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Why Quality Professional Development for Teachers Matters

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Providing high-quality professional development for teachers may be the most important thing schools can do to improve students learning.

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Jennifer Seehusen's picture

My school year started with a conference for PD day on professional learning communities. The conference taught me to open my door, share my knowledge, and learn from others. Our school has been developing PLC groups for a number of years. We have made mistakes with not having common time, focusing on fun and food, off topic conversations, and many more. Our school is learning from our mistakes and committed to student achievement. We are working toward alignment of curriculum, common assessments, and standardized report cards. The best part is the collaboration with the team that is flowing into our classroom practices and benefiting our students' learning.

Brian's picture

The best PD I have been involved in is one which allows for collaboration with other teachers. I need PD which is relevant to student learning and teaching strategies which are relevant to the 21st century student needs.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Natalie:
Congratulations on your first year teaching. With your experience, you are entering the profession with your eyes wide open. Already, you are doing the things that will make you an excellent teachers. I wish that I had a place like Edutopia.or when I was a new teacher. Thank you for reading my post and understanding it-- teachers teaching teachers... The best professional development will occur with your colleagues about your students and in your school. It isn't about "attending" professional development, it is about working with fellow teachers in seeking answers, doing research, and finding what you need to help your students, now-- that is worthwhile professional development.

Good luck this year and best wishes,
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Jennifer;

I am so excited that you are finally going to experience real PLCs. I am so tired of schools saying that they are doing PLCs but they know nothing about the six standards and they spend all of their time talking about how to prepare for the state exams, complaining, or partying. I had lunch with the DuFours and one thing that impressed me about them was their message that PLCs are not something you do, it is what you are. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the role of the principal in math and science teacher collaboration. I used the six standards as the theoretical foundation of good collaboration and I am sold on the PLC concept. I wish you great success in collaboration.

Sincerely,
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Alicia:

I appreciate your comments. I have heard students make similar ones. If teachers find it hard to "stay all in" so do students, even to a greater degree. That is why teachers need professional development that gives them a choice of what they want to learn. Teacher selected learning communities is a good term--I hope it is not just a different label for the same sit and get instruction that already frustrates us. Yes, teachers need uninterrupted and guilt free time to participate in effective professional development. Keep pushing for better PD and you may get it. Have a great year.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

techteachmatt's picture
techteachmatt
Elementary Technology/Music Specialist

PD through Twitter and other Social Media tools connects you with other people and topics of PD that are relevant to you.

BxNS_Kevin's picture

In countries like China and Finland where the teaching profession is just as respected as professions like medicine or law, the number of hours teachers meet to plan and collaborate almost equals the number of hours they teach. They may teach three or fours hours and spend the rest of the day collaborating. Could this be one factor as to why these countries have by far surpassed the United States in education? It seems like common sense that quality professional development needs to involve the collaboration of educators actively learning together, reflecting together, discussing best practices so that they can find out what works best for their community of students, however the number of PD's I have attended where facilitators read verbatim off a power point presentation have been numerous. I always found it funny to be learning about how to actively engage students in hands on and investigative learning by some one reading a bunch of acronyms word for word off a slide.

Paula's picture

Thank you for this blog which focuses on doing what we can do for students in the classroom! Because there are many obstacles and barriers that make education difficult, poverty, resources, a challenging work environment, time, quality professional development needs to do just that-focus on the quality of what we can control which is our teaching and how we invite and inspire students to take risks.

One of the best professional development classes I attended had to do with Learning-focused Supervision (Laura Lipton, Ed.D. and Bruce Wellman, M.Ed). This book explains that when supportive conversations or "an invitational inquiry" between two teachers are focused on a "third point" or piece of data, questioning which engages a teacher to consider student work using data their skills and previous experiences, can led to thoughtful plans of action as teachers try to increase the quality of student work. It makes sense that the heavy-lifting of learning we ask students to do, is more successful when we first learn what we can.

Michelle2's picture

There is a saying that, "Hearing is not the same as seeing." I agreed with you that it is great to have the opportunities to observe colleagues teaching. I learn a lot by visiting colleagues at my school. I learn how teachers come to class with great ideas and strategies. I learn how teachers deliver the lessons and engage students in learning as well as how they manage the classroom when kids misbehave. I feel lucky to be working in the school where the all teachers work collaboratively and where the principal provides us the opportunities to learn from one another to enhance student learning.

EmilyLiebtag's picture

Ann C, I totally agree! I feel that teachers in PD need to be connecting and collaborating with others - not just doing the learning on their own. Our PD modules invite teachers to collaborate with other educators not only at their school, but also around the world!

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The Hattie Effect: What's Essential for Effective PBL?

