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. 


Top Ten Tips for Attending Virtual Professional Learning for Educators

So much learning is happening virtually now and it is amazing.  I recently attended a virtual EdTech Conference in Nebraska!  This is an opportunity I never would have been able to take advantage of before the pandemic.  I have attended a number of virtual conferences during COVID and I’ve also organized and facilitated virtual learning over the last year and it is a different way to get your learn on!

In order to really get the most out of Virtual Professional Learning here are my go-to suggestions:

  1.  Organize your time and your conference selections in advance.  If there are many choices, take the time to do the research on the session and on the presenter. If there are digital links for presentations on the conference site to add into a digital tote-do it before your sessions so that you aren’t tempted to leave the session in order to do so.  Thank you ISTE LIVE 21  for the digital tote feature!
  2. Be PRESENT.  Be mindful and intentional about your learning.  If it isn’t the kind of learning that you were expecting, hop over to another session otherwise you’ll be resentful of wasted time and learning.
  3. Put your “out of office” email message on and don’t check your email.  If you were in an in-person setting, checking your email would be rude. This is time for your learning so treasure and protect that time.
  4. When possible attend LIVE sessions not asynchronous or previously recorded sessions.  LIVE sessions have opportunities to engage and ask questions which makes the learning is deeper.
  5. Have a PLP (Professional Learning Partner) or two! No one really wants to go to a conference by themselves. Some of the best learning takes place when you share what you learned in a session that your PLP wasn’t able to attend! You double the learning!
  6. Participate in the learning.  If there is a chat feature then put who you are and where you are from in the chat.  Ask questions, engage and connect.  This is where you grow your Professional Learning Network.  In a face to face conference you would sit down and meet new people.  Think of how you would engage with others in a real conference setting.
  7. TWEET! TWEET!  Get the conference hashtag, follow it, retweet and tweet about your learning and the presenters.  Follow those presenters and give them a shoutout. Take a picture of the slide that they are sharing and post it (without people’s faces and names in it.)  It is awesome as a facilitator to see the tweets afterwards.  It is timely feedback and motivational for the presenter.
  8. Take notes.  My PLPs and I recently collaborated on note taking using a Google Slide deck while attending a conference.  We pasted links, took screenshots and put notes of important information into the slide deck so we have the learning for later.
  9. Participate.  As a presenter, it isn’t nice to present to the empty boxes on Zoom or Webex. Just as in person, it is nice to see the reaction of the audience to pace yourself and to know that they are still with you! That being said, if you are eating or dealing with your dog or family or have decided to multi-task, leaving your camera on can be distracting for the participants and the presenter.  If there is a question asked in the chat, respond! There is nothing like being a presenter left hanging.  If there is a poll, a word cloud, a Jamboard,or a Kahoot, play along! The presenter created these things in order to make the presentation interactive for the adult learner.
  10.  Take Breaks.  Make sure you look carefully at the schedule (and the time zone) in order to plan your screen, water, coffee, bathroom, movement or snack breaks.

The most important thing to remember is that the presenters put time and effort to share their learning and expertise with you.  It is nerve-wracking to present to a group of educators.  Tech savvy people have tech issues too.  Give presenters grace and remember to thank them and provide feedback for their work and expertise.  They will appreciate it!


Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.

A cartoon image of a bald person holding a finger to their lips to signal "shhhhhh."


My students with Developmental Disabilities have taught me so many things in the past year and a half. They are absolutely an incredible group of kids that are some of the most resilient, funny and committed students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. They come to school every day pumped up for school and even in the midst of deep, and I mean deep, puberty they manage to hold their hormones in check in order for us to accomplish our goals for the day.

One of the best things my students have taught me is to listen more than speak. As teachers we give instructions all day long. We give instructions on where to line up, which book to read, when to take out instruments and if you are a kindergarten teacher you have probably reminded a student to take their hand out of their pants or nose at least once this week. Most of my students understand the same instructions that many other students understand. I can tell them to line up, get their lunch and many, many other typical school instructions. The difference is that many of the students in my class have some difficulty communicating. Some have stutters, others have mouths that are formed in a way that it is difficult for them to form words and others can’t handle multiple instructions in rapid succession. I realized that in order to hear what they are trying to communicate with me I would have to be quiet a lot of the time and really listen.

My students use a multitude of communication strategies throughout the day to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings.

They use:

Visuals- Wow, what would we do without pictures in the classroom? I have understood preferred choices and questions about assigned tasks from the visuals that the students present to me. My newest student quietly reminds me that her time on her bike is coming up next by making sure I notice the picture on her schedule.

Technology- It is a really great time to be a teacher in many ways. There are so many amazing aps and devices that can support student’s learning. My students have told me all about their weekend, favourite items and requests for upcoming events in the classroom using technology.

