Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Chance for Change

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of being in education is the opportunity for change.  Education is such a progressive field of work that people continuously grow.  You just can't stay the "same" in our field.  New students, new circumstances, and new curriculum standards lead educators to change constantly.

In this ever changing field, creating a learning network is essential.  What are the options for educators wanting to learn while working within our schools and districts?  Here are some ideas for those wanting to reach out and learn.

1.  Blogs: Other than mine (ha ha ha), there are tons of educational blogs to follow and learn from out on the web.  Here is a list of a few that I truly LOVE:
Joy Kirr  - Author of "Shift This" has wonderful information to share! She even has a list of new bloggers to follow!
Connected Principals - Even if you aren't wanting to go into administration, as I am, you can learn the "why" behind many changes and ideas in education.  Check it out!  Some wonderful bloggers on there, too!
TeachThought - Here you can find many options to read that all encompass educational ideas.
Jimmy Casas - Have you begun reading "Culturize" yet?  If should!  Oh, and follow this guy!  He's the author and totally leads with passion!
George Couros - He's written a great book called "The Innovator's Mindset", and is so fun to listen to!  I was able to hear him speak this past August, and it was great!  He has great insight into the evolution of education and keeps it real for you!

2.  Twitter it Up:  Even if you do not want to Tweet (but I bet you can't resist), you should have an account.  You can follow some wonderful educators, districts, and companies on Twitter.  People tweet their blog posts, ideas, and share great resources on Twitter.  I even follow someone who is dedicated to incorporating Google into the classroom!  There are chats that you can join in almost each night dedicated to educational topics.  Online learning was never so easy!  Still need reasons, check out this post on "Why Twitter Matters" for educators.

3.  Facebook - Facebook has tons of pages you can like and follow.  I love to see ideas and questions come up in my feed.  I can offer suggestions or learn from other through these pages.  Sometimes you can find groups that are near you or in your state that are specific to the learning standards you're teaching.

There is one resource that I have yet to online (virtual) book club for teachers.  However, I feel that you could easily facilitate this via Twitter.  I just feel it would be great to share those "ah ha" moments with others reading the same literature.  But, that's just me!

Do you have other ideas?  Share them with a comment....I'd love to learn from you!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Culture Club

Culture is such a large piece of a school.  Visitors can feel the culture of a school as soon as they step foot into the building.  School culture is no doubt such a large part because it encompasses the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and rules within the school.  These influence every aspect of how our schools function, lead to the social and emotional well being of our students, and our embrace of differences among our community.  With school culture influencing all of the above, it's obvious why it's a topic that comes up often.  

With culture being so crucial to our schools, what is our role?  It may not always be easy, but each day we have a choice in attitude.  We can approach the day being thankful of our blessings and enjoying the time we get to spend with one another....or we can let the external influence our day.  One of the most powerful ways I've found to put things into perspective has been the "circle of control".  
I have a tendency to worry about things that I can't control.  This is a great visual for me, and I use it in my classroom daily, as well.  It's important for us to model this for our students, too.  This also circles back to what my current principal said to our staff this year, "You are in control of the culture in our school".  Now, honestly, I must say this gave me pause.  As a teacher I always thought that admin was in charge of that...and I must say that as an aspiring admin I felt that weight on my shoulders.  However, this gave the power of control back to the staff.  I mean, wasn't she right?  Aren't we in control of the culture we cultivate each day?  Absolutely!  Each word we speak to our students, parents, and fellow staff members has power...has meaning...has influence.  We must not forget that we shape our own culture each day.  We can either enhance it or negatively influence it.  No matter what we do, you can be assured that it will be noticed.  

