Monday, September 1, 2014

What Makes a Parent Love a Teacher

Guest post by Jennifer Gonzalez

The note from Mrs. F. came home two weeks into the school year:
I’d like to talk with you about how we can make reading time more challenging for Ruby. When can we meet?

Although I knew my daughter was an advanced reader, I had accepted that it would always be up to me to ask for this kind of differentiation. The conversation had never been initiated by the teacher.

Thus began my year of absolutely loving Mrs. F.

I know a lot of teachers, and I know that a lot of their energy goes into things like setting up classrooms, finding new materials and activities, learning new technology, and downloading beautifully designed templates and worksheets. All of that is good and important: The more efficiently your class is run, the more hands-on your activities are, the more welcoming your classroom is, the better the year will be.

But all of that pales in comparison to this one thing. The thing you could do in a bare cinderblock room with no electricity and no more technology than a stick for writing in the dirt floor. The one thing a teacher can do that makes a bigger difference than all those other things combined:

Know my child.

That’s it. This knowledge can manifest itself in so many ways: You can know their academic skills, their allergies, their family, their moods, their quirks, any and all of these things. Just know my child, and a lot of other stuff just falls into place.

It Makes a Difference

My kids are currently in grades 2, 3, and 5. As a family, we have experienced a combined total of twenty different teachers, including preschool teachers and those who teach their “specials.” So far, what has made a few stand out far above the others is how well they get to know my child.

Do other parents feel the same way? When I ask my friends with kids what makes them really love certain teachers, their responses vary in some ways, but one element is always present; “know my child” is always at the core. Here are just a few examples:
From a mother of two: Some of my favorite teachers have been those who were interested in my children and made them feel important. The best one made me feel like my kids were the only kids in her class – she knew them so well – but every parent thought that. The kids wrote in journals every day and she'd read them all – every entry – by reading four or five a day – and respond to what the kids had written. To this day, those journals are among my most treasured keepsakes from their elementary years. 
From a mother of four: Over the years the teachers that stood out were the ones that really put forth the effort to get to know not only my kids but all their students. Those are the teachers my kids still talk about.
From a mother of three: I love it when a teacher "gets" my kid.
Putting in extra effort to really know your students also benefits the teacher. When I taught middle school, knowing my students well helped prevent a lot of behavior issues. If Melissa shared her recent family issues with me, I was gentler with her when she got off-task. If I learned that Joseph had a hard time reading in a crowded room, I could let him read in the hall, avoiding the problems that would have come from forcing him to remain in class.

Creating a System for Getting to Know Students 

Knowing your students on a deeper level doesn’t happen quickly, and it takes a bit of work. Many teachers use some kind of questionnaire at the beginning of the school year to help them learn more about students. As a parent, I look forward to completing these, because I assume the teacher will read every word. If the year moves along and I never see any evidence that they have, it’s kind of a letdown.

If you send those questionnaires out, do something with the information. One way to get systematic with this process is to maintain a chart of the “deep data” that makes each kid unique. By keeping everyone’s information in one living document, you’re more likely to learn that information well.

Click here to download a free customizable copy of the Deep Data at a Glance chart.

Once you've filled out the first round of facts, keep going. Put a shortcut to this document on your desktop and update it as you pick up more information about your students, because kids change and grow. Family configurations change. New passions develop. Who they are at the start of the year is not the same as who they are at the end.

Then, use the chart as a reference tool: Before surprising the class with a special treat, check out the “Food & Drink” column to remind yourself of special preferences. When shopping for new books for your class library, scan the “passions” column to remind yourself of the topics students are interested in. And regularly search for holes: With all the data in one place, you can keep students from fading into the woodwork. Using my chart below, I can see that I need to spend a little more time with Tim Christopher. 


Finally, you can use it to reconnect with students. If Jaylen and I haven’t had any non-academic interactions lately, I can study the chart in the morning, then later that day ask him what he’s been building in Minecraft lately, or how his dog Reggie is doing. He’ll probably be shocked that I know these things, but it will mean a whole lot to him. We all want to be seen.

By now it should be clear that this post isn't about getting parents to love you. Building relationships with your students just makes you a better teacher. It helps you meet each child where she is academically. It reduces discipline problems. It makes your work more satisfying. And more than anything, it makes a difference to your students. Having the support of parents is just an added bonus.

So the next time you’re stressed because you haven’t posted to your class blog or changed your bulletin boards lately, choose to put your energy into making personal connections with your students. You will only have these children for this period of time, only this one chance to know them. So make it a priority.

I promise, it will be appreciated.

Jennifer Gonzalez is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts. Before starting her website, Cult of Pedagogy, she taught middle school language arts for eight years and college-level education courses for four. She lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

37 comments:

  1. Great idea! One of the students who is new to my school is having a hard time adjusting. I think if I sit down and get to know him first it may help with his behaviors. I can use the info to direct him to things he may be interested in(he is advanced for my grade), and give him books on topics he may like. THANK YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great ideas! I think my relationship with my students in the cornerstone of my success as a teacher. I have the benefit of having my students over multiple years which really helps me get to know the students and their families.

