Eyes to the World (an exercise in lining up)


          One of the reasons I love teaching middleschoolers is they are just reaching the age when they can pay attention to the world around them instead of just themselves.
          A small way I try to help develop this is at the beginning of the year during my classroom management training. I purposefully plan to arrive a minute before the bell rings so my students have to line up outside my classroom in the hallway.
          When I arrive on that first day, they are inevitably blocking the entire walkway in little clumps of chatting preteens. No regard whatsoever to the hordes of people trying to walk past them. They really don't even think about the rest of the world.
          So I walk up and get their attention. I say, "Look around you. Do you see these 25 people trying to walk past you? Try this, everybody. This side, touch the wall. This side, touch the railing. Do you see how people can walk past now?"
          The crowd parts like I am Moses holding my rod over the Red Sea.
          "I need you to begin learning to open your eyes to the people behind you and next to you. I need all of us care about those people around us."
          This is no small thing to me.
          I see exercises like this as real life introductions to the themes we will discuss later in our class novels. 
          Empathy for siblings, fellow students, and other races in ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card.
          Awareness of historical atrocities in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.
          Courage to truly see others that are different from us in WONDER by R.J. Palacio and THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton.
          I love finding ways you take the normal advance of our year and raise my students eyes you see the world around them. We would love to hear the ways you do this with your students. Please share!

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Most Powerful Thing in Your Pocket: Your Cell Phone

Most Powerful Thing in Your Pocket: Your Cell Phone
          Anybody out there have the classroom rule: No cell phones allowed? Or maybe your school set up that rule? My school has that rule too, and so does my classroom... 
          Kind of.
Most Powerful Thing in Your Pocket: Your Cell Phone          See, I've been rethinking that rule lately. Especially for a classroom that has 1:1 computers and is trying to do lots more (or maybe all) in the digital space. I understand why the rule exists. Kids will be kids. They will text, Instagram, askFM, Snapchat, Doodle Jump, and anything else during my precious teaching time. So no phones. At. All.
          Wouldn't they be blown away that we have such powerful tools but usually use them to look up cat videos and play Candy Crush?
1. Let them research.
          Except when we do that, haven't we taken away perhaps the most valuable tool in the history of mankind? I mean, what would previous generations have given to carry such a powerful tool around in their pockets?! Einstein? Newton? Caesar? All that research? All that information? Right there at their fingertips.
Wouldn't they be blown away that we have such powerful tools but usually use them to look up cat videos and play Candy Crush?
2. Let them explore vocabulary.
          So a kid is reading her book and gets to a word she doesn't know. Most students skip those words because it takes too long to walk to the dictionary and look it up. Well, why not let her look the word up by using her phone and the dictionary.com app? This encourages curiosity and real-time learning, which are two huge qualities of lifelong learners.
3. Let them finish other classwork.
 THE GIVER Unit Novel Study - Literature Guide (Print & Digital Included)          Another student is done early with his classwork. He wants to keep working, but the only work he has left is from another class and requires him to go online. Why not let him use his Edmodo app to access his PDFs, PowerPoints, blogs, and Google activities from his other teachers? Then right there in your class from any device he has, he can work on his GIVER homework from his literature class, completing his digital interactive activities right there at his desk without disrupting the flow of the other learners who are still finishing up.
4. Let them move at their own pace.
          A student is done handwriting her first draft of an essay, while the other students are still writing. It seems a little silly for her not to be able to start typing her essay out in the notepad on her phone so she can email it to herself later. Or typing it in Google Docs for easy access on her computer that evening at home.
          How about those students in creative writing class who need to do in-the-moment research for all kinds of random stuff in their story or movie screenplay or novel chapter? Again, easy.
5. Let them use less paper.
          A student wants to take notes in their Google Drive folder instead of on paper. Why not? I do this in my real life. It helps me organize my clutter into a digital storage space that I can take and access anywhere. If I need to find my notes later, a simple search and I've found it. It also allows them to take notes without having to worry about desk space because their phones are waaaay smaller than their classroom computers. And this digital notetaking tool is so accessible to them, especially if your classroom isn't ready on a particular day for them all to get out their Chromebooks to take notes.
          And let's keep remembering ... using less paper allows us to do small things to care for the environment and our world.
6. Trust and empower your learners.
          I know it's hard to trust them. They work so hard to lose our trust. They might starts using Wolfram Alpha to solve their math problems. They might just steal vocabulary sentences from other websites instead of creating them themselves.
          But I, for one, have always thought it's a little backwards for us to make our rules the cheaters instead of empowering the winners. What if we just call all of them to a high standard, give them the tools, then figure the rest out. 
          That's where I'm headed. 
          What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear your ideas on this journey.

