Archive for the ‘Practical Ideas’ Category

Ron Clark Needs a Lesson

September 11, 2011 6 comments
 I just read the article by Ron Clark, and felt my blood start to boil. I found him to come across as arrogant and presumptuous, not at all like the author I loved when I read The Essential 55. I don’t know if Ron Clark is a parent, but the way he states things in his article along with his lack of empathy, leads me to believe that he doesn’t have children.   
In my many years in the field of education, I worked with thousands of parents, some involved, some, less involved, some who defended their child, others who never listened to what their child had to say, some who were hostile to the school and wanted to fight, others who wanted to work with the school and brought ideas to the table. Though I am far from an expert in working with parents, I feel that I can share some of my thoughts, based on over 30 years of experience in the field of education, first as a teacher, then as an assistant principal, and finally as a principal. Also, by the way, I am a parent of two adult children, both teachers, both special educators.
Working With Parents is Not Always Easy
So how do we try to make it easier? I learned that it is essential to make the parent feel welcome. Treat them as though they are an invited guest at your house. If they want to bring an advocate along to a meeting, good for them. The more heads that work together, the more ideas that are developed. I learned that the attitude that we transmit as a school is critical to the success of the meeting. Parents know who the professionals are, it’s not something that has to be repeated over and over. Though everyone may not agree initially, setting up an us versus them situation doesn’t work. If there is hostility on any one’s part, the child loses. It’s so important to keep in mind the purpose of the school working with the parent and vice versa, to make things better for the child. 
Parents Voices Must be Heard
I learned that parents need to be acknowledged and their voices have to be heard. I learned to listen and hear what they were saying before I made my points. I learned that I do not know their child the same way they do. I see the child in school and they see their child at home, very different settings and situations. I learned that parents know their child best and I have no right to judge their parenting or tell them what to do. I learned that sharing strategies that worked with other children sometimes spurred them to try things with their own children.
Parents in Partnership With the School
I learned that it’s critical to develop relationships that work so the child can be supported. There have to be healthy, productive, respectful conversations with agreeing to disagree, in order to get to the most important outcome, assisting the child to thrive academically and socially.
 After reading his article it is clear to me that Ron Clark is concerned about teacher bashing. I am too. I feel that teachers get blamed for so many things that are not within their control.I feel that often teachers are not valued for the hard work and effort that they consistently put into their profession. It’s not an easy field to be in and I truly understand why some teachers and administrators leave. It’s unfortunate that we lose some of our best and brightest educators but not everyone can get past the obstacles that are thrown their way.
 I know that Ron Clark has strong ideas. His accomplishments with his students are admirable and have received well deserved national recognition. So why bash parents? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that parents’ can be strong allies to further the needs of the school community? Hasn’t he learned that they can advocate for things that he can’t ask for? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that it’s a different game when working with parents? It seems to me that he wants what he wants and that’s that. But that’s not the way to do business with parents. There has to be mutual respect, ongoing dialogue,  give and take, and planning together to support the child in school and at home. Learn, Mr, Clark, that being didactic and teacher directed is not the way to go.
For a parent’s perspective, please read A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers via @SpecialEdAdvice.
Categories: Parents, Practical Ideas

Adding to My Own Bag of Tricks

September 19, 2010 6 comments

When my son suggested that I sign up for twitter, I couldn’t understand why.    He’s the one I rely on to show me the things I don’t know how do do on the computer.  If the dvr has to be set on the TV, it’s him again.  If we still had a VCR, you know who would be responsible.  It’s not like  I’m totally inept.  I learned enough of the basics of computer usage to do whatever I had to do at work or at home, and that was enough for me.

 I didn’t even know what twitter was.  He assured me that I would like it, that I could connect with other educators.  Still not knowing what he was talking about, I decided I had  nothing to lose  so I figured I’d give it a try.   After helping me to set up my account, my son  tried to explain the basics to me.   It’s amazing  how  this creative, patient, talented teacher forgets that he has  all of those qualities when he has to explain something to his mother.   Be that as it may, I, with his assistance, plodded through the initial use.   He suggested people that I could follow , which I was grateful for.   Then I tried to follow the tweets of  those people.   Oh my, not an easy feat.   As you know, those tweets come fast and furious and it is quite a challenge to read them all.    My initial reaction was, this is not for me, people are talking in stream of consciousness, it makes no sense.   Frustration was setting in and I just couldn’t make sense of my relationship to twitter.

The turning point for me was #spedchat.   Here I found my niche.  Though the tweets are fast, the topics are interesting.   Since special education is my field, I felt that I could contribute some valid tweets.  It is clear that the people who come into this chat are caring, committed educators who want to make a difference in the lives of their students and their families.   Along with teachers,  parents, administrators, advocates, and  organizations, participate in this chat.   They are the pioneers of change who are questioning the system.  They are the innovators who understand the importance of not accepting the status quo.  They are the life long learners who soak up knowledge.   Some are new to the field and others are close to retirement, or like me, retired.   No matter what, they are the people who stimulate my thinking.   Reading  their ideas, sharing  thoughts and insights, offering suggestions,  is what twitter  is about for me.  My son, who is a third year teacher, but is teaching children with disabilities for the first time, participates in this chat as well.   I find myself looking forward to Tuesdays at 8:30PM (EST) to get involved in the lively, invigorating discussions .  Thanks to  @spedteacher for organizing these chats and  @damien613 for skillfully moderating them. 

