Responding to Tragedy

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about “teachable moments” that I will publish next weekend.

Today, I want to give my deepest condolences to the families who are suffering due to Friday’s tragedy. I grew up in Southbury, CT, one of the towns that borders Newtown. My parents rented a house in Sandy Hook for a short time while they searched for our home. As a kid, I went to Newtown to see my friends’ dance recitals, to visit my dad at his office, and to watch shows at the $1 movie theater. It was and is, in so many ways, the perfect place to be a child and to raise children. I feel immense gratitude for the people there, for the teachers, friends, and neighbors who loved and cared for me, and my heart breaks for their loss. Continue reading

Blogging With Elementary Students

When I use technology in my classroom, it’s never just for the sake of using technology.  I use technology when it will do a better job of achieving my learning goals than traditional methods.  I have rigorous goals for my students and little time to achieve them.  So we use computers (and iPads, iPods, etc.) only when they give us a greater return on investment.

That brings me to one really smart investment: blogs.  Blogging is all about writing.  To write a blog well, you need to be organized, include details, think about your audience, develop your voice, and edit for conventions.  What makes blogging different from normal classroom writing?  When students write blogs, they can share their writing with the world.  Perhaps “the world” is limited to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.  Perhaps “the world” really is the world, as in, everyone in the world can see what they write.

Blogging is writing with the volume turned up to 11.  Students are more excited to write blog posts than practically anything else they write in the classroom.  And so, as their teacher, I love having them blog so I can take full advantage of that drive in order to teach them to write well. Continue reading

Why It’s Important to Apologize to Children

It happens to the best of us.  You are normally a very patient person.  Your classroom is a joyful, well structured place where the room hums with happy learning.  But today has been a long day.  Today, your normal strategies haven’t worked.  Perhaps all your children stayed up late to watch the Red Sox game and they brought Halloween candy for snack.  Or you have a cold and your head pounds and your throat hurts, and you’ve been interrupted One. Too. Many. Times.

And if you’ve never felt this way, you’ve never been an elementary school teacher.  Simple as that.  So if you are reading this on one of those days, you are in good company.  It’s gonna be ok. Continue reading

Mastering Math Facts (At Home)

I see parents as my partners in their children’s education.  The obvious reason is that parents are absolutely the most important people in their children’s lives.  They know their children better than anyone else, and they are an essential resource for information and problem solving.

And philosophically, I think it matters to kids when they see their parents and teachers working as a team, supporting them.  When I was a kid, my mom and my teachers were friends.  My mom was always involved — president of the PTA one year, making talent show sets the next — and school felt like an extension of home, a place where I belonged and was cared for.

There’s a practical component to this partnership, too. Continue reading

Making the First Move: Effective Parent Communication

Before I realized that I wanted (maybe needed?) to be a teacher, I worked in the national office of an AmeriCorps program as a “Special Projects Assistant” to the CEO.  It’s well known that I was, and continue to be, very special.  But what I learned was how to develop relationships.  Over time, I’d watch as the founders and staff would build relationships with donors and convince them — we’re talking individuals here, not even corporations — to give as much as a million dollars a year.  Certainly, people gave because they believed in the power of our organization to change the world.  But they also gave because they trusted the founders and the staff.  They gave because of their relationships, not just their beliefs. Continue reading

The Paper Problem: Solved

It is downright scary how much paper is used in a third grade classroom.  I do my best to avoid unnecessary photocopying, but darn, those third graders do a lot of work!  And if you’re not careful, it piles up fast.

I don’t deserve any credit for the slick paperwork management system I’m about to share.  I just assembled pieces of it from colleagues wiser than me, and it has worked seamlessly in my room.

Here are its organization goals:

  1. Capture finished (often corrected) student work.
  2. Send the work home for parents to see.
  3. Get the best, most important work back so we can keep it for end-of-the-year portfolios.
  4. Store the portfolio work without requiring Mrs. Fox to do a whole lot of ANY filing.  (I hate filing!)

And its learning goal: help third graders pause and reflect on each week, taking the time to appreciate successes and challenges, set a goal for the following week, and share their learning with their families. Continue reading