Curriculum Night

Every year when curriculum night rolls around, I feel challenged. Well, let me clarify. I feel challenged in my hope to ensure that the evening is meaningful for students and their families. I understand that parents are interested in finding out how their child is progressing but with 4 weeks under our belts – and sometimes less than that – I know what I’ve seen so far is often just a tiny glimpse into a child’s potential. We’re still getting to know each other, learning routines and quite frankly, expectations that we may have of each other. So whenever the conversation starts about what we are doing for curriculum night, I ask myself three questions: 

  1. What works for our school community?
  2. How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?
  3. How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on each of these questions.

What works for our school community?

Students, families and the community should be at the forefront of what we do in education. As such, considering all members of our community in planning curriculum night is essential. Being new to my school and school community, it was really important for me to understand what usually happens in order to determine what I might consider doing. I’ve been in schools where the expectations have been formal presentations during particular timeslots and in others where less formal meet-and-greets where handouts are provided. I have found that every school is different. Not only that, but the pandemic has also opened our eyes to what might be done virtually to support a variety of families. This year we went with a less formal, in-person, meet-and-greet where parents popped in and out of classrooms and were free to move around the school at their leisure. During the hour, I found that there were times when there were lulls and then periods when the room was packed and buzzing with excitement. Families felt free to come for parts of the evening when it was ideal for them and had the freedom to not stay for the entire time and I found that worked best for our school community. 

How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?

This year, I teach prep and although I have a fairly large room, it’s often hard to have student work from all classes on display. As of late, we have been working on design thinking projects that are all in various stages. The kindergarten students and the grade 1/2s all have their animal habitats built and those were on display but the 2/3s and 4/5s have most of their plans and work in piles together as many are just beginning to design prototypes. That said, I tried to consider how students could show parents that they have been learning skills to help them solve real-life problems in a way that was fun and engaging. Our Lego challenges at the beginning of the school year were a great success so I gave out another challenge to students and their families and the builds were on. Families created together and students walked them through their solutions with joy and confidence. It was really great seeing families working together to solve a problem and the rich conversations that came of it. I think it was an opportunity to lighten the pressure of coming in and meeting the teacher and gave students the chance to feel right at home with something familiar that they could share with their families. It was so nice to see some students return later in the evening to sit and build with their families.

How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

Being new, this was the first time meeting many families. Because of our Lego challenge, I did enjoy that there wasn’t the pressure of a formal presentation.  I chose to create a slideshow that was on a loop and noticed that many families – while building – were taking a look and jotting down information on how we could connect. I have a classroom blog that I use to update families on what we get up to in our classroom and many noted that it was a great way to start conversations about what students are learning and doing on a weekly basis. I also let parents know that my door is always open and that I look forward to working with them in supporting their children this year. For the few who were asking for specifics, I asked if we could set up a time to speak and also mentioned that progress reports and interviews are coming up soon and that would give me more of an opportunity to get to know their child and for us to have the chance to have a more meaningful conversation.

How does curriculum night work in your school? What considerations are made when planning the evening? Please feel free to share as the more we know and are able to consider, the better we become in our practice. Based on our curriculum night this year, I’m excited to work with students and their families for a successful year of learning.  Hope you are too!

The Power of “Thank You”

“Thank you”

2 simple words that mean so much. Especially when they are followed by a reason for giving thanks. 

As an educator of young children, I don’t teach for the “thank you”. I teach for the students, their progress, their laughs, their smiles, and that feeling of sharing a joy for learning. 

However, when I do get those genuine, ‘from the bottom of my heart’ “thank you” ’s, they often bring me to tears. Thank you can feel so reassuring, so comforting and can be a springboard that launches deep and powerful connections. 

An amazing colleague of mine, who is many years into their career, suggested I keep a journal of these kind words of thanks from parents and families. Initially, I thought this seemed silly. Why would I keep these notes and emails? What purpose would this serve me? But, I tried it anyways. Why not? If I didn’t find this practice helpful I could stop at any point and not tell a single soul I had ever done it. 

