being a teacher, building community, first day, first week, new year

Have You Asked Parents Yet?

 

Give them a chance to tell you about their child...their stories deserve to be heard.

I have 30 more emails to go tonight.  30 more individual responses as a way to reach out.  30 more individual responses as a way to say thank you.  30 more individual responses as a way to plant a seed.  Why so many emails to go?  My team and I teach more than 150 students and every year we ask the parents/guardians to take a beginning of the year survey.  We ask a few simple questions to start to get to know our students more.  To get to know the families more.  To start the relationship that we hope to have with them all year, and every single person that takes the survey deserves to get an email in response.

If you teach younger students, this may be nothing new for you, after all, the parent survey seems to be a pillar of beginning of the year.  Yet, I don’t hear of it often at the middle and high school level. I don’t see many middle or high school teachers discuss their beginning of the year surveys.  Which is such a shame because the information that we get with our few questions is invaluable.  This is how we know that a child may have lost a parent.  This is how we know if a child has had a tough school experience, if they love to read, if they cannot sit still.  If all they hope for is a day full of PE or if they really hope that this is the year that their teachers will like them.  This is how we know if those at home may not like school much and would therefore prefer to not be contacted.

What we have found the last few years is that this small beginning of the year survey is a chance for those at home to know that we value their knowledge of their child.  That we value their commitment to school.  That we value who their child is and the journey they are on, as well as take the role we play very seriously.  We ask them how involved they would like to be to help us gauge their feelings about middle school.  We ask them how they would like to be contacted so those who do not want an email can be called instead. We ask what their goals for their learner is so that we can help them achieve that, not calling it a weakness, but instead having them help us become better teachers.

I know that we often want students to become more independent and not so reliant on those at home, yet a survey is still in place.  What those at home know about their child is worth sharing.  What those at home know about what their learner still needs or strives for is worth hearing.

So if you haven’t done a beginning of the year parent/guardian survey do it now, even if the year has already started.  Ask a few questions, send it out electronically and then hand paper copies to those who do not fill it out.  Send a few reminders and then send a thank you email.  Plant the seed of goodwill that will hopefully carry you throughout the year as you try to create a learning experience that works for every child and every parent/guardian.  Trust me, you will be glad you did.

To see our current parent/guardian survey, go here.  In the past we have also used the standard “What are your hopes and dreams for 7th grade?” but found that this survey gave us more information.

PS:  I think I blog about this every year, but it is because I am blown away every year by the knowledge we receive.

being a teacher, being me, building community, end of year

Take the Time

For in the end it is not what we got done that matters, it is how we felt doing it. pernille ripp

There seems to be no greater rush in school then these last few precious days before we say goodbye, before our time is up.  I look at my own to-do list and wonder just how much will actually get to done.  The pressure of it all nips at my heels as I wonder whether my students could possibly speak a little bit faster as they deliver their end of year speeches.  Will we get through them all?  We have so much to do still.

Yet, as I listened today to a boy share his message of hope and forgiveness.  To another who shared the value of friendship.  To one who decided to challenge our racial beliefs, and one that made me cry (actually two did) because they stood up there and spoke their truth, I knew what I had forgotten.  To take the time.

To take the time to say goodbye the proper way.

To take the time to laugh.

To share memories and stories.  To take the time and not feel guilty all of the time for all of the things we didn’t get to do.

Take the time to remember all of the great and all of the not so great.

Take the time to remember the very best books, projects, or whatever else you may have shared.

To take the time to ask just a few more questions so that you can grow over the summer.

To take the time to thank you students for the journey you have been on.

May we never forget to be grateful for the things we take for granted, for the community we create, for the memories we make.

May we never take for granted that our year, while tough at times, was still a success and that all of those students did actually grow, even if it was not as much as we had hoped.

May we never forget that for a brief moment in time we were a part of the future by being a part of a child’s life.

So take the time to say goodbye and don’t worry so much about the to do.  Because in the end it is not what we got done that matters, it is how we felt doing it.  SO take the time to take the time and don’t let your guilt consume you.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, building community, community, new year, students

They Are Not Mine…Yet

image from icanread
image from icanread

I almost know all of their names.  All 118 of them.  Not because I have some magical brain penchant for memorizing names and faces.  Not because they all wear name tags.  No.  Every night I have pored over their faces, trying to remember each one, trying to figure out who they are.  Because I still teach strangers.  Strangers that I am trying to establish a community with, strangers I am trying to get to trust me.

