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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Report cards

Thanks for getting grades posted on time. I was able to get report cards printed and to you in ample time for you to look over them and give them out to students. Even though STI Classroom is still relatively new for us, I think we are all seeing the benefits.

Be sure to check the calendar to see what is coming up and October and jot the items that impact you onto your our personal calendar.

That's it for this week! Have a great fall break.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Grades, De-Junking, HQT, and so forth...

1. Posting Grades—Grade posting has been turned on. Please review the instructions you had from last year. Remember that you will need to post each subject one at a time. For the grades where you give S, N, U, remember that these are done under "manual grade entry."

2. Old textbooks—Maintenance will be picking up old textbooks on Sept. 27 & 28. Anything you want to send off (but not textbooks currently under adoption) you may box and put in the hall. Also, please look at book in the community classroom and on top of the bookcase going into the community classroom. Take what you would like, and much of the rest will be boxed up and sent off.

3. Storage trailer—Please take a look to see what “treasures” are there that you forgot (or never knew) that we had and feel free to use those. If there are any treasures that would appear to someone else to be junk, be sure to tape a note on them so they don’t get thrown away.

4. Community Classroom—Please take a look there for books, board games, and teaching materials you would like to use. Old books will be discarded once you have had a chance to go through them.

5. Highly Qualified Teacher Status—If you have not achieved "HQT" status, the next step is to see Mrs. Givens. There is a form where you will indicate the method by which you will become "Highly Qualified." Federal funds are available to help teachers become Highly Qualified, and that form gives the central office a picture of what the overall needs for the school system are going to be.

6. Surviving Due Process—This two-hour movie takes you through a special education due process hearing from initial preparations to testimony by the final witness. Learn how attorneys for parents and schools prepare for due process hearings. See exciting direct examination and dramatic cross-examination of witnesses, objections and arguments between counsel, and rulings by the hearing officer. Learn about rules that must be followed, mistakes people make, and why the parents' case was nearly dismissed. We have this DVD in the professional development section of our library.

7. Mopping lunchroom floors—Just a reminder that the lunchroom floors are mopped daily. They are dry by about 1:30. Please do not send students to the lunchroom before 1:30. We don’t someone to slip. This is also the time the lunchroom staff has their lunch break. The Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that this break be free of their normal duties.

8. Teacher of the Year/JSU Teacher Hall of Fame— Please be thinking about who you feel should be our “Teacher of the Year” and nominee for the JSU Teacher Hall of Fame. Honoring those in our profession who truly demonstrate excellence ought to be one of our highest priorities. Please send me your nominations by October 21.

9. Reminder—Regulations have become tighter as to what a teacher can and cannot do in the case of bumps, cuts, scrapes, etc. As a review, it is OK for you to apply ice, use soap & water, or apply a bandage. It is not OK to apply Bactine, any type of ointment, or eye drops. The only items you would need to have in your room in the way of first-aide supplies are Band-Aids and rubber gloves. If you need these items, let us know in the office.

Positive Public Relations

Tips in developing positive public relations are taken from a back issue of Alabama Education News:

· Contact the parent of every child by phone early in the school year.

· Remember the first thing you say will set the mood for the rest of the class. Not every student comes from a loving home. Look for opportunities to start the day in a positive way.

· Letting the cat out of the bag is much easier than putting it back in. Don’t participate in rumors. Be known as someone of character.

· Don’t say anything negative to anyone who can’t do anything about it. When you have a problem, only address it to someone who can solve it.

· What you say in the grocery store is gospel. You are “the school” to the people you meet. When people overhear what you say in the checkout line, are you bragging on your students, or are you saying things that reflect badly on the school?

· Smile and say “please” and “thank you.”

· Keep parents informed on student progress.

· Return phone calls within 24 hours

Events Next Week

· Monday—Please have grades posted by the end of the day. That will give me Tuesday to see where there are problems and get report cards printed in time to go home Thursday.

· Wednesday—Denise Malone will be here from Plato. The plans for how to use her that day have not been finalized. More info later.