Fast forward to the present moment, where various letters, cards and printed emails from families live in the binder I stash at the back of my filing cabinet. I spread the word of this practice, as not a way to brag or boast but to share with you the feelings it has brought me.  

First of all, it brings me joy. What better reason to do anything? Why not document these joyful moments in celebration of student success.

Secondly, I find comfort revisiting these “thank you” ‘s when I feel tired, overwhelmed or broken down. It is easy for me to fixate on a lesson that didn’t go well, or the things that I could be doing differently; therefore doing them better. Flipping through this binder of positive thoughts allows me to reframe my mindset and reflect critically on my practice while being kind to myself.

Lastly, the powerful feelings that these “thank you” ‘s bring me are inspiring. I want to pass this feeling on to my colleagues, my students and their families who show up and work hard every day. I am mindful each day to share my genuine “thank you” ‘s out loud.

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever received?

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever given?

Allyship with Parents/Families

I am a firm believer in parents/families/caregivers engagement in the school community, and, by extension, in their children’s learning experience and success at school. Families who talk with their children about their day at school, who support and continue the learning at home, who actively communicate with teachers and the school, and who volunteer their time to participate in various opportunities at school are all examples of engaged and aware  parents/families. That’s all great, but for me, the real question is how can we support parents/families who are NOT able to engage in many of the above opportunities at home or at school? Do we provide support to (is it our responsibility to support) parents/families so that they too can support their children’s learning at home? Do we need to reconstruct/redefine what engagement looks like?  Is our engagement with parents/families co-constructed and, if not, where do we begin and who will be at the discussion table? I think it’s important to shift our focus from getting parents/families into the school to supporting them at home.

 

How can we support parents/families to support student learning at home?

One of the things that has worked well for me was my focus on building strong relationships with parents/families and trying to understand their lived experiences, the systemic barriers they face on a daily basis and their diverse needs. Regular communication between school and home helped me to build trust, to break down barriers and also to create strong learning partnerships. I believe that students achieve greater emotional, psychological and academic success when they are able to see and benefit from an effective reciprocal partnership between home and school. Building a trusting partner relationship allowed me to better understand the underlying challenges students were facing at school, and by working in partnership with their parents/families, we were able to create greater opportunities for student success at school and at home. Parents/families were more likely to engage when they felt valued, acknowledged, respected and were seen as equal partners in their children’s learning and development. For me the learning that happened at home extended to school and vice versa. Now, how do we create that same opportunity for all of our students, parents and families? 

Another thing I did was to collaborate with community organizations to further enhance efforts at school to support parent interests and student needs. Public libraries, health services, community centres, community sports/clubs, religious organizations and so on can offer an array of programs and services that can support student learning, student mental-health and help bridge the support gap between home and school. I was able to connect with many of these programs and services throughout the years and they have been instrumental in providing additional support to students and parents/families. At times, it might be necessary/helpful to go above and beyond to make those connections possible. That decision can sometimes be difficult for educators to make, but often results in greater success when it comes to parental engagement, student success and well-being.  Helping parents access these programs  deepened my connections with families in my community and contributed to building a multi-directional and reciprocal approach to student success. I believe that when parents/families feel supported at home they are more likely to support their children’s learning and development at school. 