So what can teachers do each day to enhance the school culture?  
1.  Check your language - How are you framing your language?  Are you looking for opportunities of growth or are you stagnant?  Are you negative when speaking with parents, students, and colleagues?  Look for small, positives throughout the day.  Reframe your thinking....  
2.  Find your "tribe" - Look for those that support you, positively influence you, and are truly interested in your professional and personal well being.  Cultivate those relationships.  Spend time discussing your goals, their goals, and laughing together.  I truly believe in the power of's one of my favorites.
3.  Celebrate everything - Celebrate small accomplishments with your students and friends.  A student came in on time, but he is usually tardy?  Do a 30 second "happy dance" with the kid!  Changing subjects and having trouble during transitions?  Start cheering out the subject's name: "Give me an M", "Give me an A", "Give me a T", "Give me an H"...."What do you have?" FUN!  Engage others in celebrating together.  This winter, our school had a lip-sync battle between grade levels.  It was a fun event that got us laughing together and enjoying one another's company.  Why not spend 30 min. of investment time to gain a positive culture?  Believe's worth it!
4.  Invest in your students - Yes...I'm going to say it....You should try to attend at least one outside event for your students during the year.  I know, I have a family...a life....and you just can't do that.  I challenge you to find a way.  Take your own kids to a student's baseball game.  Enjoy some popcorn and soda together and cheer on a student.  Why not?  These are great ways to get your family out of the house and deepen the relationships with your families & students.  It doesn't just have to be games, either.  It might be a recital, choir concert, band, or another UIL event.  Any of these are opportunities for you and could be a special time for your family.  Talk to your own kids about the opportunities they could have to join in on these events.  My own son and daughter came with me just this year to some student's volleyball matches.  We got up, had some What-a-Burger breakfast, and cheered on some of my students.  I loved it, and my kids enjoyed it, too.  If you just can't make it outside of school, take an interest in your student's passions or hobbies.  Ask them about the scouts, a camping trip, or buy those Girl Scout Cookies!  Be present in their lives....your classroom culture will come alive!

So what can parents do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Be present - Are you a member of the PTA?  Do you volunteer when you can?  How about sending in those supplies when asked?  Have you offered to cut out laminated things at home?  Do you make sure your child's homework is completed?  Becoming involved, even in little amounts, truly helps build a bridge to the school and helps the culture of the school.  When teachers and students feel they have a partner in education, their likely to have less stress during the day.  Partnerships are important.  
2.  Be positive - Let's face it, gossip can hurt any culture.  While at the ball game, at a neighbor's house, or dinner it's likely that the conversation will turn toward school.  Whether it's the new program, new teacher, or new letter that was just sent home, you can bet school comes up.  That's okay!  Just remember, as you talk, that we are all human.  Mistakes may happen.  Errors in spelling on that letter sent home may occur.  Small ears are always listening...and children will take on your attitude or perception about schooling.  I can guarantee, though, that not one administrator, teacher, or teaching assistant went in to this profession to offend you or hurt a child's education.  We are there, every day, to partner with you in creating a bright future and positive education for your child.  Your child is a precious gift you share with us each day.  We value that....
3.  Ask - Simple right?  Ask questions.  Seek clarification.  Seek understanding.  It's okay to ask about your child's education, grades, or behavior.  As educational professionals, we strive to provide the best education experience.  Ask your teacher about anything that is bothering you.  Just remember that we are people too, and have 22+ students with 22+ parents who may be emailing and calling.  Give us grace as we are on this journey together.  Empathy goes a long way....

