The Definition Of Bullying

The Definition Of Bullying: A Timeless Behavior With New Tools & Technology

by Terry Heick

Preventing bullying is just as likely as preventing poverty, racism, or violence.

If we can start from this kind of humility, we may be able to improve our efficiency in dealing with and responding to it as a problem.

Of course, there is no ‘it.’ Bullying is an output and a symptom—the result of a variety of factors that manifest themselves well beyond the school. Celebration of aggressiveness and violence, pack mentalities, depression, peer pressure, lack of empathy, violence at home, insecurity, social media, a lack of role models, and more all combine with scores of other factors to produce the ugliness that is bullying.

Technology has a way of amplifying our best and worst characteristics as people, and that is true with bullying—or cyberbullying—as well. Cyberbullying is just a digital layer added to what’s gone on for years in schools, on playgrounds, in workplaces, and even with professional athletes. In fact, there is now impressive nuance available when bullying through technology.

For one, there is the visibility and scale of it all. Make one comment on an Instagram thread, and every single person afterwards sees that comment, as well as any reply. Same with facebook, tumblr, and twitter if you dig a little. The snide comment in the hallway that was only heard by four of five people has been replaced by the snarky subtweet that has everybody taking screenshots.

Which brings us to the relative permanence of digital fare. Once it’s emailed, posted, liked, tagged, texted, or otherwise flung out into the digital ether, it’s “loose.” Gone. No longer under the sender’s control. Social media is designed to make people seen and heard, which means it captures—and amplifies–everything. In fact, certain apps, like Snapchat, are built around this very idea of permanence vs impermanence as some kind of escape of accountability.

The Definition Of Bullying

And then there’s the nuance I mentioned, starting with passive-aggressive behavior that so many social media platforms seem designed for. The aforementioned subtweets, ‘sliding in and out of people’s ‘mentions’ on twitter, tagging—and more acutely, failing to tag people that very well ‘should’ve’ been tagged, failing to respond to tags in a timely fashion, following and unfollowing, friending and defriending, and more all create an ecology that breeds bullying.

Which brings up an interesting point: What does it mean to bully? And more broadly, what kind of response makes sense to get closer to the roots of the problem?

Bully education should probably be a big part of it, in large part built around a clear, modern definition for bullying and all of its degrees. defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” That’s not a very kid-friendly definition, so that’d be a good start—a definition for bullying that the people who have trouble understanding it can use. “Being mean to people that can’t or won’t defend themselves” may be too flimsy-sounding, but it’s clear.

Maybe some compelling and authentic examples, include passive-aggressive bullying? The iconic bully takes lunch money, grabbing pint-sized kids by their ankles, turning them upside down, and shaking out their change. Certainly this still happens, and it’d be a stretch to say ’21st-century bullying’ is always digital. But updating how we define bullying, what it looks like, where it happens, and some basic strategies for response may be a good first step.

If nothing else, we might work to remove the stigma from being bullied. Everyone, at some point, has been bullied. There is no reason for shame. Which brings us to a key takeaway here—transparency. We can’t prevent bullying, but we can make it crystal clear that it:

  1. Happens
  2. Has varying degrees, behaviors, and contexts
  3. Isn’t always obvious
  4. Is not okay
  5. Is correctable
  6. Takes a village to correct

Highlighting the causes and behaviors instead of demonizing the bullies themselves could be one strategy. (The same approach, incidentally, may benefit how we treat felons.)

While there is some kind of justice in calling out and ridiculing bullies, that’s a lot like screaming at children for screaming at other children. Your reaction to any of this is a matter of personal philosophy and politics, but the big idea is to address the ecology that produces the problem, rather than playing whack-a-mole every time it surfaces. It’s not easy, but neither is spending two hours every morning responding to the previous evening’s middle school facebook blow-up.

The tone and terms of our social interactions are new, and require newly simplified thinking to understand.


Educators have taken many approaches to solving the problem of bullying, from making it ‘uncool’ to bully, to scary punishments, to teaching tolerance. Tolerance is part of the issue, but even that starts with highlighting differences between people, and suggests that one ‘tolerate’ the other.

‘Stopping bullying’–and racism and sexism and dozens of other examples of how humans can be cruel to one another consistently enough to require a word for it–is impossible. It’s ambitious to try, but ambition is one of education’s biggest sins. As the frequency and anonymity of our interactions increase through digital tools, so does our capacity to bully in more subtle, passive-aggressive ways than ever before. This is not limited to children, either–you’ve probably felt it yourself on twitter or facebook or instagram or the comment’s section of a blog.

Digital citizenship first depends on a more fundamental sense of citizenship–being a human being, then carrying that to digital spaces. We could do worse than helping students to reflect on these interactions (which would have the side-effect of slowing them down). Before each interaction, thinking about a few simple questions would change everything.

Who is this person?

What is their history?

How do we connect–how do our similarities and differences affect our feelings towards one another? How do our differences potentially strengthen our interaction?

How can I help them grow?

What do they need from me, and I from them?

This is digital citizenship in question form. As long as this kind of thinking is absurd, our capacity to hurt one another will be as well. The new thinking here, then, isn’t new at all, but rather reflects a need to return to that which is simple in the face of circumstances which seem more complex than they actually are.

So what’s a simple definition for bullying? Intentionally causing suffering for someone else–often someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves. The same as it’s ever been. Today, there are just more tools to make it happen, and new opportunities for more subtle and nuanced bullying. But the behavior itself hasn’t changed.

It’s what happens when one person fails to care for another.

A version of this post was written by Terry Heick for Edutopia; The Definition Of Bullying; How Bullying Is Changing


8 Useful School Home Visit Resources For Teachers

8 Useful Home Visit Resources For Teachers

by Terry Heick

School home visits are continuing to see traction in many public school districts as a way to not simply ‘improve relationships with students’ but rather begin the school year ‘on even ground’ with families and communities.

While truly meaningful interactions between schools and communities ideally occurs through curriculum, student projects, and even place-based education, school home visits performed by teachers with open minds and hearts–and a little bit of preparation–can pay huge dividends for the entire school year.

The first time I was asked to perform a home visit, my first response–if I’m being honest–was how much it encroached on my already too-brief summer ‘vacation.’ We had training through mid to late June and were already scheduled for home visits by late July, which left me–according to my calculations–less than four weeks of actual ‘vacation.’

Adding in required PD hours and PGP work–not to mention refinement of my own ELA units and collaboration with other teachers for horizontal and vertical alignment and–well, I’m sure you get it. I was interested in the concept but was concerned about the lack of planning and execution. In short, we were given a long list of names and addresses and wished the best of luck.

Years later, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my teaching career. I’ll talk more about that in another post. Today, I wanted to share a few resources for school home visits for teachers who may preparing for such an experience. If you’ve done them before, little of what I collected will likely help you. But if you’re new to the idea, below is a decent overview of school home visit resources for teachers.

8 Useful Home Visit Resources For Teachers

1. Home Visit Preparation from Teaching Tolerance

How are you equipping teachers to build relationships with families through visits? Learn the benefits of home visits and best practices for how to prepare for and conduct them.

2. An organization called ‘Parent Teacher Home Visits’ on the importance of mindset shifts for home visits

The enclosed report shows how the PTHV model and process of relational home visits builds understanding and trust, reduces anxiety and stress, and fosters positive cross-group interactions between educators and families. Moreover, these relational capacities are critical for identifying and reducing educators’ and families’ implicit biases that too often lead to disconnects, missed opportunities, and discriminatory behaviors in and beyond the classroom. The findings are consistent with what PTHV’s founders intuited at the beginning: when educators and families build mutually respectful and trusting relationships they become more aware of stereotypes and biases and work toward leaving them behind. As a result, they are both better equipped to support the students’ education. With the help of relational home visits, their common interest—the child’s success—wins out over unconscious assumptions.

