How to Approach Parent Teacher Conferences Like a Pro!

As Parent Teacher Conferences near each school year, I am always reminded of my first year as a teacher, and my first experience with Parent Teacher Conferences. I have to tell you, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of talking to each of my students' parents individually that first year. Sure, I can talk to a roomful of six year olds all day long...but adults? Just the thought had me over-indulging in the stash of M&M's I'd secretly been keeping in my desk for a little snack here and there! Or every time I'd walk by! (But that's another issue, haha!)

Anyway, as the time for those very first conferences got closer, I began to do some research (as in, majorly drilling my colleagues) regarding what in the world I should expect, what to talk about, and how to get my students' parents to see that I really want the best for their children, even when I might have some not-so-great things to tell them.  The more I talked with my teacher friends, and the more prepared I became, I started to relax about the idea of talking to my students' families. These were, after all, their supporters, and I definitely wanted to be on the same team as anyone who also had my students' best interests at heart.

Over the years, I've definitely become more effective at communicating with my students' parents and supporters, and I no longer dread talking to them at conferences. In fact, other than the long hours that conference days provide, I really look forward to talking with my students' families now. I love relaying positive stories about our "shared kids," and I am always amazed at how much I can learn about my students through listening to their parents and caregivers speak about them for a few short minutes.

In learning to prepare for Parent Teacher Conferences, here are the six most helpful tips I've learned over the past nine years...

I cannot tell you how long it took me to jump on board with online scheduling, but now that I have, I could not imagine doing it any other way! I used to send back and forth notes with suggested time slots, and what a hassle that was! Now, I use a free website called SignUpGenius, and it has been such a time and life-saver! No more notes back and forth--it is easy peasy!

I simply set up my account, create a conference sign-up form with the dates and times available, and then I allow parents a chance to sign up using our classroom computers during Back to School night. I also send home a quick note featuring the sign up link for any parents who chose not to sign up that night. So simple! Plus, parents get an automatic email reminder, and they can easily change time slots should they need to reschedule. 

This is something that my current school is really awesome at! When you walk down the halls on Parent Teacher Conference days, you'll see desks with tablecloths and pretty decor, bowls of candy, and samples of student work on display. It is so inviting!  This year, I used some adorable freebies to share mints and water bottles with my students' parents, and the looks of surprise and gratitude on their faces were fantastic! The adorable free water bottle labels can be found at The Lemonade Stand, and while you're there, be sure to check out some of her other wonderful ideas!  The free mint note can be found at Nicole Bunt's Teachers Pay Teachers Store

I love the idea of "making deposits before withdrawals," so I'm always sure to give lots of positive feedback and share the strengths of each particular student before discussing any areas that need to be focused on. To guide the conversation, I like to refer to a rubric or a check-in form during each conference. This helps me to highlight what I really need to talk about without getting distracted (because I kind of like to talk--a lot). 

I always explain to the parents that the rubric or form is just a guide to keep me on track, and that they are welcome to discuss anything that they would like to discuss in addition or in place of this guide.  I usually talk about strengths, then discuss one or maybe two things I would like for the student to work on during the next part of the school year. I try to keep things positive, but I also try to keep it real. It doesn't help the child learn, grow, or change, if we're not all on board to support a new skill or behavior.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I definitely believe that to be true! I love to show off each student's work and discuss how he or she has grown so far during the year. I also sometimes use this opportunity to show parents what might not be a students' best work if he or she has made a habit of rushing through things or putting in little effort when I know they're capable of more.

Sometimes it is just nice to be heard. Parenting is a tough job, and many parents, especially those who do not work with children on a daily basis, need some encouragement and affirmation that they are doing good work! They may just want to share funny stories about their child with you, or they may be concerned about their child's behavior at home, even though they may act like a perfect little angel at school (they all do, right?).  Or, maybe they see some of the same behaviors and issues that you see in the classroom, and need support or suggestions for how to help their child at home. 

Through listening to the questions, concerns, and stories of each parent, you are building a relationship and fostering collaboration. Find out what the child and maybe even what the parent needs, figure out a way to work together to make it happen, and follow through!

This last one is just as important as the rest. Make sure to thank the parents for coming, and invite them to contact you if they have any other questions, concerns, or just want an update on their child's progress. I like to send a little thank you note about a week after the conference just to show my appreciation and willingness to continue communication. Sometimes after a few days of thinking things over, parents may or may not have more questions, so it is great to check in!