Helping parents/families understand their roles as co-educators in their children’s learning was also something I did to further enhance the learning that took place at home. One of the things I had to consider was how to communicate with and support parents/families from diverse linguistic backgrounds with limited comprehension of the English language. For the most part, I had access to interpreters, when needed, through my school board and I was able to share important information and documents with parents/families in their native language. Unfortunately, not every family, staff or school board has access to the same level of multilingual support in the province of Ontario. That is concerning to me and it’s something I hope will change in the near future. In the meantime, there are many other important roles parents/families can play in supporting their children’s learning at home such as being an active listener, a mentor, a coach, and an advocate for their children’s rights as well as their social, emotional and academic needs. I was able to work with many parents/families to develop strategies for student success at home. It was important to me to ensure that the parental engagement strategies we co-constructed were culturally relevant, responsive and differentiated to meet the needs of the individual families and improve student achievement. However, equitable access to interpreters and important documents in diverse languages continue to be a barrier for many parents/families across Ontario. This is something I hope principals, superintendents and executive members of each school board in Ontario seriously address in order to close the inequity gaps for our parents/families. 

 

Here are some of the things I considered when Co-Constructing Parent Engagement Strategies – Focused on Student Learning

  • Build strong, respectful relationships with parents/families to better understand their needs
  • Identify and help remove systemic barriers to parent engagement that may prevent some parents/families from fully participating in their children’s learning at home and at school
  • Provide resources and materials (including texts, digital resources and community organizations/connections) on ways to support children at home
  • Regularly communicate information about their children’s progress, including their successes, strengths and needs – keep in mind parents/families busy schedules and other factors that might limit their ability to communicate regularly
  • Encourage parents/families to also support children in other ways such as active listening, encouraging, guiding, monitoring, discussing and asking questions that promote courageous conversations and critical thinking
  • Create classroom opportunities that encourage parents/families and students to work together on tasks that are culturally relevant and have real-life applications

2 weeks

Happy December folx,

I’m writing this on a Saturday, and it feels good. I am not sure when it will actually be posted though. It has been a day since wishing my in-class and hybrid learners “happy holidays” and “merry Christmas” so the significance of the next two weeks outside of school coupled with exhaustion, uncertainty, and another COVID19 wave have not hit me, yet.

Did anyone else wake up at their normal time even though the alarm wasn’t set? My body and mind will need some time to sync with the holiday hiatus whether they are ready or not. I am not going to force the issue either. It is important to sleep when you’re tired and wake when you are ready over the next 2 weeks.

I have found it best to spend the first 2 days of any long break keeping regular routines. I do this because of the inevitable let-down that happens once my brain and body realize that it will not be business as usual at school on day 3. I have learned the hard way that not easing into the holidays left me really rundown and often with a cold. As the spread of the recent varient rivals the proliferation of Christmas music everywhere, it is wise not to let your guard down.

The holidays offer freedom that when paired with a built-up desire to cram numerous overdue social activities into a finite amount of time can be very tempting. Self-care over this break needs to be your first priority even when a voice in the back of your head is screaming you forgot something at school. I encourage you to leave your work email alone as much as possible over this time, Being aware of this over extended time away from work has been very helpful to my mind and body.

To admit that this break comes as a relief is the best way to express how it feels today. I am tried, tested, tired, and trying to avoid a tirade from a sensed disappointment in students, their families, and fellow educators all of whom have been left looking for some clarity as to what will happen when we are scheduled to return in January.

At days end on December 17th, there was little evidence of a clear message/acknowledgement from the current minister of education or from many school boards in response to the rapidly changing numbers of new infections in our province. I guess we should be thankful to have made it to the end of this school month, since the numbers of new infections have been increasing so rapidly in and out of schools. This year’s break could not have come at a better time. Speaking of the time, I will continue this post tomorrow. I am off to cook dinner.

Time for a little politics

It’s Sunday morning, coffee pot empty, breakfast cooked and eaten, dishes done, and it’s back to the keyboard. A reread of the previous day’s paragraphs, several phrasing/content changes made, and action. By the way, dinner was delish. Asian inspired pork with a tangerine ginger garlic sauce over rice and stir fry veggies. Yum! It’s go time.

