Family Feedback


Recently I’ve seen a lot on social media about how educators want to feel like they have a voice.  They want their knowledge to be valued.  They want to be heard.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m an educator (and human being) and, like many, I get frustrated when I don’t feel heard.  Keeping this in mind, I make an effort to reach out to my students and their families throughout the year so they feel heard.  Can I improve in this area? Always.  Absolutely.  But I would like to share one way I get feedback from my families.

About halfway through each school year, I send home a form for families to fill out.  The feedback offers a different perspective and also helps me to grow tremendously.  I keep the form pretty open-ended on purpose.  Here are the items on the form…

  1. Please describe anything I am doing that you think is helpful for your student and/or you.
  2. Please describe something that you wish I could do differently, do better, or even start doing.
  3. Please add any additional comments you may have.

Each year families take the time to give me valuable feedback.  I’m able to incorporate and address things I might not have previously thought about or seen.  It makes me reflect on why I do certain things and I know every year I am better because of the feedback I receive.


Tell Me How You Really Feel. No, Really!

As I sit here on this first week of summer and dream of all of the things I’d like to accomplish for my incoming class before they arrive in September, I pull out my student feedback forms.  My kids are real with me.  They always tell me how it is.  I read through each form from the previous school year and nothing surprises me.  I should rephrase that.  Nothing my students wrote surprises me.  But what does surprise me year after year (I should really expect it by now) is how insightful eleven and twelve year olds are.  I mean they notice everything and their feedback is on point.  The feedback form says:

  • Please describe anything I do that is helpful to your learning.
  • Please describe something that you wish I could do differently, do better, or even start doing.
  • Please pick a color that best matches how you feel your relationship with me as a teacher is… (Choices are green, yellow and red and each is listed with an explanation). *Borrowed and applied idea from an activity RCA staff does.*
  • Explain why you picked green, yellow or red. Is it something I am doing that is helping or hurting the relationship or is it something you are doing that is hurting or helping the relationship? *This one isn’t for a blame game. I’ll know how to problem solve with this knowledge.*
  • Please add any more comments you may have below.

I always wait to read the comments on a day when I feel like I have tough skin.  Kids are honest and I want to make sure I can follow through on my promise not to hold anything against them.  I read my students’ thoughts and am continually amazed at how much they help me improve year after year.

Spiraling Towards Success

Spiraling Towards Success

As a teacher of writers, I always struggled with one thing.  Students felt like writing was overwhelming when it really didn’t need to be.  In the past I taught all traits in each writing unit.  For example, we’d start with memoirs and by the end of the unit the goal was for students to master all traits within memoir writing.  Then we’d begin the expository unit etc.  I witnessed students who tried to focus on too many things at once.  They mastered few of them and I knew I had to do something.

So, I decided to restructure my units.  I created much smaller mini-units based on various traits of writing.  My goal was to give students the idea that in each unit, they had just one thing they needed to master.  I’ll oversimplify the process.  First we start with details.  My writers learn how to use details in story writing, then expository writing and persuasive writing.  Next we start our cycle again.  We review what writers do to add details before we begin.  This reminds my writers of previous lessons and communicates the expectation that, as writers, they should be using that knowledge as they move forward.  Then, I focus my lessons on organization.  The students show what they know about details and organization as they write stories, expository texts and persuasive pieces again.  The cycle continues and we add a layer to their writing with each round that passes.  It’s important to note this is how I structure my mini-lessons.  If I see an issue I’d like to address with a student about something other than the trait we’re currently focused on, I can still do so.

Not only are students writing far more pieces than I ever had them write before, but they are focused and confident.  I can be more creative with the writing projects too. Once we enter the second cycle of writing, it also gives me an extra chance to meet with writers who didn’t quite understand something the first time around.  I’ve seen my writers retain much more because it’s not a one project and done type of situation for each genre.  It has been a work in progress for at least three years (and counting).  Stay tuned… I have so much more to come on this topic!

Reading Record, Rinse, Repeat

Running Record

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m a bit of sucker for reading records.  I love the organization behind them and the information they give me about my readers gets me very excited.  But, let’s be honest, I don’t always have pre-printed recording pages available.  Enter, running records! Did you hear me just groan?  Call me Type A but something about not having the pre-printed words on the same page as my notes makes me cringe.  All kidding aside, my dislike for running records goes beyond the simple organization of it all.  I prefer the target words on my page for miscue analysis purposes.

