Parent-Teacher Conferences and Parental Expectations for Children

This past week, I had my very first experience with parent-teacher conferences. I am so fortunate that I only have 13 students, because orchestrating the schedule was such a challenge! The parental relationships in my school are sometimes complicated, so I had to arrange things so that families who shouldn’t run into each other wouldn’t run into each other.

At my school, our conferences are student-led, meaning that the student, and not the teacher, is really the director of the show. During class, I explained the format to my students and we brainstormed a list of things that they could share with their parents — their autobiography projects, their Mad Minute folders with data charts, their spelling word folders, their “Good Learner Goal Sheets,” their portfolios, and their independent math learning rubrics. I left this list up on the white board so that when my students arrived, they would know exactly what to do.

During the conferences, I had two families come for each 30-minute time slot. They each spent 20 minutes having their student share work with them and then 10 minutes talking with me and their student. It is was interesting to watch my students interact with their parents — and to see how their parents interacted with them. In many ways, it explained an awful lot. It was so fascinating to watch kids become more shy or more outgoing or less focused than they are in class. I almost wished that I could have just observed them rather than having to talk with the families — I probably would have learned more than I did during our conversations.

The overall reaction amongst the parents seemed to be “holy cow, you’ve been doing a lot of serious work in here!” Many of the parents seem to have come around to the idea that the high expectations in my classroom are a good thing. They seemed really impressed by how articulate their children were in their explanations of what we do in class. Others, however, seemed dismayed that the conferences were student-led at all and seemed to think that it was all too much. I’ve heard that there is talk in the community at the moment about whether the expectations in my second-grade room are too-high. (Frankly, I am pretty excited that they are talking about this!) It seems that I’ve got some great advocates amongst my parents — and I think that all of my kids rising to the challenge is the best evidence for which I could ask!

Have you ever had a situation where parents think that the work in your classroom is too demanding? How did you handle it? I personally find that we often underestimate what kids can do, but this can be a hard message to transmit to parents who don’t buy into that philosophy.

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From Teacher to Facilitator

With my first full week of teaching under my belt, I am still really pleased with how things have been going. We’ve been able to dive into some of the curriculum (which I promise to write about next week…) and the kids have eagerly seized onto the topics of biographies, nouns, and telling time.

Though they are only seven or eight-years old, I am eager to have them become responsible, self-directed learners during the course of the year. This week, I’ve started putting some steps in place to facilitate this process, some of which have been more successful than others.

  • Calendar Time: After modeling calendar time last week, I handed the duties over to the students. Now I stay in my chair and wait for them to direct each other about what to do. I have index cards on the board that say the six current components of our calendar time (the date, days in school on the place value chart, days in my school on money, name that number, math concept of the month, and spelling word of the day.) Under each index card I write a student’s name, and the names rotate one spot to the left each day, so students get a chance to do each task. The students have really loved the opportunity to be in charge of this activity — I have found they are much more engaged on what could be a very repetitive or even boring routine.
  • Center Time: I have been getting the students initiated into how centers will work in our classroom. I have a pocket chart at the front of my room that has the names of five different centers (What?, Why?, How?, Where?, and Who? — which align with the table signs that I have hanging in various places in my classroom). Over the past week, the number of students saying, “Where do I go?” and “What do I do?” has significantly decreased. I am hoping next month to move into centers where students will get to choose from a plethora of activities what they would like to do — it seems like they are almost ready for that, which I am really excited about.
  • Homework Messages: One effort that fell flat on its face was my experiment in having my students deliver messages about homework. My students get a large homework assignment each Monday that they have until the following Monday to complete, which I send home a thorough description about because my expectation is that the parents and students work together. However, in the middle of the week, I also send home their unfinished Mad Minutes with the expectation that they complete them for extra math practice. I have told the students about the Mad Minutes EVERY day after school for seven of our nine days. I sent home missing homework slips in folders yesterday and I got SIX emails and notes from concerned parents (out of 14 students!) who said their student had “no idea” about the Mad Minutes homework. I guess they aren’t quite ready for that yet!
  • Classroom Chat Monitor: My most clever (and most successful) initiative thus far has been the classroom chat monitor. Last Friday and this Monday, my students were exceptionally chatty in class. On Monday night, I was reeling about what I was going to do. Since I try to avoid punishment and good-behavior-linked rewards at all costs (another topic which I should write a post about), I was in need of a solution that wouldn’t simply be a bribe or a “do this and you’ll get that” scenario. So, I did two things. First, without explanation, I put in a chunk of free time (15 minutes) during the afternoon to give them an opportunity where they are allowed to chat as much as they want. (The results have been amazing so far — you wouldn’t believe the academic tasks students work on during this time!) Additionally, I instituted the position of “Classroom Chat Monitor.” This student observes and listens to class throughout the day and then issues a report at the end of the day where the class receives a thumbs-up, thumbs-to-the-side, or thumbs-down for their chattiness for the day. The Chat Monitor also makes recommendations about a way we might improve our chatty tendencies. The students are all clamoring for it to be their turn to be the chat monitor and I’ve noticed a significant improvement since the position was put in place. I think it really helps them to hear the “You’re way too loud”-related comments from a peer and not just from me.

