Parent Teacher Communication Ideas

We always hear how important parent teacher communication is, and it is true.  Most parents want to be involved in their child’s education.  They want to know what is happening in the classroom, how their child is progressing in the curriculum and with the standards, how their child is getting along with others in the class, and what they can do at home to help them.  Teachers not only want, but need parents to be involved and to maintain open communication.  But .  What needs to be said?  When is the right time to reach out to parents?

Contacting parents before school starts or just as school is starting sets the tone for positive communication and establishes the importance of communication.  Relationships are built through communication.  When the initial communication between teachers and parents is positive, parents tend to be supportive and have a positive outlook.  Later during the year, if there is a problem with a student’s behavior or an academic concern, parents who had an initial positive experience are more likely to continue to be supportive.  It may seem daunting having dozens of families to reach out to, but this initial contact may be brief.  It may be a phone call, an email, or even a postcard in the mail to introduce yourself to the new families. Students also benefit from this early communication as it sends a message the teacher is excited to have them in their class.

Communication Benefits for Parents

There are benefits to parents who have frequent feedback and communication from the classroom teacher.  Parents gain a better understanding of the school curriculum and communicate better with their children.  When there is a partnership between parents and the school, parents feel they are valuable to their children’s education.  In turn, this can set higher expectations for their child.

Communication Benefits for Teachers

Teachers gain more insight about their students when communicating with families.  Parents know their child best and can share vital information. The teacher can also gain insight into how the parent approaches education and what kind of support the student is getting at home.  This allows the teacher to meet the student’s needs academically, socially, and emotionally in the classroom.

Communication Benefits for Students

Studies show there are many benefits to students when there is communication between parents and teachers.  Some of the benefits include increased motivation for learning, regular attendance, improved behavior, and an overall positive attitude towards school and learning.

Communication Action Steps

  • Teachers have to find ways to make communication with parents effective. Find out what types of communication families prefer.  Do they prefer paper, phone calls, or electronic communication? Can meetings be held via Skype?
  • Inform parents of how you want them to communicate: phone, email, or notes. Let them know times of availability for calls or to return emails.
  • Make sure to communicate everything, not just the “bad”. A quick phone call to parents when their child did something fantastic, had a gain in learning, or met an IEP goal is a phone call that will be well received by parents.

Teachers can become so overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done day in and day out that it can be challenging to take extra time to form relationships and communicate.  Scheduling communication may be helpful and spreading it out may be even more helpful.  Instead of trying to reach out to every family in one week, try scheduling five families each week of the month so that each family hears from you once a month. Set your calendar with which families are due to hear from you.  Keep in mind how each family prefers to communicate. Remembering the benefits to all involved should help keep communication as a priority.

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Inclusion vs. Self-Contained Education

In 2014, 2.4 million American public school students were diagnosed with a learning disability, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This number accounts for five percent of our nation’s public school population. Many of these students also have a secondary disability.

Special education teachers work tirelessly addressing these students’ needs. There is no “one size fits all” solution. From teaching methods, to support techniques, to classroom models-special education is a nuanced field.

Evaluation Process and IEP Designation

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), each student with a disability is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, these students have the right to receive necessary adaptations.

In order for a student to receive special education services, he or she must qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Special education teachers, parents, school administrators, general education teachers and counselors all play an important role in the IEP process.

Special Education Classroom Models

The type of special education classroom model to which each school adheres impacts the implementation of these individualized plans. The two primary models are inclusion classrooms and self-contained classrooms.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of students with disabilities are served in regular schools and 61.2 percent of those students spend 80 percent or more of their time in a general education classroom. Neither inclusion nor self-contained classrooms perfectly address the needs of special education students. Both models have noteworthy benefits and drawbacks.

Inclusion Classroom

In schools that rely on the inclusion classroom model, students with special needs attend class with their general population peers. In a full inclusion classroom, services are brought to the students. Some inclusion schools use a less absolute model called partial inclusion. Under partial inclusion, students spend a portion of their day in a resource room, working with a special education teacher.

