Cultivating Positive School Relationships

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I always looked forward to Tuesdays. It’s a day of the week that may seem a bit ho-hum, but it was the day that Mr. Rickeman, the English and History teacher, and I , the Math and Science teacher, found each other for a “High-Five Tuesday.” Such a simple human interaction boosted my spirit and gave me the encouragement I needed to face my 4th period class that day.

Are we as teachers competing or collaborating? Does more gossip or more encouragement come out of your mouth? An insight from one teacher compares our attitude and actions to fuel, and the type of fuel we consume will ultimately manifest in our own morale and our school culture. Some great advice comes from an article by Derrick Meador. He encourages teachers to be sensitive to others, and, at the same time, do not take things personally. Give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Be quick to give credit to others, and don’t concern yourself with getting credit yourself. Keep the students’ best interest in mind and the success of the school as a whole.

Natalie Snyders, a Speech Language Pathologist, shares some ways she has cultivated a positive school relationship at her school. Starting with the staff, she has everyone draw a name of another staff member and write them a short note of encouragement. Students also get involved and write thank you notes to their teachers, often focusing on a particular grammar lesson or skill in their own writing. Finally, Snyders recognizes the occasional need for a bathroom break and adult supervision, offering the teacher a brief relief.

Connect face-to-face with your colleagues! Start with a walk down the hall to their classroom to check on how their day was, ask for advice about a student or an upcoming lesson, or spend time outside of the school building. Adult conversation after a day of teaching can lift your spirit and set the tone for your school campus!

Are you in need of a morale boost and a High-Five Tuesday? Consider enrolling in What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Participants will discover how schools can create an environment that affects student achievement and maximizes the capacity of all learners.

What have you done to develop a positive culture on campus? Leave us a comment below!


To Assign or Not to Assign… Homework

Teaching middle school math and science in the inner city of Los Angeles, I wrestled with my previously formed opinion of assigning homework.  Was it fair to assign homework to adolescents who went home after school to take care of their younger siblings while their parents were both at work?  How many problems needed to be completed for sufficient practice?  Could the students master concepts and skills without the homework?  If I gave homework students, I wanted to give the appropriate amount and quality of homework to reap the benefits without causing stress, fatigue, boredom, or frustration.

I thought back to my days as a student, when classmates would “slack off” yet would ace the test.  They proved their learning on the summative assessments without completing the homework.  Would their grade in their class reflect their knowledge and skills or would it reflect the fact that they didn’t complete their daily assignments?  Some schools have completely abolished homework!

I considered what my personal desire was for my students when I assigned homework.  Was my motive drill and kill or did I want to deepen my students’ understanding?  Did everyone need to complete the same thing or could I give my students choice based on their learning level, interests, or learning style?  If you are looking for ways to engage your students, consider trying one of these 20 creative homework ideas.

Finally, many teachers know all to well how the piles of homework needed to be graded grow exponentially!  What type of feedback would best help the student?  Did I need to input it into the grade book or could the students be accountable in another way?  Taking all of these things into consideration, I decided to greatly reduce the amount of homework I assigned.  Homework no longer had a sufficient weight on the students’ academic grades, but was considered when assigning grades for things such as effort.  Whenever possible, I would offer student choice. 

What is your homework policy?  Has it changed over the years?  Let us know in the comment section below!

Improving Communication with Parents

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Whether your classroom overflows with a steady stream of parent volunteers or your heart breaks for students with unengaged families, parent communication can almost always be improved. Parents are often gold mines of helpful information to help motivate, teach, and connect with our students. While teachers certainly have their plates full with various responsibilities, communicating with parents is very much worth the time and effort!

You might decide to take on these ideas by yourself, enlist a few fellow colleagues, or get your entire school involved. Here are some suggestions to improve communication with parents:

Use technology

Create a class website, blog, or wiki. Include resources and news about your classroom. Technology serves as a convenient way for you to share information and for parents to have access to it.

Plan Parent Workshops

A colleague once approached me with an idea to create a fun, interactive family Saturday workshop for students and their parents. We incorporated academic games and centers that we had already introduced to the students during the school day. We divided the attendees by the number of teachers involved in the workshop. Parents rotated with their students to different classrooms and teachers, spending about 30 minutes in each rotation.   After a brief mini lesson, the students led their parents in the activity, reinforcing what they were already learning in the classroom. Everyone enjoyed the workshop. Not only did teachers and parents interact in a positive way, but the bond between the students and their parents grew stronger, as well.

Back-To-School Barbecue

Food breaks down barriers, brings people together, and encourages a relaxed atmosphere. I love this idea of teachers and administration mingling with students and parents. Imagine the conversations about student interests, family traditions, and aspirations that could take place over a feast of hamburgers and hotdogs! What a wonderful way to “enlist the parents and caregivers who sent us their most prized possessions each day—and who had loved these children long before educational institutions began applying all kinds of unflattering labels to them.”

Think Outside of the School

Hold a workshop or event at a park, community center, hotel conference room, or rental hall. Families might feel more comfortable outside of the classroom setting.   In fact, teachers and administrators might enjoy the change of scenery, too!

How have you effectively communicated with parents? Leave a comment below!