· Thursday—Report cards. This is a good day and a bad day to send home report cards. It’s a good day because it brings closure prior to the fall break. It’s bad because students will have the opportunity to lose the report card. (Of course, the “card” is now a sheet of paper, so really all that we are interested in is that the parent saw and signed it.) You might want to talk to students about where to put the report card once their parents have signed it so that it spends 5 days in THAT spot rather than the living room coffee table where 3 magazines will have been placed on top of before lunch on Saturday.

· Friday—Grades K-1 will have a data meeting in Mrs. Parker’s room from 8:30-10:30. Everyone else will report to THS for a program on handling volatile situations. The remainder of the day will include data meetings for other grade levels and follow-up activities from your data meetings as needed. You will get more detailed info next week.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Charging Lunch (and the Teachable Moment)

We are likely to have a Board policy which will limit the number of days a student may "charge" lunch for only one day. This really should not pose any student or family a problem, although we know that "should" and "do" are often two different things. Just as you and I put gas in the car when the needle approached empty rather when the tank is bone dry, the prudent thing for a family to do is regularly add money to the lunch account when it begins to get low. That way, if something happens and the plan doesn't go exactly as expected, they have a buffer of a few days before their child reaches a zero balance.

I realize this concept would not occur to some folks. After all, I am one who believes that the time to add "toothpaste" to the grocery list is when you pull the last unused one from under the counter, not when I realize I can't squeeze any more out of the very last tube in the house. That way, getting toothpaste never becomes a crisis. Buying toothpaste sometime within the next month will do instead of having to go to the store before I can brush my teeth again.

We can help students avoid the situation of having to charge lunches by doing two easy things:

1) Use analogies such as what I have listed above.

2) Stress to students that when they realize they are out of money, get that thought out of their head and on to paper ASAP. The student planner is the tool for that.

We need to teach students to handle routines rather than hop from crisis to crisis. Very few of us had anybody teach us these kinds of things as children, and as we grown up in the world that has become increasingly complex, far too many adults are eaten alive by the little details that tugs at their lives day after day. What do we think the world will be like for the children in our classrooms now? Less complex? Not a chance! We have the opportunity to do teach them the basic organizational skills that will spell major differences in what they are able to accomplish and their ability to avoid the plague of stress years down the road.

Notes from Communication Committee

Here are the notes from the Communication Committee meeting. (The chair e-mailed me the notes, which I could then copy and paste here.) In fact, this is putting into practice a suggestion that came up in that meeting. I think this is an example of our School Renewal Committees working at their best--when each committee is tackling challenges or moving the school forward through the filter of their own committee.

Communication Committee:

The Communications Committee felt that the wearing of flip-flops was an item that should be allowed. Therefore the student handbook should be changed by deleting "flip-flops" from the "not-allowed" list of clothing.

On the subject of gum being allowed, it was pointed out that gum was listed on the state list as one of those things that should not be allowed because of health issues. The committee agreed to "stick" to that policy with the state although we didn't agree with the idea that gum was actually a health problem!

Our committee agreed that a good way to use the "blog" for communication would be for each committee to send notes from their meetings to Dr. Buck. Dr. Buck could then put the information from all committees on the blog. This would provide everyone with a knowledge of what decisions are being made throughout the school. This would be a good communication link for the school faculty, staff, and parents.

National Anthem Project

I would like some feedback on what you thought about singing the Star-Spangled Banner together over the intercom. Is that something you would like to see again? We have the capability to plug a tape player or CD player straight into the intercom system, and could make singing patriotic songs part of the morning announcements if you think it would be a good thing. Comments?