Surviving and Thriving at Back to School Night

 Surviving and Thriving at Back to School Night - 8 teachers blog about their tips and tricks for slick and sane Back to School Night experiences with parents

It's darn near impossible to avoid some crazy schedules and frequent stress mocha lattes (!) to start the school year. If you know the trick, please share. And just about when you are finally strong enough to stop treading water and start swimming...the Back to School Night wave smacks you silly.
          So we've gathered a team of teachers to share their thoughts, wisdom, fears, and fixes to help us Survive and Thrive during that Back to School Night frenzy!
Back to School! That glorious time when teachers are preparing mentally for the year ahead and working to organize classroom materials, space, and routines! I LOVE this time of year. What does all the preparation lead up to?  Back to School Night for many teachers. That time that I love and relish as I get to meet and greet my student's parents and share with them my goals for the year and my hopes to be a support to them in working with their student at home. That is my goal- to communicate how much I enjoy working each day with students- THEIR student!
          Because this is a gold-mine time with parents, I try to be concise and engaging. I use a PowerPoint presentation with minimal text to keep ME and the parents focused. I end by having the parents fill out a page on their child, noting anything I might need/want to know about their child to help them be successful.
          I have found that my keeping it focused on wanting to help and support the student and parent, my night goes smoothly, I plant the seed for a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and I get my year off on the right foot.

by Created by Mr. Hughes
     Blog: http://educatorslife.blogspot.com/
     TeachersPayTeachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Created-By-Mrhughes

In an age of ever increasing technology use, our district has made a strong effort to mitigate the usage of paper. In lieu of printing multiple syllabi (only to throw them out when attendance may be low), I added all of the documents to a Google Doc. The doc then provides links to all of the other paperwork and information parents may be interested in reviewing. The "Table of Contents" doc includes my syllabus, general pieces of information I share with students, and all of the content I put online for students (Yes, all of it!). To easily share the document with parents, I created a QR code via goo.gl (Google's URL Shortener) and also a tiny URL. Parents walk in, snap the QR Code, or write down the URL. The information is quickly shared and parents get more than just a "paper handout".
by The Class Couple
     Blog: http://theclasscouple.weebly.com/
     TeachersPayTeachers store http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Wims-Winners

 FREE Universal Book Report Teaching Resource ... sign up for our Email Newsletter! Graphic organizers and analysis activities for any novel. Perfect for reading groups or literature circles! Get it Now! >>> http://eepurl.com/bGNTgX #litcircles #readinggroups #readingcircles #bookreports


http://www.hotfreshcookies.com/ I try to make parents feel as welcomed and comfortable in my classroom as possible by turning off the harsh overhead lights in favor of softer lighting from a few lamps scattered around the room, playing music that we can easily talk over, and providing a platter of soft cookies from a local bakery. This immediately puts parents at ease and helps conversations flow easier!
          I write a couple of interesting facts about myself in large, easy-to-read print on the whiteboard, such as:
Hi! My name is Sherri Tyler and I love teaching ELA! I grew up on the Mojave Desert in Southern California, I tell jokes in class every day, and I assign homework every night of the year – except on holidays and days after the Buffalo Bills win!
          This breaks the ice, helps nervous parents find a way to connect with me, and immediately gives us some common ground to build dialogue! Now, I’m not a huge jokester, nor am I a football fan (please don’t tell my students!) but I tell jokes every day and I watch every Bills game (our local team!) because it gives me something to talk about with my 8th graders and their parents . . . more importantly, parents remember me, they return my phone calls and e-mails, and they walk in my class for Parent-Teacher Conferences later in the year with either a joke or a witty observation about the most recent game – and conversation flows easily, putting them at ease to talk about academics and behavior after a few minutes!
          I pre-print sticky notes for parents to fill out with their individual questions and comments, letting them know I’ll touch bases with them within one week. Parents leave their sticky notes on a poster as they walk out the door. (Providing writing utensils always facilitates more participation!)
          This allows me to keep the conversation relevant for everyone, gives parents a quick and easy way to communicate with me, and also helps me gather current phone numbers and email addresses!

by Literary Sherri
     Blog: http://literarysherri.blogspot.com/
     TeachersPayTeachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Literary-Sherri

Some schools called Back to School Night - Open House or Curriculum Night. My tip to survive this night is to group together with other teachers from your department, division, subject speciality or grade level. At my school all Grade 8 teachers present together in a separate location from our classrooms giving students the job of showing off the classroom to their parents. We also have parents sign up for their interview time slot during this night so it encourages a good turn out. I am always scared parents won't come and I will be standing alone for two hours.

by 2 Peas and a Dog
     Blog: http://www.2peasandadog.com/
     TeachersPayTeachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/2peasandadog