So, things have been going fairly well as I try to slowly take the training wheels off. We still have a long way to go until my students will be able to tackle some of the curriculum that I have planned for them this year, but I like where we are going so far.

What do you do to try to be a facilitator of learning rather than a hegemonic teacher? I’d love to hear anything that has proven successful (or unsuccessful) in your own classroom!

One Week Down!

I am so glad that the first week of school was only four days – the first few days were at times exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, always eye-opening, and extremely exhausting! Overall, though, I felt that my first week was one of the smoothest that a first year teacher could have. None of the scenarios I’d pictured in my nightmares, like kids screaming and running wildly through the room, came even close to being realized…thank goodness!

This year, I’ll be sharing my classroom with 14 (soon to be 15 when my new student arrives during the third week of school) bright-eyed and curious students. Because my school is so small, I am the only second grade teacher and all of my students were in class with each other last year. Thus, this week, I didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on ice-breakers and get to know you games — though I do plan to utilize lots of these types of activities during the early months so that I can hopefully shake up some of their pre-established friendships. Things seem a little bit “cliquey” in my class — there are definitely certain groups of students that always congregate together. Thus far, I’ve been using popsicle sticks with their names on them to randomly assign groups in hopes of getting them to mingle with each other a bit more. So far, they’ve also taken my requests to talk to someone new to heart, which I hope will continue to happen.

We’ve done so much this first week! We started our September read aloud book Matilda on the first day and the kids adore it — they were very disappointed on Thursday when I didn’t read it to them during their snack because I was also hungry! The students have also been great sports during the benchmark spelling and math tests that I gave them to assess where they currently are in terms of second grade material. At my school, we’re also working on having flexible grouping of kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders, so we’ve had our first few “get to know each other” meetings. My students have really impressed me with their ability to act like role models for the younger kids.

My kids had a ball brainstorming our classroom rules. I asked them to picture the WORST classroom that they could imagine — a place where no learning could possibly take place — and we wrote down their descriptions of that classroom on the board. Then, we brainstormed our own rules that will ensure that our room doesn’t turn into that nightmare room. The kids loved sharing the details of their imagined classrooms. We also learned all about blogs and made our first blog post together; talked about the purpose and importance of school and equity while reading The Story of Ruby Bridges, the first book in our biography unit; and spent time exploring the five iPads that I received from my district for my classroom.

The students favorite activities of the week were the classroom scavenger hunt that I designed as a more exciting way to familiarize them with our classroom. classroom_scavenger_hunt and filling out the applications for our classroom jobs. (Announcing that not everyone got their first choice job, however, could have gone a little bit better!) My principal came in to check up on how I was doing during these activities — if he keeps coming in during all of the best moments, he’s going to think I know what I’m doing!

Overall, things have been going really well. I’m eager to start to delve into some of the curriculum that I’ve been working so hard on, but I am also trying to balance that with establishing our routines and procedures, because I know we’ll get far more accomplished if the students are invested in and familiar with how things work in our classroom. I’ll be sure to post some of our classroom community creations and describe my September unit of study — biographies — in more detail in upcoming posts.

Welcome to My Blog!

Meet “Q,” my classroom mascot.

Welcome to cultivatingquestioners.com! I am a first-year educator about to begin teaching second grade in rural Maine.

I’ve decided to keep this blog as a way to keep my critical lenses active as I move away from the realm of being a student to being the individual facilitating instruction in the classroom. In this blog, I hope to post weekly reflections on my own practice, my experiences implementing curriculum with my students, my thoughts about developments in education, and tips and tricks for educators also trying to break through the status quo in classroom practice. Through an assortment of different types of posts, I hope to engage in a dialogue about all aspects of the field of education.

The image accompanying this post is of “Q,” my classroom mascot. I plan to call my students “The Curious Questioners” this year, in hopes of encouraging them to keep asking questions, as I believe it is learning to interrogate that will aid my students in becoming critical thinkers and lifelong learners. Similarly, “Q” is also designed to embody this value in a tangible way. He will be posted on my classroom door and students, parents, and other visitors will see him every time they walk in the door. I hope that these simple, yet intentional practices will help remind my second graders to channel their natural curiosity into questions for their peers to explore.

With my very first “first day of school” less than three weeks away, I am working hard on developing curriculum and on setting up my classroom. Stay tuned for future posts that will feature a tour my classroom and an introduction to my September unit of study: Biographies and You!