Magnetic Business Cards

During Back to School Night, you have a great opportunity to connect with the parents of your students.  One good way to do this is to hand out contact information.   We took this a step further and printed the contact information on business card sized magnets.  That way, parents can put the magnet on the refrigerator door and have it to refer to throughout the year.

Doing this offers several benefits.  The first is that it makes it clear to parents that you value communication.  By giving them an easy way to contact you, it’s evident that you welcome their thoughts, ideas and questions.

A second benefit is that it truly does make it easier for parents to contact you.  While many teachers view this as a negative, I always prefer to have a parent come straight to me.  Otherwise, they will still communicate, but it will be on the sidelines of the soccer fields, the bleachers of the basketball courts, or the hallways outside scout meetings.  If they contact me, I can work with them to fix problems, alleviating the unhappiness.

In addition, parents know their children better than anyone else.  If something is going on at home, they can let me know.  Often, this makes a difference in the way a student behaves at school and I can be better prepared.  They also know if their child is not understanding the material.  While I want the student to come to me, occasionally, it’s necessary for a parent to start the conversation.

When we create the magnets, we try to keep them simple.  Sheets of magnetic “paper” can be purchased at an office supply store.  Most word processing programs have a business card template.  We use the template and list our names, our planning time, email addresses, and the school phone number, with our extensions.  If you are comfortable having parents call you at home, you could include that number, as well.

Once they are printed out, a minute or two with a paper cutter and you have magnetic business cards, ready to hand out.  These are also helpful when you have students move in, mid-year.  Nothing looks more welcoming to new students/parents than a packet of information with includes ways to contact the new teachers.


Olympic Fever!

So, here’s a video Team USA made of Party in the USA.

The athletes are obviously having a bit of fun, even though they are under stress and pressure going into the 2012 Olympics.

I think we need to keep fun in mind as we plan for the fall.  We should try to work some fun into our lessons – that makes students better able to focus.  Especially in middle school, it’s good to keep kids guessing.  If they can’t always predict what will happen next, they may pay more attention.


How do you work fun into your classroom?

First Days of School

First Days of School

The true secret of classroom management is having a solid connection with your students. The first week of school is the perfect time to start connecting with them.   If they believe you truly care about them, they will behave better, work harder and learn more.

One way we start connecting with our students at the beginning of the year is by placing notecards in their lockers.  Before the first day, we load the lockers with a surprise.  Based on the team name, we put a notecard with a piece of candy on the shelf in their locker.  For instance, when we were the Pirate Team, the note said “Arrgh, there be treasure” and we put Nestle’s Treasures there.  When we were the Surfer Team, it said “Surf’s Up, Dude” and we used Lifesavers.  It’s a nice little “welcome to the team” gesture that starts us off on a positive note.

The first day of school, kids are always excited about two things: who is in their class and where their locker is.  Because of this, as soon as possible, we give the students their locker assignments and combinations.  Then, we take them to the hall to let them try it out.  They’re always excited to see the note.  This also acts as a conversation starter for the students – as they talk about finding this note, they begin talking to each other.

The nice thing about doing this is it not only lets the students know it’s going to be a fun year, it also looks good to the administration, parents, etc.  This is something that doesn’t take much time, but pays off in a big way.

What do you do to connect with students during the first days of school?  How do you let them know you care?

Teaching Middle School

Funny Workplace Ecard: Thanks for teaching the age group the rest of the world can't handle. Your tolerance level for obnoxious insecurity is impressive.

I really like this quote.  It reminds me that what we’re doing really does matter.  While I don’t see my students as obnoxious at all, I do hear this sentiment from others quite often.  Just about every time we go on a field trip, one of the parent chaperones says “I don’t know how you do it every day”.


I usually just smile, because if I explained that I do it every day because I actually enjoy it, they wouldn’t understand.  🙂

Teaching Reading Street

In the fall, I will be teaching language arts using a new textbook: Reading Street.  I’ve heard a lot about it from elementary teachers, most of whom have used the word “overwhelming”.

Basically, it is an all-encompassing textbook.  It includes reading, writing, computer skills, grammar, spelling, etc.  Each week is a separate piece that goes into a 6 week unit.  Students complete a piece of writing each week, as well as read a story, part of a book or article.  In addition, they complete a research project and present their findings.

This summer, I have been going through the materials and creating powerpoints for each day.  I’m not sure how well they will work, but the process has given me a structure to look at it with.  In addition, I’m able to put everything together in an easy-to-use (I hope, anyway) format.  I also listed times for each activity, in order to help me stay on track as I work through class.

Unit 1 Week 1 Day 1

I have attached one of the powerpoints – let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from other teachers:

Will this make things easier for me?

Are the time frames reasonable?

Is this a huge waste of my time?

I’ll post some others, too.  Feel free to use them in your classroom – but be sure to let me know how it goes!

Using Those Planners and Communicating with Parents

Communicating with Parents

As students move into middle school, the lines of communication with parents change.  What works in elementary school morphs into something different as students become adolescents.  We believe it is very important to keep parents informed about what is happening in their child’s education.  While we recognize that parents want to be involved, we also understand that families are busy, and get busier, the older the students become.  Sports, clubs and other extra-curricular activities increase, making it more difficult for parents to stay on top of their child’s homework, studying, etc.

Our simplest (and low tech) method for communication is asking parents to sign the student’s agenda/planner.  Most middle schools use a planner of some sort.  This allows us to build good study habits and time management.

Included In The Daily Agenda

Each day, we list the topics that will be covered that day in the core classes, along with any homework for that night.  As students enter class each morning, they are expected to copy it down.  We also have a student copy down the assignments from the team teacher and then write those assignments on the board, as well.  This means that all of the topics for the day are listed on both boards, all day.  Students are required to copy everything that we write.

Each afternoon, we have D.E.A.R. time.  This stands for Drop Everything And Read and consists of 15 minutes of silent reading time.  During that time, we walk around with a clipboard and a chart.  We check each student’s agenda, circling the homework, writing a note to parents, if needed and initialing the entry.  We also check for a parent signature.  If it is signed, we put a checkmark on the chart for that day.  If it is not, we put a zero.

Incentive for Signing

How do we ensure that students take the agenda home to get signed, you wonder?  We offer an incentive.  Over the years, we tried extra credit, candy, random drawings and other rewards.  All of these met limited success.  It wasn’t until we began issuing homework if the agenda was not signed that we had a high level of participation.  The idea is simple and fairly easy to carry out.

If a student has his or her agenda signed each day of the week, he or she gets no homework on Thursday.  If a student misses out on even one signature, homework is handed out.  We make sure the homework is a simple worksheet – nothing to complex.  We position it as an annoyance.  It has been our experience that annoying the students with an assignment causes them to have their agenda signed.

This assignment is not graded, it is simply a ticket into the All Done Club.  You would be surprised how many students will get their agenda signed, in order to avoid this homework (which is our purpose, after all)!  Friday morning, when we check in the work, any student who wasn’t assigned the homework simply gets a mark in the box on the All Done Club chart.  Having marked off everyone’s signatures on our chart as we checked agendas makes this simple.

Getting the Agenda Signed

We explain to the students at the beginning of the year that it is THEIR job to have the agenda signed, not their parent’s.  Suggestions we give for ease of signing include: leave it open on the kitchen table, propping it near the front door, or even leaving it on their parent’s pillow in the evening (for those parents who work night shifts).  We remind them that they don’t have to be present when their parent signs.  This removes much of the pressure on the parents.  In addition, we try to remind everyone that the worst that will happen is they have an extra assignment on Thursday evening.  (Not really the end of the world, after all!)


Parents really appreciate this routine.  It makes it easy for them to see what their child is studying in school, as well as any homework or upcoming quizzes/tests.  In addition, they can write a quick note to us in the agenda and we’ll see it the next day.  It is one more method for communicating with parents (particularly those parents without internet access).

While it sounds like a lot of work, once it’s begun, it nearly runs itself.  We try to copy stacks of worksheets in advance.  In a half hour, you can have 4-6 weeks worth of agenda homework ready.  We use the same charts for the agenda signatures that we use for the All Done Club.  In fact, I keep my charts all on the same clipboard, so if a student is wondering if he or she will have homework Thursday, it’s easy to check.

The other benefit to this system is the documentation.  Throughout the year, I can see which parents have signed and which ones have not.  This means I have data showing my communication with parents.  Collecting this sort of data is more important than ever.  With teacher evaluations increasingly based on parent communications, student growth, etc, this is one more tool to help the teacher, along with the student and parent.  The success of this system has made my life easier, in more ways than one.