Friday, November 22, 2019

Parent - Teacher Relationships

Recently I was asked, "What is the best way to react besides staying calm when a parent is upset?"

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

That is a terrific question, and it's one that we should discuss at length.

There is not one definitive answer.

Staying calm is essential.

Sometimes parents will need to vent. They may even attack, criticizing or accusing you of being the problem. Remain calm. Often, their anger subsides in a few moments; they just need to express their frustration.

Don't argue. It's futile. If they are attacking, they are not ready to listen. Also, don't launch a counter-attack. If you attack back, you add to their reasons for being upset. And, it is unprofessional. Just be patient.

I do not want you to think that you are simply supposed to sit quietly and be a parent's "punching bag". If the parent is threatening, accusing, shouting or swearing, it may be in your best interest to pause or end the conference. Politely interrupt a tirade. Phone a colleague, administrator or counselor and request an additional presence. If none is available, reschedule the conference.

If the conference is over the phone, schedule a callback day and time, or suggest a face-to-face meeting. Find a colleague, administrator, or counselor who can attend, and have a conference call or a group meeting.

Demonstrate that you are listening. Use active listening methods (nod, lean forward, etc.) to relate to the parent. Restating the parent's reason for being upset often has a calming effect, because it shows that you are giving the topic consideration and value.

Ask questions, politely. "When did this begin?" "What supports does your child need to be successful?" "What do you try at home that works when...?"

Give the parent respect and preserve his/her dignity. Also preserve the dignity of the student. The parent's "Mama Bear" or "Papa Bear" reaction is natural.

Often, parents are nervous. They are feeling the pressure of having to have a meeting with you. They also may feel like they are being judged for their parenting, and they are naturally feeling defensive. Many also have bad memories of school, too. Keep all these things in mind.

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1)

Some general advice for conferences:

  • I always invite teachers I'm mentoring to sit in with me on some parent conferences, with parent permission, of course. You can learn a lot by being an observer. Ask to sit in on conferences with teachers that you respect. 
  • Invite a teacher, counselor or administrator to sit in on a conference with you, especially if you anticipate upset parents. Having an additional perspective sometimes helps keep a meeting purposeful and calm. 
  • Always greet parents at the door to the room, never from behind your desk. This lessens the feel of "being called to the principal's office". 
  • Again, sit WITH your parents, not behind your desk. Assemble a few desks together in the room and work as equals. 
  • When possible, encourage the parent to bring the child to the conference. Having all parties together eliminates a lot of issues; everyone hears the same things.
  • Begin and end every conference with a kind word, a firm handshake, and looking a parent in the eyes. These actions communicate respect.
  • Always include the positive. What is the child doing well? What is a character trait that you appreciate? Why can the parent be proud?
  • Take notes. This is calming for both you and the parent, and is an indicator that you are listening. Confirm any action steps by giving the parent (or student) a copy of your notes as well.
  • Remember that you are a professional. Maintain a professional demeanor and use professional vocabulary at all times.
  • Be respectful of the parent's time. Be prepared for the conference, and begin and end on time. 
  • Thank the parent for coming (or calling).

Conducting good parent - teacher conferences and maintaining good relationships with parents is a skill built over time. It is worth the investment. It requires practice. 

Ask other teachers to tell you their best and worst parent-teacher conference memories. Then, ply them with questions. This will be a valuable professional development activity.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the ultimate goal of the conference?
  • What do you want parents to remember about you?
  • What other actions can you take to establish a positive climate from the very beginning?

These are my opinion, only. Others may have different thoughts and insights. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

What other advice or questions do you have about parent conferences? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, December 31, 2018

One Word 2019: Boldness

Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

I am a coward...

a lily-livered,

  • I don't want to be confrontational, but I want to share my opinions openly.
  • I don't want to cause division, but I want to stand firm in what I believe.
  • I don't want to be defiant or disrespectful, but I want to make decisions based on what is the best educational practice for my students.
  • I don't want to be inflexible, but I want to remain confident when under fire.

