Category Archives: Home and School Connections

Successful Parent Teacher Conferences and Efficient Reporting Link-Up

I don’t know about you, but man o’ man this year is going by quickly! Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, but whatever it is – it’s just shocking to think that our first parent teacher conferences are behind us and Christmas is just around the corner. Our conferences finished up yesterday. As I waited for my first parent to arrive, I was remembering  how anxious I was, the first time I had to meet with parents. Those first parent-teacher conferences can be terrifying to think about! I’ve always had nothing but great experiences, but it’s the unknown that can be scary. Will they tear into me about how I’ve been teaching Math? Does their child tell them that I’m cranky? Do they think I’m doing a good job of educating their child? The potential judgements can make your head spin!

successful parent teacher conferences photoWith that in mind, I asked around a bit for tips on how to make parent teacher conferences most successful, for new and seasoned teachers alike. Some of the ideas are mine, things that I already do, some have come from fellow teachers (including the book recommendations).

How do you make parent-teacher conference MOST successful?

1) Have the students write about what they’ve done a good job of so far in the term, and what they could improve on. This way, they are assessing themselves, and the teacher doesn’t have to look like the bad guy bringing up the things the student needs to improve on. Nine times out of ten, the student will write about the things you’d like them to improve – the need to study more, do more homework or stop chatting so much. This way, you can show the parent, “Well this is what he said he needed to work on…” And you’re on your way!

2) Always start with something positive about the student. If you don’t have something – find something! This child is their parents’ whole world. Be kind.

3) End with a positive. You want your parents walking away feeling good about the conference – so end on a high note!

4) Straighten up your room and make it as inviting as you can. It should be shining and looking as spiffy as it did on Day 1 this year.

5) Have a basket of business cards and candies on the table and tell parents to help themselves. You can pass along your information to them if they didn’t receive it at the first of the year, or if it’s been misplaced. And let’s face it: Candies put everyone in a better mood!

6) Make sure to leave time for parents to ask questions. Have a pad of paper at the ready to record questions that you need to go and find the answers to (questions for other subject teachers, resource teacher or principal etc.). Take down their phone number as well, so that you can contact them when you find the answer to their question.

7) It you teach younger children, have a table set up with adult sized chairs, so that parents feel more comfortable.

8) Always try to stick to appointment times and have parents choose another time to continue the meeting if need be.

9)There should be no major surprises at parent teacher time. Make sure to contact parents ahead of time about behaviors and/or marks that are a major concern. If parents know what their child needs to work on, they can help them. If the child is failing and report card time is the first the parent has heard that their child is struggling, you may have some explaining to do.

Link Up Effecient Reporting10) Be prepared. Have your comments ready to share and any paperwork the needs to be signed by the parents ready to go. Many teachers at my school keep a folder on each child where completed work, tests, and assignments are stored. I teach grade 7 and so I have students file their own work, which makes things easy. When parent-teacher time rolls around, I can pull out each file to help me write report card comments and for my discussions with parents. Make sure to have files like this available to help you discuss what you need to, with parents.  

A friend of mine has a great blog post on efficient reporting and is hosting a link-up as well on the topic. Head over to Teaching FSL to get some great tips or to link up  your own blog post.

 

Some book recommendations…

When recommending books, sometimes I recommend books that I found, own and have read. I recommend the book based on having read it and seeing the potential for how it could be used in the classroom. Sometimes I recommend books on the glowing reviews I’ve received about titles, from other teachers. The three books below, I haven’t personally read, although I trust the judgements of my colleagues. The second one on how to deal with difficult parents was mentioned by multiple teachers and looks like a funny and light read (and may be where I’d personally start)!

 

For help writing your report card comments – this book may provide some inspiration:

 

To give you some ideas for dealing with difficult parents:


 

While this book is not specifically for parent-teacher conferences, it is a new release for how to effectively establish “student led” conferences, which is not completely unrelated to the topic at hand – plus I saw that the foreword was from Rick Stiggins – so it’s got to be good!

 

To all of you new teachers out there who have yet to get your first classroom, or who are in your first year of teaching, I hope that these tips will help you on the way to having the best parent-teacher conferences possible. If we don’t have parent support, it makes it very difficult to do our jobs. Do what you can to get parents on your side and keep them there.

 

~Thank you to those who left your ideas for me on my Facebook page on this topic – Queen of Click, Melissa Henderson, Sue Kenmotsu, Dalia Guillén Alvarado and Jennifer Cramer Armour.~

 

Have you had parent-teacher conferences yet this year? How’d they go and what tips could you add?