Over the holidays our students will be able to isolate more and monitor their health using the 5 RATs (rapid antigen tests) each was given. Now they can line up with their parents while they get theirs and call it ‘family time’. I am appalled that the citizens of our province have been forced to line up to receive a pack of tests like this will solve the spread of COVID19 and its varients. It did not surprise me either to hear that RATs would be available at some LCBO locations, not all. Now their employees(also unionized) can be run off their feet even more during their busiest time of year.

I think local MPP offices would be a much better location to pick up these tests as it would provide a chance for them to look their constituents in the eye and see what their decisions have wrought. They don’t seem to be doing a lot with their free time out of the legislature other than photo-opping.

Teachers felt the mean spirited message the current government sent them when they were not included in the distribution of RATs. It speaks again to the malicious intent to demoralize a decimated workforce already coping with underfunding,  understaffing, poor public policy, indifference, broken promises, and the visceral contempt of the profession by the current government.

We need to demand better from the people who are elected to serve us. Students, their families, and educators deserve better. We deserve leadership that serves the public and not the profiteers in whose pockets they pander.

Stay safe. Stay strong. In solidarity we stand.

Possibly next time

In my last post parents and guardians, I mentioned wanting to share some further thoughts about communication tips in support of new educators, but that will have to be something for the future.

parents and guardians

There are numerous allies in education outside of our schools. Parents and guardians are always at the top of the list. To reframe a quote, “they are our partners in education”. In other, perhaps more ominous words, everything we do in the classroom is linked inextricably to them and their children – good, bad, or otherwise. No pressure there, eh?

When I started out as a teacher, I had to learn the delicate dance of dealing with parents. Coming from a media, sales, and entrepreneurial background, prior to education, provided me with a mix of no nonsense and conversational finesse. Perhaps, the number of kilometres on my life odometer have made interactions with parents and guardians different for me compared to my chronologically younger colleagues. I noticed that even though we started out at the same time, our experiences from our first parent conferences back in the day were quite different. This is still happening today, 12 years later as I try to mentor teachers new to their roles in schools. 

Was and is my age a factor ? What about my gender? What about my privilege of being a white-cis male too? Yup, yup, and double-yup.

At first I found it odd that families saw me as more experienced based only on their visual assumptions? I never hid my rookie status from families. Yet, I witnessed how some younger teachers seemed to be second guessed by some parents/guardians for no perceivable reason other than their youth even though they had the same experience as me. I can guarantee you that most of them could teach circles and other shapes around me.

Seeing this year after year proved that this was not an uncommon occurence in education. In subsequent years, I felt strongly about making sure teachers would rally together in support of our new team members on staff by ensuring that there is a supportive structure around them. I know it’s called NTIP, but I never recall meetings with parents and guardians as high on the learning priority list. For me, this focus is also extended to all faculty of education students. It is important that they get a chance to be present when possible for meetings too. 

the set-up

Looking back, it may have been the way I front loaded communication prior to those meetings? For my part, I have always believed that the student is the best agenda. I have always expected them to share their days and responsibilites with the adults at home in their lives. I have also learned that an agenda can be conveniently lost or recycled at the most interesting times.

When I was given my first homeroom, I made sure to let parents know what they could expect in terms of communication forms and frequency. As such, even though students had agendas they were expected to fill them as they saw fit throughout the day. This year I chose not to ask for agendas for my grade 4/5 class which left some parents a bit uncomfortable. A colleague solved that issue by cutting an 80 page writing book in half. Voilà, an agenda is born.

It is important to remember that it is your class and you need to manage it in terms that work best for you. Consider it as a differentiation of sorts. Gardner would be proud. 

I prefer to communicate with adults at home in a more corporate manner via email. This is mostly due to my atrocious penmanship skills. My hand moves too slowly for my brain. Typing has allowed me to find the goldilocks zone for my brain and body. Parents and guardians receive updates about classroom events such as what is being learnt and any assessments that might be coming home or upcoming.

I also use my emails to families as a method of letting parents know how hard their students are working and that I appreciate their support. This medium of communication has always been effective for me. 

