Reaching Out to Our Parents

 

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This fall when we re-organized our School Community Council (SCC) for another year, I was struggling to try to find a member who wanted to step up to be chairperson for the committee.  Our past chair had worked tirelessly for two years and was wanting a break.  I can’t say I blame her because the two years she was chairperson we raised over $90,000 and installed 2 playground projects.  That is enough to make anyone want to step down.  She did an awesome job and is still a committee member.

The weird thing about not having a leader of our committee is that it might lead you to believe that our parents are not engaged in our school and I don’t feel like that is the case at all.  Time and time again when we need something, our parents are there.

I have talked often about the importance of a strong team.  We have plenty of research to tell us that when a child has support from many adults in their life, they have a much easier time developing physically, emotionally, spiritually and academically.  It really just makes sense.

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Kindergarten Fall Fun

 

In reflecting on the things we do to make parents and families feel welcome as a valuable part of our team, it is easy to see we are well on our way, but are we doing everything we can do?

I think we can safely assume that all parents want what is best for their children or we should assume that.  It may not be the same in every family and it may not manifest itself in the same way in our building.  Taking into consideration differences in families and lifestyles, I think most parents give as much as they can.   Perhaps if we want to improve our parent connection, we need to be more specific about what we want and we may have more parents willing to take a chance on investing in us more often.

According to a great book, “Beyond the Bake Sale” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davis, “…parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children, and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning?”  (p.34)

That is a mouthful, but in my mind, the ideas behind it are very simple.

1.  We need to reach out to parents in many ways, personal ways, engage in conversations and build relationships by calling and communicating about our students many times and not just when we are having behavioral or academic issues.

2.  When we want our parents to help us out with something, we need to be very clear about what we are wanting them to do.  Knock off the “teacher speak” and give suggestions and directions and reasons why.

3.  We need to believe in their ability to help us out.  Parents come from all walks of life with all kinds of experiences and all kinds of knowledge to offer to us and their children.

Right now we have some parents helping us out every day with our early literacy project we have titled ROAR (Really Outrageous at Reading).  We need every adult body  we can get so we can divide all of our grade one students into small groups and have leveled literacy every day.  We know this benefits our students and we also know we would not be able to do it, as well, without the parents that are helping us out.

Melina
ROAR Reading Groups

 

At our SCC meeting in November we left with the challenge to reach out to another parent, explain what our committee was all about and bring them to the next meeting.  We had a number of new members attend our meeting in January and I went home that night with a new chairperson for our committee.

What I hope we can create now is a true partnership where we ask for and appreciate feedback.  Where we reach out with questions and information expecting the same coming back at us.  I hope we can listen without being defensive when parents are being advocates for their children.  I hope we can increase our communication, especially the positive, because the positive conversations may make the more difficult ones easier in the future.  I hope we can see the advantage and build the trust needed for parents to feel like they are truly an equal part of our team.

What we need now is parents to take a chance on us.

 

 

 

 

What I Learned in 2014

 

 

http://perkettprsuasion.com
http://perkettprsuasion.com

 

I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June.  I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.

Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life.  I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students.  My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:

  • I can’t make everybody happy.
  • I can’t solve everyone’s problems.

Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control  and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.

I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff.  We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us,  from our bus driver to our custodians.  We  started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.

Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years.  Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.

The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members.  Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.

January is a time of renewal and goal setting.

There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned,  that I would like to continue to develop and practice.

1. Listen…

I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me.  I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others.   I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important.  Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.

I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

2.  Don’t judge what I do not know…

I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.

One quick snapshot rarely tells a story. 

One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall.  I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story.  When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots.  Jumping to conclusions is never fair.

3. Lack of time is not an excuse…

I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires.  It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in.  I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff.  If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.

4.  Tell our story…

Last year I read a book on digital leadership by fellow principal and leader Eric Sheninger.  One of the things he describes in his book, which I have written about before,  is school branding. Basically the idea stems around the importance of not leaving our school story up to someone else to tell.  If we do not tell our own positive story, we run the risk of allowing someone else to paint a picture that might not be as positive.  I have really tried to take this idea to heart and believe in the importance of it for the following reasons:

I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.

I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.

I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals. 

I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support. 

