Casey* got an email yesterday from his daughter’s teacher. He instantly panicked. In a few sentences, it seemed the teacher was informing him that his daughter was having severe behavior issues in the classroom.
So, Casey reread it. He vacillated on what to do. He called his spouse. He called a friend. He vented to co-workers. Eventually, he went back to the source: he re-connected with the teacher, but this time over the phone.
Hearing Casey’s voice, the teacher sensed his anxiety and assured him that the email had been misunderstood. The teacher had meant to convey, I’m going to explore some ways I can best support your daughter; but Casey had interpreted it as, your daughter needs some immediate behavioral interventions.
This misunderstanding, and all the anxiety that came along with it, could have been avoided by skipping the email and picking up the phone instead.
As teachers, our lives are hectic. We have to manage our time, and often an email appears to be the quickest route for parent/guardian communication. We hop on Skyward, grab the parent/guardian’s email address, open Outlook and we’re off—just a few clicks, some tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, and we’re all set. Communication home is done. But, in truth, it’s rarely that simple.
In my last classroom, the phone was on the other side of the room from my computer. Calling home meant (1) clicking into Skyward, (2) writing down the number [and crossing my fingers that it wasn’t a long-distance number since my classroom phone blocked such calls], (3) walking across the room to dial, (4) crossing my fingers that the parent/guardian picked up, while also (5) crossing my fingers that if s/he did there were only questions asked that I could answer without having to reference something on my computer which was still across the room... But, despite this complicated process, it was worth it.
Calling home has power:
While, calling home can may be daunting to some, here are three ways to make it more manageable.
| 1 |
When thinking back to when my brothers and I were in school, the phone calls my parents received from teachers and administrators were almost always negative. One of us had been in the principal’s office, one of us had an unexcused absence, or one of us was struggling in math class. Where were the phone calls when I had been selected to attend a poetry workshop, when my brother got a ribbon in the science fair, or when my other brother had managed to not be in the principal’s office for an entire month?
This is where the strategy “8 Greats” comes into play.
If you’d like to read more on this idea--or similar ones--consider exploring the following:
| 2 |
Make a Sandwich
I’m from the generation labeled as ‘xennials’. Much like many of my millennial counterparts, I am uncomfortable making phone calls. I’d prefer to send a text, an email, or even leave a voicemail. The thought of actually having to talk on the phone with someone gives me anxiety.
Whether you are of a similar generation or are simply not sure what to say once you get someone on the other end of the line, the “Make a Sandwich” strategy might be for you.
Start each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive opening.
In the middle, add in the details, listen, and adjust. Know that the more complicated or negative the message, the more effort we need to use when selecting our words and tone.
End each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive finish.
If you’d like to read more on this idea, consider exploring chapter 6 “Positive Communication with Parents” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore; as well as chapter 13, “Delivering Bad News.”
| 3 |
Making phone calls doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A few years ago I worked with a middle school teacher who often had students make the calls home, whether the news be uplifting or difficult. There was power in how these students took ownership of communication with their parent(s)/guardian(s).
This is where the strategy “Quick Calls” works well.
No matter what information is shared, imagine the conversations that will happen between those students and those parent(s)/guardian(s) when, later that day, they get picked up after school or sit down at the dinner table.
Whatever structure you use to make phone calls home, keep parents/guardians like Casey in mind. We want to work collaboratively with our students and their important adults, and that often begins by picking up the phone.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
*The name of this parent has been changed for data privacy purposes.
Well, we are officially rolling with the school year! The new supplies are in their places, new routines are being solidified, and classrooms are buzzing with new learning. We’ve introduced ourselves to our students and had them introduce themselves to us. There have been all sorts of ice breakers and “get to know you” activities. We know that this student loves dogs, this other one loves to dance, another one loves music, and this one over here loves to read science fiction. Our traditional “get to know you” activities are really great tools to gather information about our students. We talk about them a lot at the beginning of the year, but I’m proposing we don't stop doing them once the shine wears off of those new school supplies.
