Top Teacher Hacks for Classroom Hacking

After 15 years of High School teaching, I have picked up a number of teacher hacks.Some things have become second nature – but I can still remember those first years when each day seemed like a matter of classroom coercion, student second-guessing and learning luring. Here are a few tips to help you hack it in the learning zone.

1. Make it yours for keeps. We all know how things go missing in schools… especially prized possessions like staplers and hole punches. Keep your classroom organised by writing your class or name onto valued objects with permanent marker then seal it on with clear nail varnish. Make this a learning hack by teaching your students to do the same with their belongings.

2. Get kids to sweat the small stuff – put them in charge of classroom organisation! This is a great learning hack, as by giving them responsibility, you not only preparing them for real life - but also make your life easier. Create a list of unimportant “teacher organisation” tasks for example:

  • packing away equipment
  • watering the plant
  • changing "the word of the week"
  • writing up the date each day
  • homework buddy for absentee student
  • End each day with a classroom clean up, so add sweeping and tidying to the job list

Divide up your class list into a year-long rota so that students rotate responsibilities and give yourself a pat on the back for the learning hack of “social responsibility”.

3. And for those learning organisational tasks that are tedious… but help kids hack the lesson. I generally prefer rewarding and find withholding reward a good enough punishment when needed, but detentions… can be very useful things! Allowing detainees to do their homework during detention is not a detention! Punishing them by giving them extra Mathematic, English or other subject related work might make them associate your subject with punishment! So instead of having them sit silently for 60 minutes, make them feel useful. Laminate, alphabetize, hole punch, sharpen pencils, cut out resources for lessons… All those jobs that make lessons more meaningful but take time which you could be using more wisely.

4. Teaching makes you sick! Students will liberally share their germs with you. We all know, this usually seems to happen just before we go on our “work from home” break (people who don’t teach mistakenly call these “holidays”. In the battle against bacteria, use a bottle of hand sanitiser as the “toilet pass”. This will encourage students to disinfect their hands on a more regular basis and reduce everyone’s chances of getting ill.

5. Sign Language! Teach your students some signs for occasions that are inevitable. This will prevent them from disrupting the flow of the lesson. For example form a T with two hands to indicate toilet request, or a C to indicate completed task…

6. and for those C for completed tasks: Pre-prepared extension activities… students become disruptive when they are bored. As an English teacher, I have a wealth of

  • English puzzles,
  • dictionary activities
  • mini projects on back up.

When a student finishes something a long time before classmates, it is just a matter of selecting the appropriate activity to challenge them further.

7. If your students must buy their own reading or text books, make them write their names along the edge of the book, as well as inside it. This makes your life easier if books go missing and students are tempted to “borrow” their classmates’. It is easy to remove one page with a name on it but pointless to remove all the pages!

8. Make a self-service spot for students who were absent. Create the role of Homework Buddy  (point 1) who needs to collect extra sheets and work each day. These are filed in the classroom under the day of the month. When the absentee student returns, they are responsible for visiting the self-service box to collect the work filed under the days they missed. .

9. Save time AND give constructive feedback. If making a set of stamps is out of the question, print off a pile of ready-made marking templates according to your subject criteria. For example, in English I had:

What you did well……………………………

Where you can improve………………………

Revise these spellings………………………

10. Time Counts. This may seem obvious – but keep the kids on track with a countdown/stopwatch. Tell them they have 10 minutes for a task, set the countdown clock and give them a five minute and one-minute warnings… This helps to keep them on task and keeps your lesson running to schedule. Obviously, flexibility is required and sometimes extensions need to be given, but they don’t need to know that

11. Make friends with the real bosses! No, not the headteacher. No, not the bursar… I mean the caretaker, IT person and the cooks! No matter how tired you are, treat them kindly, with respect and communicate frequently – not just when you want something! These are your allies and hold the real power in school to make your life more manageable!

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