Potential Inclusion Classroom Benefits:

  • Strong peer-to-peer interaction, development of meaningful friendships and increased diversity
  • Special needs students are given greater access to the school’s general curriculum, as special education and general education teachers work in tandem
  • Higher expectations may be placed on special needs students
  • Students are not labeled in a way that could decrease their self worth

Potential Inclusion Classroom Drawbacks:

  • In full inclusion classrooms, general education teachers may receive little input from special education teachers
  • The class’ overall academic achievement testing scores may be affected
  • General education and special education students may be deprived of important individualized attention and assistance
  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Blanket inclusion classroom policies are not appropriate for severely disabled students

Self-Contained Classroom

Self-contained special education classrooms are typically smaller in size and are led by a teacher with special education certification. Students in self-contained classrooms also receive special support and intervention in adherence with the terms of their IEP.

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Benefits:

  • Some students require more intensive intervention than can be offered in an inclusion classroom
  • Small class sizes foster individualized attention
  • Self-contained classroom special education teachers are uniquely able to account for individualized learning styles
  • Students form close relationships with one teacher

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Drawbacks

  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Do you believe one classroom model is superior? Do you find benefit in a hybrid approach? This topic will be one of the many you will explore in greater depth as you embark on your special education career.

ASD Endorsement is On the Rise

It is estimated that one in 39 boys are likely to be identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a staggering four times more so than girls (one in 151). With the increase in awareness and early intervention treatment options, the need for specially trained individuals is much more necessary today than ever.

Professionals just like you are answering the call by pursuing an ASD Endorsement Certification to accompany a Master of Science in Education – Special Education with concentrations specific to Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The Characteristics of ASD

Children identified as being on the spectrum may often experience a range of social, behavioral and communication strengths and challenges. Specifically, children may exhibit varying degrees of some of the following characteristics:

  1. Difficulty using verbal and nonverbal communication appropriately
  2. Difficulty tolerating changes in routine
  3. Engaging in atypical behaviors (hand flapping, visual staring at lights, rocking back and forth or side to side, placing objects in mouth)
  4. Overreaction to sensory experiences (sensitivities to sound, light, textures, smells, tastes)
  5. Repetitive or atypical communication skills
  6. Deficits in attention, motor, self-regulation or impulse control
  7. nbsp; Difficulty developing and maintaining appropriate social relationships

Although this is not an exhaustive list, if there is a predominance of the preceding characteristics, it is important to consult with a medical professional that is trained in developmental disabilities and the wide range of emotions and behaviors attributed to ASD.

ASD Screening

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months, along with regular developmental monitoring.

Significant research supports the benefits of early intervention and treatment showing considerable improvement on long-term development and social behaviors. As a result, there is a growing demand for highly qualified ASD endorsement certified professionals that can meet the large demand for services and treatment.

Education and Training

If you are looking to specialize your education and training specifically to work with children and adults on the Autism spectrum then consider contacting Saint Joseph’s University for their online endorsement certificate which can be obtained by successfully completing four courses. The curriculum focuses on:

  1. Diagnosis and assessment
  2. Behavioral and socialization strategies
  3. Evidence-based practices in interventions and instructional methodologies
  4. Behavior management

Across the nation, ASD certified professionals are considered a critical shortage area often guaranteeing immediate employment, with additional perks of student loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement, signing bonuses, additional supplemental pay, not to mention summer free schedules and comprehensive health and benefit packages.

To further advance your career and gain more information on obtaining an online Master of Science in Education – Special Education with an endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorders, call (866) 758-7670 or visit

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Integrating STEM into the Classroom

STEM: Not Just For After School

When you picture STEM (science, technology, math, engineering) activities, robotics, bridge building, flying drones and coding, comes to mind. Unfortunately what also comes to mind, is having students participate in these activities either before school or after school during a specialized club. But as our world continued to shift towards a global economy, our students need more and more access to these kinds of activities that will help promote non-academic skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration with peers to solve a problem. Even most teachers agree that developing these skills in our kids is important, they don’t know where to start to bring something like this into their classrooms, so here are three ideas to get you going.

