How to Get the Good Teacher

Getting a good teacher is critical to your child’s success. Did you know that THE BIGGEST factor in student learning is teacher quality??? It’s not what is taught (curriculum), specific ways it’s taught (instruction), or where it’s taught (classroom environment) — it’s the magical teacher who puts it all together. My point? You need to ADVOCATE LIKE HELL for your kiddo, Momma! Guess who is here to walk you through exactly how to do that? Yes, I got you. Read on!

The best way to make yourself heard is by writing a fantastically clear email or letter that screams “I DEMAND YOUR TOP TEACHER FOR MY PRECIOUS BABE” without actually saying that. Because actually saying that? Not going to work. No, this process is all about DRIPPIN’ IN FINESSE (think the Bruno Mars song, not the shampoo), and I know you have some finesse in you, sister.

Before we start, it’s important to let you know that class lists are created by teachers and administrators every spring. You thought only new little bunnies and birdies were born in Spring? Nope, new little classes, too. How cute!

The exact process may differ slightly at each school, but the basics are always the same. First, all the grade-level teachers come together and put students into generic groups (the number is based on the number of classes anticipated for the next year) so that there is an even distribution based on gender and levels of academic achievement. This first step is usually completed by the classroom teachers and does not involve actually assigning a teacher to a group of students – just making even groups.

Next, the list of grouped kiddos go to the school administrators. Principals look at additional factors, LIKE LETTERS FROM PARENTS, to make the next set of tweaks. They shift around a handful of students and then assign each group to a teacher for the next year (this is kept totally secret until the end of summer, BTW). Final changes take place over the summer as new students come in and teachers change, but the original spring groups stay pretty much intact.

Let’s pause so I can emphasize this: It’s so important to be proactive, moms. Once classes are announced, it’s not very easy (read: near impossible) to move a student. Moving one student means throwing off the balance; it also means opening a can of worms for other parents to request changes. Most principals will give you a hard NO if you ask to change once the announcement has been made. It just can’t work like that. Whew, it’s a good thing you’ve got someone to give you some insight ahead of time, right?

So, let’s get back to writing that letter.

Your goal is to talk about the QUALITIES and CHARACTERISTICS you want in a teacher. Link your reasoning back to YOUR CHILD and why he or she needs that kind of teacher (not a specific person!! I’ll discuss that more, so hold tight!). Essentially, you need to say “My child is X kind of learner, so he/she needs a teacher who is Y kind of instructor.”

Before I divulge my secrets, we need to agree on the following:

  1. Teachers have different teaching styles. Students have different learning styles. Sometimes, teaching and learning styles don’t match. A teacher with a different teaching style than your child’s learning style is not necessarily a “bad” teacher.
  2. A “GOOD” teacher will be defined as a teacher with a teaching style that matches your child’s learning style. Therefore, a GOOD teacher for your child might not be a good teacher for your child’s best friend.
  3. Yes, there are some teachers who are just universally “bad” (sorry, not sorry). We will discuss how to avoid these teachers.

Do we agree? Perfect. Then let’s get into the good stuff, shall we?

Remember, we have agreed that finding a GOOD teacher means finding a GOOD match for your child. In order to do this, you need to first figure out who your child is as a student.

Get a sheet of paper and make four squares. Or if you’re techie, get a … whatever you techie people get. Now, label the squares and get to work:

1. Academic Needs – Knowing your child academically means pulling on information you have gotten from previous teachers. Is she a quick learner who is eager for an additional challenge, or is he cautious and needs a little support to pull out ideas? For one of my kiddos, I specifically mentioned needing a teacher who is great at coming up with extra challenges to keep my quick-learning son from getting bored. Another has an IEP and needed a class with extra support – this is a kiddo who needs help to make sure he’s following along and understanding the directions. Two totally different kids, two totally different needs. Who is your child?

2. Social-Emotional Needs – When it comes to your child’s social emotional needs, mom and dad know best. Is you child shy and needs someone with a gentle touch? Does he need a teacher who will be his biggest cheerleader, energetically encouraging him to believe in himself? Someone who is structured and relies on routines to keep things going smoothly? For one of my sons, I emphasized that “he is a relationship kid” and needs a teacher who is going to make him feel like he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Another needed someone with the patience of a saint who doesn’t get frazzled when an occasional tantrum takes place. My youngest needed structure and someone to teach him that school is not daycare and there are expectations that need to be followed. Who does your kid need?