Gestures/Facial Expressions- My students use a lot of pointing and gestures to communicate in my class. For me as the teacher, the most important time that I use gestures or facial expression is when my students are in distress and escalated. A neutral face and body accompanied by simple one- or two-word instructions are the most important tools in deescalated the stress of my students. When my student’s emotions are heightened, it is very important that I don’t stress them further by asking them to take in a lot of spoken language.

I am so thankful for my students and all that they have taught me.


Listening is an art that requires attention over talents, spirit over ego, others over self” -Dean Jackson



Daring Classrooms

I state the obvious when I say that teaching is a demanding job.  If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and this is not news to you.  I’d like to highlight a resource that feeds the soul of a teacher (and quite frankly a human being) while also providing some strategies for integrating that soul feeding into your classroom practice for your students.  Wait, what…that exists?  It is a website from Brene Brown called Daring Classrooms.  If you haven’t heard of her yet, you can find “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and/or her Ted Talk on Vulnerability.  She is inspirational in leadership, in life and in work.  Here is a snippet from her #DaringClassrooms website:

“Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.

Teachers: Everyday should be Teacher Appreciation Day. I am so grateful for you and your willingness to show up and create brave, safe spaces where our children can learn, grow, and be seen.”

Some of the short (8-12 minute) video resources from Daring Classrooms include:

How do we avoid the pressure to please?

How do teachers manage oversharing?

How do we help parents understand failing as part of the learning process?

Does the word “disappointed” shame students?

In addition to the video resources there are free downloads for resources, parenting the classroom and daily life.  There are pdfs that you can print out for working with students.  My favourite one is the list of core emotions.  Sometimes when students have triggers they can’t always name or explain the emotion that caused the trigger in behaviour.  Being able to learn about the names and the definitions of core emotions is helpful for students to self-regulate.

Every year in a classroom brings new challenges.  In fact, every day in a classroom will bring on a new challenge.  I hope that as you lead your own #DaringClassroom you will find this resource helpful and that it may feed your teacher soul.

An illustration of two stick figures, each with a blank speech bubble.

Communication, Communication, Communication

If you had asked me three years ago how I would rate my communication skills, I would have given myself an 8 out of 10. I felt confident that I could share ideas clearly and listen to gather information. I consistently had good and productive relationships with parents, colleagues and students. I was confident in these skills until I entered my current role as the teacher in a class with 10 students who all have exceptionalities. Wow, my communication skills were really put to the test. In my new role, I was now communicating daily with 3 Educational Resource Facilitators (TAs), administration, parents whose children have limited communication, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, 10 students who have all have some form communication impairment, etc.

I have learned a lot over the past year about effective communication and although our system is far from perfect, it seems to be working for us. I learned that trying to verbally tell all of the ERFs in the room something, quickly became a game of broken telephone. Throughout the day all of the ERFs have a one-hour break so that means that all the staff are together in my classroom for a total of only an hour a day.  We learned throughout last year that communication has to be visual and accessible for everyone in the room so we came up with two ways to help keep everyone in the loop.

The 2 areas of the classroom where our communication is evident is on our whiteboard and our filing cabinets. The whiteboard is an all-around place to go for information regarding the upcoming week in our class. Last year, I learned that information is often shared with teachers first so the whiteboard became a place to go to keep everyone up to speed on the events in our class and school. We also realized that when supply TAs and teachers came to the school, it was so much easier to refer them to some of the information on the whiteboard.

The other place that has worked so well this year is our two filing cabinets right inside my classroom door. One filing cabinet is labeled “Work with Teacher” and the other “Independent Work”. Inside each filing cabinet each one of my students has a section of activities that they need teacher support for and another section in the other filing cabinet that contains activities that they can do completely independently. In daily conversations with ERFS and data tracking of progress, I make decisions about what activities each student will be doing in the upcoming weeks and add or take away activities for a student to work on. It is also an easy place for all staff in the room to know which activity the student is working on.

In addition to the staff in my classroom, communicating with parents has reached a whole new level. I have probably chatted with each one of my families a minimum of 5 times on the phone already this year and I write home every single day in their communication book. I have learned that writing long messages in 10 books every day is very time consuming. I have just made a new form that I am using this year that captures some of the information that I need to communicate every day but in a more efficient way. Below is the example of my current daily communication form that I use. I highlight what activities that the student has completed that day, circle what they need and write a quick note about their day.

Finally, communicating with my students has also evolved over the course of the past year. All of my students use individual visual schedules which I think is quite common for many students with exceptionalities. Our communication board helps students know what is coming up and where they should be in the classroom throughout the day.

Communication is definitely a work in progress for me but it is getting better every single day!