As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more,  judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.

What do you hope to do in 2015? 

 

We Are Smarter Together

http://www.mysnowshow.com/
http://www.mysnowshow.com/

Every year as I watch my son’s hockey teams start their season it is the same thing.  For the most part, his team consists of a different group of boys each year. They do not start off playing as a team.

It seems as if each player is trying to prove themselves as the best goal scorer or the best defenseman or the hardest hitter.  After they get a few games under their sticks, they come around to the idea that hockey needs to be a team sport and at that point we start seeing some well-played hockey games.

At the beginning of the school year we had a number of changes in our school staff.  At our first staff meeting, before the school year began, we were all getting to know each other, and maybe at that point,  we were trying to prove ourselves to each other as the boys on the hockey team do, but more likely we were all wondering how we might get to know each other well enough and fast enough to construct the strong team we all know is necessary to do what is best for our students.

B13jXS-CcAAS0hX As an administrator, I am constantly in awe of the strengths and abilities of the people I work with, but at the beginning of each year I feel a bit unbalanced as we try to figure out each other’s strengths and build the trust necessary to work as a team.

I strongly believe in teamwork.  I also strongly believe that each member of the team is equally important.  We cannot run a school and educate and support our students without each member of our team including our bus driver, our custodians, parents, teachers and support staff .

B1TVOmBCEAAdi0q It occurred to me in the past couple of weeks  that without me even knowing it the strength of our team is building around me and I can see it everywhere I look.

We recently completed our first term reporting and student-led conferences.  Certainly a busy and stressful time for everyone. As I walked around the building on our conference nights talking to students and visiting with parents I had a feeling of celebration of the learning of our students.  I had so many positive conversations and I credit the strength of our school team for happy students and families.

This year we have spent a great amount of time building our Student Support Team.  This team consists of our RTI teacher (Response to Intervention), our LST teacher (Learning Support), our school counselor, the vice-principal and myself. Individual classroom teachers are also included when needed.   We talk about academic needs, behavior, attendance and many things directly related to how we can support individual students and families. B0FislzCMAEQQvf We have been having student support meetings for a number of years, but this year, under the direction of our school division, we have been able to make our meetings much more focused with accountability and follow-up that only benefits our students. We are now tracking all of the students in our building and truly working as a team, to ensure we are doing our best to meet the needs of our students.

It has been an interesting process and involves everyone in the building.  The best part for our students is that we are getting to know them well.  We are starting to really know their stories, we try to be aware of their ups and downs and their individual needs.

The importance of a strong school team cannot be understated.  I see the benefits to our students every day. Long gone are the days when we can come to school, close our classroom doors and do our thing.

What I see in our school everyday is…we are smarter together.

The Beauty of a Fresh Start

http://allthewhitemoves.wordpress.com/category/writing/
http://allthewhitemoves.wordpress.com/category/writing/

I love fresh starts…those times when you are able to start with a fresh canvas and many options ahead.  That is why I love the beginning of each new school year. We meet, once again, as a school team looking forward to our students arrival and having energy we have built up over the summer to tackle new challenges.

When we arrived at the end of June and moved into summer I knew that I needed much rest and rejuvenation before I could even think about rallying up for another year.  I know I was not alone in these feelings.  There were many teachers who felt equally as exhausted as I did.  I spent my summer reading, hanging out with my family and reflecting on what the new year might look like.  There were  many wonderful things we were able to accomplish last year and there were many things that might not have gone exactly as planned or perhaps did not go on at all.

I always remind my staff that teaching is not for the faint at heart.  It is like the job that never ends.  Very rewarding, and very exhausting.  I would not want to be doing any other job than the one I have right now, but finding balance and maintaining a positive mindset can be difficult at times.  Once the new year begins it takes off with such speed and never really slows down until the end.

For me fresh starts involves much reflection.  Many questions ran through my head this summer.  How could I support my teachers, especially my new teachers fresh to the profession?  How could I organize my time to be able to maintain a balance in my workload?  How would I look after myself and not take things so personally?  How could I do a better job of communicating with our parents?  How could I change my teaching methods so my students might get the best experience possible?  How would I make it a priority to interact with my PLN and continue to grow as an administrator and teacher?