If you are fan of agendas then the answer is built into your instructional day already as students copy down what is on the board to take home each night. I see the value of developing the fine motor skills of younger students by printing, but am also aware that this can be an incredible instructional time suck. With the rise of digital classroom spaces (G**gle et al) many of the daily notices can be shared online without daily delay which would give time for other fine motor skills practice anyway.

I also believe that students can come to loathe the activity if they struggle with printing/cursive writing like I do. Communication does not have to be daily. See my above where I mentioned how students can be the conversational conduits of their school days instead of a series of disconnected written prompts that require explanation anyway. This brings me to my next point about how frequently educators need to share with families, but that will have to wait until my next post because there might be some stories and opinions to share that would make this read a bit too much like a long note home in an agenda. 

 

Reframing our mindsets around pandemic learning and reporting

Now that the busy-ness of progress report season is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on my reporting practices and the big picture of how reporting looks for us this year. I know I’m not the only educator in my school building who struggled to write progress reports this year, but I did find it interesting how these struggles looked different for many of my colleagues. My biggest strife? The reporting structures we follow reflect narratives of “learning loss” and “achievement gaps” when, in fact, my virtual students show up and try their best every single day. 

When I think about the big picture of how teaching and learning has looked since March 2020, especially as a 100% virtual teacher myself, I struggle to accept the fact that our reporting structures have not been adapted to consider the effects of trauma, isolation, and deterioration of mental health on students. Should we be writing traditional report cards at all? How can we provide meaningful feedback and assessment that considers the context of teaching and learning through a pandemic?

In spite of barriers maintained by the traditional report card, I try to make a concerted effort to always understand individual student experiences and contexts to adapt to pandemic learning. To push myself further, I remind myself to look at some of the dualities that exist in online student engagement to reframe my mindset:

  • Students are desperate for socialization as they learn by themselves from home—behaviour that is usually considered to be disruptive in the classroom is actually a courageous effort to build friendships.
  • Students are always willing to be their best selves in online school, while also feeling unable to bring themselves to complete work some days. 
  • Students choose to keep their cameras off, resulting in them feeling like they can be their truest selves—independent from their physical appearance.

When we only use learning skills and grades to evaluate student character and academic progress, we are sure to miss their best and bravest moments as learners. How might we include a reframed mindset around pandemic learning within current structures of reporting? There are countless conversations to be had about assessment and reporting from a critical perspective, and I’m looking forward to building on these reflections and connecting with educators who are asking similar questions. 

Moving forward I’m thinking a lot about how I can push my gradeless assessment practices even further and look at the ways that character education and learning skills can be an inequitable way of understanding student achievement. I can’t wait to share these thoughts here! 

Note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. ETFO will continue to demand action from the government, school boards and public health units to ensure in-person learning can resume quickly and safely.

post parent conference potential

Parent conferences are done. PHEW! Now before you take that giant “PHEW!” as a negative thing hold on for a moment because it is quite the opposite. That “PHEW!” was due to the amount of energy that educators pour into them. Parent conferences are tiring. They come with some emotional highs and lows. Parent conferences come with some eye opening realizations. They also come with their share of next steps. This is where I find the potential for positive things to come.

So instead of a retrospective approach on mid-terms reports and conferences, I want to look forward to the potential that is to come in the classroom.

Now that I have had a couple of days to recover, maybe a moment of reflection couldn’t hurt.

First, the conferences were very positive. Why wouldn’t they be? Next to parents and family, teachers should be the biggest cheerleaders for their students. Even if and when potential is not fully realized there is still growth happening. Returning to school after 2 years of turmoil during emergency distance learning due to a pandemic is no small feat. Finding routines and academic stamina takes time for students and educators, especially this one.

Back to the future (the real one)

So when the conferences happened, it was easy to share what I’ve learnt so far this with parents and guardians knowing this is what will be happening in my classroom going forward.