A meme of a teacher wishing for a single point rubric.

Effective Assessment and Feedback: The Single Point Rubric


I’ve never really been focused on grades in my classroom. Some educators and parents might find it shocking to read a teacher put that in print.  However, what I mean is that I seldom talk to my students about levels and letter grades.  I focus discussion around feedback, improvement, exemplars and success criteria.  When rubrics were all the rage I used them rather unsuccessfully. I found that traditional 4 level rubrics were about evaluating after the fact rather than providing feedback that can be acted upon during the learning. Rubrics are sometimes handed to the students as a “big reveal” when the project has been evaluated without any chance for acting on feedback.  I don’t believe that success criteria should be a secret to be kept from students.  It isn’t fair that students are thinking, “Well, if you’d only told me that was an expectation I’d have been happy to include it.  I can’t read the teacher’s mind!”  Clear is kind.  Be clear about the learning goals and success criteria for an assignment and give the students a rich task that they will have to dig into and get feedback to act upon during the learning.

Apart from the evaluative vs. the assessment function of a traditional rubric there are two other things that I dislike about the traditional 4 level rubric.  The first thing is that traditional rubrics inform students about what the bare minimum is that they have to do to complete something.  Some students will look at level 2 and do only just what it takes to fulfill that level.  Secondly, level 4 is meant to go above and beyond the expectations.  In a traditional rubric, students seeking level 4 don’t need to think outside the box at all.  All of the criteria for a level 4 is clearly stated-no thinking necessary.

The answer to this assessment question?  For me it was the Single Point Rubric.  Using the single point rubric changed the learning for my students and shifted my assessment practices. It focuses on what the student is doing well, what the student can do to improve in the work and exactly what the learning goal and the success criteria is for the learning.  However, it also allows for the above and beyond to be driven by the student.  It lets the student pleasantly surprise the teacher with creative thinking.  It is a clear and kind way to deliver feedback to students to encourage them to be successful in their learning.

I have included an example for a grade four  Single Point Rubric Literary Response.  Feel free to copy and change it to suit your needs.

If you would like to learn more about Single Point Rubrics:

Cult of Pedagogy

Edutopia-6 Reasons to Try the Single Point Rubric




We have been trained to watch for concerns of a child’s well being. This didn’t include cyber information. As a responsible teacher I’m drawing the attention of students to current events. During this time of sharing, my students have become more relaxed and open about their after school activities which include gaming for many.

When a child discloses information about their safety we are obligated to report this to children’s services. Write down the facts, call and make a statement, fairly straight forward.

When a child shares information about interactions in Gaming, what do you do? I make a judgement based on what the information is, then I write down the facts are that were shared, then what? I’m really not sure where we go from here. I call the family and have a conversation? I chat with the principal? I provide the student with avenues of help, help lines, internet safety….

This is a new world which effects all of our students. Access to our vulnerable young students is wide open on the internet especially with group gaming and social media. Education is a form of protection. When a child is doing something their family may not agree with, they are reluctant to share concerns and can easily become victims of online abuse. How do we help? Keep open communication lines with students and their family. We all want our children to be safe.

Building a Community

School begins by building the student community. We invite guardians into the space and include them in building the environment.  Often this is done with a newsletter or email introducing the subjects and the adults whom have contact with each child.  Any special events or classroom supplies are mentioned to assist students with a successful transition into the new year. September is a great time to host a, “Meet the Teacher” event. This is a time when family are invited into the school.  They are able to see where their child is spending 1500 minutes a week. They are able to see what students are doing and where they do it.  Samples of the work students produce are displayed in and around the school. The learning environment set up and seating arrangements are unique to each area. Some educators will include special items to make the space inviting and safe.  These objects, such as specific lighting, and seating will be board approved to meet Health and Safety standards.

Getting to know the students begins the moment your class list is in your hands.  Every educator is responsible for reviewing and updating the IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) of their students.  This can provide valuable information about one’s learning.  A survey or the wonderful, “One Page Profile” is another way students can share more about themselves. This is complimented by a conversation with the individual.  Each board suggests specific assessment in each subject.  As an educator choose the assessment that will be most valuable to your curriculum direction and the individuals you are educating. Ensure it will provide information to direct your year plan and understand your learners.  Continuous contact with guardians is important to help develop the necessary inclusion of those in the student’s community. Some educators will call each home at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves. Some will send home a letter with information about themselves and the class.  Each day includes a variety of interactions.  If you begin slowly with non threatening activities that keep students within their comfort level, they will grow to be more receptive of inclusion and community building. The community circle for these students includes peers, educators, support staff, custodians, administrators, family members and many more. Community involvement helps grow the circle of support.

