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.
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!




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.


The word ally is typically defined as a nation or state cooperating with another for a military purpose. As with most words it of course has been expanded for many uses but retains the meaning of being on your side. So the question I ask you today is, as a teacher who are your potential allies?

From the minute I enter into my school I have an amazing opportunity to make allies, get people to support the work I do with my students, school and community. Allies are everywhere but like countries you must take the time to build up relationships to develop those allies. When you do that, they will be there when you need them most. I am going to talk about several key allies that I have in working with my students and how without them there are many things I would have much greater difficulty accomplishing.

The first ally is of course the parent(s) of my students. Let’s be honest, we both really want what is best for a child even though we may not agree on how to accomplish that. From the moment I know a child is going to be in my classroom I reach out to families to try and start building that working relationship. It starts with a simple call home the week prior to school welcoming them and their child to my classroom. It continues on with my first Weekly News letter home by asking them to brag about their child as they know them best as well as asking them to prioritize two goals they would like their child to accomplish this year. This helps sends the message they are a part of the formula to create success for their child. I continually update them with sunshine calls home, weekly news updates, inviting them to attend events in the classroom and any other way I can include them or make use of their expertise and assistance in my room. Of course not every parent becomes my ally or totally agrees with every decision I make. There will be some parents who just won’t or don’t engage in your efforts. This work I put into recruiting parent allies always pays off with some very strong relationships that are there when I need them most.

The second set of allies I work hard at creating are with the school support staff such as our office manager and custodial team. These are key people who are the heart and soul of the school and can be there to support me in many situations when I need the help. One of the most unique request I made of our custodian was to have our front classroom door taken off so my class could create a drawbridge door for our Medieval Times study. Needless to say I had to have a strong relationship with that person to make and receive such a request. Our office manager (and every office manager) is the heart of the school. He/she is the first and often last person everyone sees when coming to our school. That role is so important and my class spends time on a regular basis showing how we appreciate the work she does. That time and effort has helped me many times over the years when I need a last minute request or forgot some important deadline.

The final ally I want to talk about is a community-based position. My class spends time doing service learning projects and as such we need to have people who trust that I can take a group of 8-11 years old out into the community and perform projects that enhance our community. I have worked a lot with city environmental personnel who over the years have come to value and trust our staff and the request we make. There are community agencies and people who can also become a potential ally for you.

As I began to change the lens upon which I viewed my classroom I began to see more and more how many potential allies (support) I have available to me. I do not have to do this on my own. My educational team continues to grow as I grow relationships and take advantage of the opportunities they can provide me in supporting my students and my professional growth. Allies do not just happen, you must work at creating them.

Positive vs Negative Student Balances

When you look at your bank account you work extremely hard to ensure you always have a positive balance. By having a positive balance you are able to pursue so many options in how you may use that surplus. When you are not able to keep a positive balance, you become very limited in the options you have and may in the worst circumstance go bankrupt.

I look at each and every child and each and every family in that way. I start in September with a zero balance as I am just opening up that account. From the first minute I interact with each child as well as their family, I am either making deposits or withdrawals. Each and every positive statement I make, word of encouragement I offer, inflating vs deflating statement said, either builds that account or reduces that account balance.

When a conflict occurs (and it will) you are now having to look at the account you have created and will make a withdrawal as you help that child understand the choice they made and how to learn from it. If you have a built up a strong, positive balance with that child you are able to make that withdrawal without having any ill effects on the relationship that exists between the both of you. If it is a call home in regards to a negative scenario that occurred at school, the family’s reaction will be either supportive or defensive depending on the balance you have established at home with the parent(s).

I use a variety of tools to help foster a positive balance. The two most effective for me are ‘Sunshine Calls’ and rephrasing my comments when I react to the day-to-day events that unravel in my room. In a sunshine call I am truly just trying to send a positive message to each family about their child. It can be as simple as a comment about a great writing effort that occurred today, how their child read aloud for the first time in front of his/her peers or what a positive decision they made not make a small problem bigger. Over time I can actually hear the change in how the parent reacts to me once they recognize their child’s teacher is calling. Within a few months, the calls home are very sociable and appreciated by the family.

