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. 


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.



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.

Student-Led Conferences

Writing report cards and IEPs during COVID-19 was frustrating and stressful. COVID-19 has exposed deep inequities that affect families disproportionately, and it has impacted teaching, learning and assessment in significant ways. There are so many challenges to assessing and evaluating students on-line, and there are many strengths/skills that cannot be measured on a report card.

Needs Improvement
The current assessment, evaluation and reporting practices and procedures needs improvement. Ontario schools reflect a colonial, Eurocentric approach to curriculum and assessment that privileges some students over others. Report cards and IEPs measure students against standardized levels of achievement, which fail to recognize multiple and different ways of knowing. There is extensive research about the impacts of systemic racism and educator bias, which construct certain students as “failures”.

Most of our professional development is focussed on how we can meet the diverse needs of students and make the curriculum more inclusive; however, we also need to think critically about how assessment and evaluation practices reinforce racial inequity, and privilege student “success” and belonging. How might we transform our assessment and evaluation so that all students feel empowered to achieve excellence, and feel successful?

Collaborative Assessment
Student-Led Conferences are one example of how educators might disrupt traditional forms of evaluation, and facilitate a more collaborative approach to assessment. In a previous blog, I wrote about how collaborative assessment actively engages families, educators and students as co-learners, and helps to build trusting relationships that are reciprocal.

Student-Led Conferences, goal-setting and self-evaluation are powerful examples of how collaborative assessment can center student voice, support meta-cognition, and develop critical thinking and self-reflective skills. Collaborative assessment can increase student engagement and motivation, and has been shown to impact student achievement and behaviour.

What is a Student-Led Conference?
Every year, I prepare my students to facilitate a Student-Led Conference with their family in February and June. This is an alternative to the Parent-Teacher Conference, and often tells a counter narrative to the report card. Usually, there are 4-5 conferences happening in the classroom at one time, and I will rotate between families to listen and add to the discussion. These conferences can last anywhere between 15-45 minutes.

It is my hope that Student-Led Conferences support all students to feel successful, because they create meaningful opportunities for students to identify their strengths, and share evidence of how well they are meeting their learning goals. They also invite families and educators to share responsibility in the teaching and learning process.

What happens BEFORE a Student-Led Conference?
At the beginning of the year, most schools invite families to visit the classroom and meet their child’s teacher to learn about the curriculum expectations and classroom routines. During this discussion when I introduce our learning goals, I also share information about collaborative assessment and Student-Led Conferences. I explain the benefits, provide resources, and invite families to ask questions.

As we begin to build relationships and honour all of our “multiple intelligences” and different ways of knowing, I encourage students to set individual short-term goals that are “just right” for them. We talk about our strengths and struggles as we learn about different folks who have worked hard to overcome barriers and achieve excellence. Older students might engage in diagnostic surveys to find out how they feel about different subjects.

Every student will develop a portfolio, which will hold samples of work that demonstrate growth and learning in concrete ways. Some of these work samples will be chosen by the student and others will be chosen by educators. For example, I always include goal-setting and self-evaluation, as well as our monthly unedited, unassisted writing samples in their portfolio.

In January and June, in preparation for a Student-Led Conference, students will look through completed work, and choose samples of work that they are proud of. In my class, students staple a piece of paper to this work and write about why they are proud of it. Students also have the opportunity to look back at work samples, and identify how they know they are growing. This process can take several days, and it is a great opportunity to reflect and set new goals for Term #2 in January and/or for the summer in June.

Student Voice:
Before writing the report card, I always ask students to reflect on their Learning Skills and Work Habits and complete a self-evaluation. As a class, we might discuss each skill and generate “success criteria” and specific examples that relate to our learning together. I often try to include student voices in the report card, and quote their writing and self-reflection. It is critical that students understand the criteria by which they are being evaluated, and that they have opportunities to share their thinking about themselves as learners. It is invaluable formative feedback for educators and families.

During COVID-19, our Student-Led Conferences have continued on-line. I created a Google Form, and asked families to help their child answer questions about their learning. The form included opportunities for students to identify their strengths and areas for improvement in different subject areas, as well as the Learning Skills and Work Habits. These “stars” and “wishes”, or “GLOW” and “GROW” comments helped to guide our discussion during our virtual Student-Led Conference. I shared the screen and asked the students to read their ideas aloud, and invited families to share feedback. I was only able to support one conference at a time, but I believe it was worth the extra time.

What happens DURING a Student-Led Conference?
Student-Led Conferences will look different depending on the age of the student. In the early primary years, I provide families with a checklist and sentence prompts to help support the discussion. Older students can follow a script to lead the discussion. During a Student-Led Conference, students will share their portfolio with their family. Families are encouraged to listen, ask questions and share what they notice about their child’s growth and progress. My role is to circulate around the room, listen, and contribute observations and reflections to the discussion.