Become the Guide on the Side

The number one reason the teachers have a hard time incorporating STEM activities into the classroom is because of their lack of familiarity with many of the activities that the students will be participating in. Many teachers do not have any experience with coding, let alone robotics. This can intimidate teachers when their own personal background knowledge is limited. However, this should not serve as a stumbling block for implementing STEM activities in the classroom. Teachers need to come to accept two things: #1. That their students may have more knowledge regarding a skill then they do and that’s okay. #2. Teachers should do the STEM activities with their children to continue to learn and develop their understanding of all things STEM. If teachers can do these two things, they will be successful in the long run. Teachers need to continue to shift their roles to being the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage.” If they can do this, then implementing STEM activities in the classroom will not be met with so so much anxiety.

Utilize Grants

Another common problem that teachers have when trying to implement STEM activities within the classroom is finding the resources to make it happen. We all know that teachers use their own personal money to support student education activities, but some of these new technologies and STEM activities can be somewhat pricey. Teachers should utilize grants whenever possible to help outfit their classroom with the materials that their students need to participate in STEM activities. Teachers should also focus on non-consumable materials, so that once they have purchased the materials that they can be used over and over again. The last thing the teachers need to remember is that building up their classroom’s STEM materials as a resource for their classroom may take some time, but if a teacher is consistent and adds a little bit each year, then they should have a variety of STEM activities in no time.

Start with Station Rotation STEM

Many teachers can also become overwhelmed when they think about creating a STEM lesson plan for the entire classroom. The lesson topic may be less familiar to the teacher and trying to come up with enough resources for the students can contribute to the stress. Teachers should start small and implement STEM activities into the classroom by starting with a station rotation. In a station rotation, students are in small groups and working on a variety of different activities. In this way the teacher can introduce STEM activities to children in the classroom one small group at a time. Station Rotation STEM activities can help teachers introduce STEM activities into the classroom in a more manageable way

STEM: An Important Component of Education

STEM activities are great activities for students to participate in. They strengthen crucial skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Teachers should not wait for an after school program to try to fill the void of STEM activities, but they should go forward with trying to provide these enriching activities in their classrooms so that their students are prepared with the necessary non-academic skills they need in order to be successful. Teachers don’t need to be experts at robotics or coding, they just need to provide the time for their students to implement STEM activities in the classroom and just dive right in!

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5 Reasons Why Blended Learning is Right for Special Education Students

Is Blended Learning Detrimental for Special Education Students?

Blended Learning occurs when a student learns partially online, within a brick and mortar building, and along an individualized learning pathway ( As Blended Learning continues to march steadily onward into many of our country’s schools, many are left wondering if it’s the right fit for some of our most at-risk students — namely, special education students. Many students that are part of our special education student population struggle with behavior problems, learning disabilities, low self-esteem, and a myriad of other problems. Can special education students function in a Blended Learning environment? Are they prepared to take control of their education through the use of technology tools? Will they adapt or will they woefully sink further and further behind because the instructional pedagogy is not right for them? Many educators are asking themselves these questions as they reflect about the cultural shift that is occurring in today’s classrooms.

Blended Learning & Special Education Students — A Perfect Match

Blended Learning will not only be beneficial for regular education students, but will benefit special education students because of its ability to allow students to have more control over the pace, path, and place where they learn. Coupled with the right data, Blended Learning is poised to help special education students make more growth than they ever have before. Special education students have qualified to receive specialized instruction for a set amount of service time each day, however Blended Learning can provide opportunities for special education students throughout the entire day that mirror these academic services. Special education students can look to a brighter future now that Blended Learning environments are on the rise in today’s classrooms because they promote many teaching strategies that are beneficial for them.