This time of year, when I reflect on the different ways we get to know our students after the first few days of school, I often think of my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Anderson. Our first assignment of the year was to write our own obituary (yeah…super morbid, right?). I wrote the required one page of, “She was loved by her family…”, “She was preceded in death by…”, “She did this and that…”.
I turned it in and a few days later, it came back to me, dripping in red ink. I was convinced I had completely failed. As I started to read the comments on my paper though, my anxiety lifted. All along the margins, I read comments like, “No way! Your grandpa was my bus driver when I was a kid!” and “Your cousin is my best friend!” Awkward-and-anxious me suddenly knew I had someone in my corner. Mr. Anderson was making connections with me that went beyond my favorite color or which sports I play, and I suddenly cared much more about my English class than I ever imagined I would.
Throughout the year in that English class, every writing assignment came back with Mr. Anderson’s commentary along the margins, forcing me to rethink my thesis or supporting arguments, or cracking a joke about a silly spelling error. Every once in a while, I would find a post it on my desk, introducing me to authors like Jane Smiley or Toni Morrison (who is, to this day, still my favorite). Mr. Anderson had taken the time throughout the year to get to know me both as a learner and as a person who had a life outside of his classroom.
This year, you are going to hear a lot about the district’s continued work around culturally and linguistically responsive teaching practices (CLR). We know we need to think about culture and bias. We know how important it is to understand who our students are culturally and the cultural nuances they bring to our classrooms every day. That is why I’d like to provide a few “get to know you” strategies that can be used throughout the year, multiple times, to continue to build relationships and connections with your students and get to know them as cultural beings.
| 1 |
Don't worry: we're not gone for long. Nope, we're just hitting the pause button for the summer. We promise we'll return refreshed in August, resulting in some well crafted future blog posts.
We hope that you, like us, will be enjoying some extra time with family, friends, and nature. Because, let's face it, we all need a bit of time to regroup and refresh.
Summer is a great time to reflect on our educational practices. Combine that with Pride Month, and it’s only fitting to reflect on how our practices specifically impact our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families. How can we as educators work toward a space where all—including our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families—feel safe and welcome in our classrooms and schools?
To compile a list of ideas on this topic, I anonymously surveyed three dozen LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies, many of whom are current or former students of the Rochester Public Schools and some of whom currently work in the district. I looked for what themes arose from their feedback, and resoundingly these were the four key takeaways:
| 1 |
Build Your Knowledgebase
A few places to start:
Know the statistics.
- 4.5% of American adults publically identify as LGBTQ+ (with younger generations of Americans, specifically those born between 1980 and 1999, that percentage is almost double at 8.1%), according to this 2017 Gallup poll
- 5.1% of American women identify as LGBTQ+, compared to 3.9% of American men, according to this 2017 Gallup poll
- 8-18% of 9-11th graders in Minnesota identify as LGBTQ+, according to a comprehensive survey of Minnesota high school students shared in this 2017 Minnesota State Health assessment (see page 14)
- If I see 150 students in a day, anywhere from 7 to 27 of them likely identify as LGBTQ+
- If each of my 150 students were from two parent/guardian households, roughly 15 to 55 of the parents/guardians I work with in a year likely identify as LGBTQ+
- If I work in a building of 100 teachers, approximately 5 of them likely identify as LGBTQ+
Know the terminology.
If unsure of what the letters in ‘LGBTQ+’ stand for (or in ‘LGBTQQIAAP2S’ for that matter), take a few minutes and look into this. Consider starting by watching this short video:
Remember that everyone is unique.
Each individual’s ‘gender identity’, ‘gender expression’, ‘sexual attraction’, and ‘emotional attraction’ is very unique, as shown the graphic below.
Keeping this in mind, be careful not to pigeonhole individuals based on past experience or understanding. It is easy to let LGBTQ+ celebrities, stereotypes, and/or personal acquaintances drive one’s perceptions of what an LGBTQ+ person should look or act like, but in reality there is as much variation in what LGBTQ+ persons will present as and act like, as there are with cisgender heterosexuals.