Tips for teachers from Ron Clark:

  1. Make sure the initial contact with parents is positive is a positive one with no negativity at all.
  2. Any time you talk with parents, make sure the first comment about their child's performance in the classroom is a positive one. (John might have failed every class, but if he did a good job on an art project, talk about that first.)
  3. Wear professional attire. I have found that when I dress in a suit and tie the students and parents treat me with more respect. During class, I have far fewer discipline problems, and when talking with parents, their overall tone is more respectful and cooperative. Besides, teachers who want to be treated like professionals should dress and act like professionals.
  4. Send notes home or call out of the blue to tell them something good their child did. (When I have done that, parents always comment on how no teacher ever did that before. Parents love to hear good things about their kids, and it will go a long way toward building a good relationship between you and the parents.)
  5. Take every possible opportunity to thank parents. If they donate supplies to the class, help with a party, chaperone a trip, or make any other contribution to the class, send them a thank-you note. It will make them feel appreciated, and they will be far more likely to help out in the future.
  6. If a parent is extremely difficult to get along with, don't be afraid to schedule a meeting with the principal where you can express your concerns. If that doesn't work, avoid that parent like the plague. Any contact with him or her should be made through written notes. Don't put yourself through the torture.

Faculty Meeting Tuesday

We will have a faculty meeting Tuesday. This one will be for everyone.

Agenda:

  1. Committee responsibilities (those we established last spring)
  2. PEPE Student achievement goal

If anyone has announcements or anything we need to add to the agenda, please let me know.

Please be sure to click the calendar link to review upcoming events.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Being Our Own Toughest Critic

As a teacher, one of the best self-help tools for me was to tape record a class every now and then and then simply listen to it. We are always going to be our own worst critics, so if we can get to a point where we are pleased with what we hear on the tape, it will probably come across as GREAT to your kids. Many of you probably recall me making this suggestion on an individual basis to you in a PEPE conference. I never have to ask someone if they have taken me up on that suggestion; it's very obvious in later observations.

I was reminded of this recently in this short essay. In it, author Steve Pavlina suggests going a couple of steps further--video taping yourself and getting feedback from other people. (We have a video camera and tapes in the library if you would like to give this a try.)

I will never forget a certain class my junior year in high school. It was the first day for the brand-new student teacher to conduct a class. Within the first few minutes, it was painfully obvious that she had a few verbal "tics." It seemed every sentence started with or ended with "you know." (Some sentences started AND ended that way.) And to that a bushel of "OK" and a peck of "and-uh," and before you know it, all my friend Darrell and I could do was count the verbal "tics."

The smiles, supressed laughter, and glances back and forth between Darrell and I did not go unnoticed. And the end of the class period, this student teacher asked us what we were doing, and we showed her the paper with the tally we had been keeping. The use of "OK" numbered over 70 all by itself, and that was just in a 45-minute class period.

What happened next is what makes this story from almost 30 years ago memorable. Rather than being angry or hurt, this student teacher asked us if we wound run that same tally each day for a while, and we agreed. Within two days, this young teacher had virtually eliminated all of the vocal tics even without the help of audio or videotape feedback.

For veteran teachers, "routine" becomes "rut" unless there is a guiding force to shape improvement. Without the feedback, we only become more and more like ourselves. As veteran teachers, we also have the ability to step out of a rut and lay new tracks. The feedback we give can give ourselves through audio, or as this author suggests--videotape, is an easy and significant step.