The second strategy took me a while to develop. I had to literally think about how and what I would say when events occurred. First I had to examine my approach and found that my initial comments were deflating or withdrawing from that account balance. For example if a student made a mess, I would say, “ You need to be more careful and not make a mess”. This type of statement always puts a student on the defensive. I am learning to rephrase my comments to be able to send a message but not put a student on the defensive. I now say “ Are you okay, accidents happen to everyone. How can we clean it up?”

A very unintentional but amazing benefit of this approach was that I was modelling for my students each day how to be respectful to each other in the way they communicate. Soon, this type of positive communication becomes the norm of the class. There are less and less conflicts between students simply due to the way they learn to communicate with each other and the people around them.


Sunshine Calls

When my students arrive into my alternative behaviour classroom in September, so do their parents and families. The family’s beliefs and attitudes about school have been shaping ever since their child became a part of the formal school system. For the  family of my students, that means that most communication from the school has almost certainly been a negative scenario that had unfolded. So when I complete my first call home in September what do you think the response is from the parent who answers the phone? You are right, “Okay what did my child do now?”

Just as it takes time to build relationships with your students, so does it take time and effort to connect with families. This is especially true for families of students who have struggled in school or have had difficulty adjusting to school and classroom expectations. For me this starts with an onslaught of ‘Sunshine Calls’. A Sunshine Call is a strategy that I use to gain the confidence of my families by showing that I care about their child, I believe in their child and will balance the type of information that comes home and not dwell on the negative (attribute based approach).

The best analogy I can use to explain the benefits of this strategy is to compare it to banking. The more positive deposits that I put into my account (compliments, sunshine calls) the stronger that balance will be. When I do have to make a withdrawal (call home about a negative scenario) my positive balance will hold me over and the relationship will remain stable and the family will be more likely to support me knowing that it must be concerning for Mr. B. to be calling home about it.

What is exciting for me, is when my students start to understand and realize that their best efforts and positive changes will be shared often and ongoing with their family. I start by asking them if they would like me to cimagesall home and tell their parents about some positive scenario that took place that day. They 100% of the time say an astounding yes. As they come to realize this is a regular part of our classroom, they begin to ask me to call their family and let them know about their math work or reading. That is the time that I know why I will always look to see the glass as half full.

Weekly News

I want to share with you an experiment gone really right. Over 2o years ago, a very good friend of mine and I started working with high-risk youth (Grade 6 -8) in our board in the summers. We had developed a program based around adventure-based learning. Our focus was to use the outdoors and physical challenges to assist them in developing social and self-regulation skills that would increase the probability of their success in school. One of the tools we developed was a Daily Newsletter (as we called it at that time) to inform families of their child’s progress as well as provide a summary of the days successes and occasional not so good outcomes. That one teaching tool has evolved over the last twenty years into what is now my Weekly Parent Book.

At the end of each week, at my classroom computer station I sit, look around my room and ask myself the following questions:

  1. How well did I meet the needs of each of my students?
  2. Did I make time to talk with each student on a one-to-one basis to find out how their life is going?
  3. Did I push too hard or not hard enough in moving them along their academic journey?
  4. What did I accomplish this week in literacy, numeracy etc.?
  5. What went well in Room 16 this week?
  6. What did not go well in Room 16 this week?
  7. How will I use that information to make the next week more successful for everyone?

That weekly routine has turned into one of the most rewarding and successful self-reflection tools I have ever had. Its initial, sole intent was to inform parents of what was going on in their child’s classroom. What it has become is a tool that I use to inform families, publish good news stories, share advice on how parents can help their child, updates on school-wide initiatives and most importantly, a tool to reflect on my week’s teaching.

It is a time that I actually use to decompress from the week’s events, look back in order to plan ahead for my next week and set goals of what I need to accomplish the following week (from a curriculum standpoint or what is needed to help specific students move forward). As the year progresses, the content of the weekly news becomes a shared work whereby students start to contribute to its production. That is when this tool becomes a very powerful learning tool for all of us.

