learning how to box

Summer vacation for teachers is usually a time to watch a lot of Netflix, relax, or travel. Well in addition to doing all of those things, I decided to learn something new. While back home in NY, my bestie persuaded me to go with her to boxing class. At first I was quite intimidated, nervous, and afraid. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t sure if I would survive the 1-hour boxing class. Luckily, I barely survived my first two classes, but still continued on. Fast forward a few weeks later, and many classes in, I found myself enjoying the sessions and ended up finding a boxing gym to join here in Singapore.

It’s always a good experience when you get to be in the role of the student. It reminds me of how my students must feel in class and it makes me reflect on my role as the teacher. After learning how to box, I was reminded of a few key things that relate to my work as a teacher.

1. Always differentiate- Provide scaffolding and extensions for your students. During my first few classes, as the newbie, I was much slower and it took me a while to understand all the terminology, moves, and keep up with the regulars. I always appreciated it when the instructor would give scaffolds or options to the moves. When we did our warm-ups and core work-out, the instructor would give “easier” or “harder” options for some of the exercises. This really helped me and it made me feel like I could adjust the workout to meet my needs. In the classroom, find small and easy ways to support or challenge the students. It might be less questions or it might be providing a different way to show their work. I’ve been consistently thinking about ways to extend some of the work that I’ve been giving students and giving the students choice to extend their learning.

2. Model, model, model- This was huge for me. I am much more of visual learner and I have difficulty processing auditory directions. I really appreciated it when the instructor would show the specific boxing combination in addition to stating it. Some instructors would only repeat the combination once or twice, and I would get lost. I was much more successful in keeping up when the instructor would repeat boxing combo a few times. Also, it was much easier for me to get the combination when I saw the instructor model it a few times. I was reminded of how many times we might give instructions just once and then expect our class to get it. Visuals and repeated instructions will help you get greater engagement and provide more clarity.

3. Individualized feedback is key- When you start learning a new sport it’s crucial that you get feedback  on your form and basics. You want to have a good foundation in order to get better and not learn bad habits. I always appreciated when the boxing instructors would come around to our bags, and give quick tips and feedback on my form. I noticed that some instructors would rarely come around and give you feedback even if the class was not full. As classroom teachers, it’s important that we continue to give our students quick and individualized feedback when they are working independently or in groups.

4. Allow for creativity- One of the things that I liked about the boxing sessions was when the teachers gave us rounds where you can freestyle. It allowed us the freedom to practice combos and work on specific things we wanted to. It also added an element of creativity. As classroom teachers, we need to remember to give students some freedom and creativity to be in charge of their learning. Whether it’s weekly genius hour or i-time, allow students the chance to study or learn what they are passionate about and be impressed by their creativity when given choice.

5. It’s all about relationships- One thing that I appreciated was having friends to go to the boxing classes with. I think that it would have been harder to continue if I did it by myself. Also, I appreciated it when the instructor knew my name and made that small extra effort. Obviously in our classrooms we know all the names of our students, but I think we can make extra efforts to get to know them more deeply. Whether it’s eating lunch with them, having them write letters to you, or sharing in morning meeting, it’s important to find out what is going on with them at home and outside of school. I was also reminded that I always enjoyed the boxing classes more when I was next to my friends and got to partner with them. This reminded me that at times, we should let our students choose their own partners to work with.

Have you tried learning something new recently? If yes, how did being a student make you feel?

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Parent Communication Part 4: Take Notes!

Communicating with parents can get tricky. You will have some parents who are determined that there is certain information they did not know. That was never told to them. Etc.

Just like every child you teach are different, no parent is exactly the same either. But some parents can show similar patterns. I like to think that when you have conferences with parents and you bring up things their child needs to work on, or what they are struggling with, there are times when the parent/guardian feels overwhelmed. Making it harder for them to fully digest what you’re saying. There are also times, I think, when I give the parents too much information or resources and they mentally shut down. When this happens they often come back and say, “You never told me this.” Or, “We didn’t know our child was struggling in this way.” Or, “We didn’t know these resources were available for our child.”

Now, you know this is not your truth. You, as a teacher, did everything you could to meet with the parents, and give them information/resources, asked for their opinion, etc. But, it very well could be their truth. Everything went in one ear, and out the other. 

My principal gave me this idea last year when dealing with parents who often said I did not communicate certain things to them. Instead of getting defensive, which I have been guilty of, oh so many times, she encouraged me to take notes of every meeting or phone call that I have with parents. Don’t get me wrong, I usually always document my meetings, but she suggested a step I never thought of. After the meeting is over send the highlighted discussion points, or the meeting minutes, to the parents. You can open this email with, “Thank you for your time today. I am glad we were able to meet and talk about ______. Here is a summary of what we discussed and our next steps.” Etc. 

You can add “next steps for at home” and “next steps for at school” to keep both yourself and the parents accountable. This information often gets documented by teachers and kept in files… but when you send an email to the parents right away, you can refer back to that email when they come to you saying, “they never knew”. 

One way to do this is by forwarding the message you sent earlier. You also want to be gracious and allow the parents to save face. As I mentioned earlier, maybe they really don’t remember you saying something. Maybe they were overwhelmed or tired. By forwarding the email you can remind them what you discussed and apologize if it wasn’t made clear during the meeting, or give them room to say they missed the first email. It happens. 

No one ever told me that the hardest part of my job would NOT be teaching the children, but communicating with parents. I hope these past four blog posts have been helpful for those teachers just getting started, or for teachers who like myself, had to learn by doing.

Enjoy the start of the 2019-2020 School Year! Or for those in the middle of their teaching year, enjoy your final stretch (the end is near!).

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.

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. If you decide to use ClassTag, use my code and we will both get points towards rewards!

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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