Get Ready for Parent-Teacher Conferences

parent teacher conferenceFor some parents and teachers, conference time is an uncomfortable, awkward or stressful exchange of information. But it doesn’t have to be. With a little preparation, you can turn your parent-teacher conference into a productive dialogue that actually helps your child.

Most public schools today sandwich parent-teacher conferences into a revolving door of fifteen-minute blocks. Knowing you’re one of 12 meetings in 3 hours or that the next-in-line parent is peering through the classroom door window waiting their turn is not the ideal situation to build connections with your child’s teacher. But a parent-teacher conference is an important touch point. Making time to attend the meeting also sends a critical message to your kids – and their teachers – that you’re involved with and care about your child’s education.

If you can’t make the proposed conference times, email the teacher and politely request another option. By union contract, parents must have access to their child’s teacher to discuss academic progress at a time that mutually works for both of you – and it must be conducted in the parent’s preferred language.

auditory kidListen Well and Respect Both Experts

As the parent, you have in-depth knowledge of your child that a teacher can’t possibly acquire in a few weeks or months. Remember, you are your child’s first teacher. You’re the expert on his strengths, quirks, and what makes her tick. On the flip side, your child’s teacher is trained to know what is socially, emotionally, and academically appropriate at this grade level and knows your child best in a group setting. Respect both positions and listen carefully. Take notes. Listen to what is said and what is not said. The more sharing that happens – the more candid and respectful the dialogue between teacher and parent – the more likely your child will thrive this school year.

P3Use P3: What Positive, Professional and Persistent looks like:

If you follow the Power of P3, you’re more likely to get your concerns addressed and your child’s needs met. Start out POSITIVE (I’m confident we can resolve this situation together; or Luke loves it when you use baseball examples in class). Be PROFESSIONAL (Polite and Respectful in your Observations and Feelings). This means keeping your language focused on your child’s feelings or your own feelings and observations rather than what the teacher or another child is doing or not doing. (I’m concerned…Aidan is feeling overwhelmed…Jamie seems to be struggling with the reading homework….Henry doesn’t feel safe in the cafeteria…Kara is very unhappy with her seat change). Finally, be PERSISTENT when necessary. P3 doesn’t mean you are superficial or avoid problems. It’s a tool that helps you bring up issues so teachers hear your concerns and take action rather than feel blamed and defend their previous actions.

Here are some questions to keep things positive and focused on solutions for your child vs. criticizing or attacking the teacher. I’ve organized them into three groups depending on whether your child is 1) doing well, 2) struggling, or 3) needing more of a challenge. Not all kids fall cleanly into one group. If you have a specific concern you know you want to talk about, send a short email to your child’s teacher in advance. Teachers appreciate a focused discussion as much as you do.

teacher talking to paretnsFor the Child Doing “Fine”:

  • Jackie is doing well academically; how is she doing socially?
  • Do Jake’s classmates see him as a leader or a follower? How is he getting along with his friends? Is their one child he is spending more time with?
  • I’m wondering if Rachel is performing up to her ability; how can we be sure?
  • Do you see any area that Harry can improve upon? What makes him spark?
  • Do you have a sense of Mollie’s work ethic? Her attitude toward learning?
  • What are Joe’s strengths? Weaknesses? What subjects does he gravitate toward?
  • Have you noticed any other interests that could be encouraged?
  • If Morgan was your child, what would you ask that I haven’t?

teacher talking to momFor the Child Struggling:

  • I’d like to understand the grade level that Jamie is performing at in reading (or math) and how that compares to grade-level benchmarks.
  • How often are reading fluency tests given? May I see the results for the past year (s)?
  • What do you see as the problems or factors contributing to this situation?
  • Does Luke stay focused or does he need frequent reminders to finish his work?
  • What other support does the school offer if Sarah is not on a special plan?
  • What kind of reading instruction support does Sam need? Is it in phonics, fluency, or comprehension? Does the support he gets now focus on this specific area?
  • At what point would Lucy be tested? What is involved in the testing?
  • What can we do at home to support these efforts? How often should we do this?
  • I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Jill doesn’t fall further behind?
  • What strengths does Connor have that we can tap to shore up weaknesses?
  • How does Alex work in small groups? Does she participate in class?
  • When can we meet again to monitor and follow-up on Chris’ progress?