The reflection does not solve all problems of course, but some of my best planning happens through random thoughts when I have time to have them.  Through these thoughts I was able to sketch out my vision for the school year.

1.  The most important part of our school is the strong team that exists within.  My vision for this year would be for all of us to continue to work as a strong team. That we will welcome our new staff into our team and learn to use each of our individual talents to make us stronger.   As a school staff we will work together and help each other get to the places we want to be. I hope I can work with individual staff members to support and meet their needs.

2.  I hope we will continue to do everything possible to help our students succeed.  We will looks for ways to build their trust and readjust our teaching methods to bring out the best in each one of them.  Our journey towards more inquiry learning, digital portfolios, student feedback and reflection and team teaching will continue to grow and our students will benefit from that. We will get better at using our achievement and behavior data to drive our teaching and learning, starting with our early years and phonological awareness.

3.  I hope we will work hard to engage our parents as a valuable part of our team.  I look forward to finding ways to involve them in the things we do.  I hope we will  communicate better and strive to build stronger relationships that are key to students success.  I hope we can tell our positive story in a variety of ways and through that process help our parents understand the value they serve in our team.

4.  I never doubt the ability and desires of our school team, and I know we will continue to do everything possible to do our job well.  I hope we will take care of ourselves in the process.  There are many things we cannot control, so I hope we can let go of those things and concentrate on the things we can control and expend our energies on what is important within our building and within our families and friends.

I know it is difficult to wrap up the vision for a school year in one post and reality is much different than random thoughts during a summer.  I also know things will happen that we are not expecting, but right now I am riding on the beauty of a fresh start.

Co- Teaching Just Makes Sense

http://www.scoop.it/t/clil-teaching-ideas/p/2564865111/2012/09/01/tips-for-team-teaching-across-the-curriculum
http://www.scoop.it/t/clil-teaching-ideas/p/2564865111/2012/09/01/tips-for-team-teaching-across-the-curriculum

I was inspired to write this post after listening to a discussion about team teaching at our staff meeting on Monday. I had asked our RTI (Response to Intervention) teacher to talk about her experiences with co-teaching and invited a few of the classroom teachers she works with to share their thoughts as well. I was hoping they would share ideas and perhaps open up some thinking for some of the other teachers who have not tried co-teaching yet.

As I sat and listened to them, and other teachers in the room, share their experiences it seemed like a given that we should be taking advantage of team teaching opportunities. I have to admit that I was also surprised at the amount of team teaching that was going on in our school. I pride myself at being out and about in classrooms as often as possible, but apparently it isn’t often enough. It also validated for me what I already knew to be true…I don’t have to be watching for good things to happen because the staff that I work with prove that to be true every day.

Some of the co- teaching experiences they mentioned ranged from parallel teaching that involved initial planning and then working together doing guided reading groups, working together to plan and prepare lessons, taking turns teaching-one teach and one observe or cover the room, dividing the students into groups and teaching to specific ability or skill levels, having two teachers circulating while students worked in math stations and other methods as simple as having two teachers in the classroom just to have the added support for the students.

It seemed to me that things that might have initially been seem as obstacles or roadblocks to co-teaching were easily solved. They were using short periods of common prep time to accomplish planning and were enjoying many advantages for them and their students.

Advantages:

  • Extra teacher body in the room to assist students.
  • Less chance that students were being missed and were getting help before they practiced misunderstandings.
  • Having someone to share and discuss ideas.
  • Having a new or different perspective brought to curricular outcomes and planning.
  • Less experienced teachers having the benefit to learn from more experienced teacher.
  • Dividing preparation and teaching tasks to save time.
  • Allows for creative grouping, inquiry teaching and stations.
  • Flexible amount of planning time depending on level of lessons.
  • Many others were discussed that I am sure I have missed.

I am always amazed at the unexpected things I learn from the people around me.  Taking time to collaborate and improve our teaching will only benefit our students.  Again…together we are way better then we ever could be alone.