#1. Blended Learning Facilitates Small Group Instruction

Most of our special education students receive academic services by either being pulled out of their regular education classroom or the special education teacher pushes into the regular education classroom. Either way, special education students typically receive instruction in a small group setting. In the same way, Blended Learning focuses on providing students instruction in small-groups or even one-on-one from the classroom teacher. Because more students are guiding their own learning, the classroom teacher is freed up to provide more targeted instruction to students that need it, especially special education students.

#2. Blended Learning Provides Tailored Instruction

Blended Learning utilizes technology to help provide instruction to students. Most Blended Learning programs incorporate computer software programs that collect data through assessments or the programs actually focus on delivering content knowledge in an interesting way. Either way, these computer programs can help provide the instruction that is needed for students or even provide teachers with the information necessary to know what to teach students next.

#3. Blended Learning is Engaging

According to the book “Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” by Horn & Staker, most students drop out of school not because they are struggling, but because they are bored. Student engagement is even more important than ever especially with some special education students who are subject to disabilities that impact their ability to focus and remain engaged in learning content. Blended Learning environments focus on using technology as a tool to not only engage students but to provide them specific data that motivates the students to personally improve their learning.

#4. Blended Learning Creates a Culture of Differentiation

The argument for the need of a Blended Learning environment focuses around the belief that all students are unique and learn in different ways and at different speeds. If there is one group of students that would thrive in a culture where student differences are celebrated — it would be special education students. Special education students often struggle with feelings of inferiority because they learn differently than other students. In Blended Learning environments, those differences are not swept under the rug, but brought out into the open to communicate to students that all learners are different and that’s okay.

#5. Blended Learning is Mastery-based Learning

Special education students work on individualized education plans that focus on helping students achieve goals and measure the progress they are making. If a special education student has not mastered a learning goal, then they continue to work on that goal. Blended Learning focuses on mastery-based learning in the same way. Because students are allowed to go at their own pace, students do not move on from a subject area until they have mastered the content. Special education students would be able to readily adapt to a Blended Learning environment due to this similarity.

Conclusion: Special Education Students Have Nothing to Fear From Blended Learning

Blended Learning has more in common with special education instruction then one might think. It’s easy to overlook the negative impact on certain sub-groups of students when new teaching pedagogies like Blended Learning are introduced, however Blended Learning environments mirror positive aspects of special education learning services and will foster a new understanding and appreciation for unique learning needs in all students.

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Choosing the Best Homeschool Model for Your Child

As homeschooling has increased in popularity, various styles of homeschooling have emerged. Seven approaches, among many, stand out as the common choices for homeschool families.


School-at-home is basically what the title suggests – setting up a typical school schedule but doing it at home. The day is structured into blocks of time for subject areas, just as a school day would be. The parent becomes the teacher. Subject areas are taught independently of one another. Curriculum can be varied but is oftentimes bought in complete sets through companies like ABeka, Alpha Omega, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. These sets often come with teacher’s guides, student books, and pre-made lesson plans to walk a parent and child through the curriculum. Curriculum samples can be browsed online or entire sets viewed at curriculum fairs and conventions.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason, a 19th century English educator, introduced The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling which focuses on the  whole child. . This method breaks education down into 3 components: atmosphere, discipline and life. Atmosphere is the environment your child is raised in and the idea that a child will pick up things as they listen and experience the world around them. The second part of education is discipline. Discipline is creating good habits for your child. These habits include teaching daily living skills, but also the importance of teaching good character habits like being helpful. Finally, life moves beyond information to experiential learning and using real world examples. . Students learn through play, nature walks, short lessons, and learning from living books.


Unschooling, founded by John Holt, is student focused. It is called unschooling because it does not resemble school. The child directs the learning. Curriculum is not used. This approach focuses on the idea that students learn as they live. A child will learn math and science in the same way they learned to walk or talk – naturally. The focus is whatever interests the child and piques their curiosity.


