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!

Monday, June 26, 2017


One of the most talked about aspects of education is the "B" word...Behavior!  This word elicits different feelings for each teacher depending on his/her past experiences within the classroom.  I'm here to tell you that there is one key to any behavioral plan, program, or organization.  Do you know what it is?   C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y!

Yep, I know, I know.  You wanted something more, but honestly, it's being consistent in the classroom.  I'm sure you've all read up on different approaches to behavioral management.  Each program or plan will have a different approach, but each one will also tell you to be consistent.  You might even hear the words "with fidelity".  That's because students need to know what to expect, how you will react (still love them), and know that no matter what you will still be there for them.  In a child's mind, if you are wishy-washy each day, they don't know what to expect or how you will react.

There is no doubt at all that community building, kindness, empathy, and caring are the four components to any behavioral program.  We, as educational leaders, are the models by which these characteristics are taught.  Each day, we must be consistent with our kindness, empathy, and care to be able to build a classroom community.

Don't just take it from me, listen to these experts:

"The most successful classes are those where the teacher has a clear idea of what is expected from the students and the students know what the teacher expects from them."  - Harry Wong

"How we teach is as important as what we teach." - Responsive Classroom

"Your goal is to achieve consistency by basing each of your decisions on this same set of values or principles." - Love and Logic

"Classroom management decisions are based on classroom behavioral data & effective instructional strategies implemented with fidelity." - PBIS Classroom

"Our character is basically a composite of our habits.  Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character." - Stephen Covey

"Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity." - Bruce Lee

Okay, okay, but what do you do for behavioral disruptions?  Well, we all know that for a student to learn, the student needs to be in the classroom with you.  That being said, make those kids want to be in the classroom!  Here are my key points for making that happen:

  • Show an interest in them.  What are their hobbies...their favorites?  What's the family life like?
  • Find the motivation.  What motivates this student to learn?  What is his/her passion?
  • Ask questions.  How are things going?  How did that last baseball game go?  How is the pet doing?  
  • Trust.  Show the students they can trust you.  Be there for them!  
  • Get down.  Get down on their level - eye to eye when you speak with them.  Give them eye contact when they speak to you.  I've all to often seen teachers that multi-task when a student is speaking with him/her.  Would you like that?  If you were speaking to your admin team and all the while he/she was checking email, cutting out work, or writing...wouldn't that make you feel less important?  Give that eye contact to your kids, too!
**As a 'thank you' for actually reading all of this, I'm going to share with you my favorite site for creating personalized behavioral contracts!  Click here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Empowering Teachers and Students

Empowerment.  Do you feel like you hear that word a lot in education now-a-days?  It's a great makes me feel good to say it.  In fact, it makes me feel powerful just to say the word "empowerment".  Say it a few times to yourself...does your posture become better, a smile come to your face, or your head held higher?  Why is that?  I believe it's because anyone likes to have power over what happens to them.  This idea extends to teachers and students within a school and classroom.

Let's talk about those students...
Students must be able to have the authority and ability to make decisions and create change within their school, classroom, and community.  As educators, we often call this "choice and voice" in our classrooms.  Giving students a voice within a classroom can take many different forms now-a-days.  Socratic seminars and online forums such as Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Edmodo and Kid Blog are ways to quickly empower students to have a voice in the educational environment.  My favorite way to empower students in the classroom is to allow students to choose a way to show what they know.  Why have "cookie-cutter" products that all look the same?  If this is new for you... start small.  Think about empowering your students to have the authority to decide how they show you they understand a language arts skill like "cause and effect".  Students can write a story (creating one on is my fav right now), create a cause/effect "T-chart", identify cause/effect in a science experiment, take a video of cause/effect in the weather around them, etc.  The ideas are limitless...and often, it's us, the educators, who put the limits to our student's ideas.

Now, let's move on to teachers.  How can school leaders empower teachers within a school?  I'm going to say three things:  Look, Listen, Let Go.
1.  Look:  Look for leaders on your campus!  They have a personal look into the classrooms, collaborate with their team, and have the leadership skills to get it done!  Teachers are on the front lines of education...what do they want to fix?  How will they go about it?  What's the timeline?  Empower the teachers to be decision-makers.
2.  Listen:  Listen to the ideas of your staff...all staff.  Listen to understand, not to respond (Covey said it better).  I had a principal once that said she wanted every person that came with a problem to come with three possible solutions.  Wow!  I found that to be empowering because I knew she would value my solutions and ideas before I ever went to speak with her!
3.  Let Go:  Let go of the idea that you have all of the answers.  Let go of the idea that it's "your" school.  It takes a your tribe!  We all want what is best for kids.  Let teachers lead committees and/or lead meetings, and allow yourself to see things from a teacher's point of view every now and then.

Together we can move forward with a common goal, common vision, and all feel the empowerment we speak of so often.

**How crazy is it that this book just came out today, one day after I posted this blog post?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Autonomy in the Classroom

When we hear of autonomy in the classroom, we really must think of two view points:  the student's autonomy within the classroom and the teacher's autonomy within the school and classroom.  The latter will be my focus today.

Teachers must have autonomy in the classroom.  Any good leader knows this and understands that it is important to growing the teachers within a school.  However, often times it's easier said than done.  Why is that?  I believe that is because along with autonomy there must be...TRUST!  To truly give a teacher autonomy within the classroom, a leader must first trust that he/she has chosen and developed a topnotch teacher.  Leaders must trust that the teacher within the classroom has the training and vision associated with the district, understand best practices, and have a well developed classroom environment.  In turn, teachers must trust their school leaders with their fears of failure (to try something knew) and their accomplishments.  How many teachers would try something new if they truly didn't trust the leadership on campus?

This can be a big step for a leader to take.  I mean, if you just hired someone, how can you truly know if that person is all of the above?  Well, that goes back to your hiring practices, screening process, and referrals checks.  I mean, to truly give autonomy to a teacher, the very first step is to have sound hiring practices! think that trust has such an important part of our educational system is amazing.  Leaders must trust their instincts to have chosen the right person for the right position.  Teachers must trust in the leader to provide support, guidance, and professional development.  District leaders must trust that school leaders are hiring people that will drive forward the district's vision & mission.  This pales in comparison to all of the parents who must trust the schools that they send their children to each day.

So one must ask, which comes first:  the autonomy or the trust?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Every Teacher Needs This

Okay, I have to tell you something...I am in no way associated with this company.  BUT, this is the greatest thing ever!  I know there are many of you out there that wear outfits to school that don't have pockets.  This little lanyard is the most amazing solution!  In my school, my principal would send out messages via text throughout the day.  This little thing helped me keep up-to-date all day, and still hands free!  If you have one thing to purchase new this summer, this should be it!

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Do We Personalize for Teachers?

One aspect of education that I have been reflecting on this year is personalization for teachers.  As educators there is a certain amount of professional development that we are required to have, but also a certain amount of learning we expect of ourselves.  So how do we, as school leaders, personalize the professional development of our teachers?

One way is to use Google Classroom to create multiple classrooms our teachers may join.  These classrooms can house videos, articles, and links specific to the educator's personal learning.  A teacher can get in the virtual classroom to watch specific videos and read articles all on the topic of personal learning.  Afterwards, educators can comment giving their thoughts or how the learning can be taken into the classroom.

Concurrently, we create a network of learners within our own school.  A network of multi-grade level learners that encourage, challenge, and network together on the same journey of learning.  This leads to the school becoming a community, and in turn, a shared vision.  What could be better than that?