I golf. I rarely get invited to golf because I’m a girl but that’s talk for a different day. A golf instructor once gave me excellent advice at the driving range. She said, “Your first 8 balls don’t count. Don’t get too frustrated or stressed and definitely don’t lose hope. Just swing, take note of how you felt, and swing again.” The parallels between this comment and the first month of school are extraordinary. Rather than 8, I would say I usually need 20-30 days to get my groove and even then I might lose it and need to re-evaluate my swing. I try to be kind to myself that first month. I go in each day, swing, and then step back and note how I feel. At the end of 30 days, or sometimes sooner, I start to see patterns of things that are working and things that aren’t. This is when I make big moves. But I have to give myself some days that don’t count in the beginning. I have to get warmed up. There are more balls in my bucket; I’ll focus on those.
The first time I got an email from a parent with a pointed concern, my internal temperature rose and I immediately got defensive. I spent well over an hour crafting the perfect email back.What a waste of time! I never even sent that email. Eventually I developed this template for all parent emails, and it has proved the ultimate time saver. parent-email-template
(Insert student name) is (describe positive characteristics you’ve noticed about their student). He/She is a wonderful addition to our classroom community.
(Address concern, question, or other comment here in 2-5 sentences – keep it brief!)
(Insert student name) is lucky to have a parent that cares about him/her and his/her education.
Thank you for your support,
- Have a snack or sweet available for parents to munch on. Cheap pretzels and chocolate are my go-to.
- Greet parents at the door. This helps them feel welcome and know that they are in the right place. Standing at the door also keeps me from awkwardly standing at the front of the room while parents arrive.
- Say goodbye at the door. This helps to avoid any parents who might keep me from getting home before I need to wake up again for school the next day.
Back-to-school night has the tendency to cause lots of stress. Here are some ideas that help me feel prepared:
- Put your students to work. I turn on some music at the end of each period and have them help me tidy up or organize. I also ask for volunteers to help me with some organizing/set up after school (I bribe them with the sweet promise of a sucker).
- Have some 3X5 note cards available. On one side, parents write a strength they see in their student and on the other side they write an opportunity for more learning, a question, a hope, etc.
- Prepare a presentation. I include the following in mine:
- Who I am, where I come from/my background, and why I teach
- What students will know by the end of the year (it’s OK if this is vague)
- Communication, tech, grading, and homework information
- Directions for note cards with an example for clarification
I had a stellar principal my first year of teaching. Here are some things she did that helped validate my new career choice.
1. She visited my classroom often and would immediately follow-up with things she liked and ONE question for me to ponder.
2. She made me feel like I could try things and take risks. She acknowledged that teaching is hard.
3. She made sure I was set up with a mentor teacher in the building.
4. She didn’t ask me to do anything extra. She told me that my only focus should be my students and collaborating with other teachers in service of my students.
5. She publicly shared something she had seen me do that she liked.
I want my principal to know me, know what I do, and give me feedback. Here is what I do:
- Visit their office in the morning to say hello. Most of the time it’s super quick as I grab copies or check my mailbox. I don’t make this a time to talk shop unless they initiate it.
- Invite them into the classroom within the first 6 weeks and then try to make a habit out of it. I send a short email invite. They don’t come every time but they do when they can.
- Ask for feedback after each visit.