What Parents Wish We Would Ask Them About Their Child

We tried to have kids for three years before we were successful.  Three years of hoping this was the time.  Three years of doctors shaking their heads, of appointments, of surgery, of medicine to help.  Three years of dreaming.  When she came I cried knowing that the miracle she was would never be fully understood by others who had not traveled our journey.  She cried right along with me.

When she started school I wrote a letter to her telling her of the hopes, the fears, and the dreams we had for her as she embarked on this next phase of her journey.  We held her tight, hugged her, and sent her on her way.

For the past eight years, we have been the parents of her and three more siblings, all with their own winding road into being.  We have watched in awe as their personalities have grown, as their will have formed.  As their knowledge of life, of who they are, of where they fit have expanded and shrank, depending on what happened at any given time.  And we have seen the not-so-great, the tantrums, the curveballs that all kids present you with and we have held our breath at times when we have been in public and this thing that is happening right in front of us that seems to have come out of nowhere is making us both want to just die of embarrassment.

You are our most precious.  You are the things we are the proudest of.  But you are also what we worry about the most.  And so with three kids about to start school, I hope we get a chance to tell your teachers who you are.  Not so we can pretend you are perfect but so we can present you for everything that you are.  Willful and strong, creative and flighty, funny and sometimes mad, but always you, and always a child who is exploring who they are and what life has to offer.

Today, as I prepared our own home survey (Spanish version here) that we send out to all of our incoming parents, I asked my PLN which question do they wish, as parents, they would be asked about their children.  The answers were too good not to share, so thank you, everyone, who responded.  Thank you for sharing your hopes so that we can all become better teachers.  So that we can start the year on the very best foot, hearing who your child is from the people that know them best.

 

What do parents/guardians wish we would ask them about their child?

When you think about your child, what makes you proud?

What are they passionate about?

What do they cry about at home?

How can I help make this a great year for your son/daughter?

How can I make your child feel safe and open to trying new things?

Do you have any suggestions on how to best connect with your child?

What sparks your child’s interest?

What triggers frustration or withdrawal?

What two things I should do and two things that I should avoid?

What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
What helps to motivate your child to do his/her best?

What else?  What would you add to the list?  How would you like to share the story of who your child is with these new teachers?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

On Parent Assumptions and Fear of Change

“But how do parents react?”

Just this morning, I was asked again as my latest post about getting rid of homework was circulated.  I get the question a lot, I think we all do.  I think it marks a great educator when we ask, when we value what parents think.  And yet…often our assumptions about what parents will think of a change we implement are just that; assumptions.  Not based on actuality, not further pursued.  Not questioned, but instead assumed as true, because, perhaps, it happened to someone we know.  Or because there was that one time where it happened, so now it must be true for every time.

I think the fear of parent reaction holds us back as much as our own fear of change.  We assume they will protest.  We assume they will be upset.  We assume they will rebel against the changes we make because parents always want school to be like it was for them.  But it is not true, at least not always.  How do I know?  Because for the last seven years I have asked.

When I got rid of homework, most parents cheered.  They told me that they wanted their child to pursue other things outside of school and now could.  They told me how tired their child was after school, how much homework was a struggle between them, how it became one more point of contention in their relationship.  How they did not mind the learning, but the tediousness, the worksheets, the assignments that made little sense did nothing for their child.  Those who disagreed asked for resources and I gladly handed them to them, a list on a website sufficed.

When I got rid of rewards, parents told me that they were happy their child was not coming home with trinkets,  That their child did not need any more stickers, or pizza, or other things that had nothing to do with their accomplishment.  That they wanted them to feel proud of their learning, not to be handed anything.

When I got rid of behavior charts, parents told me of their relief, how their child had been anxious, how their child had not cared whether they moved their stick because they already knew they were a “bad” kid and the stick was just more proof of that.  They are still telling me in the comments on posts about Class Dojo and behavior charts.