Perhaps the new year will bring a feisty, 


new version of me...

Here's to a new year, and to BOLDNESS!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Countdown to the New Year!

The countdown is on...these are the final moments...

What do you want to accomplish this year? What are your priorities? What fears/worries do you have?

As you begin the school year, I want to share some encouragement and advice. It's not that I have all the answers, or that I never make a mistake. Rather, I have been (and will continue to be) there.

So, a few "words of wisdom" for today:

Set HIGH expectations for yourself. Push yourself. Stretch yourself. Don't be afraid to try new things, and to fail in the attempt. Each day, each class period, you have the opportunity to grow, to experiment, to improve. 

Your students will understand if something doesn't go well. Let yourself be understanding as well. You will make mistakes. You will have lessons that flop. It is not the end. It is the beginning.

We have an incredible job--we can try and try and try, and we can begin again as often as we want.

Don't be satisfied. Strive.

Photo by Michael Heuser on Unsplash

It's going to be a great year!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why We Tribe

Why am I a member of the 
Compelled Tribe of bloggers? 

In this tribe,

  • I am family. I need not earn my position; I am a member.
  • I am not alone. I have a group of people committed to helping me reflect and excel as an educator.
  • I am a contributing member. I work alongside my fellow tribesmen (and tribeswomen), reading, writing, commenting, and encouraging.
  • I find comfort. I find passion. I find courage to continue. I find ideas. 
  • I am inspired. When I read what others are thinking, doing, saying (etc.), I am challenged and stretched.
  • I am allowed to be different. I don't have to write in a certain way, and I don't have to think with a certain mindset.
  • I am reminded that I am not alone. I remember what I do and why.
  • Likewise, I can encourage, strengthen and inspire others. I can give back to my tribe.
  • With my tribe's encouragement, I return to my clasroom, my students and my colleagues revitalized.
  • With my tribe's influence, I am pushed to remember my commitment to blogging, and encouraged to give it my best effort.

Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash
You can learn more about the Compelled Tribe.

  • Do you have a Tribe?
  • What benefits do you reap from them? Or, if you don't have a Tribe, what would you want in one?
  • What imagery comes to mind when you hear the word "tribe"? How might that drive your Tribe choices?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

I Believe you; I DON'T believe in ME

This blog is dedicated to a cherished student. I'm going to call him "Pedro" to provide him anonymity. He and I had a conversation that I will not forget...

In a class of 25 students, I am surely going to have varying ranges of interest and ability, and more importantly, of confidence and willingness to try new things. I also have 25 unique personalities, and an innumerable amount of personality combinations and clashes.

Planning lessons is far more than an outline of agenda items. It's more like arranging a complex piece of music for an orchestra. 

  • How can I structure lessons and tasks so that students can grow in their learning, providing just enough challenge to stretch them, yet not demoralizing them by setting the bar out of reach? 
  • In what ways can I provide creative activities that can give opportunities for all students to exercise their growing skills? 
  • What structures can I have in place to enable students to embrace risks and see failure as a necessary step in true learning? 
  • How can I develop an environment in which students thrive on learning, and not on completing tasks for the sake of a grade? 
  • What does each student need from me in order to help him/her succeed?
Pedro is intelligent. He is capable. He is creative. He is talented in many ways.
Pedro doesn't always enjoy school, desks, structured classes. That's okay!
Spanish isn't his primary interest. That's okay, too! 

Nearing the end of the school year, I often gave students independent/group tasks that were creative and communicative (in Spanish):

  • "Discuss with your friends which movie you'd like to see..."
  • "Your family goes on a picnic..."
  • "You and your friends are lost in the woods..."
  • "Have a conversation with a store clerk as you purchase various items..."

Many students embrace these activities; they enjoy being creative (and a little silly), and they stretch their learning, "Mrs. Kurtz, could we...?" Yes!

For some students, like Pedro, these activities cause stress, panic, and even anger and shutdown.