dad talaking to teacherFor the Child Who Needs More Challenge:

  • We’ve noticed Abby finishes her homework quickly; are you seeing this in class?
  • We’re feeling that Philip may need some additional challenges? What are your thoughts on that?
  • What subjects does Annie excel in and what areas can she improve upon?
  • What can I do as a parent at home to support Mathew’s curiosity in science?
  • How is Andrew socially? Does he participate in class? How do his friends interact with him?
  • Is Tamika a candidate for the school’s gifted program? Should she be tested?
  • Do you see kids that Charlie might be grouped with so he is more challenged?
  • If there is disagreement: I’d like to offer my point of view on why I disagree with this assessment of Julia. Could you help me better understand your point of view?

ptconference cartoonIf your discussion has focused on taking action for your child’s struggles or providing more challenge, then a follow-up meeting may be in order. It might make sense to set up monthly touch points until you’re feeling more comfortable that your child is on track. Or dialogue by email. Do what feels right in your gut and what works for both you and the teacher. But don’t let issues slide; they’ll only get worse.

Much of your success in being involved with your child’s education hinges on how effectively you communicate with the teachers and school staff. If you communicate in a positive, professional way, keeping the focus on your child’s feelings and needs, you are more likely to be successful.  If you don’t succeed the first time around, reevaluate and be persistent. Follow up in a positive, professional way using a slightly different approach. Remember that educators, like parents, are busy people. Give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. If they don’t, put the Power of P3 to use again. You’ll find if you do this consistently, your efforts will pay off, and your child will thrive.

For more information on parent involvement, or to buy The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, visit www.theparentbackpack.com.

Book Tour Half Way Point



Parent Backpack 2 coverToday feels like one big Wednesday for me.

I’m halfway through my fall book tour for The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade  - completing my ninth out of 18 talks this week. It’s been energizing to see so many parents engaged in their kids’ education. While each talk has been different – from bookstores to schools to libraries – the questions that bubble up are similar, so I thought I’d share some of them here.

One question that comes up more than any other is, “Should I talk to the teacher about this (insert situation) – and if yes, how do I do that???”

The situations range from “my son doesn’t want to go to school in the morning,” or “my child is feeling bullied by some kids at lunch,” to “my daughter is really distracted by what’s going on in the classroom,” or “my son has become friends with a kid who’s not a good influence.” In most cases, if a situation or an issue has caused you to ask yourself more than once, “should I mention this to the teacher?” then the answer is probably “yes.” But how you go about this makes a difference.

Teachers want to know

Most teachers appreciate a heads up when something isn’t going well, feels out of sync, or is causing your child stress. More often than not, this “something” falls in a child’s social-emotional world. And that’s ok because the social/emotional part of school is just as important as academics. When kids feel disconnected socially or emotionally, their learning suffers. Teachers know this and would prefer to hear your concerns sooner than later so they can work to resolve the situation before it becomes a bigger, more complicated issue.

How to bring it up

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve read or heard about the Power of P3 (chapter 5 of my book – Words that Work with Teachers). P 3 means being Positive, PROFessional and Persistent so your child’s teacher hears your concerns and takes action rather than feels attacked and defends prior actions.

P3Start out with a Positive statement (I’m concerned about x, and I’m confident we can work this out), be Polite and Respectful in your Observations and Feelings (PROFessional) and keep them focused on your child (Alex feels anxious about coming to school, Sam doesn’t feel safe at lunch, Lindsey feels overwhelmed in the classroom and can’t focus on her work, I’m concerned about Jake’s new friendship) and be Persistent in following up as needed (using P3 each time).