3. A guide to home visits from the Michigan State Board of Education and San Francisco Unified School District

(During home visits) avoid:

  • Imposing values
  • Socializing excessively at the beginning of the visit
  • Excluding other members of the family from the visit
  • Talking about families in public
  • Being the center of attention

4. Project Appleseed: The National Campaign For School Improvement

Project Appleseed is actually an entire model (with paid training but also free tips and resources) for school home visits. There is a lot of useful information here, including tips for a successful school open house after the school home visit.

5. A 32-page (pdf) John Hopkins University study and research summary on school home visits

“Students whose families received home visits were more likely to attend school and to achieve or exceed grade-level reading comprehension than students whose families did not receive a home visit, even after controlling for prior differences in attendance and reading comprehension.”

6. A story on The Power of Home Visits from NPR

Phillips runs a landscaping business and says long days have kept him from being as involved with his daughter’s education as he’d like to be. Seeing this interaction has him a little choked up. “It’s just good to see her grow up and have people around her who care,” he says. “Sometimes parents aren’t there, man. Sometimes we gotta work. Sometimes we’re gone a lot of the time. It’s good to see [teachers] come out to the neighborhood like that. I know she’s in good hands.”

7. A general home visit primer from NEA Today

“Before, teachers would call home to say, ‘Your grandson is acting up’ or ‘He’s been suspended.’ This was the first time teachers had come and believed in her grandson. We said, ‘We’re here to help you graduate!’

8. A broad overview of existing research on school home visits

Although educational researches and practitioners have consistently suggested that greater levels of parental involvement play an important role in promoting academic success of their children, they have been less clear about specific processes and factors that facilitate parents’ involvement in rural settings (Moreno, 2000). Some researchers like William (1996) have argued that rural communities, because of their size and networks have fewer barriers and provide a more conducive environment for parents to participate in their children’s education.


Should Teachers Give Their Phone Number To Parents?

Should Teachers Give Their Phone Number To Parents?

by Terry Heick

Should teachers give their phone number to parents?

I’m not sure there’s a universal answer here but may be worth teachers sharing their experience. I came across the conversation after seeing the following conversation reddit.

Google Voice from Teachers

You can read more about Google Voice here. I don’t have anything to add here other than social media making this a far less urgent and timely discussion. With twitter, blogs, and other methods of communication available, ‘phone calls’ aren’t even the primary method of conversation for many these days, much less the only way to reach others or be reached.

That said, it’s not that simple. Social media is banned in many districts and private messaging is full of its own pitfalls, not the least of which is a lack of voice tone and the miscommunications that can ensue. So, here we are.

What should teachers do?

If the embed doesn’t work, I’ve copied the text and pasted below. Do you give your number to parents? Let us know in the comments if you have any experience here.

This came up in another post. So I started another post.

Don’t go giving parents your personal phone number. Bad idea. Very bad idea.

Sign up for Google Voice. You can choose a number in your area code. It’s yours. It’s free. It’s your new work number.

You can text parents. You can even send out bulk text messages.

It’s an automatic call log because you use it just for work and all those text messages are saved in one place. I had one parent who was getting abusive so I switched the conversation to text messaging (for their “convenience”) to keep records. I just sent out a note at the beginning of the year with my number and telling my parents I preferred to text because it is easier on them sometimes and it can provide a reminder for them of the conversation and to let me know if they preferred not to. I had parents who never returned phone calls but would return a text in 30 minutes. Go figure.

I kept the app icon next to my phone icon for handy access. The great thing is if a parent calls you they have to say their name and Google announces it. So you know who you are talking to or who you wish to ignore at that point in time.

The best feature is the do not disturb feature. You can turn it on at any time.

Set up a Google Voice number if you don’t have one. They are handy. We shouldn’t be giving parents our phone numbers when this is available. You just need a Gmail account and then ask the Google how to set up a Google Voice account.


7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom


7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 

by TeachThought Staff

If it’s not obvious enough by watching and seeing and experiencing in your own classroom, there are studies describing the importance and significance of getting parents on board in a child’s learning (here’s one).

Besides which, it’s just plain and simple common sense that tells us the same. But despite these strong assertions, as a busy teacher, it’s easy to let these relationships slide and forget how important communication with parents can be. When such moments happen, its necessary to take a step back and refocus on how much there is to be gained by them.

Above is a reasonably crude summation of parent-teacher interactions, and the consequences therein. In each of the scenarios, the further from the center they find themselves, the more pronounced the students feel the effect. Let’s assume that Lonely Linda is a very isolated and rare case (you wouldn’t be reading this if that was your teaching style), and many teachers could relate to the Resilient Ryan scenario, having tried in vain to contact and get a parent’s support regarding a student, and then desisting in further attempts.

We can all also relate to Hopeful Harry’s plight, with mainly time constraints preventing many teachers from engaging in more consistent communication with the receptive home. But we obviously all aspire to create a similar context to that enjoyed by Successful Sarah.

So how can we move it all into Sarah’s quadrant, considering the teacher’s greatest enemy–time? Try these ideas to make Sarah’s situation the norm. 

7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 

To increase communication and gain from the relationship we can…

1. Understand what communication involves

Parent involvement doesn’t mean constant talking to parents on the phone or via email. It also doesn’t mean only speaking when things go wrong. It means letting parents in on what is happening in the classroom with much greater frequency. This can happen in numerous ways, which may and will include emails and occasional phone calls, but may take the form of having a really good homework app, or apps that communicate day to day behavior or assessment for learning results. Exporting a student’s contribution to questions contributed to GoFormative for example, and emailing to individual parents opens a conversation at home, a conversation that reinforces what you’ve done in class. 

2. Beg for more time

For any school and teacher, time is the number one enemy. There simply isn’t enough in the day to achieve all that is necessary, especially if teachers are expected to simply ‘bolt on’ parent communication to their existing workload. But if a better relationship with a parent will ultimately benefit your teaching and your students’ results, beg for the time to be able to make it happen. Speak firmly and with confidence at faculty and staff meetings, asking for at least an extra hour a week to participate in parent communication. It may not happen in this year, now that timetables are secured, but things must begin somewhere, and next year will be here before we know it.

3. Run a trial

Unfortunately, schools are at the mercy of miserly funding, and are squeezed and continually wrung out to get every drop from the time they have. In such a context, it is indeed unlikely that a school will decide to give every teacher less chalk face time. But if you ask to set up a trial of such a strategy, with all your positive and instructive findings being documented and presented after a set time, including enormously persuasive parent testimonials, the school will be more likely to reconsider their existing policy. The school may then need to creatively manipulate their current system to accommodate change, but schools are creative places, and will rise to the challenge, especially when increased student performance is the reward.

4. Communicate well

Many schools and parents assume that being able to successfully interact with parents is a given. However, there are a multitude of factors that can affect the ability to communicate with parents, and many of them can seemingly render communication impossible. But for every scenario you may have encountered with an unresponsive parent, someone out there would have found a way passed it. Lucky for us, teachers like to share, so just ask, or do some research in your network.

5. Invest in professional development

Always with the understanding in the back of your mind of how useful it can be to have parents supporting your classroom, organize some professional development on the topic. Your school will be happy for you to go to a conference on this subject, assuming you will return and promote your knowledge to others. If this isn’t possible, then suggest to your line manager or principal a session based on it in your next professional development day; and even better, present the session yourself – that way you’ll learn a lot more about it, and become much better at it.

6. Design work that connects classrooms to communities

If you design learning experiences that naturally connects the classroom to the communities students live in, the relationship between schools and parents will be more authentic, rather than a one way transaction based entirely on notions of academic success.

7. Keep it positive! 

Don’t let bad experiences destroy the potential of more frequent communicating.  We have all come across overly active parents who seem to over step the boundaries of our personal time. This is why it is very important to learn how to set clear boundaries with parents. Establishing time limits before a meeting begins, and providing generic information about a class via a blog or class webpage can decrease parents’ expectations of your time.