I hope you have found these tips helpful as you plan your next Parent Teacher Conferences! I'd love to hear your fantastic conferencing tips, too, so if you've got some great ideas, please share them!
Also, if you would like to check out the resources that I use in my own classroom for Parent Teacher Conferences including my rubrics, scheduling sheets, student reflection forms, and thank you notes, please stop by my Teachers Pay Teachers Store to see my newly added Editable PDF Parent Conference Forms which come in three styles to fit any classroom's design!

As a thank you for visiting my blog and store, if you download the "Free Preview" file, you'll get a sample of an editable Self Reflection activity that you can use as is or even modify for use in your own classroom for FREE! Enjoy, and Happy Conferencing!

Scholastic Instructor Magazine Relaunch and Giveaway!

As I celebrate my ninth year as a first grade teacher and I look back at how much I have grown and changed over the years, I know that I owe much of my success to my mentors and other great teachers that I have worked with as well as a number of great teaching resources. During my student teaching experience, I was fortunate enough to work with a fantastic teacher, and it was during this time that I was first introduced to Scholastic Instructor magazine with its focus on sharing what is new and great in education.

Throughout the years, I have definitely grown and changed, and Scholastic Instructor magazine has grown and changed as well! And now, Scholastic Instructor magazine is celebrating a huge milestone--a relaunch as Scholastic Teacher!

In case you didn't know, Instructor magazine launched in October 1891 as Normal Instructor (teacher’s colleges were then called “normal schools”). In its 124-year history, the magazine has changed names five times! Here are a few more fun facts about how much this great magazine has changed over the years...

If you have a chance, I would highly recommend checking this fantastic teaching resource out! I personally have loved reading this month's articles "My Best Lesson Ever" and "Brilliant, But Bored." There are sooo many fantastic ideas shared within the pages of this wonderful resource! I can't get enough!

If you already love Scholastic Teacher magazine, click HERE to subscribe at a special discounted rate! Or, if you would like to win your own FREE SUBSCRIPTION to Scholastic Teacher magazine for one year, just enter the Rafflecopter contest below to do so! There will be one winner chosen at random on Friday, October 14th!

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Turning Goodbye into Good Luck...How to Say Goodbye to a Student

This is my ninth year in first grade, and I can honestly say that every year has made me grow and change so much. This year, I geared up for the first days of first grade just as I always do...preparing activities, community builders, and classroom routines to set the year up for success. I imagined getting back into a blogging routine...sharing my classroom tour, writing about our exciting back to school activities, and sharing lots and lots of pictures. Little did I know that this year, I would have a first grade friend join my class who would change everything...what I thought I knew about working with children with behavioral needs, the sense of community already in place within my classroom of 22 first graders, and even my attitude about coming to school each day.

I'm not going to lie--the first few days with this student in my class were hard. So hard. It literally took every ounce of patience I had in my being to interact with him due to his frequent outbursts, acts of defiance, and tendency to act out in ways that neither I nor my students would have predicted.  I cried. I prayed. I reminded myself that "The kids who need the most love often ask for it in the most unloving of ways" and that he was not at fault for the situation he was currently in. I accepted the kind offers of support and assistance from anyone in the building who might offer, and gradually, I started to feel like maybe this child was put into my classroom for a bigger reason.

After about a week, we came into a sense of routine. While the tantrums and outbursts were still frequent, the rest of the class and I became accustomed to them, and we learned how to function even amidst what sometimes seemed like chaos. Soon, I learned that my student's time with us was limited, and this led to a whole range of emotions. Frustration with his situation, hope that he would soon get the help that he so desperately needed, worry that his future was so uncertain, and even guilt for feeling that soon the rest of the class and I would experience some "relief" and things could get back to "normal" in our first grade world.

In the days approaching my student's departure, I started thinking about how my class and I would be able to say goodbye to him.  I wanted the experience for him as well as the rest of my class to be positive, and I wanted him to feel the love and hope that we had for him as he moved on.  So, I decided that we would make a class book of our best wishes. I had each student write a letter of good luck and best wishes, and I wrote a letter at the front of the book that included our school address so that he could keep in contact with us.

When the students and I gave him his Good Luck Book, his face beamed! He was so happy to have something special to remember his classmates, and I was thrilled to see some happiness in this child who has struggled so much.  In writing to their friend, my students achieved a sense of closure, and I really think this made the transition much easier for everyone.  This simple little activity made this such a positive experience, that I cannot imagine saying goodbye to any other students without it. While goodbyes are hard, it certainly does make everyone feel better to feel a sense of belonging and good will for the future.