1. Students will have even more time to wrestle with Math. This is not an issue of quantity or drill and kill methods, but one of developing positive mathematical mindsets in every learner.
2. Students will have even more opportunity for low floor high ceiling problem solving. One question might be all that is needed. See 1.
3. Students will have even more time to read. The most frequent question I get is about homework. Reading is the only activity I consistently assign each day for homework. With students enrolled in sports, music lessons, and etc. they have enough on their plates already. When push comes to shove on this issue, my Google classroom provides digital reading and math platforms for students to work on to refine their skills as well.
4. Students will have even more mental health breaks. Humour, self-directed time, LoFi Hip Hop, and movement breaks are keys. I have learned that a Just Dance video is a good for my wellbeing as theirs. (reply in the comments for my faves)
5. Students will have even more time to share what’s on their minds in a way that allows them to ask questions about their learning and the world around them. There are opportunities for conversations around inclusion and identity. I know that during daily class read alouds has been a great time for this in my room.

All 5 of the above have always been happening in my classroom. Now that I have witnessed the potential that each have provided my students, the more they will be part of their future.

 

Interviews

November is interview time.  Interviews are an important connection with the home to communicate progress in learning. After the last 2 years of disrupted school, it is also going to be a very important connection to speak about student’s social and emotional well being.

Over time, every teacher develops their own approach to completing so many important phone calls/interviews in one evening and morning according to their professional judgement. I have seen a variety of different interview styles all be successful. Some teachers prefer to run student led conferences where students present their own work and discuss their goals for the school year while teachers facilitate the conversation. Other teachers prefer to directly discuss the students’ strengths and weaknesses directly with parents or guardians.

For me, my approach is to write down notes on every child before the interview night and discuss them with parents or guardians. I do this because during my very first interview night, many years ago, I didn’t write any notes before hand. I was confident that I knew my students and could talk about them forever! What I didn’t factor in was what would happen to my brain after 3 hours straight of talking about a variety of students. During my very last interview, I hesitated to describe a positive trait about a very vulnerable student that I taught. I was so very disappointed in myself as I knew a thousand wonderful things about this student, but my brain was fatigued. Ever since that moment, I always prepare notes. I also have found that it provides a good record of what was discussed.

My notes that I prepare answers 4 basic questions and leaves 1 area for questions that come up during the interview:

One Positive aspect about the child and/or their progress this year

I always start with a positive aspect about the child. It often sets the interview on the right note and tells the family that I really care and know their child. I will try to share something about their academic progress and something about their positive role in the classroom and/or school. For example, “We are so happy to have Ishmeet in our class this year.  She is such a positive and outgoing member of our class and really works hard to make sure her classmates are included in all classroom activities. When we were working on our Science experiments last week, she saw that one student was left out and she went over and invited them into her group. It really helped the other student to be successful because they felt included. Ishmeet has also had a great start to the year in reading. She actively participates in our small group conversations, and she passionately talks about her book that she has self-selected. She can read new words and use strategies to figure out their meaning. Continue to encourage her to read at home.”

One area of growth

I try to focus this part of the conversation about one academic area that the child is working on improving. For this part of the conversation, I always have examples of the student’s work and an example of work that would be assessed at an A level. I find having samples for parents makes it much more easy for them to identify and see why I have evaluated their child’s classroom work at a given level. For example, “One area that Aria is working on improving this year is writing. As you can see from her most recent writing assignment, Aria does a great job organizing her ideas and writing her thoughts in paragraphs. To improve her mark in writing, Aria needs to add more complexity to her sentences and add more vivid vocabulary to her assignments as you can see in this A level sample here.”

What I am doing to support their child

During this part of the interview, I reiterate my commitment to their child’s learning this year. I clearly outline specifically my plan for supporting their child’s progress. For example, “I have noticed that Harini is having a difficult time understanding the Mathematical concepts of money. During our math periods this week, I have been meeting with Harini and 3 other students in a small group every day to help support her understanding of money. Next week, we will be having an assignment that uses the knowledge about money that we have been practicing. I will follow up with you before that assignment if I feel that Harini needs more time and practice to develop her skills in this area.”