Everyone agrees that getting parents more involved in student learning is important, and in fact a key factor in their success. Making it actually happen however is a different story, and most teachers feel frustrated that a lack of time prevents them from engaging in the practice more, especially in the promotion of positive student efforts. The key to achieving it more consistently however is not such an impossible dream, and may in fact only require just a slight change of focus and direction for it to become reality.

7 Ways To Improve Parental Involvement In The Classroom 


Why Parents Don’t Understand How To Help


Why Parents Don’t Understand How To Help

by Terry Heick

Jargon is a necessary evil. Simply put, jargon helps us be more specific.

Pilots in planes don’t ‘go up,’ they ‘gain altitude.’

Forwards in basketball don’t simply “score,” but rather face up the defender to jab step, finishing with an up-and-under move for an ‘and-one.’ They don’t ‘turn towards the basket, they ‘drop step.’

Teachers don’t ‘give tests,’ they ‘assess.’

They don’t ‘go over it again,’ they ‘review,’ then ‘remediate.’

A challenge, though, comes after generations of this kind of jargon casually but persistently accruing in and around classrooms and schools. Teachers end up (ideally) designing diverse assessment forms in pursuit of personalized learning by using adaptive learning technology—just as they are asked to do by peers and edu-media everywhere. Which of course makes no sense to anyone but other teachers.

And as education continues to change, this is a chasm that’s only going to deepen.

Criticism of jargon abounds, usually beneath the implication that someone is overstating something or sounding haughty, calling a classroom a ‘learning environment,’ or content-to-be-learned a ‘learning target.’ But there’s a difference between a classroom and a learning environment, and a different in content-to-be-learned and a learning target, and using less specific language doesn’t seem like the best we can do.

But what we can do is know our audience.

This doesn’t mean ‘dumb down’ what we’re saying. In fact, that’s been part of the problem, resulting in lost capacity to understanding teaching and learning. Families and, in net, communities only recognize the bits and pieces of education they’ve seen before–letter grades, essays, book reports, and report cards.

What would happen if, when speaking to a parent, we slowed down and clarified not just “when the next test is,” but what they’re being tested on and why, and what kind of ‘assessment’ you’re asking students to use and why? And more critically, do the same with students.  The long-term result here should be, if nothing else, a generation of students and parents that have heard all the buzzwords not from the news or second-hand, but from the teachers themselves.

You can also say what you mean and mean what you say. If you mean ‘personalized learning,’ you shouldn’t say “differentiate.” If you mean ‘re-assess,’ don’t say ‘review the material.’

Then, offer examples and definitions of all of the above through teacher blogs, open and closed social media pages, newsletters, and other methods of communication with parents. When your colleagues look at you funny when you talk about ‘fluency’ and ‘digital literacy,’ provided you’re saying what you mean and meaning what you say and know what you’re talking about, well, just keep talking. They’ll either figure it out or they won’t. You can’t modify your thinking to accommodate people unwilling to think themselves.

One problem of a very deep but narrow field of knowledge is the relative inability of that expert to communicate with other fields: the scientist with the naturalist, or the IT department with the humanities folks. This is often referred to as the ‘silo effect.’ This is a challenge not new to education, but because of the unique position of educators as both experts and conduits between formal education and local communities, the burden falls to teachers to not simply paraphrase and translate, but build and transfer capacity from the inside-out.

You can’t be a ‘good teacher’ if the people that depend on you and your skill don’t understand or trust you. Think for a moment of how you feel taking your car to an automotive mechanic, or speaking to a personal trainer or nutritionist. You get a strong sense that they understand things way, way better than you do, and you’re completely at their mercy.

More than anything you feel vulnerable, and it takes a strong personality to force them to communicate to you on more equal ground, with phrasing and metaphors and analogies and depth of thinking that makes sense to you. Most people don’t want to feel stupid, so they don’t.

Think of it as a doctor’s ‘bedside manner,’ but for teachers, and you’re getting close. Here are three questions to begin this kind of thinking:

1. What kind of language, tone, and communication patterns serve the people that are listening, rather than my own professional interests or sense of ‘teacher identity’?

2. Now, let’s have a look at how we run our classrooms and design learning experiences. How can we do so in a way that promotes community understanding, interest, and organic involvement?

3. Now, the school and district. How can we move beyond ‘free chili night’ and design an institution that is centered on people and families? What do we stand to lose by doing so, and what might gain?

image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation


12 Apps For Smarter Teacher-Parent Communication

schoolcircle-parent-teacher-communication-app12 Apps For Smarter Teacher-Parent Communication

by TeachThought Staff

Teacher-parent communication is, ideally, a two-way street.

It is best thought of in terms of purpose:

Why do teachers and parents need to talk?

How can learning experiences be designed that require that interaction?

What systems can be put in place to respond when the communication–for whatever reason–doesn’t happen?

Apps and technology are secondary in terms of design, but once that curriculum–and those learning models–are in place to really benefit from close parent-teacher communication, then apps like the following can come in handy.

5 Adjustments To Make When Communicating With Parents Online

Communicating with parents online–through apps, social media, text, etc.–requires a few adjustments on your part, including:

1. Be careful use of tone–nothing that can be misinterpreted, especially snark and sarcasm.

2. Use clear and concise language.

3. Positive communication should be more frequent than other.

4. Consider more diverse function– a celebration of learning, communication of needs, and so on.

5. Know your audience. Watch what is shared when, and with whom. This is probably obvious enough, but don’t share student info X with parent Y.

See Ten Tips To Connect With Parents Via Social Media for further reading.

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12 Apps For Smarter Teacher-Parent Communication


How To Deal With A Difficult Parent

 How To Deal With A Difficult Parent

by Terry Heick

You’d heard about this parent from other teachers.

That this parent was a handful. Rude. Combative. Aggressive. Even litigious. In response, you worry, if just a little. You have enough to deal with, and butting heads with an angry parent–especially one angry just because–doesn’t sound like fun. You don’t get paid enough for that hot mess.

So you keep calm and hope to ride the year out. Maybe they won’t call. Maybe they’ll skip parent-teacher conferences. You’ve even considered grading their child a little easier just to avoid the hassle of it all.

We’ve all been there. Nothing can solve this problem, but there are ways to take the edge off so that you can open up the lines of communication and deal with the parent on equal terms so that they’re child has the best chance for success.

12 Ways To Deal With A Difficult Parents

1. Reach out first

Be pre-emptive. Reach out with a positive message to start off on the right foot.

2. Don’t patronize

And when you reach out, be authentic. Don’t pretend to be their best friend, nor should have that “nipping problems in the bud” tone. Don’t worry about “holding your ground” either. Just reach out as an educator to a member of your own community. You’re not selling them anything, and they’re not selling you anything. You’re both dutifully and beautifully involved on either side of a child.

3. See yourself

No matter how important the education of a child is, realize you’re simply a single cog in the life of that family, no more or less important than keeping the lights on, their job security, food and shelter, or any other reality of daily life.

4. Give them something

Not an object–a “handle” of some kind to make sense of the learning process. Something they can make sense of and understand and use when they speak to their child about education. Something less about the game of school and more about learning, curiosity, and personalization. (See here, for example–alternatives to “What’d you learn in school today?“)

5. Involve them

Keep your friends close and your…difficult parents…closer. Ask them to take on an authentic role in the classroom. Ask their opinion. Allow them to have a voice or show leadership. Give them a role in what their child learns. The fact that a parent has approaching zero authentic role in the learning process of their children is part of our challenge as educators. Help them find one.

6. Put them in a position to succeed

Just like a student, put the parent in a position to succeed. They may not have had a good experience in school, either as students, with siblings of your student, etc. Give them a reason to believe that you have the best interest of the family at heart–and that includes them.

