Depending on the school schedule you follow, it is just about time for Records Day and progress report weekend. Then, parent-teacher conferences follow soon after. One of the few perks of being a principal is not having to work on progress reports. I always made sure that my staff had some rolls, donuts, or bagels the Friday before report card weekend! My way of relieving my guilt, I guess!
I loved parent-teacher conference time both as a teacher and as a principal. As a teacher, it was such a good time to get to know the parents more and to have some time, however brief to impart the joy of learning that their child had achieved so far. As a principal, my focus was to be supportive; making sure our school was clean, providing extra support in classrooms to assist with assessments, ensuring all of the printing of cards was done in a timely manner, and feeding my teachers dinner on our scheduled conference nights.
At parent/teacher conferences I loved seeing all my teachers dressed up, visiting classrooms and finding them clean and well organized, and most of all enjoying the extra special student writing and art work posted on the walls. I loved doing walkthroughs during conferences talking with the children and finding out about what they have learned, chatting with parents about how they felt their child was doing, and just having time to read some of the fun writing that students had been creatively working on in the classroom.
Last spring, I had an opportunity to hear Regie Routman at the national ASCD conference in Chicago. As a literacy coach who exclusively seeks long-term commitment and work with a school; the first thing that she does when she visits for the first time is check out the school’s culture.
“The first thing I notice when I enter a school is how welcoming it feels to visitors. I look for authenticity and real-world purposes in literacy tasks, collaboration by teachers and students, conversations that go beyond test-taking and skills, a beautiful, clean, and safe environment. I notice what's in the hallways and on classroom walls and whether what's posted is truly meant to be read by readers or is just posted to fill space.”
Routman suggests that her 45 years of experience with schools leads her to believe that the culture of the school has more to do with student achievement than any other factor and states further that: ”Research indicates that when children read and write for authentic reasons, achievement goes up.” At the conference learning session, Routman instructed us to walk our halls and find out if what is posted is meant to be “read by readers or is just posted to fill space.”
As you walk through your hallways at parent/teacher conferences this year, I invite you to Read Your Walls! What do you have posted in your hallways? Routman says that just about every school has the obligatory “Please check in the office if you are a visitor sign posted at every door.” Her advice is that instead of posting a commercially made sign, have the students create one that gives their writing authentic purpose. Do you have rules and procedures posted in your hallways? Have students write these out and add visuals and have them posted in the hallway.
Routman gave several examples of how students at schools she coaches created spaces in the hallway using writing for authentic reasons and purposes. Some students created a “peace bench” and listed the rules of how to successfully work through conflicts. Another example was inviting students observing others following the school’s character guidelines to write down the name of the student and the character traits displayed and post it on a board by the principal’s office. Many schools participate in a school-wide postal program where students write to each other, to their teachers and principal and deliver the “mail” to individual classrooms with assigned addresses and made up zip code.
What could you implement after reading your walls and ensure more authentic writing for a purpose is posted for your readers? It could be as simple as putting a mailbox in your office to allow for students to write suggestions, appreciation letters, or comments to you. You could create a bulletin board outside your office, which allows the students to write and post affirmations about why they like your school! How about an interactive board where the students get to suggest where you should go on summer vacation? Our modeling of writing and its importance is essential in ensuring successful implementation in the classroom by our teachers.
Here are some potential writing ideas, posted by Routman for you to initiate with students that focus on authenticity and purpose:
· Welcome letter to a new student
· Classroom procedures
· School alphabet book
· Letter(request) or invitation(to celebrate learning) to the principal
· Playground rules
· Lunchroom Etiquette
· Guide for substitute teachers
· Student survival handbook
· New student handbook
· Reading pamphlet (why you need to read)—for younger students
· Memories of elementary school
· Book about teachers at our school
My next column will focus on Routman’s thoughts on Instructional Walks and how we as principals need to actively participate in the learning in classrooms and provide positive feedback to the teacher and students right in the classroom to create relational trust and provide confidence in the form of transformational feedback.
For now, this parent/teacher conference time, take a moment to travel through each hallway and read your walls! What are they saying to you?
Tip of the week:
Again in the last few weeks, we have heard of more tragic school shootings and we are nearing the one-year anniversary of the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Many principals have worked toward being proactive by focusing on the needs of students and bringing dads to school as special volunteers with a program called Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) Join the over 3,000 schools in 46 states who have engaged men, inspired children, reduced bullying and enhanced the educational environment of their school. Check out this link to see how you could bring this life-changing program to your school! WATCH D.O.G.S.
Want to learn What Great Principals Do Differently? Join me on Wednesday, November 20 at the MEMSPA Learning Center for an interactive learning day that will fulfill your aspirations as a learning leader by receiving the great advice and practical wisdom from Todd Whitaker's work and the experience of a seasoned principal. Discover what you can do differently! Click here to register! What Great Principals Do Differently