The Student Agenda – If you have one, why don’t you use it?

Do your students use the agendas that they’re so excited to buy that first week back to school? I’m lucky – many of my students do buy an agenda. Using it, however? That’s another story.

I’ve actually realized that I’ve been part of the problem.

I teach grade 7. I have been using the fact that I teach junior high, as an excuse of sorts. “They’re old enough to know what they need to do. If they don’t do it – that’s really their problem. I’m trying to teach them to be self-sufficient and independent here!”

Well, I’m thirty. I KNOW that I need to exercise. Do I always do it? Sometimes, I get lazy – plain and simple. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a cheerleader helping me along? Wouldn’t I be more apt to go for a run? Well, I’m going to be more of a cheerleader to my students this year (probably in more ways than one). They know what they need to do (just like I do) but they’re going to need my help to get and stay on track.

 

Here are some things that I plan to share with my students to help them get on the right track with using their agendas.

agenda tips, lessons from the middle

 

Need-Do-Due Poster: Help your students use their agendas

Need-Do-Due Poster: Help your students use their agendas

 

Here are a few things that I’m also going to try this year, in regards to agendas.

1) Give students more time and REQUIRE that they use their agendas. I wasn’t forceful enough in the last few years with getting students to use their agendas – the result? They didn’t use them. I don’t plan on using my brute force or anything, but I do plan on setting my expectations MUCH higher!

2) Spend MORE time talking about the agendas at Meet the Teacher night – how I plan to use them, what parents can do to help etc. I plan to really talk them up!

3) We always send home monthly reports about student behaviors, homework etc. I’m thinking about switching to weekly reports and then having students staple the reports in to their agendas. Then, parents will know to ask to see the agenda each week to check out their child’s report.

 

I’m excited about the changes I plan to make with the use of agendas in my class this year. If you would like a copy of the tips and poster above, head over to my TeachersPayTeachers Store to grab a free copy. I hope that my raising of expectations and putting more responsibility on the students will increase their overall success!

 

What are your thoughts on student agendas?

 

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Communicating with Parents: Keeping the Momentum Going

This is the third post in a series about how you can effectively communicate with home – which is so important at Back to School time, and all year long. The first and second posts are here if you missed them.

Communicate regularly (from the beginning)

After that ever important first phone call, and the homework and other info that you’re providing on your class blog, some of you may think you’re done. Others, know better of course! The really tough part is to keep it all together on a day-to-day basis. My tips for this, would be to make yourself reachable and have a system in place.

Making yourself reachable begins with a helpful tip that I stole from another blogger, Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6. She had said that she always starts the year by giving her parents  a fridge magnet with her contact info on it. What a great idea! At my school, we all get little blue cards to send home with our students with our name and the school phone number – but a magnet is so much better.

I found Vista Print this summer and so I ordered custom magnets from them. What a deal! I had them within a week and I ended up ordering 50 (enough for two years) for $26 Canadian – and that included shipping! I plan to pass them out to the parents who come to Meet the Teacher and send one home to the parents who can’t make it that night. I included my name, blog url, school phone number and email on the magnet so that I’m as reachable as possible for parents.

lessons from the middle, magnets

 

Having a system in place could be anything – using student agendas, weekly class newsletters or monthly reports. The other grade 7 teacher and I use what we call “The Clipboard”. We track behaviors and send home a report at the end of the month. I’m thinking, maybe we’ll do it weekly this year – it may carry even more weight! We are also continuing to try to link consequences to these monthly reports, but we haven’t found a fool proof method yet – loss of privileges (attending school events for poor behavior) natural consequences (lower marks for no homework) and so on…We re-vamp it a bit each year.

We are going also going “live” this year with our mark system, meaning parents will have online access to their child’s attendance and marks, so that will be a help for sure, as far as keeping the doors of communication open. No surprises at report card time!

Finally, I’m thinking about really training my students to use their agendas more effectively this year. I find, some students buy them – but then never open them and perhaps they just were never shown how to actually utilize them as an organizational and time management tool. (Look for a future post on using student agendas more effectively.)

How do you maintain communication with home for the whole year?

 

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Communicating with Parents: Create A Class Blog

Communication with home is essential, no matter what grade level you teach. With Back to School on the horizon, I’m sharing some simple ways you can connect with your students’ parents. Here’s the link to the first post if you missed it: Communicating with Parents.