When I changed the focus from letter grades to personal development, parents were still happy as long as they knew how their child was doing.  As long as it still made sense to them so they could understand their child’s journey, understand how to support.  Understand where they were still developing and where they had succeeded.

So if I have learned anything in these years of trying to be a better teacher,  in trying to create more student-centered classrooms, it is that we should not assume how a parent will react.  That we should not assume they will hate what we do because it is different, or new, or even a seemingly crazy idea.  They care that their child is happy.  They care that their child is challenged.  They care that their child is supported.  That that their child is accepted.  They care that their child likes school and does well.  It seems we perpetuate our own myths and create the barriers ourselves.

So when I asked parents how I could be a better teacher for their child, they told me when they had ideas, and I tried to act on it as best as I could, because it turns out that when we ask parents; they have a lot of great things to say.  They are not as set in their ways as we may think, they do not hate everything we propose.  So jump in, stop assuming, and start asking.  It will change the way you teach.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

 

 

 

A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading

Protect your child's love of reading as you would their health; it is vital for a happy life pernille ripp

I have not hidden the fact that my oldest daughter has been a developing reader for the past 2 years.  That something that came so easy for me, has been a fight for her, where the words stammered and stuttered and her frustration grew.  But.  We just received word from her teacher that she is at grade level as she finishes 1st grade.  That all of her (and their)  hard work has paid off.  That it now is up to us to keep her reading to keep building on the momentum she is on.

Thea is lucky.  She has been in a school where they value creating reading experiences above everything else.  Where they work with each child at their level and try to keep reading magical.  Where each child is given time to read self-chosen books, receive one-to-one or small group instruction, and the emphasis is on reading for fun, not reading for requirement or prizes.  As a school, they have said no to so many things we know can harm the love of reading.

Our role as parents has been to uphold the expectations they have created; reading for fun, reading as a natural part of our day, reading as something that becomes part of the conversations we have every day.  We have gladly embraced it.  We have not had to protect our daughter’s burgeoning love of reading from some of the practices such as reading logs, reading for rewards, AR, or forced daily reading reflections we see around schools, but what if we did?  What can we do then?

We can ask questions.  I think of all of the well-meaning things I did my first years as a teacher that I thought would help children read more that I now cringe at; reading logs, rewards, book reports and projects, reading reflections every night and so on.  No parent ever asked questions because they assumed I knew what I was doing, but the truth is, I was still developing and learning.  I did these things because I thought that is what good teachers did.   Whenever parents ask questions, it may at first be off-putting, but in the end it always helps me grow.  It always offers me a chance for genuine reflection, a chance to re-visit the components that I teach.  This is never a bad thing even if it feels that way at first.

We can share the research.  These ideas of protecting a love of reading are not just based on momentary whims.  Research has shown time and time again how for example external factors such as points, scores, or even food negatively impact a child’s desire to read.  (For a great article on reading logs see this).  If a school has misguided practices in place, then perhaps they have not seen what is out there that can help them grow?  There are nice ways to present research that doesn’t involve chastising other people, especially since it is not always the choice of a teacher to do some of these things, but instead that of a well-meaning district.  So share research and don’t be disappointed if it makes no difference, sometimes even the best research only plants a seed that we will not see come to fruition for a long time.

We can lie.  I know that sounds terrible, but as far as Thea’s kindergarten reading log, I decided to sign it every night and not show her.  She didn’t need to know that she was working toward anything, nor did she need to know that I had to keep track.  So I didn’t tell her and I didn’t keep track, instead I rummaged through her backpack every night and simply signed so her teacher could in turn sign off every morning.  Thea was a reader but even readers take a night off her and there.