If you’re fuming mad about something related to school and your child, it’s ok to get it all down in an email – but don’t send it to the teacher.  Convey your thoughts to your spouse, a trusted friend, or your mom. It’s important to channel your own emotions first so you can refocus your energy on communicating effectively with the teacher. If you do send an email, use P3 and keep it brief. Emails are best to give a heads up, resolve a simple situation, or to agree on a time to talk about an issue, if needed.

Common Core

You may have heard about changing curriculum in your child’s school. The Common Core is basically a new set of standards that 45 out of 50 states have adopted for math and literacy, from K-12.  This means the majority of kids in the country will now be taught the same knowledge in each grade but the strategies and materials schools and teachers use to teach these standards will vary by district. Some of the changes you’ll see in your child’s work this year will be more writing, more non-fiction reading and more understanding in math (show how you got this answer).

The Common Core will also trigger new standardized tests. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, your child will take a test called PARCC or Smarter Balanced depending on which state you live in, which will replace the state by state tests.  For more information about the Common Core, click here.

The Parent Tool Kit

This past week, ABC ran their annual program, Education Nation.  While often criticized for being political and driven by Bill Gates and Pearson Testing, this program does offer some good perspective on the state of education in our country. This year, Education Nation provided a Parent Tool Kit that some parents have asked me about.

If you dare to check out the Common Core website, you’d come away with your head spinning. The Parent Tool Kit gives parents a terrific user-friendly summary of what kids will be expected to know at each grade level in math and literacy – and what you can do to support this learning. But I offer one caveat:

Making connections at home to what our kids are learning in school is one of the most important things we can do to enhance learning. But be careful that those connections don’t become another lesson. Keep them fun and casual – one statement that reiterates what the teacher states in a newsletter, a question about a book your child is reading, or helping your kids memorize math facts are all good supports. Drilling your children on each benchmark listed before they complete a grade or making a check list of what they know and don’t know will turn kids off and demotivate learning.

IMG_1511And remember to praise progress and effort over grades or outcome. This is another topic I talk about that has many parents shaking their heads in agreement. If you’re interested in attending a talk on The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you’ll find my book talk schedule here. Hope to see you soon!

 

A Parent Quiz on Schools & Education

 

I was thrilled that The Boston Globe asked me to write a quiz on parent involvement in education. It appeared in the September 14th edition of their G  magazine. I’ve posted it here so you can test yourself.

And yes…the answers are included:

 

By ML Nichols

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

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During the school year, it’s the most-asked question in American homes, echoed by millions of parents, five days a week: “How was school today?,” usually followed by “Is your homework done yet?” And the inevitable, droning answers: “Fine.” “Nope.”

At this point, some tired families acquiesce; others brace for homework meltdowns; and still others jump in and overdo it.

Most parents know it’s important to participate in their children’s education, and scores of studies from major American universities support the finding that kids do better in school when their parents are involved. But what does getting involved actually mean? What’s the best way to connect to your child’s learning with the little time you have? How do you help your kids succeed in school without getting too close to the process?

While our children soon will sweat through their initial benchmark tests, it’s only fair that parents take their own back-to-school quiz. How do you score when it comes to being involved in your child’s education? Take this test and see.

 1. Three of the following statements are true. Which one is false?

a. Teachers hold higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their education.

b. Reinforcing at home what your kids are learning in school has a greater impact on their education than attending a fund-raising activity.

c. It’s helpful when parents correct their child’s homework before they turn it in.

d. The gifts teachers appreciate most are thank-you notes from parents or students and classroom wish-list supplies.

 

Answer: c. Correcting your child’s homework gives teachers a false impression and ultimately hurts your child; teachers use homework to gauge which students need more instruction, which are ready to move on, and whether the lesson was effective.

 

2. The best strategy for raising a child who likes to read is to:

a. Remove all picture books from your child’s bookshelves.

b. Introduce a phonics-based program to your child before kindergarten.

c. Prod your child up the ladder of early readers through first grade.

d. Read to, with, and in front of your child at least 15 minutes every day until they’re in middle school.

