Sunday, June 9, 2013

Talk, Talk, Talk It Out!

Talking...oh talking. It can drive you crazy at times, but have you ever stopped to think about how important talking is? Now think larger than just talking...think about how important communicating is period. Either spoken or written, communicating with others is what makes life worth living. I for one take the ability to communicate with others for granted on a daily basis. It's something so simple- -something so basic to those of us that it comes easily to that we don't think twice about it.

The purpose behind this post is something much deeper than I typically choose to blog about. I don't think that I've ever blogged about my Grandfather- -my Poppa.

My Poppa on his 93rd Birthday!

My Poppa, my Dad and my husband are 3 of the greatest men on the face of the Earth...I'm certain of couldn't tell me any different. My Poppa is a WWII Navy veteran..he was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese. My Poppa's health began to decline shortly after he turned 90 (he's now almost 94). My family had to make the decision to move him into a Veteran's nursing home in Walterboro, SC a year or so ago. He hated it and we hated it, but it was the best thing for him. The constant care and therapy that he receives has really helped him thrive- -at almost 94 he's got the clearest mind that I remember him having in years. With the set up of the rooms, every resident has a roommate. My Poppa's roommate (Mr. B) couldn't communicate with anyone. I'm not sure of why, but he couldn't speak or write.  My mom sent me a text message last night letting me know that Mr. B passed away sometime this week.  I've never spoken to this man and I don't know much if anything about him, but I felt so much sadness for him. Living a life where you're trapped with your own thoughts unable to share anything with anyone is one of the saddest things that I could ever imagine.

After hearing of his passing it really made me stop to think about how important communication is in every aspect of life- -especially in the world of teaching. Keeping the lines of communication open between yourself and your students' parents/families makes the difference between a successful classroom and a not so successful classroom. Communicating with your students and co-workers is of equal importance. At my school, communicating with your co-workers, your students, and your students' families isn't just something that is's required. Honestly, it's something so simple that I would still do it without being "made" to. Isn't that just part of being a teacher or am I crazy? Anyway...communicating with my co-workers is easy. I work with some of the most fabulous ladies on the face of the planet so that isn't a chore to do. We talk to each other all the time...seriously all the time. Group text messages are something that iPhone created because of us..well that's not entirely true, but I am very thankful for that option existing. Even if we didn't like each other as much as we do, each grade level at our school is required to hold weekly PLC meetings where we get together to discuss the data that we've gathered from our common assessments and brainstorm ideas for enrichment/remediation.

Communicating with my students and their families requires a little more effort and creativity. I try my best to talk TO my students and not AT them. I'm not claiming to be perfect...sometimes my patience wears thin and I'm not as chipper as I should be. Hey, we all have our moments where the witch has to ride in on her broom for a split second. I sit with my kids at lunch and we talk despite their mouths being full and ketchup being on their mashed potatoes (I gag behind my napkin at some of their food combination choices... don't we all?). I write them notes on their papers encouraging them to keep up the great work- -telling them what I love the most about their story that they worked so hard to write. I'm constantly working to give them positive feedback so that they want to keep going and furthermore (and most importantly) so that they believe in themselves. A simple I'm proud of you goes a long way with the kids...not so much with their families. Communicating with the families in your room (I use families because not everybody lives with their parents) is time consuming and sometimes exhausting, but when it's done right everybody mostly everybody is can't please everybody, but you should atleast try. How do I communicate with my parents? Nothing earth shattering over here... a few tried and true classics that everyone has heard of.

#1 Student Agendas
-My school district gives every student an agenda planner. They're awesome for older kids to write their homework in and even more awesome as a keeper of stickers for the younger ones. My kids earn a sticker if they've had an awesome day and that sticker goes in their agenda for the day. If they don't earn a sticker I always write a note explaining why. Good notes go home in the agenda too so everybody keep their heads attached to their necks please. Their parents/family members are responsible for signing the agenda every night. It keeps all of your written correspondence in one place so if there ever comes a time that you need to go back in the past for something, it's right there in the book. &&& the kids get a pretty sweet sticker collection by the end of the year. I'm all about organization so I LOVE the agendas. &&& yesssss teachers use the agendas too! (Well atleast this one does).

#2 Phone Calls Home
-My school requires that we make atleast 1 positive phone call home each week. It used to be 1 positive phone call home per day and I was the worst at it. I sound like such a goober on the phone and always stumble over my words (especially on the dreaded answering machine), but 1 phone call a week worked for me. Some weeks I made one phone call and others I made more. I also did a lot of face to face positive talks and counted those as well.  I used a really simple sheet to keep track of who I called, what I said and when I called them. Again, nothing earth shattering- -pretty common knowledge that positive phone calls home rock parents' socks off.

#3 Tuesday Folders
Of course saying how awesome a kid is only goes so far. You have to prove the extent of their awesomeness with their work! At the beginning of the year each kid gets a Tuesday Folder. It's nothing fancy...just a large manilla envelope with the school's information, logo and weekly dates printed onto it. Every Tuesday I sent this folder home with work from the previous week graded and packed in. The folder was supposed to come back to school the next day empty and signed. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

#4 Emailing/Class Website
At the beginning of the year I give each parent my email and class page information. Emailing is such a quick and convenient way to touch base with parents. I've found that I can respond much quicker to an email than to a voicemail that sometimes never finds its way to my box. It also gives me a way to respond to parents that have questions after work hours. I never ever ever under any circumstances give out my personal cell phone number to parents. I also don't friend parents on Facebook...not that I have anything to hide (my life is pretty vanilla), but you lose a sense of that strictly business relationship when you cloud it with personal numbers and access to your personal life. The class website gives those digitally saavy parents access to what we're doing in class with a few clicks of the mouse. It's nothing fancy- -I'm not a professional website builder- -but it's cute and it gets the job done.

#5 Weekly Newsletters
My weekly newsletter is a blurb attached to the bottom of my weekly homework sheet. The homework sheet gives the homework for each night (so there aren't any questions) and the blurb at the bottom provides the spelling words for the week and any upcoming important dates.

Again, definitely nothing earth shatteringly new..just a few tried and true methods for keeping the lines of communication up and running. Of course it goes without saying that you have to be consistent and timely when using any of these methods. You can't respond to an email a month later and expect a parent to be knocked off their feet by how impressive your communication skills are.

I didn't add any of my personal style to the communication log this past school year (bigger fish to fry), but this summer it's on my list of things to do because Times New Roman font is just not cutting it for me. I'm thinking a little chevron and dotted letters will pump it up to something that might make me want to make a few extra positive phone calls home.

Until next, love, put the teaching aside, &&& enjoy summer break!

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