being a teacher, new teacher, parents

A Few Ideas for Parent Engagement

recite-xt5ct

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.  

being a teacher, community, parents

It Is Not Just Student Relationship We Should Worry About

Today our incoming 7th graders found out which teachers they will have.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are excited.  I hope they have heard wonderful things about our team.  I know we can’t wait.  Today was also the day that Thea, my now 1st grader, found out her teacher, a moment that was exciting yet filled with questions as well.  Will her teacher “get” her?  Will she love school?  Will this be another incredible school year for her?  What will my role be as a parent of a 1st grader?

For years I have tried to create a welcoming environment for all the people that are attached to our classroom.  For years I have tried, along with my team, to create spaces where parents/guardians can feel like they have a voice, are welcome, and also can engage in tough dialogue with us when needed.  It is something that we pride ourselves on because it has not just happened, we have had to work at it knowing that parent/guardian relationship is vital to a child’s success.   So I was dumbfounded when I came across an article titled “Ten Types of Parents that Teachers Secretly Hate.”  I read it  (I won’t link it here because I don’t feel like giving it traffic) and I was so disappointed in it.  Is this really what we as educators want to tell parents?  That we secretly hate them when they are involved in their child’s education?  That if they don’t follow our rules for engagement then we will complain about them behind their backs?  Is this even what we want to be told as parents?  That teachers secretly label us and hate some of us?

Yet, it wasn’t just the labeling of the various types of parents that upset me, it was the complete disregard for the cause behind this behavior.  There was no discussion of why a parent might be over-involved, might be absent, might be going straight to the principal rather than us.  There was no acknowledgement of what can lead to these types of parental behavior that we “secretly hate.”  No discussion of what a poor school experience can do to future relationships.

I have worked alongside many types of parents and guardians.  Some have been wonderful interactions, others have been tough.  Some led me to tears while others led to great moments of joy.  I am thankful for every single interaction I have had, even if it was a hard one, because each one has made me grow as a teacher.  And sometimes the hardest ones have been the ones I have grown the most from.

So before we assume that parents are a certain way to annoy us, to discount us, to somehow make our workdays harder, how about we assume that all parents/guardians want what is best for their child?  How about we assume that the reason they approach us in a certain way is because that is what they have had to do in the past? How about we assume that they may be absent because circumstance is keeping them from our schools, not choices?  How about we afford them the benefit of the doubt and try to get o know them before we label them as being a certain way.

Much like we try to uncover the past of our students to find out how it affects them now, we should also be trying to uncover the pasts of the adults attached to them.  I am sure I will meet many of the archetypes of parents listed in the article in the coming year, but what I won’t do is assume that I know why.  What I won’t do is hate them.  What good will ever come from that?

We all know relationships matter most when it comes to a successful school year, so why not actively build a relationship with adults as well?  It starts now, not when something comes up, not when it is too late.  What will you do to reach out to them before they reach out to you?

PS:  I posted my welcome parent survey today, I cannot wait to read their answers.

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.  

being a teacher, new teacher, new year, parents, students, survey

3 Beginning of the Year Surveys For Students And Parents

I believe in the power of a  great survey and have been giving them to my students ever since I started teaching.  This year, I am breaking them up for different days and will have students do them in class so I can gather them and mine them for information.  One of these is for my entire team to use as well.  Please feel free to use and adapt to fit your needs.  The three surveys are

Beginning of the Year Survey.  To see this survey, go here.

How are you as writer?  To see this survey, go here.

How are you as a reader?  To see this survey, go here.

To adapt these, simply click the link, go under “file” and then click “Make a copy.”  That way you can edit it and tweak as needed.

To see all of the other forms I use, including technology permission forms, student-led conferences, and other survey tools, go here.

As far as parents go, I have a very simple survey.  I ask them what their hopes and dreams are for their kids and then if there is anything else I should know.

(In the past, I have used a more extensive parent survey, to see that go here).

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 – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   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.

being a teacher, communication, end of year, feedback, hopes, parents, trust

Why You Should Ask For Parent Feedback Even When You Are Afraid of the Answers

I just hit “Send” and for a moment my hand hovered over the “undo” button.  Perhaps I didn’t need to ask these questions, perhaps this year I would skip the annual end of year parent survey.  I don’t know why after 7 years of teaching, asking for feedback is still so excruciatingly tough.  Not from the kids, that I ask for every single day, but from the adults, the parents/guardians, the ones at home that see the effects of the teaching I do every single day.

For a few weeks I have wondered if I even wanted to send it this year.  If anything good would come from it, or if my self-esteem could handle it?  This was my first year teaching 7th grade and in so many ways I have felt like a brand new teacher with all of the flaws, the mishaps, the bad teaching that comes along with the first year title.  So now as the end of the year is in sight, I was compelled to just forget all about the feedback, pretend I don’t want to know, pretend to not care.

But that’s not the truth.  Because I do care.  Sometimes probably too much.  I know that I have screwed up.  I know that I could have been better at reaching every kid and teaching them what they needed.  I know I have failed some times, and I know some of my feedback will say that.  Some will probably crack my facade and make me feel pretty terrible.

And yet, if I don’t ask, I can’t grow.

So I let it go, and I now I wait, hoping for the best.  I hope there are some that will see how hard I tried to reach every kid.  I hope there are some that will see the thought, effort, and diligence that went into this year.  But I also hope there are some that will take a moment to give me advice, to tell me how I can grow.  Because I know I need to, and that is the bottom-line.  This is not about me, it is about the students.  And while I may have an idea of what I need to work on (and boy, do I ever), there is nothing like the perspective of a parent/guardian to show you things you never even thought of.  If we truly mean that we are in this for the kids, then we have to include those at home.  We have to ask the tough questions, even if the answers may sting.

