Thursday, November 9, 2017

Winning the Communication Battle

Communication can be a battle even in the best of circumstances. How much is too much? How much is not enough...am I right? In the case of communication, I always think more is definitely more....and better. 

I'm not a natural communicator. I am usually quiet. So this is an area I have had to work on. I usually think about communication when I have a parent that I have heard horror stories about from previous teachers. I obsess and make it my second job to find out what makes them tick...what are they looking for. What makes them happy and what upsets them. Often times, I find that it boils down to communication. Several years ago, I knew of such a parent that was coming up through the grades with her child...until I was staring at the year I would have her, like a deer in a headlight. 

I decided that I was going to become a communication super-star that year because that is what I found her to need most from a teacher. And so I went about researching and devising a plan to help our communication be open and so that we could have a great working relationship. That work paid off and that parent is one that I still consider my friend even all these years later.

My communication methods and processes have morphed over the years. Some have stayed the same, some have been tweaked to meet my current needs, I have added more and in the process, I am growing as a communicator and educator.

So here are eleven of my tips for being a better communicator.

1. Start the year with a positive phone call home. A quick phone call at some point during the first week of school is ideal. It gives you time to make a positive connection while students are generally on their best behavior and before any problems arise. I usually just tell parents that I am enjoying  having Johnny in my class. I try to point out one specific thing to praise. Then I close by telling them I look forward to working with them and if they ever have any questions or concerns to please contact me right away. 

Done...simple. And parents enjoy a first and happy phone call. This is especially true with parents who are often the recipient of many negative calls because their child may have had problems in the past. 

While I usually do this at the beginning of the year, I have also done this throughout the year as well. 


2. Communication Binders are a necessity, especially in the primary grades. I am telling you that this is the number one way I won over my "tough" parent. I know this because her friend told me. She was on the school board and took it there to show the other members and suggested that it should be a requirement that all teachers do a communication binder. 

My original binder was a M.O.O.S.E. binder that was an acronym for Management of Organizational Skills Everyday. Through the years, I have made all kinds of different covers for the binder, but the important thing is what is inside. I used to have the students keep a lot more in there, but I have paired it down to just the essentials. I start with a one inch binder that has the clear plastic sheets in front and back. I slide my cover in that usually has a picture to match the classroom theme and the school calendar goes on the back cover (our school gives a new monthly calendar at the start of each month). At the very front, I have the students keep a zipper pouch. This is perfect for sending little things back and forth between home and school. It is especially perfect for sending lunch money or money for field trips. With the zipper, you don't have to worry that something might get lost. 

The other thing I have students keep inside their binder is a folder. We use the homework folder that you can find here. This is a folder that all teachers are required to use in our school. I do like it because it also has a clear pocket on the front and back where you could slip your newsletter or anything else that you want. It has two pockets inside marked with keep at home and return to school. Our folders did not come hole punched to fit in the binder, but it was easy to do that myself.

I use this folder to send returned work home each Friday. I also send home the newsletter and new spelling list for the upcoming week. Parents always know where to look. 

When I taught 3rd and 4th grades, I also required them to have a planner inside to write their assignments. We got the full 8 1/2  x 11 inch ones that had holes and could fit in the binder. Here are a couple of binder covers that I have in my TPT store here and here.

3. Have a rockin' newsletter. This is so important. In the past, I have not had a set day necessarily to send home the newsletter, but this year, I wanted consistent communication and I saw this as a good way to achieve that. In the past, I formatted my own newsletter (sometimes with the help of my husband. But then I purchased a template that was cute and attractive for my newsletters. The newsletter template I purchased felt a little small for the details I wanted to include in my newsletter, so I just whipped up a template for the back and do a full front and back sheet. 