    Tara
    The Math Maniac

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really value the connections I have with my students, but never thought to record this information. Thanks for sharing! The Deep Data at a Glance is perfect for keeping track!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is spot on as to what I love about teachers. I wish there were more of them that did this. As for the ones that do, I love them! They make sending my children to school so much easier!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this!! What a simple way to keep track. I give surveys & take notes, but this keeps all the data in 1 place. Thank you!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this. May I copy this article and put it on my blog, patriciadorsey.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No you may not copy it and put it on your blog. That would be a copyright violation. You may include a link to it from your blog article, but you may not use any of the text or images from this post. Thanks for asking.

      Delete
  7. This is great! Do you have a copy of the survey that you send home or have students fill out - that gathers this information?
    Thanks,
    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michelle! I don't at the moment, since my work has been with middle school kids and older, but now that you ask, I will go ahead and develop one for younger kids and post it in my TPT store. Check back later this week and it may be there!

      Delete
    2. Is there now a survey available? If so what is it titled?

      Delete
    3. Yes! I have a whole collection of Student Inventories for every grade level. If you click on the chart above, it will take you to the download page for the chart, and in that product description you'll see links to the Student Inventories.

      Delete
  8. You made some excellent points. The teachers I (as a parent) have been the most fond of are those who had one of my more 'difficult' kids in their class, but somehow conveyed to me that they liked him anyway. Thanks for your post!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love reading articles from fellow Bowling Green educators! Can't wait to share this with friends.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is harder to do when you have over 200 students and 55 minutes with them a day. I try to connect with two students each period, Each day, but that is really the slow route of really getting to know all your students. I believe that this is vastly important, but I lose sight of it a lot when I get caught up in all the content I have to teach and the 55 minutes I have to do it in. thanks for the reminder to once more recommit myself to this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Katie! It is definitely harder with large groups of students; that's what makes it even more essential to collect information systematically. You can't rely on finding time to spend with each student face-to-face, so using some type of questionnaire, then putting student information into a chart, will help you learn about your students much faster and give you starting points for connecting with them.

      Delete
  11. I'm with Katie. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at the high school level with 6 classes of 35 kids each. It naturally happens that I know the good participatory and spend extra time with the struggling students...but those poor middle kids get lost sometimes. A great teacher at my school said. "If you can find out ONE thing about each student, you've made it into their world. Aim for that."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jessi! I realize I am returning here pretty late, but see my response to Katie above -- it's really helpful with larger groups of students to get to know them through written surveys. This really speeds up the process!

      Delete
  12. I couldn't agree more! Knowing our students and developing those relationships with them is vital! Thanks for sharing the document that allows you to put all of the data you've collected in one place for easy reference!

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a great read ... Food for thought at the beginning of our school year :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post Jennifer. I will be sharing this with staff at my school on Pro-d day. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Makes total sense. The chart is an easy way to see what you know and don't know about each student. I will definitely use it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. If you have a Google account, you can create a survey your students complete online that will automatically populate a spreadsheet with their answers. This saves you time and the kids enjoy doing the survey on a computer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome suggestion, Andra. For anyone interested in doing it this way, you'd go into your Google Drive, click "New," then scroll down until you get to Forms.

      Delete
  18. This is a great idea, but...I have 160 kids this year (high school math). Between lesson planning, updating the class web page, updating grades twice per week, grading exams, and meeting within my department, I think it would be hard to do this with any consistency. Probably easier in elementary when you often have the same 20-30 students all day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Shawn--see my reply below. Have a good night!

      Delete
  19. Hi Shawn. This kind of chart is actually even more helpful to a teacher who has a lot of kids. It's easy to get to know 25 kids well; much more challenging with a group of 160. Even if you only collect a few facts on each student, it will make a difference. And if you aren't up to the challenge of 160, see if you can do it with just one or two classes. The idea is to collect the information once, then just periodically refer to it and add to it--casually--throughout the year. If you know how to use Google Forms, you could gather the information without having to re-enter it. I hope you consider some variation of this!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks so much for sharing this. Absolutely love it. :)

    -Gayla

    ReplyDelete
  21. Love this! Can't wait to put all of the info from my beginning of the year surveys into a chart like this. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Piping up for the people above who have a huge number of kids and have trouble getting to know them all. I am a school librarian with 400 kids, so I struggle getting to know them all. I'm starting an interest inventory for this year anyway. It is good for them to reflect on their interests and reading preferences, and after they fill these things out, I will keep all that information on file. I am not necessarily going to read every single one, but it is handy to have when I am zeroing in on those struggling readers or distant students. Just another perspective!

    ReplyDelete
  23. So great! I totally agree with this post and the chart idea is so clever. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thank you for sharing. I have surveyed students and customised learning activities to passions. It is powerful; students are learning and skill development improves.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This is one of the VERY first things that I do, even before school starts. I started having my fifth graders come in one evening during our inservice, and the parents loved it. It eased the anxiety of a new teacher, and I got to meet the parents in an informal situation. Even kids from families that I knew (we live in a small rural area) were so much more relaxed the first day of school. I had them bring their school supplies and pick out a desk, and I have the parents fill out a "Parent Wish for My Child for School This Year" slip and leave it in a "Parent Wishes" jar. It was so successful that our new principal (whose daughter was in my class four years ago) decided to have the whole school do it BEFORE school started rather than two weeks later. :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. I've only been teaching for 2 years. But I've learn and seen the powerful formulas of 3Rs: Rules-Relationship=Rebellions. This post confirms it :)

    ReplyDelete