3.Teacher Strengths – If you had a few words or phrases to describe the ideal teacher for your child, what would they be? Is it important to you that the person is trying new things, a teacher-leader, and research-based? Or is it more important that she’s kind and encouraging? Clearly you can have a teacher with many awesome characteristics, but what is MOST important?
For my kiddos, I always state I need a teacher who is open to regular communication with parents. I send emails, volunteer, and request meetings like they’re going out of style. The teacher better be open to all that or the year is going to be tough for both of us.

4. Other Needs – What else is in that head of yours, Momma? Other kids that he really doesn’t mesh with? Speak up! Someone who has a great attendance record? Say it! And yes, I did make that request for my high-anxiety kiddo. He just doesn’t do well with substitutes.

A word about being NOT-SO-SUBTLE. Sometime there is a specific teacher you want or don’t want. I’ve been there. You can still finesse you way into this one without demanding a certain person. For example, “Ryan is a perfectionist and shuts down when he thinks he can’t be the BEST at something. I’ve observed Mrs. Shane has always been encouraging and feel this trait would help Ryan have a successful school year.”

While this is totally acceptable, I must throw out a word of caution. I’ve read many letters from parents who suggest a specific teacher would be best for their child based on other parents’ experiences. Remember that we agreed that not all teachers are great for all students? So true, Momma.

Also, sometimes what YOU see in a teacher during parent pick-up or hear about a teacher from other parents is NOT what I see in a teacher during classroom observations. Here’s an example. Parents kept requesting NOT to have their kids in this one teacher’s class… let’s call her Ms. M. They thought she was cold and unwelcoming. The truth? Ms. M was an awesome teacher! Yes, she clammed up around adults, but in front of kids she was a rockstar. She was engaging, dedicated, and creative. It’s just that adults were not her comfort zone, kids were! And that’s what matters, amiright?

OKAY! Now that you’ve got your ideas, it’s time to put it all together. Don’t worry about being fancy. Personally, I write my letters in bullet points, just like above. But you do you. Remember to leave your phone number in case the principal needs clarification. Send it off late spring, and don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel, and re-send it in the summer if you don’t get confirmation that it was received.

Oh, and those BAD teachers I mentioned? You write this note and show you’re an advocate for your child, and you won’t be getting THAT teacher. Your letter is a clear sign that education is important to you, and your principal gets it and appreciates it. That precious babe is taken care of.

High five.. you did it! Now, let’s go celebrate with a glass of Pinot.

What Makes a School Great?

What Makes a School GREAT? What You Need to Know

How To Tell If a School Is Great

Let’s take a moment to be real here.  Most schools are doing a pretty good job.  Some are doing great,  and some are just plain bad.  So what makes a school “good” or “bad”, and how is a parent supposed to tell the difference?  School ratings and school report cards are easy to find online, but what do school ratings measure?

As a former vice principal and school psychologist (you can read more about me and my mission here), my goal is to help parents understand the school system – including what makes a school great.  Keep reading for a breakdown of the important information you need to know.

Check School Ratings & State Report Cards

Online school ratings, such as greatschools.org, are based on state report cards.  They are a good start for parents.  They are more user-friendly than what you would find on a the actual state report card, but they don’t provide the depth of information.  To find your school and district’s report card, Google your state’s name + “report card” (ex: Illinois school report card) and look for .gov sites or links to a school district or school’s website.

States create report cards that provide accountability for public schools and districts.  They provide parents with information about how a school is performing relative to state expectations.  This rating comes from how well students score on state tests, typically in Math and Reading. Students begin taking these tests around 3rd grade.  Each student in the state takes the test at the end of the school year, and scores become available the following fall.

Although states have some freedom to choose how to rate their schools, you will find commonalities across states.  Typically, school report cards include similar indicators or categories.  Three common ratings include student achievement (percentage of students who are considered proficient), academic growth, and achievement gaps.

Student Achievement Rating – it’s not as important as you might think!

