I love the Verizon ads that always asked that question. Perhaps it is because one of the greatest challenges I hear repeatedly from teachers across the district is in regards to parent communication. Each year as a classroom teacher, I would reflect on how effective my chosen methods of communication were over the course of a school year. I typically had frequent contact with about 25% of my families, moderate contact with about 50% of my families, and little to no contact with about the other 25% of my families. By contact, I mean two-way communication that takes place on a weekly basis.
In looking at my own practices, I realize now that I was great at one-way communication; newsletters, notes in planners, forms sent home with students, etc. However, I was not offering my families any great tools, other than email or phone, to actually converse with me about their student and how things were going at school. Therefore, this summer I set out to find what other educators are using.
What I learned is that there is a TON of apps out there specifically designed to accomplish the task of parent-teacher communication. I spent some time exploring and weeding through the plethora of options out there and have come up with a list of 5 that impressed me the most and had fantastic teacher reviews.
If you are looking to communicate in a timely manner with parents these days, some form of technology is a must. These are just 5 of a multitude of apps that are available to accomplish this task. If none of these strikes your fancy, there are much more from which to choose. Ultimately, all that matters is that our families can hear us.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Ahh! The time is almost here. Whether your reading spot is a beach, a hammock, or a shady tree I bet you are getting ready for some summer reading. As educators we love learning and summer can be a great time to renew, reflect, and recharge our teacher batteries. Here are some of my top picks for great reads this summer:
Troublemakers by Shalaby
In her first book, Carla Shalaby, a former elementary teacher, introduces us to four “troublemakers”: Zora, Lucas, Sean and Marcus. Her book causes us to question how we identify and understand students who experience school differently. These memorable children allow readers to see school through the eyes of those who are sometimes considered 'problems'.
This book definitely caused me to think about our school structures and what we value in the world of education. Although the children in this book are elementary aged, there are many lessons to be learned within any level of K-12 education.
Blind Spot by Banaji and Greenwald
This book was recommended by Dr. Sharokky Hollie at our last professional development session. The authors of this book explore the hidden biases we carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes on race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality. This book is for those of us who want to align our behavior with our intentions.
Full disclosure, I have not read it--yet--but it is on my short list and has been highly recommended by those who have read it already.
The Courage to Teach by Palmer
"This book is for teachers who have good days and bad — and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts, because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life." These words, taken from Parker Palmer’s introduction, speak to the message of this book. Palmer boils things down to this one sentence: good teaching cannot be reduced to a technique but is rooted in the identity and integrity of the teacher. He says good teaching takes many forms but it shares one thing: good teachers are authentically present in their classrooms and in community with their content and their learners.
JJ Abrams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and co-creator and producer of the tv show Lost, said in a review that, "This extraordinary, wildly entertaining book sheds new light on the Age of Disruption. What does it take to make a meaningful difference? How can you apply this insight to your own life? By debunking myths of success stories, challenging long-held beliefs of process, and find commonality among those who are agents of profound change, Adam Grant gives us a powerful new perspective on not just our place in the world, but our potential to shake it up entirely."
Lately, we have been working hard on social-emotional learning in the Rochester Public Schools and how we might best help every student succeed. Although this book is from outside of the education sector it has great ideas for how we can support every student, no matter their background, to be successful in college, career, and life.
Drive by Pink
I was introduced to this book through Mayo High School’s “ Best Bits of Books” Staff Development Series facilitated by Peter Dodds. The main premise of this book is that if we are engaged in creative tasks (like teaching) the elements that people need in order to feel job satisfaction are threefold: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Pink gives readers examples of how organizations can cultivate these elements.
What’s on your summer reading list? If you are interested in discussing some of these great reads or others that you plan to delve into consider attending Pages on the Patio, which begins this June (sign up here).
We’d love to talk with you about your reading and thinking!