So here’s what has solved my running record woes.  You know those old overhead sheets you probably have sitting around your room collecting dust?  Maybe you’re still using them!  This year, during guided reading, I turned running records into reading records by taking an overhead sheet and placing it right on top of my copy of the book I was reading with a student.  Voila!  Problem solved.  No extra prep work but still a reading record every single time. When I was done analyzing the data, I just rinsed and repeated!

Note: In this post, I define reading records as records using pre-recorded pages and running records as those without pre-recorded pages.  This is what I learned many moons ago but the current terminology is most likely different.

I Will…

I Will

Listen more than I speak.
Love more than I judge.
Learn more than I know.
Smile more than I worry.
Laugh more than I cry.
Hope more than I doubt.
Appreciate more than I complain.
Try more than I succeed.
Encourage more than I discourage.
Dream more than I realize.
Prepare more than I procrastinate.
Advocate more than I critique.
Balance more than I manage.
Acknowledge more than I ignore.
Collaborate more than I isolate.
Prioritize more than I preference.
Breathe more than I stress.
Reflect more than I deflect.
Accept more than I reject.
Trust more than I fear.
Create more than I emulate.

The Power of a Positive Post-it

Positive Post-its

As many of you know, I teach fifth grade in a building that houses grades four to eight.  Fortunately, this means that when my students move to sixth, seventh and eighth grade, I still get to see them in the hallways. I am always looking for ways to stay connected to my former students.

Last year, over the summer, I decided I wanted to spread a message of kindness beyond the four walls of my classroom.  Shortly after, I saw a story about a group of high school students who spread a beautiful message of kindness after a classmate’s suicide and I was inspired to do just what they did.

I bought a pack of multi-colored, bright Post-it notes and took to the internet to find short, positive messages that expressed the “You Matter” message.  I focused on the sixth graders since it would be their first year having a locker.  My goal was to surprise them with a message of kindness on the first day of school.  Here are the messages I chose…

  • You are loved.
  • You make us smile.
  • Our world is better with you in it.
  • You are creative.
  • Your ideas are worthwhile.
  • You make a difference.
  • You are kind.
  • You are a good friend.
  • We believe in you.
  • We value you.
  • You matter to us.
  • We are so proud of you.
  • You are an inspiration to everyone.
  • You have a beautiful smile.
  • We are grateful for you.
  • You are important.
  • We admire you.
  • Seeing you happy makes us happy.
  • Thank you for being you.
  • We appreciate you.
  • You are beautiful inside and out.
  • The world is lucky to have you.
  • You are spectacular.
  • You are remarkable.
  • You brighten our day.
  • You have a beautiful imagination.
  • We respect you.
  • You are a creative thinker.
  • You are amazing.
  • You have phenomenal ideas.
  • Your opinions matter to us.

After writing one message per Post-it, I found out the locker numbers that were being used.  Then, I placed one note on each locker.  That’s it!

Positive Post-its Lockers

I saw many Post-it notes still hanging in students’ lockers at the end of the school year.  One parent shared that the notes moved her to tears.  It is definitely a project that I will do again this summer and my hope is to extend it to include all grades.

Positive Post-its Hallway



I finally had the time to watch Todd Nesloney’s Ted Talk.  It has been on my to-do list since it was released and I decided to watch the video while I waited for my car to be repaired today.  A fifteen minute talk quickly became a thirty minute viewing session due to my constant pause button pressing to prevent myself from blubbering in the waiting room of the car dealership.

First and foremost, Todd is incredible.  I’ve read his book but I have never met him in person.  Seeing him speak made me feel the passion behind his words.  It’s not something that surprised me at all.  He has a big heart.  He doesn’t let fear hold him back from being vulnerable.  He admits when his ideas don’t go as planned and then shares how he perseveres.  It’s this honesty that makes him so genuine and draws countless educators towards his mission.