Classical learning focuses on the Trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The younger grades focus on concrete thinking and learning facts (grammar) that will be the foundation to be built upon in later years. The middle grades focus on the logic phase. This phase is where students take the facts they have learned and now reason and think critically about those facts. The final stage, for the high school years, is rhetoric. Rhetoric moves to a more abstract way of thinking. Students now apply what they have learned to life, learn to communicate and speak eloquently, write original works and even do apprenticeship programs. A curriculum that uses this approach is Classical Conversations.

Distance Learning

Distance learning uses technology to bring the classroom to home. Lectures, lessons, and testing are completed via the internet. Students can choose to take individual classes or sign up full time. Curriculum is aligned with state standards and overseen or taught by certified teachers. In high school, students can take college classes as well for credit via online distance learning programs. Examples of some distance learning programs are: Liberty, FLVS, and Taylor University.

Unit Studies

Homeschoolers that take a unit studies approach to learning focus all the curriculum around a topic. This thematic approach to learning takes topics and creates math, language, social studies, science, art, music, etc. lessons all around that specific theme. This method is more common for elementary and middle school age students. For example, if the unit is dinosaurs, curriculum may be organized in this way:

-spelling: words would be dinosaur names and terminology

-language: reading books on dinosaurs

-math: measurement of dinosaurs and converting those measurements

-social studies: focus on archaeology

-science: what causes extinction

-art: making a paper mache dinosaur

The main focus of unit studies is to immerse the child in a topic, creating an interest and rounded understanding of an area. Unit studies can be found at,, and


Eclectic homeschooling is a mixture of what works for each child and may include some or all of the other homeschool approaches. Parents create a curriculum that will look different from one child to the next and even may look different for the same child from one year to the next. Curriculum is matched to how the child learns best. School work may be combined with field trips or hobbies. A list of homeschool curriculum options can be found at


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How Blended is My Classroom?

What is Blended Learning?

Blended Learning is a buzzword in education nowadays as technology has steadily crept more and more into every facet or our lives — including our schools. Blended Learning occurs when a student learns partially online, within a brick and mortar building, and along an individualized learning pathway ( It’s no surprise that the desire for personalized and convenient learning pathways has lead the education sector to embrace a new way of providing instruction to match the needs of its learners.

Blended Learning Classrooms — The New Norm

Blended Learning has long been around in higher education and judging by the number of online degrees that have been recently awarded across the United States — it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay. However, educators in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, are left questioning, “How Blended is My Classroom?” Educators in these areas must determine if changes are occurring in their classrooms to meet the needs of today’s learners. Determining how successfully they have “blended” their learning environment and where they can make improvements is crucial to any learning institution’s success.

How “Blended” Am I?

If you’re looking for a way to determine areas for improvement to your blended classroom initiative, look no further. Take a moment to study the vertical alignment of an educator’s journey on the road to a blended learning classroom. Then, your next bet is to make some measurable goals to get you headed on your way.

Traditional Instruction or Non-Blended Learning Instruction

⬥ Teachers infrequently allow students to learn faster or slower than the teacher. All students get the same homework.
⬥ Teachers infrequently plan differentiated activities for students that address personal interests, learning styles, or abilities.
⬥ Teachers tell students where to work in the classroom and infrequently provide access to online resources so students can learn outside the classroom.
⬥ Teachers teach before they assess students and find out what they know or let students explore concepts on their own.

Beginning to Blend Instruction

⬥ Teachers occasionally opt students out of work based on assessment data and they conduct stations or centers.
⬥ Teachers administer surveys to gain information and plan activities that address different learning modalities. Teachers allow students to occasionally choose how to demonstrate their understanding.
⬥ Teachers allow students to work in different places within the classroom and they post assignments online occasionally.
⬥ Teachers assess students, collect data, and teach mini-lessons to students occasionally.