The Home-School Connection

Finally, I thank the parent or guardian for meeting/talking with me today and highlight how important the connection between home and school is. It is often at this point in the interview that many caregivers ask for guidance on how to support the child’s learning at home.  When you are asked this question it is important to keep in mind that not all parents have access to the same resources, time or supports in their home or community. Just like my students, I want to set parents up for success and I need to be flexible and responsive in my answer.  For example, in my new role supporting English language learners, many families asked how they could support their child in reading when they didn’t speak English themselves. I responded by encouraging them to discuss what their child is reading in their first language and modeled what that conversation might sound like. With another family that I worked with in my previous role who wanted to understand how to support their child, I provided a resource that gave step by step instructions on how to develop reading skills and we met and role-played how that might look in their home. Ultimately, I highlight with the parent the many ways they already help their child be successful at school such as sharing their own life experiences and involving the child in family activities. An example of this unconventional way that a father supported his daughter’s learning was when she clearly made a connection between the text she was reading and her father’s experiences driven into child labour that he had shared with her. It is important as teachers, that we recognize the many ways parents, guardians and families support our students every day.

Do you have any questions?

I usually end with an opportunity for parents to ask questions. If the parent has a lot of questions, ask them to have a follow up meeting so that you are able to respect the time of all the parents who will be meeting with you tonight.

Final thoughts:

  • It is okay to say that you are not sure about an answer and that you will follow up with the answer next week. I sometimes get asked about high school programs or opportunities for extra curriculars that I don’t know about. I write down the question and follow up with the parent the following week.
  • Stop the interview immediately if you are feeling threatened. Do not take abuse or put yourself in a dangerous situation. Call the office immediately and stand outside your classroom until the situation is resolved.
  • I always end the interview with a reminder to parents that they can call, email, or make an appointment to chat any day throughout the year. My door is always open!!
  • Ultimately, the parent wants to know that you care about their child as much as they do. If you go in with a positive tone, most interviews will be successful no matter what approach works best for you.

Interview Reflections: The Most Important Question

It’s the time of year when parent-teacher interviews are occurring, and as a planning time teacher I still find it odd that I won’t be conducting any unless at the request of a parent as I don’t have a homeroom. This period was always an exciting albeit nervous experience for me and I imagine many of the parents and guardians I have spoken to over the years.

When I think of interviews, I think of the multiple conversations that have come out of that night that stick in my mind. I remember biting my tongue as some parents talked of goals that I thought were not necessarily unattainable, but perhaps not indicative of their child’s personality or talents. I fondly recall seeing ‘repeat customers’ and talking about how similar or different the younger sibling was and discussing the older child’s progress in middle school. I even had one interview where the parent asked me for bunny care tips as she found out I also had a rabbit!

It took me a few times, but I eventually got the idea to always begin with the same question. Something I thought was a perfect springboard to discussing the progress during the year:

“How is your child enjoying the class?” or “How do you like the class?”

So much of the report card is spent discussing grades, but to me the child’s happiness is paramount to their success. With this question, I am able to find out info around their rapport with me, concerns and home, or conflicts with peers. Then I try my best to work with the staff to make things work before they leave my class in June. It may be true that school isn’t the favourite for most kids, but given these uncertain times, asking for the child’s state of mind regarding coming into the building every day can point to a lot of reflection regarding the starting point for learning skills and general well-being.

Children were not really encouraged to attend interviews when I was in school, and I wonder as well what I might have said with my parents during my time. But I think a lot of teachers would be pleased to know that I am following in their footsteps.

