Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comments, Please!

Blogging can be such a powerful tool for your students' writing and for communicating with the parents of your students. It's also a lot of fun to see your writing instantly published.

What is not a lot of fun is never getting comments on your posts. You may spend time wondering if you really do have an audience. Is anyone out there reading your blog? How can a classroom teacher encourage students and parents to comment on their blog?

Other teachers dealing with this same issue here on campus responded this way:

Tom Ruark - Yes, I do get very frustrated. So, I sunk to bribery. A pack of Smarties for a blog comment from child or parent of child. I have established a few constant customers. Also, having a grade level, POD, or team email distribution list helps, as I can constantly stick in front of folks. See, I did it again. That's in case you missed it. The trick is that you have to work it into the "flow" of the email so that the reader does not recognize the less than subtle subliminal message. I usually say, "We just updated, and by the way you could check out, beacause the kids really did some cool work. Yep, subtle, like an anvil!

Debbie Harbour - I feel your pain! Some days I get frustrated that I do all this work to share their child's lives with them and nobody's listening. Last week I added a survey to the bottom of my newsetter that asked simple questions about my blog. Do you read it? Do you update automatically? Do you know how to write a comment? etc. I only received 5 surveys back. This week I put it on there again and stated since I only had 5 returned I was asking them to do it this week. Maybe that would be a start to help you see what they know and can do. Just a thought.

Debby Cothern & Michelle Ellis - The best way we have found is to show the blog to your students in class and then encourage them to go home that night and leave the class a message. The next day we bring back up the blog and read their messages to the whole class. The kids love seeing their words appear. I would also get a counter added onto your site. We have one on ours. We have had over 11,000 people view our blog since last August. Even if parents or viewers don't leave messages, we at least can see they were there.

Toni Chant - I hear you. I struggle with the same issue. Some of our students do not have access and that is unavoidable. We also have several parents that really don't read our newsletter and thus has caused confusion in the past. I, too, would love some ideas about getting parents to read our blog on a regular basis. I mostly find nowadays that I am limiting my posts since I don't feel that the families are really using the blog as often as I would like. I have even added the weekly homework assignments and still have parents who have internet access ask me for another copy of the homework. I would really love to hear what everyone thinks and is doing in their classroom.

When I asked my educator friends on twitter, here are the responses I received:

I love all of these ideas. They are all simple things to do. It might be worth experimenting to see which ones get you the best results. I think its important to remember that most parents are learning these things for the first time and when you teach, repetition is the key. If you're looking for a new way to explain blogging in your classroom so that the parents will "buy in" to the importance, check out this video made by Kathy Cassidy and her wonderful first graders. They show their parents what the term media literacy means and demonstrate how to comment on their class blog.

Imagine, if you were a student in that classroom, you could show your parents the video which shows all they steps they need for commenting. Kids are always anxious to show and share the work they are doing with you. Make sure you are giving them lots of opportunities to show off!

Continue asking, rewarding, experimenting and above all KEEP blogging! :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Parent Involvement

Denise Evanko asked a question that so many teachers, new and seasoned, ask, "How can I get parents to read my blog?" I hope you will give her some suggestions. Leave a comment!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jane Szerba - New to Chets!

Jane Szerba will be joining Chets Creek this coming school year as a 5th Grade ELA teacher. She has taught 2nd and 3rd grade for the past two years. Prior to her full time teaching position, Jane was a safety net provider for three years. Since 1996 she has been involved with her children’s schools in many different capacities. Jane feels extremely privileged to become a member of Chets Creek Elementary.

Jane grew up in Reading Pennsylvania and graduated from Kutztown University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. In 1988 she married her high school sweetheart, Jim, at the United States Naval Academy. Jim and Jane headed south to Pensacola for Jim’s first naval assignment, Navy Flight School. After several years of deployments and military moves up and down the east coast, the Szerba’s settled in Jacksonville. Jim has served in the Navy for over 22 years and has been blessed to be stationed here at Mayport for the past several years.

Jane and Jim have three daughters. Margaret is currently a sophomore at the University of North Florida, Ashley is a senior at Fletcher High School, and their youngest daughter is a freshman, also at Fletcher High School. Over the course of her daughter’s lives, Jane has enjoyed watching her daughters grow and mature. She especially has enjoyed their swimming and watching them play Florida’s newest sport, girl’s lacrosse.

