Posts Tagged 'parents'

A Parent Toolkit for Supporting Reading at Home

12779343884_3fb3122e0a_o.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – Our district is in the thick of planning a community literacy event to support and encourage reading in the home. It joins the forces of our school district, the public library, and a group of community and university personnel who have formed a committee to study and advance the literacy of our city. I am by nature a doer rather than a discusser and the pace at which larger groups move often frustrates me. It is incredibly difficult to create a shared vision of what good community literacy would look like. It is even more daunting to determine, and then fulfill, the needs required to get to that goal.

In a community-wide forum in September, the group generated a list of needs as perceived by the attendees. I took that list and selected three action items that I could make happen with the support of my principal, coworkers, parents’ organization, our student council, and some community volunteers.

  • Grandreaders – Soon after the community meeting, a fellow attendee contacted me about reading with students weekly. One of the needs our teachers identified is that some students do not have a parent or caregiver that is available to consistently read and discuss books with our early readers. Two amazing retired women come each week to read with kids in 20 minute blocks, not to instruct, but to provide reading practice and share their love of books.
  • Many of our students participate in free and reduced lunch programs during the week. There has been an uptick in the number of comments from students about not having enough to eat on the weekend. This is often paired with a limited access to books in the home. We have organized an In-Out pantry to provide an anonymous way for families to receive breakfast and lunch items and age appropriate books to take home each Friday through a backpack program, supported by the generosity of our students. Kids who cannot make food or financial donations are able to earn items to donate through academic and behavioral excellence. It is tough to make literacy a family priority when physical needs are not being met.
  • We have changed the focus of our annual Family Literacy Night to reaching out to families who have not traditionally participated in the past. Changing the venue from our individual elementary schools to the public library and educating the community about the resources that are available after school hours, facilitating library card sign-ups, support for home language enrichment and book-sharing and various giveaways, including a “Milk and Bookies” wrap up from the Walworth County Dairy Council, may reach readers in new ways than in the past.

Whitewater’s business community has made offers of funding to purchase and distribute books. University drives have collected books and cash that have been placed in bins on school buses to provide the opportunity to read and take home books.  While these generous offers of financial backing are greatly appreciated, it also misses the mark. Just putting books in the hands of kids won’t spark the positive change we are seeking. We have to find a way to help make literacy a priority at home and help families feel competent in providing support.

The evidence is clear, families of all races and economic standing care deeply for their children and about their education. They vary greatly in their confidence in providing what kids need. As educators we have to make it our mission to change that, to make families feel valued in their efforts and capable in the attempt. The best books ever written are of limited use if no one shares the joy between their covers.

These are some of the tools we’d like to provide for kids and families at our upcoming literacy event:

  • How to use conversation and vocabulary with our children to maximize their success in school.
  • Why reading with a child is even more valuable than reading to a child or having a child read to you.
  • The places we read matter — lap sit, snuggled up, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder –and this contact helps to create lifelong skills and bonds around books.
  • Making life-to-text connections makes books come alive. People want to read about things they know and places they have been, and we dream of exploring the places and activities that we have read about in books.
  • Decoding words is not everything. Parents benefit from knowing what emerging reading looks and sounds like and what to expect as grade level expectations rise.
  • Harnessing the power of pause and understanding that strategy use, interruptions and re-reading can be very good things, helps everyone relax and enjoy the ride.
  • There are things we can do to build stamina and perseverance. When we help kids revise and reward and prompt their use of strategies we build resilience, self-reliance and self-esteem.
  • There are many ways to take advantage of the reading and writing we do every day to build literacy minutes. We read signs, on-line, manuals and recipes. We write lists, directions and love notes. Parents inspire and model success when kids see them reading and writing, especially when they are enjoying it.
  • There are fun and efficient ways to read together, write together and practice basic skills.
  • Community literacy should be important to everyone and there are no more important voices than those of parents who love their children and are building successful, literate futures.

Things We Just Don’t Do Anymore

Cumberand_Drive_In_Hearty_Welcome.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – One of the more challenging aspects of my current position as a reading interventionist is getting buy-in from my more reticent students. There are many ways to say it, but challenged readers really do need to believe that the most important road to improving their skills is practice, practice, practice.  I actually hear some of them explain that they don’t do because they don’t like to do it. I cannot even imagine saying that to one of my teachers. That got me thinking about all the things that are radically different than when I was sitting in the small desks, and even more narrowly, what we don’t do anymore.

Feed the Ducks – I know there are good ecological reasons not to do this, but it really seems like a magical moment of childhood is gone when these feathered friends don’t come questing and quacking for the discards of our bread drawers. Even stale things were good enough to share, and seeing nature up close and personal is a childhood memory I regret being unable to share with my grandchildren.

Take Food to the Drive-in Movie– I’m the oldest of seven kids and one of our summer activities was often loading everyone in to the car to attend an affordable film at the local drive-in movie. There was no need to smuggle in snacks, it was encouraged. I love our local movie theater, and realize much of the profit that keeps first-run films in my neighborhood cinema comes from concessions, and would never dream of sneaking in my snack. But, I do usually go on free popcorn Tuesdays.

Send thank you notes –Jimmy Fallon’s wonderful Friday night bits aside, it’s rare to receive a written acknowledgment of a gift given or a favor done. I have a project at school where students write the notes that are sent to volunteers and donors to school activities. They are usually greeted with equal parts astonishment and enjoyment.

Have Long Personal Conversations Over Dinner- We are in a hurry, and the leisurely mealtimes enjoyed by Europeans do not mesh with our results-driven culture. How sad for students who don’t first witness, then imitate, and ultimately participate, in a recap of the day, a discussion of world events, or a building of background knowledge by which they can understand the world.

Get to Know the Shopkeeper – Our local grocery store closed in December, a victim of the economy and the Super Wal-Mart that was built next door. These people not only knew me by sight, but were willing to support local school projects and serve as a place where kids could see their teachers out in the community.

Dance (except at weddings)- Watching my parents hold each other on the dance floor and move in perfect harmony, even in the living room, is one of my dearest memories. The music and their synchrony modeled a connection that nearly every young person hopes to find for themselves. My husband doesn’t dance, except when we are alone, and then only because he knows I love being held in that same way.

Memorize Phone Numbers, Addresses, and Business Names- Technology has made much of this unnecessary, but also leaves us without back-up when the battery dies of there is no coverage. Kids aren’t encouraged to know their personal info, and don’t see memorization as useful tool for thinking and learning. Spelling words, multiplication facts and studying for tests are all more challenging as a result.

Talk to Our Neighbors, Except to Complain – no more over-the-fence conversations, coffee after the school bus pulls away, or catching up on the neighborhood gossip, and posts on Facebook are not equivalent sources of connection.

Use Candy, Cookies or Sweets as RewardsI do believe this is a good thing, and I do miss baking for my students and the joy of a holiday party.

These are the things that I mourn the loss of the most deeply: We don’t

Believe the Teacher When a Child Complains. Parents call school loaded with anger without knowing both sides of the story.

Want the Best Possible for Our Kids Regardless of What it Costs. Tight budgets mean program cuts, larger class sizes, fewer of the bells and whistles that can make school a magical place to learn.

Respect Public Servants.  We now see them as a drain rather than a service or resource.

Teach Topics or Lessons for the Pure Joy of the Learning. We only have time to cover what is going to be on the next assessment, factored into our school’s performance report, or meet a Student Learning Objective.

Assume that Teachers are Effective, and Only Require Extensive Documentation in Cases Where There is Concern. A lot of times this feels like “prove that you are not a failure.”

Volunteer.  Parents’ jobs are less flexible, and more families require two incomes. Although we have seen a welcome uptick in dads on field trips, it is harder than ever before to find chaperones, PTA volunteers, or the manpower to complete the things we dream about for our students.