So what can administrators do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Share - Share with your faculty where your heart lies.  What drives your decision making process?  Share your vision, expectations, and enthusiasm for education.  You're the first point of contact for the teachers at the beginning of the school year, for the hiring process, and (hopefully) the first smile people encounter when coming into the school building.  Share your smile, share your love of education, and share your heart with us!  We need that!
2.  Build trust - Easier said than done?  Maybe, but I believe that trust must be extended.  I mean, the staff trusted you to accept the job offer, right?  They trusted you during that interview that you had a good heart, would be an exceptional leader, and would build that positive culture.  If not, they wouldn't have accepted the job!  So trust was extended to, now, that the person you offered the job to can do the job.  Set your expectations and trust that they will be met.  Now, of course, we all know that doesn't mean you'll never be in our rooms.  You must be in our rooms to see the great things happening, the wonderful empowerment of students, and to build relationships with the students and teachers. We know that....but trust is often a feeling that we get.  A feeling that you're there (in our rooms) to enjoy the happenings, to see the teaching, and to build upon the capacity you have...not to "catch" a problem.  Oh, and speaking of that, if there is ever a problem, we teachers like it when you come directly to us to talk about it.  Sending those "mass" emails never seems to work.  Frankly, the person you are intending the mass email for probably doesn't even know you're talking to them.  As my principal this year says, "It's about the action or behavior, not the person".  It's not personal...we are all here for the kids.
3.  Model - That's it!  Model what you want to see in your school.  Smile, acknowledge other's as they walk by, give people your time, be available, commit to having positive interactions with others....model, model, model!  

Whew...if you've read all of this, I want to personally thank you.  I know it was a longer post than I normally do, but I feel culture is an extremely important issue.  Thank you for giving me your time!  Now, go forth and culturize!  

*Speaking of which, I'm currently reading, "Culturize" by Jimmy Casas.  Have you read it?  My principal swears it will change your life!  :)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Do You Know Your Students?

It's a simple question, isn't it?  But this questions goes much deeper into the culture of your classroom and school.  In fact, I believe this question looks deep into the relationships that you are cultivating with your environment.  So let me ask one more time; Do you know your students?

There are many answers to this question.  Some teachers might think of reading levels or math levels.  Maybe they even think of writing stages or phonemic awareness, but what I want to dive into is knowing your students as people.  Do you know what makes each child tick?  Do you know his or her strengths outside of academics?  I believe this is the heart of a classroom.  Without knowing what your students are passionate about or enjoy doing, how can you expect to form a true trustworthy relationship? 

As educators, we spend 180 days with our students.  To allow our students to feel comfortable to talk with us about anything, we must be accessible and make our students feel loved.  Here are some ideas to help build that classroom community:

  • Morning Meeting / Morning Circle
    • My class begins with sharing a "High Five, Handshake, or Hug".  We share out what's going on our in lives, new learning, our weekly events, and play a word game.  Here are some other ideas:
  • Share a Classroom Google Calendar
    • Create a classroom Google Calendar that all families can add to for the year.  You can add happenings for the classroom while parents add happenings for the students.  For example, parents can add extra curricular games and events that others (including yourself) can attend.  For instructions on how to create a shared Google Calendar, click here.
  • Share a joke or riddle of the day
    • I love using humor in the classroom.  In fact, laughing is my favorite!  So I love to share a joke or riddle of the day.  Sometimes I have to explain the riddle or joke, and that's okay!  I find that jokes and riddles often lead to discussions on synonyms, antonyms, or multi-meaning words...what great learning!
  • Have a routine
    • We have a routine for our morning meetings, thank to my friend Maci Johnson. Personally, I like routines and it helps me stay organized.  So here's my classroom meeting routine:
      • Mystery Monday:  Share a Mystery Doug video
      • Talk about It Tuesday:  Choose a topic relative to all students to discuss together
      • Would you Rather Wednesday:  Pose a question of "Would you rather... or ..." and ask students to justify or tell why for their choice.  
      • Think about It Thursday:  Show students a small/short video that provide a different culture or point of view & allow time to discuss
Enjoy those little matter the age, they are someone's pride and joy!  Get to know them!  They are a precious gift....

Friday, November 24, 2017

Reading Time!

Any educator will tell you that individual reading and writing conferences are necessary in the classroom.  In fact, I’ve yet to be in an interview that hasn’t asked a question about reading and writing conferences and/or teaching small groups.  Not only do individual conferences allow you to become more familiar with the student’s goals, but it also allows you to form more of a relationship with the student.  Great educators know that individual conferencing is essential to knowing your students. 

However, educators form a sort of “pedagogical paralysis” during the school year that seems to stall the practice of individual conferencing.  I first learned about pedagogical paralysis when I read, “Harnessing the Dynamics of PublicEducation:  Preparing for a Return toGreatness”, by Jones, Barrett, and Vornberg.  Basically, this idea states that when educators become overloaded, overwhelmed, or tired they will revert back to a familiar way of teaching, and not always the best practices or innovative strategies.  Now, am I saying that every educator suffers from this in late November?  Absolutely not!  I would say that I’ve seen this often over the years.  I’d love to know your strategy if you’ve never felt it yourself!

So how can we press on and be the very best educator every day when we know there will be phone calls, emails, meetings, and paperwork?  I may not have that specific answer, but I’m going to give you a few ideas that I use and might just work for you. 

First, I am diligent about listening to my students read independently.  In the past, I read in small groups with my students.  This year, as a new goal, I am doing individual reading conferences instead of small groups.  This has allowed me to really dive deep and discuss practices I notice my students doing during reading.  We discuss ongoing issues, continued successes, and best practices for each student.  I keep my notes on a sheet when I confer with my students.  It helps me remember what I noticed last time we met, and refer back to that during our next conference.  Click here to see the sheetHere are some conference questions to use, too.
Next, I set goals with my students after running records or DRA assessments.  Doing a running record each month on my students allows for me to have data to discuss with fellow RtI educators and parents during conferences.  After these assessments, the students and I reflect on the information and reading.  We create reading goals right then and there.  The students help to create these, which I believe is vital to the process.  After school, I type the goal up and print it on a form I use consistently.  The form is a downloaded format for business cards.  Once printed, I cut it out and place it in a plastic badge.  This badge stays with the students (and can be worn or attached to the student’s book) during reading as a reminder of what they are working on while reading.  See below for a picture of what I mean.

Last, I find it beneficial to conference with fellow educators on what is working in their classes.  “What are the new steps you are taking to enhance the learning in your class?”  It doesn’t have to be formal, but a quick peek in the class and a question, “What are you doing well in your reading block?”.  It’s simple and effective.  You can always learn something new.  In fact, this year I’ve taken on the goal of meeting with my students 1-1 during reading instead of meeting in small groups.  This was an idea thrown my way by one of my team members at the beginning of the school year, and I loved it!  I’m also reading more about “Notice and Note” as a reading practice.  My daughter is in a 4th grade class that uses these strategies, and she is a huge fan!  The fact is, we can always learn from others if we stop, look, and listen.  Find your inspiration and don’t let pedagogical paralysis take hold of you this December!  Make every moment count…the kids, families, and your coworkers deserve it!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Idea to Combat Test Anxiety

State Testing.  Just hearing those words probably brings up some type of emotion from every educator I know.  I've taught PreK through 3rd grade, and I can say I truly love every grade level.  In Texas, the state assessments begin in 3rd grade (formally).  It's called the 🌟STAAR🌟 test:  State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.  Our 3rd graders take the reading and math STAAR test for the first time, and will continue taking the STAAR test throughout elementary school (and middle school and high school).

Here is my strategy for adding confidence to any child that is worrying.  Now, if you know me, prepare yourself....I'm about to get "mushy".....😉

I ask all of my students to bring in a 5x7 or smaller photo of their family that is framed the Monday before the test.  For students that don't bring one in, I use my staff photos (we always get some free) and frame them.  We each take turns sharing who is in our picture and telling a bit about our families (yes, we've already done this, but we do it again).  We talk about how worrying about something doesn't help the situation, but being brave enough to face our worries helps prepare us for our future.  We will all encounter something that creates anxiety or worries 😟.  I typically tell a story from my life about a time I was worried and it turned out okay.  (Make something up if you have to.)

Then, (and here comes the mushy), we put our pictures to our hearts 💜.  We think 🤔 of all the things we might worry about with regards to the test.  We think about how hard we've worked all year long.  We think about how much our family loves us 💑 and believes in us.  I tell them how much I am proud of them, and how much I know they have truly learned all year.  Then, I tell them that this picture will be placed on or near their desk during the test, and every time they come upon a question that they think is hard, (or want to give up on) I want them to look at their family picture.  I want them to remember how much their family believes 👍in them and knows they can do their best.  Then, we place the photos by the front door so we can see them every time we enter or leave the room for that week.  The day before the test, I set those photos near where the child will be sitting so the child can see the photo during the test.