My year began in a similar way.  As I was gathering information and building the school community I reflected on many of the unique situations our students encounter.

One students’ parent has a brain tumour, another child’s father died in a motorbike accident yesterday. One individual got their first goal in hockey, and another preformed as a main character in the local theater group.  Everyone including your peers bring something different to their day.  It is important that what you see in that individual, may not be what is actually going on. Empathy, patience and a smile every morning can make wonders in a person’s life. The small steps of communication and goal setting will provide the school group with a strength based community who will support each other when they feel others care.

This is a valuable time to build the community in order to provide a safe supportive space for all. Congratulations on setting the stage and tone for the valuable learning that will happen this year.


Building Connections with Students

Be Authentic

The video of a teacher giving each of his students a “just for them” handshake each morning upon entry has gone viral.  His efforts to connect with students have been applauded.  I think that this is a wonderful way to create a bond between teacher and student; for THAT guy.  I know that this is not “my thing”.  If I were to choose to try this at the beginning of a new school year, it would not be genuine and it just wouldn’t feel right.  I’ve also often wonder what happens when a parent wants a word in the morning, or someone forgot their backpack on the bus, or there is a class trip leaving 5 minutes after the bell.  There are many ideas for connecting with students online, but you need to do what is genuine for you.  Otherwise, you won’t sustain it and the students see right through it.


During the first few weeks of school I try to stay in my classroom while the kids eat lunch.  I will often eat my lunch at the same time as my students so that I can have the other half of lunch to relax, visit with colleagues or do some preparation.  I choose to do this for the first couple of weeks to make sure that the routines for lunch time are established and students understand my expectations around cleanliness, behaviour and technology use during lunch.  There are often different teachers on lunch duty, so it is helpful for them if the regular classroom teacher is in the room until they become acquainted with the students. When I take the time and effort to do this at the beginning of the year I find that there are less issues throughout the school year at lunch time.

Circle Chat

No matter what grade level, I have always started of my day chatting with kids.  In a circle format the students can share something, check in, ask a question or some days they pass (I will personally check in later to make sure everything is ok).  Sometimes we have topics, sometimes we have to discuss class updates but no matter what, we’ve connected in some way.  Yes, it takes instructional time.  Sometimes it takes up a LOT of time.  But, in my experience, it builds relationships with your students and saves time in the long run.

Front End Load Communication

Parents’ concern for the well being of their children seems to be at its highest point at the beginning of the school year.  It may be a new school, a new teacher, academic concerns from previous years or peer group concerns.  Taking the time to communicate during the first week of the school year by phone, note or at least a personal email in addition to class updates on websites or newsletters home will pay off during the rest of the school year.  The more you assure families that you are accessible and concerned about their child, the more supportive they will be if an issue arises.  Find the good in each student and make sure that you communicate it to families.  For the students that have academic or behaviour concerns, meet with families face to face as soon as possible.  Do not leave it until report card time.  I often start those conversations by asking them to voice their concerns, as well as asking their goals and hopes for their child for the school year.  Those positive and proactive attempts at communication at the beginning of the school year will go a long way with families and ultimately will benefit the student.

Take Your Job Seriously; Don’t Take Yourself Seriously.

About 10 years ago I picked up a pair of absolutely crazy novelty sunglasses.  No matter the weather, I wore them in the morning when I picked the students up at their bus lines and I wore them when I walked them out to their buses in the afternoon.  There were always comments from the students (and sometimes parents) and it was often a conversation starter when I could see that kids needed to be checked in on first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.  I began to get crazy sunglasses as gifts.  I now have about 60 pairs and wear different ones depending on my mood.  My staff humoured me and each wore a pair in the staff photo for the yearbook.  This might be something that you try in your classroom, I’m happy to share, but make sure it is something that suits you.

I remember being told by a colleague at the beginning of my career that you shouldn’t smile at your students during the first few weeks or even until Christmas.  I didn’t follow that advice, because it wasn’t genuine and authentic for me.  The way I see it, if you aren’t smiling at the beginning of the year, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you won’t be smiling at the end of the year!  Students feed off of the mood of the teacher.  Ultimately, the teacher makes the weather in the classroom.  There are days when I have to apply the “fake it until you make it” strategy and I smile until I really feel like smiling.  I also highly recommend a morning music mix for the way to work.  Put together 5 or 6 songs (or more depending on the length of your commute) that really motivate you, make you bouncy and make you smile.  On the days where I know I’m tense, in a mood or haven’t slept well I put this on during my drive and usually by the end I’m singing along and feeling better.  Then, I slide on those crazy sunglasses and I’m in tip-top teacher mode ready to greet every student with their name and a smile.  I may not have individual handshakes ready to go but after 23 years…I still start the year off smiling.