Expect a Reply from Our Elected Officials, or a Change in Their Vote Based on Public Opinion. We seem to have lost our representative democracy. Most Wisconsinites favor increased support of public education, but this is not reflected in budget or policy, and legislators are reluctant to release the contacts to their offices that bear this out.


Nostalgia is not the only reason to hang on to things past. If we don’t think about what we do, and what we don’t do, we run the risk of letting others decide what is important in our personal and professional lives. We may be passing on lives to the kids that we share that are seriously stripped of joy and wonder. That is something I don’t intend to do anymore.

Planning for the Future: Why I Love Individual Planning Conferences

3721809183_847a705f0c.jpgBy Sabrina  Bartels – From December until February, my fellow counselors and I find ourselves consumed by individual planning conferences. During these months, we meet with every single 8th grader and his/her parent(s) to discuss high school classes and potential plans after high school. We also show parents how to use Career Locker, which is a website that we use in our 7th grade Career Pathways class. To say the least, it is a somewhat exhausting process: We each complete about 120 conferences, doing upwards of four to five conferences a day. Some days, we have so many conferences and meetings, it is difficult to meet individually with our students.

As exhausting as this process can be, there are also some fantastic benefits to doing these conferences.

  1. We get to meet with EVERY 8th grader! Yes, this leads to a lot of conferences. It leads to some stress. At the same time, we get to do individually tailored conferences for every student. We talk about THEIR plans, THEIR hopes, THEIR dreams. As easy as it could be to do one, blanket meeting about graduation requirements, being able to work with each student on an individual basis gives us the opportunity to help them figure out the best path for high school. Whether that means taking a lot of tech ed classes, or working to fit a cooking class into their schedule, our students know they are individuals and are treated accordingly.
  1. We get to meet parents! For some parents, I have always just been the voice on the phone, or a figure that their son or daughter mentions. Now parents can put a name to the face, and I am able to do the same! Also, a lot of my students have younger siblings, so I get to see some parents again and again!
  1. We receive feedback on our conferences (and, occasionally, our counseling). Our parents get a chance to fill out evaluations about their conference, as well as the counselor they met with. It is surprising how many students know you, even when you are not their primary counselor. This year, since the 8th graders are “my” students, I get a lot of comments about my counseling from students and parents. This includes one very kind note from a parent, who wrote on her evaluation that I have been a “great support to my daughter and our family for the last three years.” It feels awesome to hear that!
  1. We help our students pick their high school classes. Having parents involved in their students’ schedules not only reduces anxiety on the parents’ parts, it also shows the students that they have a support system. Parents feel better knowing their student is not taking five gym classes and two study halls; students feel empowered because they get to choose which classes they prefer; and both the parent and I get to help guide our kids to making smart decisions.
  1. We get to shower our students with compliments. We have our students do a self-reflection that asks about their strengths, talents, and what they are looking forward to in the future. This is the time when parents get a chance to tell their children how they would describe them, as well as give me a chance to compliment my students on their smart choices, good behavior, and excellent grades. So many times, I don’t get a chance to individually tell all my students that they are doing a good job; this is a wonderful opportunity to do so!

Rewind: Childhood Memories of Having a Parent-Teacher

d55329b4dddac6400f1a9d993dcdcbd4By Noel Hincha – A long day of crying, boogers, laughs, and academics. Today, the teacher yelled at you for not sharing properly. Today, the teacher scolded you for not staying in line. Today, the teacher told you to not forget your homework. Kindergarten is rough, but the day is done.

You hop into the car as your mother habitually details, “How was your day? Oh – well today, I gently told a child to share, guided a rambunctious first grader back in line as we walked down the hallway, and reminded everyone about their homework.” In this moment, you remember you can’t escape: your parent is a teacher.

