Friday, December 18, 2009


As the semester winds to a close and we all prepare for our Winter Break, I am brought to mind of the importance of reflection. So often we rush ourselves through day by day without stopping to take the time to reflect on our classroom practices and the effects of those practices on ourselves and our students. It is so easy to forget this important part of teaching because there are so many other activities and demands on our time. The problem is that this kind of rushing around is not good for anyone. It is so important to slow down, take a breath, and think back over what we've done. This reflection helps us then move forward and plan for the future. Below are some different topics and questions to help you reflect over your teaching practices this semester.

1) The Classroom - Is your classroom arranged in a welcoming way that encourages student learning? Does the flow of the room help or hinder learning? Are the visual elements of your classroom distracting or do they encourage learning and motivate students? Do you and students feel comfortable in the classroom?

2) Classroom Routines - What routines did you use that you feel were effective this semester? Which ones need an overhaul? How can you change them so that they are more effective for you and for the students? What new routines would you like to put in place for the new semester? Think about the ideal flow of daily activities and events in the classroom.

3) Parent Communication - What level of parent communication did you encourage this semester? Were parents actively involved in the classroom? Do you feel you kept them adequately informed of what was happening in the classroom? What made you the most nervous about calling and talking with parents? What can you do to ease that nervousness? What can you do to encourage more parent involvement? Did you find yourself calling parents as it was needed, or putting off the phone calls? How has the parent response been to you in the classroom? What can you do to help parent response be positive?

4) End of Semester - What are your thoughts at the end of this grading period? What worked well in terms of lessons and units? What needs to be changed? How were your interactions with students, parents, and colleagues? What challenges are you currently facing? What are your thoughts on these challenges? How might you overcome/solve the issues facing you at this time? What new ideas do you plan to implement at the start of the new grading period?

These are just a few topics to consider at the end of the semester as you reflect and plan for the next semester. Our hope is that these questions will lead to further reflection over all areas of your teaching. Keep a journal over the holiday and jot down your thoughts and ideas to help you put them into a better frame of reference. You'll find that this type of reflection not only helps you put away past baggage, but also helps you re-energize for the upcoming semester.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Classroom Organization Tips

Organization is one of the keys to successful classroom management and to a less stressful year. When we are organized, we feel more confident and "together" each day. Below you'll find some tips to help you get yourself organized.

Tip 1: Daily Organization Folders

I just love Daily Folders! If you've heard this one before, please forgive me, but every year I am reminded of what a great organization tool this is! I take different colored file folders and label each one for a day of the week. As a secondary teacher, I do this for each class period and use stickers on the tab to differentiate between each period. I like to use cartoon figures like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy to represent each class period. Then I use an upright file box to hold all of my folders. Each class period has a gusseted hanging file to hold all five daily folders. Self-contained elementary is a bit easier with just 5 folders (one for each day).

Inside each folder I place my lesson plans, handouts/copies, notes to send home, administrative notices or memos, parent notices, and so on for that day. Each afternoon I:

  • Take out the folder for the next day
  • Check to be sure everything I need is inside
  • Put my sub folder just inside (on top)
  • Place the folder on top of my desk

Then I:

  • Set up my whiteboard for the next day
  • Get my bulky materials ready and out to be used (in an easily accessible place)

Now I feel that I am ready to begin the next day. What if something happens unexpectedly and I can't get to school? No problems – everything a substitute needs is right on my desk and near my podium or overhead. This looks great when the school administrator has to come in for a few minutes if no one else is available. The students know to get started on their board work (it is already up), my plans and materials are on my desk ready to go, and everyone has an easier transition!

Tip 2: Positive Notes

Another way to get organized is to create materials in bulk ahead of time. This can be done on weekends or during school holidays. One thing I like to create and have ready to hand out at any time are positive notes to students. I know that students love to get positive notes from me, but I just don't have the time to sit and write out a full note at the end of class! One solution is to brainstorm several different "positives", type them out, copy them on bright paper, and have them ready. I usually set up my page in four squares and type one positive message in a fun, yet easy-to-read font in each square. Then I copy these on colored card stock paper. I cut them out and place them into folders on my desk. (Other ideas include using a basket, hanging the folders on the wall instead of putting them in your filing cabinet (no dust collecting), or putting a stack on your overhead or podium).