7. Don’t judge them, or “handle them.”

Meet them on equal terms. For all of our overly-glorified differences, most people are fundamentally the same. We respond to pain and threats differently, and have unique ethical systems, but it’s easy to place yourself above someone even if you think you’re not doing exactly that.

8 Establish a common ground

An old sales technique. A favorite athletic team–or dislike for a rival team. A personal philosophy. Your own struggle as a person. Something to humanize yourself, and establish the overlap between yourself and the parent.

9. Focus on the work

This is the opposite of teaching and learning, where you focus on the human being (the student). In conferences and communication with parents, you can both see the child and what’s “best for them” very differently, but academic work has a chance to be more objective. Focus on the work and academic performance, and what you and the parent and siblings and other teachers, etc., can do to support the student in their growth.

Even in the midst of difficult conversations, always do your best to steer the focus back on the work, and the child themselves. The former is data/evidence, the latter the reason for the data/evidence.

10. Give them reason to see beyond the grade book

This is partly the problem with letter grades. So reductionist.

It’s easy to look at a grade book and both start and finish the conversation there. If that’s all they see, have a look at your curriculum and instruction, and see if you’ve given them ample opportunity to do otherwise. Talk less about missing work, and more about the promise and possibility of their child. Help them see that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints.

11. If all else fails…

If you have to, call for reinforcements, and document everything. Never feel bad about having another teacher in the room with you if you feel like a parent will be aggressive and you’re simply not comfortable with it. Better to depend on solidarity and hope than your own personal strength.

And document everything. Stay on top of grading, feedback, behavior management, missing assignments, your tone, sarcasm, etc. Document every call and email. Save exemplar work. Document differentiation, personalization, and other individual efforts in pursuit of the best interest of the student.

Whatever you do, no matter your analysis of the proximity between apples and trees, don’t hold the difficult parent “against” the child, even subconsciously.

12. Take it personally, then don’t

If you have a “difficult parent,” and in spite of your best efforts it all falls apart, I’d say don’t take it personally but it’s hard not to. So fine–internalize it. Own it. Talk to colleagues (better than a spouse, whose emoptional reserves you may want to save for more pressing issues in education). Cry if you need to.

And then let it go.

Dealing With A Difficult Parent; 12 ways of dealing with a difficult parent.


44 Alternatives To What’d You Learn In School Today?

learn-in-school-today25 Alternatives To “What’d You Learn In School Today?”

by Terry Heick

This post has been updated and republished from a previous post

You try to fake it, but it limps right out of your mouth, barely alive: “How was school?”

You might use a slight variation like, “What’d you learn in school today?” but in a single sentence, all that is wrong with ‘school.’

First, the detachment–you literally have no idea what they’re learning or why. (You leave that up to school, because that’s what school’s for, right?) Which means you know very little about what your children are coming to understand about the world, only able to speak about it in vague terms of content areas (e.g., math, history).

Then, there’s the implication–they don’t talk about the way that they’ve been moved or impressed upon or changed but in the rarest cases; you have to drag it out of them.

And there’s also the matter of form–you ask them, as if a developing learner will be able to articulate the nuance of their own learning to make for a conversation that will do anything but make it seemed like they learned nothing at all. So what to do?

Well, that idea of form has some legs, doesn’t it? Show me. Demonstrate it. Let’s look at some artifacts that show thought and affection. Let’s see the impact of your work and effort. That’d actually make a pretty good post in itself. But let’s stick to the old questions-on-the-car-ride-home or over-the-dinner-table format.

What are some alternatives to “What’d you learn at school today?” Here are a few ideas.

25 Alternatives To “What’d You Learn In School Today?”

  1. When did you notice yourself most interested and curious today?
  2. Was there a time today when you were especially confused? How did you respond?
  3. What is one thing that was hard to believe? Not confusing, but surprising?
  4. If you were more ____ today, how would it have impacted the day?
  5. When were you most creative today?
  6. Tell me one fun thing you learned, one useful thing you learned, and one extraordinary thing you learned.
  7. What does a successful day at school look like to you? Feel like?
  8. What sort of different reasons do your friends go to school?
  9. Who worked harder today, the teacher or the students?
  10. How else could you have learned what the teacher taught?
  11. How do your teachers show they care?
  12. What do you know, and how do you know it?
  13. What would you like to know more about?
  14. What is the most important thing you learned today? The least?
  15. Tell me one chance you took today, and how it ended up.
  16. What is one thing you learned from a book?
  17. What is one thing you learned from a friend?
  18. What is one thing you learned from a teacher?
  19. What still confuses you?
  20. What is something you say or heard that stuck with you for some reason?
  21. Based on what you learned today in ______ class, what do you think you’ll learn tomorrow?
  22. Tell me three facts, two opinions, and one idea you heard today.
  23. What should you do with what you’ve learned?
  24. When did you surprise yourself today?
  25. What’s stopping you from being an (even more) amazing learner?

A few readers chimed in with their own alternatives!

Drew Perkins: “What great questions did you ask today?”

Heather Braum: “What did you discover?”

Heather Braum: “What surprised you?”

Heather Braum: “Where did you travel?”

Eoin Linehan: “Why are you learning that?”

Eoin Linehan: “How do you know you are learning?”

Kristine Kirkaldy: “What did you learn/do that made you smile today?

Mrs. Moore: “What was your favorite part of school today?”

Amanda Couch: “Tell me your favorite moment at school today.”

Deb Gaskin: “If you had been responsible for the lesson, what would you have emphasized or done differently? Why?”

Robin Smith: “what was your “good” for today? What was your “bad”?”

Laura Cobb: “What did you improve today?”

Laura Cobb: “What challenged your thinking?”

Laura Cobb: “How did you contribute to other student’s learning?”

Jackie Gerstein: “What touched your heart today?”

Jackie Gerstein: “Did you experience anything at school that motivates you to make a difference in the world?”

Jackie Gerstein: “Did you experience any “aha’s” today – understanding or seeing something differently than you previously had?”

Jackie Gerstein: “Did you experience any moments of full enjoyment in learning today? If so, when and how?”

Jackie Gerstein: “Did you invent or create anything new today?”

25 Alternatives To “What’d You Learn In School Today?”


7 Tips For Parents Of Struggling Readers

7 Tips For Parents Of Struggling Readers

Literacy starts and ends at home.

Teachers instruct, support, promote, and provide, but if the bulk of the reading and writing isn’t done at home for authentic purposes and self-directed recreation, it will always be a matter of academic proficiency.

Which is like food being a matter of USDA ratings and health inspections.

Unfortunately, supporting that development of strong literacy skills for struggling readers and writers is often a matter of training, experience, and expertise–something many families lack.

The following infographic from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota offers 7 tips for the parents of struggling readers, conveniently structured around the apt acronym READING.

Makes for useful source material that, combined with a few tips of your own, could be sent him a couple of times per year to support those parents looking for strategies and advice.


7 Tips For Parents Of Struggling Readers


How To Master Back School Shopping From Your Phone

How To Master Back School Shopping From Your Phone

by TeachThought Staff

This content is sponsored by Staples

You probably do a lot from your phone.

In fact, it’s ironic that we even continue to call it a ‘phone’ when placing a call is often one of its clumsiest capabilities.

Shopping is another matter entirely. Not only are you able to purchase almost anything at any time from your phone, it is quickly becoming an indispensable shopping companion. When you can combine the power of a smartphone with a brick-and-mortar shopping experience, the best of everything–selection, price, convenience and security–is available.

And that’s the idea behind Staples’s approach to back-to-school shopping: offer a powerful app that helps moms and teachers research and organize their efforts, then combine that with in-store pick-up at retail locations in your own community, and of course a seamless in-store shopping experience.

