Tip: How To Begin Every Single Parent Conference

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub series – a weekly prompt around a common theme. This week’s prompt is “parents“.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with many great educators, all of whom I’ve learned from along the way.

One of those teachers is Lucinda, who was our 8th grade team leader my first year teaching. I learned a ton about classroom management and connecting with students from Lucinda, but this tip that I want to share here¬†might just be the most impactful. I’m not sure if she got the idea from someone else, but to me, she gets all the credit.

Parent conferences can be nerve racking for all involved. The parents are probably worried that their parenting may be judged. Students are uncomfortable. And first-year teachers like me are nervous and not sure what to say.

So every single time that we would meet with parents, most often with the student also present, Lucinda would begin by asking one simple question.

Why are we here?

That’s it. An opened ended question, but we were always looking for one specific answer.

The student would usually go on about how they thought we were there to discuss them not doing their homework, or perhaps they were talking too much during class. But that wasn’t the reason.

What we were after, and would ultimately all agree on, is that we were all there, taking the time to have a conference, because we all cared.

We cared about the student and we wanted him/her to be successful.

So the tip is to start each meeting in a manner like this that sets the tone of being productive and positive.

In fact, I try and take this same approach today when working with customers or colleagues. I may not use the same “why are we here?” phrase, but if we can focus on the greater purpose and take a positive step forward, we’re likely to be far more successful.

If you have more tips on parent conferences, consider writing a post (or a tweet, or public facebook¬†status) and sharing it in the comments here. ūüôā


Minimalism and Teaching in a 100 Year Old Bedroom

This post is part of the ongoing #EdublogsClub series. Check it out and learn more here.

As a teacher, my classroom was no different than most.

I’d cover the walls with paper and information everywhere – vocabulary word walls, student projects, inspirational posters – we would hang work from the ceiling. I even had a few lessons that would have us marking up the floors with tape. No surface left untouched.

Then there was the stuff. EVERYWHERE.

The markers, scissors, glue and other student supplies.

Textbooks, calculators, protractors.

Curriculum documents, a binder for everything, and the boxes and files from the teacher that used the room before me that was nice enough to leave behind.

By design, many classrooms can make an episode of ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ look¬†tame.

Over the years, as my family has grown and we moved into a smaller house, we’ve been slowly adopting a much more ‘minimalist’ philosophy into our home and how we live.

But nothing was more minimalist than when I taught abroad at an American school in Durango, Mexico. The high school classes were all held in a 100-year-old Victorian-style home that was next to the rest of the school.

There was a fantastic little taco place just across the street.

My classroom was an upstairs bedroom that was just across the hall from the main bath in the house, complete with a clawfoot tub. There was no heating or air (it got cold in the winter!). The house was so old that during one afternoon, part of the ceiling collapsed in the ‘parlor’ classroom just below mine while students and a teacher were in it. There were a few minor cuts and bruises; it could have been much worse!

In fact, the school’s Principal never got around to actually assigning classrooms to teachers before school started, so after the first bell rang on the first day of class, the students started asking the teachers where they should go. So we each all just ran to a room in the house as quickly as we could, and that was that. The point here, there was no time for me to setup my classroom. I couldn’t think about where to arrange desks or how to create an inviting learning space.

I shared this ‘classroom’ with two other teachers. I had no supplies. No technology. No curriculum documents.

I had actually brought a few of my favorite inspirational posters with me from my US classroom, but we weren’t able to staple into the old plastered walls.

And you know what?

We survived, the students learned, and everything worked out just fine.

That was the last year the school used this old house. A much more modern facility has since been constructed.

Can Classrooms Be Distracting?

While touring schools on a trip to Israel in 2015, one of our stops was at a school that collaborated with a local architect to design a classroom specifically for students with ADHD.

The goal was to minimize distractions and create an environment that helped students focus.

Photo of ADHD classroom in Israsel.

Photo by Amit Shemesh. Learn about Vibe Israel here.

It is fair to say this classroom accomplished its goal, though I may argue the bouncy ball chairs could be distracting in their own way.

There are more photos and information on this unique classroom here.

Can classrooms be too full of distractions? There is probably some happy medium in there somewhere that provides for an inviting space with materials that are readily available, but that won’t leave you feeling buried alive.

Should I Blog Or Should I Blog?

I haven’t been blogging as much as I have wanted to. Considering that Edubogs¬†is one of the largest blog¬†networks and WordPress sites on the web, it is a shame and a bit embarrassing that I don’t practice what we preach.

I routinely give the same excuses as anyone – like a lack of time and too many competing priorities. But the truth is, fear is¬†the¬†real reason that I don’t blog more. Fear that nobody will be interested in what I have to say. Or worse, a fear that my ignorance will be exposed.

Imposter syndrome is strong in me.

