10 Ways for Partnering With Parents #TeacherMom

A friend in my PLN, Aviva Dunsinger, recently wrote about the re-framing of her thinking regarding student vacations during the school year.

“…I think that we have a choice here: we can focus on what children lose due to their absence, or we can look at what they might gain. My thinking is that the stronger the home/school connection, the better the chance that educators, parents, and children can work together to get the most fzrom this away time.”

Her suggestions for offering resources to parents as they take their children on vacation included ideas like offering prompts to elicit discussions. What I appreciate most about these kinds of suggestions is that it sets aside the tone that we know what’s best for their children.

Particularly when we’re facing hostility, this can be an especially difficult task — after all, we are the professionals here. But when we work to view parents through a lens of partnership (and work to walk the talk), we actually preempt those power struggles we fear.

Here are some ideas that might help!

1. Harness social media (that your students’ parents use). Instagram, class Facebook accounts, Twitter — these can all give parents a window into your classroom, which will boost trust via transparency.

2. Share reminders via text to keep parents in the loop on events. Remind is a quality app for this purpose, sending group texts without exchanging actual phone numbers.

3. Seek their input on homework. Taryn Bond-Clegg wrote some time ago about how her approach to homework shifted:

“This year I was planning on having a zero homework policy. Then I realized that it doesn’t have to be an either or… it can be a both and. If I as the teacher mandate homework for all my students, I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value their time after school for other activities and wish not to have homework. If I as the teacher outlaw homework I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value extended practice of the academic skills we explore in class.”

Check out the inquiry her class conducted with regards to ascertaining their homework needs.

4. Leverage their expertise. Invite them into the classroom as experts. Assign students to collect data based on parent experiences for various units.

5. Consider getting rid of reading logs. I remember a conversation with a parent of a bookworm student. She asked if she could just pre-sign all their reading logs on the year because her child definitely exceeded the daily minute requirement. Today, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really necessary to put parents (and their children) through this kind of hoop-jumping. It also seems like a good opportunity to build trust, even as we continue to encourage at-home reading. (see Thinking about Those Reading Minutes & Logs)

6. Stay curious. We may have “seen it all.” But families continue to be incredibly diverse with varying needs. Is there one assumption we can drop in favor of asking what resources we might help provide? For instance, we may love our tech-savvy homework assignment, but if you have families that are quite worried about excessive screen time, how might you use it as an opportunity to meet needs?

7. Catch ’em being good. Work to ensure that you communicate more regularly about what their children are doing well than what they are struggling with. This starts by emailing early in the school year if at all possible.

8. Write positive notes to their children. Conveying to their children that we see and appreciate them as individuals is one of the best ways to build relationships with their parents.

9. Organize volunteering. My child’s teacher has a handy sheet-protected class list with boxes you can check as we come in to read with the children. Simple yet efficient way to maximize the time I spend in the classroom.

10. Try to attend the occasional extracurricular event. If anyone understands time constraints, I sure do! But I can attest that when it comes to particularly tricky relationships, attending that game or performance outside of school can do wonders for your rapport.

Yes, we’re professionals. But we’re more likely to have parents respect our expertise when we demonstrate that we respect theirs as their children’s first and longest teachers.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why I Focus On Agency #TeacherMom

The beginning of Netflix’s rendition of The Little Prince begins with a mother unveiling her child’s life plan to ensure admission to the “right school.” She tells her daughter, “Let’s face it. You’re going to be all alone out there. So we can’t afford to make any more mistakes. You’re going to be a wonderful grown-up.”

While it’s certainly an over-the-top portrayal, when we think about all the societal pressures to ensure our kids’ success, it’s more representative than it might initially seem.

I remember a day a few years back when I was feeling like a particular failure as a parent. I decided to make a list of all the things that were stressing me. In so doing, I realized that it wasn’t so much the daily to-do list itself that was weighing me down; it was the fear of what would happen if I failed at any given item on the list (ie, make sure the kids get quality outdoor play each day OR ELSE they might not develop proper health habits and someday contract heart disease; make sure the house stays clean OR ELSE they might grow up to be hoarders featured on some reality-tv show, etc, etc).

Dire consequences were attached to every task. And it came down to me to prevent every one of those consequences.

As I continued my list, I came to the essential realization: I had thought my actions were driven by love; turns out they were actually driven by fear.

At first, it may seem that what’s driving the action is irrelevant, as long as the results are the same. But upon closer inspection, we realize what happens in a fear-driven environment:

  • We focus less on others’ agency and more on control.
  • We don’t share the load, even with people who have an interest in it.
  • We trust less.
  • We worry more.
  • We stress over timetables & milestones.
  • We are exhausted.

As I have instead worked to start from a place of love, I have found that I focus more and more on the agency of those around me. Because only when I stop worrying about whether I’m enough can I more clearly realize see their strength. Their capacity. Their courage.

This quote from William Stixrud resonated with me so much that this is my second time sharing it in as many weeks:

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.””

When we’re driven by fear, the burden rests with us to prevent calamity and shape the world.