I typically leave the photos up the rest of the year because I love having them in the classroom.  I hope your students enjoy this idea as much as mine have over the past years.  Enjoy!

Click here for a download-able letter home about the photos!

Have other ideas to calm students during testing time?  Hit me up with a reply!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

School Community

Recently, a question was posed to myself and other teachers.
How do you want your school to be known?  
Many wonderful words were tossed around:  innovative, caring, safe, positive, student-centered, learner-centered, collaborative, and the list went on.  As I read these words, I began to think of an instance in which I showed these traits.  I asked myself if I could put more weight on one trait than another.  The answer was no.  Each word that the group had listed was equally important to the school, staff, and classroom.  So, what was my word?  Inclusive.  Yes, inclusive.  A school should be inclusive of the list that my coworkers had come up with and more.  Schools should be inclusive of all types of people, of all community members, and of all thoughts/ideas of one another.  Once our schools are truly inclusive, we can begin building a community of learners who value common & differing thoughts or view points.

Relationships are super powerful.  Relationships are the foundation for change, trust, and understanding.  Building relationships with others from your community is a powerful way to achieve the goals of your school and district.  Excluding people's views and feelings is toxic to any school environment.

One way I create a classroom community is to present "Me Bags" the first week of school.  This is a small, brown bag that holds items that are important to or represents the individual presenting.  On the first day of school, I present my "Me Bag".  On the outside of this bag I draw decorations all over it.  I use my favorite colors to draw things that are important to me.  On the inside there are pictures of trips and family members, my favorite drink, my favorite movie, a small plush animal, and other items special to me.  I share each one by telling the students all about why it's special to me.  I pass the items around so they can see everything up close.  Students sometimes call out, "Oh, I love that too"!  It's a special time to find commonalities.

Next, each student receives a small, brown paper bag.  I give them time to decorate it, and then attach a note to the parents about the "Me Bag".  Students are allowed to bring in their "Me Bag" any time during the first week and share.  As the students share, I listen and write down what they bring.  I take notes on my students so that I can draw on those important items later when talking with my students.  It gives me an insight into what is important to each child.  I might be able to make a connection with them, create motivation when needed, and make a child feel included in our classroom.  Sharing what we love is a quick way to feel connected to the classroom community, and more importantly, included in the classroom.

Here is a link to my "Me Bag" letter home.  

Do you have ideas for the first week of school to build classroom community?
Do you have ideas for the first week back for administrators to build school community?
Share below in the comment section!  I'd love to hear your ideas!

Here are my favorites that I share in my Me Bag:
Favorite animal: Flamingo (I bring in a small stuffed animal)
Favorite food: Mexican food (I bring in a picture of cheese enchiladas)
Favorite color: Green (I just have a green crayon in the bag)Favorite team: Well, the Tigers, of course :Clemson and Dripping Springs (I bring in a paw print)Favorite fast food: Chick-fil-A (I print out the logo)Favorite store: OMG...anywhere!  I LOVE to shop! (I have a small shopping bag to show)Favorite Candy Bar: KitKat (I have a real one in my bag)Favorite Flower: Carnations (I have a photo of one)Favorite place: The Beach (I bring in a seashell)

Favorite Drink:  Coke-a-Cola (I have a small can of it in my bag)
Other:  I also share a photo of my family, my pets, and myself playing basketball and volleyball from high school.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

It's More Than Free Time

I, like many other teachers, begin the first week of school with sharing my favorites:  favorite color, book, activity, movie, etc.  I invite my students to do the same over the week.  I keep notes for each student as they share.  I want to take note of what motivates each child and how to connect with everyone. Each year there is at least one child that says recess is his or her favorite subject in school.  Recess?  Is that a subject?  When I ask why, I am usually met with the same answer:  “…because you get to do whatever you want”.  Think about that…they like to have a choice in their activities.  This isn’t a new notion (people typically like to choose their own activities).  So what do we do? 

