Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Communication is key!

I consider my job a blessing.  Daily.  Over the years I've been lucky enough to teach in Kansas, Minnesota, and Tennessee.  I've had opportunities to teach high school and middle school.  Right now I'm living the dream -- 8th grade.  I love this age.

Along the way I've had many personal blessings as well.  In addition to a supportive husband, I have four beautiful, unique children.  They are a joy.  God used these blessings to open my "teaching" eyes along the way.  I took ten years off of my career to stay home with them, so I was able to participate in the educational system on the other side.

This as made me a better teacher.

I've participated in parent-teacher conferences, organized PTA projects, spent hours volunteering, joined in on the IEP team for my child, and spent hours supporting homework projects.  Throughout these years, I've experienced the full spectrum of parent emotions at school.  Most of the time I agreed with what has happening, occasionally I felt there were better approaches, but every day I thought, "What would I do in this situation?" 

You see, parents are important.  As educators, we get to see their child for the majority of the day.  We see them interact with peers, watch them perform, and evaluate their completion of learning targets. However, parents hold vital information about their child.  Connection to that piece is beyond valuable.

How do you do that?  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Invite parents to be a part of the conversation.  I do this in several ways.  First, I try to share important dates, information, projects, and celebrations via group e-mails.  Parents are always given the opportunity to opt out, but they rarely do.  In no way do I think every parent reads every e-mail, but it's there for those who do! 

Wait!  I teach middle school.  I just said I send out mass emails every week or so?  YES!  Students are never too old for communication with the school.  This changes the conversation at the dinner table from "How was school today?" to "What did you think about ____________ that you're reading?"  (Sometimes parents actually read the book with the kids -- and LOVE it.)  E-mail can open the door to communication without filtering through the child. 

What else do I do?  I take pictures.  I love pictures.  I share pictures with parents.  (First I always know what children don't have signed releases and make sure I comply with parent wishes.)  Parents LOVE this.  I see their child in a different setting, and once again it allows for more conversations.  The kids love it, too.  I always tell them that I share through parents -- not directly.  Taking a picture allows the child to see that he/she matters.  Each child is essential to the classroom and has value.  A simple picture validates this knowledge.

Twitter is another great tool.  To be honest, I am just starting to realize the full potential there.  I have a school account which I use for parents and students.  Sometimes it's just a quick picture of books we're reading, a project we're doing in class, a shout-out to a great idea. I also use it for homework reminders and assignments.  (What a great way to teach digital citizenship.)  Finally, it's used to make personal connections with kids.  Just because it's the end of the year doesn't mean I turn off my heart for each child. 

Our district utilizes SharePoint as a communication tool.  I do my best to keep this updated with learning targets for the day, copies of handouts (if available), and PowerPoints used to review major concepts.  I show each child how to access this information in class.  I believe this is important because it empowers the students to not make excuses for "forgetting" things at school and allows them the opportunity to process information again.  I do my best to be available for questions via e-mail and Twitter from students, and many of them take advantage of this. 

In closing, laying the groundwork through communication allows for a stronger educational connection through school and home.  It breaks down the barriers of "us" vs. "them" and helps create an environment where the child feels secure to explore, make mistakes, and learn. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why middle school?

I've always know what I wanted to be when I "grew up."  There was something about the lure of the classroom that imprinted itself upon me early in life.  Of course it may be in my genes -- three grandparents and a mom who were all teachers MAY have influenced me.  I simply don't remember a time when I didn't want to teach.

As my talents grew, it became evident that I love language arts.  Creating, playing with words, enjoying their rhythm, combining them in ways that have never been done before.  I loved reading the stories of others, learning from them, seeing how they used words to evoke passion in people, give new perspective, and engage in life.  My grandmother was an English teacher; she warned me -- many hours would be spent grading, planning, preparing; however, this was what I was destined to do.

Specifically, I was going to be a high school English teacher.  You know the one -- the one who inspires you, motivates you to be MORE, the one who you groan when you hear her name (but you secretly love because she WILL stretch you).  I soared through college "knowing" this.

Then I got a job teaching middle school.

Remember that time?  Most people say, "I hated middle school."  I agree.  I did, too.  Kids were awful.  Mean.  Really mean.  Horribly mean.  I was awkward.  Even though I didn't realize it at the time, everyone was awkward.  How do we fit in?  Do we want to stand out?  What if they laugh at me?  What if they make me feel less than I am?  Then the doubt sets in -- what if I am less than I imagined?

But -- what if I had a teacher who made that just a little bit better?

Could I do it?  Could I possibly be the one to help navigate those waters?  Could I help kids see their potential?  What can one person do?

It turns out that one person can do a lot. 

I strive to make my classroom a place to feel safe because feeling safe allows the child to take risks.  Ultimately those risks lead to success.  See, I believe that every single child in that room CAN be successful.  It's helping to create a climate where they CHOOSE to be successful that's important.  It's finding what works for them.  It's showing them that YOU BELIEVE they can be successful.  Am I perfect?  Never.  Do I love them?  Always. 

That is why I choose middle school.  Every. single. time.

My students bless me.  Every. single. day.