Moderately Blending Instruction

⬥ Teachers do not provide whole-class instruction or non-differentiated homework. Students frequently participate in centers where they move about the classroom by choice.
⬥ Teachers prepare a variety of differentiated tasks based on student information. Students complete curriculum and personal interest projects with the help of rubrics and choice boards.
⬥ Teachers occasionally use a learning management system (LMS) to allow students to access curriculum content anywhere in the classroom or even outside of school.
⬥ Teachers assess students, collect data, and teach mini-lessons to students frequently. Students frequently monitor their own learning.

Heavily Blending Instruction

⬥ Students frequently work with differentiated playlists and are able to choose which tasks they work on and how long they spend on each task.
⬥ Students frequently conference with a teacher to determine which activities will best help them learn and how they will demonstrate their understanding.
⬥ Students frequently use a LMS to access the curriculum and occasionally complete work in a non-homeroom teacher’s classroom.
⬥ Students make learning goals and are systematically monitoring which learning objectives they have mastered.

Fully-Blended Classroom

⬥ Students explore concepts before any teacher instruction (mini-lessons) in grade-level and non-grade-level content areas.
⬥ Students can choose independently how to learn (by themselves, with a peer, or from the teacher) and demonstrate their understanding based on their personal interests, learning styles, or abilities.
⬥ Students frequently work in any grade-level classroom and can access all coursework online.
⬥ Students frequently make learning goals, collect data regarding the learning objectives that they have mastered, and conference with the teacher about their progress.

Conclusion: Blended Learning Takes Patience

After you you are sufficiently overwhelmed from self-assessing how “blended” you really are, just remember that elephants must be eaten one bite at a time and the same could be said for Blended Learning classrooms. No matter where you’re at with your Blended Learning knowledge or implemented strategies, know that it can take upwards of 2-3 years to fully transform your classroom to provide the individualized instruction that learners are craving — and that’s if your community is ready for it! The best advice I can give you is think big, start small, and go slow.

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Helping Teachers Recharge

Energy Level: Low or High?

As a school administrator, I conduct interviews each year to fill holes in the ever-evolving faculty at our school. Each time I meet a teacher candidate, I ask them many difficult questions about teaching pedagogy, classroom management, and lesson planning, however what I am really looking for is passion and energy. Have you ever met a teacher that absolutely loves teaching and wants to make a difference in the world? Their energy is contagious! A school administrator is always hopeful that this energy will rub off on any teachers who may forgotten why they became teachers in the first place. According to Shawn Achor‘s book “The Happiness Advantage,” your attitude can have a huge impact on how successful you will be in your given profession. Hiring passionate teachers can give your faculty a shot in the arm, but how can we help teachers who may be succumbing to the stress of the job?


As students deal with an increasingly stressful environments at home and school, programs like mindful schools have found their way into many American schools. According to, students are bombarded with toxic stress in today’s schools, but what about teachers? I would argue that with the demands that are placed on teachers in today’s classrooms that they need this type of program as much as the students do. Teachers will be unable to maintain a healthy level of passion for teaching if they do not employ strategies to deal with the stress that comes with the job. Shawn Achor recommends at least 5 minutes of daily meditation to raise levels of happiness, lower your stress, and even improve your immune system function.

Faculty Room Safe Haven

The faculty room is an important place in every school. This is where teachers come to diffuse some of the tense situations that they have been dealing with during the day. Our school’s faculty room was clean and functional, however some adjectives that new teachers had used to describe it have been subpar to say the least; “dark,” “a cabin,” “a dungeon,” and “Napoleon Dynamite’s basement.” No matter how you cut it, we understood that we needed to make a change. As we updated furniture, color, and other design aspects, we contemplated the question, “What kind of faculty room will reinvigorate our staff to go back outside and do their jobs with passion?” Our faculty decided to get rid of some furniture to simplify and organize the room. Next, they put up inspirational messages for teachers to view about teaching. Shawn Achor calls this “infusing positivity into your surroundings.” Now we hope our faculty room will be described as “fresh,” “positive,” and “fun.”

