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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

Opening Doors to Home-School Communication

Open, trusting communication between educators, students and families is fundamental to success for all three. It doesn’t happen easily in lots of schools and with lots of families, for lots of reasons. Here are some ideas for creating and sustaining communication between home and school, from the National Education Association:

• If parents don’t return your phone calls, try emailing or texting them with a quick update, or to let them know their student has done a great job or been helpful in class.

• Get students to keep parents informed. Have them write and produce a print or online newsletter about classroom milestones, activities and events. Be sure to include your contact information and any important dates or notifications.

• Get to know your students. Early in the school year, send home a fill-in-the-blank letter in English and Spanish (and in other languages as needed) for parents to write to you about their son’s and/or daughter’s – strengths and weaknesses, hobbies and interests, and expectations for learning in the classroom.

• Invite students to attend parent conferences. Many educators find it helpful and use the opportunity to have the student included in parent/teacher discussions about their class behavior and performance.

• When interacting with immigrant parents, keep in mind they may be eager to get involved in school, but may not understand the American system, feel welcome, or may feel uncomfortable about their ability to communicate in English. Even if your school doesn’t have a dedicated Parent Resource Center, draw in and support the entire family unit at school. Use an informal after-school ESL course to bring students and parents into the classroom, or launch a series of classes and workshops to introduce immigrant parents to each other, to teachers, and to strategies for helping their children navigate the public school system.

• Struggling to reach parents who can’t take time off during the day, work nights, or are scared of the school? Make visits to homes an option. It may require some training, teaming up with another school staff member, and even stepping out of your comfort zone, but through home visits, you may learn a bit more about the lives of your students and their families. Some quick tips: Offer alternative times – few parents will say no if you’re flexible; and if parents are uncomfortable inviting you into their home, meet at a coffee shop, a library or even a park.

• Try some creative community-building among parents and families and your school. Tap into the power of your school’s PTA. Find parent volunteers willing to offer rides to parents without transportation so they can attend parent conferences and school events. Providing childcare at school during parent conferences and meetings may also draw in parents who otherwise couldn’t participate.

Organization Offers Overseas Travel for Teachers

Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a non-profit organization that has been sending teachers abroad for educational and adventurous experiences since 2007. Trips are 7 to 21 days long and are open to all K-12 educators and their guests.

 These are the options for 2016: Bali/Lombok, Bangkok to Hanoi, China, Costa Rica, Eastern Europe, The Galapagos Islands, Greece, Iceland, India/Nepal, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Peruvian Amazon, Peruvian Andes, Portugal/Spain, Heart of the Silk Road, Southern Africa, Southern India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Vietnam/Cambodia, Western Balkans, Peru (Winter Break), Israel (Spring Break), Moorish Spain (Spring Break) and Morocco (Spring Break). Registration deadline is June 1st.

For more information, visit


Hugely Helpful—and Potentially Dangerous

“Children are handed powerful, connected devices by parents and schools at younger and younger ages. The messages and media that children are consuming, creating and sending connect them to their friends and the world, and allow new opportunities for self-expression, but can also have negative and sometimes life-changing consequences.”

 Erin McNeill, president, Media Literacy Now, on the importance of teaching digital citizenship to children of all ages


Don’t Burn Out!

Here are five tips on avoiding teacher burnout, from Pennsylvania teacher Mary Beth Hertz:

Maintain your "other" life. It's OK if teaching is your life as long as you have a life outside of your classroom. Go for a short weekend trip, get lunch with an old friend, go to the gym during the week, or go for a bike ride.

(Exercise relieves stress!) Spend some time when you are not thinking about the classroom, and stay connected to your support group of friends and family.

Be a stakeholder when changes are made. Too much change stretches teachers thin and leads to burnout. Include teachers in conversations about changes, and make changes transparent.

Find lessons and opportunities in everything. Keep teaching fresh by reading new research on teaching, and by learning, talking and collaborating with peers inside and outside of your school building. Attend conferences and other structured learning activities. Share what you're doing in your classroom with peers, solicit feedback, and revise your lessons. Oh, and read. A lot. Always keep learning. Always keep it fresh.

Nurture peer connections. Feeling part of a team, knowing what others are doing in their classrooms, and seeing how your work fits into the bigger picture is motivating, inspiring, and increases feelings of self-worth.

Keep it light. Incorporate humor and laughter into your classroom. Putting on a serious face every day, day after day, is hard. Sure, it's important to be clear about expectations, and sometimes you need to put your foot down. But who wants to sit in a classroom where no one smiles and everything is super-serious all the time? It's OK to have a good time in the classroom and enjoy yourself. Your students will appreciate your class more, and you will win them over if you seem like you're having a good time!

(from, with permission of Edutopia and The George Lucas Educational Foundation)



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