Just today I got positive feedback on my newsletter. The one thing the parent mentioned liking most was the details. I included details on the back to show what we are learning and how you can help. The newsletter goes through many of the core subjects and breaks it down so parents do not just see that we are learning about jobs, for instance. They can see that we are specifically learning about why we need jobs. I let them know that we are working on needs and wants and and finding out how jobs can supply those needs and wants at home, at school, and in the community. Then I give them a section that shows ways they can reinforce that skill at home. Going back to my example about the jobs....I put simple things that parents can do or talk about with their child. The parent can choose whether or not they actually do it, but some parents want more...they want to keep the learning alive in their homes and this will give them a simple way that is not stressful. So for the job topic, I might put things like...talk to your child about things your family needs. What things do you want and how does your family decide when to spend money on something the family wants. Talk to your child about your job and how it provides for your family. Point out what needs are taken care of when your child completes a job at home. 

4. Pictures speak a thousand words. Take pictures in class. Parents love to see what their child is doing throughout the day. I try to take pictures of anything interactive or fun...or even students doing quiet work like when they are engrossed in a book. I share them on the school website and will even email them to the parents on occasion. You could include them in your newsletter too.

At the end of the year, give each parent a cd of pictures from throughout the year. What a treasure that is to them.

5. Keep a binder for parent communication. You can document what you have talked about with a parent and when. You could even document the method that you used to communicate and of course the date. This gives you documentation on any discussions you have had during the school year in case you need to refer back later. I keep a page for each student in ABC order. Then I can include any letters that I sent and document any other conversations. If I run out of space, I can just add another sheet with that child's name. I used a one inch binder and one of my binder covers from this set.  






6. Send positive notes home + positive texts often. Seriously, who doesn't love to feel that you value their child and see what is good in them? The parents will be on your side when they know that you are looking for good. I made it my goal to send two positives every month for every child. I don't think I've quite met my goal, but I have sent notes home fairly often. And of course parents love this. I even had a parent tell me that I can feel free to tell them negative things too. I created these little notes to use in my classroom and have received positive feedback on them from parents. 




Parents these days also text a lot. So send texts too...you can even include a picture here or there. 

7. Have positive parking lot conversations. As you tuck students into cars during car line, send them off with a quick positive something from the day. Address the positive comment to the parent. They will leave the school with a smile on their face for sure.

8. Look forward to conferences. LOOK FORWARD TO CONFERENCES! Usually I do not take my own advice. I actually get nervous and have butterflies. I'm always relieved when they are over, but when I look back, I am usually very pleased at how the conferences have turned out. In all my years of teaching, I have had very few bad conferences. This year, as a part of my conferences, I specifically asked parents if there was anything they would like to see me doing in class that I am not currently doing. All of them assured me that what I was doing was what they want me to continue to do but giving them an opportunity to tell me ways I could improve is a great way to show that you are flexible and willing to grow.

9. In your report cards comments use the model: good, needs work, good...like a sandwich. In other words, tell the parent something good that the student is doing. Then share what needs work. Finish it off on a good note with something else that is positive. Sandwiching the work that needs to be done between two good comments takes the sting out of hearing about the need for improvement. It softens the blow. Make it a rule to always notice more positives in your students than negatives. Then share those positives.

10. Send follow up letters from parent teacher conferences. This year I decided that I was going to send letters thanking parents for taking the time to come in to discuss their child's progress and just recapping some of the main talking points of our time together. Again, I try to keep the tone of this letter positive, focusing on mostly what the child is doing well at within the classroom. It's the little things that make a difference.

11. Send thank you notes. Anytime a parent sends you something personally or for the class, be sure to follow up with a thank you note letting them know that you appreciate it. If a parent spends time helping out on a field trip or program for your class, send a note to thank them. People like to feel appreciated and a quick hand-written note is easy and effective.




Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boot Scootin' Math Boogie

Just in time for fall fun with a cowboy twist....check out my new Boot Scootin' Math Boogie classroom review game. The game is a review of place value and number sense. It would be great fun during a cowboy style room transformation paired with other activities for the day. Your little classroom cowboys and cowgirls will thank you! Check it out here.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Collaboration

Magical things happen when students collaborate across grade levels. The past few weeks, my second graders have been learning and creating books and hands-on activity tubes all about creation. We've gone through all seven days, one by one. 




I wanted the students to have a meaningful way to share what they learned. I teamed up with the kindergarten teacher at my school because each of us has 19 students...what a perfect fit!