Random Acts of Kindness

My dad used to tell me as a kid that if I appeared unhappy, that it was because I was to busy thinking about myself. His advice has stuck with me to this day. Whenever I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and generally unhappy, my first go-to activity is to complete some random act of kindness. It can be giving a friend or family member a kind note, paying for someone’s groceries, or even providing people you work with an unexpected treat. This same strategy can be implemented in school settings with teachers and if you can create a culture where teachers perform random acts of kindness with each other, then your school will definitely be on their way to creating an environment that help your staff recharge.

Maintaining the Advantage

Ensuring that teachers deal with stress effectively while working in a positive environment, will help teachers maintain the competitive advantage that happy workers enjoy. Stress will never go away, so it is imperative that teachers understand effective strategies to mitigate the negative effects of stress in their lives. If teachers can develop habits to utilize strategies like these, then their battery will be recharged, their smiles will always be genuine, and their passion for teaching students will always be there.

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Gamification in the Classroom

What is Gamification?

Leveling, power-ups, leaderboards, badges, and guilds are the vernacular of the gaming industry, but not of the classroom, right? Well, not so fast. More and more teachers are using gamification techniques in their classrooms. When you first hear about gamification in the classroom, you might instantly envision students playing video games while at school, however Gabe Zichermann, an author and public speaker about gamification, defined gamification in his 2011 Ted Talk as, “the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems.” Game mechanics like leaderboards and badges are becoming more prevalent in classrooms, but it’s more than that. Gamification centers around giving students more opportunities to take risks, create, and explore in ways that are meaningful to them. Many adults understand why students enjoy video games, but why are teachers now joining the ranks?

Why Teachers are Exploring Gamification

If you ask any teacher in the trenches, they will tell you that students are not the same as they were 20 years ago. Children are now part of a generation that some have dubbed, “Generation G” due to their affinity for playing games featured online or on various platforms. This new generation is affecting culture and society — and its influence is making it’s way into the classroom. However, now that gamification strategies are being implemented in the workplace by companies, it’s not so far fetched. One reason that teachers are embracing this new strategy in the classroom is students are getting harder and harder to motivate in the classroom. The book “Blended – Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” cites a report that declares nearly half of students who drop out of school do so because they are bored. This study illustrates how student motivation is becoming a bigger problem in American schools. It’s not all about what’s bright and shiny though. Many teachers see benefits from gamification strategies in developing student focus, creativity, effort, and resilience in the classroom. With these reasons and more, teachers are taking a closer look at employing gamification strategies in the classroom.

Myths About Gamification

Perhaps adults and educators fear what they do not understand, however many misconceptions still remain about implementing gamification strategies in the classroom. In his book, “Explore like a Pirate,” Michael Matera discusses several myths that people believe about gamification. For instance, some critics assert that gamification does not allow for adequate rigor and relevance for students. Matera argues that the creativity, flexibility, and open-ended aspect of gamification strategies allows students to more readily think “outside the box” and thus create deeper learning experiences. Matera goes on to state that any teacher can implement gamification strategies in their classrooms regardless of personal gaming experience, curricular area that is taught, or lack of technology resources. Whether you are for or against gamification in the classroom, one thing is for sure — gaming continues to be a common connection point for students with their world.

Gamification: Where to Start?

For those teachers that are sold on implementing gamification strategies in their classrooms, the first question is where to begin. Some teachers may use gamification software like GameCraft or Classcraft to facilitate game mechanics and game thinking into the classroom, however it’s not necessary. Some teachers may choose to focus on implementing strategies like providing students badges for accomplishing academic tasks instead of providing a grade. Other teachers may choose to provide points for the completion of academic tasks that they can cash in for privileges within the classroom. Leaderboards can create a healthy competition or teachers may opt to just allow students the ability to create personal goals and then track them in a fun and visual way. No matter what strategy you choose to implement, if you end up making the classroom a more fun and engaging environment for your students, you will have accomplished one of the reasons that gamification is on the rise in today’s classrooms. Game on!