Of course being the old school type, every Monday our morning circle starts with the sharing of the past week, goal setting using the feedback on that two-sided sheet of paper and then the ritual of adding it to their Parent Book to go home and be read and signed by an adult in their home. It goes home on Monday and is not due back until the following Monday to accommodate a wide variety of family scenarios and work schedules. The back of the page usually has some photograph that was taken during the week, an advice column, new goals for the class, a funny parent story or some other kind of important read for my families. At the end of the year it turns into a yearbook that can serve as a memory of their year. I still have all of my copies and when I need a little nostalgia fix all I have to do is go back and look through my career, year-by-year.

Weekly News

Photo of Tammy Axt

Communicating with 500 parents

I am a music teacher and I have around 500 students that I teach this year. Communicating with the parents of 500 students needs to be approached a little differently than the regular classroom teacher. I don’t send home a beginning of the year letter as I have taught most of my students for a couple of years now. I usually send home communication for other purposes. Below are two letters that I will be sending home in the next couple of months. The first letter is about recorders, and the second letter is about an upcoming concert at my school.

Letter #1:

Dear Parents/Guardians of Student in Grade 3,

As part of the music program, students learn to play the recorder starting in grade 3.  Playing the recorder is an excellent way to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and concentration.  At this level, recorders are the best tool for teaching students to learn to read proper notation on the music staff.  Studies have shown that taking music lessons increases overall academic achievement, and helps to develop self-confidence and problem-solving skills.  For your information, there is an article on the back of this letter on this subject.

At the beginning of May, students will be provided with a clean recorder for use at the school.  Each student will have his/her own instrument assigned to him/her that is not used by other students.  These recorders are property of Red Willow P.S., and will remain in the music room at all times.

Although it is not mandatory, we strongly suggest that students buy a recorder for practicing at home.  This recorder will remain at home.   Recorders will be used extensively in grades 4 and 5 as well, and sheet music will be going home for students to practice with.  Buying a recorder through the school ensures that your child has a good quality instrument.  Recorders purchased at the dollar store are not good quality and they almost always have the wrong fingering system.

Recorders cost $10.00.  Please pay in cash.  We need to pre-order, so forms with the money are due by May 7, 2015.  Please fill out the form below and send it with your child/children.


Ms. Gallant

Letter #2:

The Music department at Red Willow is extremely excited to invite you to a spring concert starring your amazing children!

What will be happening?

Your child, along with all the other grade 3 and 4 students, will sing songs they have written, share dances that show different cultures, perform a black light show and much, much more.  There will be snacks available for purchase, as well as many photo opportunities.

When is this fantastic event?

The Spring Concert will take place on April 23rd, 2015.  The show will begin at 6:00pm.  We ask that your child be dropped off to the side entrance by 5:30pm.  Teachers will be at the door to greet them starting at 5:20.  Students are required to stay until the end of the show.

How do you get tickets?

Due to the number of grade 3 and 4 students who will be performing; we must limit tickets to 2 per family.  More information regarding tickets will follow.

Showcasing Student Work for Parents

I’m not a huge fan of Parent/Teacher Interviews. It’s not the idea of speaking with parents about their child’s progress, because I am totally on board with that. It’s not the time spent after school, either; I’m usually one of the last teachers to leave my school at night, so I’m pretty used to being around after hours.

My issue with Parent/Teacher Interviews is that the focus is rarely, if ever, on talking about what students are doing daily in the classroom. To me, that’s the important thing: seeing their work and their progress over the course of the ten months that they’re in my class. My students work hard and take pride in their accomplishments. I’ve never liked that interviews are linked to progress reports or report cards because the natural thing to do seems to be to talk about grades.

I hate grades, but that’s another story for another time. 😉

A few years ago, I did something with my class that I felt really offered my students the chance to show their parents just how much they had accomplished that year. It was a really rewarding experience for everyone.

In spring of that year, a few students in my Grade 5 class came to me and asked if we could do a class talent show. This was a congregated gifted French Immersion class with many performers of all kinds. We discussed it as a class and nearly all of them wanted to participate. We decided that we would host the talent show in June as an end of year event and invite everyone’s parents to come. I was not going to force anyone to participate, though, so I had to come up with some reason for the parents of students who were not performing on stage to attend.

