I spent the past Thursday and Friday at an Educational Technology conference in Springfield, Illinois and it was amazing.
So many times when signing up for a conference, especially when it means missing instructional time, I hesitate. Will it be worth missing the time? Writing the sub plans? The cost of registration, travel, and stay?
The Illinois Education And Technology conference this year was worth it all several times over. You will probably see me reference something from this conference for weeks and months to come! And I LOVE when this happens! So often when we hear “professional development” it feels like a bad thing so I love love love when I can share about a great experience. IETC, you guys are doing it right! 👍🏼
There were several sessions I went to that I felt were worth the full amount of money and time spent, but one seems so fitting for this time of year.
I’m drained. My co-blogger has had a couple of really rough weeks in a row. I’m feeling a bit run down and discouraged myself. Neither one of us is one to start complaining hard about kids or school but it sure helps to have at least one of you in a good spot during one of those low points. Lately for us, that hasn’t been the case. My conference time started off that way. I drove about 30 minutes towards the conference before realizing I’d left my luggage at home and needed to go back for it. When I checked in, they let me know there’d been an error and my room was booked for the following two nights. They were able to get a room for me, but it was quite the process. I checked in and thought, “what a great start this is”.
But that didn’t matter because when you attend conferences like this, you are surrounded by teachers who love their jobs and want to be life long learners! That energy and attitude is contagious!
My favorite session(s) from day one were led by Joe Sanfelippo, a superintendent from Wisconsin. You may recognize him from some of his videos on his district's facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FallCreekSchoolDistrict/)
This guy was so awesome that I attended his morning session, heard him as the lunch keynote, and then went back for his afternoon session. I felt so energized and ready to role after all of it that I knew ole Joe would get his own honorary blog post (I'm in the Joe Sanfelippo fan club now! Go Crickets!) Below are some of the takeaways from attending his sessions.
The first session I attended was titled "Hacking Leadership", titled the same as his book (which I bought and have already read because wow).
He focused on a cyclical model for healthy and productive schools revolving around being intentional, opening doors, and building staff.
So often I feel bogged down by trying to make a change by contributing to a positive culture but Joe mentioned that upon entering a school building that had had 4 principals in 5 years, he was determined to change the culture 30 seconds at a time. 30 seconds at a time...now that I can do. I think I need to do some huge thing that in the end is too overwhelming to actually happen. Instead, I can commit to smile at people in the hallway, converse with co-workers and students, and making positive calls home.
As a group, we came up with these other ways to be intentional
TELL YOUR STORY At lunch Joe spoke more about his specific experience at his K-12 school of 800. He spoke about the importance of sharing your positive school story. The negative talk seems to be a lot louder and said a lot more often. We need to drown that out with all of the truly terrific things happening in our schools. Even the people making most of our decisions (the school board) only ever get to hear about the three B's: beans, busses, and balls (food, transportation, and sports). If we want the real story to be told, we have to do it!
He started broadcasting all of the important things happening at his school on instagram, twitter, facebook, and through podcasts. While school newsletters are useful for some, we need to meet our community where they are at. After surveying the community, Joe found the majority of our student's parents are more likely to read from facebook because they already spend a few hours there daily.
If we want to communicate with our community, we need to find out where they are and GO TO THEM! They can't only hear from us when we need something. They should be hearing from us all the time! Find the best way to start and then do it! Tell the story of your school and why you show up to work and others will want to be a part of the story!
BE A SOCIAL MEDIA SUPERSTARSchools are scared to use social media. What if someone sues us for posting a picture of their kid? What if someone posts or comments something horrible?
Joe spoke about overcoming both of these issues but more importantly, he tied it back to telling a story and loving what we do. People don't know why we became teachers. They don't know what the day to day looks like inside a classroom. And a lot of those people are not reading that newsletter you send home once a month or quarter by mail. We ask ourselves, "How do we share with people what is going on and how incredible these kids and teachers are?". We already know the answer: social media. But there are so many!!! How will we ever have time to spend on all of the social media? We won't have time to do our own jobs! Well you don't need to learn ALL of the social media outlets, just find where your community lives. Most commonly the kids are on instagram, the parents are on facebook, and the alumni are on twitter. Lucky for us, instagram allows you to post to all three with one click which means it is no longer about managing a million apps. Just start documenting all of those amazing things that are already happening!
But what about kids who don't want their pictures taken?!?! Joe operates on an opt-out clause meaning students have to sign a sheet of paper in order to say that they don't want to be in pictures the school may post. For the few who do sign it, Joe contacts them personally to talk about why they want to be able to share the story and include the students. More often than not the parents didn't read the paper and just signed all of the papers sent home the first week of school...which doesn't speak so great for that process either but that's not what we're talking about this week. :) For the families who truly don't want the picture and aren't able to connect through e-mail or social media the school sends a paper newsletter. The goal to communicate with parents is prioritized.
What about when someone comments something nasty?!? Now that's on our facebook page!!!!
True. Joe suggests replying to it with something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way. If you would like to talk more my number is ___________. This is not the place to have that conversation but I would be more than happy to speak on the phone or in person."....then he runs around and takes 8-10 pictures of the amazing things happening in classrooms and posts them so that the ugly comment gets buried in all of the great things happening.
It's all about the story we're telling. It's too important of a story to not tell because we're scared of a couple of people who are going to complain no matter what. So often the negative comments are the ones heard the most. Change the culture by drowning them out with all of the incredible students and teachers and staff that make up your school building!
There is a reason why many schools hire someone specifically to run their communications and social media: it's important.
I LOVE JOE! GO CRICKETS!I listened to Joe for about 3 hours. I could have listened and talked to this guy for days. Lucky for me (and you!) he has his own website with tons of resources. I know I will be checking it regularly!
Lastly, please please please feel free to ask me if I've written my notes for the day and how I'm telling my story. It is way too easy to go to these conferences and feel the mountain top experience for a couple of days and then....
But culture change doesn't happen that way. It happens consistently....30 seconds at a time.
Teaching is really, really hard. When you take your college classes and visit classrooms for observations, you really don’t appreciate how difficult it really is. Then you start your teaching career and assume the responsibility of applying all of your knowledge from college as well as worrying about how to make the lives of students better while trying teach them your content. Reality sets in and you realize how hard it is to balance everything that comes with your job.
Every teacher is going to have a rough week. Some years, you may have more rough weeks than easy ones. I am personally coming off one of those rough weeks. I have obsessed over the events and struggled with it to the point where I didn’t want to see my students. How do we come back from those types of weeks and keep our love for teaching and students? I can’t speak for everyone, but these are the things that I need to do when I have a week like this past one.
I have been teaching 10 years and the process of taking care of myself so that I can be the best I possibly can be at my job is something I am continuously working on. I don’t know anyone that is perfect at finding a balance between being a good teacher and being a person. It is something that I will continue to strive for. So far doing some combination of the things above have helped me come back year after year to teaching and allow me to gives kids a fresh start every week. I don’t wish any of these rough weeks on anyone, but the reality is that we all have them and it is nice to have a plan of attack for those days, weeks, months, or years. Hopefully some of these strategies are helpful to you when you go through those times, too. And for me, writing about all of it was one more release!
What ways do you intentionally de-stress after a long week? I am open to any suggestions!
I hope you have a fantastic week! And if you don’t, try a few of these steps and don’t forget that you get a fresh start next week.
For teachers, conferences are both something to look forward to and something that we dread. They are necessary so that we can talk to parents about their students progress in class. They are difficult because those conversations can be hard, awkward, and sometimes confrontational. At the secondary level it is also a struggle to get parents to come to parent-teacher conferences at all. It can start to feel like a waste of time when there can be so much preparation involved.
Both of us (Danielle and Becca) have conferences this week and we assume that they are fast approaching for others as well. Maybe you are a first time teacher or maybe you just continue to be on the struggle bus with conferences. Either way, here are our thoughts and ideas about have successful parent teacher conferences.
To start, many schools are different in their opinion of how to structure conferences. Some schools want students to be there and have student-led conferences and some would say it should be just parents and teachers present for conferences. Is it open house style or do you need to schedule times with specific parents? What materials do you need to have ready for parents who do attend?
The best conferences I (Danielle) have ever participated in were the conferences my building did when I taught middle school. I taught at a true middle school where we had two 6th grade teams. Every teacher had a homeroom/advisory class. When it came to conferences we would schedule conferences with the parents of our homeroom class. The school scheduled one day after school for conferences and then on the next day the students did not have school and we were there until 4 but we were open all day for conferencing appointments. We scheduled an appointment with those 20-25 parents of students in our homeroom. Then my 6th grade team would meet and discuss which conferences we wanted to have as a team. If there was a student that really struggled or had specific behavior issues, we would all block out that time slot to have a team conference with that parent and student which was student-led.
In the weeks leading up to conferences, we would take time in homeroom to organize a portfolio of work from each class and the students would write reflections on their work that they would go over with their parents during the conference. I would discuss any issues that had been brought to my attention by the other teachers and answer any questions I could. If the parent wanted to talk to a specific teacher, then they could also schedule time for that during conferences as well but the main responsibility was for the homeroom teachers and meeting a different teacher was more of a special case. When we did it this way, I felt really supported since I had my team and a lot of preparation ahead of time. The responsibility was really on the students because they were leading the conference and they knew what issues they were going to have to talk about with their parents.
I (Becca) have not had experience with scheduling conferences, though that sounds like it may make it more worth the time! I try to have some candy available as well as a folder for each student containing student work and some student reflection. As parents arrive, I offer candy, ask them to sign in, and show them student work along with their grade. Most of the time the student is not with them. I explain how the grade is calculated, how their student behaves and performs in class, and how they could get better. I express any concerns I may have and check for questions. With any time left (many times the parent is trying to get around the building to see 6 other teachers and may be in a hurry), I make sure they understand our LMS so that they can have as much information about their student’s grades and attendance as possible!
The few times that the student is with them, I always include the student in the conversation. I have found that students are much more likely to say what they may need to be successful while sitting one on one with a parent present. While many would not pull you aside in class and tell you then need help being reminded what to do or would like more examples, they might in a conference setting! I have seen many students take some responsibility when I can tell both them and their parents what I think their strengths are. If their grades are not correlating well with their ability, they more often than not will take responsibility for their part. I would much rather have that conversation than just talk to a parent about what their student communicates to them versus what they communicate to me. Again, those are rare occasions for me, to have students present.
When it comes to conferences and if your district is considering any changes to your conference procedure, I would suggest the following:
If you don’t have control over your structure of conferences, try to find ways to work within your system.