Sunday, March 5, 2017

Family Reading - post from Mach 2016

During March, Reading Month in Michigan is celebrated! Schools all over the state, along with State Superintendent, Brian Whiston, and our very own @GPSchools will be focused on planning literacy-related activities to motivate children and sustain positive habits of lifelong reading. What can parents do to help cultivate good reading habits at home?  My suggestion would be family reading!  

Family reading is one of the most important things we can do for early learners.  Reading to your children will build listening skills. Asking questions about stories your children are reading will increase comprehension and retelling skills.  Taking turns reading aloud together; this will enhance oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, background knowledge, comprehension, story organization, problem solving, and listening comprehension…  wow!  Not only is family reading a nice way to spend time as a family, but it also helps cement great reading skills that will be used in school! 

As you know, reading is the “foundation to success” and is essential in all subjects.  Good readers activate background knowledge and are able to predict, infer, and question while reading.  Fluent readers can put themselves into the text, making self-to-text-connections.  When reading stories together, stop and ask questions, predict, put yourself into the story, and ask, "what would you do?"

Sample Questions:

· Describe the main character.  Where does the story take place?  When does it take place?
· Name the supporting characters.
· What do you think the characters are feeling?  Why do they feel that way?
·  What is the problem in the story?  How does the character deal w/problem?
· Could the character do something different to solve the problem?
· What is your favorite part of the story?  Why?
· Have you ever read a story that is similar to this story?
· Does this story remind you of anything in your life?
· If you could come up with a new title for the story then what would it be?
· How did the story end?  Would you change the ending?  Why/How?
· What is the most interesting part of the story?  Why?
· Did you learn something new?  Give three new facts?  How can you apply this lesson to your life?
· What are the main character's traits?  How is the character like you/different from you?
· What do you think will happen next?  Why do you think that?  
· Tell an opinion you have about the story.  Tell a fact from the story.

Set a purpose or objective for reading, and allow time to make connections, such as:  text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.   It is important to have conversations to enhance comprehension skills and understanding of the material being read.  Simple “making connection starters” could include:

· This story reminds me when I went swimming because…
· This story reminds me of when (character from different story/chapter/etc.) made a new friend  because…
· This story reminds me when my teacher did ______ because…
· This story reminds me of when we went on vacation because…
· This character reminds me of my neighbor because…

I am sure you can think of additional questions or connection starters.  Understand that it is not necessary to use every question or connection starter during your family reading.  Pick a couple that will enhance your reading experience.  The goal for family reading, besides great family bonding, is to support a natural transfer of skills into the child’s independent reading activities, enhancing comprehension, reading fluency and fostering a love of books. 

Enjoy reading!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year!!!  I hope everyone enjoyed a well deserved holiday break with family and friends. As educators return to school it is always good to review our intentional plans for sustaining a positive learning environment.  

“A quality teacher-student relationship means more than the combined power of all teaching and discipline techniques known to humankind.”
Love and logic Teacher-ism

I love this quote!  Establishing positive relationships with your students, while creating an atmosphere where children have positive relationships with each other, will truly benefit any classroom, family, or community.  Quality teacher-student and student-student relationships will support and increase a positive community where children want to thrive. It also makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable!  

As we start a new year it is always important to re-establish classroom expectations and learning missions that will empower students to be their best in 2017.  The best managed classrooms and learning environments do not happen by accident. Talented educators are intentional in their planning.  It starts with making connections and sustaining positive relationships.  Check out the #High5Challenge (focused on Reaching My Kids and Showing Them They Matter = PRICELESS) via @Mr_Oldfield  or Why Relationships Are the Foundation of Education via @bobby_dodd.  Both inspire and highlight the importance of keeping relationships at the forefront of everything we do as educators.

Continue to have a strategic plan focused on developing positive relationships with your students. Focus on things that are in your control: creating amazing classrooms where students are excited to learn!  Thank you for being great and enjoying the best job in the world… educating children!

Enjoy teaching and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Reflection 2017

The conclusion of another calendar year is always a great time to celebrate successes while reflecting on how to improve our craft as we make resolutions for 2017.  Educators continually reflect on the effectiveness of district and school improvement plans, culture and climate, instructional strategies, district initiatives, curriculum and assessment, etc. Our Professional Learning Committees do an amazing job of collaborating while setting and monitoring goals to support learning.  With that said, success of individuals, buildings, or districts depend greatly on self-reflection, asking questions that hit the core of our professional growth.    