In my past & current district, we had (have) a block of time for intervention.  All interventional support should be done during this time.  This includes any pullout programs (Tier 3) and any Tier 2 groups (done in the classroom).  I’ll be honest, this 45-minute block was a pretty bland time in my room.  Some kids went out, some kids worked on reteach or retest items at my small groups, and the other kiddos read or worked on math stations.  Once I began rethinking how my teaching could be more beneficial to my students, I began to rethink this time in my classroom.  For me, this meant teaching to my student’s passions. 

I began by renaming this intervention time to “PAL” time:  Passionate About Learning.  By simply changing the name, I began to change my mindset along with my student’s mindset.  The first week of school I took this time to introduce what PAL time would be for the students.  This would be a time to explore their passions, what they wanted to learn more about, and how they wanted to learn.  We began by creating a list of passions.  Each child was given a journal.  The first page was entitled, “My Passions”.  We made a list of things we wanted to learn more about, research, or know how it works.  We shared out lists the next day.  While “Logan” (any student) was sharing his list, the class was listening for commonalities.  If they heard something in common, they would write “Logan’s” name next to the passion listed in their journal.  This was for future reference in case the students wanted to partner in their learning later on in the year.  In the first week we had a list of further learning (and excitement for learning by the students) and possible partnerships for learning in the future!  How exciting!

The second week of PAL time we discussed how to write down open-ended questions.  We discussed how to use online resources for research.  We discussed how to write complete sentences when answering the questions (and how to paraphrase instead of copying work).  And guess what?!!??!  The students were excited to do this…excited to learn…excited to share what they were working on!

Once we got in a routine, the students were completely self-motivated and self-driven.  I still pulled my small groups, but instead of me driving the groups, the student’s passions drove the groups.  We still read, still worked on basic math, and still worked on our writing….but it was all passion driven.  Students and I would read books together on their topic, work on refining complete sentences, and work on math problems associated with the research/learning.   They saw it as me helping them, not teaching them.  They saw me as a partner in the learning, not just a teacher teaching. 

At the end of each nine weeks (that’s how our grading period worked), each student shared what he/she worked on during PAL time.  Some students had multiple projects, but they chose one that they were most proud of to share…some students only had one to share.  But everyone shared something.  They loved it!  Some had actual small dioramas, some had Google Presentations, and some had written books on their topic…but all were proud.  By the end of the year, I had multiple students write in their memory books that PAL time was their favorite time of the year! 

Think about it...what will your intervention time look like this coming school year?  How might you rethink this time in your classroom?  How can a simple mind shift help you better plan for intervention time?  Share your ideas with comments below!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why "WHY" is So Important

Oh, the power of "why"....

If you simply type into a search line, "the power of why", you'll find a list of videos and books all written on this one topic:  Why the word "why" is so important to any organization or leadership.  It's a simple word, isn't it?  It can lead to some great conversations if you've used this word in your classroom.  You can get some great insights into how your students are thinking when you ask "why" after a child gives an answer.  I believe it will lead to your students understanding that the "right" answer they give isn't going to be enough...the students need to be able to explain their thinking.  (*Caution: asking why a child was taking so long in the bathroom is never a good idea...know when to use this word!)  :)

This same thought process correlates to school leadership, as well.  Now, I know there might be some principals out there who don't like being asked this question.  There are some people who don't like the idea of being questioned about their leadership.  As I've grown in my profession, I've learned to be leery of people like this.  Why wouldn't you want to share your thought process?  Why wouldn't you want to expand other people's understanding?  Now, I also have to say, there is a way to ask this question that doesn't lead to someone being defensive.  If you work with someone that you worry about this happening, maybe phrase it as, "Can you tell me more about your thought process behind...".  In my experience, I have always found it nice when someone asks me "why".  It means that the person was actually actively listening and cares about my reasoning.  Isn't that what we want in a listener?

