Posted in Community, Inspiration, Relationship, Teaching Strategies

5 Key Strategies for Teachers to Keep Communication and Connection with Students During Coronavirus Times

Did the world just stop….or is it going at a speed you’ve never imagined possible? As we navigate this very surreal time in our history, we are wading into situations and making decisions that have never even been thought of. We have all had the familiar ripped out from under us and we’re being asked to do something we have no idea how to do! And if that’s true for us as teachers, it’s doubly true for students and parents.

Students need an anchor during this time, and that anchor needs to be something recognizable, something they know how to do, and something that can give them a feeling of success. Its key component has got to be communication that makes both children and parents feel connected, supported, and valued.

Some teachers I’ve spoken with are feeling resentful that this has been put upon them. And if WE’RE feeling that way, just imagine the feelings of the parent who has lost both her jobs, has no income and now is being told she must be the teacher! Our most important job at this point is to be a coach, a cheerleader, a leader, and a listener.

There are 5 key strategies that will help both students and parents to feel connected during this time.

  1. Phone call to every student,which includes talking with the parent.

Students must know that you’re thinking of them and you’re concerned about their feelings during this time. If you have sent home packets of work, let them know why. This is so the students won’t fall backwards and will keep them up to where they were when they left school. If you serve upper grade students that have email, let them know ahead of time you will be calling and give them an agenda of somethings to talk about. It’s not all about “the work”, but much more importantly, processing some feelings about what’s happening, and keeping them engaged in the importance of the learning process. How can we continue to move forward? In talking with parents, hear their concerns and give them the empathy they deserve. They are feeling overwhelmed, and afraid they’re not up to the task. Assure them you are still on the job and want to help, including referring them to another county service if necessary.

2. Find a way the child can still creatively contribute to the classroom.

It’s so important that students feel that they are still a part of a caring group that is familiar to them. Set up a facebook page, and feature activities that students are doing. Examples: send a picture of a video of yourself reading a book, learning a new game with your sibling, playing outside for P.E. time, researching a new subject, making a video, telling what your special act of kindness has been that day, writing a letter to your grandma, etc.

3. Make a video of you doing a classroom activity.

For younger children, the perfect activity is storytime. Tell the children to get a blanket and curl up on the couch while you read a story to them. Read just as though you were in the classroom, making a comment here and there, asking for a prediction, and putting in the animation you always do. This is something the little ones (and parents) will treasure as it provides a sense of “familiar”. If you’ve been reading a chapter book each day in the classroom for middle elementary or junior high students, continue with that. This is a time in the day that children looked forward to and it was a time to relax and unwind a bit. Let them know we can still continue with some of the routines we know.

4. Let students and parents know the parts of the routine that don’t have to change.

Most teachers established a routine in their classroom, perhaps even displaying it on the board so students would know what time different activities would happen. Share this school schedule with parents. For example, if your students are used to writing in their journal for 15 minutes as they come into the room, that’s how they start the morning. Does the pledge of allegiance come next? Why stop? One of the hardest things for parents to contend with is “the schedule” and being consistent. Remind children of the routine at school and share it with parents. Help parents adapt it for home, but stick as closely to what students are used to as you can.

If students are used to having a “fun Friday”, that’s something they could enjoy at home as well. Allow them to choose an activity to do on their own or to choose a topic they want to know more about. Maybe that’s the time to zoom with friends and do something online together. Be creative and flexible with this.

5. Continue to be positive and focused in a forward moving direction.

As has been said so often, “We WILL get through this.” And when we have, I’m convinced we’ll be able to look back and specify all the things we learned through this challenge. Both students and parents need hope. When they lose theirs, we become the merchants of hope for them . This is our time to step into the gap and be the listener, the encourager, the leader, and the partner our students and parents need.

Posted in Inspiration, Parent Support

What Can I Do, Mom?

Yes, it’s hard! All of a sudden, you’ve become a home-school teacher in COVID times. What?! This isn’t what I signed up for.

Since I’m hearing that kids are getting bored now and it’s time to come up with new activities, I’m going to put together a quick list for you to think about – some of these will work and some of them will spark ideas of your own to fit your situation.

Daily journaling is a great way to hear your children’s thoughts as well as explore some topics that are new. Some types of journals: gratefulness, interview (children interview someone each day with specific questions), kindness (they can write about how they were kind to someone that day), cooking, new experience, etc. The journal could also be done via video.

Other activities: cooking (which includes science and math), play a game with grandparents or other relatives via zoom, gardening (plants can be started indoors), build a fort (inside or outside), collect and paint rocks to be put in a garden or used in your landscaping, create a word scramble for another member of the family to solve, learn more about how to clean various areas of the house (older students can research the best products), build something with wood, make slime, play hopscotch, create a scavenger hunt (both inside and outside), dance, collect all kinds of things to make art projects, learn to sew, play badminton, learn a new card game, etc.

Again, this is just a very quick list. I’ll be glad to give more information and help in specifics, such as the scavenger hunts, and I do plan to expand the list. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to be creative.

Posted in Community, Inspiration

I Can Play? Really??

Last night at our charter school board meeting, we honored teachers who had a hand in producing the high scores in science that our students in the upper elementary grades had received on the state test. This was especially notable, because this is a bilingual school where the teachers teach 90% of the day in Spanish. For most of these children, it was only their second year of studying in this language. On top of that, there was no science curriculum for them to follow!

“What’s the secret?” we asked one of the teachers. “How did you do it?”