What happens AFTER a Student-Led Conference?
After a Student-Led Conference, I provide a template and ask families to write a letter to their child. This letter describes what they are proud of, and how they will help their child to achieve their learning goals. In my experience, families have found the Student-Led Conference to be meaningful and informative.

One Kindergarten parent wrote:

It really opened up space for dialogue about what types of learning matter to our child, some of which were a pleasant surprise to us that we can carry forward at home now as well. Also, being able to experience his learning environment at school from his perspective was deeply gratifying for us and self-esteem building for him. He was so proud to show us around the space and really demonstrate the independence he’s building there. Grateful for the entire process and so heartened to know that he is in a classroom and school environment that really values the agency and intelligence of children!
(Parent comment, 2018)

Student-Led Conferences are a powerful tool that educators can use to honour the multiple and diverse ways that students learn and share knowledge. They provide a counter-narrative to the report card, and engage families, educators and students in a collaborative learning relationship that celebrates student achievement with pride and possibilities.

Video Resources:
Grade 3, Grade 6, Grade 7/8 Student-Led Conferences
The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Webcast Professional Learning Series, Ontario Ministry of Education

Preparing for a Student-Led Conference, New Zealand

Student-Led Conferences: Empowerment and Ownership, Chicago

Progress Reports – Reflection & Goal Setting

I have no idea how we got here again so quickly! It’s Progress Report time! I was on leave last year and somehow this year feels as though I’m still really trying to get to know my students. Maybe it’s the same every year and I’ve just forgotten but time has really gone quickly. I feel as though every day there’s a new moment of learning for me and I know that my students may be feeling the same way about me and my teaching style. 

As we prepare for the Progress Reports to go home, I really think it’s important for students to reflect on their progress so far and to start thinking of at least one area in which to improve. Normally I have students reflect and make notes using paper & pencil but this year, I decided to create a Google Form with questions about each Learning Skill; offering students a few examples of look fors and asking them to justify their responses. I’ve found responses always enlightening. They have also been great sources of conversation as students gain a deeper understanding of what is expected of them in each of the areas. 

As educators, we talk a lot about self-regulation but it’s interesting to me that for some of my grade 4s and 5s, this is the first year where they are truly understanding what this term means for them. It’s not about compliance but rather knowing what you need for learning and making sure that you are making choices that align with those needs, so that you can learn optimally. There’s a lot of metacognition involved in self-regulation. How are we modelling this for students as we support them in learning how to self-regulate? 

The great thing about Google Forms is that it provides amazing graphs of responses as they submitted their responses. Next week, we will be taking a deeper look at our classroom data and considering what we can work towards collectively as we build our classroom community. Over the coming weeks, students will also think about their own goals based on their responses, their Progress Reports and our Parent-Teacher interviews. 

For some this is an overwhelming time of year and they are nervous about their report cards. I’m really trying to have students think of this time as a check-in and an opportunity to think about what they’ve done well so far and what they will focus on for the next couple of months. I’m also asking them to consider the character that they would like to have and what skills we can work on together, in order to help them achieve that character.

Create Success in Intermediate Math through Play….

“What are you doing in Math today?” the VP inquires of my grade 5,6,7 and 8 students.

“We’re playing games.”

“You’re playing games?”

“Yes, we always play in math.”

The assessments gathered from these classes provide me insight of where everyone is in their learning. My experience with assessments are that individual conversations to understand the thinking process provides the most valuable information. The range of each of my classes is from a low elementary level to a low secondary level.  This is quite a span. As a school we have been, “Landscaping” these students using; Fosnots– Landscape of Learning. This provides an great snapshot of where your learners are on a continuum. Our board has developed some very specific assessment questions for all grade levels which include strategic numbers to help determine the strategies individuals use.

How do I managed this?

It took me a while with the continuous disruptions to the daily routine. The way, I have adopted my assessment sessions this year is similar to how a reading group would be managed.  Provide the lesson, give the class expectations, then work with a small group on a rotating basis. The entire class already understands the rules and class expectations which have been familiar routines followed to date.

Now what?

I find creating a growth mindset is most important. This is developed through creating a comfort zone for all, including the teacher. Each year I am challenged to ensure my learners grow and develop forward on the continuum. I use a variety of resources such as Sherry Parrish’s-Number Talks This is a great beginning to each class.

I resource Dr. Small’s-Big Ideas for different activities to compliment the concept of study.

Presently I am using, From Patterns to Algebra, by Dr. Beatty and Dr. Bruce

Play, yes these resources include play which I implement on a regular basis.  The students enjoy learning with and from each other while I guide them. During my classes, Play creates a class dynamic for success.

Does Homework Work?