I would go further to say that it's always important to know the "why" behind your school, school district, and your personal motivation.  Why are you an educator?  Why is education so important to you?  Why does your school exist?  Is it merely to have students regurgitate information or is it to inspire students to take on their own learning journey?  What is the mission and vision of your school and/or school district?  Look into the programs your school district has for students.  Can you see why these programs exist?  Do you see a link between the program and the mission/vision statement?  Every institution should be giving you the "why" when you walk into the building, look on the website, and speak with a student.  The "why" should be evident in the hallways, student work, communication, and personal interactions you see.  The staff should walk the "why" each day...

Why are you in education?  Why are you working with students?
Think about those questions.  Use them to form a mission statement for yourself for this coming school year.  Post this statement somewhere you can read it each morning.  There will be those days that you are overwhelmed, can't find the positives, worry constantly about a child, or might have trouble at home.  BUT, when you walk into your classroom or office, look to your mission statement.  There you will see why you get up every day, why you are important to the children, why you scarf down a meal in 10 minutes, why you have sleepless nights worrying about a student, why you are you...because you matter to these students, these staff members, and these parents.  You have a purpose in education.  You are important.  You are someone's hero, someone's light, and someone's best hug.  Never forget that!

Click here for more information on creating your educator's personal mission statement.

If you want to share your mission statement, leave a comment!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Connecting with Parents

Partnering with parents is a vital role of any educator.  When parents feel they are valued in the educational process, I believe the students feel comfortable and do better in class.  So what can schools and teachers do to better foster this connection with parents?  There are 3 things every educator can do to foster a sense of community with parents:  be empathetic, communicate often, and ask for volunteers. 

Parents enter our schools with their own educational backgrounds.  Some parents may have had a great experience while in school, and others may not.  Either way, we must understand that they come in with preset understandings of a school and classroom.  Schools have changed.  The way we teach and involve our students in the process of learning has changed.  All parents do not know this, and having empathy of a parent’s point of view can help make a connection. 

Communication is key to forming connections with families.  With technology there are certainly many forms of electronic communication that can be sent out.  Creating a school or teacher website that keep parents up-to-date on learning objectives, calendar of events, and classroom routines help with keeping parents in the loop.  Shutterfly Share Site and SeeSaw are two of my personal favorites.  Both are secure (parents must have a log in to see content), allow for uploading pictures, uploading work samples, and sharing classroom content.  Shutterfly Share Sites allow you to create a classroom calendar where you can add events, times, and even automatically sends out a reminder to parents of upcoming events!  SeeSaw can also act as a digital student portfolio…which is amazing!  Keeping your parents up-to-date and feeling connected to the classroom/school is a major step in forming a classroom and school community.  However, nothing beats an old-fashioned phone call home!  I, personally, call all of my parents at the end of the first week of school.  All of my parents have been stunned by this, and typically ask, “what’s wrong”.  I ask them how the first week went, if their child is worried about anything, or if they have any questions for me.  It’s a great way to show that you care about their child and their opinions!

Asking for volunteers opens the door to all parents and community members.  There are so many ways that people can volunteer in schools!  Having this open door policy also allows for transparency, which helps parents truly feel like a partner in education.  Here are some things you could ask volunteers for:
·      PTA events
·      Making copies
·      Sharpening pencils
·      Hanging bulletin boards
·      Taking down bulletin boards
·      Hanging artwork from Art class
·      Helping with PE classes
·      Read to students in class or in the library
·      Help in the computer lab
·      Lunch room monitor
·      Plan field trips
·      Shelve books in the library
·      Career day volunteer/speaker
·      Make props for music programs
To make volunteering easy, send out a SignUp Genius and create a Remind 101 account for your volunteers.  This is an easy way to keep up with your volunteers and help remind them of the dates/times and happenings! 

Now, go forth and start connecting!