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Absent? Learning Doesn't Have to Be

There was no teacher in the room for most of the period and almost no one knew.

Accidentally no sub was put in for the coverage and because students worked unsupervised, no one even checked.

I only found out later that my students on their own accord made sure to work through the period with me or anyone else present.

Not realizing it then, (as it was largely unintentional so many years ago), the value of developing independent learners and how it could change our space was something I took notice of and made sure to implement on purpose moving forward.

Since then, early in every school year, expectations are established for classroom learning time with or without the teacher present.

It may never be explicitly said, but class is organized in such a way where every second we share is valuable.

Students are involved and engaged in what is going on right away and therefore have a good deal of ownership over the space.

Intentionally doing this, sets up a level of commitment to our class and their learning that has been replicated for years now.

Communication is also initiated by setting up class lists in Gmail and class hashtags are set up on Twitter.

Provide students with meaningful learning and they will learn in a teacher's absence because they will not want to lose the opportunity to collaborate.

Here are some tips for setting up a self-sufficient classroom full of independent learners:

  • Get to know your students quickly and empower them while you are present. Spend little time in front of all of them lecturing. The workshop model works well for this.

  • Develop clear classroom expectations and routines early. Practice them while you are there and review the expectations for when you aren't in the class.

  • Encourage students to ask each other for help before they ask you for help. You're always there as a safety net, but other classmates can often be as effective as the teacher. If this culture is developed it works when you aren't there.

  • Set up groups in your email and remind students to check their emails regularly. Make sure to copy administration when sending directions to students so they can be shared with substitutes. 

  • Develop a class hashtag that you can post directions for students to reach out on.

  • Have a few class leaders who you can touch base with throughout the day (for high school students). I have a few students who Vox me or Text me throughout the day.

  • Check-in via email or Twitter to answer questions when you know your class is meeting. Make sure the kids know you are reachable.

  • Make sure there is valuable work that can't be copied happening. Giving students time to collaborate on these projects is useful. If no one project is happening, provide a menu of appropriate choices for kids and ask them to have something to either send to you or present in class. Don't threaten tests or pop quizzes on the work they should have completed. We never want to have punitive responses. Focus on positive reinforcement instead.

  • Have an expectation that the work they do in your absence is an integral part of what is going on so that it is being used immediately when you return. The purpose should always be clear.

  • Follow up with class leaders so if specific students weren't working appropriately, you can address them on a one by one need basis.

  • Keep moving forward, business as usual.

Learning is an on-going process and should be treated as such, just as it would be while you are there. Continue to foster this belief regularly and students will get the most out of all of the time they are in school (and it may even trickle into their own time after school.)

What procedures do you put in place for when a substitute is in charge? How does it set up continuous learning? Please share

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