The result is flexibility–shop however you’d like: in-person, online, or both. This flexibility helps parents supports students so that they can enter the 2017-2018 school year confident and prepared.

Staples asked us to be part of their back-to-school campaign support students, teachers and parents as they prepare for the first day back to school, so we’re creating a two-part series. In today’s post, we’re going to look at how you can use smartphones to master back-to-school shopping.

In part 2, we’re going to look at all of the different ways a student needs to be prepared for the first day of school, from tangible supplies to confidence and mindset.

How To Master Back School Shopping From Your Phone

From apps that work together to calendar reminders, social readers, location-based alerts, QR code scanning, cameras to document products, and more, your phone is crucial to your ability to make purchases in the 21st century.

Below we’ve created a basic sequence that outlines how you can use your smartphone as a useful shopping companion. Combined with Staples retail stores that offer buy online, pick-up in-store, you can organize and complete your shopping efficiently for the 2017-2018 school year!

Step 1: Make a (digital) list

Making a list is one of the first steps in preparing for back-to-school shopping. This likely isn’t news to you.

Making a digital list is a little different. While a paper-and-pencil list is preferable in many circumstances, for the purpose of mastering back-to-school shopping on your phone, creating a digital list using apps like Wunderlist, 

Evernote, or even just the basic ‘Notes’ app on your iOS or Android device will become useful as you move from simple itemized documentation to something more responsive and intelligent. (See step 3 below.)

You likely have items that you want your children or students (or both) to have regardless of what the school requires. Obviously you don’t need to wait for this part, and in this way you may end up with two different lists–yours and the school’s.

Unfortunately, schools can wait until the first week or school to deliver their list, which seriously reduces your ability to be prepared.

Step 2: Contact the the school

If you want to get ahead of the game, you can try to call, text, or email the school, browse the school website, contact friends or parents of your child’s friends to see if there’s anything you can do to help create or communicate such a list.

Being pro-active and supportive of others’ needs at the same time can go a long way to making things happen.

Step 3: Make the list smart

Once you have a list, now you can make a smart list.

Because it’s on your phone, depending on the app you use, you can often add passive utility to the list to make your life easier. Using location-based notifications is one example.

Adding reminders to your phone is another possibility, or using Google Sheets to create a public spreadsheet/document to share between friends that categorizes the list somehow–by physical versus digital needs, by price, grade level, or whatever else might make sense depending on the list.

Consider using IFTTT, too. With IFTTT (If This Then This), you can automate tasks like adding new items to other lists, adding package delivery dates to your Google Calendar, getting a daily digest of sales from Staples, and nearly anything else you can imagine that’s worth automating.

(Tip: Start off slow with IFTTT–sometimes an applet looks cool, but can end up causing more work than it saves).

Other ways to make a list smart? Sync it with other lists, access it from multiple devices, add due dates per item or category of items as a way of pacing yourself, or adding voice notes comparing one product versus another after handling it in store or reading a review. (This is overkill for pencils and folders, but not for tablets and smartphones.)

Step 4. Download the Staples App

Available on the Staples iOS mobile app, Scan My List is a feature where parents can scan a photo of their child’s back-to-school shopping list, and a store associate will fill their online shopping cart within 24-48 hours with expert-chosen items matching their list.

The system allows parents to customize their shopping cart quickly and easily. 

You can also scan products using bar codes instead of searching using text or voice, which can be useful for harder-to-find items.

Step 5. Use Push Notifications

By enabling features like ‘Offers & Notifications’ on the Staples app, you can receive alerts for ‘pick up today’ orders and offers related to the list you’ve created.

Other apps have similar options that can be useful while finishing your back-to-school shopping for the 2017-2018 school year, though you’ll likely want to turn these off once your shopping is done.


Ultimately, shopping from your phone is easy, but mastering shopping from your phone (doing it in less time while finding better products for less money) requires a bit more planning.

A lot of the above could end up being more than you need in your shopping, but the general principles of preparation, research, and intelligent documentation can help make your back-to-school shopping a less frustrating experience.

This content is sponsored by Staples


Dear Parents: Here’s What You Should Know About Letter Grades

Dear Parents: Here’s What You Should Know About Letter Grades

by Terry Heick

Ah, the letter grade– a much-maligned symbol of an era where kids would go to school and passively ‘get’ grades written on thick blue and green and beige paper to take home and have signed and returned to school so the teacher could be sure the parents ‘saw’ the thing.

And that wait–the slow tick of the analog clock on the classroom wall that measured the time between when you saw the grades and when your parents would see them. Whether the grades were good or bad, that wait was unbearable. They’d already waited a month and a half since the last blue or green or beige thick-stock paper had been sent home.

There were even times I had my report pinned to the back of my shirt, between my shoulder blades. I could reach back with my little arms to grab at it, but my teacher was clever as a fox–clearly, a master of engineering and geometry and angles because no one earth was getting to that report card but my mom.

But like lunch boxes and pigtails and playgrounds and varsity jackets, while iconic, letter grades are full of spectacle and half-truths. We’ve talked about this idea before–one article below, for example–but today we’re going to address parents directly with the hope that they might better understand what they’re looking at when they see that ‘grade.’

See also How I Eliminated (Almost) All Grading Problems In My Classroom

They’re misleading.

More than anything else, they’re reductionist. Imagine rating your marriage or own job performance based on a single letter. You could do it, but like Chris Rock said, ‘You drive a car with your feet; just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it should be done.’

Teachers don’t like them either.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to make the rules.

Efforts to innovate them have failed.

Admittedly, ‘innovate’ and ‘effort’ are relative here, but efforts include:

  • exchanging letters for numbers (i.e., A-F swapped for 1-4)
  • standards-based grading
  • rank-based grading
  • pass-fail

And for reasons it’d take a whole separate post to explore, all have (wait for it…) failed.

They don’t mean what you think they mean.

You’d think A means good/smart/excellent/ready for college, when there’s actually a better chance it means completed and turned in all their work/reads well/writes well/has a good relationship with the teacher–not to imply that the teacher will show favoritism, but students that communicate well with teachers and do so frequently tend to perform better in school.

While there are a variety of grading methods and systems and goals and rules, universally speaking, ‘C’ means average.

And by definition, most students are ‘average,’ and there’s nothing wrong with this. Their mastery of content will be average, and/or their performance against their peer set will be average. Few people are content being ‘average,’ mainly because of how we define and use the word more so than something more philosophical. Being ‘average’ implies a lack of effort or potential or some other missing artifact that we value in people and so want to promote in children. And few applications of the word ‘average’ (think Dow Jones, a baseball player’s hitting average, election results, and others) cause more concern than suggesting a student is ‘average.’

Being ‘average’ implies a lack of effort or potential or some other missing artifact that we value in people and so want to promote in children. And few applications of the word ‘average’ (think Dow Jones, a baseball player’s hitting average, election results, blood pressure, and etc.) cause more concern than suggesting a student is ‘average.’ But an average grade doesn’t mean the student has an ‘average’ intelligence across the board but it doesn’t change the truth: Most students *are* average. That’s what average means.

A ‘B’ means above average–that student has above average knowledge compared to their peers (norm-referenced), an academic standard (standards-based), and others (e.g., criterion-referenced assessments). ‘A’?

An ‘A’ refers to performance and mastery well above average–two levels above at least, but could be more because ‘A’ is the ceiling; Leonardo Da Vinci and a mere ‘good sculpting student’ could each do no better than an ‘A.’ An ‘A’ should be an amazing achievement. Instead, it’s the expectation for ‘good students.’

How inspiring is that? 

And a ‘D’? A ‘D’ means ‘below average,’ though we think of it as one step from failure and thus decidedly bad. I’m not arguing that a ‘D’ is okay or good or anything. I’m saying that all this letter grade and assessment and scoring is mostly nonsense. Grades don’t mean what they seem to mean.