 

Keep a class blog/website.

I just started my class blog last year, but I had numerous parents who checked it regularly and really depended on it to know what was going on at school. Mine is a WordPress blog. It’s free and it was simple to set up. Here’s what my class blog looks like:

 

lessons from the middle, class blog

 

I’m in the middle of cleaning it for the new year – but feel free to have a peek. It’s a work in progress at the moment, though.

 

For me, there are lots of benefits to keeping a class blog.

-I keep their homework posted, so when a student is absent, they know what they missed. Lots of other students (and parents) also depend on the homework feature to stay on top of things.

-Once the parents know about the blog, they can subscribe to follow it and will get email updates whenever I post something new.

-I can keep all fundraising and school event info on the site to inform parents.

-I can keep students informed of upcoming assignments, and parents informed of work that has gone home.

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Some other sites to look into for setting up your own class blog/website that I have found:

Weebly

TeacherWeb

Edmodo

You may want to double-check with your school tech person before you register a blog. Some districts block certain sites and you wouldn’t want to go through the work of setting up a website or blog for nothing!

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All in all, once your site is up, even if you just use it for homework and important updates – I think it’s a great investment of your time because of the connection it creates between home and school.

Do you have a class website or blog? What site do you use?

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Communicating with Parents: The First Phone Call Home

 

Home and School communication is SO important for the success of your students and yourself as their teacher – no matter what grade level you teach. There are TONS of ways that you can communicate positively with the parents of your students. Over the next few posts, I’m going to highlight some ways that you build this oh-so-vital relationship.

 

Call each parent within the first two weeks of school, to introduce yourself.

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Hello, can I speak to Mrs…..?

Ideally, this would be done before school beings. I know some teachers send out postcards or notes, but I prefer the phone call. It is time consuming. However it is hands down, the “best spent time” of my first month of school. It breaks the ice. Students know early on that you can and will contact their parents for any reason – you have their number and aren’t afraid to use it! Hey, I teach grade seven and most of the students are physically bigger than my 5′ self. I need to threaten them with what I can! Just kidding…for the most part!

 

You want your first contact with home to be a positive one. The longer you leave making that contact, the more likely it is that someone will do something to get a not-so-nice phone call home and then you’re stuck with that first contact being a “this is what your child did” phone call. Avoid that!

 

The phone calls are generally less than five minutes long. I introduce myself, let them know that I’m thrilled to have ___in my class and ask them if there’s anything I should know right off, that’ll help me to be more successful with their child. What parent could argue with that? I let them know about Meet the Creature Night (whoops, Freudian slip) and anything else that I want them to know right away. That’s it! 5 calls a night, and I’m done within two weeks.

When I taught 4 different groups, a couple of years ago, it was a challenge and took me about a month – but I still maintain that it was worth the time.

How do you make that first contact with home?

 

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Celebrating Students’ Achievements

Yes, school is at an end for most of us – just around the corner again for some. Regardless, at the end of my school year, I made a mental list of some things that I’d like to tackle and do a better job of next year. I’m getting lots of tips and ideas from my summer reading to implement in the fall – which is great. Something else, though, that I’ve done a better job of in years past, is to celebrate students’ learning and achievements. It’s one of those things that I kept “meaning to get around to” this year. Now here we are. July, and I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t follow through on what I meant to do.

I know how important it is to truly step back with students, parents, family members and staff and really applaud all of the hard work that students have done. Two years ago (when I was VERY pregnant, actually) I had a publishing party to celebrate the writing of my grade sevens. Many had gotten published that year in one of two anthologies. We decorated the room, I took in treats and we sent out invitations. All students had someone come in to support them that year. It was wonderful. Students read their pieces aloud to the group and I cried (only partly due to the pregnancy hormones). It was a beautiful thing and one of my proudest “teacher moments”.

  I know in my heart that there are reasons as to why things didn’t go quite according to plan this year. This was a challenging year. My most challenging yet. I won’t get into the details and I’m not about to rant – although I could;) Oh boy, could I! We’ll just say that taking on one more task, such as inviting parents in to celebrate students’ work and planning such an event, was not at the top of my to-do list.