My students had been amassing large portfolios of work all year. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to student work and I like them to keep it all at school for as long as possible. Usually this just leaves me drowning in a pile of art projects, scientific models, chart paper, and duo-tangs, but this one year it really paid off. I had my students go through all of their work and choose five things that they were really proud of.

We discussed why they might choose certain pieces over others. Some pieces were chosen because students had worked particularly hard and had done a really great job with them. Others were chosen because they were really fun and exciting. Others still were chosen because students felt that they had made a lot of progress that year. The highlight, for me, was when one of my students chose to showcase her Mathematics notebook. When I asked her why, she said that it was because she started that year hating math, just like every other year, but by the end of the year she felt really confident in math and it had become her favourite subject.

Validation! My teaching is working! But that’s not what this post is about.

We ran the entire event in the school’s gym, which had an attached stage. I pulled out some tables and set them up, then gave each student a space to display their work. They decided how to display it. As parents came in, they were able to wander around the tables and see the work all of the students had put out.

The talent show itself was what I expected: a seemingly endless parade of ten and eleven year olds playing musical instruments, telling jokes, dancing, and doing whatever else they had come up with as a talent. It was really sweet. They did a wonderful job. All I really did was invite the parents; they coordinated who did what and when, rehearsed on their own time, and ran the whole show for parents.

After the talent show, all of the students went and stood by their work. They were expected to explain to their parents why they had chosen to include each piece. I was there and able to answer any questions and chat with the parents, of course, but the students were the stars of the afternoon. I got a lot of positive feedback from parents on the event and they were happy to be able to hear their child talk about his or her work in a positive light.

Photo of Lisa Taylor

Updating the IEP

With the end of Term 1, comes the IEP review and update process. While the intention is that the IEP is regularly reviewed and updated, many IEPs lay stagnant all term and are dusted off at reporting time to be updated. Teachers are excellent at setting goals, supporting goals, working with children to achieve goals, and even revising and modifying goals along the way. We often slip up in the record keeping portion of the process. How many times have we called the parent of a student on an IEP to talk about how they are doing, what they can be working on at home to support progress, etc., and not logged it in the IEP contact record? I often forgot to include that until it was IEP review time and then I would grab my communication binder and update. It is so important to keep the IEP up-to-date always. If you set a goal for a student to be able to count up to 50 and notice that they can count to 60, that goal needs to be changed on the IEP immediately! The whole point of the IEP is to have goals that are attainable, but not too easy. The hope is that we will push the student beyond their current ability level to extend their knowledge, hopefully closing the gap between where they are currently working, and the level their class is working at.

When recording communication, goals, assessments, accommodations, etc. on the IEP, I find it helpful to include as much detail as possible. Many IEP engines have drop-down menus, check boxes, etc. This might not always provide you with everything you need to paint an accurate picture of the student. Don’t be afraid to use the “other” box and explain. If you are doing something that is “outside of the box” for a student and it is working, document it!

We like to think that those students will be at our school forever and so will we, but that is not always the case. Unfortunately, families move, teachers move, people get ill, things happen. If you are suddenly not able to be at school, it is important that those records are up-to-date. Last year, I became ill and was quite abruptly sent home from work to await surgery. I was given next to no notice that I was not going to be at work, and the duration was undetermined. In the time that I was gone, two of my students moved. Had I not had their records up-to-date, I would have had to come in off of my sick leave (which might have jeopardized my leave) to collect up my data to update their records. Keeping things thorough and detailed also means your colleagues who have the student in the future know what things have been done for the student, what works, where the strengths are, etc., without having to track down previous teachers. With Lay-Offs, School Surplus, Transfers, etc., the staff in a school can change pretty rapidly. That document might be he only thing left in the school that really knows a student by the end of the staffing process in a given year.

There are lots of sites that will help with writing goals, scaffolding to ensure goals are progressing toward a larger goal, etc. It is often easy to get the IEP completed once you sit down and get to work. It is feeling the urgency and the importance that the document holds that really motivates a teacher to keep the IEP updated on paper, not just in their daily planning.