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Check out how John Hattie's research is demystifying what works in education and how this relates to project-based learning.
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Edu Cator's picture

I am intrigued by the popularity of Hattie's listing of effect sizes but confused by his methodology. Two items that confuse me are as follows:

a.Hattie's effect sizes conflate results from students ranging from K to post secondary. It seems unfair to do this. For example, it seems logical that an effect size for a strategy may vary depending on student's age. Effect sizes for comprehension strategy instruction should be expected to be different for students the primary grades compared to students in Grade 10, etc.

b. Hattie's effect sizes do not rely on or use weighted averages. So, if an effect size is calculated on three studies - the effect size for each study seems to simply combined and averaged. This is problematic in cases where the population sizes vary significantly. For example, if study a is based on an analysis of 8 students, study b is based on a study of 500 students and study c is based on a study of 5000 students.

Would really appreciate it if someone could explain if these are legitimate concerns. Certainly at this point they have me taking the lists with a few grains of salt...

Paul Curtis's picture
Paul Curtis
Director of Curriculum, New Tech Network

This is very interesting. I am especially curious about the striking differences between the affect of problem based learning vs. project based learning. I wonder what definition of problem based learning was used. If it was something similar to the Buck Institute's (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer), then it might point to the level of student voice and choice as the driver of effect. Since problem based learning is more "scripted" than project based learning, it might be harder to develop student ownership of the learning. On the other hand, inquiry based learning might be too open and not provide enough guidance to help students learn efficiently.

I especially like the effort to draw broad brush strokes about what the kinds of learning structures help or don't help students achieve. It is too complex to measure the impact of every small decision a school or teacher makes, but if we can great a more clear vision of broadly defined effective approaches, this can serve to shape the thousands of small decisions educators make each hour.

Erica's picture
Erica
Fourth Grade Teacher from Oceanside, CA

It is my understanding that Hattie's work is based on isolated teaching strategies. PBL is a combination of teaching strategies as mentioned in this article. I don't think Hattie made specific analysis of PBL, nor would he in this study, as it focused on isolated practices. As educators we rarely do anything in isolation, however we can gain insight from Hattie's work by reflecting on how to incorporate as many of the top "hinge point" recommendations as possible, so that our practices are most effective and move students towards greater achievement. PBL does that.

John Larmer's picture
John Larmer
Editor in Chief at the Buck Institute for Education

Well, technically true, but he's now a professor at the Univ. of Melbourne.

Duncan Ferguson's picture

Great blog, I'm just looking into PBL as a way of overhauling my year 13 music class in New Zealand (please note, Hattie is a New Zealand researcher, not an Australian! - just because someone works overseas doesn't mean you should change their nationality!).
In New Zealand classes our assessment system dominates the curriculum, i.e. too many teachers (myself included) look at the requirements of our a particular Achievement Standard and teach to that, rather than using our curriculum document from our Ministry of Education as the starting point. And students therefore too often look at trying to just 'tick the boxes' of the assessment system rather than valuing their learning and engage in meaningful reflective analysis.
PBL is going to be a great way for student to become self-motivated. I've been very successful over the last few years by having a huge emphasis on formative assessment, providing a huge amount of feedback and creating tasks at appropriate levels of the students - particularly in the areas of composition and performance. However, with my incoming year 13 class this is not going to be enough - they are just too laid back!
Doing projects like making albums, composing for films entered in student and amateur film festivals, creating production companies to setup of music festivals, etc I think will be a great way to get them motivated to value their learning.
If anyone is keen to follow my progress as I develop the course feel free to follow my progress @learningideasnz or learningideas.com

Ken Wong's picture

I agree with most of the posts above, but like all successful Kiwis, if they move to Australia, we'll claim them! I think Hattie's research is fascinating and very detailed. Where his data might have a few holes is that some of the references were over 20 years old by the time his book was printed. Research much over 5 years old, depending on topic, I would not even look at, but there are exceptions. Nonetheless, the vast amounts of data and analysis is valuable and I think for teachers using PBL or thinking about it, as mentioned above, group the meta-analyses that are appropriate and then you'd have a better picture of how PBL would rank. I did just that and a calculation of 12 meta-analyses that I think PBL includes (could be more) averages to 0.55 and rank about 35. Be interested to see what other teachers think.

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The Power of the Positive Phone Call Home

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Blogger Elena Aguilar proposes that teachers make positive phone calls home common practice.
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mfitz's picture

Hello,
I am so glad that this fantastic practice is being shared. It can make all the difference in starting off on the right foot with students and parents. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who recommended this practice to me years ago and I have been doing it ever since. It is an excellent way to introduce yourself to parents and start off on a positive note. If you don't have time to call everyone's parents right away, I recommend calling the students' parents who you think \might be a problem first. That way you have the benefit of having told them positive things about their student first, before having to discuss potential problems later. Parents are more likely to listen and cooperate if they know that you already like their child and see the good in them.

sh61052's picture

Growing up, I only ever know of teachers who would call home when a student misbehaved. And as every parent knows, when the school's phone number appears, the moment of panic or worry sets in. "Now what have they done? Are they in trouble? Hurt? Sick?" After reading this post, I think that more parents would be more receptive of school phone calls and to helping their student if teachers called home more often with the good news and not just the bad. Great article and great points!

DHiggins's picture

Elena,

Sharing positive news about students, especially the most challenging ones, is a great opportunity to open the lines of communication between parents and teachers. I believe this is most beneficial for those parents who may not have had a positive school experience themselves or whose only calls from the school or teacher are negative. I can only speculate that those challenging student's perception of school changes too when they are recognized for a positive action. While they only take a few minutes of time each day, the benefits are well worth the time investment. I will be implementing these phone calls into my classroom.

lrogers's picture

I loved this blog! I feel the exact same way. I feel as though being positive and sharing your students strengths and happy moments with parents can truly bring change to the community. Positive phone calls bring you that much closer to your student and parents, and can therefore make learning much more powerful. I too have had positive phone calls and conversations with parents only to hear them cry out of past defeat. As teachers, we are students' second parents. We are with them all day, guiding them, nurturing them, loving them and teaching them. Why shouldn't we share news with parents? I see my students do amazing acts all the time, I'm sure a working parent who is exhausted and missing their child would love to hear of their accomplishments. It's another extended way of working together for the benefit of the community's future.

Lauren Ashley's picture

I never thought of doing a positive phone call home. It makes complete sense! Why shouldn't those students who are just awesome all the time receive a nice phone call home from the teacher to express the gratification of being so wonderful day after day! I am going to do this when I have my own classroom because it probably will make such the difference in the classroom especially when other students who are not receiving the calls hear that others are! Strong motivation!

Kathryn Roe's picture
Kathryn Roe
Professor of Education

It is, of course, a good idea to call the parents of well-behaved children. However, it is not nearly as powerful as making positive phone calls to the parents of children who are more of a challenge. There are three reasons for this. First, setting a goal to make positive phone calls about that child who can try a teacher's patience forces the teacher to look for the good in that child. (It is there. Really.) If all we notice about a child is the negative, that's all we see, and children will live down to our beliefs about them. Second, it helps parents be less alienated from the school system. For many parents, the only time the school calls is when their child has done something negative. If parents realize the teacher can see good things about their child, they are much more likely to listen and work with the teacher when a problem arises. Third, making positive phone calls, looking for the good in kids, and sharing good news with parents gives us a more positive view of the world. We are happier people and that is communicated to the students, our colleagues, and parents. So when you have your own classroom, I urge you to plan positive phone calls for all students, not just the ones who are well-behaved. Making such calls will change the child, the parent, and the teacher.

Mel P.'s picture

I could not agree more. As a teacher of fifteen years, one of the the most powerful tools for gaining parent trust is a phone call. I too, have been told, "No one has ever called with kind comments about my child." It is heart breaking. I encourage new teachers to call every child's home once during the first two weeks of school with quick, positive snapshots of the child's day. Along with that, keep an old-fashioned paper and pencil log of date called and conversation summary (even bullet points) that will be an organizational tool and a reminder of past conversations, so the teacher can take the lead in developing an open, trusting relationship with parents that is so crucial to the child's success.

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lyndseym's picture

How do you feel this would work when teaching high school?
I'd like to try this at home, but I feel like it might be out of place for the upper grade levels. I do like to make contact with parents as close to the start of the year as possible, that way if you do encounter problems down the road, that isn't the first time they've met you.
Would you still do this with Grades 9-12?
Has anyone else done it with this grade level and had success?
Many thanks!

Kathryn Roe's picture
Kathryn Roe
Professor of Education

My son was a "challenging student." I begged his high school teachers to telephone me with both good and bad news. They never did. Never. I know it would have made a huge difference in how I viewed those teachers!

As a former middle school teacher and principal, I can say that I did indeed make positive phone calls home. As a teacher, I set a goal for myself of calling every student's home at least once a month. It made an incredible difference. When I was a principal, I had many more students to deal with. Instead of calling all parents, I called the parents of the "challenging students." I'd watch them and find something endearing to share about them. Parents told me that they'd never heard anything good about their kids before, and when I had to call about a problem, they were far more willing to listen to me about it. I wrote about it here: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol9/905-roe.aspx

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I did! It made all the difference, really. I made sure I started with the kids who had IEPs and 504s, then I went did the kids that my colleagues identified as potential trouble spots. I found it made a HUGE difference in my ability to both engage the parents as collaborators and in understanding how the student's needs were supported (or exacerbated) by other factors at home. I was pleasantly surprised in 99.9% of the cases. Now, as a mom of a rising 9th grader, I can't even begin to articulate how much I want his teachers to communicate with us.

Mel P.'s picture

I could not agree more. As a teacher of fifteen years, one of the the most powerful tools for gaining parent trust is a phone call. I too, have been told, "No one has ever called with kind comments about my child." It is heart breaking. I encourage new teachers to call every child's home once during the first two weeks of school with quick, positive snapshots of the child's day. Along with that, keep an old-fashioned paper and pencil log of date called and conversation summary (even bullet points) that will be an organizational tool and a reminder of past conversations, so the teacher can take the lead in developing an open, trusting relationship with parents that is so crucial to the child's success.

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Nancy D's picture

This article hit me so hard that I felt compelled to reply. My son, who is now a senior in high school, is a bright, funny, caring and giving young man who has struggled every single day in education. He maintains a 3.2 GPA and for him that is like a 4.0 and he has never had behavior issues. We have invested thousands of dollars in tutoring and education programs we felt would keep him at pace with his peers. He tries hard, but often times his grades do not show the effort. The last time he was recognized for doing something well was in the 3rd grade, so for 9 years not one teacher has contacted us to let us know any positive feedback we could give him.

We were in an IB elementary, middle and high school where the characteristics -- risk taking, inquirers, knowledgeable, communicators, principled, caring, balanced, reflective -- are paramount in the success of the child. we were heart broken that throughout grades 4-12 that not one teacher could select our child as a student of the month in ANY of these characteristics. Especially when we watch over and over again the same students being recognized for these categories. Even with the praise he got from home -- it was not the same.

We watched over the years his confidence level just dip, and dip and dip. It did not matter what we would tell him he has never felt good enough for our education system. It truly is a sad state of affairs.

I am confident if but ONE teacher had taken this approach my son's confidence would have been bolstered. It was evidenced when a coach of his took him under his wing and my son soared in that sport -- not because he necessarily knew how to play the sport, but because the coach had confidence in his ability to succeed. This coach passed away during my son's junior year, but every time he goes out on that mat, my son remembers the guidance, support and belief that coach gave him and as a result he felt he could do great things.

I can imagine those phone calls your parents receive are pure blessings. So much more for those who are also behavior challenges. Oftentimes parents only here the bad, and I for one believe there is good in all!

Thank you for sharing your positive approach to making the students and their families feel like they matter.

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Brian's picture

I believe in the saying, "you can't tear down until you first learn how to build up." Edification and encouragement does go a long way. This does not mean we do not correct or inform parents when children are disruptive, but we do need to balance negative calls home with positive reinforcement.

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MaryK's picture
MaryK
Parent of 2 in Arlington, VA; former HS teacher; education consultant

I loved this post, both as a former teacher and now as a parent. I'd suggest one addition, though-- what about the "positive phone call to school?" I have been sending emails or notes to my son's teachers with positive comments about things he's shared with me, interests he's developed at school, and contributions that his teachers are making to a positive school culture (for instance, the art teachers who work so hard to hang so much beautiful artwork in the school hallways). Teachers now seek me out when I walk into the building in the morning to thank me for recognizing their efforts.

It feels good for everybody, and it reminds me of my own experience as a first-year teacher, getting a really thoughtful note from a parent, and bursting into tears because I had felt so isolated in the classroom and finally *someone* was letting me know I had done well.

It goes both ways!

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Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy

This post really rings true for me. It always took a concerted effort for me to make these calls and send those postcards, but it always gave me a burst of good feeling when I did it, and it was one of those things that really increased job satisfaction for me. (And yes, it also had positive effects on student behavior!).

Two things I would add: (1) Specificity matters. Whenever possible, tell the parent something specific the student did. Specific praise always makes a bigger impact on students than general praise, mostly because it helps them know what to keep doing. (2) For teachers who have a huge number of students: Yes, of course it seems nearly impossible to get to all of them. So just get to some of them. Start with the ones for whom it will make the biggest difference. The ones whose behavior is pretty much always teetering on the edge of unacceptable. Then choose a few more who probably feel completely unnoticed, and notice them. Even if you only contact five families all year, it will make a big difference to those five families.

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5 Ways to Stop Bullying and Move into Action

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Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not In Our School, presents five ways to empower and motivate young people to turn a climate of bullying into one of safety and acceptance.

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tnxm's picture

the bully will always bully you so what you do is to scold him
and never to talk to him

StudentSpeaker's picture

It's a chain reaction. The bully will hurt the victim. The bully will get a bad reputation and the victim will be hurt inside and/or out. Teachers should inform everyone about this and it could very well change the bully's mind by making them relize that they're bullying themselves as well.

Chelsea Elstad's picture

I agree that bullying is often based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, appearance or disability. I also think bullying exists because not many students know about diversity or how to interact properly with people who has different background, culture or race.

I think it is really important to educate students in school about diversity. The teachers can teach or expose them when the students are in elementary or middle school, because that is when they can learn and accept better than when the students are older.

I liked your post! Thank you.

Donny Suitor's picture

Kerry Girling is one of the best anti bully speakers I've ever seen. What he has created is a solution for bullying. He always says if he can help one person he's done his job. If you have a bully problem this is how to stop it kerrygirling. com/how-to-stop-bullying

Cheri Lian's picture
Cheri Lian
Creator of Genna & Russ, The Generous Kids

The only way to stop bullying is to raise our kids NOT to be bullies. Teachers and parents are using our products as SEL tools. Many Head Start programs are using Genna and Russ, the Generous Kids in their classrooms as part of their anti-bullying curriculum. If we don't raise our kids to be kind, compassionate, generous people, the cycle of bullying will continue...and more kids will die.

Jim Edgar Sr's picture

The show, Wanda's World, is another initiative to combat bullying. The show - - originally performed off-Broadway is presently scheduled to tour East Coast schools and local venues. It is described on the Indiegogo.com, the crowd funding site. The lead is a performer from Southern California. It might be possible to arrange a West Coast tour.

Tonya Boynton's picture
Tonya Boynton
2nd grade teacher from Pendleton, Indiana

At 16, my son created an app to help fight bullying. It empowers students to take a stand through ANONYMOUS reporting right from their phones/devices. It is free to students of participating schools. Please take the time to check out www.bullyboxreport.com/about

md2205's picture

There is a wonderful website called www.bullies2buddies. Izzy Kalman, psychologist, teaches children how to respond to bullying on their own without need of intervention. The communication techniques he teaches are so fun and easy to learn, and so effective that within a couple of days, the bullying is over and the bullies are now friends with the kid they bullied. It is amazing to watch, and the bullied kid gets such a kick out of seeing their former bully confused and stammering. Please visit this website, for your children's sakes, because in one or two fun private sessions, he can teach your child communication techniques that besides being effective, promote social confidence and emotional maturity. I know a child who learned it and within two days, the entire class was turned around and everyone was friends.

Sean M. Brooks's picture

Any education on the topic of bullying must come from Health Education Classes. These classes incorporate violence prevention and conflict resolution within the designed curriculum. With out this in place as the foundation, a school is putting a Band-Aid on a gushing artery. Having guest speakers is counter productive to consistent and regular health education that occurs from a certified health education teacher. This individual should teach health education and no other class in school. Gym teachers should not be left to teach this subject nor should nurses. They are not trained in the psychology of violence and bring little instructional techniques to the learning environment. Bullying education is a huge part of health education curriculum. It includes, the history of violence and conflicts, social media literacy, cyberbullying, healthy relationships, dating violence, rape, assault, battery and resources to solve problems with realistic environmental applications.

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Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher

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Forget about all the vague, superficial information out there. Edutopia blogger Terry Heick cuts to the chase with 19 meaningful questions parents can ask their children's teachers at the beginning of the school year.
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Angela's picture

Its funny because as a homeschool mom/teacher, I wouldn't think to challenge myself with these questions. I found myself learning some strengths and weaknesses in regards to my own classroom approach. I even got a little defensive in respect to how I define my educational system. It was a real reflective learning experience for myself and I encourage parents who have a roll in their child/ren's education, to do this as well. You will be surprised at how it turns out :)

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Diana England's picture
Diana England
Director of Studies at a language school

I agree with Diane Kendall, and I'm not sure what #14 means, but they're good questions for me as a Director of Studies to bear in mind when talking to parents, and I may use dome of them as part of my teachers' orientation days to get them thinking about the type of information we should be giving parents. Thank you for this.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Angela, I love that you used these as reflective questions! I admit that I found myself thinking about them both as a mom and as a teacher educator. Good questions push us to think in lots of ways, don't they?

Susanna's picture
Susanna
Charter school teacher's spouse & mother of 3.

Eileen,

It is apparent that you are passionate about your role in our children's education. I love the additional list that you've provided, because as you stated, not all parents would even know what they are asking. Ideally, the list you provided should be a start for everyone. If you can't get answers to these questions, there's something wrong.

The questions provided in the original blog might be better geared towards parents with a struggling child or older children...or just an over-achieving parent. ;) In order to find value in the answer, they need to do research to understand what they are really asking about first.

I've filed the original list and the list you provided, as I think both will be great tools for me in the future.
Onward & upward!

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Eileen Prior's picture
Eileen Prior
Exec Director at Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Thanks Susanna - I think you're right. If you don't know what question to ask, it is more than difficult to find the answer you want! Education jargon - just like every other sector's jargon - is pretty impenetrable and we certainly advise schools to work with their engaged parents to develop materials using clear, jargon-free language!