They don’t mean what they used to mean.

Furthering the idea of ‘meaning, ‘School’ means something different than it did 25 years ago. So does the word ‘test.’ So does college.

So do letter grades.

They’re unnecessary.

In a climate of transparency, publishing, learning technology, digital portfolios, YouTube channels, apps full of every privacy setting known to human-kind, letter grades don’t need innovating, they need deleting.

Imagine using a digital portfolio instead of a report card. If you want to add a letter grade, take a picture of the student holding a giant letter ‘B’ like they were on Sesame Street. Yay for innovation.

They’re value-neutral.

Like anything in education, if they distract from the student creating new ideas from divergent sources of information, they’re ‘bad.’ If they harm a student’s sense of identity or future prospects as a human being, they’re bad.

Point systems change from teacher to teacher, school to school, grade level to grade level, and so on.

Efforts to innovate grading have largely failed.

Standards-based grading, no grading (see “Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”), exchanging letters for numbers (1-4 instead of A-F), and more have all come and gone as efforts to fix the issue. Rubrics help, but only so much.

The primary issue is that letter grades are a product of the same system that’s seeking to innovate them, and the evaluations for the grades come from within the system as well. Imagine McDonald’s being in charge of innovating scoring for health department walk-throughs. Could they be trusted to evaluate themselves? Possibly. Could we expect them to innovate that scoring while leaving the rest–food, menus, eating spaces, marketing, etc) innovation-less?

Silly, yes?

See also How To Give Students Specific Feedback That Actually Helps Them Learn

They’re subjective.

Out of 10 teachers, 10 would believe different things about the quality of student work. Universal rubrics and standards-based grading can help here, but consider for a moment what schools seek to do: promote understanding.

What could be more subjective than how well someone understands something?

Pressuring your child to ‘get their grades up’ could be doing more harm than good.

Why? At best, it’s extrinsic motivation that is difficult to sustain. At worst, it conditions both parents and students to completely miss the point of education.

Good teachers don’t punish students with bad grades.

In fact, the % that do would likely be extraordinarily low. It’s possible that some teachers do, I guess. And not being in every classroom to see every student-teacher transaction, it’s obviously just guesswork on my end. But from my decade-plus in education, it’s something I very rarely see. There are bad accountants, bad doctors, and bad CEOs, so there are ‘bad teachers,’ too. But believing that teachers are out to get your child–or for the children to sway you to believe that–is a slippery slope.

They don’t matter as much as you think they do.

And rarely at all before high school.

Yes, a student can learn to accept ‘bad grades’ so that they lose their sting, and students lose their motivation in the process. In that way, Cs and Ds and Fs in 3rd grade ‘matter.’ But in reality, even after a high school, a student with a 2.3 GPA can still accomplish anything he or she wants to accomplish. Letter grades are static and subjective snapshots of one point in time.

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. And honestly, they’re not even very good at that.

How should we respond? A few years ago I wrote 12 Alternatives To Letter Grades In Education. That could be a start.


Ep. 65 Using Mindfulness For More Compassionate Students


Ep. 65 Using Mindfulness And Meditation To Help Children Manage Stress And Be More Compassionate

by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought Professional Development

This is episode 65 of the TeachThought Podcast!

Drew Perkins talks with author Susan Kaiser Greenland about her books and work with children around mindfulness and meditation.

Links & Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Looking to grow your school? Contact TeachThought Professional Development >>

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Ep. 65 Using Mindfulness And Meditation To Help Children Manage Stress And Be More Compassionate


10 Messages Every Teacher Should Send To Parents

10 Messages Every Teacher Should Send To Parents

contributed by ClassTag

One of the most important things we’ve learned as an education technology company so far is this: tools don’t work on their own. It’s about informing and empowering teachers and families to make the most of them. In the past year, we’ve seen many teachers who connected with 100% of the parents, gained access to keen classroom volunteers and organized more events than ever. How did they achieve this level of success?

We’ve analyzed our 100 most engaged classrooms to find out. After much thought and number crunching, we discovered that our top early adopters mastered 5 elements of parent teacher partnership. Two-way communication, developing parent teacher relationships, providing support at school and at home, and community building all contribute to academic success of students.

But… where to begin? While we believe that all of the elements are important, one that teachers can easily act upon is establishing effective communications. We know that teachers and parents want to share experiences and stay connected, but many teachers are at loss about what kind of messages to share. Overtime, many become discouraged and stick to the minimum effort route: a couple of conferences per year and an occasional note. Our past survey indicated that 40% of  teachers rank “a supportive family” as “the number one factor in achieving student success” even ahead of their own teaching skill, this is simply not good enough.

Effective communication with families can be a game-changer for parent involvement, with a positive ripple effect on long-term relationships and community. With these 10 key messages you will have an inventory of ideas at your fingertips that you can start implementing right away and come back to it from time to time.

1. Your child has successes that we can share.

In the past, teacher reaching out to parents would most likely mean that a child is misbehaving or having learning difficulties. The key to successful communication is sharing frequent positive messages to build trust and overtime, a happy school climate. Holding a weekly reading competition or choosing a “Student of the Week” and sharing their successes with parents creates an atmosphere which makes parents comfortable and willing to partner with you should the problems arise.

2. Your child has ‘lightbulb’ moments you should know about.

When homework assignments and grades are parents’ only insights into academic activities, they miss out on the learning process and have trouble understanding how to best support their child. Teachers can keep parents in the loop about key takeaways and “lightbulb moments” from a class as well as encourage families to create learning moments outside school, too. This can be done through telling stories, giving examples relating to what they’ve learned at school, critiquing rather than criticizing and giving children freedom to fail.

3. Your child went somewhere. Ask them about it.

Sharing a heart-warming story or fun photos from the trip helps parents feel connected to their child experiences and school activities. This is especially important for parents whose work or circumstances make it challenging for them to get involved in person.

4. You can help your child learn by…

Most parents would love to support their kids’ learning at home, but expectations and curriculum have gone through many changes since they’ve been students themselves. This is where a teacher can lead the way and share effective learning support strategies.

Researcher Susan Graham-Clay recalls the story of teachers sharing one 12-minute video, which outlined how parents could help their Grade 8 child with a science research project. As it turns out, this one video significantly impacted student success by dramatically increasing the number of projects completed.

5. Here are some questions to ask your child…

Most parents would love a deeper insight into their child’s school life, but they notoriously get stuck on questions to ask, other than “How was school today?” Teacher can help parents overcome this challenge by recommending open-ended questions. Teaching parents the importance of  “wh” questions: why, what, who or where questions will help them motivate their child to go beyond dry facts and think more deeply. Instead of asking: “Did you like your class today?” try asking: “What was your favorite part of your class? What was the most interesting/ the hardest task today?”

6. Here are some alternatives to homework

Recommend activities outside of school that help families bond around the current learning topics: taking their children with them to vote, swapping roles (parent is the student while the child explains a topic), discussing a newspaper article together.

7. Thank you.

Want to share appreciation of parent support? Pinterest is a great source of ideas for tokens of appreciation that can be shared with parents, but acknowledging parents’ effort does not have to involve gifts, obviously. Thanking a particularly involved parents in a class newsletter will boost their confidence and give a sense of achievement, while encouraging others to follow suit.

8. Your child is heard in my classroom.

One way to do so is to acknowledge individual student special moments. There is nothing that a parent will appreciate more than a teacher taking time to share a glimpse of child’s development: a witty comment they’ve made, a creative way they approached a particular problem.

9. I know home life can be busy.

So start by recognizing individual areas for family support. Sharing special moments opens a channel to honest and direct one-to-one communication with a parent, which overtime allows to build trust to discuss other issues. Recognizing parents’ challenges can turn things around for a troubled family and transform child’s behavior and performance at school.