This word came up over and over again in the survey responses. In order to truly understand LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families, one has to listen to what they have to say. When an LGBTQ+ individual shares an experience or a concern, this is an opportunity to broaden one’s understanding of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that being heard often feels a lot like being respected, valued, and loved.
| 2 |
Ensure a Supportive and Safe Space
If you teach in a classroom or council out of an office that is safe place where LGBTQ+ individuals will be respected and heard, then post a sign that sends that message. This past week I have been working in one of RPS’s middle schools, and many teachers and counselors send a clear message of support in this way (as shown in the attached image).
Recently, the Minnesota Department Education shared that according to the 2016 Minnesota State Student Survey LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to feel safe in school, more likely to be bullied, and in turn more likely to attempt suicide.
If you’re looking for resources to help you address LGBTQ+ bullying in your classroom/school, consider trying the website Teaching Tolerance, specifically this webpage which focuses on LGBTQ+ bullying and bias.
Use the correct pronoun.
Many teachers have students complete a survey or fill out an informational notecard at the start of the year; if you do this, consider adding to it the question, “What is your preferred pronoun?” This opens the door for students questioning their genders to safely request the pronoun with which they each identify. It’s important to know that when an LGBTQ+ individual prefers one pronoun but then a different one is used instead, it can be very hurtful: a sign of unacceptance or a lack of willingness to understand.
If you would like to learn more about the importance of pronouns, consider reading this GLSEN’s educator resource page on the topic (GLSEN stands for ‘Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’).
| 3 |
Some simple ways to demonstrate LGBTQ+ inclusivity are:
Use non-binary language and examples.
In the survey, many current and recent RPS student pointed out that it seemed to them the only time LGBTQ+ examples were provided were in FACS and Health classes, and even then it occurred rarely. I know this is something I personally was guilty of in the classroom. As an English teacher, when crafting a sentence that students were to then edit, I could easily have referred to a family with two mothers rather than one with a mother and a father… Likewise, when using Clip Art in a PowerPoint presentation, I could have easily used a picture showing two boys talking by their lockers, rather than a boy paired with a girl…
Perhaps verbal shifts would be the easiest to make in the classroom. When talking about prom, asking “Have you bought tickets for your dates yet?” sends a much more inclusive message than, “Boys, have you bought tickets for your girlfriends yet?” When talking to a married female parent, guardian, or coworker, asking about her “spouse” sends a much more inclusive message than asking about her “husband.” (For more examples of why subtle language choices matter, read the previously published C&I Blog post Digging into Diction.)
Include LGBTQ+ references in your class.
Not shying away from LGBTQ+ aspects of your content is another way to send a message of support to LGBTQ+ individuals.
I’ll use another English example, seeing as that is my background. If I am teaching American Literature and we are reading The Crucible, I likely will share with my students facts about Arthur Miller’s love life, most famously his relationship with Marilyn Monroe who seemingly served as his muse for some of his works. However, if in my next unit I teach Walt Whitman and gloss over his relationship Harry Stafford, who was both his lover and his muse, just as Monroe was for Miller, I send the message that heteronormativity is preferred my classroom—even if the signs hung at the front of my classroom say something different. Additionally, as an English teacher, I could easily have books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters on my shelves interspersed with all my other books that students can check out and take home to read.
If you don’t know where to begin in this area, here are some possible resources for you:
- CCRLT’s Responsive Reads website, specifically:
- The website We Need Diverse Books
| 4 |
If you’d like to learn more on this topic, consider exploring the following resources:
- Minnesota Department of Education’s Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students
- Minnesota Department of Education’s Family, School and Community Engagement—Modal Five: Diverse Cultures and Voices Toolkit
- Rochester Public Library’s Pride Page: here they post about local RPL LGBTQ+ events and link to many useful websites
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective