All Aboard the Technology Train

If you are age 35 or younger, you can stop reading this post now:  This post is written for us “old fogies,” especially those of us who have come to use computers late in life.  

If you’ve been teaching for 20 years or more, you may be surprised how tech savvy your students and their parents really are.  Most parents with elementary age kids were born in the mid-80s or later, and have spent most of their lives with access to laptops, the Internet, and digital tools.  They aren’t intimidated by it, and in some cases, they expect you to use technology to reach them.

If you’ve been resistant to get on board the “technology train,” rest assured, you can learn.  I am half a century old (!) and have learned to embrace technology out of necessity, and then out of appreciation.  After I got over the initial hump, I began to learn that most technology is relatively easy to use, once you start.  Just getting going is half the battle.  Use YouTube as a resource.  There are fantastic tutorials online there (and in other places) to show you how to get up to speed quickly.  A peer or friend can show you too, but I’d recommend the “hands on” approach.  You’ll learn more quickly and completely if you’re the one making the mistakes and being forced to figure things out.  If you get stuck, simply Google your question, and an answer is probably a click or two away.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, technology is a great way to involve parents.  Using email is certainly an essential mechanism, and it has the most privacy controls, but social media has a wealth of potential too.  computee.JPG Create a class Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account (or whatever the latest social media fad is by the time you read this post.)  Students can even get involved in creating or sharing content (as long as you monitor their activity.)  If you think videos could be fun and effective, consider setting up a class YouTube or Vimeo channel.  Please note: for any social media projects or online activities, it’s important to get parents to grant permission or sign a general release.

These ideas also create a unique opportunity for parental involvement and volunteering.  A busy professional may not have time to volunteer in the classroom during the day, but putting in a few hours during their off time to update your Facebook page or add pictures to your class blog is a wonderful way to get them to participate.

Once you’ve established your communication outlet(s), you can use them for these and other ideas:

  • Send updates to parents about class activities, special announcements and upcoming lessons.
  • Research and suggest apps for parents to download for students to use.
  • Send an article or link to parenting tips on blogs and online publications.
  • Record lessons or special activities and upload to your video channel; send links out for parents who aren’t able to attend.
  • Set up a Shutterfly, Flickr, Google Drive or Instagram account share pictures.
  • Learn to create QR Codes to make it easy to share links and connections.

To make it easy on less-savvy parents, you can always print out copies of the information and send it home with the kids or through traditional means.  


Creating Leaders

I believe a teacher has a responsibility to do more than just impart subject matter. He or she must also challenge students to develop other aspects of their potential, including their leadership capacity.  Even the youngest of students has a leader living within, and you should strive to help that leader emerge.

Challenging students to lead in various ways can benefit not only them, but the entire class.  As each child begins to step up and be responsible for “lighting the way,” the class learns about being good followers, working cooperatively, and assuming responsibility for their actions.  If the teacher is the only leader in the classroom, students are only able to flourish when you are around.

At the beginning of a new school year, you should sit down with your students and outline all of the potential leadership positions in the class.  You will probably need to assign positions in an equitable fashion at first, but as the year goes on, you can reassign positions based on strengths, skills, tendencies, and personality. You might even encourage students to fill out an ‘application’ for a job they want, listing their qualifications.  (Showing students how to create a resume or “run a campaign” could be creative ways to teach job skills or a government lesson.)  

Many classes have weekly leadership roles, such as line leader, calendar leader, errand leader and so forth. By having students apply and obtain positions you can have them do the job for a longer period of time. Have job reviews for the person doing the job, let their classmates review them anonymously. Give them an opportunity to discuss their jobs with classmates and possibly try out other positions as the mature through the year.


The Best Time to Think About Back to School?

It’s May and the school year is beginning to wind down. Now is the time to think about gearing up for ‘Back to School.’ In the last week or two of school, use group time with your students to reflect on the year. backPerhaps you’ve kept periodic work or projects for the year;  pull them out and discuss what learning took place during that unit. Ask students to share their opinions about the lessons and what could be changed. Take notes on what the kids say, what they enjoyed, what they remembered and what was meaningful or memorable. Ask if they have suggestions on how to tweak things to invite more group collaboration or utilize technology or resources in better ways.