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, APOSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
Yes! We did it! Another year completed! Students are gone, finals have been completed, grades have been submitted, and now what? Time to celebrate, reflect, rejuvenate, and reenergize.
As the busses rolled away and I waved goodbye to students who have been such a huge part of my life for months, I have always felt a strange mix of celebration and shock. I was so proud my students, but I also couldn’t believe it was all over.
The first week off was always strange for me. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. This is when the first R of my summer began: time to Reflect.
I spent my first few days reflecting on my year. I celebrated my successes, but I spent more time reflecting on what I wanted to change. How could I adjust my classroom set up that would foster more interaction? What teaching strategies did I want to dig deeper into that I just didn’t have the time for last year? Which lessons did I want to modify to make them more successful for all my students? How could I build in more academic vocabulary in my lessons? I would jot down these ideas as I knew that I would forget them between June and August. I sometimes organized my ideas by the following categories:
After spending time reflecting and celebrating, it was time to Relax! Time to rejuvenate and enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle of school. This time allowed me to clear my head, rejuvenate my body and fill up my well again. Here are some ideas that could fill your well:
Then, in September, share what you did over the summer with your students in the fall. They love to hear what teachers do in the summer!
After some much needed (and much deserved) relaxation, I was ready to get Reenergized for the fall. I would pick up that list of ideas I jotted down in June. I would reread it and begin making my plans for the start of the year. I would start researching new strategies, read blogs that offered new ideas, or dig into a professional development book that someone told me about. I was ready to get back at it again.
Teachers never stop learning and I saw this first-hand last year at Pages on the Patio. It was reenergizing for me to see these amazing educators reading professional books, listening to podcasts, and sharing their learning with one-another. My co-facilitator and I would have local residents come up to us and ask us what was going on. I’m sure it seemed strange to see 20+ people quietly reading in public. Our response was “we are teachers and this is what teachers do in the summer; we continue to learn”. It was fun to see them looked surprised. They often expressed admiration for what these educators were doing. I took away so many new ideas to start off my year with from these sessions and couldn’t wait for August to start sharing my learning with others. (You can read more about last year's summer learning here.)
By the way, it isn’t too late to sign up for this summer's Pages on the Patio. You can still sign up on PD Express!
As the year comes to a close, my wish for you is to take some time to do the same 3 R’s as I’ll be doing: Reflecting, Relaxing, and Reenergizing.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
For most of our students, summer brings several weeks of unstructured free time. While spending time with friends and family doing all the great activities that can only be done during this wonderful (but short in Minnesota) season is just what some students need. What we as teachers know is that this time away from academic learning also causes what has been termed, “summer slide”. It is when unpracticed skills become lost. This loss can take several weeks in the fall to regain.
According to Education World, “ more than 70 percent of recently-surveyed middle school math teachers recognize that students regress more in math than in any other subject during the break—and take longer to get back up to speed in the fall.”
So what can we do to keep math and science learning alive this summer for all students? Here are some suggestions and websites that offer some great resources.
There are so many valuable math skills as well as interpersonal skills that can be gained from playing board games. Take some time at the end of the school year to play some games with your students and encourage them to start a game night at home with their families.
Remember Everyday Math has many math skill games that could be played at home with a regular deck of playing cards and or dice. Review those games before the end of the school year and show how a regular deck of cards could be used.
Summer Math Garden
Education World encourages us to grow a Summer Math Garden. What they mean by this is getting families to think about how mathematics is embedded in all their favorite summer activities and incorporating that mathematical thinking. They include the follow directions:
Another great local resource for students and families is Quarry Hill Nature Center. This summer the Quarry Hill Nature Center is offering many exciting summer camps and events for all ages. Some of these camps include Whiz Kids, Mission Explore, and Scales and Slime, just to name a few. Registration opened in March but there is still available space in many of the classes.
Community Ed Programs
Remember that Rochester Community Education also offers many opportunities for kids to continue to grow their skills in their Youth Brochure.
Fun at Home
In researching for this blog the best website for suggestions that I found was Math Geek Mama. In her blog Fun Ways to Engage in Math this Summer, the author lists 50+ fun and simple math actives that can be played by any age elementary student.
If you’re wondering about an easy way to share this information with parents, remember that the C and I website is open to the community. Just share the link and they can have access to this blog and resources for themselves. Let's empower our parents with ways to have fun with their children while practicing valuable skills at the same time.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
As the school year becomes more and more visible in our rear-view mirrors, it is not only our students whom we may have difficulty keeping engaged, but also ourselves. Often we do not even realize that we have begun to “tune-out” as the year begins to drift away. Let’s face it – we’ve had a few things our plates and have been working our tails off for the last 9 months. So with less than three weeks remaining, how do we remain engaged and energized to help get our students to the finish line?
Here are 4 ideas for keeping it fresh and fun right up to the last minute you have with this years kiddos.
Field Test Something
Remember that great idea you had back in October when things were crazy busy and you just didn’t have time to explore it? Remember that conversation you had with a colleague about an idea from an article you read and would love to try in your own classroom? Now is the time! The end of the year can be a great time to pilot something new and see how it goes because it will come to a definite conclusion in a manner of weeks. Not sure what to give a try? Check Best Idea Ever for more than 35 ideas!
Take time to Reflect
Since we are already looking in the rear-view mirror, you might as well focus on reflecting. You have almost an entire year of instruction under your belt. It’s time to look back on what worked well, what could have been even better, and what should not be repeated next year. Perhaps even ask you students to reflect on the year and even on your teaching and give you feedback for going forward. Getting Student Feedback and Tools for Gathering Feedback offer ideas for soliciting advice from your students.
Create Something New
After you and your students have done all that reflecting, you will likely have things you would like to improve upon or change for the next school year. Start making those changes now. The end of the year is a great time to start preparing for next year. Even better, get your students involved in making those changes. How to Experiment is a great article about how to go about trying something new in the classroom.
What do you want your students to remember about their year with you? Take some time to gather those memories and put them in a place that students can take with them. These last few weeks of school are a great time to collect and share the highlights of the year. Education World and Edublogs have some fantastic ideas to wind up learning and find the bright spots of your time together.
Recently, I came across the quote from the image above and it really spoke to me when I read it. I hope it speaks to you, too. I encourage you to take some time in these last few weeks to take your ending and turn it into a new beginning.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Originally posted on the Secondary C&I website on 4/18/2018
The recent spike in temperature plus the spring rain has those of use at C&I thinking about the sunny and warm days of summer. Summer: the season of new growth and of rejuvenation--not just for our gardens and our lawns, but for our souls as educators, too.
As you begin to think about your summer plans and how you personally would like to grow in your instructional practices and rejuvenate your classroom approaches, consider enrolling in one or both of the following C&I summer professional development opportunities.
New this Summer...
If you have ever wished that X, Y, or Z were offered as RPS Professional Development sessions, disappointed occasionally that they are not, then this new opportunity might be for you.
Returning this Summer...
So, as you start to think beyond this snow and focus on the new growth of summer--don't forget about opportunities to grow yourself, too. Maybe we can even grow together.
This post brought to you by the Elementary C&I Team
Oprah Winfrey often asks people, “What do you know for sure?” As my retirement date fast approaches, I find myself reflecting about my career, the people I have met, and the impact I hope to leave behind. After 40+ years of working in various settings with children, here are my thoughts about
1) Children will always need significant adults to care deeply about them. We need to protect them, guide them, celebrate them, and open up their world through our teaching. Nothing will ever take the place of a student coming to school and knowing that someone cares.
2) Every interaction we have matters. We only get so many days each year to influence those around us. We never know which lesson, which interaction, which comment will make the difference for that one person we encounter. Nothing brings me more gratification than when a student, a teacher, a para, or a colleague tells me that something I did or said mattered to them.
3) With rare exceptions, people become educators because they want to make a difference in students’ lives. I have worked with countless teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, and administrators. Whether you are in a school building or work “down town,” you find honorable, dedicated people who truly care about students.
4) Integrity matters. No matter what another person chooses to do or say in a given situation, you can choose to respond with grace and integrity.
5) Amuse yourself and at least one person in the room is having fun. I often tell people this is my “educational philosophy.” After I became a teacher, I ran into my fifth grade teacher who I credit with changing my life forever. I asked about her teaching philosophy. Her response? “A day without a good laugh is a wasted day of school.” Humor builds relationships, lightens our hearts, and promotes learning.
6) I know for sure that I have LOVED being an educator in Rochester Public School. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I have had and the amazing people I have known. This is a special place and I was most fortunate to be part of it.
So, my friends, I wish the very best for you in the future. May your journey be as happy as mine.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
Although many of us are excited by the warmer weather and the thought of summer closing in, many of our students will start to feel the anxiety and loss of the school year coming to a close. Many children rely on the consistent schedule, the dependable meals, the strong relationships and the peer connections that school provides.
As you are planning lessons, no matter the age, consider incorporating books or read aloud times that revolve around the end of the school year. This can give students time to reflect on the year and process the emotion of closing a new chapter in life and opening a new one. If there are unresolved issues and thoughts of anxiety, it gives you the opportunity to connect with your students and better prepare them for how to have a successful summer.
Remember, the end of summer is exciting for many students but for many others it brings about sad emotions and anxiety. Consider ways to prepare your students and allow them time to process and discuss their fears with you before that final day of school!
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, POSA overseeing Elementary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
Minnesota standards require us to teach about the indigenous people to our state. From that point, it is our responsibility to ensure that what we are teaching is accurate. Minnesota state standards require that our students encounter different teachings about Dakota and Ojibwe people throughout their K-12 experience. Learning about Indigenous People and the history of our area before America’s colonization is fundamental to understanding the relationships between people and place. We cannot truly understand the dynamics of our area if we do not include a long and multi-perspective history. Teaching accurately about Indigenous People benefits not just our Native students, but also all students.
In my short time working for the school district, I have noticed there is never enough time in a day to teach all the things that need to be taught and there is an ever-present desire to find new resources. I have also noted the increasing number of blogs and information hubs, such as Pinterest, that have easy ready to use ideas.
Unfortunately, by using these resources, what ends up happening is an overload of information that often times isn’t well researched or vetted through any credible sources. Inadvertently, this can lead to activities that perpetuate stereotypes, keep Native Americans in the past, and demote native culture to cute crafts.
Something we want to work to avoid is only exposing students to historical views of Native Americans. Today there are 572 federally recognized tribes, 11 of which are located in our state. We want students to understand the sacrifice these tribes have made at the benefit of our country, as well as learn about tribes that have called Minnesota home for 100s and thousands of years to help build well-rounded learners.
An example of how we can begin to do that is to help students make connections and understand the differences between the various Native tribes. Many people know southwest Indians use adobe dwellings to stay cool, but let’s not stop there. We should build on understanding that each tribe has its own traditions, clothing, types of dwellings, etc. dependent on the region they inhabited. It is important to learn about tribes from around the country, but Minnesota state standards require us to place an emphasis on learning about our tribes here in Minnesota.
As educators, we can be better equipped to teach our students about Indigenous people by taking advantage of events and professional learning opportunities provided by various education associations and societies. Here are some of the great upcoming opportunities, most of which happen on an annual or even more frequent basis.
As we approach summer and think about professional development in our upcoming year, I encourage everyone to consider one of these amazing opportunities. Let us all strive to teach Native American content in the humanizing manner with which we teach all other subjects. As always, I am here to help in whatever way I can.
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Members of the Elementary C&I team post useful tools, tips, and tricks on a weekly basis to help you help students.