Category Archives: Parents

Poverty and Relationships

I haven’t blogged in ages. National Boards is sucking the life out of me, and I fear sometimes out of my teaching as well. But I think (or maybe hope?) it is supposed to make you feel that way. Ah well. I’ve still been learning a lot lately, and I’ll plan on updating about that learning over the next few weeks.

About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending (for the third time) a training on Ruby Payne‘s research on poverty. It’s absolutely fascinating. If you have not read A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I’d really encourage you to do so. It’s an easy read, and I really think it’s applicable for anyone with any job, but if you teach kids in poverty, you’ll learn so much that can dramatically improve your practice!

Payne explains that poverty is not just defined as people at or below a certain income level. Poverty is a lack of resources including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual/hope for the future, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and formal register.

For people living in poverty due to lack of resources, their greatest value is relationships. In the middle class, we value achievement. We see it as our ticket to successful lives, and since we live in a predominantly middle class world, achievement is the ticket to success for most of us. Achieving makes us proud of ourselves. It makes us proud of our children, students, and loved ones. It’s really what school is all about.  But in poverty, relationships take that role. Relationships are the ticket to successful lives in poverty. If someone threatens you, you need relationships … people to have your back. If the money runs out, you need relationships … someone to allow you to stay with them. Payne explains this all so much better in her book, but you get the idea.

So for people like me who teach middle school kids living in poverty, this is so important. We know from science that adolescents are driven by biology to seek out and pursue relationships. Their brains process the need for relationships much in the same way as their brains process their need for food and water. They feel as if they’ll quite literally die without them. If you spend any time at all around adolescents, this should make sense. They’re not just being dramatic. It’s hard-wired. So then how much more should we focus on relationships if we teach adolescents growing up in poverty?

A key to building appropriate relationships with students is developing mutual respect. In the workbook that accompanies A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne details 15 behaviors teachers can practice to build relationships and develop mutual respect with students. They aren’t necessarily what you’d think … at least not what I’d think.

1. Calls on everyone in the room equitably.

2. Provides individual help.

3. Gives wait time (allows students enough time to answer).

4. Asks questions to give students clues about the answer.

5. Asks questions that require more thought.

6. Tells students whether their answers are right or wrong.

7. Gives specific praise.

8. Gives reasons for praise.

9. Listens.

10. Accepts feelings of student.

11. Gets within an arm’s reach of each student each day.

12. Is courteous to students.

13. Shows personal interest or gives compliments.

14. Touches students (appropriately).

15. Desists (does not call attention to every negative behavior).

These are things I need constant reminders of. I need to hang them up in my classroom or something. I hope you can find them applicable. Every time I examine them, I realize improvements I need to make in the way I deal with my students.

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Filed under Classroom Management, Parents

The Importance of Reading at Home

This picture has been floating around Pinterest. My program coach emailed it to our staff today and had it translated into Spanish, so we can share it with parents at conferences this week. It’s pretty powerful.

Of course, I’d like to add that we get a lot more bang for our buck when kids read at their independent levels. I think it’s so important that we tell our kids their levels and teach them how to choose books appropriately.

I take my kids to the school library and show them how to look up Lexile levels on books. My kids know their Lexiles and readability scores (San Diego Quick). My only homework assignment is a reading log. However, it’s more than just a record of what students are reading. They practice their elements of literature on comprehension skills with their home reading. They may cheat and not read the entire 20 minutes, but they have to at least read enough to say, determine the point of view, write about its effect, and find quotes to validate their answers.

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Filed under Homework, Parents, Student Data

Student Led Parent-Teacher Conferences

It’s almost that time again! The emotional roller coaster of parent-teacher conferences. I actually enjoy parent-teacher conferences quite a bit, but they are draining! I’m preparing for our conferences next week by going to bed early tonight. 🙂 But I also prepared with my students yesterday.

My team uses student-led conferences. Students come with their parents, sit with their teachers (one at a time), and they proceed to talk about their grades, behavior, reading level, etc. to their parents. Teachers are there to support and add any information that’s omitted or that students have trouble explaining (like what a Lexile is).

How does this happen? Through simple, easy preparation. Today, I printed detailed progress reports from  my gradebook for 1st quarter. I handed them out and gave students a reflection sheet. They answered 5 questions:
1.  What was your grade in language arts?
2.  How do you feel about your grade?
3.  What did you do to earn your grade?
4.  What will you do to improve/maintain your grade?
5.  What have you accomplished this year that you are proud of?

I also include a space for additional comments/ points of discussion. I glanced through and students wrote they wanted to talk to their parents about their behavior, about how to improve their Lexiles, about how they are “off task in class” (Yes, students do take responsibility for their actions if you push them to!) Other students wrote things like “Tell my parents they should take me to McDonald’s for getting an A”. Either way, it’s nice to give kids a voice.

I love student-led conferences because they are so meaningful. Even if some of your students’ parents through no fault of their own are so overwhelmed with everything else in their lives, the students take responsibility for their grade and behavior in front of you and other significant adults in their lives. This also makes life easier for teachers because parents hear about their kids’ shortcomings and successes from their kids. So the blame and the praise go where they belong … with the students!

I’d love to hear about what you do for parent-teacher conferences … succcesses and challenges!

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Filed under Parents, Student Data, Uncategorized