Sample Positives:

  • Thank you for participating in class today!
  • Thank you for helping another student when they needed it!
  • Thank you for being such a good helper to me today!
  • Thanks for sharing your ideas with us!
  • Thanks for being on time!
  • Thanks for leading that group!
  • Thank you for sharing your materials!
  • Thanks for bringing in all your work on time!

What are some other specific "positives" you want to reinforce in your class? I also like to think of the life-skills – Cooperation, Teamwork, Honesty, Integrity, Friendship, Perseverance, Determination, Personal Best, and others.

Now choose and sign the note, put a smiley face on it, and hand it to the student as they leave the room!

Friday, November 20, 2009

How Do You Influence Others?

We enter the profession looking through rose - colored glasses, but it often doesn't take long for those glasses to come off. Most new teachers hit a period of disillusionment with teaching between November and March or April of their first year. As the year progresses, more and more time is spent on paperwork requirements, meeting district policies, endless meetings, test preparation, and other duties that seem to have little or nothing to do with the actual teaching of children.

Disillusionment also comes in the form of colleagues or administrators who do not live up to our expectations. Either way, this can spiral into self - doubt and a questioning of being in the profession. This disillusionment can happen to veteran teachers as well who are frustrated with the system and the requirements added year after year. Our first comment to those of you who may be feeling this way is, "You are making a difference!"

When you are feeling low or blue and wonder why you are giving up so much of your time and energy, just remember that child who looks up to you or that teenager who finally started participating in class. These kids need you! They need someone who is steady and consistent and who will care for them no matter what. They need teachers like you who care enough to spend their personal time looking for strategies to improve, refine, or bring new ideas into the classroom. Don't give in to your feelings of frustration and helplessness. You are not helpless. You are able to make a difference daily, even if the results aren't immediately apparent.

Not only can you make a difference in the lives of the students in your own classroom, but you can make a difference in the lives of your colleagues, administrator, and all of the students in your school. When you face a difficult situation, always do what is right. Are you not being supported? Then find someone in the school who needs help and support that person as you are able. Be a good role model. Show others what support looks like.

Does your administrator keep piling on extra duties? Do those duties with a cheerful attitude, and then go above and beyond when you are able. Giving cheerfully helps our heart and spreads like wildfire. Be a model for others. Do you have a negative colleague? Come up with one positive comment for every negative comment this person makes. By being a positive influence in the lives of our colleagues, we also become a positive influence in the lives of the students they encounter. Will you see an immediate change? Probably not. Will you ever see a change? Definitely.

While we may have no control over the attitudes of others, we do have control over our own attitudes. Keep a laminated card on your overhead cart, filing cabinet, the visor of your car, the bathroom mirror, and everywhere else you think you may see it. This card should read: "I am making a difference in the lives of thousands of children. I choose to be a positive influence to everyone around me. I will greet the day, tasks, and challenges with a cheerful heart." When in a bad mood and reading this, remember that you do matter. You can choose to be a negative influence in this world or a positive influence. We personally choose to be positive influences as much as possible. These cards help us to remember this goal to keep our priorities straight. Once you do, you'll be amazed at how the little and big things that annoyed you in the past no longer have power over your life.

Is this easy? No. Just like teaching, it takes hard work and consistency. However, for us, the rewards are well worth it. You must decide for yourself whether the potential rewards of a positive working environment and learning environment are worth the work it takes to approach all situations with a cheerful heart. Before long, it is a habit and is no longer a difficult task to be cheerful each day. You'll also notice others around you being cheerful and the negativity fading.

As an experiment, take a look at what is frustrating you right now, and ask yourself how much of that is happening because of your own attitude. It is not an easy question to ask. How much of it is a cycle of negativity in the school that no one seems able to stop? Are you going to continue to allow other people's attitudes to control your own attitude and outlook on life and on teaching? These are important questions to ask yourself.