I’m going to argue that this rating is the least important when determining if a school is great, and here’s why: these scores are highly correlated with income.  In other words, they have more to do with  families than schools.  You can find hundreds of empirical studies supporting this claim with a quick Google search, but here is a great report by legendary Grant Wiggins, in case you’re interested. Despite all this, the achievement rating is what most people check first.  It’s the easiest to understand, and it is the most publicized.  Yes, it is important to consider.  But don’t base your decision solely on this score.

Academic Growth – now we’re getting into the important stuff

Academic growth is also measured by scores on district tests.  BUT, rather than measure students’ achievement on one test, it measures students’ growth over multiple tests.  Growth is a big deal.  Students who are low achievers need to grow at an accelerated rate, and students who are high need to continue to grow academically.  If a school has a high growth score, its teachers are likely focusing on individualizing their instruction to meet the needs of each learner, as opposed to “teaching to the middle”.

Achievement Gap or Equity Score – this is big.

“Achievement gaps” are a hot topic right now, and for very good reasons.  They refer to the “gap”, or disparity, in achievement test scores between different demographic groups of students.  Nation-wide, there is a trend of underachievement by certain racial and ethnic minorities, English Language Learners, low socio-economic status, and students with disabilities.  This phenomenon impacts the make-up of Honors and AP classes, graduation rates, college admissions, later career options, and subsequent socio-economic status as adults.

While there are several valid hypotheses about why this disparity might exist, cognitive ability is not one.  That is huge.  Really huge.  Civil rights huge.  And it has to be addressed.  No longer can educators simply observe the trend of under-performance; they are now being held accountable for fixing it.  Hence the inclusion of achievement gap scores in the state report cards.  If you’re interested in reading more about achievement gaps, check out the National Center for Education Statistics.

So why does this matter when determining if a school is good?  Because schools that are closing this gap are ahead of the game.  They’re being innovative and relentless.  They’re committed to supporting all learners.  In other words, they’ve got what it takes to be a good school.

Visit the School

Want to know if a school is good?  Then get off the internet and get there. To know what it feels like, you have to power down and head out. Call the school and request a time for a tour and a brief meeting with the principal. Here’s what you want to find out when you visit:

  • What do they think is important?
    • School administrators create goals and improvement plans for their schools.  In which areas does the school have goals? Social-emotional learning?  Math?  Achievement gaps?  Knowing these goals gives you insight into the staff’s focus and the direction the school is heading.  I would suggest asking for a copy of the School Improvement Plan.  Parts of it should be available to the public.
  • How does it feel?
    • Tour the building.  What do you see on the walls in the hallway?  Do people smile and greet you when you arrive?  If you don’t feel the love, your child won’t, either.
  • Who works there?
    • Knowing who is on staff tells you a lot about a school.  Does the school have a full-time specialist for social-emotional support (social worker, counselor, or school psychologist)?  Is there a math specialist or reading specialist?  Find out the adult to student ratio. Smaller class sizes are especially important in early elementary grades.
  • How can parents get involved?
    • Schools that seek opportunities to involve parents are schools worth pursuing.  Ask if there is a strong Parent-Teacher Association or other ways parents can be part of the school.  Bottom line: if they don’t want you there, you probably don’t want your child there.

Want to be “in the know” about all things education?

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IEP Participants: Who are you and why are you here?

IEP Meetings: Who are you and why are you here?

Who Attends an IEP Meeting?

IEP participants are going to vary based on a student’s needs.  Sometimes, there will be a small handful of participants, sometimes you’ll be fighting for elbow room at a conference table built for 12.

Here’s my advice: Don’t walk into the room blindly.  Know who will be attending before you show up, and find out why each person will be there (and it better not be to check emails).  If you know who will be there,  you will be more relaxed, focused on the present, and prepared with meaningful questions.

Here’s a quick list of who you can expect:

Required Participants

Special education law mandates certain participants attend IEP meetings unless parents provide written consent.  At times, one person may serve more than one role at the meeting.