So this week has been about them.  About why they love or hate reading.  About how they see themselves.  About how they react to picture book upon picture book as we try to weave a common thread.  And it seems to be working.  Slowly.  The stories are gently coming, the nervous laughter disappearing.  The hand raised a little faster.  We have a long way to go but ever so slowly the seeds have been planted, the foundation is being laid.

So today I will do my name competition; do I really know all of their names after just 3 days?  I will read another picture book as I rock in my chair and they share the tattered bean bags.  I will thank them for the few days we have spent together and wish them a happy long weekend.  I will hope for a smile, a high five, and a farewell, knowing that hopefully some day I will get to take these things for granted.  I will hope for a hallway greeting, a quick goodbye before the bus comes.  Little things that show the relationship we have built.  Those things that I miss so much.

I don’t know my students.  Not yet.  But it will happen.  Even if it feels like they will never be our kids.  They will.  They just don’t know it yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, building community, classroom management, punishment, rank, Student-centered, students

Let’s Discuss Class Dojo For a Moment

I get asked a lot about my feelings about Class Dojo and whether or not I use it.  I think it has to do with my very public stance on the use of public rewards and public punishment, which can be a component of this program.  So I am finally taking the plunge; let’s discuss Class Dojo for a moment.

I have never used Class Dojo, which is why I hesitate to give my opinion, yet that very opinion is why I won’t use it.  My first hesitation is cemented in the public ranking system that it uses. As a parent of a child who often has more energy than her peers, I can only imagine how she would feel if her name was constantly shown to be on the bottom because she is that kid that talks out of turn or gets out of her seat.  Ranking her would not help her curb those behaviors, nor make her more aware, she knows already, she works on it every single day, and yes, she feels bad.  She is also 6 years old and can only focus on so much at a time.   As a teacher who gave up public punishment and rewards five years ago, I don’t see the need for any child to know how another child is doing in a class.  I don’t think it fosters community. I don’t think it makes kids feel good about their role in the classroom.  I know that some will argue that having a visual reminder of how they are doing, much like a public behavior chart, is just fine, yet the parent heart in my breaks.  Visual reminders of consequences is one thing, but having students names attached to the levels of behavior is another.  Yes, kids should be held accountable for their actions, but if we use a system that often ranks children and we don’t see a change in their behavior then that ranking does not work.

My second hesitation is the time factor.  I cannot imagine spending time in my day entering in behavior information for every child and handing them points for both good and bad behavior, even if there is an app for my phone.  I cannot imagine trying to track student engagement through a program, I track that through my eyes and my reading of the classroom all the time.  I teach 130+ students, if I had to enter points or take them away every time they did something good or bad, that is all I would do.  Plus, in my own experience with point systems, I almost always forgot to award good points which meant that once again my focus was just on the negative behaviors.  Praise, in my opinion, should be delivered immediately and be sincere, not entered on a computer.  I have seen kids light up because I noticed something they did, and I have seen praise spread from child to child just because someone said something.  While behavior is an essential part of our day it should be an undercurrent, constantly running, not a major focus all day, every day.  I wonder, does this program bring behavior into the spotlight so much that it takes up more time than it needs to?

My third, and final, major hesitation is the direct communication to parents through the reports.  I am a huge believer in thorough parent communication, but I wonder whether parents need to be able to check on their child’s behavior every single day, every single moment.  I think back to my own school days and my “off days,” where I was glad that my mother didn’t always know.  Not because she would punish me if she did, but because it gave me a chance to have an off day and still be ok.  To change my behavior because I wanted to, not because I was told to do so by my mother.   I also worry about those few kids that do face major consequences from parents if they are seemingly misbehaving.  Those students where any small infractions causes physical harm or deprivation in their home environment.  Sure, this does not happen with every child, but for some it does.  Class Dojo highlights it product with this line “Get parents informed and on your side quickly and easily.”  Yet, I didn’t know parents weren’t on our side, or that sides even had to be taken?  If parents are on our side, who are we fighting against?  The kids?  Finally, as a parent, I would not want to know how my child does every single day.  I trust that she is having good days unless I am told otherwise.  She is often the first one to tell me if she gets in trouble, which leads to a good conversation about choices.  If I knew every single day about every single thing, I wonder how hyper-focused I would become?  What would my focus be when my kid came home from school?

