Thursday, September 29, 2011

Parents in the Classroom Part One

Today was a great day at school as I had my first parents in the classroom event. During my three social science periods I invited parents to stop by and take part in the activities I had planned for the class. On average I had about 50% of the parents in each class show up which was higher than I had originally anticipated. The class periods were only 45 minutes long, so it really flew by and was over before I knew it. While parents were there they sat with their child as well as a another student and worked on a couple of Ancient Egyptian “games” that reinforced some of the content we had been discussing lately.

I had a mix of moms and dads and in some cases both parents came in. As the parents were working with the kids, I roamed around and mostly observed the activity in the room. The best part of what I was seeing was the interaction between the parents and their kids. Now, I know these types of interactions happen at home and probably in numerous other places, but this was in the student’s school. How often does this happen? I even had one mom lean over and tell me, “I didn’t plan on learning anything new today…boy I was wrong.” It really was a great morning for all of us involved.

A few of my colleagues asked me why I did this and some with raised eyebrows and skeptical looks.  For me, there were a few reasons why I decided to do it and plan on doing it again.
  • The simple presence of a parent in the classroom shows a child that their parent values the work they are doing in the classroom.
  • Watching a child work with their parent tells me a great deal of the type of relationship they have and helps me learn that much more about my students as people.
  • Events such as this help create and nurture positive parent-teacher relationships that will always help in the long run.
  • It opens me up as a teacher and shows parents they do have a place in my classroom and I do value their involvement.
  • This allowed parents the golden opportunity to embarrass their child just by being in the same room as them and their friends in a middle school!
  • It gave parents a chance to learn with their child in a way they might not have had in a long time.
  • Finally, if I am going to say I value parent’s involvement in their child’s education, I have to back it up and this is just one small step towards doing that.

I highly encourage every teacher to look for ways to include parents in their class and even open the doors and let them in. You might need to set parameters that these days are not a time to discuss their child’s progress, but don’t hesitate to bring them in. Parents are truly an important part of a child’s education and simply saying that is not enough. If we don’t open the doors and let them in and provide them the opportunities to join, we are just talking and that never helps anyone. After the parents left, I sent an email asking for some feedback and here are just a few of the comments I received:

“It's always nice to see the kids in school and get to see how they interact at school and with friends.”
 “Time flies when you're having fun!”
“Junior High is a new environment for my children so it was good for them to realize parents involvement in their educational classroom setting continues beyond the elementary level.”
 “It would be wonderful to be able to participate again, and as a parent , I truly see the value of such an experience.”
“Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of your class!”
"Sometimes it feels like parents are intentionally kept out of the classroom/school building - what a treat to get to be included in that today."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Little Things

The little things matter in life and certainly matter in a classroom. It is these little things the speak volumes for who we are as teachers. Often times these are overlooked and can manifest into large and significant problems for teachers. Here is a list of little things that I see daily which send a big message.

Classroom Door – Is your classroom door open or closed when you are teaching? What does this say about you and your classroom? Are you trying to hide something? My door is always open and I welcome anyone to stop in and see what is going on. I have nothing to hide and everything to share.

Hello – Do you greet each of your students when they come into your classroom? Do you say hello to students in the halls even if they are not in your classroom? This is such a simply thing but goes a long way to make a student feel welcome and can be a step in building a positive relationship.

Call Parents – When do you call/email parents? Do you contact parents for positives as well as negatives? I try to contact five parents a week for positive comments. Sometimes, just a “hey, your kid is doing great,” means a great deal to a parent. Call early, call often, and work on building that positive relationship early in the year.

Comments on Work – What sort of comments do you leave on student’s work? Is there just a letter or a number on the top of your student’s work? Are you leaving anecdotal feedback aimed at improving their learning? Grades are not feedback…if you truly want a student to learn and grow feedback must facilitate that.

What are the little things in your classroom that are making a difference? 

Classroom Management 101

Many people will share their ideas about classroom management and how to go about controlling kids or keeping order in their classrooms. They will tell you how to create rules and how to keep the kids in line so you can teach your lessons without interruptions. If they are really thorough they might even provide a list of consequence and a nice detention slip as a bonus for you. I even recall in my undergrad work creating a “Classroom Management Binder” for one of my courses. It was several pages of undergraduate ignorance of what I thought was going to keep my class running smoothly with no behavior or disciplinary problems.

Looking back, I now see the futility in such an activity. It is not possible to control kids and anyone that says otherwise is way off base. If I were to do the assignment again I would have one piece of paper in it. On that piece of paper would be this phrase: Build relationships and engage your students…all else is irrelevant. This is all you need to keep a class moving in a positive learning direction.

Building relationships is not a new concept or some radical idea and yet so many never see its true value. Kids will typically not engage in a power struggle or misbehave in a classroom lead by a teacher that has taken the time to foster a positive relationship. This can be done within the classroom but often takes place in the hallway, the gym, or even in the cafeteria. Talking to students and learning about them as kids goes a long way in the classroom. I play bombardment with my students during the winter intramural season. When I have students throwing balls at me before school, I can guarantee you a connection is made that will pay dividends in the classroom. Students are far less likely to act out or exhibit inappropriate behaviors with someone that has an interest in them beyond simply a student-teacher relationship. This is not something that can be forced or demanded but instead must be nurtured and fostered. For me the key is to find that “hook” or connection I can make. Sometimes that connection is a common interest in a sport or novel and other times is a shared hatred of the Yankees or green peppers. Whatever that hook is, find that connection and build that relationship.

Engaging your students in meaningful work is one of the most underrated and yet most powerful classroom management tools available. In my experience, kids will act up/out when they are given busy work, boring work, or basic work. If a student is not challenged by the work or it is given to fill time, you can expect behavior problems. Boredom is also a huge part of this and can cause significant problems in a classroom. When students are bored, they find other things to occupy their time. Many times this will manifest itself as misbehaving. The next time a student is misbehaving in the class, first look at what you are doing before asking the student to stop. Often time’s teachers are the root of the problem due to the work they are asking students to do. I have yet to witness a student misbehave when engaged in meaningful work.

What are you doing to build those relationships with your students and what work are you engaging them in on a daily basis? This simple question is the key to a successful classroom management plan.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Puppet Show "Home"work

There have been many conversations around the world of education for an eternity about the role homework plays in the learning process. My own thoughts are well documented and I personally don’t care for homework in most cases. I have often said that if we do our jobs right in school, kids will want to continue learning when they are at home. This point was driven home this evening when my son got home from kindergarten.

He walked in the door and pulled out a paper bag puppet he made today for Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. They apparently did a number of activities in school to celebrate this folk hero’s special day. When my son came home he wanted to look up some more pieces of information about Mr. Appleseed and then put on a puppet show. Now, is this Broadway material? Not in the least bit. However, it shows that his learning was sparked and continued when he got home. In addition, as you can from the video, he brought his younger brother along for the ride. He was engaged enough with the material at school to want to do something more with it when he got home even though it was not “assigned”.



I often wonder what impact my lessons have when students leave my classroom. Do they continue to learn when they leave my presence? Are they empowered to go home and at least share their learning with others? At the very least are they inspired enough to look forward to coming back tomorrow to learn more? Homework does not instill a passion for learning but good teaching and great lessons certainly can. What lessons are we doing that are inspiring kids to go home and put on a puppet show?