When we’re driven by love, the burden rests with us all in an open, thoughtfully-discussed, and shared manner.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Attitudes: Appreciation

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As is often the case with these PYP elements, appreciation is another attitude that can be so easy for us to take for granted in our students (and ourselves). We might find ourselves shaking our heads about “kids these days” when the truth is that many kids may not have had the clear exposure, or opportunity to investigate these valued qualities for themselves. So this week’s provocation is designed to give them that very opportunity. Enjoy “Appreciation!”

Resource #1: Noticing the Soundscapes of Yosemite National Park via The Kid Should See This (a bit long, but even just the first minute or two will be sufficient for this provocation!)

Resource #2: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

“She smiled and pointed to the sky. “Sometimes, when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.””

Resource #3: “Windows” by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside. Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go inside.”

Resource #4: How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher (a chapter book, but the first couple chapters are a great dose of self-appreciation about our potential to contribute as writers).

“Lies about writing your life story: Lie #1: You have to be a famous celebrity.”

Provocation Questions:

  • What does an appreciation attitude or mindset look like?
  • How does appreciation impact an individual’s life?
  • How does appreciation impact society?
  • What are ways/environments in which you can best feel appreciation?
  • What is our responsibility to appreciate people? Nature? Ideas?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Risk-Taker

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Risk-taker has always been my favorite of the PYP learner profiles. It seemed the most natural of conversations in the classroom as it connected to any new venture on which we embarked. After all, authentic learning takes a large degree of courage. But do how often do we really dive into naming and investigating what it really means to be a risk-taker as a learner? This provocation is designed to help students ponder more the what and why of risk-taking.

Resource #1: The Courage to Invent: A NASA Roboticist Tells Her Story by NPR via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Resource #3: (for a touch of playfulness) Don’t Put Any Coins In This Cardboard Coin Box via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Piper short by Pixar 

Resource #5: Picture Books: I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton; Jubari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; The Dark by Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen

Provocation Questions: 

  • What is the connection between risk-taking and creativity?
  • How do we know we are really taking a risk?
  • What’s the difference between positive risk-taking and negative risk-taking?
  • What are the perspectives on risk-taking? Does that perspective change for people over their lifetimes?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Caring

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

For a culture of kindness to truly grow in our school, we need to constantly nourish and discuss it. After all, if we limit the discussion to the occasional anti-bullying assembly we can’t really expect students to thoroughly catch the vision of what it really looks like, and to feel comfortable speaking up for kindness. If your class is in need of a recharge, please use any or all of these resources to inquire into what it means to be caring!

Resource #1: “Give a Little Love, Get A Little Love” Kritovatka

Resource #2: Kind is…Radical Hospitality by Soul Pancake

Resource #3: The Gnomist: A Great Big Beautiful Act of Kindness by Great Big Story (this is a longer video at 17 minutes, but if you happen to be able to make the time, I promise it’s worthwhile. Here’s the trailer, too!)

Resource #4: “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does it mean to be caring?
  • What is people’s responsibility to be caring?
  • What are the different perspectives in a community when it comes to public acts of kindness?
  • What are some obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of expressing caring?
  • What can we do to overcome obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of being caring?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Because I Stayed–Thanks to A Teacher

My senior year of high school, I decided to take AP Calculus. I was taking some other advanced classes as well, and it wasn’t long before my math grade started to lag. Anxious about upcoming college applications and the desire for nothing to mar my GPA, I approached my Calc teacher, Bob Burns, to tell him I should probably drop his class. It was a small school, and between the fact that he had taught several of my previous classes, and that he had coached for a couple of my teams, we had a established a solid relationship.

Given that background, I expected that he’d respond to my concerns with reassurance, telling me I shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my grade and supporting my decision to drop his class.

I was, um, wrong.

Instead, Mr. Burns declared that if I chose to drop his class that day, I would be setting myself up to drop every other difficult and important thing that arose in my life.

Needless to say, I stayed. That was the single most precious skill I gained from his course that year: learning to stay even when the stakes are high.

As a tribute to Mr. Burns, I’d like to list other pivotal moments since then when I stayed where I might otherwise have very easily left had it not been for his bold words that day.

When I was so homesick my first month of college that I thought there was no way I could live so far from home, I stayed. And earned a teaching degree from a wonderful school.

When I was sure there was no way I could continue waking up at 4 am for a custodial shift, I stayed. And was able to navigate the world of college financing.

When I felt I simply could not handle my commute and daily goodbyes to my baby girl as I left to teach, I stayed (until bedrest and a couple more babies prompted my current sabbatical). And gained irreplaceable experiences, perspectives, and professional development that would inform all facets of my life, including my current blogging and child-rearing.

When I felt I would surely run out of ideas and should give up blogging, I stayed. And have discovered a remarkable PLN that has continued to push my thinking as a teacher.

Mr. Burns may not have caused all these events to unfold exactly as they have. But I know that without his bold lesson in persistence, I would have been much less likely to stick around for the hardest, but ultimately, most rewarding aspects of my life. And that is certainly thanks to a teacher.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto