Friday, November 28, 2014

No More News in This House

I made a decision today. There will be no more news in this house.

It is a well known statement that "everything you see on the news is sad, depressing, negative". Currently, more than ever before, this is true. I have spent my life with the core belief that people need to be informed, educated, current. I teach middle school history, where I focus heavily on the mistakes of the past and how current events connect to them. I do still believe in these things, wholeheartedly.

The reason for my family's boycott of the news, is not that I don't care about the atrocities that plague the earth, it is quite the contrary. I am saying "no" to news because I care too much. For every hour of news viewed, I spend three lying in bed being sad, wishing I had the power to stop it, worrying about what the horrible news of the day could mean for my family and loved ones. It has gotten to the point where I sleep very little and I worry too much.

The truth is, I get one chance to be happy, to love and teach my boys, to live a life I am proud of, and I refuse to let the things I can not change take those things away from me. I don't want to know anymore. I want to focus on my family, encouraging my students, and make memories with my friends. I want to live my life with as much peace and happiness as possible.

If something that could threaten the health, safety, or happiness of my family arises, I am sure I will hear about it through the grapevine. The one that consists of the people who love me and my family, the one that has our best interests at heart. With the time I have used to worry and be sad, I will be happy, peaceful, encouraging, positive, and hopeful. I can only hope that our decision will bring the same for our boys.

There is so much beauty in this world. I want to see it.

Peace and Beauty

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to be a Successful Parent of a Student

As teachers, we are constantly telling children how to be successful students; it's high-time that parents get their own list of ways to be successful parents of students. Here are six tips every teacher wishes their student's parents would use:

1. Communicate Professionally: When sending an email to a coworker, you make sure that what you say and how you say it is professional, appropriate, and respectful. Do the same when contacting your children's teacher. Remember, they are professionals, who deserve respectful interactions. Pointing fingers and blame, using language and tone that insinuates disrespect, and jumping to conclusions are not helpful, nor do they help to establish a positive partnership.

2. Communicate with your Child First: If you are confused about their progress, grades, homework, etc., start with the source. Ask your child before clicking the send button. Your child should know the answers to your questions, but if they don't, give them a chance to ask their teacher before you jump in. This helps them be responsible for their learning and teaches them communication and advocacy skills.

3. Let Them Struggle (Just a Bit): Many parents contact teachers at the very first sign of an issue. It's not a horrible idea to open the lines of communication and offer support early on, however, "saving" your child from the struggle is not always a benefit to them. Students who work for their grade, who have to put in a little extra effort, get far more out of earning the grade. I have seen the excitement and accomplishment in the eyes of my students, who (after months of hard work) have finally earned that "A", and it is a defining moment in their education. Let them have it.

4. Grades are NOT Everything: As times in education change, so does the purpose and meaning of letter grades. Earning an "A" used to mean you were a responsible, smart student who turned in their work on time, attended class daily, and participated. Now grades truly (or should) reflect what your child understands and can demonstrate according to the standards of the grade level and content of the class. Striving for a specific letter grade is not the point of education, instead we focus on progress. Gaining knowledge and being able to demonstrate that knowledge in a deeper, more thought-provoking way is the main goal and grades are made available to help teachers, students, and their parents see that progress. Long story, short....B's are not bad!

5. Support and Partner with Teachers: If your child is struggling, and you have given them time to work it out on their own, partner with the teacher in finding ways to help support your child and their learning. Ask what is being learned, ask specifically what your child is struggling with, ask what you could do at home to help support and reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. Remember to support your child, without undermining their teacher. If parents and teachers believe they are on opposing sides, the student's education is at risk. Working together and being on the same page, is what is best for all.

6. Give Teachers the Benefit of the Doubt: You love your child, you know they are smart, you want to help them be successful, but remember, they are children. They are not always honest, nor do they always know/remember the correct answers to your questions. If your child comes home from school with information that does not sit well with you, or you have questions and/or concerns, stay calm and contact the teacher using the same professional communication discussed in tip #1. Maybe your child was right and further action or discussion is warranted, but maybe their interpretation is not entirely accurate. The last thing, either the teacher or the parent wants to do is complicate a child's education by adding their own personal frustrations to the mix. Remember, trust but verify.

Parents and teachers want the same things for their children/students. We want to support them, teach them, prepare them for their future. If we have the same goals and end-game, doesn't it make sense that we should be on the same team, working together?
When I became the parent of a student