Seeing Pedro NOT working (and instead playing on his phone), I went to him and urged him to get busy. He said, "I don't know what to do."

So, I repeated the instructions, a little impatiently (to my chagrin), and walked away to circulate among the students.

A few minutes later I returned, and the student is still on his phone. No work is proceeding.

"Pedro, you need to get busy."

"I don't understand. I can't do this. I don't know how to begin."

"You can do this. Ask your friend, Esteban, for help with an idea to get started."

Again, I left and checked on the other students. All are creating; many are laughing; work is progressing everywhere--except with Pedro.

Exasperated (again, to my chagrin), I returned to Pedro.

"You need to do this. Get started. Just write SOMETHING to begin."

"I don't know what to write. I can't do it." (at this point, his temper is in full force, and I feel like a volcano about to erupt)

"Pedro, you CAN do this. I will NOT give you something that you cannot do. This IS attainable. Believe me."

"Mrs. Kurtz, I DO believe you. I DON'T believe in me."

Ah, at that moment my heart was broken. 

How could we be nearing the end of the school year, and yet this student still has this type of reservation? What have I done? What haven't I done? 

What more could I do?

I will believe in you for you. 
Trust me.
Let me help you get started."

I broke down the task again. I asked him to tell me a sentence he could use in this scenario. He did. I asked him to write it on paper. He did.

I walked away.

Ten minutes later, he was finished. It was fine. No, it was good. No, it was terrific.

Pedro had conquered what seemed to him an insurmountable challenge.

This wasn't our first struggle in this area. This wouldn't be the end of our struggles.

But perhaps this is what I CAN do: continue to provide the challenges and the confidence for both of us. Reiterate the message. Acknowledge and celebrate the conquests. Believe.

Pedro is a great kid. I will continue to believe in him. 

  • Who believed in you when you couldn't believe in yourself?
  • What is your reaction to new and challenging tasks?
  • How have you helped your students to develop the confidence to be risk-takers and to embrace failure?

For all the "Pedros" of our classrooms: 
You CAN do it, 
we WILL help you!

Saturday, February 10, 2018


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I emailed her a long message with my thoughts. She replied. Her responses are in green.) 

I must confess that I often feel inadequate, 
not good enough.

I am a good teacher. But I see so many ways that I could improve.

THIS…THIS…this is what makes a great teacher!  

And sometimes when I read of all the things that teachers “should” be doing, I get overwhelmed.  

I don’t even have a class of students now 
and I get overwhelmed at all that teachers are expected to do.

I try to adjust my teaching to meet new research and new ideas. I study my craft and I study my students.
                                     ↖This is the key, right here.   

After lessons, I’m almost always thinking about what went well or badly, and what could be better. I assess what my students picked up and what they are lacking in understanding. I decide what I need to do next. For classes that I teach multiple times a day, I often adjust the lesson between periods.

Because I feel it’s so important that students learn to read critically and think logically/systematically, I spend more time on this than many would say that I should.

Learning, long term… learning is the key. 
Not memorizing for a test. 

The current FL push is 90% target language in the classroom. I like that idea. I would love to be there. I am not. I stop too often to be sure that students understand, see the logic in the language, know how and why things work, express themselves clearly, understand that 

what I want most is learning—understanding.

Let’s be honest, how many of your students
 are going to go out in the world 
and speak fluent Spanish? 
I hope that doesn’t crush you;  
I love you...

Besides, I want to ensure that as many as possible learn a language and understand. I am constantly bringing along the lower end. I want them to stick with it, develop confidence, know that they too can learn and succeed. I don’t want them to give up and say, “I can’t learn a language”. That will overshadow them the rest of their lives.

What you do is give your students exposure 
to a new language and culture which is most important.

But I am not making excuses. I am working to make that transition. I’m studying and practicing, and trying new things. Constantly.

You teach them how to live a life 
where they can make an impact.

Often at the end of the day I feel guilty. 
I could have done better. 
I could have tried harder. 
I could have prepared more…

The other incredibly important thing you do 
is to teach your students to think.
Thinking is what will get us through life.