In her spare time Jane enjoys spending time with her family, reading, traveling, and visiting her family up north. Jane has always been involved with swimming and currently teaches swimming lessons to the neighborhood children during the summer. She receives immense satisfaction when a four year old child realizes that she can swim. Jane has also been a Pace Leader for the Chicago Marathon. You may ask, “What is a Pace Leader?” A Pace Leader is a designated runner that guarantees to finish the marathon (26.2 miles) in a specific pace. For example, if you want to finish the marathon in 4 hours and 30 minutes you would sign up to run with the 4:30 pace team. The pace leader will run a steady pace for the entire race and finish within a minute of that designated pace. She mentioned that it is a very rewarding and an emotional job, especially to help someone complete their first marathon. Jane truly enjoyed this experience from 2004-2007 and hopes to get back in shape sometime soon!

Jane is enthusiastic about the 2009-2010 school year. She is looking forward to forming new relationships, working with a talented team of teachers, and also meeting the amazing students at Chets Creek. What a blessing to have Jane joining our Chets Creek family!

Opening - Part 2

It's the day before school starts and I went by the school to take a few pictures to inspire my daughter (did I mention that she just got her first teaching job?!!) I thought other new teachers might also like to see what's going on. Now understand that school hasn't even started so most of the rooms look like this right now.

However, some early bird type-A teachers have already been in their rooms so I went around and snapped a few photos. Our theme this year at Chets is "Orchestrating a Symphony of School Success." Each grade level was given a different genre of music. Second grade was given Broadway. Below are some shots of Third grade's Caribbean tunes and Fourth Grade's Jazz! Take a look at these early pictures and see what you think.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Opening School - Welcome to Broadway!

My daughter got her first teaching job last week at Trinity Elementary in Florida! Woo Hoo! Teachers in her county, like mine, go back to school on Monday and she will have a week to decorate her first intermediate classroom. In trying to help her with ideas, I decided that I would go to the best source I know, the teachers of Chets Creek! Today, (even though school is not yet even opened) I took my camera to get some early pictures for inspiration. I was going to send them to her through e-mail but thought everyone else might like to get an early glimpse.

Our school theme is "Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success" and each grade level was given a different genre of music. Second grade has the music of Broadway and below are some of the early decorations!

What I can say about these ideas:

We each have a bulletin board in the hallway and the first board to go up (by Orientation which is the first Friday before school starts) is a "Something I Know Good About You" board. It includes each child's name and something good about that child. It is a wonderful way to welcome new children and their families to their new classroom. Since teachers don't have a class list yet, the names are still to be added!

Each teacher has a place for each student to house a piece of their work. These spaces stay up all year although the work changes each month. Most of the teachers use a clothespin hot glued to the wall and a laminated piece of construction paper as a backdrop. These are also usually theme-related.

The outside door of each room has a welcoming theme-related sparkle. While each room may be different, this is not a competition. The teachers share what they find during the summer and try to have some conformity to the outside of their rooms. The last thing we want is for parents to come to Orientation and start judging and criticising teachers based on how they decorate the outside of their room!

Most teachers have some kind of comfy reading area. Many include a coach or comfy chair, benches, stools, bean bags, etc. and most include a lamp.

A Word Wall is a "must" in every room but teachers arrange them differently. Some use an alphabetical arrangement and others organize by word patterns or themes. In one of these pictures the teacher already has Velcro dots on laminated paper and will Velcro the words on as the class needs them.

No matter what your class comes with, you will need extra organizing bins and containers. Be on the lookout for these at discount stores and anywhere children's furniture is sold.

Each teacher needs a chair and each teacher knows what she likes. From a rocking chair to a stool to a cafe chair, to each his own!

Each classroom has a class library. Most have a genre library that is organized by topic. Most also have a chapter book library in the intermediate school. Each classroom also has a leveled library (organized by Fountas-Pinnell Reading Levels A-Z). Although over the years, we have used all sort of bins and baskets, most teachers have decided that its worth the investment to buy baskets all alike for the uniformity and organization. That's not to say that some teachers would rather have baskets in different shapes, sizes and colors, but many choose all one size because they like the neater appearance. No matter how many shelves come in your classroom, you'll need extra so look for bargains everywhere you go!

Never underestimate the value of creativity and repurposing something you have at home. All teachers earn a Masters in trash to treasure while they teach!