Steven Covey's (2004) book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , discusses the circle of influence each person has in his or her life. It is an excellent book and one that we highly recommend every teacher to read because we not only influence those in our family or a few colleagues, but hundreds and thousands of students over the course of our career. In turn, those students influence others in a circle that is ever growing. Now that's something to think about.

Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Classrooms that Spark, 2nd Edition, by Emma McDonald and Dyan Hershman, available March 2010 from Jossey-Bass.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teaching Students How to Learn Through Research

Rather than trying to teach your students facts, try teaching them how to learn. Our brains learn better and retain more when we are forced to figure out the answer for ourselves. Have students research important questions for your unit of study and then teach this information to the rest of the class. The Learning Pyramid shows that 90% of learning is retained when directly applied or taught to others. Wow! What a statement that makes! When we teach our students how to learn, to be able to find information for themselves, we are in effect teaching them how to be lifelong learners.

Does this mean that as teachers we sit back and do nothing? Of course not! We are the facilitators in this process. Our students need to be taught how to ask the right questions and how to find the information. They also need to be taught how to process and use that same information. We must teach about sources of information. We must teach how to take notes from information that we read. We must teach how to put that information into an organized presentation, and we must teach our students how to either apply or teach it to others!

Start with the basics and walk students through their first project step-by-step.

What kind of question do I ask?

Teach students how to create questions that will allow them to discover further information about their topic. You can begin with the basics of who, what, where, when, why, and how. Don't forget about using Bloom's Taxonomy keywords to help students create questions. These may be statements of action rather than questions, but serve the same purpose. Using Bloom's keywords also help students take their research from the basic Knowledge level to the higher cognitive levels of Synthesis and Evaluation.

Where do I go to find the information?

Teach students (yes even the young ones) about primary and secondary sources and where the sources can be accessed. Get them thinking about why we use both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources offer us original documents and eye-witness accounts of information as written by the person involved in the event. Secondary sources can provide analysis of those primary sources, an overview of the information, and various interpretations of the event or concept.

Provide opportunities for your students to become familiar with the school and public library as well as locating information on the internet. This is also a good opportunity to teach students how to discern whether the information gained from an internet site is valid. This can be done by finding support documents from primary sources or similar information from organizations that have proven to be reliable sources.

How do I pull out the most important and relevant information to answer my question?

Teach students how to take notes from written and oral sources. This is an excellent time to practice locating the main idea and supporting details in a paragraph or other piece of writing. Student notes should answer the questions developed in the beginning, focusing on the main idea and supporting details. As students get more proficient, they should be able to skim the passage to determine whether it provides the necessary information.

How do I organize this information?

Teach students several different methods for organization. This allows students to choose the method that will best present the information they've gathered. Information can be organized many ways, including: chronological order, linear line of thought – one idea leading to the next, and position statements followed by supporting facts.

How can I apply this information in a meaningful way?

Teach students to look for the "why" of their research. What's the point of doing this besides the fact that it is required for your class? Students need to think about the new information in a way that is meaningful. How would our lives be different if a historical event had not occurred or was resolved differently? What choices will the student make in their life now that they've learned this new information? How does this information currently affect the student's life or appear in the student's life? This is a difficult step for many students not used to thinking about information in a way that personally relates to them.

How can I best teach others this information?

Teach students different strategies for presenting and teaching information. This can be done through a question/answer session, creating an interactive website, creating a board game, or designing a scavenger hunt or web quest. Standing in front of the classroom giving an oral presentation (lecture) is not the only method students should use to disseminate information. If you really want students to teach others, give them each a chance to be the teacher and create their own lesson teaching the class about the topic they studied.

Once you've taught your students these important skills, utilize them each six weeks in a project related to your unit of study. Another option is to work on one major project throughout the entire semester (or year) and have students complete one step each grading period. This may be a better option for younger students who are just beginning to learn the process of researching new information.

I always start out with a simple project such as answering one question in one or two paragraphs with an explanation, and get more involved from there. I may have students do a simple presentation and visual. Pop-up books are fun for elementary students and do not take up much class time to create when only one page.