Keene_mom's picture

At first glance: The list of questions seems great BUT long.
On second glance: I would get rid of any 'ten dollar words' and break the list up. The last thing I want is for my child's teacher is to feel the need to be in a adversarial roll or that I am requesting them write a essay on their teaching philosophy and practice.

My Goal: I want to get questions answered but somehow also express my desire to support them through volunteer and monetary means. To this day it is a tight-rope we walk every year but when it comes to our children we are in it for the long haul. The list of questions are the best I (as a parent) have come across yet but I stand by my first & second glance notes.

cjcalifornia's picture

So if a parent asks 1-2 of these questions throughout the year, we're looking at a minimum of 8 parent-teacher conferences because these are not quick conversations, if the parent really wants accurate, thoughtful answers.

Keene_mom has the right idea.

lyndsaydayle's picture

As a fifth grade teacher in a new state and new district, I realize that I'm an unfamiliar face to my school's parent community, and that's scary. I initially read over these questions as a warm-up for upcoming parent-teacher conferences, and after seeing many comments here from parents who would love for their child's teacher to answer these all at once or one at a time in class newsletters, I knew my students' parents would agree. So this weekend I knocked out answers to every question here, left the draft over a night or two in case I wanted to back and change anything, and just sent the whole thing out last night. I've already gotten very positive feedback, and the parents seem very appreciative. It took four or five hours to knock the whole thing out, but I feel it was worth it. Thanks to the parents here who suggested answering these in an e-mail, from a teacher who is always looking for ways to improve herself and her parent relationships. It also made me step back and re-evaluate what I do in the classroom and why - if only I could get professional development credit for this, haha! Hopefully I can find a way to submit it as evidence on my annual evaluation. ;)

parenting's picture
parenting
Passionate about parenting

Very interesting. These questions are definitely helpful for me, the parent, to understand how my child is doing or learning, but I worry about them sounding accusatory or demanding, i.e. asking teachers to defend their teaching. I read in another blog before that teachers actually wanted questions such as:

"How are you (the teacher) doing?"
"Do you need any help?"
"Can I volunteer?"
"What can I do at home to complement your teaching?"

Basically, more about showing that the parent cared about teachers, not just their own children, type of questions, because they have enough parents questioning their teaching already.

What does the author think of this advice?

Susanna's picture
Susanna
Charter school teacher's spouse & mother of 3.

Eileen,

It is apparent that you are passionate about your role in our children's education. I love the additional list that you've provided, because as you stated, not all parents would even know what they are asking. Ideally, the list you provided should be a start for everyone. If you can't get answers to these questions, there's something wrong.

The questions provided in the original blog might be better geared towards parents with a struggling child or older children...or just an over-achieving parent. ;) In order to find value in the answer, they need to do research to understand what they are really asking about first.

I've filed the original list and the list you provided, as I think both will be great tools for me in the future.
Onward & upward!

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Angela's picture

Its funny because as a homeschool mom/teacher, I wouldn't think to challenge myself with these questions. I found myself learning some strengths and weaknesses in regards to my own classroom approach. I even got a little defensive in respect to how I define my educational system. It was a real reflective learning experience for myself and I encourage parents who have a roll in their child/ren's education, to do this as well. You will be surprised at how it turns out :)

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Mathew's picture

I wonder at the tone and delivery of these questions. They can easily be heard in an attacking tone of voice which will do nothing to help create the sense of community and positive attitude towards togetherness that is beneficial. It is not a good idea to put your child's teacher on the defensive off the bat.

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Eileen Prior's picture
Eileen Prior
Exec Director at Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Think some of these questions are good but they are worded from the perspective of an education professional, not from that of the average parent (as if there were such a thing!). Some of the previous comments highlight a range of positives as well as the challenges, so I won't rehearse them again.

Here are some of our alternative questions pulled together in the last hour or so, from our experience working with parents:

1. How does the school support my child's move from nursery/from primary, out of secondary school?
2. What will you do if my child is struggling - how will you let me know?
3. What is the school's bullying policy - does my child know what to do if they are being bullied?
4. How will I know if my child is being given homework?
5. What are the best ways to support my child with their homework?
6. If my child is falling behind in homework will you let me know?
7. Does my child seem happy at school?
8. Does my child have friends at school?
9. Do they get on well with their classmates?
10. Is there anything at school that seems to make them nervous/unsure?
11. Do you think they are keeping up with the work they are given?
12. What do you think are my child's strengths - in which subject do they do best?
13. Where do you think my child can improve?
14. How can I get to know what/how my child is learning in school?
15. How can I help them?
16. Who should I see if I am concerned about my child?
17. Will you contact me as soon as there is an issue/problem?
18. What clubs or groups are open to my child/are they involved in?
19. How are parents encouraged to be involved in the school community?

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Joshua's picture
Joshua
Parent; Lead Advocate at Rochester SAGE

I would also ask the flip side to #2: "How will you respond if or when my child excels beyond grade level in class?"

A child who is ahead of grade level in one or more subjects needs changes to the curriculum and instruction. It is not fair to that child if much of the year is review as they are there to learn, not just to get a good grade. It also robs them of their opportunity to struggle, which teaches positive habits and skills in working hard, overcoming obstacles, and responding to failure.

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Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy

A proactive teacher could take a list like this and answer them ahead of time, either all at once at the beginning of the year or one at a time through newsletters or classroom blog posts. Much of what my kids' teachers send home is the same stuff every week, with topics changed out (e.g., "This week we are studying ____________ and the homework is __________ and our specials are ___________."). If I knew that every week, questions like these would be answered, I would look forward to those newsletters!

(3)

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Innovations in Teacher Prep and Support: Resource Roundup

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In this collection, find resources that discuss some of the innovative strategies used by teacher educators, mentors, coaches, and other professionals to prepare and support preservice and new teachers and facilitate ongoing teacher development.

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Britta Monger's picture

As a pre-service teacher this post is awesome! So many great resources here! Definitely saving this page for future reference. Thank you!

Ashley Cronin's picture
Ashley Cronin
Digital Resource Curator

Glad to hear you found some helpful content. Best of luck with your teaching career!

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Looking for information on guiding classroom communities, minimizing disruptions, and developing class routines to help students stay engaged and focused on learning? This resource collection is packed with useful tips, tools, and advice.

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Creating a Welcoming and Intellectually Challenging Classroom

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Check out these important strategies for creating an inclusive learning space that also challenges students with rigorous thinking and projects.
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Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

I like a lot of these practical ideas and reminders. In particular, I agree so much that a collaborative classroom is NOT a conflict-free zone. In fact, the "mess" is what helps us learn. We learn to navigate complex situations, negotiate our needs with the needs of others, and how it feels when we use different approaches to reach a shared goal. That's no small amount of intellectual challenge!

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A Checklist for Back-to-School Night

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Back-to-School Night is often the first interaction a teacher has with parents and guardians. Here's a helpful checklist for educators of five must-haves for this special night.

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Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Great tips Heather! I have several new teacher colleagues at my high school, and they will find this very useful. At our school, BTSN is organized so parents travel from class to class according to their student's schedule - 10 minutes per class, and a passing period. 10 minutes is very short, so I have developed a PowerPoint slide show to keep me focused as I present all the basis information, and leave the last couple minutes for questions. Like you suggest, I have clipboards around the room where parents can sign in and leave me contact info, and questions for later follow up. I am sure to have extra copies of my "French Class Success Guide" which I give to students the first day of school. I ask them to share it with parents, but teens are sometimes forgetful (I am sure that surprises you deeply!). The most important thing, is to make a positive connection. It may be the only time we ever meet the parents of most of our students, but that human contact provides context for emails and phone calls for the whole year!

Who else has some ideas to share? Looking forward to the conversation.

Cheers,
Don

Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

THE SELL MORTIS

Of the millions of curriculum nights there's one that I'll remember forever and they were all pretty dang memorable. In the third period session for a class where I had six kids, six parents came in, and without prompting, sat in exactly the seat where their child sits. There were twelve desks in The Cozy Room of Learning. I stood there, dumfounded. I finally told them what just happened. I had to. They were as amazed at me. A couple of the parents, however, were visibly unnerved by it. They looked at the desk they were sitting in, and then lifted their hands up off of the desktop, as if it was covered with germs.

****

Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at corkscrew turns hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

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Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Heather... A few things I love that are little - but greatly appreciated. The sign up in several locations. There is nothing more annoying than standing in line to sign a piece of paper to say you were there.

The other thing...the brochure. As a parent (especially with multiple teachers to visit re multiple children), I am not going to remember all the little things in your PowerPoint. I would much rather read it at home and contact you with questions as needed (and refer back to throughout the year). On BTSN, I want to hear about the little things that I cannot read about. Hear the answers to those questions you know we all will ask. AND...I want to see your personality. I want to know my child is with someone who cares about him/her.

In a Voxer conversation today, a parent shared a suggestion that they are planning to do at their BTSN. They were giving the parents a chance to introduce themselves in the classrooms because they found many parents never got a chance to meet each other otherwise. As our PTO president, on BTSN, I use that time to share information about our school community...not so much push for parents to sign up or donate. I like the idea of using the night to strengthen relationships/build a community.

Thanks for sharing...and here's to a fabulous year!!

Andrea Hernandez's picture
Andrea Hernandez
Teacher, learner, parent, change-agent… Evolving.

Great suggestions! I also appreciate the comment from Gwen.

I am trying to figure out what applies to my situation, as I am a teacher (and parent) at a VERY small school. Most people already know me, my personality and each other. They have already been to my blog, read my FAQ and visited the classroom. The ones who are trying to be proactive by being confrontational (I love that line) have not waited until back to school night to begin their proactiveness.