Required participants include:

  1. The LEA, or representative from the “Local Education Agency” – This will likely be the principal, assistant principal, special ed director, or the school psychologist.  For speech-only IEPs, it might be the speech pathologist.  He or she is responsible for ensuring the school can provide the resources outlined in the IEP.  He or she will also be making sure all the paperwork is accurate.  If you have questions about your rights prior to the meeting, touch base with your LEA.
  2. General Education Teacher – likely your child’s classroom teacher.  He or she will be sharing information about how your child is doing in the classroom.  Expect to hear updates about academics, behavior, and social functioning.  She might bring in work samples or recent test scores.  Be sure to ask for copies of anything she brings; if it is important enough to share at a legal meeting, it’s probably worth bringing home so you can look at it more carefully.
  3. Special Education Teacher – a teacher with expertise in individualizing instruction to meet learners’ needs.  A special education teacher often stays with a student for more than one year, so he or she can provide great info about how your child has grown over the years.  Expect her to share information about how your child is doing at school, goals for the future (provide your own input, too!), and the plan to help your child meet those goals.
  4. PARENTS… and anyone you want to bring along.  I have found that it helps BIG time to have someone else with me.  My husband tends to jot key notes down while I talk, and he helps clarify my jumbled thoughts.  If you choose to bring an advocate or a lawyer, let the school know ahead of time.

Additional School Participants

Other common participants include the School Psychologist, School Counselor, School Social Worker, Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologist, Physical Therapist, additional teachers or aids, practicum students, and even the student himself.  Combined, they have enough degrees to heat up a house.  But only you have the mama-knowledge.  Make sure to speak up.

For more information about these educators and why they might attend the meeting, check out my previous post WHO works with your child and WHY you need to know.

How to Find Out Who Will Attend

You should receive an invite in the mail that has a list of participants.  HOWEVER, these invites are often sent far in advance (possibly several months), and often are not accurate given the ever-changing schedules of specialists.  Therefore, I encourage you to email  your child’s special ed teacher and LEA (if you know who that is), and ask for the names and roles of those who will be in attendance.  Plus, when you get to the meeting, check to see that everyone is there who was supposed to come.  Required participants (listed above) must have written permission from you to be excused.

 

Have questions?  Feel free to shoot me an email.

Stay tuned for more parenting and education tips and tricks by following my blog on social media.

 

 

 

Assessment: Everyone’s Favorite Winter Sport

Assessment… it’s everyone’s favorite winter sport.  Or not.  Either way, it’s testing time!

Winter Assessments

Schools typically give district assessments 3 times per year.  Fall.  Winter.  Spring.  The winter session typically starts right after break.

District assessments are those that are given to students throughout the district.  They are often computer-based so that responses can be quickly scored.  They give teachers invaluable information about what students have learned and what they still need to learn.  In other words, teachers use the information to plan lessons that are based on students’ needs.

Accommodations

Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Plans are often entitled to testing accommodations.  IEP or 504 teams include accommodations into a student’s plan when there is evidence to suggest that a student needs the accommodations in order to really show what she knows.  They are not meant to give an unfair advantage.  Rather, they are necessary for that child.  Common accommodations include extra time, frequent breaks, small group for testing, assistive technology, questions read aloud, or a scribe for responses.

Why Does This Matter?

Educators are hardworking, diligent professionals.  They take care to plan for students’ testing accommodations.  But they are human, and they make errors.  Schools often have dozens of students with testing accommodations.  Yet, there is no foolproof way to ensure students are getting the accommodations to which they are entitled.  For example, the process of providing students their accommodations might go something like this:

  1. Student has IEP meeting and decision is made that he requires testing accommodations
  2. Special ed teacher checks boxes on the IEP document to show student should have accommodations
  3. The IEP is scanned into an online system that houses IEPs
  4. Special Ed teacher go into the system, looks at each IEP, and manually creates an excel spreadsheet of their students’ accommodations
  5. Testing coordinator asks special ed teachers for their excel spreadsheets
  6. Excel spreadsheets from each special ed teacher are merged into one spreadsheet
  7. Each student’s name on that spreadsheet is grouped with students who have the same accommodations
  8. A list of groups is giving to testing proctors
  9. Students are tested with accommodations according to the list that was manually created from several other manually created lists.

My point?  There is room for error.  Be proactive.  Call, email, prepare a letter, send smoke signals, etc.  Remind your child’s teacher that she has testing accommodations in her IEP or 504 Plan.  Play it safe and call for a double check.  There’s no shame in that game.

