Parent Communication Part 3: Value Your Parents Expertise

As I mentioned in my last post, building a community is a great way to have edifying communication. You want to have a relationship with your students’ parents because eventually, inevitably you are going to have a conversation that is not all sunshine and butterflies.

When you need to talk to parents about their child, whether it be about academia or behavior trends they are showcasing, always start by valuing their expertise. The parents have known this child since they were born, they’ve been raising them. And often (always) they get defensive when issues come to the table. Think about it. Do you enjoy hearing about your flaws? It is NEVER easy hearing something negative about your child.

Before anything becomes a big issue I will email parents and share that I have been noticing certain behavior patterns. A child showing defiance, or playing rough with classmates, or having issues focusing, are usually things I will email about rather quickly.  After sharing something positive about the school day, and then sharing what I have been seeing, I ask  the parents/guardians if they’ve ever noticed this at home and if so, do they have any advice for me. I want to make sure my parents know that I value what they know about their child, and also if they have notice patterns at home, maybe they have a system that works that I can implement at school. You never know unless you ask. This opens up conversation to hearing if other things happening in a child’s life factor into their school life (as it almost always does).

If the issue is sensitive or dangerous and I am unsure about how to word it, I will call the parents. I also call parents if their child is involved in something and it was not their fault, or something happened to them. Tone can come across so different on email, as I am sure we are all aware of. If it is a repeated behavior and I don’t have time to call, I try to have a colleague look over my email. A second pair of eyes is your best friend. Use your team! They most likely know the student as well and can be very, very helpful.

In the end, the more you can build a positive relationship with your parents, the better you’ll be able to teach their child.

My last post on parent communication coming up next… Part 4: Take Notes!

I really don’t know what I would do without parenthesis. I just love them so much.

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Parent Communication Part 2: Build A Community

Can you imagine sending your little one to school and them disappearing into the abyss that is the classroom and not knowing what happens in the day to day? Maybe you can because you have a child. And if most children are anything like my niece, every time I ask her about what she does at school she says, “I can’t tell you until Valentine’s Day.” And when Valentine’s Day comes, she does not in fact tell me.

The more you involve parents into your beautiful little world inside the classroom, the more connected they feel, and feeling connected often leads to positive relationships.  I’ve had parents who haven’t been able to come into the classroom but ask me to send home materials to cut or put together. I’ve had parents send supplies for parties they can’t attend. I have had parents build friendships with each other because they feel known and seen by being a part of the classroom community I try very hard to foster. It takes a village! Especially when you have 25+ kiddos. At the end of the school year I often have parents who are more sad about leaving my class than their kids are. How do I do it? Well as I mentioned in my last post, I always want to start on a positive interaction with all of my students’s parents. And then I open up the doors to my classroom via technology…

Social media is a great way to build a community! In the past I have had classroom blogs, but I found that while I was able to show what was happening in the classroom I felt that a blog post had to look super polished and it was more time consuming than I would have liked. Also, there was no parent engagement or interaction. I’ve also sent home weekly newsletters. I still have to do this at my current school, but this is focused more on the academics that happen in the classroom, and to be honest half the time parents don’t even look at it. How do I  know? Because they ask questions (a lot of questions) about what I have already communicated in. the. newsletter.

Anyway, after doing some research and chatting with other teacher friends, last year I got a Bloomz account. Bloomz is an app you can download on a smartphone or tablet and it is fantastic. For the first two weeks of school I posted a picture or video of what was happening in the classroom. Parents could like posts and comment on them, just like you can on Facebook.

Eventually I slowed down with my daily posts and posted pictures or videos (small clips of independent writing time, a guest read aloud, math centers, etc.) a couple times a week. On Thursdays I started a “Think Outside the Box” activity and posted every child’s picture creation. I had a parent tell me that this was the highlight of their week. My students were so aware of Bloomz they often asked me to take a picture and post it to our page so their families could see.