“I got excited about learning. And then I played. I’m a learner too, and I learned right along with them. And the best way to do that is providing lots of hands-on learning and have fun playing as we learn.”

Wow! Could it really be that simple? Basically, the answer is yes.

In his book, “The Thread That Runs so True”, written in the 1940’s, mountain teacher Jesse Stuart had an epiphany when he saw his students learning so much through play. Play was the “thread”. He realized this was key – to make his students think they were playing while they learned the various academic subjects.

I can hear some of you saying, “That’s not life. It won’t – and can’t – all be fun. I agree. But, knowing that it’s the teacher who creates the atmosphere in a classroom, what about you? Are YOU having fun? Do you love your job? Are you finding it to be creative, challenging, stimulating, empowering, and joyful? If not, do you have the courage to ask yourself why?

There are many factors we can blame. It’s because of administration and all we have to do, common core and how many standards there are to address, scripted curriculum and how boring it is, the teacher next door who refuses to engage in team planning……and the list can go on. How can we bring….or bring back……the fun and challenge of school?

As with anything, it starts with attitude, which is something we each get to choose. “Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush – it can color any situation.” And YOU’RE the one that gets to choose the color! Exciting, no? This is such an important concept to teach. And so much of teaching is modeling. Are you getting my drift? How are we doing at modeling what we want our students to display?

I really want to be challenged and have fun at the same time in my classroom. I intentionally choose an attitude that says my classroom is a place of learning, challenge, exploration, and fun. That means it’s up to me to present the concepts in a way that students can relate to, and practice them in a manner that’s interesting and fun for students. I, personally, am up for the challenge!

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Relationship

The Significance of “Too”

One night, sitting around the table, three friends and I were talking about personality traits.  My beautiful, dramatic, bubbly friend, whom everyone loves, shared, “When I was a kid, everyone told me I was too dramatic.  For years, I tried to get rid of my too dramatic self.”

But dramatic is who she is!  Vibrant, funny, alive, the center of attention with creative talents galore….that’s her!   Wow!  What if she had continued to believe those who told her she was “too”?   What if she became less than God wanted because of that little word being used negatively?

Have I ever been guilty of stunting a child’s personality because I have told him he was  ‘too’ _________?  Too talkative – it worked for Oprah.  Too quiet, too active, too creative, too hyper.  That last one worked  for Gillian Lynne, a famous dancer, who became a choreographer known for her work in Cats and Phantom of the Opera.  She speaks of herself as being “hopeless” in school, a word she often heard.   Too… fill in the blank.

What if, instead of just seeing a particular trait as something that drives you crazy, you actually turned it around and looked at how it might be positive?  I know it can be a stretch.  I didn’t always appreciate my son’s creativity when he used it to put peanut butter on the clock hands so the teacher would think it was time for dismissal!  However, it has served him well as he has gone on to become a master craftsman who uses his creativity to design new projects.

Take another look at those children who have an idiosyncracy that might be  unacceptable in a classroom.  How could you turn it into a positive?  How could you speak to the child in a way that lets him know you appreciate him, with all his quirks?

How about sharing something from your own life – a trait that seemed negative that you’ve used for good.  Brainstorm some ideas for how to put it to good use and how it might be practiced outside of the classroom.  Think of some ways to help him manage it in the classroom.  And most of all, let him know that this trait helps to make him unique and special, keeping the door open for a positive relationship with you.

Posted in Inspiration, Relationship

Relationship Matters

Standing on the sidewalk with two little neighbors, I admired the phone one of them was proudly displaying.  “Wow, you already have a phone,” I commented.  “How old are you?”

“I’m eight,” she replied.  “Yeah, I just told my dad I wanted a phone and I got one.”

The other eight year old  looked on enviously.  “I wish I’d had a dad like that,” I remonstrated with him.  He looked at me and asked, “How old were you when you got YOUR phone?”  LOL

When I told him I’d never had one, he questioned, “Didn’t you miss it?”    I tried to explain what it was like to use a phone that you were attached to and couldn’t step more than a few feet away from.  I’m sure he didn’t get the picture.  I went on to say that we don’t miss what we don’t have when we don’t even know about it, because it hasn’t been invented!  Blank stare.

But as I thought about it, I realized this is what we’re doing in education.  We’re trying to educate for jobs that haven’t yet been thought of!  We’re preparing kids for…….what?  What can we do today that will serve them well tomorrow?

There are some elements of education that will always be relevant.  Perhaps the “look” of the classroom will change as we explore new furniture and new arrangements, incorporate more technology, and explore innovative ways to present our curriculum, but the most basic ingredient of teaching remains the same – relationship.  THIS is what kids are craving.

“Do you see me?  Do you believe I’m worth anything?  Do you believe I can make it in this world?  Help me figure out what I can contribute.  Tell me I matter.”

THIS is the gift a teacher is uniquely called to give.  I have talked to many adults who are where they are because of a teacher who asked the right question, who told them they could succeed, who saw something in them that others did not.  We don’t always know what our children’s lives are like outside the classroom.  But we can create the environment and mood inside!

What do you want people to say about your classroom when they walk away?  Last week I was in a school room for the second time.  I said to the teacher, “I love visiting here because your value for relationship shows through in everything you do.”  I could see it in the way he managed the class, in the words he used, in the way he taught, and in his expectations of the children.   This does not happen by accident.  It takes thought, reflection, trial and error, and time to establish the atmosphere you desire.  The constant in education is our students’ desire for relationship.  We are privileged, indeed.