On Friday, we hosted the kindergartners in our classroom. We teamed up as partners (one kindergarten student with one second grader. The second grader read their books to the kindergarten buddy and also had questions for them as they went through the story. They also shared their creation tube that showed different items created on each day of creation. Afterwards, we all came together. I asked them about each of the different days of creation and what God created on each day. If the kindergarten student couldn't remember, their buddy was able to support them and help them out. 

We enjoyed snacks for each of the creation days. 
Day one: an Oreo (for light separating darkness)
Day two: a small cup of water (for God separating the water above and below with the sky)
Day three: some flower shaped cereal pieces
Day four: star shaped snacks
Day five: goldfish 
Day six: animal crackers
Day seven: we did not represent the day of rest with a snack










My students took their projects home to share with their families. The reaction from the families was amazing. 

We had positive feedback on our project with kindergarten. Can't wait to do some more collaboration this year. 

The source I used for the tubes
I also found several sources on Pinterest for the booklet but cannot find the links currently.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Curling Up with A Nature-Themed Book

There are so many great nature-themed books these days. Here's a look at some of my favorites.


 What if You Had series by Sandra Markle  
This series is all about different creature adaptations. Each book features a different adaptation and shows what you might look like if you had the same adaptation. It's a great series! I love the illustrations. 

The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon) : 
What if You Had Animal Eyes
What if You Had Animal Teeth
What if You Had an Animal Nose
What if You Had Animal Feet
What if You Had animal Hair

Backyard Books Series by Judy Allen
I discovered these books several years back. They are a great way to show students what insects and bugs are like. It talks all about what your life would be like if you were an insect or bug. At the end of each book it ends with a part about you being a human and not an insect. 


The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon):
Are You a Bee?
Are You a Ladybug?
Are You a Butterfly?
Are You a Dragonfly?
Are You an Ant?
Are You a Grasshopper?
Are You a Spider?
Are You a Snail?

Race the Wild Series by Kristin Earhart
This series is kind of like an Amazing Race except with teams of kids playing the games. In the stories, you will join groups of kids as they race through one habitat somewhere around the world. The kids compete against other groups of kids in solving challenges and learning more about the habitat they are racing through. At the end of each chapter, there is a feature that gives more information about each habitat or an animal that lives there. My students go crazy over these!


The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon):
Race the Wild Rain Forest Relay
Race the Wild Great Reef Games
Race the Wild Arctic Freeze
Race the Wild Savanna Showdown
Race the Wild Outback All Stars
Race the Wild Mountain Mission


Who Would Win Series by Jenny Polleta
The boys in my class, especially, love this series. The books compare two different animals and their adaptations and features. It goes back and forth showing the strengths of each. At the end it makes a prediction about which animal would win in a fight.


 Who Would Win Lion Vs. Tiger 
Who Would Win Killer Whale Vs. Great White Shark
Who Would Win Polar Bear Vs. Grizzly Bear
Who Would Win Tarantula Vs. Scorpion
There are so many different books in the series I am not gong to list them all, but by clicking on the links above you should be able to browse the others.


Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel
I love this book about a tree named Steve. Steve becomes the center of life for the family featured in the book. Love how the tree feels like a part of the family. The book goes on to show what happens to Steve through the years.
Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel

Shine a Light Book Series by Carron Brown
Uncover the secrets of nature! These are great books for reading under the covers with flashlights. There are hidden animals and items hidden in the pages of the book that can only be found when they are lit up by a flashlight. 

Books in the series (Click for a link to Amazon):

Take-Along Guides Different Authors
This series features great field guides designed especially for children. They have pictures as well as information about a wide variety of nature topics.
Some of the other books in the series (links on Amazon):
There are many other ones as well.


Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
This book is geared toward adults who are working with children, either their own or in a school or children's program. It touches on what nature-deficit disorder is and gives ways to save our children from being deprived of nature. 
Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Those are my favorites when it comes to books about nature. What are yours? Leave a comment below.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Outdoor Classroom Day

So I spent three summers away from my husband working on a master's degree in another state. That was several years ago and now I am proud to hold a master's in science education or more specifically, outdoor education. 

It's surprising that most people assume that outdoor education is simply a degree in P.E. but that is far from the case. Rather, imagine using the outdoors as a classroom. What possibilities does that bring? Kids these days can be quite deprived when it comes to the great outdoors and nature. Did you know that 74% of kids do not get even the amount of outdoor time that is recommended for inmates? That is just one hour per day! As a specialist in outdoor education, I find that to be disturbing. 

So what is one to do in the great outdoors with a classroom full of wiggling, energetic kids? LOTS! Here are some ideas for different classes in the great outdoors.




Reading: 
1. Bring blankets and lay under the trees for independent reading time
2. Read books about nature-related topics
3. Connect nature reading themes with actual observations of those items in real life in the great outdoors
4. Outdoor sight word games
5. This outdoor story tree looks amazing!

Math: 
1. For place value manipulatives: use small stones as ones, and small twigs as tens
2. Use sidewalk chalk outside to practice math problems
3. Go to a field to measure out the length of something big such as a blue whale
4. Play math movement games outside
5. Make graphs outdoors using natural objects 

Writing: 
1. Nature Journaling...you can check out two of my resources here and here.
2. Story Stones
3. Outdoor story reenactments such as We're going on a bear hunt
4. Bring a blanket or tent and have some writing time in the great outdoors
5. Get outside and write poems, about a certain area, using your five senses

Science:
1. Scavenger hunts: These are great because you can customize them according to what you are learning. For example, younger children may be looking for objects of different colors, while primary students may look for different types of seeds such as winged seeds, spiky seeds, etc., and older students may look for even more in depth items such as specific types of leaves or shells, etc. You can check mine out here.
2. Go on a nature walk
3. Do gardening activities
4. Engage them in birding activities: place feeders or houses, or both around your school for students to use in observing different birds
5. Use a cloud viewer to observe and learn about different cloud types

Social Studies:

1. Hold a simulation outside about an important event in history. I did this a couple of times when we were studying the underground railroad. You can see more about that here and here.
2. Get outside to practice map skills with fun games.
3. While learning about other countries and their culture, try out some games that they play.
4. Go on a walk through your neighborhood and then come back and have students create a mini replica with paper bag buildings
5. Set up imaginative play stations, that tie in to your study about the community, on the playground.

Art: 
1. Do texture rubbings and use them in your art project
2. Use natural items to create an art project here, here, and here.
3. Paint with nature items or make nature paint brushes to use here and here
4. Tie in nature art displays with books you have read.
5. Have fun with bubbles in art here, here, and here.

Bible: 
1. One of my favorite things to do with my class is to take them outdoors for a Bible Diorama game. They are split into groups of about four students. Each group decides on a Bible story. They use nature items to recreate their story on a spot on the ground. They usually have about 15 minutes or so to create the story. Then they go around to the other groups, one group at a time, to try to figure out what their story is.
2. Another favorite is a scavenger hunt. These could work for various Bible stories, but the one I used it most recently for was when we were learning about creation. We were studying day three, when God made the land and plants. Students had a list of words that they had to find plant items for such as something heart-shaped, something big, something sharp, etc.
3. Try out this Round up the Sheep game for learning about the lost sheep.
4. Find items in nature and use them as object lessons. The students could even do this themselves.
5. Use this Books of the Bible game to help students review the Bible books.

Be sure to check out Pinterest for even more ideas. But whatever you do, get those kids out into nature!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Learning about Project Based Learning

For the past couple of years, I have been on a journey. Our school is transitioning to a project based learning model. I love these projects and how deep they go in building student understanding about a certain topic. This is one sure-fire way to get the students hooked on learning and excited about it. I am not kidding when I say that I have had students beg...yes you heard right, BEG to stay in from recess to do more work on their PBL (project based learning). I call that a HUGE win for every teacher. So I am sharing some of my favorite books that I have been reading on the topic. I encourage you to check them out as well. 

Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning
Hacking Project Based Learning
PBL in the Elementary Grades
Developing Natural Curiosity Through Project-Based Learning