If you would like to download an Editable Good Luck Book to save for any goodbyes that you might have in your future, please stop by my Teachers Pay Teachers store for the FREE download. I hope that it makes things a little easier for you and your students as you have to say goodbye to a good friend!

Teacher Week 2015...Make Ahead Meals

Back again with my favorite easy peas-y make ahead meal ideas for Teacher Week at Blog Hoppin'! First of all, I have to say that while I enjoy cooking, I really, really dislike doing it during the week. Since my girls are both in bed by 7:30, our evenings are super-short, so I tend to do batch freezer cooking so that we're stocked up with our favorites, plus a few crock pot meals and quick and easy dinners in between. 

For Freezer Meals, I love using the site Once A Month Meals. I also love, love, love SkinnyTaste! Her slow cooker Barbacoa, Cilantro Lime Rice, and Corn Salsa recipes aren't necessarily quick, but they sure make a tasty barbacoa bowl that is delish!

My favorite comfort food is Pot Roast with Carrots and Potatoes, and it is super, super easy to make in your Crock pot! Plus, whenever I make it, I think of one of my teaching besties from Tennessee who so thoughtfully shared the recipe with me years ago!

Here it is...Easy Peasy Crock Pot Roast with Carrots and Potatoes

2-3 lb. beef roast
3-4 potatoes
1 bag baby carrots
1 onion
1 bottle of Heinz 57
Salt and Pepper

1. Wash and slice potatoes and onions.
2. Place onions in the bottom of the Crock Pot.
3. Place roast on top of onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking. (You may brown the roast in a skillet prior to this, but I never do)
4. Place sliced potatoes and the baby carrots on top of and around the roast.
5. Pour Heinz 57 on top of everything.
6. Add a little water to the Heinz 57 bottle (maybe a 1/2 cup), shake it up, then pour into the Crock Pot.
7. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
8. Enjoy with some yummy rolls and maybe even a salad!

Thanks for stopping by!

Teacher Week - Five Fun Facts...About Me!

Happy Monday!
 I'm linking up with Blog Hoppin' to celebrate Teacher Week! First up is Five Fun Facts About Me!

I have two sweet girlies, and I love learning and playing with them! They are teaching me so much every day, and I cannot imagine my life without them!

I am a crafter at heart and I love having that creative outlet! From designing curriculum resources and craftivities, to sewing and embroidering cute clothes for my girlies to wear, I love getting crafty! The only thing I don't like about crafting is having to clean up the mess...which is why I won't scrapbook any more...who wants to waste time cleaning up? Not this girl!

I participated in a study abroad Student Teaching Program in Liverpool, England, and I absolutely loved it! I got to teach four days per week and travel on the weekends and during breaks! I got to see Scotland, Ireland, Paris, Italy, and all over England. If my husband would let me, I'd move to London in a heartbeat!
I'm a Hoosier at heart, but Nashville, Tennessee was home for the first six years of my teaching career. I miss that southern hospitality every single day (all those sweet little, "Yes, Ma'am's"), my fabulous teaching friends, and my sweet tea, too!
I'm in love with online shopping, and I don't care who knows it!! Mr. FedEx Man is practically my best friend, and from Amazon Prime to my monthly StitchFix, I love having Happy Mail Days!

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. If you'd like to check out the rest of Teacher Week, stop by Blog Hoppin' for more!

Viva Las Vegas! A TPT Conference Linky Party

Hi, all! I am just back from Vegas (as in, I got home at 2:00 this morning!), and after a completely wonderful and exhausting (in a good way) trip, I am so excited to share all about the 2015 Teachers Pay Teachers Conference!

My very first Vegas experience began super-early on Thursday morning, when my four roomies (all fantastic teachers from my school) and I arrived at the Venetian Hotel on the first day of the conference.  We got in at about about 7:30am Vegas time, so we had time to tour the hotel, eat a little breakfast, and check out the casino before heading downstairs to the Conference area. In the future, I'll definitely plan to arrive at least the day before the conference to allow time for settling in and attending the humongous Blogger Meet-up, but for a first-timer, it was just neat to be there and take in the sights upon arrival.

Later on Thursday morning, I attended the First and Second Grade Networking Meet-up, and it was sooo neat to meet teachers from all over the world who love TPT just as much as I do!  Here I am with the absolutely sweet and adorable Amanda from Mrs. Richardson's Class.

Here I am with one of my former colleagues from my favorite school in Tennessee! So cool to accidentally bump into her during a fantastic session!

And, last but not least, here I am with the fabulous Kristin from A Teeny Tiny Teacher. She definitely is Teeny Tiny and hilarious! Loved her!