Ask their opinion of how you managed the class including the efficiency of simple, everyday tasks like passing out papers, turning in work, checking homework, storing materials, etc.  The students will likely have an idea to make it easier.  Find out how the classroom jobs went:  should there be more jobs, should they be combined, what should be included on the ‘job’ application?

The group that is leaving you is more mature that the one you will be getting in the fall.  They have ‘lived’ in the classroom, and will likely have a great perspective to benefit next year’s group.

To help pass along this wisdom, you might consider a last week writing assignment: have them write a letter with advice for a great school year to the student who will be in your class next year.

My Trusty Clipboard

My trusty clipboard is a key tool in my teacher’s toolbox.  It may be a bit “old school,” but in years of using it, I’ve yet to find a better documentation method. Here’s how I use it:

Start with a standard clipboard (depending on how many students you have in the class it might take the legal size.)  Next, create a ruled index card for each student in your class. Turn the card upside down so the red line and heading is at the bottom. In that space, write the student’s initials, student number, parent name and phone number.

Next, tape cards, one at a time, starting numerically with the last student in the class at the bottom of the clipboard and then layer the cards so that only the student information shows.  It will look kind of like a flip book. (See image below.)  

Use a string or yarn to attach a pen/pencil to the top of the board. I take mine with me everywhere I go and use it in the class during work time. On the lines of the card  I include notes about how students are working or if I notice they need help with something. While we are in the hall, I add notes to the clipboard if someone is not following procedures or, better yet, if a student is trying to do the right thing or improve.

If my students get compliments from other teachers or the Administration, I can document these remarks and reference them later, e.g. when I’m giving out rewards, creating a newsletter, or sending home notes or making calls to parents.   Students get used to seeing your clipboard and know that you are documenting. I’ve even held student conferences where we look at their card and discuss areas of improvement.



Keep Parents in the Loop

In the relentless busy-ness of a teacher’s schedule, it can be tempting to keep your head down and eyes focused on the kids and their activities.  Remaining focused is important, but to be a truly effective teacher you have to look outward, orange bullhornand engage parents in the flow of learning.  Without a communication loop from teacher to parent (and back), student progress can be hampered: assignments are missed or performed poorly; student behavior problems become exaggerated or unaddressed; parents make assumptions about your intent or their child’s progress (or lack thereof.)

Because it is such a vital component of your success as a teacher, I recommend prioritizing parent communication.  One effective mechanism is to have a class newsletter that goes out on a regimented schedule, to keep parents in the loop about different aspects of the class. Here are some elements that have appeared in my past class newsletters:

  • Highlight different areas of the curriculum and put in tips on quick easy ways for parents to help at home.
  • Spotlight upcoming lessons and activities, so parents can keep up with what is being taught.
  • Include discussion starters on skills currently being taught or future lessons in which parents might be able to ask questions, start conversations, or supply background knowledge.
  • A calendar of school or classroom events.
  • Invite parents to special activities in the classroom.
  • Fun facts, trivia, game ideas or activities for parent/student
  • Reminders or permission slips for field trips or other activities

Building Communities

A school can be a facility where individual teachers instruct their group of pupils independently.  Everyone keeps to themselves and stays out of each others’ business.  Sure, at times, that can be functional, maybe even effective.  And for short term gains it might have some objective benefit.  But in my opinion, schools that create long-term impact are schools that function as a community.  If you agree with my belief and are looking for ways to build more community in your school, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Reach out to a teacher in another building to start a pen pal or social media relationship.
  2. Ask a teacher of another grade level in your building to partner with your class for reading buddies; they can meet twice a month or so and share stories or do an activity.
  3. Invite buddies to your class to see a play or to share stories students have written.
  4. Talk to your principal about reaching out to a local business or healthcare facility to supply kids artwork and cards of appreciation.
  5. Send thank you notes to the fire station and police station to show gratitude toward your community helpers.
  6. Write notes to the school postman or delivery man.
  7. Have students create cards or notes of encouragement to school helpers or support staff: nurse, cafeteria workers, secretary, custodian, etc.

Happy Day To All Teachers!

teacher appreciation day