Alas, here are a few memories to reminisce:

  1. You were perpetually caught off guard hearing others address your mom as Mrs. To be honest, as a child, your parent was actually a celebrity. Everywhere you went, be it the mall or a restaurant, you were bound to run into people – former students. Mrs. this, Mrs. that; however, it was never addressed to you, and now, only mildly confuses your senses. Should I be calling you, “Ms. Mom?”
  2. While still out in public, your parent commanded the attention of small children. There was a child misbehaving in line? Supermom-teacher to the rescue. A temper tantrum in the middle of the mall? Superdad-teacher to the rescue. Your parent knew how to brainwash even your second grade friends into using sanitizer or taking turns.
  3. You never had to shop for school supplies because they were hoarded at your house. Back to school shopping meant wander around the house and pick up a few extraneous academic utensils: safety scissors, double sided tape, binders, loose-leaf paper, pens, markers. Anything and everything was available and hoarded from previous years because your parent knew there was bound to be budget cuts in the future – save now.
  4. On that note, stickers were the choice of decoration. If there was ever need for a reminder or random note, it was sure to have stickers on it; even calendars had stickers on them. There were packets of every variety: animals, plants, letters, smiley faces, and the newest fad of pop culture – a side-eye to Frozen. Further, your friends envied you for your decked out notebook, obviously covered in more stickers. Not everything that glitters is gold.
  5. Mailed coupons were not for groceries, they were for teaching essentials. After a strenuous day, the mail lay by the front door. Most people found coupons for their local grocery store, BestBuy, or delivery restaurants; however, if your parent was a teacher, the coupons were for the local teaching supply store. In essence, this meant frequent, domestic field trips to the nearby Learning Shop.
  6. Before you went back to your school, you went back to your mom’s school. It involved heavy, manual labor. Why? Because whoever stored the room away for the summer never puts things back where they were supposed to go. Why was there a table in the corner and a cabinet with its doors facing the wall? Where did all the puzzles and posters go? These were all valid questions for you to answer, and then, fix.
  7. Every room in your house had secret compartments for sanitizer, lotion, and animal crackers. You walked into your room after another stressful day at school, without realizing it, you reached for the sanitizer placed conveniently to the side of the door. You walked from your room to dinner, animal crackers in hand, and sat down; “Go, wash your hands. You just touched the door knob.” Don’t fret, if the sanitizer dried out your hands, there was always lotion lying around. Please, wash your hands.
  8. The home was a commendable library. Every open surface area was covered with books. Basically, it was no surprise that you started reading Harry Potter by age five. If one were to stand in the middle of your home, every degree and angle a body can turn would meet a book. A plethora of dictionaries, fiction, biographies, newspapers, children’s literature, textbooks, and notebooks. The amount of paper was probably an immense fire hazard.
  9. There was a family excursion to Madison when the unmentionables happened. 2011 – Remember when your mom called for a future budget cut? It happened. Teacher unions, among others, were battling a small problem, which is a slight understatement. Luckily for you, this meant a few days off of school to visit Madison. In consequence, during this memorable era, you may have even been on TV.
  10. You appreciate education. Complaints are acceptable every now and then, but because it is engraved in your mind, you know you are the future and education – although it should be a right – is a privilege. Through everything, it is almost innately known that you are where you are because of your education, and you don’t take it for granted. In fact, you advocate for education and further value its role in society. You understand that literacy creates power of the individual and that education creates a holistic being. Teachers are the respectable individuals that foster the future of our world.

The Transition in Perspective from City School Teacher to City School Parent

j0439367By Nick McDaniels – Today begins my 7th year in Baltimore City Schools after graduating from Marquette. I still love my job. I’m still improving. And I still have a lot to say about it.

But today is also my daughter’s first day of kindergarten in Baltimore City Schools. This will undoubtedly shape my experience as a teacher and will certainly shift my perspective on education in our city. She is attending a traditional public school in our neighborhood as I declined to participate in the charter school movement. That particular decision, for me, came from disappointment I felt as many “progressive” charter operators supported charter school de-unionizing legislation at the state level this past year. Thank goodness my kid does not have to go to a union-busting school!

When thinking about the issues that impact me as a teacher this year, few compare to the issues that will affect me as a parent over the coming school years. Over-testing is a burden on my conscience for me as a teacher, but will be a real, practicable burden on my child’s education. Discipline policies have had my mind and soul wrestling over recent years, but, until now, those policies have not impacted my child. Overcrowded classrooms have at times diminished my hope for real transformational education. Now my daughter gets to compete for the attention of a teacher and such a reality becomes even clearer for my family.

Despite these large-scale issues that befall our system, the good news for me is that I get to return this year to a stable high school, the largest in the district, and my daughter gets to attend one of our district’s best public schools led by a great principal and teachers. For that I am grateful.

I look forward to engaging myself now in anyway I can to assist the teachers who are trying to give my daughter the best education possible, just as I look forward to teaching the children of others as if they were my own. Now, though, that sentiment has a deeper meaning.

A Thank You to Parents (Who’ve Been Right All Along)

Quotation-Mahatma-Gandhi-home-university-parents-teachers-Meetville-Quotes-261129By Sabrina Bartels – This past year, my husband and I vowed that we were going to watch all of the movies that were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (for the record, we are missing Grand Budapest Hotel in order to complete our list).

One of the first movies we saw was Whiplash, with J.K. Simmons. In the movie, Simmons plays a tough-as-nails teacher who demands nothing less than perfection from his students. When he won his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie, Simmons gave a thoughtful speech. The end, however, was what touched me the most. He told viewers to call their parents, not text or email them, but “call them and tell them that you love them.”

I work with parents a lot as a counselor, both during the school year and in summer. I do my best to be a liaison between parents and the school, and sometimes, the go-between for parents and their students. Sometimes, talking and working with parents is easy. Other times, it can be very difficult. Regardless, I think people usually remember the bad experiences they have had with parents.

That being said, this blog post is in praise of all the amazing parents out there, whose hard work, dedication, and devotion to their children sometimes goes unnoticed. I think about the parents who pick up the phone to talk to me about their child, no matter how frequently I call. I think of the parent who scolded me for not telling her I got married in October, and then sent me a congratulatory card. I think of the parents who always have smiles on their faces, or parents who always ask me how I’m doing.

I think of parents who drop everything to talk to me when it concerns their child, whether that means a phone conference, email correspondence, or coming into the building to meet with me. I see parents attending sports games, concerts, and dance recitals, even when they are completely exhausted and just getting off of work. There are parents who consistently give us their time, energy, and a listening ear whenever it is needed, and I am thankful for that.

And that’s what I really want parents to know: We hear you! We appreciate you! Without you, our school would not be the organization it is! Thank you for everything you do for us and for your students. We are so incredibly lucky to be working with you. We know that you work hard and want what is best for your kids; thank you for doing that! Thanks for being involved! I know your kids might give you grief about that, but really, it is so important that you stay involved in their lives.

Also, I want to let you in on a secret (that I’m sure many of you know!): Your kids may whine, scream, and “hate you” for being involved. They may think you’re nosy, or that you don’t want them to have any fun. But later on, they will realize that you were right all along. They may not be able to verbalize it, but at some point in their lives, they will turn around and realize that the best and most important friend that they’ve had their whole lives are you. Their families. It doesn’t matter if you are mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, or family friend. The sacrifices you have made and the love you have shown for these students is such a gift.

Middle school is one of the toughest years when it comes to being a kid. They really are. But by sticking to your beliefs, and raising your kids to have the same values, you are setting your children up for a wonderful future.

Thank you to all the wonderful moms and dads out there! And an especial thank you to my wonderful, selfless parents, who were on the receiving end of my middle school angst. Here it is, in print: I was totally wrong before. You were not out to make my life miserable; you were making sure that I walked forward in life with the right set of goals, values, and beliefs.

Expect a call from me soon – I love you!

Fight Back! Opt Out of Testing! – An Open Letter to Parents

Dear Parent,

Your school-aged child, as a student in the No Child Left Behind era, spends weeks each year preparing for and taking standardized tests.

If your child goes to school in a district where poverty is high, then your child spends even more time preparing for and taking standardized tests. These tests in many districts have developed not only into ways to collect incredible amounts of data on your child, the uses and misuses of which are endless, but also to determine funding for schools and salaries for teachers.

I’ll assume that you, like most parents, send your child to school so that your child can learn as much as possible, but upon realizing that your child may spend 5-10% of the school year preparing for and taking tests, you have a right to be concerned that the time your child is spending in school is not being spent with teaching and learning, but rather collecting data on your child.

As testing becomes a larger part of the school “curriculum,” you’re probably realizing that school systems have completely lost sight of the old adage that you can’t fatten a pig by weighing it. The high-stakes testing craze is causing schools to teach your child less and you, as a parent, have a right to demand more out of your tax dollars. Your child has a right to a quality education that it not jeopardized by high-stakes testing. While these rights might not be expressly guaranteed by the US Constitution, I dare a school official or local politician to deny you these rights that you claim.

It is clear that our schools are working hard to appease federal lawmakers by denying you these rights, but you, as the parent can fight back if you know how. The best way to ensure that all of your child’s school days are spent learning and not repeatedly filling in bubbles and practicing her knowledge of 8 of the first 9 letters of the alphabet is to opt your child out of standardized testing.

Some states have opt out clauses already, so check with your local state agency to see the requirements and process for opting your child out. In Wisconsin, you have a right to opt out of standardized testing during the testing window. The opt out request is to be granted by the local district. Some other states allow parents to opt out for religious reasons, but legally, cannot inquire more deeply about your religious background. In other words, in those states, all you have to do to remove your kid from standardized testing is state that they cannot be tested for religious reasons.

In fact, if it helps, you can pencil me in as Rev. McDaniels of the First Church of the End of Standardized Testing of which I will gladly confirm that you are a founding member.

There are many states that do not yet have opt out clauses or processes on the books. I currently live in one. If you live in one of these states, then you can easily call down federal statutes which will supercede any state statute requiring your child to be tested. The Fair Labor Standards Act protects all US workers, and particularly young persons(under the age of 16) from being subjected to unreasonable working conditions, long hours, and guarantees them employment that “will not interfere with their schooling and to conditions which will not interfere with their health and well-being” (Section 203 (I) (2)).

When you invoke this clause, a school official will meet you with the response that your child is not employed by the school therefore the testing does not constitute employment and thus your child, in this case, is not granted protection from testing under the FLSA.

At this point you can calmly remind this official that your state legislature (if they haven’t yet, they will) recently passed a law that part of your child’s teacher’s evaluation and salary is to be based on student progress as demonstrated by test scores, thus your child’s test scores are the catalyst for profit, thus your child is employed to provide increased income to your child’s teachers, and thus, in school, during testing, should be protected by FLSA. At this point, my guess is, you will be granted your opt out and be told to keep quiet.

But keep quiet you should not. The road to opting your child out of standardized testing can be long, and complicated, but the additional learning your child will get over the course of their education career (nearly half a school year) will be tremendous and well worth it. However, though your child is safe from the unreasonable burdens of high-stakes testing because you opted out, you can still encourage other parents to opt out. If enough parents opt out, then the tests will become no longer useful and sustainable and then the need for opting out will be no more.

As Towson University professor, Shaun Johnson asked, “if a test is scheduled and no one is around to take it, will this test matter?” The answer obviously, unlike the tree falling in the woods (right?), is no. But what will matter again if no one is around to take the test: real learning. Teachers will be able to once again teach, students learn, and school will once again become a place where student minds are purposefully expanded to meet the needs of a changing world, not purposefully narrowed to meet the needs of a stagnant test.

You have the power to defend your child, to defend her right to a quality public education. You have the power to recognize the attack that is being waged on our children and you have the power to fight back. You have the power to defend your neighborhood schools and teachers and you have the power to opt out.


Nick McDaniels

Teacher of students who should be opted out so they can learn more
Parent of a future student who will be opted out so she can learn more

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