Thursday, October 29, 2015

4 Tips for Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences

Here a four tips to make Parent-Teacher Conferences as productive as possible.

1.  We are on the same team. 
As teachers, parents, and students, we all want the  same thing, which is for the student to reach his or her maximum potential.  While it is easy to start pointing fingers at each other, what is that really going to solve?  The sooner we realize and embrace this idea, the more productive our conversations will be.

2.  Don't focus on the grade.
The grade is simply a letter, or a number, and it is supposed to correlate to how well a student is doing in school.  It will not necessarily correlate to how intelligent or how hard of a worker the student is.  If you are a parent, do not ask the teacher "Why does my child have a bad grade?"  Instead ask, "In what area is my child struggling and what can WE do to help?"  If you focus your conversation on grades, you will not be productive and will leave the meeting feeling frustrated.

3.  Time is short
Some teachers see over 100 students in a day.  In order to meet with as many families as possible, you may only have a 10-15 minute window.  As a parent, have a game plan on what you want to talk about.  You may not get through all of the topics you would like to discuss, so prioritize your list.  Have no idea what to ask?  Here are two questions to consider:

  • What does my child struggle with and how can we help?
  • What does my child do well?
As a teacher, you may be tempted to point out 10 issues that the parent needs to be aware of.  Don't do it.  Prioritize your list and focus on those.

4.  Don't be afraid to follow-up
You likely did not get through all of the topics you wanted to discuss during your conference, so don't hesitate to follow-up with the teacher in a week via note, email, or phone call.  I suggest waiting a week, because teachers are human beings, and they likely just worked two straight 13 hour days when you consider the normal work day and evening conferences.  Almost all teachers are going to be more than willing to continue the conversation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

When It's OK to Fail...and When It Isn't

I'm sure if you search the internet, listen to a motivational speaker, or talk to most teachers, you may have heard the phrase "It's ok to fail."  With the recent resurgence of Carol Dweck's book Mindset, it has become fashionable to say and promote this philosophy in school.  This post is not to tell you to embrace or abandon this philosophy, rather, if you say it, you better clearly communicate what you mean.

Recently, I have had conversations with multiple people who have an expertise outside of education that have come to me dumbfounded with what their children are being told in schools all around the country.  They say, "Ryan, my child's teacher told them it's ok to fail. It's ok for them to not try their best, because they will have the opportunity to re-take a test or re-do an assignment."

I respond by asking them, "Are you sure that's what the teacher told them or what they meant?"

If you are telling your kids, "It's ok to fail" because you are promoting risk-taking, or you do not want to see them put unnecessary stress on themselves over a class assignment or assessment, or you are promoting the process over the product, then go for it.  

But this is what many of them are hearing: "It's ok if I slack off because I can do it again."  

I am a proponent of standards-based grading practices, and also believe in the process of re-takes because I believe it is far more important THAT they know it than WHEN they know it.  However, as educators, we must be extremely CLEAR when we communicate this philosophy to our students.  While it may be ok to fail, it is NOT ok to give a subpar effort.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

5 Ways Ways to Use Canva in Your Classroom or School

Canva is a free graphic design app for the iPad (they also have a web version) that is pretty simple to use.  As a school, we have used it in a variety of ways to assist us in keeping our community informed and sharing the great things that are happening.  Here are five ways you can use it in your classroom or school.

1.  You can create your own digital posters.

2.  We post positive messages on our school's Instagram account.  The kids actually love it.  Canva allows us to customize these messages for our kids rather than just taking them from the internet.

3.  It is an easy way to create a visual for information you want to share with families.  We have a school Facebook page that many families "like."  By using a picture or graphic, families are far more likely to be engaged than just using simple text.

4.  We actually stopped doing paper/email newsletters because no one was reading them.  We started doing weekly video newsletters two years ago and use Canva to design our background.  As you can see, our "green screen" is a cinder block wall with green paint.  We use an app called Green Screen by DoInk.  Below you can see the "before" and "after."

5.  Canva is a great tool to make presentation slides a little more visually appealing.

You can get as creative as you want, but Canva is a tool worth playing with.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


If you are a parent of a Big Walnut student, you may have heard about our BWLS 2020 vision.  In short, our goal as a district is to transform education by providing each child a personalized education.  We want to get away from the idea of school being a place where teachers are simply providers of information to a model in which they are assisting each student in reaching his or her maximum potential.

One of the questions I have heard is, "Wow, that sounds great, but why are we waiting until 2020 to do this?" That is a great question and here is my answer.  We are not waiting, but that is our deadline.  Many of the things I see happening in our classrooms at BWI have shown me this shift is happening.  We are not there yet, and it will take some time.  Time to get more technology, time to provide our teachers with more resources and training, and time to completely transition to this shift.  This model is not built entirely on technology. Technology in the classroom has been a great tool, but is simply that, a tool.  It will not replace the teacher. Your child will not be sitting in front of a Chromebook for seven hours each day.  That is not my definition of personalization.

This goal fits well with our district's mission of inspiring and guiding each student to his or her maximum potential.  We also feel it aligns with BWI's mantra of making sure kids are learning AND having fun.

The video below was created by Jen Wilson, our Coordinator of Instruction and Innovation.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Ryan McLane