As far as privacy and set up goes it was pretty straight forward. I gave a letter to all families during open house. This letter explained the app and gave the class code you need enter when you join Bloomz. Each parent then has to be approved by me (so no randoms can accidentally join) before being a part of the online community.

When it came to class parties the parents in charge could send out a list of all the party supplies we needed and then other parents would click what they could donate. It made it so easy to keep track of who was sending what to school.

I received a lot of positive feedback on using Bloomz as a way to communicate with parents. I have had other colleagues use Instagram as a way to connect their parents, as well as Seesaw (similar to Bloomz), Remind (a messaging app that works really well in upper grade levels), blogs, and Twitter. This next school year I am going to try out an app I just learned about called classtag. My main reason for trying this app out is because it has the option to translate your announcements and posts into over 50 languages. The app also has a section where you can adjust the time slot in which you are allowed to send and receive messages during the day. This will help keep me accountable as I tend to work at home a lot and if a parent messages me at 10 p.m. I think I need to respond right away. The app will only alert me to messages sent from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. or however long I choose. Classtag also lets you earn rewards towards classroom supplies. And every teacher, everywhere, LOVES free classroom supplies. I may switch back to Bloomz, because I really did love it, and I will see what the parents prefer as well. Because (fingers crossed) I may be teaching some younger siblings of students I had last year.

Possible Tools to Build a Community:

Up Next… Parent Communication Part 3: Value The Parents Expertise

Parent Communication Part 1: Start Positive!

It’s that time again! Well, uh, for those of us not in Australia or other places like South Korea that start the school year in Feb/March… I am talking about Back to School Time, obviously. Some teachers have already recently opened their doors to a new class of students, while others are just a few weeks away.

While getting my classroom ready and lesson plans prepped (just kidding, no lessons have been prepped yet) I’ve been reflecting on how I start every school year. I decided to do a series of blog posts about Teacher-Parent Communication. The one thing they never taught us eager educators in college. Yeah, it’s a gross oversight if you ask me.

For the next four blog posts I will cover the following topics:

  1. Start Positive (this post!)
  2. Build a Community
  3. Value Your Parents Expertise
  4. Take Notes!

At the beginning of every school year I want my first form of communication with my students’ parents to be a POSITIVE one. Because there may come an email or phone call not too long after… that is not entirely positive. First impressions are important. Imagine  if the first thing your students do when they meet you is pointing out all of your flaws as a teacher? Ew.

Therefore, I make it a goal to send a positive note home, about each one of my students, within the first two weeks of school. This keeps me accountable to get to know something about all of my students quickly and see specific skills, talents, or behaviors they have that add value to our class. I am a firm believer that every child who comes into my class adds value.

How you send this positive note home is up to you. I tried doing physical notes home and sometimes they wouldn’t make it to the parents (because I teach the littles). I have worked at schools where we are not allowed to call directly, and I have worked at schools that have not allowed me to email parents directly (yes, that’s a real thing, and it was hard). It depends on where you are and what works best for you. I have landed on sending emails.

Here are two examples of emails I sent at the beginning of last year. I changed the names but the rest is the same. Find something specific about each student to give positive feedback on. They don’t need to be long. My goal is to send home two or three a day,  the first two weeks of school. You may be wondering if two weeks to get a note home is still too long to hear from the teacher, especially if you teach younger kids who are just beginning their educational journeys. Because I don’t have any visible superpowers (yet) and don’t have the time or energy to do 25 emails within one week, especially the first week of school,  I make sure to communicate with the entire class of parents what we do in the first few days of school. (I cover this more in Part 2: Build a Community.)

Email Example 1:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

I wanted to send you a quick note to tell you how much I love having Jane in class. She is responsible and kind, and always helping me remember things I may forget. She’s a great classmate, too!

Kind Regards,

Melody Welton

Email Example 2:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Robinson,

Joe made my heart smile big time today! He had a few tearful moments this morning as he is learning all of the new classroom routines. Joe couldn’t remember his floor spot, so he didn’t move to the rug when the rest of the class did. I asked him why he stayed in his chair and was impressed when he was able to communicate, “I forgot where my spot was.” 

