Thanks PLN!

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect.  I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two great children.  I remind myself not to take that for granted.  No matter what challenges life may bring, your family is always there for you.

On a professional level, I am thankful for many of the great educators and colleagues I have met through Twitter.  Thanks to…

@Jonharper70bd for becoming an inspiring writer/blogger whose posts are elegant and poignant.

@RunnerBliss @KNESconnoisseur and @jaimer9578 for motivating me to become a better runner.

@WalterReap @lindamcToth and @rachelamstutz for making #mdeschat a successful professional development tool.

@psikeffer @MrCsajko @janercooper @Ms_Stover @missreed  and @Grade3withMissB for always adding great insight to the #mdeschat conversation.

@JessMuonio and @LTaylorELA for sending out tweets that make me laugh.

@buttercup01em and @MrsToal05 for using Twitter to connect with our school community.

@RHLeeESAACPS teachers who have embraced Twitter to connect with parents.

@PrincipalDerby @RegAMF42 and @MrMoxley for setting such a great example for how social media can enhance communication with parents and colleagues and also for their green school efforts and advocacy.

@nlattimore for being such an inspiring leader and Ravens fan!

and, finally…

to @ppw78 for her partnership and unwavering support!

I have certainly missed many others who make me a better person and educator.  Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to help me grow.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving, see you on Twitter!

Tips for successful parent-teacher conferences

November is parent/teacher conference month in many school districts across the United States.  Conferences give teachers the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting with parents and discuss student progress from the first quarter of the school year.  What should teachers remember as they prepare for conferences?  What should parents expect to learn from their conference?  I asked several principal colleagues to share their sage advice.

What is your best piece of advice for teachers as they prepare for conferences? 

Try to hear your message through the ears and hearts of the parents.  Parents send us their very best and whatever you are saying about their child you are saying about them, too. Be honest, be respectful, be kind. – Pat Keffer @psikeffer

Start with one positive, even if it seems like a stretch.  Listen to their concerns, but keep them on track. – Donna Usewick @dsusewick

Always start with a positive and don’t overwhelm parents with constructive feedback.  Pick a few things the student needs to work on (the big rocks) and focus on those items. Also, try to be specific about what they can do to positively influence the change needed. It is also helpful to provide some information about major curricular shifts within the Maryland College and Career Ready standards. – Jason Otte  @fishingfan24

I encourage teachers to have a written plan for what they want to share and be consistent with all parents – share something positive (a snapshot of their child during the school day), areas of concern, how the parent can provide support at home, and offer an opportunity for questions.  Student work should also be available for the parent to review.  Above all, it is important for the teacher to be positive and engage the parents as partners in their child’s education. – Sue Myers @SueMyers1984

Come prepared—jot down notes before the conference about the child that include positives and opportunities for growth.  While we want to celebrate all students’ successes and special traits, we want to encourage growth in all students.  Providing parents with specific strategies and areas to focus on supports student learning and pulls parents into the magic of learning. – Rachel Amstutz @rachelamstutz

Be prepared.  Make sure you know the student themselves, not just the work they do.  Rehearse what you are going to share about school wide initiatives. -Amanda Salveron @APACSalveron

What should parents expect to learn from their conference with the teacher?

Parents should understand the strengths of their child as well as the areas of need…academically and socially, and specifically how the parents can help and support. This would require an understanding of the expectations that the teacher has for the child and class, again, academically and socially. – Pat Keffer @psikeffer

Parents should have a good overall picture of progress.  Teachers need to make sure that parents know that this is 10 or 15 minute conversation and that constant communication is the key. – Donna Usewick @dsusewick

It would be my hope that parents would walk away feeling positive, with a better understanding of what specifically their child needs to work on, as well as some information about major educational shifts that could impact their child. – Jason Otte @fishingfan24

Parents should expect to learn their child’s current skill level in all academic areas as well as specific strengths and next steps.  Expect to leave with strategies to begin using immediately at home to help move your child to the next level! –Rachel Amstutz @rachelamstutz

Parents should learn about what the teacher is doing to meet the needs of their individual student.  They should also learn how they can be supportive of their student at home. – Amanda Salveron @APACSalveron

Conferences can be a stressful event for parents.  Here are some final tips to help reduce anxiety as parents prepare for their conference:

• Ask your child if there is anything that s/he would like you to discuss with the teacher
• Jot down notes on what you would like to discuss at the conference
• Arrive promptly or a few minutes early
• Begin with positive comments about the teacher or classroom
• Be open-minded to suggestions from the teacher
• Take notes about what is discussed to share with your child
• Express appreciation for the conference
• Keep to the allotted amount of time


Thanks to my awesome PLN for providing great advice about parent-teacher conferences!


An ineffective way to look at teachers

Liz Bowie’s recent reporting on Maryland’s teacher evaluation system (Where ineffective teachers are found, November 2, 2014) raises many questions.  Bowie’s investigative report contains several quotes from Sandi Jacobs, the vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.  The NCTQ is a Washington think tank with a clear political agenda that is anti-teacher and highly critical of teacher education programs across the United States.  Their advisory committee includes Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, two former school system czars who share a dislike for teachers, principals, and their unions.

Jacobs questions the expertise of school leaders by suggesting that they are unwilling to have “difficult conversations” with ineffective teachers.  She implies that school leaders have not been trained to assess teachers and are not asked to be instructional leaders.  Bowie’s report ends by stating that economists believe that the percentage of ineffective teachers should be somewhere between 15–20 percent.

Liz Bowie’s article leaves the reader believing that Maryland’s teacher rating system is insufficient and that there are many ineffective teachers out there who are being rated higher than they deserve.  The article also suggests that Maryland principals are to blame.  While few educators or administrators believe that the current teacher evaluation system is perfect, many believe in the need for accountability.  Teachers and principals understand the focus on student performance and its connection to evaluation.

Several states have struggled to develop fair, value-added measures to quantify a profession that is part art and part science.  Maryland will continue to refine its teacher evaluation model and its school districts will adjust accordingly.  Hopefully, Maryland’s education system will never be run by economists.  I would be uneasy working in a state or school district that considers 15-20 percent an acceptable number for ineffective teachers.

Economists and meteorologists have similar records of success when it comes to forecasting. School leaders cannot afford to use guesswork when developing highly effective teachers.  They do not think about percentages, they think about people.  Great principals support and develop great teachers.  They also spend time counseling ineffective teachers out of the profession.  That alone accounts for the low percentage of ineffective teachers in the profession.

What percentage of ineffective teachers is acceptable?  The answer has to be zero.  Try the same question with other professions.  Air traffic controllers?  Physicians?  News reporters? Politicians? Police officers?  Rather than questioning whether three percent is too low, we should be working to make sure that no ineffective teacher ever stands in front of our children.

An edited version of this post appeared in the Baltimore Sun’s Readers Respond section on November 5, 2014, all rights reserved.