Learning to learn gets them through life.

And when they learn Spanish along the way that is AWESOME!

Do you know how many times I have asked myself, “How were you ever selected as a Finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year”? 

I don’t ask this trying to assume a false humility. 

I see my flaws.

All of this letter
is why you made it to the final round… 
All of it.

Last month I was one among many readers privileged to read and score essays for the first round of the 2019 PATOY nominees. It was humbling. They are making a huge impact. They are changing things.

I invest in students.

And colleagues.

One at a time.

Sometimes I have a positive impact.

Sometimes I don’t seem to accomplish anything.

I don’t judge myself based on “success/failure” for my investments. That would be futile and skewed.

It’s just that I see how much more I could do, 
what I could do differently, 
how I want to change, 
where I am weak…

And I feel inadequate.

THIS…THIS…this is what makes a great teacher!  

 Always trying to improve your craft 
and learn what your students need. 
Many just do the same thing year after year 
and that isn’t working for them or their students. 
We want to be considered professionals 
like doctors, accountants and lawyers. 
Would any of us want a doctor who 
isn’t using the latest breakthroughs in medicine?   

But, perhaps, this very feeling of inadequacy

Is what makes me a good teacher?


Faced with the choice to be content or to be dissatisfied,

I choose to face my inadequacies 
and to fight to improve.

Again today.

And tomorrow.

And the next day.

And I, my friend, am so happy that you let me
 go on the journey with you. 
You inspire me to be a 
better person, mom, teacher and coach. 
Thank you!

  • Do you have a friend, mentor, coach? 
  • Does he/she encourage and push you? 
  • Are you a friend, mentor and coach to others? 
  • What do you do to encourage and push them?

This short video is from the PATOY 2018 dinner. You can hear why I think so much of Stephanie!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Administrators who Know

The #CompelledTribe topic for February is "Evaluation". Never having been on the evaluator side, I share from a teacher perspective.

When Ken was an administrator in our building, he was always popping in and out of classrooms. Some days he waved and kept walking. On other days he entered and listened for a minute or two. Once in a while he sat down and watched, or paused to chat with the students or with me. 

At the time of formal observation, Ken was already familiar with each teacher's habits, and the students and the teachers were already familiar with him. All was more natural. It was more like a culminating project than a one-time visitation. 

  • On his part, Ken knew not only what to expect, but also what questions to ask in order to stretch the teacher. It wasn't judgmental; it was insightful. 
  • On the teacher's part, the formal observation wasn't a performance, nor was it a threat. It was the next step in a dialogue between educators desiring continuous improvement.
  • On the student's part, the administrator was part of a team, not an authority wielding power over others. There was a collaborative effort to provide them with the best education possible.

I admit that this style of administrative leadership is difficult. The demands on an administrator's time are crushing; some days administrators may not even be able to leave the office. 

A measurement instrument for teacher observations and evaluations will always lack. Like a framed photo, an observation of a class captures a moment in time. Good or bad, the image is incomplete.

An involved and insightful administrator can use a teacher observation rubric as one of many tools for gauging the effectiveness of teachers. The rest of the indicators come from regular interactions. As a teacher know his/her students, so an administrator knows his/her teachers.

If you are an administrator, how well do you know your teachers? Do you find evaluations difficult or uncomfortable?

If you are a teacher, does your administrator visit regularly? Does this encourage and motivate you? 

(Bonus Reading: My husband works in the tool and die industry. If you don't know what that is, just use my "layman's definition": they make the things that make things! Over the years he has had various employers as well. The ones who most impacted him were those who arrived at work each morning and walked around the toolroom with a cup of coffee--taking time to share a "Good morning" with each employee. Those employers had their finger on the pulse of the entire shop.)

Parent - Teacher Relationships

Recently I was asked, "What is the best way to react besides staying calm when a parent is upset?" Photo by  Icons8 Team  on  ...