We can say no.  No one wants to be THAT parent but sometimes we have to be.  Saying no to a school-wide practice such as reading logs or the use of AR can be a daunting task, but we have to remember the bigger picture; protecting a child’s love of reading.  In Thea’s first kindergarten class,  she was presented with a reading log on the 2nd day of school, all in order to be included in a pizza party.  When I asked questions about it, I was told that in later years the reading log would be a part of her grade for reading and that if she didn’t do it, her reading grade would suffer.  Her grade!  While, at first, this startled me  I soon realized that I was fine with that.  So be it if her grade was lower because she didn’t participate.  Her grade didn’t matter as long as she found reading enjoyable and not something you did to earn something.  Sometimes change will not come until parents speak up, so be the voice of reason and if you see something changing your child’s reading habits for the worse, then do something about it.  Don’t just expect it to be ok in the end. Protect your child’s love of reading as you would their health;  it is vital for a happy life.

We can create our own enjoyable reading experiences.  Sometimes we have to be the counterpoint to the environment our children are in.  If we know that self-selected books are a major component to creating pleasurable reading experiences then that is what we should strive for.  While the parent in me often felt panicked that Thea was not making the necessary gains as a reader, the teacher in me knew that it simply would take time.  That forcing her to read more books every night, or even write more about her reading, would only make the experience miserable for her.  So keeping reading fun, making it a family event (see this blog post for lots of summer reading experience ideas) and making it a natural part of your day are all choices we can make, whether or not our child’s school believes in it.

We have been so lucky as we look back on Thea’s short reading life.  As she switches school this coming school year, I can only hope that it will continue.  We may sometimes wonder about the policies that directly influence our children, but we should never feel powerless.  As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must ever forget that.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then 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.

 

If You Really Want to Reward a Child

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A few days ago, I sorted my own children’s toys.  Cleaned out all the misfits, the broken pieces, and marveled at the bag of plastic dippity does I was able to throw away.  A bag worth of trinkets, of things that meant something to them the first 5 minutes they got them, only to lie forgotten in their toy chest since.  The sheer abundance startled me, after all, I consider myself a miser when it comes to toy purchases.   But the proof was in the toy-chest; plastic trinkets galore.  As I snuck the bag out to the trash, I couldn’t help but feel like a mean mother for getting rid of their broken “treasures.”

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry as Thea, our 7 year old, came home with a plastic yo-yo today from school.  She proudly showed it to me before it broke (cheap plastic things tend to do that quickly) and told me she had earned it for reading. For reading…Because she had read every night.  And I sighed, and inwardly I rolled my eyes, and then I realized that I had to get something of my chest, (imagine that)…

We need to stop cheapen the act of learning with plastic trinkets.

We need to stop teaching kids that when they learn, they earn something.  That when they learn they must be rewarded with a tangible thing to play with, rather than just the satisfaction of the knowledge they have gained.

Because in our well-meaning intention of trying to help students feel accomplished,  we are helping kill the love of learning itself.  We are teaching kids through our treasure chests, our prize boxes (guilty as charged), that learning is not enough.  That they have not gained anything until they hold a new toy in their hands.  That the knowledge they have gained is not enough.  That simply becoming more knowledgeable does not matter unless they have physical proof, and I shudder as I think of the long term effects that can have.

So if you really want to reward a child, hand them a pencil to write another story or solve another problem with.

If you really want to reward a child, hand them another book when they finish the first one.

If you really want to reward a child, give them more of your time as a class, give them a high five, a hug, or some sort of positive attention.

If you really want to reward a child, discuss their strengths with them, their effort, their growth, anythingt hat will make them see their own success if they do not already.

If you really want to reward a child, reach out to those at home; let them know what you see so that we can act accordingly.  Let us know what you see so that we can see it too.

But as a parent I plead, from one teacher to another; please stop handing out the trinkets, the stickers, the dippity doodads, the things we find at the dollar store.  Stop the paper awards and the made up rewards. Save us from the tangible, the things that break, the things that mean so little in the long run.   Celebrate, yes.  Acknowledge, please.  But save the toys for home.  The kids don’t need them, and neither do we.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

 

 

 

 

How to Have Courageous Conversations With Your Child’s Teacher

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Every year it has happened to me, you check your email or your voicemail not expecting much and there it is; a message from “that” parent that makes you so upset.  That message that makes you question everything you have been doing, everything you are trying to do.  And you cannot help but get a little angry, but get a little defensive, to immediately want to protect yourself rather than stop and think.  It is so hard sometimes being in a world where communication is so easy and words can be interpreted in a million ways.  And while those messages may seem hurtful at first, they can become the biggest inspiration for growth, if we let them.