Various Announcements

  • I will be in Montgomery Sept. 8 and 9 working on the State Course of Study for Fine Arts and in Montevallo on Sept. 14 for a professional development planning.
  • National Anthem Project—On Wednesday at 9:00, we will join in the singing of our National Anthem. This will take place wherever you are—no special assembly, so that you will be able to go back to your lesson.
  • Constitution Day—On Friday at 1:00, we will recite the Preamble to the Constitution together. This is part of a nationwide activity happening at that time. The words won’t mean much to our lower grades, and some age-appropriate introduction will be on order.
  • Lesson plans are due every Monday. If there is a good reason for not turning them in Monday (and there often is), then turn them in as is practical. Six teachers have not turned in anything so far this year.
  • Alfa Teacher of the Month—If you would like to nominate a deserving candidate for this honor, you can go here for information. Scroll down to the section that talks about this award.
  • Cub Scouts—We will have a short assembly for boys in grades 1-5 on Monday just before the start of school. The assembly will be in the lunchroom beginning at 7:50, and the idea is that students should be in your classes by the 8:00 bell. The assembly is designed to promote interest in Scouting and invite students and parents to a meeting Tuesday night here at school (at 6:00).
  • Update on nutrition restrictions—I am placing in your boxes a two-page update that addresses some of the questions that have come up (such as cupcakes for birthday parties). Here are the things that are out: soft drinks, any item that lists sugar or high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient, hard candies, sour balls, fruit balls, candy sticks, starlight mints, after-dinner mints, sugar wafers, rock candy, cinnamon candy, breath mints, cough drops, gum drops, jelly beans, jellied and flavored fruit slices, marshmallow candies, candy corn, soft mints, licorice, spun candy, cotton candy, candy coated popcorn, frozen sicles and slushies (except those containing fruit juice), and chewing gum. Also, keep in mind that there is no eating on our school busses. Therefore, there is no reason for a student to have gum at school.
  • Lightspan Parent Orientation—You will be received an updated list of the students who may check out Lightspan CD-ROMs.
  • School Pictures--The deadline for students to return school pictures will be Sept. 20. The complimentary package for faculty & staff is #6. (You may circle any style.)
  • Out of Town PurchasesMrs. Sorrell needs to close out her books for the fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30). She needs to have all invoices received and paid by Sept. 30. If you are making out of town purchases, please be sure that they will be able to get the items here and invoice us in time for Mrs. Sorrell to pay the invoice before Sept. 30.
  • Title I CompactsYou will be receiving enough for everyone in your class. I hope we will get these from the central office in time to go home in Tuesday folders. This one will look different that what we have had before. You will not need to sign this one.
  • School Store--Thanks to Teresa Kearley for organizing the School Store. She helped us secure the display case from R.L. Young, cleaned it up, and organized the supplies you see inside it. When we crank up the School Store after Student Council is in place, I think it will be more enjoyable for our students.
  • The Communication Committee had a idea that I think simple and effective. Each committee does not necessarily know what other committees have done in their meetings. So, why not use this blog as a vehicle to give a short synopsis of our School Renewal Committees. We could do this a couple of ways: 1) each committee could e-mail me their notes, and I could copy and paste them in a post; 2) the chair of each committee could create a comment and put the information there. Any thoughts?

Of Flip-Flops and Such…

One of the topics each of your School Renewal Committees examined yesterday was flip-flops. Well, that's only partly true. Nobody had complained that flip-flops were bad, and nobody was promoting flip-flops. It started when one faculty member noticed that our student handbook says we don’t allow flip-flops, yet we are seeing our students wear them. The problem is not flip-flops; it's a mismatch between what we say are the rules and what we enforce. (Of course that means one would actually have to READ the Student Handbook to notice that mismatch, so if you are feeling a twinge of guilt, add "Read Student Handbook" to your to-do list.)

The real issue is one of consistency. We all like to know where the boundaries are, even as we protest that boundaries exist. Whether it's flip-flops, gum, talking in the halls, or what is expected at breakfast, kids need the safety net of knowing that we mean what we say, and that the expectations are the same from day to day and adult to adult...And how many of kids are hungry for some type of steadiness and consistency in their lives. Once I get the notes from each committee, I will get the word to students and parents on what we are doing with flip-flops and gum.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Posting comments

One of the neat things about a blog is the ability for two-way communication. Read a magazine article, and you receive information, but have no opportunity to respond with your own thoughts outside of a letter to the editor which may or may not appear a month later. Blogs allow readers to share their thoughts, whether the readers are down the hall or half a world away.

Sometimes I ask for your ideas via e-mail, and that lets me get your input privately. There are times when that is the most desirable. Other times, it's better for everyone to be able to see everyone else's ideas, and that's one of the good features about a blog. (You will notice on the blog for parents, I did not turn on the comments feature. That would open things up to any prankster with a computer and time on his hands posting something highly inappropriate.)

Fell free to try out the comment feature with this one--Since we have had quite an eventful week and are looking forward to getting a start on the Labor Day weekend, do you think it would be a good idea for us to be able to leave when the kids leave this Friday?