10. I’ll work with you. Here’s how.

Educators often have years or decades of experience, while parents dropping of their child to school for the first time really don’t know what to expect. Clarity about why and how of specific recommendations empowers parents to make informed decisions about how to engage and realize the value and impact of their support. Sometimes even a simple encouragement, saying that by attending school events you show your child you value education goes a long way.

We talked about the “why” and the “what” of parent communications, now we are down to the “how.”

First, frequency and consistency are key. We’ve learned that in our most engaged classrooms teachers and parents make an effort to communicate often, with both sides feeling encouraged and comfortable with initiating the exchange. In this environment, teachers’ recommendations are valued and applied at home, while parents, in turn, are present and contributing at school.

Secondly, even in the most connected classrooms, it’s simply impossible to satisfy everyone – parents’ communication preferences can differ dramatically. Most engaged teachers love that technology can give parents options to customize the frequency and types of updates, empowering them to participate in the communication on their terms.

Lastly, the importance of in-person communication is something one cannot stress enough. Teachers who successfully engage families don’t miss opportunities for spontaneous in-person interactions at drop of or pick up, arrange home visits, or organizing valuable parent workshops.

What kind of messages made a particular difference in your classroom? Have you experienced a positive impact of frequent sharing?

Vlada Lotkina is the CEO of ClassTag, a simple and powerful communication and scheduling platform that brings research-based practices to help teachers turn parents into partners and improve the quality of family support in education.


Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families


Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

by Cheryl Wilson

When I was a classroom teacher, I specifically remember one moment that impacted my career forever.

One morning, I called a parent on her job at a local grocery store. The parent came to the phone as nervous as anyone would after receiving a phone call from school. I told her who I was and it was no emergency, but I was calling to tell her how great her daughter was and what a pleasure it was to have her in class. She told me no one had ever called her from school to tell her anything like that and this made her want to cry.

I was delighted that she was happy to hear from me, but also perplexed that this parent went through years of school and never had anyone tell her how great her daughter was?! That was odd to me. As a result, this parent saw me as someone that she could trust at the school and sang my praises years later after this. I didn’t realize how five minutes on the phone would change me, the student, her parent and her two siblings that came along afterwards in a positive way. Thankfully, this occurred early in my teaching career and caused me to be intentional about communicating with my parents. The return on this was unmatched.

So when building successful communication with students and their families at home, what should you look for? Pushed further in addition to more advanced strategies like designing learning experiences that begin and end in communities and helping frame student progress in ways that parents can understand and contribute to (read more on why parents don’t always understand how to help), what might be considered the ‘bare minimum’ for healthy home to school communications? A ‘stage 1’ to build from moving forward?

Here are some ideas.

Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

Start early.

Build relationships with parents at the beginning of the school year. Establishing relationships means that parents and teachers are in a partnership to educate students together. This helps develop trust and opens the lines of communication. You can accomplish this with something as simple as a postcard, e-card or e-mail to acknowledge that you are looking forward to teaching and learning with students in your class and meeting parents in the near future.

Meet in person.

Institute at least one time during the year to meet each parent face to face. This meeting should review expectations and information pertinent to student growth & development over the year. Most schools set Open House schedules or parent conferences to undertake this task, however, with the everyday business of life, technology allows us to meet face to face these days without being in the same room. Skype and Google Hangouts can help you meet this goal.

Positive communication grows relationships.

Positive information should have authority over the negative. The first call home should not be negative. This is a sure way to get an adverse outcome in relationship building 101. When you do have to make a negative phone call, inform the parent of what you have done to attempt to correct the behavior or problem.

Only make phone calls to parents when they are necessary. Telling parents that their children have made improvements are just as necessary as telling them that there was room for improvement. Do your best to make sure the first phone call home is a positive one. There should always be more positive comments than negative when providing feedback. (See more on dealing with a difficult parent.)

Use the tools that families need.

Develop different ways to communicate with parents. Phone calls are great, but keep in mind that some parents cannot take phone calls at work. Emails are sometimes a better way to communicate with parents when this is the case. Technology affords us a variety of ways to connect with parents such as remind 101, class blogs, class twitter pages when we want to share what is going on with the class as a whole.

Also, consider your ELL population of parents when sending out communications. I always had someone translate my letters to parents that were non speakers of English to ensure that they were kept abreast of everything. You want to make all of your parents not just feel talked to, but involved and welcomed.

Cheryl Wilson is an assistant principal in Richland School District One in Columbia, South Carolina. She was named as an ASCD Emerging Leader in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @only1clw.

Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families


Ideas For Easing Students Back to School

flickeringbrad-gblIdeas For Easing Students Back To School

contributed by Corinne Jacob

Summer has ended and to quote a too-popular show, winter is coming! The groans you will hear from the students are almost as loud as the more subtle groans of the teachers. The end of summer is always seen as a tragic end to freedom and fun. Like on Mondays, when the whole long week seems to loom threateningly in front of you, new school years fill you with the same sort of dread. The good news is that dread, it’s only based on imagined outcomes.

It is true that your classroom feeds off your energy. You are handed a classroom full of students who are excited to be back but not so enthusiastic to study. You can even use their summer slide to your advantage and bring back the joy of learning. It isn’t as monumental a task as it seems.

Watch this pep talk and then we can begin!

6 Ideas For Easing Students Back to School

1. Reboot your teaching techniques 

The new school year presents you with an unbelievable opportunity to start afresh. This means that you can spend quality time with yourself, reflecting on the things that went well in the past year and the things you can revise and make better. It’s always a good idea to find out who is in your class and to start personalized learning. Introduce technology into your classroom, use more visual aid. Make your lessons more practical. It’s a good time to create goals for yourself that promote student-centric learning.

2. Looks matter

No matter what the age of your students, we are all visual creatures. Coming back to a class that is drab and grey can put most people off the idea of learning. Make their return a thing to celebrate. Throw a welcome back party. Open up the windows. Add some color to the room. Create student boards they want to be featured on. There are literally are a million things you could do depending on how much time and access you have to resources.

3. Use Pinterest

Everyone who knows me knows about my deep obsession with Pinterest and so I’m not going to wax ad nauseum about the genius place that it is. Instead, I’m going to point you in the direction of 25 Ways To Use Pinterest According To Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. An amazing way to curate the journey of your class during the school year is to create your own Pinterest board with different boards for different subjects – for ideas, for projects to take up, for goals and free lessons, etc. Depending on how well you audit these boards, Pinterest can become your virtual resources binder.

4. Rewind & Recap

There is no point in starting your lessons if your students are going to see stars anyway. Use the first week to ease them back into the processes of your classroom by exciting them. Time is of the essence, but there is no debating the importance of a good foundation. Remember how you hated Math when the concepts the teacher taught you went over your head? Do you think you would have understood better if you were more comfortable–not just engaged, but at ease in the classroom?

One idea? Create an elaborate game of hangman: Divide the class into teams and divide lessons amongst them. Each group will have to think up words for the other groups to guess. Once the word has been guessed correctly, the group can explain what the term/concept means.

5. Use Video Games

Also consider teaching with video games. You will see that gamification and the use of new age media in education can be a powerful tool to ease students back into the classroom. You may find students–especially those put off by a traditional classroom–completely at ease when dealing with video games and related technology. One example is this small town in Mexico that is unleashing a new generation of geniuses using the very simple concept of self-study and technology.

Let your students enjoy a couple of hours a week in the computer lab, engaging in online learning games,  discovering things about a subject a textbook can’t teach you. After all, kids learn and retain these lessons better when they use it practically – even if all they have access to is a virtual lab.

6. Create A Simple Game Show

Host your own game show:  I know pop quizzes are a universally hated concept but imagine you play it in the style of your favorite game show – Minute to Win It, Hollywood Squares, Family Feud, and one quiz show I recently discovered on my trip to England – Never Mind the Buzzcocks. If you are unable to pick the kind of quiz format you want to follow, you could always divide the class into teams and each group could pick a format and create their own quizzes around foundation topics that are important to know this year. Create fun rounds, each round carrying certain points. Add a buzzer to the mixture and you are all ready to go.