No one sets out to be “that” parent.  No one sets out to send an email that can be read a million ways, to make a phone call that you know might dampen someone else’s day.  But sometimes we have to start the types of conversations that we hope to never have with our child’s teachers.  Sometimes we have to ask things that may be seen as questioning them.  And it is so hard.  Especially when you are a teacher and you know exactly how something can be taken.

And yet, for the sake of our children we have to find ways to have tough conversations.  When something is not working for our child it is our right and responsibility to speak up.  But there are ways to do it nicely, to where it will not immediately be taken as an attack but rather as an invitation to further discussion.  So what can you do?

Be nice.  Politeness goes such along way.  If you are about to ask some tough questions, use your manners and do not speak down to someone else.  All the teachers I know take great pride in their work and no one sets out to have bad experiences in their classroom, so show respect by the tone of voice you use whether written or spoken.

Investigate by asking questions.  If I believed all of the things our daughter, Thea, told me, I would have a crazy view of her school, after all she is 6 and sometimes pretty tired by the time she gets home from school.  So when something happens I always ask questions before I jump to any conclusions.  Often times what really happened is not what a child shares, so give the teacher the benefit of the doubt.

Do your research.  We oftentimes think that teachers have all  the power over what happens in their classrooms, but we do not.  Anything from district initiatives, state standards, and federal regulations all influence what we do in our classrooms, so make sure the teacher has control over whatever it is you are questioning, particualrly if it something that has upset you.

Ask for clarification.  When Thea came home with a reading log 5 days into kindergarten I emailed her teacher asking what the reasoning behind it was without sharing how much I hate reading logs.  I needed to make sure her teacher knew I was not questioning her, but rather trying to understand.  Once I had more information then I could ask further questions.

Leave room for conversation.  When we come across as brash or hotheaded, we are not inviting further conversation.  Ask for help.  Ask for support and ask to be a partner rather than dictate what someone should do.

Over-explain.  I would rather a parent over-explain their reasoning than under-explain.  Sometimes when we are too brief, we leave a lot of room for interpretation which almost always ends up being a negative experience for the recipient.  So state your point, explain why, and give enough information for the teacher to have something tangible to respond to.

Be specific.  If something is harming your child tell me how.  If your child has reported something to you tell me what that is.  I cannot sort through a situation or even respond to it well if I do not know the details, which can lead to further misunderstanding.

Keep it to your child.  If you are concerned for your child, state that, but do not generalize or ask questions about other children.  Teachers have to adhere to strict privacy laws and often cannot answer questions about children.  If this is a concern for many parents have them as part of the conversation to, do not just say that you speak for them.

Go to the teacher first.  Sometimes our gut reaction is to head to the top when we really need to first speak to the teacher.  It is common courtesy to give someone a chance to speak before others are involved.  That does not mean administration cannot be involved, it just means the teachers should have a chance to respond first.

Call rather than email.  Email can be misinterpreted in so many ways, trust me, I have probably misinterpreted intentions at least once a month, but a phone call or meeting is easier to navigate.  If someone is truly upset about something, I would much rather they seek me out and schedule a meeting, letting me know what we will be discussing, then sending an email.  And also, be mindful of school hours; if a teacher is in the middle of teaching they probably cannot speak to you at that moment.

Treat the teacher like you would want to be treated.  I cannot stress this enough; teachers are human  and sometimes we mess up.  It is not because we tried to, but it does happens.  If you treat us the way you would like to be treated in a tough conversation then our conversation will be much more productive.  Much can be handled via an honest and lighthearted conversation, even serious topics.