The other part of twitter that I find intriguing is being able to speak to people who are all over the world.   How interesting it is to hear how schools in other countries operate but more interesting, to hear the commonalities amongst the  fabulous educators who  are striving for what is best for their students.  All this, without having to leave my home.

So as I reflect, I must admit, I still don’t get all about twitter that there is to know and I probably never will.  (Hopefully reading  Twitter for Dummies will help.)   What I do know is that I am learning more everyday.  I am directed to posts and blogs that are inspirational  and useful to read. (thanks to @gret for her last blog which inspired me to write this one).  I can make comments on the blogs of children in Argentina (kudos to @gret),  as I read their thoughts and dreams.  I can share information with hundreds of people at once and get immediate feedback. And to think,  I, who didn’t know what twitter was a few weeks ago, now has my own PLN.

   I plan to speak to my student teachers about the benefits of twitter as a way to enhance their knowlege and experiences.   I will  encourage them to sign up,  read some blogs, try some of the chats and develop their own PLN.   I will  tell them that this is a guaranteed way to add to their developing bag of tricks.  

  Many thanks to my son for sharing the innovations of twitter, encouraging me to blog. and adding  something extremely valuable  to his mother’s bag of tricks.

Tips for Teachers or What I’ve Learned in my Thirty Years in the Field

August 14, 2010 1 comment

This is a list that I give to my student teachers at the end of their semester with me. These tips  are divided into 6 categories: Professionalism,  Routines and Procedures: A Proactive Approach, Instruction, Working With the School Community, Working with Parents and Everything Else. I think that each tip has its own merit. Use what works for you and make them your own.  Throughout your teaching career you will be develop your own tips to add to your bag of tricks. Please feel free to share them in the comment section.  I look forward to hearing your wonderful ideas.


  • Remember that you are the teacher, not the children’s friend.
  • Children hang on everything that you say and do. Be careful how you conduct yourself at all times. Very little gets by them.
  • Be professional with all staff
  • Be at school on time.
  • Be on time to meetings.  Come prepared to take notes.
  • Dress like a professional. You are a role model for your students.


           Routines and Procedures: A Proactive Approach

  • Greet your students by name as they enter the classroom. Welcome them and set a positive tone for the day. Smile.
  • The children’s safety and well being come first.
  • Be very clear when you communicate your expectations to your students. Explain and teach the routines that you expect your students to follow. Practice them and re-teach them throughout the year. Have routines for everything, e.g., sharpening pencils, going to the bathroom, unpacking and packing books, where to put homework, etc,  and make sure that the children understand them.
  • Establish 3-5 general classroom expectations /rules with your students. Write them in a positive way. Most everything that you expect from your students will fall under one of the general expectations/rules. Post them in a prominent place in the classroom. Teach them, re-teach them and of course, model them.  Refer to them throughout the year.
  • Build a classroom community by establishing respect, tolerance and camaraderie amongst the students. Model your expectations  of them through your own words and actions.
  • Tell your students how you expect them to act when they are with another teacher, a substitute teacher, in the cafeteria, in the auditorium, hallway, school yard, etc.  Practice and model the expected behaviors. It’s worth the time and makes everyone happy.
  • Unless it is a matter of safety or something that must be solved immediately, you can always tell your students that you will get back to them. Make sure that you do, though.
  • Review rules and expectations before the activity. (e.g., rules for the rug, rules for working in a group, rules for getting on line to leave the classroom, etc.)
  • Catch children “doing good things” but make sure that you catch each child “doing good things.”
  • Smile and praise the children
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Don’t make threats that you can’t or won’t carry out.
  • Don’t punish in anger, calm down first so you can be reasonable.
  • Never discipline a child in front of the entire group.
  • Don’t punish the entire class for the actions of one child.
  • Make sure there are a clear set of rewards and consequences for actions or inactions.  Make sure that your students and their parents understand them.
  • Children love stuff, have a prize chest with specific criteria of how the prizes are earned.
  • Give the students a warning when an activity is close to ending.
  • If routines are changing, whenever possible, let your students know in advance.
  • Make sure that your students have an identification card when they go on a trip. Laminate them and collect them after the trip, for use throughout the year. Practice how to use the card and what to do if the child gets lost or separated from the group
  • Give children very short breaks in between lessons (a minute, maximum) to stretch, talk, and get out of their seats, etc. Teach them what you expect, let them know how much time they have and practice with them.
  • Practice transitions so they are done quickly and efficiently.
  •  “Don’t pick up the rope or you’ll have a tug of war.”  Avoid the conflict cycle.  You are the adult and you have to break it.