 

Answer: d. Research confirms that reading daily (anything — books, magazines, sports pages) with your child in a fun, bonding, and expressive way is the most important thing you can do because kids will associate reading with pleasure.

 

3. New brain studies indicate the most effective way to study for a test is to:

a. Highlight key facts and read the material over multiple times.

b. Write out the concept or questions with answers and examples in your own words; quiz yourself regularly for at least a week before the test.

c. Review the answers at the back of the chapter orally.

d. Both a. and c.

 

Answer: b. Because the brain is a muscle that grows stronger with use, having students write out questions, then retrieve information and connect the dots repeatedly is more effective than passively reading or listening.

 

4. New public-school standards for learning (called the Common Core State Standards Initiative) will launch this fall in Massachusetts. What changes will this trigger in your child’s curriculum?

a. More nonfiction reading and persuasive writing in all grades.

b. Showing more work in solving math problems.

c. A higher level of critical thinking and deeper understanding.

d. A new standardized test in English and math.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. The initiative, which has been fully adopted by 45 states, seeks to standardize and improve education across the nation.Common Core benchmarks will be supported by one of two new standardized tests in the 2014-15 school year.

 

5. Which of the following strategies will not help you build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher?

a. Filling out forms and permission slips on time.

b. Reading the class newsletters and reiterating key messages at home.

c. Making sure homework is finished every day.

d. Sending the teacher a comprehensive e-mail detailing a problem along with your proposed solution.

e. Volunteering to help in the classroom or with trips when possible.

 

Answer: d. E-mail is not an effective way to discuss issues. When there’s a conflict with your child that needs to be resolved, send a brief e-mail to the teacher stating your concern, your questions, and a request to talk or meet.

 

6. Match up learning style with corresponding characteristics. Which characteristics are associated with: visual (spatial) learners, physical (kinesthetic) learners, and auditory (language) learners?

a. Process and learn through what they hear; they prefer to verbalize ideas.

b. Learn best through images and words they see; they tend to notice details.

c. Learn best by what they do and experience; they prefer hands-on projects.

 

Answer: Visual learners learn best through (b.) images and creating pictures in their mind; physical-kinesthetic learners like to (c.) touch, feel, and use their hands; auditory learners learn by (a.) what they hear and prefer to recite spelling words orally. Most children learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one style. Understanding how your child learns can help you support homework, projects, and studying.

 

7. Overloaded school backpacks cause more than 20,000 back injuries per year. Which statement is not true? The ideal student backpack should:

a. Weigh no more than 10-15 percent of your child’s total body weight when packed.

b. Have wide padded shoulder straps and a hip strap to distribute weight.

c. Not hang below the waist or hip line.

d. Include wheels so it can be pulled around school or carried.

e. Keep the heaviest books closest to the back.

 

Answer: d. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they’re a hazard in crowded hallways.

 

8. Praising hard work and effort leads to a more confident, competent child. True or false?

Answer: True. Research shows that simply praising a child’s “smarts” is counterproductive because the child may develop fear that they could lose their “smart” label if they fall short on difficult challenges — and begin avoiding them. Praising progress and hard work motivates kids because effort is a factor they can control, and it reinforces the message that learning and improvement is achievable.

 

9. Which statements are true about fueling your child’s brain and body?

a. An overload of simple carbohydrates (sugar cereals, juice, junk food) negatively affects concentration and behavior.

b. Some research suggests foods like blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, fish, eggs, whole grains, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds may enhance your child’s brainpower.

c. Chemicals released during exercise help improve concentration, motivation, and learning.

d. Elementary age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night; teens need 9.25 hours to optimize learning.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. Diet, exercise and sleep affect your child’s ability to process, learn, and retrieve information.

 

10. Which three statements or questions are more likely to result in a constructive conversation with a teacher?

a. “What are you doing to stop that bully from beating on my child?”

b. “I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Emily doesn’t fall further behind?”

c. “I know many other parents in this class who feel the same way I do.”

d. “Sam feels intimidated on the playground; he doesn’t feel safe at lunch.”

e. “We’ve noticed Alex finishes her homework very quickly; are you seeing this in class?”