Everyone is back in school!  Classroom processes have been taught and here we go!
          Now...what about Back to School night?  Parents?!
          I've heard my peers call them "Helicopter Parents".   I absolutely do not have the same view!
          I teach chorus to over 300 children every single day, five days per week.   It would be impossible without the parents. 
          What do they want?  How do we cope with a barrage of emails and contacts from parents?  How do we not get cornered at Back to School Night?
          1)  Be pro-active!  They simply want information.  I create an email distribution list as soon as school starts, and I send emails about upcoming events, classroom expectations, due dates, etc.  You could refer them to your website.  You could use Remind.com.  Whatever works best for you, but if you give them information, they are grateful and less-stressed!  Therefore, they are less likely fill your inbox with questions or corner you at Back to School Night! Check out this sample screenshot.
          2)  Be empathetic!  I teach middle school.  The transition to 6th grade is huge.  Not only are the students stressed, but so are the parents!  Their children are growing up, and if this is their first child in middle school, they don't really know what to expect. 
          3)  Be open to receiving help!  On my syllabus, I have a section requesting volunteers for specific tasks.  The more specific the tasks are, the more likely you are to receive volunteers.  I put my parents to work before the first week of school...sometimes sooner! Using parent volunteers builds trust in the community...and again...that relaxes them, keeps your inbox less full and allows you to leave before 9 PM on Back to School Night!
          Here is a screenshot of the parent volunteer sheet on my syllabus.
          Parents are your greatest allies.  Forge professional relationships with them from Day 1.  It helps you, and most importantly, it helps the children!

by In the Middle with Mr. D

 At the high school where I teach, we don’t really have a back-to-school night.
          We do, however, have freshman orientation before school starts and various other parent-teacher conference nights sprinkled throughout the year.  One thing that I always do is have a welcome sign at my door and a sign-in sheet.  Both are simple to make in Word or PPT.  Just a simple message and quick graphic or background to match your theme for the welcome sign will do. I printed mine on card-stock.  A chart for signing in can simply be on notebook paper, or it can also be done in Word or PPT to match your theme.  I like to do this so I can keep track of who visited, can get some updated contact info, and can connect my students’ names with their family.  Also, it is great documentation to turn in for an evaluation portfolio or to administration that you’ve made contact with parents!
by Julie Faulkner

Mel and Gerdy like to keep things moving along.  During back to school night at our school, parents rotate on their child's schedule, which means you get a short amount of time to disseminate a wealth of information.  When parents walk in the door, we direct them to the parent sign-in sheet and to grab a copy of our Back to School Newsletter which includes info about our syllabus, Adopt-A-Classroom donor form, online textbook log-in information, and our wish list which we have printed out and have readily available for them to take.  We also have several copies of our student INB's from prior years as well as the class textbook accessible to parents so that they can peruse what their child will be doing in our class.  On the board, a fun, yet informative PowerPoint scrolls through, telling a little about us, a little about the class, and a little about the school.  Once the tardy bell rings, we ask parents to have a seat and we quickly go through the PowerPoint, allowing for a little open forum Q & A about the class and ourselves.
          We have also done the old "run back to school night like it IS class" scenario, where we have parents grab a sheet from our bins (a copy of a mini-lesson that goes over expectations for the first few days, a get to know you activity or a get to know the classroom activity would go great here!)  Then, they have a seat and get started on the bell work on the board.  After we go over the bell work, we have the parents participate in the mini-lesson, go over the answers, and then field any questions they may have.  Most importantly, we think it's imperative to show parents a taste of you as a teacher and as a human being.  Be personable AND personal... and have FUN.

by Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy
     TeachersPayTeachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Getting-Nerdy-With-Mel-And-Gerdy

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My school does 2 Back to School Nights. That's right...2!!! One for 7th grade parents and one for 8th grade parents. I actually like the set up a lot (besides the whole 2 nights in a week thing). 
          Parents go to their students classes as if they were attending a normal school day, starting with 1st period and working their way up toward 7th period. Each period is 10 minutes long, and we cram everything we feel like into those minutes. (On the right, I've included an animated .gif of my Back to School PowerPoint) >>>>>
          Besides filling up all 10 minutes so parents can't corner me with long discussions about their student's grade in the class, I want the parents to get a clear picture of my energy, my goals, my philosophy, and my expectations from them. I want them to know I am going to urge their students toward personal responsibility. I want them to feel that I care. I want to explain the sometimes complicated Accelerated Reader (AR) reading program, so they get a quick glimpse of the philosophy behind it. But ultimately I want to give them what Malcolm Gladwell calls a Blink feeling about me and my teaching. I want to impress that I am on their team and that hopefully they are on mine, and that together we can take their students as far as (and probably further than) they are willing to go.
 Surviving and Thriving at Back to School Night - 8 teachers blog about their tips and tricks for slick and sane Back to School Night experiences with parents
          It always ends up a quality, fast, and fruitful night.

by Created for Learning
     Website: www.createdforlearning.com
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  We are so grateful for our fellow teachers that contributed their thoughts with us. We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate and learn from you. 
 FREE Universal Book Report Teaching Resource ... sign up for our Email Newsletter! Graphic organizers and analysis activities for any novel. Perfect for reading groups or literature circles! Get it Now! >>> http://eepurl.com/bGNTgX #litcircles #readinggroups #readingcircles #bookreports
Blog Contributors Cliff's Notes
Created by Mr. Hughes >>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
The Class Couple >>> Blog||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
Literary Sherri >>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
2 Peas and a Dog >>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
In the Middle with Mr. D >>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
Julie Faulkner
>>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy >>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store
Created for Learning
>>> Blog ||| TeachersPayTeachers Store

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