This afternoon he gave me a quick side hug when entering the classroom after putting stuff in our cubbies 🙂 I look forward to getting to know Joe better this year!

Warm Regards,

Melody Welton 

Who can’t wait for the never ending sea of laminating and cutting to begin?!

Parent Communication Part Two: Build a Community, is up next! 

The Start of Something New!

Hello friends, family, and most importantly, teachers! Over the past several years Jee Young and I will admit that we have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to updating our blog. But we are in the process of stumbling back on (the wagon) and a part of that includes a new Instagram handle. You can now find us at twoapplesadayteachers on IG. Look us up, give us a follow! (Please.) We are sharing great ideas and inspiring quotes and are really, really excited to be a part of the instagram teaching community. I have learned this summer that this particular community is fabulous. Teachers are amazing on instagram.

We will continue to write posts, we will! Come back and support us. And leave a comment so we can support you too. This world is better with interaction, don’t you think?

Looking forward to the start of something new.

***Cue High School Musical song that will now be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.***

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teaching inquiry through writing workshop

Inquiry has been on my mind, ever since I started my journey as an educator. One way I try to integrate inquiry into writing workshop is having the students look at mentor texts in order to determine what good writers do.

During our personal narratives unit, in order to learn what a good writer does, we look closely at mentor texts. In the beginning of the unit, I provided students with a packet of mentor texts that my students examine closely. Our mentor texts were:

  • “Last Kiss” by Ralph Fletcher
  • “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
  • “My Name in Gold” by Chicken Soup for the Soul
  • Goosebumps from Lucy Calkin’s Raising Narrative Writing Units of Study for grade 5
  • “Mr. Entwhistle” by Jean Little

When I taught students about how to write endings, I decided to use an inquiry approach. Usually, I would just tell students a few strategies on how to write an ending. Instead, I decided to have students read the different endings in the mentor texts and come up with what they noticed these writers did to make their ending strong. After spending time looking at the various endings of the different mentor texts, we shared what they noticed. This was what we came up with. As a teacher, beforehand I had a list of strategies that I wanted the students to learn about endings, and as students were sharing, if there were any that they missed, I made sure to include it. These were the strategies that my students came up with after reading the mentor texts:

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Then, as students worked on writing or revising their endings, I encouraged them to try different types of endings, before choosing the best one. It was fun to see the students use the different strategies that they came up with. This was one easy way that teachers of writing can integrate an inquiry approach to teaching writing. The format of the lesson was a bit different than a normal workshop lesson.

What are some ways you integrate inquiry into reading and writing workshop?

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More Than Academics: The Responsive Classroom Approach

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend the responsive classroom training in New York and it truly challenged me as a teacher. It was a huge shift for me, and not to say I hadn’t been doing some of the things that they shared about, but it really gave me practical ways to implement what I believed as an educator. The principles of the responsive classroom approach really resonated with my core beliefs as an educator. These are beliefs that I’ve held onto as an educator, but at times, I didn’t have the strategies to put them into action.
Here are the guiding principles of the responsive classroom approach, taken from their webpage.

The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:

  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

The importance of the social and emotional curriculum is something I believe in strongly, but at times, I was at a loss of how to integrate that successfully with all the demands of the academic curriculum. This year, I’ve been able to integrate more of the social and emotional curriculum through some of the key practices of the responsive classroom. It is still a struggle to have enough time, but despite our tight schedule I manage to fit in time for the different practices:

1. Morning meeting- 15 minutes daily

  • Greeting- Every morning we sit in a circle on our rug and we do a greeting.
  • Sharing and/or Group Activity (Usually it’s hard to do both because of our short time.)
  • Reading the morning message letter- I hand write this out on chart paper everyday. I usually try to preview content for the day or make curriculum connections. Two great resources for ideas are:

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2. Closing circle- 10 minutes daily

  • Reflection- I usually give a sentence starter like:
  • One new thing I learned today…
  • One thing that made me smile today…
  • Now I understand more about…
  • I want to learn more about…
  • My highlight of the day was…
  • One thing I’m looking forward to is…
  • Group Activity- We do an energizer like different cheers. If we have more time, we will play a quick group game like coseeki or concentration.