Take a deep breath, brew yourself some nice tea and sit back. The ideas in your head will take the shape of a concrete plan and going back to school will seem like a cinch this year. Whatever your plans for your class this year, know that you are going to be amazing and in being that, you’re going to let your class come into their own.

Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; Ideas For Easing Students Back to School


Internet Safety Cheat Sheet For Digital Media Use In Schools


Internet Safety Cheat Sheet For Digital Media Use In Schools

by TeachThought Staff

Digital media use is exploding in education.

Unfortunately, internet safety is something many teachers–and worse, students-take for granted. While many teachers–and librarians–are concerned with breaking copyright laws, controlling digital media use is often an afterthought. Or worse, so heavily scrutinized that district filters kill any authentic access at all.

But as our libraries gradually become virtual spaces, and our media becomes digital, controlling digital media use is going to become increasingly relevant. Which makes Jen Gordon’s–from the aptly-named–infographic below on netflix, YouTube, Instagram, Google, and Apple hardware so relevant for you. )Unless your district has already taken this burden off your shoulders. In that case, you can wad this one up and toss it.)

You can also take a look at 20 basic rules for digital citizenship as a follow-up. More soon!



20 Questions Parents Should Ask Teachers About Their Child’s Education


20 Questions Parents Should Ask Teachers About Their Child’s Education

by Terry Heick

The ultimate support system is not an expert teacher but an informed and supportive family.

One of the most significant challenges facing formal education in the United States is the chasm separating schools and communities. The more informed a family is, the more seamlessly they’ll connect to so many other edu-constructs, from extracurricular activities and tutoring to reading programs and school-related events.

While schools (hopefully) work to update themselves and the way students learn within them, many parents have to work with what’s available to them. With the exception of in-depth content, much of the ‘parent stuff’ you’ll find through Googling is decent enough, but it can be surface level or otherwise completely unrelated to process of learning. Some common examples:

Ask them what they did in school today.

Help them with homework.

Help them stay organized.

Help young children with discipline and separation anxiety and older students with motivation and focus.

Talk to them about ‘staying positive’ and demonstrating work ethic.

Get them a tutor.

But these kind of topical interactions aren’t always enough, nor do they do anything at all to create transparency between schools and communities.

So, in pursuit of that transparency, below are some questions parents ideally would be asking you to better clarify what’s happening in the classroom. Armed with some kind of answer–even a basic one–parents can then decide which non-superficial actions they can impart to truly support the learning of their child.

Many of the questions may seem a bit direct or even ‘passive aggressive,’ but in the right context and with a tone of collaboration and concern for the child, I don’t know a teacher who would take offense to any. The big issue is that these kinds of conversations are rarely had but should be and that’s the idea: shifting the conversation in education from grades and passing to knowledge and purpose.

Until parents have a better understanding of what pure academic work looks like–from the content to the assessment to the reporting–every single bit of this is on the shoulders of teachers. Your shoulders, then.

20 Questions Parents Should Ask Teachers


20 Important Questions Parents Should Ask Teachers

What are they learning and what do I need to know about what they’re learning? What ‘standards’ do you use and what do I need to know about them?

How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class and how can I help at home?

What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?

Do you tend to focus on strengths or weaknesses?

How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?

How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?

How are assessments designed in this classroom? What are the strengths and weaknesses of those assessments?

What can I do to meaningfully support literacy in my home?

What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?

How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?

How do you measure academic progress, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of that approach?

What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year, and why?

What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?

What are the best school or district resources that we should consider using as a family to support our child in the classroom?

Is there technology you’d recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning at home?

What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?

How is education changing?

How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?

What would the ideal learning environment, free of any constraints, look like?

What am I not asking but should be?


For Helicopter Parents That Help Too Much

vancouverfilmschool-best-laptops-for-students6 Tongue-In-Cheek Tips For Helicopter Parents That Help Too Much

by Anonymous Practicing Teacher That Cares

We’ve all been there.

We’ve worked a long grueling day only to come home and find out our child has a project due the next day. We’ve argued and threatened punishment over said project. We’ve been too tired to argue over said project. We’ve sent them to bed while we “helped” our child on said project. What parent hasn’t, right?

But as “the grader” we also recognize their work from your work. We work with your child every day. We see their work. We know their handwriting. We know how they think, much like you do. But different.In a way, we are an extension of you when it comes to recognizing your child for what makes them them. So before you start that next project, here are some things to think about–6 tips from teachers to parents to help them pass of their work as that of their child.

6 Tongue-In-Cheek Tips For Helicopter Parents That Help Too Much

1. Use their handwriting–or rather, let them use theirs

We know their handwriting as well as you do. So at least have them recopy the information in their own handwriting if you’re not going to type it out. Think of this as their punishment for waiting to the last minute, for making you “help” with the project, for depriving you of your R&R.

2. Mistakes, done well, can imply authenticity

Ease up on the grammar. When was the last time you read your child’s work? Let me reassure you, grammar (subject/verb agreement, homophones/homographs, and run-on sentences) keep us busy all year long. Even with their progress, there’s always more to do. So think imperfect sentences that show promise, but shortcomings–nothing awful, but the syntax should parallel that of their peers’, not Shakespeare’s.

Or better yet, have them paraphrase what you wrote. Your planning and their polish. Teamwork!

Pro Tip: To avoid the above, Google “student writing samples” to get some ideas of the kinds of errors to include.

Pro Tip #2: Pro Tip: Do not overdo this part–it can backfire.

3. Use their vocabulary level, not yours

This isn’t a college level assignment. You won’t impress us with your vocabulary–well you might, but that’s bad. Stunning vocabulary and spelling and editing overall only makes us more suspicious. Or proud–depends who did it. So, refer to that text language image you saved on Pinterest a few months ago and add in some creative letter combinations along the way.

Look at it as a way to save you time while you’re writing.

4. Don’t get too ambitious with materials

Now we know you are dying to bust out the crayons, colored pencils, construction paper, and glue but let us assure you all you will need is a pencil and paper- lined paper that is. While color is often a requirement for projects–they make bulletin boards look better–students will commonly forego the points just to “be done” with the project.

And copy paper? Who wants to get up and walk to where that is located? Lined paper will be just fine. If you can’t stop yourself from adding color, go with markers. No student would be caught dead with a crayon or colored pencil. Markers are where it’s at these days.

Also, definitely be careful with the 3D printers, wearable technology, and the like. Expensive, and the ambition can be a dead giveaway if it doesn’t match that of the student’s.

5. Be careful with names and titles

Whose paper is this? Don’t write their full name. A first name only will suffice. They are the only “Johnny” in the world, right? And the class period and date? Now you’re just sending red flags all over the project. A creative title! While it’s also often a required element for the project- it never happens.

As for titles, think simple. If the project is on the topic of myths, just title it “My Myth”; an essay on Abraham Lincoln? “My Essay on Abraham Lincoln” works. The same Lincoln essays titled “The Great Emancipator’s Enduring Relevance In A Digital World” makes us wonder.

6. Don’t deliver it to class yourself

At least them drag it on the bus; adds a grit-factor, and can “wear” the project/paper/assignment some to make it look more authentic.

You should have plenty of time to practice these tips as we head into the crunch time of the year for project completion. Keep in mind we’ve been there. Many of us probably do it out of learned behavior; our parents did it for us, so we do it for our children, and the cycle carries on. But even with the best of intentions, the note home asking if you “helped” will be just as awkward for us as it will be for you.

With love and admiration to all parents from all teachers, keep fighting the good fight.

6 Tongue-In-Cheek Tips For Helicopter Parents That Help Too Much; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool