Secondary Solutions

Ideas, tips, and tools for the middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. Visit our store at www.4secondarysolutions.com!

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5 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

At my school, it is time again for parent conferences.  This opportunity can be bitter sweet.  Before I get into my tips for successful parent-teacher conferences, can I just take a moment to explain my love-hate relationship with parent conferences? (Note: Our conferences are organized as open time slots 3 times a year without RSVPs or scheduling)

What I LOVE:

  • when conferences end in successful partnerships between parent and teacher that ultimately foster successful student outcomes
  • when parents have the opportunity to be pleasantly impressed with their offspring

What I DON’T LOVE:

  • when the majority of parents that I really need to talk with do not make it to conference night
  • working late without any breaks the day before/after

Tips for Successful Conferences:

1. Prepare with students. I don’t have the luxury of knowing which parents will attend at what time, and so I prepare all of my students just in case.  To prep, I give each student a manilla folder and ask them to dig through their work and put in a few pieces that they are proud of (1 piece of writing is required, plus homework, tests, projects, and other work that they like). I also have students fill out a brief form that asks: 1. What have you done well this semester?  2. What are you still working on?  3. What was the most interesting topic for you? I give the students a quiz grade for this to ensure that I get them all back.  I then organize the folders in crates so I can easily pull out the student work when a parent comes. With folders in hand, the focus of the conferences is kept with the student work and student voice.  I get a lot of parents who are impressed with the level of work produced.

2. Stay positive and solution-oriented. We all know that we should give positive feedback along with the constructive criticism, but sometimes  in the rush of conferences, we forget to take a step back and remember that parents have entrusted us with the education of their sweet babies (that have momentarily turned into teenagers).  Instead of focusing on the lack of homework or low quiz scores, focus on the opportunities to bring up the homework or assessment grade through future diligence.  I also post or photocopy my office hours, the school tutoring options, and other helpful resources that parents may not know about.  It has to be about the solution.

3. Actively listen. It seems that every year my heart is broken by the stories of the “simple hell people give other people” (Yes, that was To Kill a Mockingbird).  Sometimes students have home issues, learning difficulties, school situations, health concerns, crazy schedules, and a whole host of other obstacles.  More often than not, the only way that we learn about these struggles is by listening, not just waiting to talk.  (Note to self: I am guilty of this one too much!)

4. Watch the time. Don’t spend so long with one parent that another is neglected.   If the conference seems to need more time or is particularly contentious, invite them to schedule something for a later date and potentially with an admin or department chair.

5. Invite future communication.  Tell parents the best way to communicate with you for future concerns.  I am an email girl, so I print small strips of paper with my email address to hand out when needed.  Routine communication can head off some major issues at the pass.

What are your tips for successful parent-teacher conferences?  Leave them in the comment section below!

conferences

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Tips for Using Google Forms in the Classroom:

A few weeks ago, we featured a video blog about how to use google drive, and as a follow up, I’d love to share some ideas for how to use google forms in the classroom.  Here are some of the things I love about using google forms:

  • They are so easy to make and versatile! (Click here for the full tutorial)
  • They are available through google on any device at any time, which is great for students to input through phones, tablets, computers, etc and also for me as a teacher to organize grades and other feedback.
  • When forms are filled out, the data automatically populates a spread sheet that can be sorted by name or other factor.  This makes analysis and grading so much easier!
  • The possibilities are endless!  Here are some samples with extension ideas under each one:

Welcome

Make a form to collect important data at the beginning of the semester.  You could use this type of form to get to know students, collect contact information, or any other bit of info that you need to keep on a tidy spreadsheet.  Club moderators can keep track of t-shirt sizes, participation, and more.  

Assess

Assess students with multiple choice options.  You can use this as a formative or summative assessment.  I usually use it as a pre-test or self-assessment to let students know where their strengths and weaknesses are in order to study more effectively.  Be sure to check back next week when I post a video tutorial about a tool that will quickly grade this type of test for you! 

Help

Create a help ticket that students can fill out to receive extra tutoring.  This helps me stay organized with the materials I will need to gather to help with student success.  I can also arrange for top students to come in and help peers during high traffic hours.  I tell parents about this form on back to school night, so that parents can encourage students to reach out for help.  Exit

You can also create exit tickets to assess student progress and inform teaching.  It is also nice to have students acknowledge the night’s homework in order to eliminate the I-didn’t-know excuse. 

How are you using google forms in the classroom?  We’d love to hear your ideas.

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Back to School Night Tips + A Free Prezi Template!

Prezi Back to School Night

Back to School Night is on the calendar for schools across the country, and it is time for teachers to put on our game faces.  If your school is like mine, the format for Back to School Night involves a general assembly and then quick 10-15 minute stops for parents in each of the student’s classes.  For many teachers, this evening can be frightening, overwhelming, awkward, or incredibly dull, but don’t worry! I’m here to give you my tips on making Back to School night a success that will garner you respect with parents and not run your ragged.  I’ve even included a free Prezi template that you can download and edit to give your presentation that extra pizzaz.

Tips for Back to School Night:

1. Be prepared.  Rehearse your talk a few times in your head or out loud and have all handouts ready to go.  Preferably, have notes, a powerpoint, prezi, or other device to keep you on track with your main talking points.  Check out the free prezi template at the end of this post for ideas on organizing your information. With only a few minutes to speak with parents, you do not have time to look through stacks of papers for the syllabus and if you are flying by the seat of your pants on the talk, you will likely forget to make an important point.

2. Control the conversation. Prepare a talk that will span close to the entire period if not the whole thing.  You do not want to have parents asking questions that you’re not ready for and you really don’t want that awkward silence that will come from a talk that ends too soon.  Parents will feel better about you as a teacher if you are in control of the class (without being bossy) even when it is full of adults. Be sure to have your email address or phone number posted clearly on your board or in the syllabus and invite parents to contact you with any questions.  This opens the door to positive communication and gives you time to decide your answer without 30 parents watching.  Remember, there is not time to talk to each parent individually on this night; that is for parent conferences or individual appointments.  Do not allow one parent to monopolize the time asking specific questions about his or her student.  That type of conversation can be handled at another time, so that the other parents aren’t wasting their time.

3. Do not read your syllabus to parents. Parents can read. It is insulting and boring to sit through 6 teachers reading their syllabi on Back to School Night.  Pass out the syllabus or better yet post it on the school webpage to save paper and then allow parents to read it at their discretion.  Spend the time talking about important policies and share your excitement with expectations of what students will learn this year in your class. Remember that attitude is everything.  Later, when the student is complaining to the parent about you (gasp!), but the parent remembers you as bright, engaging, and positive, they are less likely to assume the worst about you.

4. Dress to impress. Be professional; keep it clean; keep it modest.  I know that it’s an awfully long day when Back to School Night comes after a regular school day, but bring a change of clothes if you don’t have time to go home.  Hopefully, parents will see you more casually at football games and school plays; Back to School Night is strictly a professional affair.

5. Anticipate concerns. A little self-awareness goes a long way.  If there is something about your class that tends to get parent or student complaints, mention it at Back to School Night in the most positive light possible.  Give parents the rationale behind that long research paper or late wok policy.  Get them on your team early and you will win some valuable parent support points later.

Free prezi template: 

Click here to download a fun prezi template that will walk you through some ideas for  your back to school night talk.  You can save it to your prezi account and edit it to suit your own information.  All you have to do is click on the words, highlight them, and then type in your information!  New to prezi?  Here is a link to a full prezi tutorial and here is a link to a tutorial for making a quick prezi!

What are your Back to School Night concerns, questions, or advice?  We’re all ears!

Want to know more about Emily Guthrie?  Click here! 

 

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