Gently question.  There is nothing wrong with questioning a teacher’s practice if you are seeing it harm your child, but do so gently.  Teachers spend a lot of time planning for best practices, and thus take pride in their work.  That does not mean it is always in the best interest in the child (public behavior charts, I am looking at you) but that can be a pretty hard thing to face.

And finally, a word to all of us teachers.  While criticism, even if just perceived, is hard, it is also a chance for us to reflect, grow and become better teachers.  Yes, there are times when criticism will be just that and those moments are hard to get through.  But in the end, I truly believe that when a parent asks us questions, even if they come of as a rude or disrespectful, within those questions are a seed for reflection, an opportunity to pause and make sure that what we are doing is in the best interest of children.  We are all trying to do the very best we can, after all, let’s not lose sight of that.

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!) just came out!

A Few Ideas for Parent Engagement

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Parent engagement is a natural component of the elementary experience, after all, with class parties, whole school events, and weekly newsletter, parents have an easy time becoming involved in their child’s education.  Not only is parent involvement invited, it is expected and so schools and individual teachers create plenty of opportunities for parents to be involved.

Yet, with the gradual release of responsibility as students age, parent involvement becomes less and less of a focus.   We expect them to still be involved but not nearly as present.  Not nearly as informed.  After all, their children should be growing into responsible teens, which I agree with,  however, not all children are ready to be left to their own devices.  So rather than an expectation of parent involvement in the upper grades, how about an invitation instead?  Here are a few ideas to do just that.

The beginning of year parent survey.  Parents know their children best so we need to tap into that goldmine at every age.  It doesn’t have to be long, mine this year is 5 questions, but at least it gives parents a chance to communicate with us as we start the year.

The weekly newsletter.  This bastion of elementary classrooms does have a place in our older classes, but keep it short and to the point.  My team does a bullet point version of things parents can ask their child about and also an update on upcoming deadlines and projects.  If parents would like more information, they can access our website.

A beyond-the-homework website.  We have a website that yes lists homework, but it also gives team information, school announcements, helpful tips, as well as has a Google calendar where everything we are aware of for school is listed.  Parents can subscribe to it and get the news delivered via email.

Morning/Evening events.  This year I will be inviting parents along with their children in for literacy mornings or evenings where we will discuss books, view book trailers and such.  Perhaps none will show up but I want to create the opportunity either way.

The positive notes or phone calls.  It is hard to reach out to 120+ parents so split it up as a team if possible.  Keep a master list of who has had positive news about their child shared with them via email, phone call, or post card.

Go beyond the twice a year conference.  Every few months I invite parents to set up meetings with me to discuss the progress and goals of their child.  Not many take me up on it, however, they have the opportunity to come in if they would like.  And yes, that is me spending my time outside of hours to meet with parents but it is completely worth it in the end.

Weekly emails.  I send home a weekly email or so to parents discussing all things English, I keep it short and sweet and I post it on our blog too.  Parents can choose to delete it if they would like, I would rather have parents feel over-informed than under-informed.

Learn their names.  This is a not an event but a process.  I have a hard time keeping track of all of the names but I think it speaks volumes to know who it is I am speaking to.  When I don’t know I simply ask, I would rather admit it then pretend to know.

Keep learning transparent.  I try to post pictures and video from our classroom as much as possible so that parents can see what we are doing.  This year I plan on doing more of this as I feel more secure as a 7th grade teacher.  Again, they don’t have to view it, but at least it is there.

Open door policy.  I know that most parents are too busy to stop by but the point is; they can if they want to.  While I cannot stop teaching and speak to them, they can at least get a glimpse of what we are doing and how engaged their child is.

Staying connected and nice.  I know that we teach many students, I am up to 120 some I think, yet, for a parent you are only teaching their child.  So stay humble, stay nice, stay inviting, and if you mess up; admit it.  Having a teacher that truly cares about their child is on the wish list of every parent, even as they age.

What other ideas do you have?

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.