Any job needs honest self-reflection.  Asking profound self-reflection questions, while understanding yourself and how stakeholders might view you, will truly improve your performance and maybe even the quality of your work experience. Examples of profound self-reflection questions:

  • Do my students like me?  Do I like my students?  Do I connect with them by creating authentic relationships?
  • Do my parents like me?  Do they know how much I care for their children and enjoy teaching? What would they say about my ability to communicate with them?
  • Do I surround myself with positive people?  Do I like my job?  Can I do better?
  • Do my colleagues like me?  Do they feel supported by me, or do I create anxiety for them?
  • Do I create a collaborative culture of safety and empowerment within the learning process, where students can be risk-takers?
  • Do I automatically go to a negative place when hearing about new initiatives or do I consider the positives aspects that might support my craft?  
  • Do I cast judgment rather than providing support and understanding?
  • Do I let disappointment in educational politics and uncertainties creep into the classroom?
  • Do I find the professional growth process (evaluation) as a nuisance or a chance to grow and develop my craft?
  • Am I defensive when receiving constructive criticism?  Do I make excuses, or use constructive criticism as a chance to grow professionally?
  • How do I respond to others that are negative?
  • Do I create my own stress?  Are my greatest strengths creating weakness?  Am I blinded by my own ambition?
  • If everyone at my place of work had my attitude, what kind of work environment would it be? 
  • Do I have a growth or fixed mindset? Do I self-create opportunities to grow professionally through attending professional development workshops, reading educational blogs and articles, collaborating through twitter chats, etc.
  • Am I the voice of “all good things” in education or the echo of what is wrong?

I feel extremely fortunate to work in a positive district, with amazing people; however, even the most positive educators should ask these questions from time to time.  These are questions that I utilize when reflecting, which sustains my focus of being the best that I can be for the district and ultimately our students.  If one truly want to sustain professional growth, then one must think deeper than traditional performance-reflection questions.  Genuine self-reflection will get to to core and drive professional growth.

As you reflect and set goals for 2017, start thinking about deeper self-reflection questions that will support your motivation and positively carry you into a new calendar year.  Pick one or two that might resonate with you and try to improve by giving the “extra degree.” Always remember the importance of being the “positive voice” in education!  Continue to grow and embrace change, creating opportunities for professional growth, while enjoying the best job in the world… teaching children!

Thanks for reading and make this holiday season a time for family, friends, and reflection.

Enjoy the conclusion to another great year!  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tips for Conferences

When I was a principal, conferences were among my favorite times of the year!  Time after time, they reaffirmed a key belief that I hold: our teachers are great!  As parents were leaving the building, many would stop by my office to give accolades about our teachers and praise the learning experiences their children were having throughout the year.  This provided terrific informal data that supported the positive relationships and learning environment we created together.  What a great feeling for our teachers and families!

Fall conferences might be the first time teachers are meeting parents, other than the friendly, "hello" during drop off/pick up, and the occasional family night.  Conferences are a time when teachers get 10-20 minutes (depending on the district) to showcase academic/social/emotional learning goals and experiences that students are setting and demonstrating throughout the school year.  Sometimes, parents don’t know what to expect … and neither do teachers!  It is extremely important that we are confident in our abilities to showcase the academic, social, and emotional progress and future goals that empower students to grow throughout the school year.  

Ten Tips for Productive Parent Conferences  is a timely read with great suggestions to organize successful parent teacher conferences. This article was adapted from Your Best Year Yet! A Guide to Purposeful Planning & Effective Classroom Organization by Shoshana Wolfe, © 2006, published by Scholastic.  There are many takeaways from the article and three resonated the most with me: relationships, concrete examples, and organizing an intentional plan of communicating progress, concerns, and future goals.  


Parents want to know that you love teaching all children and you love their child.  It is important to showcase the positive aspects of our profession, school, and district.  Parent want to know that you love your job and truly know and understand their child.  One great way to create a positive relationship with your parents is by making sure you have great knowledge of their child.  Know your kids, ask them questions, and show that you genuinely care for them.  Ask the following questions of your students:

1.       How do you learn best?
2.       What stops you from learning as well as you could?
3.       What needs to happen in our classroom to help you become a better learner?

Asking these questions of your students will create relational trust within your classroom while providing you with talking points during conferences.  It will also support your understanding of students, allowing you to articulate what their child needs to be successful.  Most importantly, it will show that you involve students in the learning/planning process, allowing your students to assume some responsibility to their own learning. Parents will fully appreciate and know that you understand and care for their child with this approach.  

Concrete examples:
Parents want to see example of their child’s ability and progress.  Have a portfolio of work samples and pre/post assessments.  This will provide concrete talking points surrounding a child’s ability and progress over time. It will also help when establishing future goals and individualized instruction.

Organizing Thoughts:

Going into a conference without a plan can be detrimental to establishing a positive relationship with parents.  To help organize thoughts you can use a Parent Conference Form (PDF).  This can include strengths, concerns, and future goals.  It will also help you stay organized when you are on your 15th conference of the day.  

In conclusion, teachers, as you enter into conferences, make a great impression! Help parents believe what we already know: your classroom and school are the best, with amazing teachers for their children!  Make sure they leave your room with no doubt in their mind.  Parents should be saying, “there is no better teacher and place to learn for my child!!!!!”

It all comes down to positive relationships with teachers, parents, and ultimately students that will enhance success during conferences and throughout the year.  Feel free to share your positive parent/teacher conference experiences and ideas in the comments.  Let’s sustain professional learning together!  

Enjoy conferences, making it a great experience for everyone!