Monday, December 30, 2013

Getting Parents Involved

Parents are the first teachers.  Beginning at an early age, parents read to their children, talk with their children and instill a love of learning.  Once our children begin in school, how do we keep parents an active partner in developing the learning of their children?

1. Keep open lines of communication
Communication is key for helping to initially get parents involved and keep them involved.  Through the use of newsletters, schools can narrow the information gap.  In the schools I have worked at, either as a teacher or an administrator, I have seen daily newsletters, weekly newsletters, and monthly newsletters used to share school happenings, school celebrations and school information.  We can't assume families know what to expect.  As a parent of a kindergartner this year, I have received many emails with information about school traditions which I know very little about.  Take the time to clarify and describe so everyone is on the same page.  One of my mentors sends articles to the families on a monthly basis.  These articles provide opportunities for families to learn and grow.  He accompanies these articles by including a personal story to show he is an educator, a parent and is still learning all the time.  Adding this personal touch makes some families more willing to read, learn and grow together.

2.  Invite them into school
What better way to have parents be involved than to invite them into your school.  Whether it is through a curriculum night, family event, or volunteering, getting families into the school is key.  For some families, school was not an enjoyable experience because school did not work for them.  It is our responsibility to create an environment where all families feel comfortable enough to be at school.  As a community of learners, we need to provide families to come and observe the many different learning opportunities and reasons for celebrations throughout the year.  One of the schools I work at has fireside chats for Veterans Day.  We invite veterans to come and talk about their experiences while providing an opportunity for our students to ask questions and learn from their experiences.  The other school I work at has a welcome committee.  When a new family joins our community, we have parents and teachers reach out to welcome them, student ambassadors to show them around school, and additional families to follow up after a few weeks to see if they have any questions.  We want our families to feel welcome at our school.  What ways do you invite your families into school?

3.  Tap into parent talent
Our families have many talents which can enhance our school experience.  On a monthly basis, we have our parents can sign up to come and speak to our classes.  We ask the parents to share what they do and how school helped prepare them for their job.  These monthly opportunities again allow the parents to be in the building while sharing their talents.  Based on these conversations, we have had parents help us as a staff based on their talents and profession. What talents do your own families have that can enhance your own school experience for your students?

4.  Use technology to hook them
The best way to reach parents is use the tools they are using on a daily basis.  There are so many tech tools out there to help parents stay connected.  Here are just a few we have used (or intend to use in the coming months): facebook, twitter, remind101, school apps, touchcast for video messages, QR codes for curriculum and class schedules, online data notebooks through GAFE, broadcasting PTA meetings (coming soon), shutterfly classroom pages... the list goes on and on.  What tools are you using with your families?

5. Ask questions
How often do we ask families for feedback?  When you do ask for feedback, how do you share their feedback with the masses and how you plan to work toward their feedback?  At our last parent-teacher conferences, we asked 5 questions in each grade level for families to provide feedback to us as a learning community.  These questions were derived from our bi-annual report card.  We asked families to complete a consensogram to help us gather data for our BSIP and for us to continually strive to meet the needs of our families. Asking for feedback is an important aspect of creating a partnership and letting families (our clients) know we value their input and will work together to meet our learning community needs.

What other ways are you getting your parents involved?  I would love for you to comment below so we can learn from you and your efforts in creating effective partnerships.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some Weekend Homework

I was recently given a task by a close friend of mine, John Wink (@johnwink90).  I don't blog as much as I would like to and I am not sure why.  I don't know if it is because I don't view myself as a talented writer or if I have not made this a priority with my time.  When I look back on my blog posts, I have enjoyed the process because it allows me to a reflective practitioner.  Thank you John for giving me an incentive to start blogging again.

Before I start, I want to take a minute to thank John for his friendship and leadership.  Even though I have never met John in person, I have learned so much from him about school leadership, developing and sustaining PLC's, and the power of a strong culture.  Thank you, John.  Your teachers, students and families are lucky to have you be the lead learner at Gilmer Elementary.

My First Task - 11 Random Facts about Me.

This was a bit challenging to answer because I don't like to talk about myself very often.  But here goes:

1. I am married to a wonderful wife who inspires me everyday.  We met at a wedding of a mutual college friend.  She asked what I did for a living and I replied, "I am a kindergarten teacher."  I had her hook, line and sinker!

2. I have three children and they are my world.  Our oldest is 5 and in kindergarten, our middle is almost four and your youngest is 20 months.  Needless to say, we have a fun and busy house right now!

3. I was a kindergarten teacher for 9 years.  My certification was K-12 partly because I was not sure which level I wanted to teach.  I student taught in kindergarten and first grade for part of my experience and then finished my student teaching at the high school level teaching geography, geometry and honors calculus.  I can say I worked with both ends of the educational spectrum.

4. My family lives in New England.  My parents and sister live in NH and my two younger brothers live in Boston.  They moved out to the east coast when I was in college and although I love to visit them and the region, the midwest is my home.

5. I played tennis as a young child all the way through high school.  I played competitively for quite a while and eventually was sponsored by Dunlop and K-Swiss.  I had lots of clothes, shoes and rackets.  While in high school, I started coaching tennis and that is when I realized I wanted to be an educator.

6. I studied abroad in Scotland while in college.  This experience was one of my best experiences I have ever had.  I lived with 5 students from Scotland and England in a small flat  It truly was an eye-opening and amazing experience.

7. Here are some of my favorite movies:

  • Braveheart - I have seen it over 24 times (that is rather disturbing to think about it as I write it down) and tried to visit as many historical sites during my time in Scotland.  The city where I studies actually has the national William Wallace memorial along with Wallace's actual claymore sword.
  • Good Will Hunting - some many great lines and lessons from this movie
  • The Big Lebowski - a typical cult movie with many, many one-liners
  • Saving Private Ryan - is there a better opening to a movie?
  • Jeremiah Johnson - something about the simplicity of life makes me watch this whenever it is on
  • Vacation - a timeless classic
  • The list goes on and on...
8. In college, I was once auctioned off for a date as part of a live telecast when we donated toys to Toys for Tots.  It never amounted to anything but is a fun story nonetheless.

9. I am more of a college sports fan than a professional sports fan.  I would much rather watch college basketball (especially the Jayhawks) over the NBA and college football over the NFL.

10. I love to grill and smoke meats.  Living in Kansas City, I am surrounded my numerous award-winning BBQ joints.  Needless to say, I don't have a lack of inspiration to try to enhance my BBQ craft.

11.  I don't like gravy or whipped cream.  If I am eating mashed potatoes, just leave off the gravy.  Forget the whipped cream with ice cream or dessert... just plain please.

My Second Task - Answer John's Questions

1.  What is your favorite Christmas tradition and why?
     Growing up, we moved around as a family for my dad's job.  This took us away from family so our holidays were just us.  We started a tradition of going to mass on Christmas Eve and then going out to a Japanese Steakhouse (because it was one of the few restaurants open on Christmas Eve).  We have been doing this for over 20 years now.

2.  If you could have anyone over for the holidays, who would it be and why?
     I would love to have all of my family over for Christmas.  We have family in Chicago and Indianapolis and we don't get to see them very often.  I would love to have a meal where all of our extended families were in the same place at the same time.

3.  Flaming hot hot sauce or mild and bland sauce?
     Definitely hot sauce.  Give it that kick!

4.  Do you root for the underdog or the team predicted to win?
      I typically root for the underdog (except when they play the Jayhawks).  I love to see everyone have their moment.

5.  Which person in your PLN do you find most interesting and why?
      David Culberhouse.  I am not sure if David sleeps.  He is always posting tremendously reflective posts which allow me to grow and learn.  

6.  Which book has made the most profound impact on your life?
      This is a great question.  There are so many books which have impacted me.  I would say Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker.  This is a book I have read over and over and is a book which has helped me focus on those things that are important and help others realize the importance of solving their own problems.

7.  What is your favorite decade of all time and what made it the best for you?
      I love the 90's.  Great music, great sports, great memories.

8.  What is the best movie of all time?
     As I mentioned earlier, Braveheart is my favorite movie of all time.  Love the history, the scenery and the power of doing what is right.

9.  Which animal best represents your personality and why?
      A dog.  I would say I am very loyal, personable and want to please and support.

10. What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
      My greatest professional accomplishment is helping a child who entered kindergarten learn to read and have confidence in himself.  He entered kindergarten with no exposure to letters, numbers or print and had very little confidence in himself.  He left able to read and saw himself as a learner.

11.  What is your New Year's Resolution for 2014? 
        To blog more.  I want to make it more of a priority to reflect and share my thoughts - at least 2x a month.

My Third Task - Questions for you

1.  What book have your recently read?

2.  If you could sit down with any two people from history, who would you choose and why?

3.  Hamburgers or Hotdogs?

4.  What is your favorite season of the year and why?

5.  Which person in your PLN do you find most interesting and why?

6.  What song/album have you recently listened to?

7.  Who influenced you to be an educator?

8.  What are you most proud of this past year?

9.  If you did not go into education, what profession would you have chosen and why?

10. If you could switch shoes with one person, who would it be and why?

11.  What is your New Year's Resolution for 2014?

My Fourth Task - Nominate 11 Bloggers to Join the Homework Club

Tom Whitford
Jimmy Casas
Aaron Becker
Bill Powers
Jayme Linton
Shelley Burgess
Michele Corbat
Rodney Hetherton
Ken Williams
Drew Frank
Joey Sagel

Add yourself to the list and join the fun

Here is your Task

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you