Thursday, November 25, 2010

'Tis the season to give thanks!

Guest Writing – Randy Burlingame

When Jamie first asked me to contribute to his Friday Focus, I wasn't quite sure what I could offer. But, as the Thanksgiving holiday draws near, I began to think about how it might be nice to give thanks for the many great things that make A.A.K. a special place.

I am thankful for many things here at A.A.K., and as I reflect upon my lengthy time here, I am most thankful for the people whom I often refer to as my "work family." Seriously, I spend more time with the people in this building than with my "real" family. My colleagues are more than just co-workers. They make me laugh when I need to, listen to my frustrations and complaints, give me support when I need it, and genuinely care about me and my well-being. This family isn't comprised of only Team 7; it extends throughout the building. This staff has a good time together, in and out of school. For this, I am thankful.

I am also thankful for the community spirit that permeates this building. Walk down any of A.A.K.'s hallways and it's easy to see that every adult and every student is a part of this community. Each person's role may be different, but when all of those roles are put together, the sense of community in this building is very evident and very real. Just ask a member of the Schools-to-Watch team that visited earlier this year or ask a substitute who has experience in other buildings or other districts. They recognize what many of us may take for granted. For this community spirit, I am thankful.

Despite what I may lead many of you to believe, I am also thankful for the students of A.A.K. Our students are really good kids! Compare them to students in other districts and our worst troublemaker would look angelic to teachers in other places. If you have any doubt about this, talk to a substitute who has worked at other districts (some not too far away from us). Do they frustrate us sometimes? Absolutely! But, before screaming at (fill in the blank) next time, remind yourself that you could be teaching in one of these other schools. For our generally well-behaved and respectful students, I am thankful.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, let me extend a very heartfelt thanks to all of you for helping to make our work setting a pretty great place to come to every day. Have a great break, don't eat too much, and enjoy your time with your family and friends.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Parent-Teacher Conferences

I’ll never forget those anxious, nail-biting moments when my parents—usually my mom—took off for parent-teacher conferences. I wasn’t always the most diligent of students, so I worried. Would I get in trouble for combing my hair in social studies class to impress the girls? (Yes, I actually had hair at one time.) Would I have to begin my science fair project when she got home? The due date was only a few days from now, and in my opinion I had plenty of time remaining to complete the task. Years later, I prepare for my own child’s parent-teacher conferences, and I am still nervous. What if my child isn’t doing as well as I hoped? What if they’re not socializing in class? Will the teacher think I’m a bad parent? This is what goes through the minds of parents.

Be positive with people and you’ll get positive results (Blanchard, Lacinak, Tompkins, Ballard, & Blanchard, 2002).

As a former coach, I view parent-teacher conferences like a time-out in a game. It is a brief opportunity in a contest (school year) to praise or redirect performances. Todd Whitaker (2004) is known for stating, “Raise the praise and minimize the criticize.” A conference is not the time to vividly describe and elaborate on every single minor classroom disruption.

Great teachers help create magical moments and have the ability to ignore minor errors (Whitaker, 2004).

Here are some additional tips for successful conferences that I found from the Illinois Education Association (2000). I hope you will keep these in mind as you prepare for next week’s conferences:

1. Prepare an outline. How are you going to budget your minimal time with parents?
2. Gather student samples for praising and for redirecting.
3. Anticipate possible parent concerns.
4. Greet each parent with a handshake and a friendly smile. (I always stood to greet a parent.)
5. Ask parents if they have any concerns, and reassure parents that their concerns will be addressed.
6. Before addressing any concern, describe students’ improvements or successes since Interims.
7. Collaborate when addressing any concern. There should be teacher suggestions as well as parent input. Both parties should agree to this strategy. Suggestions may include more parent involvement by having parents sign daily agendas, assignments, or tests. This may mean more teacher involvement also, such as signing agendas, checking notebooks or binders, or having a phone or email contact.
8. End on a positive note.

It is impossible to praise too much as long as it is authentic (Bissell, 1992).

Conferences have provided me with some of my most rewarding moments in teaching. Just as we appreciate praise for our efforts, parents appreciate praise for their efforts and their child’s progress. The school calendar may set aside time for parent-teacher conferences each year. However, I believe great teachers know that parent-teacher conferences are held throughout the entire school year. A great teacher keeps the student, the team, and the parents informed at all times. Enjoy meeting and getting to know the parents of your students.

Happy Weekend!