Yet, within my doubts about the positives of this program, I have also met good teachers that have implemented it in a meaningful way, where they have not used the ranking, nor made it public, but rather used it as way to track behaviors within the classroom.  I have discussed it with teachers that have made the program their own and swear by it.  I am not here to judge those teachers, but instead start a discussion.  So if you are one of those teachers, please add your voice, because in the end, I wonder whether a program like Class Dojo is good for students?  Not for teachers or for parents because that is not who school is for, but for students?  Is this program, or something similar, re-engaging students in their classrooms, creating positive learning environments for all, and creating permanent changes in behavior?  Or is it one more tool to punish those kids that already have enough negativity associated with schools?  What do you say?  What is your experience?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, building community, making a difference, new year, principals

Dear Administrators, Please Don’t Forget About the Little Things

Dear Administrators,

I know you are excited.  I see it on Twitter, I hear it on Voxer, and in the conversations I am lucky enough to be a part of.  School is starting and another year is about to begin.  The big ideas are ready, the new initiatives, the dreams, hopes, wishes that come bundled with the start of a new school year.  There is so much potential surrounding you.  So much to do.  And so little time to waste.

But before you get too far in your dreams, think small first, please.  Before you roll out all of the new initiatives, the changes that you know will make everything so much better for everyone, yourself included, make me a promise first; promise to take care of the little things as soon as possible.

Yes, I know it is not fun or exciting to think about those things that you promise teachers that you will do, like approving a form, emailing a parent, looking up that long lost order.  But those little things?  They make a big difference to us teachers.  Those little things that you may not think deserves your limited time right now, those are the ones we need you to also take care of because those things add up to a whole lot of stress for us when left undone.  In fact, some of those little things may be stopping us from fulfilling our big dreams, hopes, and wishes.  

An amazing school doesn’t just come from dreams.  It is built upon a foundation of trust, of accountability, of feeling respected.  And all three of those are built on getting the management side of your job done for those who need it.  There are certain things that we teachers can only ask you to do, we don’t mean to burden you, we don’t mean to add more tasks to your already busy day, but there are some things we are not allowed to do or we are not capable of doing.  There are some things we need you for to make our jobs easier.

So this year, please do dream big.  Please do work for change.  Get excited about the big things.  But don’t forget the little things, those boring to-do tasks that don’t seem pressing.  To you they may be able to wait, but to me, it matters so much that you got them done.  That I can trust you to get them done.  That I know that even the small things deserve attention in the journey we are on.  

Thank you,

Pernille

PS: Shannon or Jason, if you read this, you do this.  Thank you from the bottom of my very excited heart.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, being me, building community, new year, Student-centered

May I Speak to You Privately?

image from icanread

“Hey Pernille, can I speak to you in my office?”  My new principal asked me today.  Immediately my heart dropped; what had I done?  Had I screwed up already?  Were they regretting their decision to hire me?

I followed her in, sat down, took a deep breath and waited for the inevitable.  I must have screwed up somehow, why else would she want to speak to me privately?  And then she surprised me.  It wasn’t to yell or reprimand, nor was it to point out my rookie mistakes.  It was to connect, to ask questions, to ask how she could help.  To further welcome me and discuss the year ahead.  I stayed for almost 30 minutes, inwardly amazed at the moment.  So thankful that this is the kind of person I get to work for and with.  That this is the community I get to represent.

As I left I couldn’t help but cringe at my initial reaction.  My assumptions had gotten the better of me.  Yet, I realized that those assumptions are based upon my experience, that asking to speak privately with someone has a negative connotation.  That being asked to step into an office is usually not positive.

So think of how our students feel when we do the same to them? When we ask them to stay back for a moment? To come in during recess?  To hang on?  Wait up?  Don’t go?  Do they assume we have something positive to share or something negative?  I can tell you right now, that I have missed so many opportunities to use this moment for praise.  I have reserved the private moment for corrections, reprimands, careful questions of concern.  I have almost never used it for good. Have you?

This year that will change.  I want to reclaim the power of the private moment and change the assumption.  I want students to not automatically assume that staying behind means something bad.  That waiting for a moment does not signify trouble.  Sure, there will be times where a private moment is needed to discuss decisions or actions, but there should be more of celebration.  There should be more positive surprises.

So just as I tell students what I notice on post-it notes, I will look for the moment to praise privately.  I will look for that small sliver of time where I get to speak one to one to someone and tell them what I see, how proud I am, how I am here to help.  I hope they leave feeling relieved like I did and then proud.  I hope they will see that I care.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.