Whether it's a school assembly, a shortened day, or a student acting up in class, there are many things that can disrupt your regular teaching day, but as teachers like you told us during this month's contest, these breaks in your regular routine don't have to detract from learning. Many of you said that the most effective way to handle disruptions is to focus on what your students as a whole need. Bottom line advice: Don't get frustrated, and do be flexible.

Thank you for sharing your suggestions. The variety of suggestions proves once again that teachers are the best creative problem solvers and able to handle multiple challenges with a "We can do it!" attitude. Below are the winning examples of this spirit and professionalism.

Disruptions for Fifth Grade

Submitted by Chris Knoblaugh, Grade 5, Greystone Elementary School, San Jose, CA

We have a constant stream of disruptions…To prepare for these situations, we trained several responses during the first week of school. I just say one word, and the kids go into action. I use tickets for a prize drawing as rewards.

  • "computers" — Put everything on the desks on the floor, prepare to checkout a laptop, pull out the work you prepared before hand.
  • "line-up" — Silently form a line at the back of the room, then proceed in the direction I point to (outside for fire drills, inside to the library, to the back to the cafeteria).
  • "science/social studies/language arts/math" — The kids exchange their books for the texts they need (which are stored on shelves at the back of the room), we are working on the silent part of this.
  • "cover" — Earthquake drill process, we are working on the silent part of this.

I use a wind chime on a chord to get silence, and I use a deaf signing method to show complete quiet is required. This is used for announcements over the loudspeakers.

To ensure that we stay on schedule in spite of things like impromptu assemblies, I use lesson compaction. For each standard, I have a quick mini-lesson of just the base concepts behind the standard. Since we spiral through the year and frequently connect back to prior learning, I also foreshadow ideas that will be coming. For example, when working with long division we also look at factor trees and exponents to see how they can help us find the largest divisor possible.

Common Sense Solution to Disruptions

Submitted by Angela Bunyi, Grade 4, Barfield Crescent Elementary School, Murfreesboro, TN

I moved into a new school/school system and was so overwhelmed by the many, many distractions going on throughout the day. Things started feeling fragmented and half-way done. So I sat down, took out my writer's notebook and made a list of the things in our schedule that must not be compromised, for any reason. If the schedule gets interrupted, I have to figure out what goes and what stays…Here are a few of mine that I refuse to compromise on a daily basis:

  • I will individually conference/meet with 4-5 students daily on their reading.
  • My students will read for 30 minutes or more daily.
  • I will individually conference/meet with 4-5 students daily on their writing.
  • My students will write for 30 minutes or more daily.

I also did the math: 30 minutes of reading multiplied by 200 school days equals 6,000 minutes of reading in school; 100 hours; and over 4 complete days of reading. The same applies with writing.

Time spent, at minimum, meeting with individual students: 10 min/week x 30 weeks= 300 minutes spent with each student ONE ON ONE that year. That is pretty good with a class of 26 students.

To me, if I can provide this time in the schedule for my kids, then I need to stop worrying about that worksheet on helping verbs being missed. Big deal! Make lemon meringue pie out of those lemons. What matters to you most? What matters to your kids? Let THAT stay in your schedule and don't let anyone take it away from you.

Music Moves Mountains

Submitted by Katie Ensell, Grade K, Creative Child Care East, Columbus, OH

Who knew that Poison Ivy would be such a miracle? Jim Gill has a CD, The Sneezing Song and other Contagious Tunes, that has saved my life.

"Poison Ivy" is a silly song that quickly became the class favorite. After singing the songs with my kindergarten several times and then teaching them some simple movements, the kids will abandon whatever they are doing to dance. They love pretending to itch all over to the "Poison Ivy" song.

Why has music saved me?

Kindergarten kids, in general, have a 5 minute attention span. We are slowly working on getting the students to work longer on a single project, whether it is writing or working at a center. So sometimes we just need a break from what we are doing. I can tell they need a break because pencils start doodling on desks, fingers start going up that place we hate to see them, and the noise level starts sounding like a football stadium. I hit play on the CD and randomly pick a song. Some songs they are more excited about than others. They know that the music is their cue to get up and move to the carpet area where they can get all those jitters out. By moving and taking a five minute break, the students can then work with more focus, thereby saving me time from having to constantly re-direct them.

You can even use music for transitions. Pop in your chosen CD (make sure you screen it first) and teach the kids that the music is their cue to dance as (silly, slowly, quickly, etc.) to the next area/activity. This is a fun way that also gets their attention focused once again.

I know a third grade teacher who uses music as well. She breaks out a "Radio Disney" CD when the kids are restless and they get a good laugh in before settling back into their routine and working once again.

We all have different tastes in children's music, whether it is the Jonas Brothers, Radio Disney, Raffi, or some other style, so choose music that YOU like. The kids will get excited because you like it, and then they will want to hear it all the time, and you don't want to dread it!


Staying on Schedule

Submitted by Kelly Savasta, grades 6, 7, 8, St, Charles Borromeo School, Milwaukee, WI

I teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade Language Arts and Science. With schedule changes happening all of the time, it is important to be flexible. I found a way to "schedule" schedule changes.

I block one period for each grade on Fridays to do an integrated Science Current Events and Writing activity. On this day students research current events in science or read the Current Science magazine and reflect on it in writing. Other writing or integrated activities are sometimes implemented. This is something that is not related to whatever unit it is that we are working on at the time. If for some reason a lesson is missed during the week because of an assembly it is done during this period instead of the current events activity. This way students stay on track with the unit and my lesson plans do not need to be completely rearranged.


Transitions & Schedules

Submitted by Lita Bell, Grade 1, Mitchell Elementary School, Tulsa, OK

I found a great way for transitions that my children love. I use animated animals that sing and move. When I want them to come to the floor I simply push the button and my class comes to the floor. They know that they must all be on the carpet when the song ends. I also use it as an incentive for better behavior out in the hall. They know if they stand quietly during restroom break I will push the button twice. The first time they get to dance, and the second time they sit on the carpet. I push the button when I want them to line up for specials or recess. I don't need to say anything. I only point at the door and my class goes quietly there.

Keeping on schedule has always been a thorn in my side. I find if I set a timer it keeps me on track. I get carried away teaching and lose track of time without a reminder ring.