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 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 Community, Inspiration, Relationship

Letting Go

“Come to my yard sale,” she called merrily as I rode by on my bicycle.  I took it in at a glance.  It looked pathetic.  Nevertheless, with mixed feelings of compassion for her and pity because she needed customers, I stopped and pretended interest as I looked at the various offerings.

“How much is the little dog”? I ventured, only able to see his head as he was hiding behind other boxes.

Thus it was, I found myself riding through the streets of town with a dirty, cobwebby, black ceramic dog named “Dark Star”, full of holes, who had taken up residence in my bike basket.   She had insisted I take him and thrust him into the basket against my protests.  I was laughing at myself, as I pictured drivers going by, pointing to this woman who had “lost it”, thinking she was taking her dog for a ride!

But as I thought about me laying him in his final resting place rather than her, it occurred to me that I also have things I’m hanging on to in my teacher basket that maybe I don’t need.  Is it time to lay to rest that favorite activity that’s fun, but doesn’t really have a purpose?  Is it time to put aside previous prejudice, open my mind, and just TRY that technology the principal is urging me to use?  Is it time to admit I need some fresh activities and ask a mentor for new ideas in the area of classroom management or ideas for teaching a particular concept?

I have a saying in my classes — “All of teaching is a grand experiment.”

No matter how long we’ve taught or how much experience we have, our job is new every morning.  That’s the fun of it…….and the challenge.  Every year is different, every class is different, and every child is different.  What do I need to do to embrace the new…….and let go of the old?

Posted in Community, Inspiration, Trauma

Teachers: Non-Stop Responders

In Redding, CA, we have lived, breathed, and strategized the devastating Carr fire for the past two weeks.  Approximately 1100 homes are gone and eight people lost their lives.  Now it’s time to start the long clean-up process.

My friend and I were having breakfast yesterday when a group of firefighters came into the restaurant  At the register, we decided to pay their bill as a thank you for all their efforts in saving so many lives and properties.  Someone else had already beaten us to it!

That’s how it is around here, and I love how the community has come together through this crisis.  Soooo many signs of gratitude everywhere – people just can’t show their appreciation enough for the firefighters and other first responders.

I am so thankful for the thousands of emergency personnel who have come from far and wide to help us through this disaster.  But now the clean-up really begins.

As I think about all the “after effects” this fire has caused and will continue to cause, there are two types of clean-up: physical and emotional.  This effort will come from heroes who are largely unsung and unrecognizable.  They wear no uniforms and drive no sirened vehicles.

I call these people Non-Stop Responders.  Included among them are teachers.

Our kids are going to need extra help as they head back to school.  Some will need to replace all their possessions and find a safe place to live.  Others will need school supplies or clean clothes.  That’s the physical side.  But on the emotional side – all our kids will need time to process the loss and devastation we’ve experienced as a community.

A teacher’s job was already difficult before the fire.  Now we’ve added children who have no home who might be living with another family.  We’ve added children who were displaced for days and when they got back to their homes, they found loss in the form of ruined food, stinky rooms, and toys that needed to be thrown away.

Even for those who weren’t affected this time, insecurity swirls in young minds as they wonder if and when such a thing might happen again.  And then there’s the smoke that hangs heavy over the area, changing routines (think inside recess) and causing more worry for parents.

How can we help?  There are many practical ways we can be part of the movement to celebrate our non-stop responders.

  • The first and most important is recognition. The expectations are high for our teachers.  They are expected to care for our children physically, emotionally, and mentally, spend their own money to buy needed supplies for the classroom, arrive early and stay late, handle ever-increasing class sizes, attend countless professional development meetings to learn the latest ideas, work to obtain deep knowledge of the curriculum, teach values and manners, communicate with parents who are not always gracious, answer emails promptly, try to do what’s best for each child……you could probably add to the list.

Teaching is a stressful career.  Yes, teachers choose it willingly, but let’s acknowledge the difficulty of the job they do.   Let them know with a thank you and a smile.  More ideas:

  • Volunteer to help, which doesn’t always mean in the classroom. It could be preparing class materials at home, baking, doing a school project on the weekend, such as painting or weeding, or helping with a special event, such as a carnival.
  • Wouldn’t it be amazing to gift teachers with a special pin they could wear so we, the public, could thank them for their service? They are serving their county and community and certainly deserve our thanks.
  • How about donating needed supplies for the classroom?
  • A gift card for a dinner out that they can give to a family in need, or a small gift certificate, lunch coupons, etc. are always appreciated.
  • Find a plant to brighten the classroom.

(If you’re unsure if something is appropriate, check with the principal first.)

I hope you’ll join me in this campaign to honor our non-stop responders, who just happen to have one of the most important jobs in the world – giving their best for OUR children.