Survival tips

I am not talkative. I will share my voice in writing though. Perhaps it is more a function of selective participation rather than voluntary silence. Writing provides me with some permanence, albeit only in pixels, as much as it does a chance to reflect on the words I do choose to share. Instead of my mouth going off like a cannon. I can chew on my words a bit more before spilling my thoughts on a page. In short, it has been quite a month and if I am going to survive the next 9, I will need to get some things off my mind.

Most of this September felt like driving in the dark of night and every oncoming car had its highbeams on. I found it hard to see where I’m going and it hurts. With so much time staring at a screen now, the additional online professional learning is blurring my vision and I am starting to develop an aversion to screen time. It has me thinking twice about how much I want to integrate tech in my classroom right now too. 

I see your high beams are on, but do you have to drive in my lane?

I have been trying to make sense of the way the government ghosted education, the rising COVID case numbers in schools, and the unconscionable decisions being made by many school boards regarding hybrid learning

This is also what hurts:

Of course it has been completely safe to go back to school this year even though cases are nearly 5 times higher than September 2020.
We have HEPA filters in every classroom. Mine must be hidden somewhere.

Of course the hybrid model will work for families instead of dedicated Elementary Virtual Schools. “Teachers will figure it out.”
We have figured it out by the way. It sucks.

Of course the glaring gaps in equity and decisions made “for all” only benefit the privileged who have the wherewithall and choice as to whether their child stays home or not.
Here’s a terrible camera and headset so you can syncronously miss being present in your physical and digital classrooms. 

It is very clear that the “brain trust” tasked with these decisions declared, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” I can’t shake these questions: When was the last time any system leaders taught an online class on a daily basis? Where is their compassion, consideration, or consultation with current classroom educators? Why in good conscience would anyone with mental health as a pillar in their foundation allow this to happen? How did they lose their way so completely at the expense of their most valuable resources? It is dizzying. 

How about the feeling of knowing you are going to pass out just before passing out? That’s how it felt when the news of having to teach the hybrid model came down from the folx above. This decisive disconnect was dropped on us without a single consideration of the trauma it would cause in and out of classrooms. It was at that moment when I went into survival mode. I needed to “guard my heart and mind” from diving into dark spaces as it was very clear that no one else was going to do it for me. 

This realization got me thinking about what I needed to do to keep a grasp on my sanity and professionalism in order to do my job in these conditions. Here is what I have come up with so far:
1. Guard your heart and mind. Don’t get caught up in actions and activities that will only stretch you thinner. It’s okay to let someone else lead a meeting or division, run a club (when permitted), or welcome a student teacher. You are allowed to focus on you first. 

2. Resist through rest. I saw this in a tweet from @MsDhillon6A and it really resonated with me. Educators are notorious for taking on too much. We are doers and getters of things done, but we also need to pace ourselves. Teaching is a marathon not a sprint. It takes stamina and determination to maintain a steady pace. The 2021-22 school year is a great time to learn to say no and to let go of extra activities that drain the life out of your practice, body, and spirit.

3. Set boundaries with colleagues, students, admin, and families. There is nothing wrong with having office hours from 8 until 5 pm Monday to Friday. That email reply from the weekend will wait until Monday. You deserve work-life balance not work-work-life imbalance. 

4. Do something for yourself. Take a personal mental health day. Practice good sleep hygiene. Walk, yoga, play pickle ball, or call an old friend who you used to work with to touch base. I like to read, cook, and work on my not so secret goal to be a stand up comedian. As a primary teacher on occasion, I am used to tough crowds so I am half way there. 
And finally, 

5. Don’t silo yourself away. You do not have to go through any of this alone. Share your frustrations, joys, ups, and downs. It is another year unlike any other. Teachers need to know that there are tens of thousands cheering for each other to make it through the day in the service of our students. Tag me anytime via Twitter  if you are having a rough day and need to share. Watch how the #onted family is there to rally and offer kind words of support. 

I’m going to listen to Gloria Gaynor now? Feel free to join me.

 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.