My first year teaching a little friend made me a "puppet" at the art center during free choice time. He'd used a purple foam flower, attached a close pin to the bottom, and drew two eyes with angry eyebrows and an angry mouth. He said it was me when I used my mad face.
It was my first year and I'd taken a lot to get to the point where my mad face was extremely effective, so I attached the puppet to my badge. The class loved it. Instead of me having to use my actual mad face at them I could just flash the puppet. They'd immediately know I was giving them the evil eye (even those who had difficulty reading my actual facial cues knew it meant they were on thin ice) and would stop their behavior.
The next year I overheard one of the most amazing teachers in my building say she writes the phrase "I love you but I can't talk to you right now" on her writing workshop conference hat so that children knew not to bother her when she was conferencing. I kept playing that phrase over and over in my mind. I love it- it acknowledges the person and that you still care about the person, but also sets a limit.
I told my class that my angry purple flower meant just that "I love you, but I can't talk to you right now." Just like the year before I wore it all the time, not just during conferencing. It was relatively small and just lived on my ID badge but was easy to flash when a child came to interrupt me when I was chatting with another teacher, another student, or just trying to organize myself for the next lesson. I did not have to turn and make eye contact with the child, I simply just picked up the flower and held it up so they could see it.
"Oh yeah," many of them would say, "You love me but you can't talk to me right now" and they'd go back to work.
For whatever reason they loved the saying too. I loved that they repeated it to themselves "You love me but you can't talk to me right now" as though they were reassuring themselves that I did in fact love them.
For me it worked better than a designated hat for writing or reading workshop because I was able to acknowledge their presence with an action (holding up the flower) without making eye contact. When I used a hat for reading/writing workshop I'd find myself stopping and talking to the child to remind them what the hat meant. Tapping the hat didn't get their attention, while holding up the purple flower did. Plus the purple flower was around all day so they saw it all the time and were less likely to forget what it meant.
I also paired it with a "notes for Ms. L" box so they could go and leave me a note about what they needed. For first graders I wanted them to write anyway, so writing their notes to me was meaningful writing. They had even more incentive really listen to the sounds in those words because they knew I'd be reading them when they were not around to translate for me. By the middle of the year most of them were leaving notes without me having to give them the "I love you" reminder.
Now that I work in 3 different classrooms it's hard to do something that consistently. I don't have the luxury of having those moments of whole group lessons where I explain procedures. And since I'm not in their rooms all the time it's not as consistent. As the kinders are getting more and more bouncy with spring fever- and more likely to leave their seats to "need to tell me something so, so, so important" I need to find a way to make it work... my end of year survival may depend on it.