Don't forget about experiments, learning centers, scavenger hunts, web quests, and other simple projects that may not be as time-consuming. Even finding the answer to a simple question promotes active learning on the part of a student. Let your students discover the knowledge for themselves and share their findings with others. I think you'll find that you have a classroom full of motivated and excited students who want to learn! No child is too young or too old to learn these skills!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Encouraging Positive Interactions

Children and adolescents can be mean. We all know it. We've all seen it. They can also be wonderfully caring. We've seen that as well. Most will come to your classroom as a mixture of both. Some will be a little more mean and others a little more caring, but they will look to you to set the example. What will you tolerate? What will you not tolerate? What do you encourage? If your students see and hear you making snide comments or ignoring the needs of others, they will begin to reflect that negative attitude. If your students see and hear you make positive comments and encourage others, they will begin to reflect the kindness they see in you. This is an unconscious action on their part to help them "fit in" to the culture of the classroom. As the leader, you set the foundations for your classroom culture. What are some ways you can set positive foundations?

The first is to establish your classroom climate as one with "No Hunting." This is a phrase I picked up in one of my earlier trainings and it means that no put-down, teasing, or hurtful behavior towards others is tolerated. You might even put up a large No Hunting sign in your classroom so that it garners attention. Explain to your students exactly what you mean by this phrase. As a class, talk about examples of hunting and then discuss more appropriate actions and behaviors that you want to see.

    Second, discuss and encourage positive life-skills in your classroom. You might think about having a "Life-Skill of the Week" where you highlight one particular skill. Hand out "Caught You!" notes to students you see exhibiting the life-skill. You might create a series of notes or bookmarks using Microsoft Publisher or Word that already show the life-skills. That way you'll have everything ready to hand out when you need it. You might have "Caught You Cooperating", "Caught You Participating", "Caught You Working as a Team", "Caught You Being Friendly", "Caught You Being Helpful," or any one of the many positive life-skills. Copy them on colored paper and put them in a folder that is easily accessible. Now all you have to do is pull one out, draw a smiley face (or not) and sign it. For a list of life-skills, go to .

    Third, treat your students with respect. By doing this you are modeling what respect looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Although it won't happen over-night, when students see you consistently showing respect, they will begin exhibiting that same behavior. The key word here is consistently. If you are respectful one day and shouting the next, the behavior of your students will not change. You will have those who challenge you to the brink of insanity and those who chink away at your patience, but you must continue to behave in a positive way towards them. It is not easy, so don't give up after the first week or two thinking that it will never work. Instead, keep in your mind how you want to be treated by your students. Then, turn around and give them that same favor.

     You can also implement tools to help you encourage positive behavior. Sometimes it takes an extra push to get your students focusing on the positive rather than the negative. One idea is to have a Kindness Box. You can call it anything you like -- obviously middle and high school students may not respond to the "Warm Fuzzy Box" or the "Happy Box," so give it a name that your class will enjoy. Perhaps let your students name it. Have a supply of paper strips (I like to use colored paper for this) near the box. Now, in order to get the box started, ask each student to take several strips and write one positive comment or characteristic about each person at their table or in their row. Afterwards, each day encourage students to put a positive comment in the box when they see someone else being helpful, nice, cooperative, friendly, etc. to other students in the classroom and in the school. Depending on how much time you have, and how much your class needs the positive influence, take some time either once a day or once a week to read some of the strips in the box. You don't need to read them all. It is enough to read a few at a time.

    Another idea is the R.I.P. box. Have students write down those behaviors, actions, and thoughts that are not positive or that may be hurtful. Explain to your class that you want to bury this negative energy so that everyone can focus on what is good in the class. Once these things are buried, we need to let them go and focus on those behaviors that are positive. Simply placing these in the box is not enough. You need to enter into a discussion with your class about why you are putting those negative issues in the box and what you hope to accomplish.

     If you are already in a classroom that seems steeped in negativity, don't give up. It will take time, but you can turn it around. Be determined and put in place these strategies to help get everyone back on track. Again, I must stress that it is not easy, especially if you have been existing this way for several months. Persistence and sheer determination are the best ways for turning the tide of negative energy into positive energy. If you are in a classroom where your students treat each other (and you) with respect, where they are helpful and kind to one another, tell your class how proud you are of them. They need to know. No matter which scenario you face, whether it is either extreme or something in-between, remember that you and you alone set the tone for your classroom climate. Keep that in mind and put some thought into the foundation that you are building with your students.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Collaborating with Colleagues: Being a Team Player

"Be a team player." It's one of those sports analogies used frequently in the business world -- and in education. District and school administrators also want team players. The days of closing the classroom door and creating a self-contained world are over. The autonomous classroom simply doesn't exist -- and for good reason. Our students need more than just one person to guide their education. They need the added power of several brains working together for their good. Yet collaboration does not always come easily.

Teachers are, for the most part, determined course setters. We also have strong opinions about what works and what doesn't work. That determination and self-direction are beneficial for our students; those characteristics facilitate learning and help us make it through each day. Put a group of determined, opinionated individuals in the same school, however, and you often have a recipe for headaches. How, then, can such strong personalities work together as a team?

The first requirement is a willingness to work with others and the ability to recognize that you can't do it all on your own. No one can meet all the needs of all the students who walk through our doors without help. It just isn't possible. The best way to find that help is by asking questions.

If you have a mentor, look to your mentor for guidance. Write down questions as they occur to you. (Don't think you'll remember them later, because you won't.) When you get an opportunity, ask the questions. If you don't have a mentor, look for a veteran teacher in the building -- one you know has a positive outlook on teaching. Ask if that person would mind helping you out. Most will be glad to offer their knowledge and expertise. Administrators are another good source of information. Don't be afraid to ask them questions. You are showing your willingness to learn and your willingness to go to others for help.

The second step is to seek out the support faculty and staff. Those are the people in the school who know your "special" students best. They can help you decipher IEPs and modify assignments for those students who need it. You also can learn how to modify your lessons to best meet the needs of different students in your classroom. Schedule some time to sit down with the department chair and/or the teacher who works with your students and pick their brains. Ask for advice -- and listen to it. That kind of collaboration benefits your students greatly.

The third requirement is to be humble. Listen to the wisdom gained by veteran teachers. Although you might think that some of their ways are outdated, don't discount their skill and knowledge. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. It isn't always easy to be humble when you've waited so long to get into your own classroom. You'll save yourself a lot of extra grief by asking and listening, however.

The fourth step is to plan with other members of your grade level team. What is being taught in Math, Science, Social Studies, and so on? Can you find a way to connect your topics and objectives to those being taught in other classes? The more you work with other subject area teachers, the more you'll be able to help your students see that the world does not exist as separate parts. Everything is interconnected. If you are in a self-contained classroom, share ideas and brainstorm lessons together. You might have a great idea for presenting a lesson, but another teacher might be able to add to that idea and make it better.

Don't forget about the other professionals in your building. The librarian is an excellent resource and should be consulted frequently. Let him or her know what you are teaching and ask for ideas or resources. The art, music, and phys-ed teachers also might be able to enhance your lessons with ideas and their own special strengths. Each person in your building has a variety of strengths and talents. Get to know each one so you're better able to call on those different resources within the building.

Collaboration takes hard work and effort. It's not easy, but it's worth it. Ultimately, your students are the ones who benefit, but you don't lose out either. In the process of collaborating with different colleagues within your school, you are building relationships that will last, and making a place for yourself within the school community. Being a team player is a win-win situation for everyone.

Column by Emma McDonald reprinted with permission from Education-World –

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Opening the Lines of Communication

As school begins again for many students and teachers, you might find yourself busy thinking about classroom set-up, organization, management, and lesson planning. There is a lot to juggle at the start of school, not to mention getting to know students and our fellow teachers, if we are new. But there is one element of the school community that we cannot forget about...the parents and families. Although the parents of our students are not with us all day long, they are still a vital part of the school community. Without active parents we would not be able to raise money for much needed supplies. We would not have volunteers to help us with projects, field trips, and other school activities. Our students would not have a support system to help them get through the various traumas that can happen during the school year.

Parents really and truly make a difference in the lives of our students. A supportive parent can make the difference between a failing student who doesn't care and a student who strives to do the best they can. Additionally, a supportive parent can really make a difference for teachers as well. Wouldn't you rather have parents on your side offering to do whatever they can to help support you? One way we can gain this support is by keeping parents and families informed of what is happening in the classroom.

Although we may not think about it, parents are very interested and concerned about what goes on in the school all day. After all, it is their child, their baby (no matter how old), that we have in our classroom. They want to know what their child/teen is doing and how they are progressing on a regular basis. Of course, all parents want to hear how fabulous their child is and how much you adore having this unique individual in your class. Who wouldn't? No matter what, parents are dying to know what happens in school. This is a curiosity we should encourage and support because it means we have caring parents who will make a difference in the life of our students. So what can we do at the beginning of the year to help make a smooth transition for both the parents and the students?

  1. Write a letter to send home to parents the first or second week of school. Although it is best to send it home on the very first day, there may be some schools who started early and are already into their third or fourth week of school. Better late than never, I say! In your letter, introduce yourself. Explain your schedule and offer information about your conference period when parents can contact you. Include information about your procedures and your management system. Let the parents know you will be sending home more information as the school year progresses, and make them feel welcome to call or email you with their questions. While this may feel as though you are opening yourself to more stress, many parents will not take you up on this offer. Most do not want to bother the teacher, especially at the beginning of the school year. You may have a few parents call or email you, but at least you will have opened the door of communication.

Tech Tip: When gathering parent information, the PTA and school will ask for parent email addresses. You should too. If you don't get it from the parents, check with the PTA directory chair and/or the attendance officer to get email addresses for each family.

Create a "Group" of parent email addresses. Be sure to put the child's name in the listing to help you identify each one. For example, you might list one family as: Perducci family (Cadence), or Torres family (Paul R.). This helps when the parent last name is not the same as the child's last name. Be sure to name your group something that will help both you and parents recognize it.

Send your initial parent letter home via email using these groups in the address bar. This way parents only see the group name of "2nd period English" or "Mrs. Letty's 5th Grade Class 09-10." No email addresses will be shared with other parents. Sending letters home via email helps you keep a "green" classroom.

Include links to your classroom website, parent blog, and class twitter account if you have one. Parents can easily click on the link to locate these online resources. Encourage parents to save these links in their Favorites folder so they can easily find them in the future.

  1. Send home a newsletter within the first six weeks of school. This newsletter should outline again, the daily schedule (for elementary), specific procedures you use in your classroom, and your discipline system. Let parents know how your system of rewards & consequences works so they do not feel kept in the dark. Many parents will help you reinforce that system at home if they are aware of what you are doing in the classroom. However, they cannot help if they do not know what you are doing. Let parents know about the expectations you have for students. The more you tell them about how your classroom works, the more they will be able to reinforce those ideas at home.

I also like to outline topics that I am teaching. I don't go into great detail, but let parents know what they can expect their child to be learning. For example, I might say, "This week in Science we are studying the 5 Senses. In Social Studies we are studying all about the Continents. In ELA we are doing reading inventories to identify reading abilities." This at least gives the parents some idea of what their child is learning. If you are teaching only one subject area, you may want to go into further detail about the topic and activities happening in class.

Create a template on the computer that you can use each week. Simply highlight the information that has changed and type in the new information for each newsletter.

My newsletter includes the following sections:

This Week -- tells what we are studying this week

Thank You -- gives volunteers a thank -you for helping out. I try to thank specific people.

Birthdays -- elementary teachers could include student birthdays

Wish List -- here is where I list supplies I need for upcoming projects

Due Dates -- here is where I list any projects, tests, etc. that are coming due

At Home -- here I outline a simple activity that parents can do at home to reinforce a reading or math strategy taught in class

It takes me fifteen minutes to revamp the newsletter each week, but goes a long way towards building a strong support system of parents. I set aside time to do the newsletter for the next week every Thursday afternoon. I can make copies on Friday, then I send home the newsletter on Monday. This gives the parents something fresh to look at each week that keeps them up-to-date. I know for a fact that I have fewer issues with upset parents when I keep them informed of what is happening in the classroom on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Tech Tip: Email is a great way to send out the newsletter as well. When you use Microsoft Word you can choose to "Send" rather than "Print" the document and it will use your email program to send it. This also allows you to include live links in your newsletter for parents to click and follow. If you are computer savvy, you can also find programs that allow you to include a poll or survey for parents as well. Word has many eye pleasing templates you can use to create a newsletter so that it is colorful and easy to read.

  1. Create a parent blog. Use it to write down a summary of what was accomplished in class. You can even choose a student each class period to write the blog post for the day. Then all you have to do is post it. Parents can see what happened in class in the words of the students. You can also use this blog to explain concepts of study or teaching strategies you are using that may be unfamiliar (and therefore up for questioning) to parents. A parent blog is a great way to explain commonly used terms and acronyms to parents as well. All this information gives parents an insight into what is happening at school and offers a feeling of peace and security in the form of knowledge.


  2. Create a classroom twitter account using your school email address or a free email account such as hotmail or gmail. Have students create a "tweet" of 140 characters or less (including spaces) that summarizes what was learned in class. Post these on the twitter account for parents to read. By providing live links in emails and newsletters, parents can easily view the twitter account and keep up with what is happening in class. You can also post announcements of upcoming tests, major project due dates, and other important dates and times.

Keep your classroom twitter account private by checking the "remove from public view" in the settings. Invite parents by giving them your twitter id. They can search for you and request to follow. You approve the request and then parents can see the posts. This keeps your classroom information and events private and secure.

Remember, parents who are informed are parents who will help reinforce what you are doing in the classroom. They will ask questions of their child – "So, where is that project you're supposed to be turning in tomorrow?" They will volunteer and help out with supplies for projects. They will work with their child on skills at home to help them improve. These few simple strategies to parents informed will work overtime to help you have a great school year and to help your students succeed!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Review of Wounded by School written by Kirsten Olson

How many times will we hear the words “school reform” in our lifetime? It seems every year there is another book published that outlines what is wrong with schools and how they need to be fixed. The worst are those that recommend we shut everything down and completely “reboot” the system with something new. The problem with that particular recommendation is the fact that those with the experience to “reboot” our educational system are the very people caught up in the middle of it right now. Without a “change of lifestyle” within the very people who are at the heart of the educational system, no reform can take place. I believe Wounded by School will help teachers, administrators, and most importantly, legislators and the public to begin the process of making this lifestyle change.

For change to occur, first there must be understanding. Olson helps deepen our understanding of the way schools wound different people as well as the ways schools themselves are wounded. Not every wound is the same because not every person is the same. This, I believe, lies at the heart of the reform she very gently introduces. We must not only get to know each individual who comes through our classroom doors, but we must work with those individuals to help each learn according to his or her needs. This is a tall order when faced with 30 or more students in a class. Yet somehow we must develop and learn strategies that embrace different types of learning rather than requiring ALL students to conform to one learning style.

This is a similar message to one that has been preached by others, especially those in brain research. When we will acknowledge that the brain must lead learning, not a set of behaviors, and that each brain we encounter is “wired” differently? This, I believe, and Kirsten Olson believes, is at the heart of why schools wound (often unintentionally) so many of us. She also points out that it is not just students who are wounded, but teachers as well. We are being asked to do a job that is incredibly complex with very little support from the legislators who pass down policy based on an archaic system of learning.

The way Wounded by School differs from other reform books is that instead of recommending a completely new system or “shutting down” schools, Kirsten Olson outlines ways we can begin to heal these wounds. These are not just general suggestions for society at large, either. There is a specific chapter on the process of healing and how it begins, one for parents who heal, teachers who heal, and students healing one another. It is this healing process that is so important to making a lifestyle change in our schools.

As we are healed and work to heal others through our actions and beliefs about learning, we begin to create communities where individuals are cherished. When individuals are cherished for who they are and not who we wish them to be, communities of learning are developed. These are places where students are not just spoon-fed information, but rather are taught HOW to learn. It is this skill combined with a love of the learning process that leads to life-long learning.
I believe that every legislator who creates education bills and votes on these bills should read this book. I believe that every teacher, administrator, and staff member who works with students should read this book. I believe that every parent who is concerned for their child’s welfare should read this book. It is an eye-opening read that lays important groundwork for a grassroots reform of schools and most importantly, learning.