 

Answer: b, d, e. Keep communication positive and professional by sharing your child’s feelings, behaviors, or your own observations. When teachers feel accused or blamed, they are more likely to focus on defending their actions instead of helping your child.

 

11. Which strategies help minimize homework meltdowns:

a. Help your child break down work into sections so it’s not so overwhelming.

b. Carve out time for play or unstructured activities so your kids can process their busy day.

c. Alert teachers if your child’s homework takes far more time than the accepted 10 minutes per grade (e.g., 40 minutes, fourth grade) without breaks.

d. Encourage your kids to use online videos and podcasts and also their siblings to explain or reinforce lessons rather than mom or dad.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. In addition to involving your child in the decision about where and when homework is done and providing a well-stocked homework supply bin, all these strategies will help keep thingson a positive track.

 

12. What are the two best ways to help kids stay organized for the school year?

a. Preview, review, and remind — but don’t rescue.

b. Invest in an agenda notebook in first grade, so they begin writing in a calendar and develop early habits.

c. Pack your child’s backpack before school and clean it out each week so they have a fresh start.

d. Display visuals that show kids what a clean desk, backpack, picked-up room, and “ready to go” look like.

 

Answer: a, d. Many kids need to make mistakes before they can take full responsibility for their schoolwork and belongings. Don’t do for your child what they can do. Even 6-year-olds can pack their own backpacks.

 

If you got 11 or 12 answers correct, congratulations! You’re doing a terrific job of supporting your child’s education. If you answered eight to 10 questions correct, don’t fret, because most parents are right here with you. If you managed seven or fewer, the good news is that you probably picked up some tips to give you a hand in helping to make your child a better student. And the beginning of the school year marks a great time to start.

ML Nichols lives on the South Shore and is director of The Parent Connection, a nonprofit parent-education group. She is also author of “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How To Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.’’

Understanding Learning Styles

learning styles

 

 

 

 

Ever wonder why one of your kids can recite spelling words orally while another needs to write them down?

It’s because we humans use different senses to process information - better known as learning styles.

Understanding and honoring how your child learns can make a big difference, at school and at home. A learning style refers to how a person best processes and comprehends information. A child’s learning style also affects listening skills, comprehension, homework, and studying skills. Showing your kids how to tap their strengths as a learner is a skill they’ll keep for a lifetime.

Three primary types of learning styles  – visual-spatial, auditory-language, and kinesthetic-physical – are widely recognized based on the original research by David Kolb. Most children (and adults) learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one type. See if you can recognize your child in one or more of these learning styles.

    Visual-Spatial Learners remember best through what they see. They visualize words as images and learn best through pictures – creating an image or watching a video. They tend to like charts, diagrams, maps and puzzles. Visual learners prefer to write things down and watch rather than talk or act in class. The can be well–organized and tend to like reading. They usually notice details. They may lose patience when oral explanations go on too long. learningThey are sometimes accused of daydreaming in class as they visualize what they are hearing or thinking. Telling a young visual learner we’re leaving in 10 minutes will not be processed as well as showing them on the clock that when the big hand gets on the 6 we are leaving.

Visual learners study best by flashcards, creating pictures in their mind, writing out questions and answers, and making lists. They will usually need to write out spelling words when tested.

    Auditory-Language Learners process best through what they hear. They think in words and sounds and prefer to verbalize ideas. They still need to hear things more than once but are more apt to retain what they hear by repeating it to themselves. They’re more likely to remember jokes and have an excellent memory for dates, names, faces and trivia. Auditory learners usually like word games and prefer to listen to books while reading auditory kidalong. They can be heard talking to themselves, humming or whispering while they read. They participate in class discussions and often find noise distracting because they are processing it all.
Auditory learners like to be quizzed on spelling words orally. But it’s also a good idea to give them a written pre-test so they can adjust to writing down the words on class tests. Let them know it’s ok to whisper the letters aloud as they write. They enjoy hearing facts and words in a rhythmic song or acronym so they can process it better.