I figure that there is strength in numbers, and hence the #EdublogsClub was born.

The #EdublogsClub is a project where a large group of educators and edtech¬†enthusiasts are writing around the same topic or prompt each week. We’re committing to do this for the entirety of 2017. I’m all in.

My Blog Story

The first topic of the year is around sharing your blog story.

My first experiences with regularly publishing to the web came when I was teaching. I’d share daily updates on what we were learning in class and used it as a resource for my students and their parents.

Even this, with a small and defined audience, was a bit intimidating at first. I was opening myself up to more outside critique of what I was doing with my students in the classroom.

The benefits absolutely outweighed any issues. A more transparent classroom improved communication, awareness, and overall student success.

I left the classroom to join Edublogs and went from publishing for the 90 or so students I was teaching to subscriber lists that numbered in the millions. One small piece of advice, be extra careful with your spelling and grammar when the majority of your audience is English teachers!

Most of what I’ve learned about blogging has come from conversations and feedback from one of the best mentors and colleagues you could ask for – Sue Waters. She shares her story and blogging tips here.

Helpful Wins Out

We’ve published thousands of posts on a wide variety of blogs and topics for our projects. One thing we always come back to is that posts that have a specific purpose of being helpful to the reader always are the most popular and are the ones people come back to even years after they are published.

Helpful posts could include how-tos, reviews, a personal reflection or story, or simply sharing resources and links to other blogs.

So that would be the one major piece of advice to anyone starting out blogging. How can you make sure to include something helpful to your readers in posts that you write?

The Journey Continues

Through the #EdublogsClub and a personal commitment to blogging more in 2017, I’m looking forward to finding new ideas from others, sharing my experiences, and learning together.

Happy blogging!

What is it about mid-April?

What is it about the middle of April that makes it a time of terror, accidents, and hardship?

Surely there can’t be another 6-day stretch of the year with as much tragic history in the US.

April 19, 1775 – American Revolutionary War begins – 25,000 Americans died in the war

April 15, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln is killed

April 18, 1880 – Missouri Tornado – 99 dead

April 18, 1906 – San Francisco earthquake – 3,000 dead

April 15, 1912 – The Titanic sinks – more than 1,500 dead

April 20, 1914 – Ludlow Massacre in Colorado – 19 dead

April 15, 1927 – Great Mississippi Flood – 246 dead

April 16, 1947 – Fertilizer explosion, Texas City – almost 600 dead

April 18, 1983 – US Embassy in Lebanon bombed – 63 dead

April 19, 1989 – USS Iowa explosion – 47 sailors dead

April 19, 1993 – Branch Davidian siege – 81 dead

April 19, 1995 – Oklahoma City Bombing – 168 dead

April 20, 1999 – Columbine High School massacre – 12 dead

April 16, 2007 – Virginia Tech Shooting – 32 dead

April 20, 2010 – BP Oil Spill – 11 dead and wildlife devestated

April 15, 2013 – Boston Marathon Bombing – 3 dead

April 17, 2013 – West, Texas Explosion – unknown dead

April 17, 2013 – Failure of background check gun law by Congress – unknown dead

So sad.

Expectant dad refused health insurance

I’m livid.

I’m also¬†happily¬†self-employed.

This means that until government-regulated health insurance exchanges are setup in 364 days, I’m on my own and at the mercy of health insurance companies for coverage.

This has been fine and well until now. But, you see, my only crime is that my wife is pregnant. We’re expecting our first child in March – and we couldn’t be more excited!

However, since Erika, a PhD student, can’t teach a class in the Spring semester (there is no “maternity leave” for student employees), I have to change insurance plans as I am no longer¬†eligible¬†for her faculty group plan and premium sharing. This sent me shopping around for individual coverage.

I apparently made the mistake of being honest and marking on the applications that I am an expectant father. Not one of the individual providers that I can find will insure a dad-to-be! Who knew!?

I’m livid.

Thankfully, “Obamacare” and the exchanges will put an end to this madness as you can’t be refused coverage when purchasing through the exchanges. The trouble is the exchanges won’t go into effect until 2014. And of course, our great Governor of Texas is¬†refusing to set these up.

Don’t you think health insurance should be a right and not a¬†privilege?

Don’t you think it should be a crime to deny someone wanting and willing to purchase expensive coverage because they have a child on the way?

Aren’t you tired of massive corporations getting even wealthier in the health care industry? Not-for-profit or public health care options make infinitely more sense to me. My real¬†disappointment¬†is that the Affordable Care Act didn’t go near far enough.

Oh, and my apologies to the Blue Cross and Humana employees I may have laid into a bit too much today. It isn’t their fault they work for greedy monsters.

Here is to hoping I don’t get sick or have an accident between January 15th and when Owen is born!

Happy New Year!