3 Positive Outcomes from a Parent Conference

At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents.

Sometimes around October, some teachers may start to dread parent conferences. Many times, they are difficult to do and once in a long while they are a breeze. However I feel about the kids and the parents, as a parent myself I appreciate the partnership of teachers and parents. As a teacher, I try to keep my own kids in mind when holding parent conferences. It is a delicate balance between what I would do with my own kids and what is the best for my students. Somewhere in those parameters I plan my teaching and my parent conferences. All schools can benefit from a parent conference and my particular expertise shows how effective they are in elementary schools.

Meeting with parents can be challenging. There are many “types” of parents but really every parent is an individual case. There is the type that don’t really care who came in due to fear of Child Protective Services being called. Then there is another type that are all too involved. They can be challenging for completely different reasons like: how do you tell the parent their child is not perfect. Finally, there are the victimized parents with no answers. These people are quite challenging because they have thrown up their hands in surrender willing to try just about anything. Again, there are MANY types of parents along a spectrum. Each one you encounter will fall somewhere in between these three examples. Establishing and fostering that parent involvement can be the magic ingredient with a kid.

Meeting with parents can be helpful. I would say 70% of the time, meeting with parents will fix a problem. After all, they are the ones in charge of the kids. They can reward and take away in ways you couldn’t dream of. In short, they know the kids better than you. For many years I would avoid meeting with parents and calling parents. I didn’t want to rock any boats. I learned eventually that as a professional I am entitled to call parents any time, even in the middle of class in front of the class. Parents need to know what is going on and most of them want to know. The helpful properties of a parent conference should never be underestimated.

Meeting with parents can be educational. Every college I have attended has always said something in the commencement speech about “life-long learning.” If anyone should be life-long learners it is we teachers. Like it or not, we set the pace for education in our communities. If we listen to parents they can enlighten us to the needs of their kids. Then, we can extrapolate from that the needs of our entire class. At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents. I encourage you to try it. Don’t let anyone attack you but keep an open mind. It will make you a better teacher.

On a given day you probably wouldn’t get excited about parent teacher conferences. At the same time, you probably should because the challenge, helpfulness, and education are highly positive aspects for teachers.

When Extra Work Means Less Headache

20130111-144253.jpgSometimes with certain classes, you have to do extra work in order to avoid headaches. One example of a headache is another teacher coming to you complaining about your class’ running or misbehaving at recess or dismissal. You can say it’s not your duty time but it will always come back to affect your reputation as a teacher, unavoidably. Define your target. Sometimes a little extra work takes care of it. My students get rowdy at dismissal. I have tried warning them to walk and be respectful but even after teaching rules and holding the whole class in all day as punishment, I still got two teacher complaints. It’s time to become more of a hawk eye with this class.

At that point, one has to decide, do I work a little outside my duty and walk them like smaller kids to the gate every day or risk letting them continue without my intense guidance and get more complaints further affecting my reputation as a teacher. It is an extra few minutes I agree and I am not required by contract to do it. At the same time, with some classes, one must accept they are too immature to do it alone and lead them out. I’ve given my current class every chance to improve and yet they are still, running and screaming and running into other kids. In the big picture they are my responsibility and I really don’t expect this class to ever be autonomous 4th graders in these activities, even though I’ve had much more mature kids who could handle it in the past. Sometimes a little extra work makes for less headache.

Tradition vs. Tech as a Teacher

Below is an excerpt from a longer article I published on another blog. I think this concept is highly valuable to teachers.

It does a teacher no good to hang on to methods that are decades old when they don’t produce value. Some examples might be cursive or silent reading time. These have proven of little value in many people’s minds. Today’s teacher needs to use tech to teach explicitly and directly. As an innovative and creative teacher, I must prepare my students for the jobs and create data toward value. It’s not an easy job, but I know I will continue to be successful. I am willing to consider the data and ALL tools be they tech or tradition. The extent to which they add value toward my goals is the extent to which I use them.

via Tradition, Tech, Data and Value at Work.

Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.

Save it for Later

Do you ever get little notes from your students that are touching but you tend to throw away? It would be easy to put them in a special folder titled “Sunshine Folder.” On a rainy day you can get those little notes out and warm your teacher heart. This can workMVC-013S in a similar way for all the stuff you get in your mailbox and ends up cluttering your desk. Develop a “Need to Sort” folder and a “What’s Important Now” one. You don’t have to sort everything now. You can save it for later and save your brain energy, wit, and candor for your lessons. Continue reading “Save it for Later”

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

The Benefits of Becoming an Owner-Operator

While not everyone may have what it takes to become their own boss, creative, resourceful, and persistent individuals can make a comfortable living becoming an owner-operator of their own company. If you are considering going into business for yourself, here are four advantages of being your own boss in the trucking industry.

Flexible Hours

 One of the biggest appeals of working for yourself is the ability to set your own hours. With that said, if you work inconsistently and fail to commit to meet deadlines and appointments, your business could fall flat. Be realistic about your schedule and don’t give yourself too many sick days or vacation time. Truckers have different schedules than most other workers, so you’ll need to evaluate your own needs.

Greater Control

 As your own boss, you’ll have the freedom to implement your own decisions that determine the future success of your company. As an employee, you can only exercise control within the parameters of your title. As an owner-operator, you decide what jobs you take.

Doing What You Love

 Becoming an owner-operator permits you to turn your passion into a livelihood. You’ll also enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction operating your own business. If you consistently work well and meet your client’s expectations, the sky is your only limit.

Developing Positive Habits

 When you’re relying only on yourself to run an entire company and make the shots, you’ll quickly develop a strong work ethic as every problem or success falls on your shoulders alone. Folks who run their own business develop positive characteristics including frugality, punctuality, loyalty, specialized skills, and resilience.

One Question Tests

I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI was driving back from Del Taco tonight and had an epiphany about my class and how I can help them all achieve standards mastery. It would be really helpful to see if they can actually work through math problems I have been teaching. I mostly do two kinds of assessments currently, whiteboard “on the spot” picking random-non-volunteers with playing cards and formal multiple choice paper tests. I find that there are usually a few who somehow get through these assessments and don’t really master the material. I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

In class or at home I can see almost instantly if a kid is getting say long division or place value standards. I can make 2 piles: Those that “got it” and those who didn’t. In minutes, I have valuable assessment information that I can make a plan to address. I can work in a small group with those kids in the “did not get it” pile. I can also pair students who did get it with those who didn’t. I have found numerous times that some students respond better when taught by their proficient peers. It’s an especially great idea for middle to end of the year because in that time segment you have a pretty good idea which standards need extra work. The best part of these “piles” of tests is that you can put a post-it with the standard and save them for anytime you have the time to reteach and address these deficiencies. It’s very simple and very helpful I think. In theory, you could even avoid the copier by simply putting the 1-2 problems up on the overhead. If you have a Mobi or other writing device for your overhead that can be a great way to correct the test and reteach as well. In theory, you will have a stack of several standards paperclipped together that will help you work toward entire class mastery of the standards.

Revising Your Teaching Strategy

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed

clip1Try as we might as teachers, sometimes we don’t get classroom management right. To adapt and fix it, we must be open to change. This often requires tweaking little things here and there and sometimes it means a complete overhaul of your lesson plan and classroom management approach. Even when you’ve been at it many years, you are never immune to change. Ours is a career where change is always happening so we must adapt. Revising your strategy is the solution to the challenge we call change.

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed:

  1. PLAN. Identify focus standards. Most schools in California are focused on the California content standards. Gone are the days when teachers’ differed in their opinion on what should be taught. While shades of that remain, teachers know the biggest recognition comees from high standardized test scores. Even though I know that is the best target, I will be flexible and say a teacher should identify what they want to teach. You’d do well to simply identify standards but the point here is that you are focused on something. It has been said, and it is true, that if you aim at nothing you will surely hit it. Get a yellow pad and write down 2-3 focus standards a day. These become the measuring rod of whether you did you job.
  2. TEACH. For each standard use a teaching method such as edi or the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and write lesson plans. Teach them, check for understanding throughout and finally, assess that 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery.
  3. PLAN CONSEQUENCES. Plan how you will control classroom discipline. Some classes will not require much of this and others will demand hours of planning in a trimester. Read up on the subject and be open to trying things other teachers do that are working for them.


I hope as you are revising teaching strategies you don’t feel like a failure. It can feel like that sometimes as a teacher in a challenging environment. Make sure you take the quiet time to reflect, research and converse with positive colleagues. In time, the hardest challenges will become your greatest strengths. The reason I am qualified to tell you this is because I have revised my teaching several key times in my career and the end product is seeing myself as an accomplished teacher. You can have that assurance as well if you always stay open to revising your teaching strategy.