  • Know the strengths of each child.  Try to teach them through their strengths.
  • Keep a digital camera with you at all times(make sure that the batteries work). Pictures are a great way to capture special moments in addition  to documenting the learning that is going on in the classroom.  (DATA)
  • Post the flow of the day daily. Children like to know what to expect. It also helps you to stay on a schedule.
  • When you ask a child if he/she understands, he/she will usually say “yes”.  Ask the child to explain whatever it is in his/her own words.
  • Write lesson plans, refer to them throughout the day  and keep them on your desk. Aside from them being a valuable tool for you, if  an administrator asks to see them, you know where they are.
  • Try to time your lessons.  Don’t teach too much in each lesson or make the lesson too long. Eventually you will develop an internal clock.
  • Laminate items that are going to be used throughout the year or that you want to use again next year. 
  • Leave things set up for the next day so you don’t have to do it when you arrive in the morning. (e.g. flow of the day, morning message, hw, etc,)
  • Have a folder of lesson plans for a substitute teacher. List special alerts of any children who may have them. Let the sub know the names of children who are responsible, who know routines and can tell the sub where the things are in the room.
  • Hallway bulletin boards should showcase work that is perfect unless you are showing  “ work in progress,” the steps taken to get to the final product.
  • Keep the bulletin boards in the classroom current. Make sure the work is dated. Showcase the work of all of the students.  Give feedback on post-its and attach them to the work.  Start with a positive comment, say what needs to improve and let the child know what the next steps are. Only saying good job or nice work does not give the child any feedback.


        Working with the School Community

  • Treat everyone as an integral part of the school.  Secretaries, school aides, custodial staff,      paraprofessionals, safety officers, food service personnel, etc, are vital to the functioning of the school and should be respected. Everyone is important and needs to be made to feel that way. Make sure that you impart this to your students as well
  • Make extra copies of materials for the teachers in your grade. Hopefully they will return the favor.
  • Remember that you are dealing with a lot of different personalities and perspectives; students, parents, staff and administrators. Be open to what others are saying.
  • If you meet with administration about something that you are upset about, come with a suggestion to remedy the situation. “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”


             Working with Parents

  • Be very clear when you communicate your expectations to the parents.
  • Call parents to tell them good things.
  • Periodically check the accuracy of the phone numbers on the emergency cards
  • Use a “praise sandwich” when speaking about  your students to their parents. Start with a positive statement, say what needs to improve and end on a positive note.
  • Every family does not have the same value system as you do.  Respect the differences. Listen and acknowledge what the family is saying. If what they are saying is totally contradictory to school or class rules, respectfully let the family know that what may work for them at home is not done in school .( In school we do it this way, of course, be specific)
  • If you are not comfortable meeting with a parent alone, ask the guidance counselor or an administrator to sit in on the meeting with you.  Have a pre meeting with them to brief them on the situation.
  • Always know what you want the outcome of a meeting to be. Bring the meeting back to the points that you need to make. Have a dated sign in sheet with the minutes of the meeting including the topic, concerns, results and next steps.  Keep this in a binder or folder.
  • Use a phone log when you call parents. Make sure it is dated and the name of the student and person you spoke with is listed on the log.  Write a brief synopsis of the conversation. This way you will have a record of what was discussed. Keep this in a binder or folder.


           Everything Else

  • If a child (children) are extremely difficult, sit down when you are calm and write a list of at least 5     things that are positive about that child. Try to look at that child through his/her positive characteristics. This is a good strategy to use for all of the children in your class. You will look at all of them differently and force yourself to think about them in a different light. Though this is time consuming, it really is a great strategy to use.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be introspective.  Learn from your mistakes but don’t beat yourself up when you make one.
  • Remember that you can always learn something from a negative experience.
  • Be reflective, caring and, don’t be afraid to take risks or to ask for help.
  • Remember that “I’m sorry” goes a long way.
  • If you get injured at work, know what forms need to be completed. Complete and submit them in a timely fashion. Even if you don’t think that you are hurt, all injuries should be documented.
  • Mark down all important dates on your calendar, staff conferences, open school, professional developments, work due, etc. Have a back-up calendar in case you misplace the first one.
  • Read the staff manual.  It should contain information about school policies and procedures, curriculum, etc.  If you are not clear about something, ask.
  • Find “experts” in your school and watch them teach.  Borrow their best practices.
  • Send home a supply list at the beginning of the year. Invariably you will run out of certain supplies. Either ask for more initially or send home a second list midyear. Ask for lots of tissues, paper towels, waterless hand cleaner, baggies, post it notes,  loose leaf paper, etc. If your school does not supply you with copy paper, ask for a few reams from each student.
  • Get an educator discount card from Barnes and Noble, Borders, Lakeshore Learning, Staples and any other store that you use that may offer a discount to teachers.  Ask in the store for their policy regarding educators.  Check for discounts on line as well.
  • Scholastic books has warehouse sales throughout the year.  Check their website for information.
  • Check out for wonderful, free materials.
  • There are lots of freebies on the internet, when you have time to look for them.
  • Instructor magazine is very user friendly and inexpensive. You can search for articles from Instructor on
  • Make sure that you eat lunch. Keep some non perishable foods at work, tuna (can opener, too), granola bars, crackers, etc.
  • Make time for yourself, your family and friends.  Even though teaching is a very time consuming profession, remember that it  is a part of your life, not your life.
  • Laugh and have fun!!!!