3. Establishing rules- First few weeks of school

I’ve created rules with my students in the beginning of the year before going to the responsive classroom training. However, the responsive classroom training approach really emphasizes explicit teaching and modeling of rules and giving logical consequences. All the time we spend during the first few weeks really does pay off.

4. Quiet time- 15 minutes daily

Quiet time is probably one of my favorite practices I’ve put into my daily routine. This is a quiet independent work time right after lunch/recess. It’s a way to transition into the afternoon and allow students to calm down after recess. The students LOVE this time and they do some pretty amazing things! I have a bunch of students that take this time to work on independent writing projects, where they collaborate with classmates and come up with their own story together. Students can work on different things during this time. It’s a great way to foster independence and responsibility.  As a teacher, I can meet with students independently and help students with extra help.

5. Energizers- This is one thing I was much better with in the beginning of the year. Usually after students come back from specials we would have energizers. They are quick songs, cheers, games, that allow students to be active and move around.

Another big way that the responsive classroom approach has changed my class has been getting rid of reward systems. This was something that I felt strongly about as an educator, that we shouldn’t be rewarding students for good behavior with points, stars, treats, etc…We should encourage students to behave well and do their best because of their intrinsic motivation. I kind of went back and forth in the classroom and at times went to having extrinsic rewards like table points for tables that got quiet or ready first. I did class dojo points for a year and didn’t find it very effective. And now, I’ve gotten rid of all of that and my class is still on task and well behaved.

Responsive classroom has given me the strategies and tools to help me realize that it’s possible to have a smooth running classroom without dangling a carrot on a stick  in front of my students. If you are interested in getting training for responsive classroom, it is totally worth it! It was seriously the best professional development I’ve had in a long time. They have trainings in the summer and throughout the year. Check it out here: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/workshops/  And no, I am not sponsored by responsive classroom in anyway… 🙂

Does anyone else use the responsive classroom approach in their classroom?

What are some of the successes/challenges you’ve had?

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classroom makeover 101

I was super excited for the start of the school year and wanted to rearrange my classroom to allow for more varied learning spaces. I asked my talented co-worker, Ami, for some classroom makeover help. She just happens to have studied interior design as well and is amazing at setting up classrooms for learning. I told her that she should totally have her own extreme makeover: classroom edition tv show! I would love watching that. Ami helped me move around my furniture and even got me some matching rugs for some of new areas from IKEA.  Here are a few changes that Ami helped me with:

  • Make a few cozy nooks for students to gather in the back of the classroom and also another small table in the front for students to go to for group work near my desk.
  • Moving a book shelf next to my teacher desk where I will display read alouds.
  • Bring my kidney bean table where I do small group conferences into the center back of my room closer to the student tables.
  • Making the classroom more open and less crowded. I got rid of book bins I had on the shelf next to my windows.
  • Putting some of the student tables diagonally so it’s a better use of the space.
  • Getting rid of stuff that was stored underneath one of my walls, so it’s more open and kids could read underneath there.

Another small tweak I made this year is I got rid of the name tags that I would tape onto my desk. I want my students to move desks more frequently and it was always a pain having them move around our clunky individual desks. It caused a lot of noise and was like mini-bumper tables when it was time to move. This year I used these plastic name card holders. They are great, because when I want to move seats, we can just move the plastic name card.

If you are feeling stuck with your classroom set up, ask another teacher to stop by and help! I felt like there was nothing else I could do to change in my room, but having a new pair of eyes come in and help rearrange was super helpful.

Do you have any good classroom setup tips? Leave a comment! 🙂

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