shield – and note things down. This is also really helpful if a parent / carer is upset as pulling your diary out and asking when you can sit down to talk properly calms the situation immediately. They see you’re taking them seriously and you buy yourself time to think and collect information without having someone explode in front of other families.
Google the snipping tool, it’s phenomenal, as is the ‘transparency’ tool on SMART Notebook. Trust me!
Turn on computers / laptops / ipads before lessons, or better yet have classroom monitors that do this. You’ll save heaps of time and you’ll know which ones are working and which ones aren’t.
Store whiteboard pens and felt tips upside down so they last longer. This was a new one for me, but I’ll be trying it in September that’s for sure!
Speak to your local tree surgeon and, after some sanding and drilling, you can have free display stands / stools / mini tables. These are great in EYFS outdoor areas, but we have them in the library too!
Take photographs of your displays, working walls or provision areas so you can make them again in future years.
Be meticulous when filing your planning and work on the school server so it’s easy to reuse in the future. Coding and collating your resources carefully means that you can find it easily when you need it too. Always back it up on a memory stick in case the server goes down and you’ll never be caught short.
Pin clip boards to display boards to make easy-change display spaces. You can even display children’s exercise books if you get A3 boards. Imagine how your children will feel when their book gets put on display during a lesson as a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like)!
How many times have you asked a question, only to be answered with “Can I go to the toilet?” Joking aside, it can really hit the flow of a lesson – especially if it happens a lot! Ask your children to use a ‘toilet time out’ hand signal and you can just nod and carry on uninterrupted. I also have a toilet pass in class, so only one child is out at the loo at any one time (this has been especially useful when reducing crossovers with Covid in mind).