5 Things I hope Our Parents Know

http://brandonsutton.com/togetherness-and-the-japan-disaster/
http://brandonsutton.com/togetherness-and-the-japan-disaster/

One of the things that I have learned over my years as a teacher and school administrator is the importance of parents and home support in the success of children.  I spend a great deal of time thinking and reflecting on the things we do, in the hopes of improving home school communication and relationships.  These are 5 of the things I hope our parents know…

1.I hope you know we feel thankful you trust us with your children every day. I remember the feeling I had when I sent my oldest daughter to kindergarten. For the first 5 years of her life I had been able to plan for her, shelter her and let her experience things within my control. All of a sudden I was turning her over to another team of people for many hours of her day. I had feelings of apprehension and I am afraid I did not handle her transition into school as well as I might have. The transition did not seem to get much easier for me as I sent child number two or three.  Now that child number 3 is in grade 10 and I have been part of a school team for a number of years, I have realized  it takes many people to raise a child and a strong team of people is what every child needs.

2. I hope you know we want to work as a team.  We know the importance of teamwork in the success of children.  When we make phone calls or send notes home, they are not meant as criticisms, but rather part of our desire to work as a team to help your children and our students be as successful as possible not only  in their academic growth, but also their physical, emotional social and spiritual growth.  We also try to remember when you contact us about your concerns and questions that you are not trying to criticize us, but rather you are being the advocate that all children need. I hope we come across as willing to listen and address your concerns. If we do not, don’t give up, because we are human and trying to do our best.

3. I hope you realize we understand how busy you are. We understand how busy life can be-most of us are working parents too or we were certainly raised by working parents. We understand that some of the things we ask you to do for us and your children add to the business of a full day. I certainly have to admit that studying for science exams or helping with ELA homework has come at times that I have found very frustrating and have had to dig deep to find the energy needed. We understand that sometimes you will not be able to meet our expectations and that is ok, because sometimes we may not always be able to meet yours.

4. I hope you know we are trying our best. I never have to doubt the hard work I see in our school every day.   It makes me proud as a principal when I see that everyone is trying their hardest to do the best we can for children.  In know that despite our hard work, we will make mistakes sometimes and I hope that you will be patient as we try to make things right.

5. I hope you know we appreciate everything they do for us. I am amazed by the generosity and support of the parents and families in our community. We are constantly receiving donations of time, money and effort. We cannot thank you enough and some days it is what keeps us going when things get busy and frustrating like they can at times.

Together we CAN accomplish great things, so keep calling, keep writing notes, keep asking questions. You are the most important part of your child’s team.

We Need You…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7815007@N07/9484507128/

It is nice to be back to a sense of calm after what seems like two weeks of frantic meeting of deadlines and obligations.  Report card prep, reading through the reports and student led conferences are rewarding but exhausting activities.  I am forever in awe of my staff who takes it in their stride and always manages to finish the process with sharing stories of success that lie behind why we all continue to teach-student success and parent appreciation of our efforts.

I spent our two nights of conferences visiting with parents and touching base with as many middle-years parents as a could.  I do not usually meet with parents individually in my office on conference night unless the request comes from them, but this year I am wrestling with how to bring down a level of chaos and disrespect that is building in our middle years.  Earlier in the week I spent time talking with students and listening to their perspective about what was happening in our school.  I think it is important for students to know that the principal wants to listen to them and takes their input seriously.  I found out some very interesting things and was pleased at the maturity and insight of most of the students that I talked to.

I had many good visits with parents last week as I explained some of the things the students and teachers has expressed to me, as well as some of the things I have observed.  It is nice to be reassured that most of our parents were concerned and wanted to help in any way they could, just as I expected they would be.  I expressed to them that the best way they could help us was through supporting and being involved with their child.

I am a strong believer in teamwork when it comes to the growth and learning of children.  The stronger the team between school and home the better chance our students have to grow and develop into the confident, caring and informed change makers our world needs to have. Although we do not need research to tell us this, extensive research has shown the direct correlation between parent involvement and student success.

We all know we cannot change what has already happened.  It is the same as spending too much of our precious energy trying to control what we cannot control.  We need to concentrate on being present and creating change that will have a positive affect on the here and now and benefit our students going forward.

So I guess I just want our student`s parents to know how much we appreciate the effort they put in to the creation of our team.  Do not ever be afraid to question, to bring forth concerns or to offer your help and perspectives.  We need you to continue to be involved and we appreciate the things you do.