The Purpose and Politics of Homework



After teaching for over 18 years, one topic which is frequently addressed in parent/teacher interviews is homework. Often parents see homework as being critical to academic success. It’s a topic often debated and never really resolved, even for me as a teacher and as a parent.

In my teaching practice, parents consistently ask me for homework. They believe that doing homework, such as math sheets, makes their children smarter and better students. Parents often feel that “busy” work, such as math and language sheets should be provided by teachers.

Alfie Kohn, an American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behaviour has examined this topic on many fronts. According to Kohn, “no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school {i.e. grades 1 to 6).  In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement” (Kohn, n.d.). In other words, homework is not linked to academic achievement in the early grades. Kohn does mention that in middle and high school, homework does impact math and science achievement, especially in higher socio-economic communities.

As a teacher, for homework, I usually assign 30 minutes of reading every night. But parents often scoff at my suggestion that reading is homework, probably as it produces no visible work. In addition, when assigning journal writing, for homework, it usually does not get done. Parents find it hard to get their children to write a journal … parents state “it is a lot of work because my child resists writing”. Now they have a glimpse into my job as a teacher. I believe that parents want homework to keep their children busy and it reminds them of the days when they did their homework.

I find it frustrating that when I do assign homework like bringing in materials for class projects, it does not happen. Often collecting homework is more work for me, especially when I have to chase after students for it. Ironically, I do not use homework for assessing students because it is completed away from school and may not have been done by the student.

So what is the purpose of homework?

1. Practice: Is the purpose of homework to promote practice of concepts?

Yes, homework can be useful in practicing math concepts or writing in the form of journals. In this case, it is important for homework completion to be advocated by the student. Teachers or parents cannot force a student to do this work. When parents ask me how to make their child complete homework, I often cite the phrase “you can take the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.

In my own parenting experience, with all my encouraging and some threats, I could not make my son complete his homework. I state this after spending hours working beside my son to get his homework done. In using this strategy, in the end, the responsibility of completing his homework was passed on from him to me … and it was not my homework! When my son entered high school, I gave up on the homework battle and he proceeded not to do his homework on his own. He completed high school and went on to post secondary school where he did not do his homework. My daughter was a different story. She had solid learning skills and a strong work ethic. I only got involved with her homework when she needed help. As a hard worker, she exceeded her brother in her academic success as university is about being smart and working hard.

When I assign homework, as a teacher, I wonder what level of stress I am putting on parents who try to help their children with homework I send home?

2. Completion of work not completed in class: “Work not done in class is homework!”

As a middle school teacher, I have observed two types of students – those who complete work in class and those who socialize in class. The middle school years are an exciting time for students as peers become very important in their lives. Hanging out with friends becomes the main reason for coming to school. Returning from holidays results in many hours of catching up with peers. Due to this very social time in students’ lives, individual and group work assigned in class is not always completed in the timeframe assigned by teachers. This means teachers need to allow more time for work.

As a teacher, it has been suggested by parents of not keeping middle school students on task or not giving enough time to complete assignments. The bottom line for me is that I give plenty of time for work to be completed and do my best to keep students on task. I challenge anyone to keep 30 grade 8 students, with varying academic abilities, on task while helping several other students in need. It’s like trying to herd 30 cats. When parents complain to me about their child’s incomplete work, I state that the student simply did not use class time wisely and needs to finish the work at home.

In my middle school experience, often students need to complete work at home because they did not complete it in class. Several times, students have returned essays and assignments to me that is completed at the “university level” and it is clear that the student did not complete the work on their own.

In the end, homework still remains a contentious topic. As a middle and high school student, I did homework to complete assignments and practice for math tests. I was not an A student at the time, but my homework routine allowed me to develop solid work habits for my future education.

After writing this blog, I still have no clear answers as to the effectiveness of assigning homework probably because each student is different. This school year, I will be assigning math homework as my grade 4/5 students are as keen to do it as their parents are to see it assigned. I’ll reflect on how this year progresses and see if it impacts my teaching and their learning. And I won’t make it too hard so the parents understand it too.

Below are some resources you can share with parents to help them support their child’s learning.


Doing Mathematics with Your Child

Reading and Writing with Your Child


Alfie Kohn Comments about Homework

Meet the teacher night

Tonight was open house at my school and as usual parents wanted to know how their son or daughter were performing. This is always an interesting question to answer because parents want to know about math and language and I want to tell about how they are getting along with others and how polite and helpful they are.

It’s interesting to see that what a teacher values teaching the most is not always what would come up at a meet the teacher night. I hope that in my program I can help children with their math and language as well as help them treat others with respect as well as help them make our class a friendly place.

As a young teacher, I am always hoping that parents will be on board with the new shift in education, away from tests and onto rich learning experiences. Sometimes I wonder if after my students leave me, that I have failed them if they start to take tests and have no idea what they are doing. I do see the value in showing how much they know on a piece of paper as many high schools still work with this model, but I am always wondering how that will help them in their future. I understand that test writing is an important skill, so I need to think of ways to include this in my program in the future.