If you would like to see my parent survey this year, here you are.  Student surveys will be done in class next week.

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 – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

aha moment, being me, parents, Reading

Because I Can’t Help Comparing My Kid

“It’s ok mom, I already know those…”

Thea, my now 6 year old kindergartner, looks me square in the eye and waves away the cut out letters I hold up that were sent home from school.

“Awesome, so what’s this one?”  I hold up an “R” knowing that she knows this one for sure, after all, it is in her first and last name.

“Ummm….n?” Thea says, smiling and totally not focused.

We try again, clearly, we have differing views of what it means to know something and I feel the tiger mom in me rise up and rear its sometimes ugly head.  After all, some of her friends are reading, and not just a few words either, but books with whole sentences and beginnings, middles, and ends.  How come mine is not even getting her letters?  How come mine is not getting it?  What am I doing wrong here?  I stop before I get frustrated, no point in continuing when it won’t be a good experience.

Later I call my friend, a kindergarten teacher, and ask her if this is normal.  Should Thea know her letters by now?  What is her problem?  She stops me mid-sentence.  “She’s normal, Pernille.  Kids learn to read at different ages.  Don’t force it.  Don’t push her too hard.  Make it magical.  Make it fun.  It will come.”

And you know what, I know this.  I know this in my core.  I know this because I say it all the time.  I tell my students that they will learn at their own rate and that they have to keep trying.  I tell their parents that their child will get it as long as they keep at it.  I tell it to myself when I teach something for the third time and wonder why it isn’t clicking.  Kids learn.  And kids learn at different rates.  Yet, why do I forget it with my own kid?

I forget because we learn in an environment that is obsessed with labels.

I forget because most learning is ranked, tested, and compared for it to matter in an official way.

I forget because numbers define my child in school just as much if not more than her personality.

I forget because letter grades, scores, and assessments is the language we use to speak about our children.

It is so easy to focus on, it is so easy to remember, even if her amazing teacher tells me other things.  Even if our district doesn’t believe in standardized tests.  Those numbers still tell part of her story.  It is my choice whether I listen to that part or not.

Until we remove the numbers, until we remove the levels in our conversations, until we stop sending home the test results; they will always be there to lead the conversation.  They will always be there for parents like me that cannot help but compare, not because I want to but because I automatically do it.

Our children’s educational journey deserves to be bigger than a number and it starts with me.  Thea will get there.  Thea will read one day.  Not because I forced her, but because she wants to.  She believes it, now it is my turn.  Now it is our turn.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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. 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.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, conferences, ideas, parents

3 Ideas For More Meaningful 5 Minute Parent/Teacher Conferences

image from icanread

This week I had my first experience with the 5 minute drive-by conference.  You know the one; all the teachers in the lunchroom at their own table, parents waiting in line, and once the timer starts, off we go for non-stop talking, the only caveat being you only get 5 minutes.  Not exactly my cozy student-led conferences that I love so much.  Why the change?  Besides that this is how we do it at my new school, I also have 113 students.  I don’t even know how I could possibly give them a longer student-led conference at the moment without spending weeks on it.  And still, I wanted my students to be a part of it. I still wanted it to be worth the time for the parents, I wanted it to be meaningful.  I therefore did this:

The students reflected beforehand.  As always I had my students reflect on what their grades should be, what they were proud of and what they accomplished.  I invited all of my students to come to their conference but knew that few of them would, but their voice needs to be present.  This sheet allowed me to have the conference focus on their learning journey, not just what my thoughts were.

I reflected and wrote down beforehand.  I knew it would take a long time for me to write strengths and goals for all of my students, but I knew it was worth it.  In the week preceding conferences I spent every evening thinking about each child, writing down what I knew I wanted to share (beside their grades).  I didn’t want the conference to be focused on the grades, I wanted it to be focused on the child.  I was then able to share what my thoughts were after we looked at the student’s reflection.

I asked the parents how they felt and what they thought.  My gut reaction was to not ask any questions and just run it as a fast monologue.  After all, with only 5 minutes I have a lot to cover, but that is not the point of these conferences.  No matter the time limit, parents/guardians/students should always have the time to speak, even if you feel like it may eat up too much valuable time.

Always find something good and end with that.  Ok, so this is the fourth idea which I wrote about yesterday.  In every conference I made sure to end with something good.  I remember how it was as a kid to have your parents go to conferences without you; that nervous feeling, that growing sense of dread.  As a teacher I want to make sure my students know that I am in their corner, even if there are things to work on.  Often the last thing we say is the one that leaves the freshest impression, so make it something good.

Other small ideas include:

Be wiling to set up separate conferences.  I knew that some of my students needed more time for discussion so rater than wait for parents to contact me, I sent out a blanket email offering every child a longer conference at a different time in our classroom.  A few responded and there were even a few surprises of who wanted a longer one.  You never know until you ask.

Bring out the picture books. I send all student work home so instead of having their to display, I will have some awesome picture books out.  That way, parents can at least read some awesome stories while they wait.

Just listening.  Often parents know exactly what their child needs to work on or they have simply heard it before, so stop talking and listen.  Ask them questions and see how much they cover that you would have covered as well.  Parents know their kids, sometimes we seem to forget that (myself included).

Treat ever conference as if it is your first of the day.  Every parent deserves the best of you, so keep smiling, keep the energy up.  Yes, I know it is like running a marathon to be your very best self for 4 or more hours, but that is what you should be.  I had water and peppermints to help me keep up the spirit.  We owe it those waiting to meet with us.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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. 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” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.