Monday, October 16, 2017

Sharing the Good Things Happening In You School

In the past few years, the political make up of our schools has been changing a great deal.  The way schools are funded and the amount of local control in schools has been changing.  There has been a huge push from our state government to consolidate school districts and push some of the local control to the district level.  This has resulted in many fears from parents, teachers and community members about losing their local, small town elementary schools.  They are rightfully afraid that these schools will be closed and our children will be sent to larger regional elementary schools.  I get these fears from the perspective as a teacher who works in a small school and as a Mom who loves the small school her own kids attend. 

In our school, so many wonderful things happen that the general public is not aware of.  Some parents who are well connected to the school have a pretty good idea, but I often think the community in general lacks specifics about the good things happening in their school.  Thinking about the change in political climate and understanding the fears of other teaches and parents about our small school being on the chopping block in the next few years, I have been thinking a lot about how to promote our school and share all the wonderful things happening here. 

1. Video 

Last year, when I was researching ways to get out message out to parents, I stumbled upon Your School Rocks... So Tell People.  This book was full of great ideas that really helped me see the potential to up our game in several areas, including video.  Last spring, I challenged myself to create at least one video a week showcasing something going on in our school and after a few weeks, it got to be part of my routine and the response I have got is amazing.  I use the iMovie app for iPad to edit video clips, add text, etc.  We have been loving using video so much that this year, I have many students so excited to create their own videos that we are doing a trial of WeVideo which seems to be the go to video editing software for use on Chromebooks.  We are working on creating videos highlighting out behavior expectations for PBIS, math how to videos, trailers of upcoming events and so much more.  We share these videos on social media, the school website and on teacher blogs. 

2. Social Media

Our school district has a Facebook page and a twitter account that previous to reading this book, I hadn't paid much attention to.  After reading this book, I immediately looked into who was providing content on these platforms and made sure to send content their was as often as possible.  I am also working on organizing teacher take over days where different teachers get control of the account for the day/week and provide a detailed look into their classroom.  Since I work in an elementary school, we are trying to reach parents on social media, and Facebook is definitely the place where we can find most of the parents.  The book had an excellent chapter on using Instagram to reach your students which I think would be perfect for middle and high school age kids. 

3. School/Teacher Blogs

It is the expectation in my school that all teachers maintain a classroom blog where they share pictures, videos and updates at least a few times per month.  These are linked from the school website and it can be hard to see how much they are getting viewed or how helpful they are to families and the community.  They are a huge asset when someone new is looking into working at or sending kids to our school because they give a great flavor of what we have to offer.  My own blog is also used to curate online resources so it gets a lot of views at school and at home.  When I started adding videos that featured the students and videos that students helped create the engagement on the main page of my blog went up by 500%! Video is so powerful!  

4. Alert the Press

When something special is happening at your school, let the local press know.  Our smallest local paper is always interested in reporting on events happening in our schools.  They sometimes send a photographer & a reporter and other times they ask for more details and a picture that one of us took at the event.  Just a quick email to let them know what is happening in our school has resulted in positive press for us multiple times.  It is free and requires minimal effort. 

5. School Website

Is your school website kept up to date?  For many folks, your school website is the first thing they see when they search for you and you want to make sure you have enough information posted that they can really get to know your school.  Also, you want to make it a place where students and families return to over and over again to get the information they need or to catch up on the news.  Make sure your school website is updated at least weekly to get the most out of it.  Regularly sharing pictures, videos, newsletters, etc is a great way to keep things fresh. 

6. Get Folks Inside the Building

One of the best ways to get parents and community members up to date on what is happening at school is to invite them to come in.  When they are in the building, they not only get to see what is going on, they get to feel the culture as well.  We try to invite parents and community members in at least a few times a year and are now looking for ways to invite them in even more frequently.

7. Class Dojo

Class Dojo is an app that another teacher in my building began playing around with last year and I can't say enough about how much it improves communication with families.  This year, we have several teachers using it in my building and my own kids' school is using it school wide.  I love it so much from the perspective of a teacher and a parent.  It is a communication app that lets teachers and parents share videos, pictures and messages.  A teacher can post to the class board where all families can see it or to each students' individual stories.  It is enough like Facebook, that parents seem to figure out how to use it quickly and it can really improve communication.  I have not yet found a way to use it to communicate to the community at large but it cannot be beat for communicating with parents. They also have GREAT videos about Growth Mindset! 

How do you share the good things happening in your school? Please respond in the comments below. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

When You Don't Agree With Your Child's Teacher

I have known a lot of teachers.  First as a student, then as colleagues and now as a parent   I have been very lucky that my children have had wonderful teachers who I absolutely treasure.  I love their school, the sense of community and the teachers willingness to go above and beyond.  I am trusting these folks with the things that are most important in my life which has really forced me to reexamine my own role as a teacher in other students' lives.  These teachers and my kids' school is such an important part of their life and their happiness there is vital to the happiness of our family.
A situation recently arose where the teacher of one of my children made a decision that I did not agree with.  It was a decision that made me and my child feel unwelcome in their school.  My emotional response to this decision was dramatic and I can't remember the last time I was this upset about something.  I was in the place of the irrational parent rather than the calm and reassuring teacher.  Being in that role was new to me, and I really had to think about the best way to approach this with my child's teacher. 

Talk to the Teacher First

In my case, talking to the teacher was actually done by email.  I did not grasp the entirety of the situation when I picked my child up that day and once I did understand what had happened, I was much too emotional for an in person discussion that day.  In fact, I waited until the next day to begin composing the email and I went back to it several times throughout the day to make sure it was conveying what I needed it to without being too emotional.  The point here is that this was a decision the teacher made, and I needed to talk to her first before complaining to other staff members about this decision. 

Assume Good Intentions

This teacher is one my family has known and loved for years.  I know she has always had the best intentions her students and their families.  I went on the assumption that she was not purposely trying to make families feel unwelcome. 

Think About it From Her Perspective

I spent some time thinking about why she made this decision.  I thought about some of the changes that happened in the school this year and how the number of students in her class has gone up quite a bit.  I also thought about the fact that she seems to have some very challenging students this year and how that might be affecting her. 

Encourage Others

I heard a lot of grumblings from other parents the day I picked my daughter up from school.  I know from experience that parents are much more likely to complain to other parents than to tell the teacher directly why they are upset.  When other parents complained directly to me, I encouraged them to call, email or talk to the teacher about their concerns rather than to other parents.  If the teacher does not know multiple parents are upset, there isn't anything she can do about it. 

Follow Through

In my case, several emails back and forth to my child's teacher was enough to defuse the situation and have her reconsider her decision.  Whatever agreement you come to, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.  If you get what you ask for make sure you say thank you. 

Mend the Relationship

I can be super challenging to disagree with someone you like and respect.  Even if you come to an agreement in the end, it can do damage to the relationship.  Things might feel a little awkward for a while and you may have to go above and beyond to be friendly and to help repair the relationship. 

Have you ever disagreed with your child's teacher?  How did you handle it? Please respond in the comments below! 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fall Math Fun

I am loving the fall weather we have been having this week!  It gave me a chance to get outside with some special Kindergarten kids and do some play based math activities using natural materials.  It was such a nice way to spend some time outside learning together! 

We started by going on a little nature walk with a few buckets and picking up some beautiful leaves, acorns and pine-cones.  Then we dumped our treasures out on the table, grabbed a few fine pointed sharpies and got to work exploring and adding some mathematical details to our fall materials.  We started by writing numbers on leaves.  Some kids wrote numbers to 10 while others wrote some random numbers they knew. 

We have been doing a lot with the 10 frame model recently and I wanted to capitalize on this so I used some of the larger leaves to draw some 10 frames which led to a lot of ordering and matching activies. 

Some kids are ready to look at addition and subtraction facts so we added leaves that had the symbols for +, - and = and they were able to use these with the numeral leaves and natural counters to create equations. 

Many kindergartners need plenty of practice with one to one correspondence and matching objects to numerals.  The acorns, pine-cones and number leaves let them have lots of experiences with this! 

We put everything in a bin and brought it inside to explore for a few more day.  The leaves will crinkle up along the edges and be unusable if you don't put something heavy on them when they are not in use.  I forgot this important step and ended up replacing them with artificial leaves that I had left over from another project. These materials placed in a sensory bin or sand table will give your kiddos opportunities to revisit them over the following week.

To connect our outdoor exploration of natural materials, we made this fun fall themed number craft.  This is a great way to reinforce many models and makes an excellent fall bulletin board display. 

How are you embracing fall with your children or your class?  Please respond in the comments below!