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Building a Culture of Personalized Learning

To Personalize or Not To Personalize

Every educator knows that students come to school comprised of different backgrounds, academic abilities, and talents. Yet, teachers continue to instruct in whole class methods that are a “one-size-fits-all” style of teaching. Maybe it stems from how universities continue to instruct our teacher’s using the same instructional methods that they have used for hundreds of years. Or maybe it’s because getting teachers to change how they instruct their students will be a tall order. Still maybe it’s because parents refuse to speak up to teachers about the specific needs of their child because they don’t want to be “that” parent. Regardless of the reason, personalized learning will never take hold in any education system until a culture of belief has been cultivated among all education stakeholders.

Building a Culture Among School Staff

At the heart of personalization is differentiated learning, however the word “differentiation” can leave a sour taste in a teacher’s math. Teachers have been overwhelmed in the past when trying to differentiate learning for students because without the proper technology it isn’t feasible. Now that we have better computer adaptive programs and technology that has the ability to analyze data instantly, teachers are better prepared to provide the personalized learning to each student craves and that they deserve. If you want to get teachers onboard with personalized learning, provide them digital tools that will make the arduous job easier. Secondly, if you want to make a teacher’s blood boil, just mention the word “faculty meeting.” The reason they hate faculty meetings is because it is the opposite of personalized learning. More often than not the principal is going over some policy or training that many of the teachers have had before. School leaders can build a culture of personalized learning by allowing teachers to choose the professional development they participate in during the school year. Faculty meetings are no longer met with drudgery, but they are an opportunity for teachers to be treated like professionals by respecting their time and only having them participate in professional development that they need. Do these few things, and your school staff will start to get behind personalizing learning for students.

Building a Culture Among Parents

As a school administrator, a common concern that I hear from parents is that their individual child’s needs are not being met. Yet parents are hesitant to have private conversations with teachers because they feel that personalization for their child isn’t feasible with the current enrollment of students for each classroom. Once the school administrator talks about how utilizing technology and changing teaching practices can try to address their child’s needs, then parents will be more accepting of the changes that must occur as school’s pursue a personalized learning environment. In stead of waiting for these conversations to naturally occur with parents, school leaders should organize a community event where a vision for a personalized learning can be shared. Videos about personalized learning can also be shared via social media with the community. As soon as parents catch the vision, your personalized learning movement will definitely pick up steam.

Building A Culture Among Students

Part of a child’s stereotypical dislike for school stems from being forced to relearn about concepts that they already know. A huge selling point to students personalized learning is giving them more freedom and choice over their education. What student wouldn’t want more control over their learning? As soon as students are able to begin directing their own learning, they will be your biggest fans of personalized learning. One way to really drive home your school’s commitment to personalized learning is to commit to classrooms with flexible seating. School leaders begin to tailor classroom environments (including furniture) around the needs and desires of the students. This outward demonstration of support for personalized learning will show students that the needs of an individual matter. The second thing that school leaders can do get students on board with personalized learning is to ensure that every child participates in a genius hour projects or passion projects. These projects center around allowing students the opportunity to learn about things that they actually want to learn about. Students without a doubt, will then be all about personalized learning.

Building a Culture Takes Time

Like anything worthwhile, developing a culture supportive of personalized learning can take time — like somewhere between 3 to 5 years. The most important thing that you can preach to all three stakeholder groups( parents, students, and school staff) is that building a personalized learning culture at your school will take time. Teachers will need to learn new strategies and they will need to adapt and refocus their instructional patterns. Students will need to get used to working more independently and having the teacher guide their instruction instead of “spoonfeed” students information. Lastly, parents will need to get used to their students being so excited to go to school! A culture of personalized learning will definitely take some time to develop, but it will be worth the wait.