BONUS:

3 Genius Testing Strategies

We all know students need a good night of sleep and a healthy breakfast before taking a test.  Here are 3 of my genius, lesser-known strategies for taking the test:

  1. Use the bathroom.  If it is allowed, use the bathroom mid-test.  Getting up, walking, and changing scenery can do wonders for focus and fatigue.
  2. Finish last.  Many of these tests are not timed, yet students rush to be the first to finish.  Even worse?  They hear someone else finish, so they click through aimlessly because they think they’re slow.  Rather than get self-conscious, challenge your child to set a goal to be the last to finish.  When it comes to tests, winners just might finish last.
  3. Kill trees.  Okay, I like trees.  But I really like it when students use scratch paper.  Lots of it.  Students who slow down and write out their thought processes are more likely to catch errors.  Kids like using scratch paper about as much as they like brushing their teeth, but it is every bit as important.  Tell them to do it anyway.

 

Wondering why this blog exists?  Check out my post, Let’s Talk School.

WHO works with your child and WHY you need to know

The Cast of Characters

If you’ve never worked in a school building, you may be surprised to learn how many different professionals play a role in your child’s education.  While classroom teachers are obvious stars, the supporting cast of school staff is equally important albeit much lesser known.  Without the behind-the-scenes info, it’s hard to know who to turn to when you’re seeking support for your child.  Here is an (undeniably condensed and over-simplified) introduction to the school’s cast of characters.

Administrators

Although Principals and Assistant Principals work as a team, things are often organized such that one person takes the “lead” in a certain area.  For example, principals typically take the lead on budgeting, staffing, and class lists.  Assistants Principals may take the lead on student discipline, assessments, and special education.

Why this is important to know: When parents call with questions or concerns, they will typically be directed to the administrator who takes the lead in that area.  In other words, don’t feel like you’re being dismissed by the Principal if you’re directed to the Assistant Principal when you call to report that your child was pushed by a peer on the bus.

Classroom Teachers

Your child may have more than one teacher, and you may not even know it.   Sometimes teachers “co-teach”, meaning two teachers are in the classroom at the same time.  Students may also have content-specific teachers, even in elementary school.  For example, my son’s classroom splits up into reading groups based on reading level.  Consequently, he goes to the “Reading Room” and works with a reading teacher.  In other schools, the class may stay together, but the teacher rotates; one teacher may teach reading to all 3 first grade classes, another teacher may do all the math, while the third teaches social sciences.

Many students also receive instruction from classroom assistants or aids.  These individuals are typically paraprofessionals.  Consequently, the level of experience, teaching style, and role of assistants can vary greatly.  Assistants may work primarily with one student (special education assistant), the whole class (classroom assistant), or several classrooms (grade-level assistant).  Because assistants’ contractual hours typically do not include after-school events or conferences, most parents do not even have an opportunity to meet them.

Why this is important to know: If you have questions about your child’s performance at school, you may want to seek input from more than the classroom teacher.  While he or she is your main point-of-contact, others who work with your child in different environments may have valuable observations to share.  Aside from knowing who your child is working with, it also important to know why your child is working with a different teacher (advanced, remedial, other?), what they’re working on (specific skills or interventions), and how long he or she will be with that teacher.

The Student Services Team

Schools are also filled with many specialists who provide services to support students, parents, and teachers.  You may not know them, but they make tremendous contributions to the buildings in which they work.

Special Education Teachers have specialized training (degree and licensing) for teaching students with disabilities.  They are creative problem-solvers who design instruction to meet individual students’ needs.  Even if your child does not have a disability, a special education teacher might be invited to attend a parent problem-solving meeting with you because of his or her unique viewpoint.  He or she may also co-teach in your child’s classroom.

School Psychologist: A school psych has a degree in Educational Psychology; therefore, I like to think of them as “scientists of learning”.  They posses a tremendous breadth and depth of knowledge about the “whole child”.   They are specialists in social-emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning.  Psychs work to determine the “why” and “what” … why are students having difficulty, and what can we do to help them improve?  Don’t be surprised if they show up to a parent meeting with a file of student data and a support plan that is ready to be rolled out.

School Social Worker (SSW) or School Counselor: Most elementary schools have one or the other, but lucky schools may have both.  These professionals typically work with students and their families.  They provide social-emotional support for students at school and often help connect parents with resources in the community.  Families experiencing the stress of financial, medical, or other domestic issues can turn to these specialists for support.

Occupational Therapist (OT): These specialists focus on fine motor skills such as handwriting, cutting, and typing.  They also have expertise in sensory processing.  They typically only provide direct services to students who have IEPs, but they often consult with teachers about other students who demonstrate fine motor weaknesses.

Physical Therapist (PT): These specialists work with students on gross motor skills that are essential to school.  This may include building core strength to sit in a chair or use the stairs.  They typically only work with students who have IEPs and are often shared between several schools.

Speech & Language Pathologist (SLP):  These specialists work with students on speech (producing specific sounds, sound fluency or smoothness, etc) and/or language (comprehending language, expressing oneself, etc).  If you’re wondering if that little lisp is a concern, the SLP is the one to ask.

Why this is important to know: When you child is demonstrating difficulties at school, these specialists are excellent resources for parents.  They can provide information about typical and atypical child development, share strategies for parents to use at home, and can direct you to helpful community resources.  When significant concerns arise, they may evaluate your child’s skills and provide services.  Because of their expertise, they are also common participants at parent meetings.

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Evaluations: Determining Disability

When your child is having difficulty at school, you may begin thinking about having him or her evaluated for a disability.  This  can be an emotional and confusing process.  While I promise to provide more information about the evaluation process for school-based services and plans (IEP, 504, and RTI) later, it’s critical that you first understand the difference between medical diagnoses and educational disabilities.  Knowing the difference allows you to determine the appropriate steps to take to support your child.

Medical Diagnoses: These diagnoses refer to a child’s functioning within several environments.  Diagnoses are based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).  Diagnoses may include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, etc.e qualified to make these diagnoses include pediatricians, psychiatrists (medical doctor who specializes in mental health and can prescribe medication), psychologists (graduate level professional who cannot prescribe medication), neuropsychologists (often conducts psychological and learning assessments), or social workers.    These are often diagnosed based on information from parents, including results from parent interviews and rating scales (questionnaires that ask how often a child displays specific behaviors).  Input from school is considered but does not dictate a diagnosis (see below for parallel idea!).  The evaluation may also include several cognitive or academic assessments conducted over many hours in the neuropsychologist’s office.  These evaluations are paid for through insurance or out-of-pocket by parents.

Educational Disabilities:  These disabilities refer to a child’s educational functioning and are necessary to receive special education services (IEP).  Disabilities are determined using eligibility criteria determined by the state departments of education and are based on the U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act.  Disabilities may include one or more of the following: Specific Learning Disability, Other Health Impairment, Educational Autism, Emotional-Behavioral Disorder, Speech or Language Disorder, Intellectual Disability, Hearing Impairment, Deafness, Visual Impairment (including blindness), Deaf-Blindness, Traumatic Brain Injury, Orthopedic Impairment, or Multiple Disabilities.  They are determined by a school team, including parents and school professionals such as school psychologists, school social workers, teachers, administrators, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.  Information comes from parents, teachers, academic records, rating scales, cognitive and academic assessments, interviews with the student, and observations of students’ functioning at school.  Medical diagnoses are always considered in the assessment information but do not dictate whether a student has an educational disability.   In other words, a student with a diagnosis of Dyslexia (medical diagnosis) does not automatically have an educational diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability and, therefore, does not automatically receive special education.  These evaluations are free and are used to determine appropriate service options for students.

Please remember, I am not a lawyer.  My posts are not designed to give legal advice.  Rather, I hope to provide basic information to parents who want to better understand this crazy institution called School.  The world of evaluations and school services is complex.  Stay tuned for more information.


‘Tis the season… but what to give?

Gifts for Teachers (and specialists and administrators!):   As parents we are so grateful for the hours and hours teachers spend planning and working with our children, but deciding what to give to show our appreciation can be confusing.  Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

  1. Two words: GIFT CARDS.  In my opinion (and many, many teachers’ opinions), unwrapping a gift card is pure happiness.  The BEST?  When you go in with a group on a gift card.  Last year, I was able to buy a pair of designer jeans and a necklace with a group gift card… a very merry Christmas, indeed.  Other ideas would be for coffee, local lunch delivery places, or Amazon.  You absolutely cannot go wrong with a gift card.  Last minute?  These Amazon gift cards can be delivered via email.
  2. Something warm:  A USB hand warmer will warm their hearts.  I understand this one seems silly, but hear me out.  TEACHERS ARE ALWAYS COLD.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your kids.  Classrooms often range between the temperatures of cold and freezing.  Outdoor recess or supervising the car line in the morning or afternoon can be plain miserable.  I used to plug this model into my computer to charge and then put it in my pocket when I went outside (if your budget is a bit higher, this model looks great and can plug into a phone for when they’re on-the-go).  Want something to keep teachers warm and make them giggle?  Try this toasty hand warmer that they can use while at the computer.  They’ll be the envy of the school, I promise.
  3. Speaking of warmth:  Many teachers need coffee to stay alive during the day.  But coffee in that freezing classroom?  Just like teachers’ hands, coffee quickly becomes cold, too.  This mug warmer is affordable, and it’s the best seller on Amazon.  Cheers to that!
  4. The Holy Grail of teacher supplies: There is something mysterious about Papermate Flair pens that makes teachers lose their minds. Borrow one and forget to return it?   You will be hunted down.  These limited edition colors are on sale and are guaranteed to be a hit.

Educational Gifts for Kids:  Out of ideas?  I could go on and on, but here a few ideas.

  1. A MUST HAVE:   Unifix cubes! These aren’t under my tree this year (we have 3 sets), but I cannot imagine a home without them.  Unifix cubes are my favorite, FAVORITE educational tool.   In math, I have used them with my own kids for patterning, counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication,  division, and even algebra.  In reading, they can be used for counting syllables and sounds.  You can use a marker to write letters or digraphs on them to build words (you can also buy them with letters already on them).  I’ll write a post about their magic in the near future.  In the meantime, I’m linking this set because it has an activity book for parents (and don’t forget Pinterest).
  2. Give them the world!  Okay, it’s just a globe… but it seems awesome.  This globe from Oregon Scientific will be under the tree this year for my Kindergartener.  I have high hopes that it’ll keep him (and his brothers) engaged for hours.
  3. Engineering for my littles: I chose the big Marble Run set for my kids for this year.  The company states the toy will help develop “hand-eye coordination, logical thinking, creativity, color and shape recognition, spatial imagination ability”.  I’m also going to argue it is a great tool for building problem solving and executive functioning skills.
  4. Family Game Night: Melissa and Doug Suspend is one of my favorite gifts from last year.  It’s secretly educational but so fun.  It is amazing for strengthening executive functioning skills like planning.  I also use it to teach my kids “still body”, meaning they need to take a deep breath and feel calm before placing a piece.  I highly recommend it.

 


Let’s talk school.

The Friday FolderEach school day, we get our children up, get them dressed, and ship them off to school.  Approximately 7 hours later, they show up back at our door.  What did they do during that time?  What really goes on in a school building?

To most parents, it’s a mystery.  Why?  Well, let’s examine our sources of information…

  1. Parent Information Nights.  I like to call these “The Sit-and-Get” meetings.  We sit (uncomfortably, squished into child-sized desks), and get vague information about the school year alongside 50 other parents who are trying to get comfortable in a room designed for 25 kids.  We listen to the teacher’s presentation, possibly ask a question, but leave none-the-wiser.  Let’s be honest, most teachers shine when talking to a group of students but sweat when talking to parents. It’s just not their thing.
  2. Our kids – Just kidding.
  3. Conferences.  Oh, those dreaded fifteen minutes twice per year.  The teacher flips through old papers to show us how our child has grown.  We bite our nails, fearful that we will learn that our child has been terrorizing the school.  The bell dings… conference over.
  4. Our own experiences as a student, tv shows, social media parent groups….  Just don’t.
  5. The weekly Friday Folder.  Insert eye roll here. Some might call it a “Take Home Folder” while more optimistic teachers may refer to it is a “Parent Communication Folder”.  Whatever you call it, it’s a fraud.  How is it that a flimsy two pocket folder is intended to serve as the main vessel of communication between home and school?  IF it makes it home at the end of the week, it’s often stuffed full of crumpled newsletters and outdated parent information.  At our house, The Friday Folder is just about as elusive as its friend, The Assignment Notebook.

It’s time to change all that.  Welcome to my version of The Friday Folder, where you can get accurate, insider information that you need to know help your child be successful at school.  As an educator and mother (check out the About Me page), I am keenly aware of information that parents NEED but never get.

Let’s do this!