I am working on making our class a very open and comfortable space for learning right now and I am hoping in my next post to share about how the alternative seating is making the student space an amazing place to work. I hope to see the benefits of the seating and I am excited to take pictures of student learning experiences and share the stories.


Time Management and Reporting

One of the greatest challenges teachers face is developing a healthy work-life balance, particularly when it comes time to write reports or meet with parents/guardians. While I am by no means an expert on this topic (as anyone who knows me will attest), I have learned a few strategies which have helped me immensely during the busiest times of year. I spent so much of my early career feeling overwhelmed during these times that if even one of these things helps someone out there, I’ll be happy.

1) Use jot notes to stay focused.

Before sitting down to write detailed comments on academic subjects or learning skills, I take a few minutes to go over my class list and write some point-form notes, particularly for learning skills. This gives me an overview to refer to while writing them in full later. It also helps me to keep my thoughts focused, as my “jot notes” are typically divided into categories: what the student does well, areas for improvement, and a specific next step or two.

Jot notes are also key for staying focused during parent/teacher interviews. I keep a notebook with a page for each student. I write my thoughts on the page in point form and refer to it during interviews. I can also use the space to write down anything important that comes up in the interviews.

2) Write comments as units are finished.

With subjects where you are expected to report on multiple strands, particularly Mathematics, you can easily find yourself needing to write comments about a unit you haven’t touched since the early part of the term. My teaching partner (who teaches English and Mathematics to my French Immersion students) introduced me to the idea of writing comments for a particular strand as he finishes the units. It had never occurred to me before, but it really does save time and it makes your comments more meaningful as the information is fresh in your mind.

3) Start early and do a little bit each day.

You know reporting deadlines well in advance, and we all have at least a few students whose comments could be written several weeks early (again, particularly for learning skills). Your student who came to you as an independent, respectful, hard working student on the first day of school and has continued to be exemplary in all the learning skills throughout the term? You can probably write that comment earlier than others. I don’t say this to take away from that student’s work or achievement – I just personally find that those comments can often be “safely” written a few weeks earlier than some others, and that doing so helps me free up time later on. You can always tweak comments as needed closer to the deadline.

I also try to break the work up into chunks – either by working on a few students a day or by working on a specific subject each day. 40 minutes of prep time isn’t much to work with, but when you’re doing a little bit at a time, it makes it feel like much less of a daunting task.

4) Write your comments in a word processor so that you can save them.

There are a lot of good reasons to want to work in a word processor (like Microsoft Word or Open Office) rather than your board’s reporting software. For one thing, word processors aren’t subject to system downtime, so you don’t have to worry about the board software being updated or worked on. I also find that my board’s software tends to suffer from some crashing problems from time to time, which can cause me to lose work even though the software is supposed to save your input regularly. There is nothing more frustrating than spending twenty minutes on a student’s learning skills comments only to have the browser crash and all of that work disappear. Word processors are often better at identifying and correcting spelling/grammar mistakes than your board software, so you save time proofreading.

I also like to save my comments from term to term (and year to year) because they can help me out when writing reports the next time. I will often refer back to my previous comments on a student’s learning skills when writing reports, and I would really rather not take out and re-file 30 earlier report cards to do so. Sometimes when I’m feeling lost or stuck on how to say something, I refer back to previous years when I know I’ve made a similar comment. It helps with inspiration!

You can also easily work on reports from school and home (not that I’m advocating taking work home… in a perfect world, that wouldn’t be necessary) when you’ve been working in a Word document. I save it on a flash drive that I keep on my keychain, so I’m not likely to forget it in one place or the other.

5) Use a timer for parent/teacher interviews.

We are given very little time in my board (and I suspect many others) for conducting interviews. It can be very hard to cut off an interview at the 15 minute mark, but it’s really vital to do so if you are going to keep your interviews rolling, keep waiting families happy, and keep you from being there way longer than you should be. I’m not suggesting that you use a loud buzzer to let parents/guardians know that time is up, but a simple timer with an inoffensive beep (or a phone set to vibrate) can be enough to keep things moving. Often they don’t realize how short 15 minutes really is and don’t know when they are going past their allotted time.

6) Communicate regularly with parents/guardians.

You really shouldn’t be meeting with every single student’s family during interview time. You shouldn’t need to. In some cases it’s unavoidable, I suppose, but I have found that by communicating regularly about students’ work in class, some interviews can be avoided. Many parents/guardians “just want to know how (their child) is doing” and would be satisfied by quick notes home in the agenda, quick e-mails or phone calls, etc. throughout the term.

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If anyone out there has other tips to stay on top of things during reporting periods, I’m all ears! I can always use more help developing a balance.