    Kinesthetic  – Physical Learners learn best by what they do and experience. They like to move around and are not able to sit still for long. They tend to lose interest if they’re not actively involved in doing something physical. They like to touch, feel, and use their hands to process information and learn best through experiential, hands on activities. Kinesthetic learners often need physical stimulation like chewing gum, rocking or walking around. They are sometimes labeled ADHD (even when they’re not) and tend to be naturally athletic. Kinesthetic learners prefer books with action and may find the act of writing notes helpful during a lesson because it keeps them physically busy.kinesthetic

They are more likely to get through homework with fewer battles if it’s broken up into chunks. Maybe 10-15 minutes before soccer practice and then another 10-15 minutes after. This may not be ideal for a parent who wants it done before the next activity, but it taps a child’s learning style.

Remember, most children (and adults) learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one style. If you’re having trouble identifying your child’s approach to learning, take this quiz with your child. Once you fully understand how your child learns, share this information with their teachers – especially if you sense the teacher and your child are not connecting. Share examples you’ve used that help you connect with your child. You can do this on the forms that the school sends out, in a note, or face to face.

An effective teacher will teach using a combination of styles. Keep in mind it’s important for kids to be able to adapt to other styles of learning and processing. As they get older, their learning styles will also begin to evolve.

Now that you’ve got your kids figured out, what’s your style of learning?

 

Pinch me! Parents magazine features The Parent Backpack!

IMG_1349WOW!! Really? 

I can’t believe I’m reading a review of The Parent Backpack in Parents Magazine!

Can I get any luckier? Here’s what Parents magazine writer Kristen Kemp wrote on page 18 of the September back-to-school issue:
 
Every so often, I run across a book so good it belongs on every family’s shelf. That’s the case with The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.
Author ML Nichols, director of nonprofit The Parent Connection, has written a guide for surviving and thriving in elementary school. She explains the system – from testing to special education to how administrators choose your kids’ next teacher. Best of all, she outlines whet to expect academically at different ages, defines fancy edu-terms, and offers advice for advocating for your child. Hopefully, you won’t need to contact the teacher and principal often – bit if you do, this book provides fantastic strategies.
THANK YOU Parents magazine and Kristen Kemp for this awesome review! And thank you, once again, to all the amazing teachers, parents, writers, friends and family who helped me make this book the best it could be. This would not have happened without you!

 

These next couple weeks will be exciting and nerve-wracking as kids and parents face a new school year. If you’d like to take a peek at the first chapter of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you can do that here on my “Look Inside” pages. 

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy for yourself or someone you know, click on any outlet in the top right corner of this page. The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is available in paperback or as an e-book.

Still pinching myself…

 

ML

 

 

 

First Book Reviews In

The Parent Backpack, by ML Nichols

 

 

There’s nothing more nerve wracking as an author than waiting for reviews and endorsements of your book to come in. It’s a grueling, stressful roller-coaster ride of the worst kind.

You write and research for over a year hoping at least a few people will find your book worthy of reading. Then a couple months before your book comes out, your publisher sends the almost finished “pages” to the reviewers – and other authors who may want to read it – or not. And then once they read it, they decide if they want to provide a few words about the book – a “blurb” as they call it in the business. [Read more...]

Getting Kids Organized

I’ve been there. Maybe you have too.

You walk into a neighbor or friend’s home and think, “Ugh. How can this house look immaculate when she has three kids and works full time!?”

What keeps that home so together is a trait called “executive functioning.” It’s a skill – planning, organizing and completing simple or complex tasks – that some of us have more DNA for than others.backpack messIt’s also a trait that our children inherit that either wrecks havoc on schoolwork, desks, and backpacks – or propels them straight to the exemplary column. [Read more...]

From Blog to Book

It’s been a while.

And although I haven’t been blogging these past few months, I have been busy writing every day. Writing my book – The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5.  It’s the book I couldn’t find when my oldest started kindergarten 11 years ago.

The Parent Back Pack - by ML NicholsI’m excited to announce that [Read more...]