Hearing Todd tell the Dinner with a Gentleman story and hearing how the adults in the apartment complex near his school always ask why they are being served food really got me thinking.  We talk so much about how #KidsDeserveIt and they do.  But what Todd said also got me thinking how #FamiliesDeserveIt too.  Are schools there to serve kids? No doubt.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am, and always will be, a child advocate first.  But let’s think about the families in our districts too.  How many of them experienced success in school?  How many of them fear stepping foot on a school campus because of their own experiences?  Isn’t it time we let them know that they are deserving people too?

There are so many reasons why adults don’t show up at school events.  I’m a firm believer that all families have good intentions.  They’d be there in a heartbeat if they could but life gets in the way sometimes.  The families we work with, in many ways, are older versions of the children we work with.  They are confident and they doubt themselves.  They are bold and shy.  They feel loved and hated.  They are supportive and frustrated.  They wonder and they know.  They laugh and they cry.  They are people.

Just like it takes us more time to get to know certain students, some families might be more cautious to let us in too.  That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.  The families who challenge us the most sometimes have been challenged the most by school.  Maybe they work three jobs, misunderstand a former teacher’s actions, had a bad experience with the school, don’t feel heard, don’t feel safe, feel unsure of their own abilities, are struggling with addiction, aren’t sure how they can help or better yet, feel like they are helping.  And sometimes, they’re just busy.  They definitely have good intentions.

What if we spent as much time getting to know families and telling them they’re appreciated as we do our students?  They are people and they deserve it.  Let’s make a commitment to not just engage families but to also make them feel appreciated.

Here are some things I have done or plan to do to show my appreciation for families…

  • Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen when families feel like they aren’t being heard.
  • Classroom Open House. Held over the summer so the families can come in, we can meet and they can see our classroom.  Then they’ll know where their children are going when they hop on the bus the first day of school.
  • Million Words or Less. The basic premise is families have a chance to tell about their children in a million words or less.  The note goes home with the summer supply letter and gives families a chance to share the stories of their children.
  • Together We Make a Family Board.  Families send in family photos and they are displayed all year on a large bulletin board in our room.
  • Take Your Family to School Days. We’ll host them often, rotate the days and invite families in so they can be with their fifth graders while they are at school.
  • Positive Letters and Phone Calls Home… to Families! I’ll let them know how much I appreciate what they do to support their children.
  • Family Feedback Forms. Families get the chance to give me feedback on my teaching so their voices are heard.
  • Thank You Notes. If a family offers to help, gives a gift, donates supplies or volunteers, they receive a thank you note.
  • Follow Through. If families request something, get back to them in a timely manner.  It’s one less thing they have to worry about.
  • Get to Know Them. What are they passionate about?
  • Invite Them to Classroom Celebrations. They come in and get to hang out with their kids.  It’s as simple as that.  A class favorite is when we make gingerbread houses together as one big family.
  • Tell Them They’re Appreciated…Often!

Collateral Beauty

There’s collateral beauty in even the darkest situations if you choose to see it.  Just because you acknowledge the beauty doesn’t mean you need to minimize the pain and the sadness.  Collateral means side by side.  Beauty and pain can present themselves simultaneously.  I saw it.  I wept when I noticed the collateral beauty.  The bursts of colors in the flowers.  The joy in the photos of a life cut way too short, yet truly and fully lived.  The intricate woodwork on the casket.  The new friend who showed up unexpectedly because, “That’s what friends do.”  The courage people had to stand and speak in the face of weakness and despair.  The cherished memories that were shared, one by one, and put together like the pieces of a puzzle called Life.  The countless individuals who were touched by one special person.  Some are family by birth, some are family by circumstance and some are family by choice.  But the best people are family because they’re all three.

Collateral Beauty (2)

Cherish It

Cherish It

If ever you need proof that creating engaging experiences is worth it, just listen to your kids.  Today my class started the day with the daily discussion question, “What have you loved most about fifth grade?”  The kids answer the question, give evidence for their answers and then conclude with a, “So what?” inference which addresses the bigger picture.

One student stood proudly on her chair as she expressed how much she loved the, “special types of lessons we do.”  She gave two examples of hard concepts that she felt she learned because of the game and the song, respectively, that went along with each lesson.  Then came her, “So what?” inference.

“So, if you get the chance to have special lessons, cherish it!