We have btsn this Thursday, and here is what I am struggling with this Labor Day morning. I am still in the process of setting up the Daily 3 routines with my students. However, I have this great bulletin board that is eventually going to have QR codes linked to student blog posts. Do I scrap the order of my plans for this week and work hard to get these ready for Thursday night? If I don't, no one will ever see the QR codes. If I do, some students might not be finished by Thursday night...

Thoughts?

Karen Bloom's picture
Karen Bloom
Math Teacher

Andrea,
It's okay to show a work in progress at Back to School Night. Is there a way you could show SOME of it without scrapping all your plans for the week?
Good luck!!

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

Great suggestions. I especially love the first and second, the sign-in at all locations and brochure that highlights your webpage. Some larger districts maintain and cultivate e-mail databases for parents that are tied directly to the class roster so they are able to send messages by groupings automatically (the district my children attend). Some smaller ones -- like many we work with -- do not have such a system in place. Obtaining contact information is vital to building relationships with parents. Just remember to be sure to share information with them on a regular basis ... you have a great captive audience!

As for promoting your teacher webpage: Rock On! Teacher webpages are a fantastic source of information for parents, especially when chock-full of information of as links to homework, syllabus (where applicable), assignment/quiz/test calendar, teacher contact information, links to social networking sites and even news from the main district site (some parents will spend more time on your pages than the district or school's main site). We have a few more tips here: http://www.eschoolview.com/School-Software-Blog.aspx

Here's to a great year!!

Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

THE SELL MORTIS

Of the millions of curriculum nights there's one that I'll remember forever and they were all pretty dang memorable. In the third period session for a class where I had six kids, six parents came in, and without prompting, sat in exactly the seat where their child sits. There were twelve desks in The Cozy Room of Learning. I stood there, dumfounded. I finally told them what just happened. I had to. They were as amazed at me. A couple of the parents, however, were visibly unnerved by it. They looked at the desk they were sitting in, and then lifted their hands up off of the desktop, as if it was covered with germs.

****

Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at corkscrew turns hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

(1)

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Meeting the Needs of All Students: A First Step

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Edutopia blogger Elena Aguilar encourages teachers to confront their own biases so they connect more deeply with each child in their classrooms.
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Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Thank you for sharing this very important story. Yes, absolutely, we must advocate for all kids. Not only is it our profession, it is our moral obligation.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Thanks for taking the risk to share this with the community. Kim John Payne (http://www.socialsustain.com/) has a great way of exploring the ways we view difference. He represents it as:
D <-- Q --> G

The basic idea is that a Quirk (a difference) can either be viewed as negative (a Deficit) or as positive (a Gift). The way the difference manifests long term grows out of the way the adults around him or her respond to the difference.

(I'm oversimplifying here, but the basic premise is worth exploring.)

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

I'm speechless. Here in NY, we start back to school next week. I'm going to print copies and give them to everyone in my department. This should be required reading every year for all teachers, new and old; we can never lose sight of this crucial element of the teacher-student-classroom environment relationship.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

Have you all read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio? http://rjpalacio.com/book.html

Your story reminds me of that book, which explores the depth of experience of someone perceived as Other, and how teachers, administrators as peers either eased or exacerbated that feeling. Great quick read for teachers at this time of year, and I'd imagine really, really excellent to read with students.

Brian's picture

This is an amazing story that reminds me of the importance of trying to connect heart to heart with the students. Sometimes with so much to do and a limited time to accomplish the work I overlook the importance of taking the time to connect and reach the students. That you for the reminder.

Fatima's picture

This story was amazing and inspired me and gave me a better understanding as to how to deal with different learners and not ignore them, but rather learn and explore about their abilities and help them in their learning.

DTaylor's picture

This story was very inspiring. It is so important to connect with the students. This will give you a better idea of how to approach and teach the students.

Samantha Y.'s picture

I absolutely love the words you used to describe your mother: A lioness of love.
This story is truly inspiring and eye opening. As a teacher we sometimes get caught up in the frustrations and issues that stem from particular students, but we need to seek to understand before we seek to judge or allow ourselves to think so negatively. Thank you for sharing this life story and experience with us. :)

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Leonard Brown's picture

Thank you for sharing yours, insights, and personal experiences. I believe that children should be valued and loved. We shouldn't shun them because of their differences, but instead we should expect them as and for who they are, for none of us are perfect. I think that the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. As the old saying goes variety is the spice of life.

Samantha Y.'s picture

I absolutely love the words you used to describe your mother: A lioness of love.
This story is truly inspiring and eye opening. As a teacher we sometimes get caught up in the frustrations and issues that stem from particular students, but we need to seek to understand before we seek to judge or allow ourselves to think so negatively. Thank you for sharing this life story and experience with us. :)

(1)

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