During the day on Thursday and Friday, I attended some A-MAZ-ING Sessions that ranged from a Panel of some of my favorite bloggers, to a session on Instagram, which I am totally new at, sessions on Data and using Facebook to build your business, and a truly motivational and inspiring session from Angela Watson on Expanding your Impact. Through these sessions, I learned so many awesome ideas, practical tips and techniques, and I got to know some truly inspiring fellow TPT Curriculum Designers!

I learned so much at the conference that it is hard to put it all into words, but here are three of my biggest takeaways...

1. Find your niche, and present yourself as an expert in your area.

This idea was discussed by so many presenters, and it really makes sense! They discussed finding your strong area and building off of that in order to strengthen your presence as a successful TPT Seller. As a first grade teacher, I feel like my niche is pretty broad right now since I teach so many subjects, but I have become more aware of my strengths, so I am going to try to focus my efforts more towards those areas.

2. Find "Your People" and stick with them!

The idea of "finding your people" was mentioned in several of my sessions, and it really resonated with me. First, is the idea of finding your particular audience. Find "your people," or teachers with similar needs and issues that you have, and then share blog posts, ideas, and create products that solve the problems of "your people." Next, comes the idea of finding similar teacher-authors and bloggers to network with. It can be so tempting to look at all of the more experienced groups of teacher-bloggers and wonder how to "get in" with them, but it is more beneficial and a better use of your time and efforts to find bloggers and authors who are similar to you either in audience, subject area, geographic location, number of followers, etc. and create collaborative groups that are going to benefit each member of the group.

3. Use your blog and social media as a way to build relationships, not as a marketing tool.

This was huge for me! I've really struggled with the idea of using my blog, new Instagram account and Pinterest boards to "advertise" my products, and I feel so much better knowing that I don't necessarily have to or need to do this to build followers or sell my products. I really enjoy using my blog as a place to share teaching strategies and ideas, and I'm loving sharing more of myself on Instagram, so it is nice to know that I can continue to use these outlets as avenues for sharing myself as a teacher rather than focusing on using them to showcase my products.

I learned so much in each session, and I look forward to sharing some new tips and tricks with you in the next few weeks as I get ready for Back to School time!

Until next time, here are a few pics from the few days following the conference where I got to celebrate one of my best friend's thirtieth birthday, see a fantastic Cirque show, ride the High Roller, and eat some delicious food! Although Vegas probably isn't exactly my kind of town, I had a wonderful experience, and cannot wait to go back next year!  P.S. If you'd like to check out more TPT Vegas 2015 stories, check out the linky party being hosted by the Elementary Entourage! Thanks for stopping by!

Currently: July 2015

Hey there! I'm back, and although I might have gotten too distracted to post last night while working on my TPT Conference Binder, I'm linking up with Farley for July's Currently Linky Party!

Listening - I am obsessed with the Songza app (and no, they don't pay me!) A fabulous teacher friend introduced to to me this year, and I love it so much more than Pandora--no annoying commercials to listen to! It's great! When I'm not listening to Princess Party Mix with my girlies, I love to listen to the Acoustic Versions of Pop Songs Station. The Civil Wars redid Michael Jackson's Billy Jean, and it is amazing!

Loving - My favorite summer ice cream treat, a Nerds Sonic Blast, which might not actually be on the menu. As a child, I loved getting Nerds Blizzards at DQ, but they don't make them anymore. Bummer. Sonic doesn't technically make them either, but since they have Nerds Slushies on the menu, they'll gladly make a Nerds Blast for you if you ask nicely. Delish!

Thinking - This summer has flown by! With swimming lessons and trying to wrangle my girlies everyday, it has just gone so fast! Neely turns one in a few weeks, and I haven't even begun to think about her party or scheduling pictures yet...Guess I'll add those to the to-do list!

Wanting - A new blog design. I am on Gabby's waitlist for my makeover, but I have zero patience! I am so excited to have a fresh, new design (even though I have to wait until September) where everything is cohesive and up to date!

Needing - To start packing for Vegas! I cannot believe I get to go to the conference this year! I am going to be so starstruck, and am a little nervous about all of the networking, but I am so excited to to meet other teacher authors and bloggers! And, I can't wait to have a little grown up time on my first vacation away from my girlies!

All Star - I'm very productive. I love crossing things off my list, and I am very task-oriented, so I just like to go, go, go. Unfortunately, I have a little trouble with taking time out to relax, and I have to try to just deal with the fact that it is a little trickier getting things done with two little crazies running/crawling around!

That's it for now, thanks for stopping by!