In one sentence, goosebumps covered my arms and every late night of planning, every trip to the dollar store, every summer brainstorming session with my Teach like a Pirate hook chart and every alien look I ever received was instantly worth it.

We, as educators, have the chance to positively impact the lives of children.  We have been given the opportunity to create experiences our students will never forget.  Cherish it!

I Appreciate You

As I connect to an increasing number of educators around the country and world, I can’t help but realize how many amazing people work in our profession.  I mean, truly, I am in awe.  The things you see on social media are nothing short of incredible.  People pour their hearts out for kids moment after moment, day after day and it is a beautiful thing.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to recognize five educators who inspire me.  It’s easy for leaders to rise to the top of the field and stick exclusively to other leading educators.  The people that I respect the most make everyone around them feel noticed and appreciated, no matter what kind of status those people have.  All five of my 2017 Education Heroes stand out because they notice all people.


RYAN MCLANE (@McLane_Ryan)

When I first started out on Twitter, many of my tweets fell on deaf ears.  But I always noticed one thing.  Ryan McLane was listening. He’d retweet, like and respond to my thoughts when no one else did.  Then, about a year ago, I decided to start this blog.  I wanted to become a connected blogger but didn’t really know where to start.  I threw something out there on Twitter and Ryan connected me to the Compelled Tribe.  His response opened countless doors for me.  What I love most about Ryan is that even though we have never met, he has never seen me teach and he has no reason to support me, he does.  Thank you for hearing my voice, Ryan.  I appreciate you.

PAUL SOLARZ (@PaulSolarz)

I love that Paul is a phenomenal teacher and he hasn’t left the classroom for the world of administration.  It gives me hope that I might be brave enough to do the same.  He is a true expert when it comes to turning things over to the kids and giving them ownership.  Although we’ve never met, I have always felt like his classroom is a “brother” classroom to mine because of our similar teaching styles.  He pushes me to turn as much as I can over to my students.  His knowledge of best practices is immeasurable and it is obvious that he is passionate about sharing his ideas.  Paul doesn’t brag or boast and is always available to answer a question or share a resource.  Thank you for pushing me to dig deeper, Paul.  I appreciate you.

ADAM WELCOME (@awelcome)

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Adam is an innovator.  He’s honest and shares what our profession needs to hear.  He’s a fearless leader who dares to ask the question, “Why not?”  More than anything, Adam is a good person.  He’s active on our KDI Voxer group.  And get this!  Earlier this week he flew from California to a speaking engagement in New York, where I live.  Most people would have gone straight to the speaking engagement and then flown home.  Not Adam!  Instead of stopping at his hotel to rest after taking the red eye to New York, he found out where I teach and drove an hour each way to hang out.  It was a visit I’ll never forget.  Thank you for making me feel seen, Adam.  I appreciate you.

DAN TRICARICO (@thezenteacher)

Dan shares an important message in his book.  You can be an educator and live a balanced life.  Do you feel like you just read that sentence wrong?  Well, you didn’t.  It’s true!  Dan reminds us that we are better for our students when we take care of ourselves first.  If I had to give only one book to every educator, The Zen Teacher would be it.  When I first started teaching, I noticed that everyone I admired in the field of education worked 24/7 which left me wondering if that was the only recipe for success.  I’ve since learned that you can pour your heart into what you do, get kids to thrive in the classroom and, wait for it… have a life!  Thank you for giving educators permission to take care of themselves, Dan.  I appreciate you.

DAVE BURGESS (@burgessdave)

Dave and I New.jpg

That’s right!  Only a pirate can make this list two years in a row.  But honestly, after reflecting on the last year, Dave had to stay on the list.  Look at the previous four people who have inspired me… all DBC writers.  Dave gives a voice to seemingly ordinary people and shines a spotlight on all of the extraordinary things they do.  Have a question? He’ll respond.  Share an idea?  He’ll retweet it.  Hosting a chat?  He’ll be there to participate in it.  He doesn’t have to but these things are, hands down, what separate him from the rest of the pack.  As I learn more and more about leaders in education, I am more and more impressed by Dave.  Few go out of their way to remember the “small educators” once they’ve found their own success.  Not only does Dave remember the small people but he makes them feel big.  Thank you for steering the education ship, Dave.  I appreciate you.

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