Anyhow, next year will be better! I know that, because at the end of this school year our grade 5 teachers got it right. They had been doing a book club with their students entitled, “Have You Seen Art?”. The students were very engaged during this unit and the way that the unit was finally wrapped up was through an art gallery of the students’ work. Parents, family members and staff and students were invited to the art show. It was just awesome! The students had worked with various mediums and got to choose which pieces of artwork were to be formally assessed. Students were on hand to explain the exhibits in the gallery and they did a wonderful job. They were so engaged and so proud. And rightly so! To see all of their work displayed around the classroom was proof positive that we (I) need to make sure not to neglect that ever-important final step of sharing work – whether that be artwork, Science Fair projects or writing. It’s not enough to just share with the class – which is what I did this year. We need to really make it authentic and invite in family and other guests so that students feel as important as they are!

lessons from the middle, celebrating students

Invited Guests Enjoying the Artwork

 

lessons from the middle, celebrating students

Art Display

 

So, thank you to Mrs. MacIsaac and Mrs. Deagle for getting it right this year and giving me the visual reminder that I needed to make sure that I get it right next year.

 

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A GREAT art site to use in the classroom (thanks for that too, Mrs.MacIsaac)!

National Gallery of Art for Kids

Positive Connections Between Home and School: Our Spring Carnival

We all know how important is it to have strong links between home and school. There are many ways that you can go about this. Consistent communication, inviting parents in to participate in celebrations (publishing parties etc.) math game night… are just a few ideas. There was an event at my school last week, that I just have to brag up, though. We had a spring carnival!

First of all, it was the parents who organized this spring carnival and it never would have happened without the strong, motivated and caring group of parents that we have. The goal of the carnival was to break down some of the barriers that often exist between home and school. Some parents actually become physically ill at the thought of having to enter the school, because of their own issues that they had in school as students. In addition to trying to promote the positive connections between parents, teachers and students –  the carnival was a fund-raiser for the school.

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Spring Carnival Fundraiser: Toilet Paper Toss

There were carnival games in the gym that were run by the older students: Toilet paper toss, bean bag toss, a fish pond, basketball free throws…We even had a radar gun to see how fast students could shoot a puck or toss a ringette ring. Everyone who played got a small prize.

There was a cake walk every half hour and the 6 donated cakes were AMAZING! If you’ve never done a cake walk, there’s a grid of about 25 – 30 numbers on the floor (however many participants you want). Participants pay to play ($1.00 for us) and stand on a number. Then, the numbers are drawn out one at a time. The last person standing wins a cake of their choice! Our event was 6:00-9:00 in the evening and so there was a cake walk held every half an hour.

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Spring Carnival Fundraiser: Cake Walk

We had face painting, a sundae bar – even a teddy bear clinic! The local EMTs came in with all of their gear, ambulances sitting in the parking lot – lights flashing, and helped to “fix” the sick teddy bears that our students brought in. That was a big hit with the younger kids!

We had a silent auction with hundreds of dollars worth of items that our Home and School got donated. Finally, each class in the school was responsible to bring in an item for a “basket”. Grade 7 had the “Kitchen Basket”. This meant that every student had to bring in one small item to go into our basket. Tickets would be sold for these baskets – again proceeds going to the school. There was a candy basket, a movie night, summer fun baskets, scrapbooking, writers’ basket and more.

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Spring Carnival ~Gift Basket

I LOVE how they organized the gift basket giveaway. If you need a simple fund-raiser, you may want to think about this one!

If you wanted tickets for the gift baskets, you could buy an envelope of tickets for $2.00 (or three envelopes for $5.00). Each envelope had 20 tickets inside with the same number on them (the numbers and names were recorded as they were sold). So, if you bought envelope #73, all of your tickets had 73 on them and your name was recorded on our list as having bought envelope 73.

There were bins in front of each basket, and since the envelopes had 20 tickets inside – people could put a ticket in to each bin and have a chance to win every basket OR they could put all of their tickets into the bin of the basket that they wanted the most. It worked beautifully! One ticket was drawn at the end of the night, from each bin, and those lucky winners got the lovely gift baskets!

I have two young children and so after helping to set up the carnival after school, I went back up to the school with my own kids. We had a blast! The best part was seeing how laid back everyone was – just having a good time. It is, hands down, the most positively I have seen parents, teachers and students connect in this community where “school” is concerned. We all just got to have FUN! The carnival was huge success all around and we exceeded the original goals set. That one night brought in over $6 000. Our school is K-7 with just over 350 students, in a community of about 1 200. It was amazing!

I’d love to hear about how your school works to connect with parents. Also, what has your school’s most successful fund-raiser been?

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Lessons From The Middle