If you are a first year teacher, don't worry! You won't collect everything before the first day of class and you shouldn't. As the year unfolds, you'll find things that you want and need to make your classroom work for you and your children. During this first week of preparation, go to the veterans and let them help you with room arrangement. Let the vet help prioritize your time because before you are ready, the children will be at your door! Just know that no special effect will have the same power that you do! What parents really want to see that first day is that you are someone who will care about their child! You can't decorate that!

peek into another theme tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tracy Ruark Returns to Chets!

This past April Tracy Ruark joined the Chets Creek family of educators. Tracy was born and raised in Long Island, New York. She is an avid New York Jets fan and the first yanky to marry into the Ruark household. After graduating from high school (She’ll let you guess the year) she attended Minnesota State University where she received two bachelor degrees. One in International Relations and Soviet studies and the other in Geography/Environmental conservation. You could say she is a "tree hugger". Upon graduating from college (she’ll let you guess that one as well) she moved to Florida and started a career with CSX in sales and marketing. Along the way she met her husband Tom, whom some of you may know, and they were married in April of 1997. Two years later Tom and Tracy had a daughter (whom most of you may also know) named Darylann who was named after Tracy’s mother who died of cancer when Tracy was 19.

After 15 years with CSX Tracy became very disillusioned with the cut throat corporate world and began to spend more and more time volunteering in her daughter’s classrooms at Chets. She felt like she was not making a difference in the world and saw firsthand how teachers touch the lives of so many. She saw how people like Karen Meissner, Lori Thompson, Deb Rossignol, Cathy Nelson, Jessica Schaffer, Sherri Rabe and Christy Constande make a difference every day.
At the start of the 2008-2009 school year Tracy interned full time in JJ Brown’s second grade classroom where she began to learn the in’s and out’s of Readers' and Writers' Workshop. In November of 2008 Tracy was introduced to the First Grade classroom of Randi Timmons and Cathy Daniels. There she learned how to work in an inclusion environment with an amazing group of kids. Not only was she witnessing amazing instruction but she was also able to watch and learn from the ESE teacher, Dayle Timmons. No college education can give you a person with the knowledge you can get from watching Dayle. I mean come on…its Dayle Timmons!

In her free time Tracy loves to hang out with her hubby, daughter DA and their two pugs Snuffles and Kiska at their mountain cabin in North Carolina. She says that there is nothing like hiking waterfalls and mountain biking the back woods to refresh one's soul. She is the happiest she has ever been and is extremely excited about starting her first full year at Chets Creek.

Welcome, Tracy. Chets Creek is better for having another member of the Ruark family on its faculty!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Get to Know Laura Edwards

Laura Edwards recently joined Chet’s Creek to help safety-net the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade ESE classes. She couldn’t be more excited to finally have a place to call home after two years of constant moving. Being the wife of a Navy helicopter pilot, Laura has come a long way from Lubbock, Texas where she went to school at Texas Tech University. There, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development and Family Studies and went on to earn her Elementary Educator Certificate through Texas Tech’s Graduate School.

Shortly after finishing her teaching internship in Corpus Christi, Texas, Laura and her husband A.J. were transferred to Milton, Florida where she tutored children of military families. They were then transferred to Mayport, Florida in mid-June 2008. Laura immediately began looking up the local elementary schools’ ratings and websites. It wasn’t long until she stumbled upon Chet’s Creek’s homepage and just knew it was where she had to be. Unable to get a full time teaching position so late in the summer, Laura began substitute teaching around Duval County. Thanks to Julie Middleton, Laura picked up a few sub jobs at Chet’s Creek. Meeting the wonderful students and amazing teachers further solidified Laura’s desire to be a part of such a special family. With the help of Debbie Rossignol, Laura secured an introduction and interview with Mrs. Phillips, and the rest is history!

Laura enjoys spending her free time with her husband, A.J., and her Australian Cattle dog, Scout. She also has a passion for watching movies and reading. When she and A.J. can get away, they enjoy camping or visiting friends and family. Laura and A.J. recently took a trip to Disney World for spring break where they traveled around the world at Epcot. Laura hopes to one day actually visit some of those countries. But in the mean time, she will enjoy her virtual adventure around the world at Chet’s Creek!

It’s been a long road, but Laura has finally earned the title, “teacher” (even if it is just part-time ; ). She couldn’t be more thrilled to start her journey here at such an amazing school. Mostly she looks forward to building relationships with the wonderfully talented team of teachers and the caring and enthusiastic students at Chet’s Creek Elementary.