Phonics Friday - The Short Vowel Edition

I know most of my Texas teacher friends started back to school this week.  If you're in the same boat, HAPPY FRIDAY TO YOU!!!!  Whether you started back this week or a few weeks ago, you've definitely earned your weekend!!!

Now let's get on with Phonics Friday, shall we?!

One of the first phonics skills I cover at the beginning of the year is vowels.  I introduce both short and long, but focus mainly on the short vowel sounds until that concept is mastered.  However, I think it's important for our kids to know BOTH sounds since they'll encounter those sounds/vowels in their reading.

When I introduce vowels, I tell my kids they're the glue that holds our words together.  I'm sure you do the same thing, too!  I found these great vowel glue bottle posters from the talented Teacher Wife about 5ish years ago and have been displaying them in my classroom ever since.  They go right in the middle of my phonics posters behind my guided reading/small group table.

   Y'all might remember this fun little song I made up  a couple of years ago.  We sing it A LOT!

While most of my short vowel instruction is done during whole group shared reading/writing experiences, I reinforce those concepts during small group and independent centers as well.  Repeated practice is so important and I want my kids to have TONS of it!!

This is a short/long vowel activity I created with small group in mind.  I like to introduce and play games with my kids in a small group setting before placing it in their independent centers.  I want them to be SUCCESSFUL when they're working alone or with a partner and in order to achieve that I need to give them direct, explicit instruction first.
 I have spinners or short vowels, spinners for long vowels, and then combined spinners (as pictured below) for both vowel sounds.  For the combined vowel sounds, I'll spin the spinner and then we identify the vowel sound...long or short...then the kids search their game boards to find a picture that has the matching vowel sound and cover it with their counter.  The first player to cover X amount of pictures first, wins.  

This is another activity I introduce in a small group setting before placing it in independent centers.  The idea for this activity is to have kids build a pyramid of vowel sounds starting from the bottom to the top.  I have a set of short and long vowel cards.  My kids have their own "build a pyramid" game mat and a set of double sided counters (any counter will work).  Then I turn over the vowel cards, one at a time, say the word on the card and then the kids have to identify the vowel sound they hear in the middle.  This game is a little tricky because they have build the bottom row before they can move to the middle and top.  All vowel sounds have to be covered on bottom, so if I turn over a card that shows "toe", and they don't have a long o on the bottom of their pyramid, they can't cover anything up.  They have to wait 'til the next card is flipped.  The first person to build their pyramid, wins! 

Isolating the medial vowel is another important concept we review throughout the year.  
These sound isolation & identification cards are perfect for that.   They have to look at the picture and then isolate the indicated sound in the top left corner that they hear in the word.  Then they have to identify where they hear the sound in the word...beginning/middle/end.  To extend the isolation and identification piece, they build the word as well.  I set out a tray of my letter tiles OR I give them dry erase markers and a dry erase sleeve.  Just depends on the time we have and what my objective is for the day.  I always introduce the CVC cards first and then we move onto the CCVC and eventually the CVCe.  By the time we et to the more challenging skills and concepts, they're already familiar with the activity and catch on really quickly.  This makes a great warm-up and/or fast finisher/anchor activity, too.

Because it's important to give our kids as many opportunities for repeated practice as we can, I love creating puzzles for various concepts.  Kids love puzzles!  Heck...I love puzzles :)  I created these short vowel puzzles for my kids to use independently.  I introduce these during a whole group lesson first and limit the number of puzzles they can solve while working independently.  I eventually will add more and more puzzles, but I want to insure success first so the choices are limited in the beginning...especially in Kindergarten :)

Blending boxes have been a class favorite for some time and I think that's mostly because the kids love to identify and create "silly" words.  I keep a set of these short vowel blending boxes at home because my boys love them, too.  They love taking those silly words they make and then use them in random sentences.  They crack themselves up.


As a first grade teacher, we started out the year learning all about short vowels.  Most of my kids were reading at the beginning of the year and we expanded on their schema with lots of short vowel activities.  We broke those down into "chunks" and would use those as the basis for our weekly spelling tests.  

When I was planning ahead and thinking about working with my K/1 intervention kids, I wanted to have something that would be good for both ability levels.  Challenging and remedial at the same time.  I spent a little time creating these fun, hands-on activities to use with those kids to give them repeated exposure and multiple opportunities to work with those sounds.  These are just a few examples of the different ways we work with short vowels in our classroom.

These flip books make great independent centers.  I have my kids keep these flip books in a phonics pocket (just a piece of construction paper folded up and in half to create pockets).  Their phonics pockets stay in their desks/cubbies and I'll often have them grab their flip books and read through them to practice decoding words out of context.  They make a great word family resource for my kids as well.

All of the short vowel activities mentioned above can be found by clicking the pics below.

What are some fun ways you incorporate short vowel instruction in your classroom?!  I'd love to add more ideas to my ever growing files!!!!  

All About Word Walls

If you’re a teacher, there’s a good chance you’ve got a Word Wall in your room {either by desire or demand}.  9 times out of 10, the Word Wall you spent hours planning, setting up, & prepping is just a piece of wall d├ęcor.  Am I right or am I totally off base?!  Maybe I’m just speaking from experience.  Hopefully you know what I’m talking about! 

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with my Word Walls.  They’re not conveniently located.  At all.  And really, that’s all my fault.  I could make it more accessible.  I would always start out the year with a BANG….like we all do.  I would add words to the wall every week.  Then a few months in and I start getting lazy.  

Do I REALLY have to stand on that shelf to put those words up??  
UGH…I’ll just wait until tomorrow.
 And then tomorrow becomes two weeks later. Grrrr.  The struggle is real!

I’ve been working with a few teachers who have the exact same issue.  Inaccessible, ineffective word walls.  So we got to work and started brainstorming ways to fix the issue.  Thank God for Pinterest {can I get an amen?!}  I do realize Pinterest isn’t a person and I’m not going to credit the website…I’m just thankful I can search for something and about a thousand VISUAL images pop up in the same place.  Love that.  I am SUCH a visual learner!!!

My favorite Word Wall displays are those that are bordered and sectioned off on cabinets or white boards.  I haven’t been able to do this because I’ve never had any accessible cabinets and my white board was either blocked by the SmartBoard or had to be used as a screen for my projector.  Like I said…the struggle is REAL.

I’m a little obsessed with brain research and think it’s SO fascinating.  Did you know that our brain is actually programmed to see in borders?!  Fascinating!

Speaking of making things visually easier for our kids to process, another thing you might want to consider is adding an anchor picture with each header to help with letter/sound relationships…this is especially important for our babies who find letter & sound recognition a bit challenging.  The amazing Debbie Diller talks about this, too.   I created these word wall header cards for these sweet teachers to use in their rooms…just click on the pic to download some for your classroom, too! {FREE!!}

I’ve always put my words on the wall in one uniform color and the background paper has always been solid. Research shows that the uniformity helps our kids to process and retain information and the solid background colors that serve as a base for your word walls cut out any additional visual distractions.  I think minimal distractions are so important for our emergent readers!

For our primary kids, it’s imperative to put the Word Wall in an accessible place.  This isn’t always possible due to space restrictions and what not, but I love these solutions…

If the thought of having a portable word wall scares you a bit….not being able to see each word on the wall as you would with a traditional word wall space….you could always incorporate both in your classroom.  You just have to get a little creative with your space J

I’ve always utilized a personal Word Wall for each of my kids as well.  Each one of my babies gets one at the beginning of the year and then they add to it as the year goes on.  Just staple/glue the pages to the back and front of a file folder and laminate.  Voila!  You can use vis a vis markers to add words as the year progresses and if the word walls are still in good condition at the end of the year you can save them and reuse them next year, too!  {However, I know our Kinder friends might have a little struggle with that ;)}  Grab your Personal Word Wall FREEBIE!  Just click on the pic!

At the beginning of the year in Kindergarten, our babies struggle with handwriting…most of them, anyway.  So what I’d do is have them bring their personal word walls to the teacher table during our guided reading/small group instruction and I’d quickly add words {that we have ALREADY learned and reviewed} to their walls.  I gradually release control as the year …and their handwriting…progresses.

The first words that go on the word wall are our names.  I usually start the year out with NO words on the wall.  Then we add names after the first couple of days or so.  I always have a picture next to their names as well {I usually create these in Power Point after I take all of their pictures so that I can make multiple copies for various name activities we do during that first month of school}.  This is an example of what that looks like....

As the year goes on, we add more and more words to the wall, but ONLY after we have learned and reviewed them…typically a week after they’re introduced.  I keep those words on our focus wall and then transfer them to the word wall. 

Now that the word wall is set up, what in the world are we supposed to do with it?!  I know it’s all too easy for it to just become another “pretty thing” in our classroom.  It can be challenging to figure out how to incorporate it into everyday classroom happenings and make it relevant.  But I think that’s the key…incorporating it EVERY.SINGLE.DAY….then it becomes a habit!  And the kids have SO much fun with it, too!

I put together a little resource for the teachers I’ve been working with…just a little something to help them make their word walls more interactive.  It includes 32 teacher activity cards {that’s 32 different ways to incorporate the every day use of the word wall in your room}, printables that accompany some of the activities, and 200 words for the word wall {plus an editable template for you to add more words  as needed  Like we talked about earlier, I’ve always displayed my word wall words in black and red, on white background. {consonants = black, vowels = red}.  Maybe this will be helpful for you, too!

Here’s a little sample freebie from the packet…maybe it’s something you can use in your room this year J

I’d love to hear more about the way you incorporate the use of the Word Wall in your classrooms!  

Organizing (& A B2S ONE DAY Sale)

Okay.  So I wanted to pop in real quick talk about organization. I'm asked this question often in various forms...  "How do you organize your clip art?"  "How do you store your center activities?", "What is your favorite planner/organizer?", etc.  I figured it would easiest to just lump it all together and tell you a little bit about the different ways I organize just in case some of these ideas are helpful for you, too.

I've been using Erin Condren planners (Life Planner) since about 2010.  I absolutely LOVE her stuff. I was having a really hard time justifying the price tag because I don't utilize all of the bells and whistles like I should.  I like to carry my planner with me where I go and it was just a bit too bulky making it cumbersome to carry around like I wanted.  I switched to Plum Paper last year and loved it, but I had the same problem.  I've been on the hunt for the *perfect* planner and ended up randomly finding one I adore for $10 at Target!!!  So far, it's *perfect* for what I need!!  It doesn't have all the bells and whistles...stickers, pockets, etc.,..but I absolutely adore the format.  LOTS of space to write.  It's the size of a regular notebook, but not thick.  I can carry it with me everywhere!!  I just use flair pens to stay (appointments), green (weekly menu), etc.  I realized when it comes to planners I'm a VERY simple person!!  HA!

It's pretty, isn't it?!  And it wipes clean...a VERY important feature when you're dealing with someone as klutzy as me :)

Just like every other planner, this one also has each month-at-a-glance, but the spaces are bigger which I love.

I love the format for the day-to-day planning.  There's enough space to write the day's activities/events, a space for all my "to-do's" (I LOVE a checklist!!!), and I can also fit my weekly meal planning dinners as well.  LOVE.

I've tried organizing my clipart in a variety of ways, but I finally settled on organization by theme.  Since I plan and create thematically, this method seems to make the most sense.  I can quickly find exactly what I need...see?!  

I organize my digital files similarly.  Subject area and theme.  I keep all of my TpT purchases in a separate folder labeled "Purchased Resources" and within that folder I organize by subject area and theme as well.  

My files are all stored on several different servers because I'm paranoid and like the idea of having "backup".  Dropbox, Carbonite, and EHDs :)  I hope I'm covered, lol!!!  Nothing on my hard drive because I don't like to use a ton of space.

In the classroom, I keep all of my station/center activities stored in either gallon sized ziplock baggies OR 9x12 tabbed envelopes and stored in the Sterilite drawers.  I label those drawers by month.  Since all of my activities are thematic, I can pull and plan for the month.  For me, that just makes sense although I'm sure there are easier more effective/efficient ways to organize!!!   When I was keeping everything in filing cabinets it seemed like it took me FOREVER to find things!  Now I know exactly where to go for my resources :)

To take it a step further, I keep ALL of my resources written in a little binder.   I have pages in my binder that are labeled by theme since most of my teaching is done thematically.  For example, on my "apple" pages, I have the activity written in one column, the author of the activity written in another {so that if any pieces to the activity are missing, I can quickly look it up & print it off on my computer without searching for HOURS}, and the location of said activity in the last column {monthly drawers, filing cabinet, etc.}  This is something I take with me to planning so that I know exactly what I have when it's time to come up with activities to share with the team!

Here's a little idea of what I do for math.  Again, it's all kept in my math conferring binder.  

The top picture is how I organize and plan math conferences.  I write out all of our math objectives {the ones from our benchmark assessments} on white labels and just place them inside of a file folder.  When I have students that don't master an objective on our benchmark assessments {every 6 weeks} I write their name on a little sticky and place it next to the skill...or skills...they didn't master.  When I go to conference with my kids, I know exactly which skills to target and this helps me plan A TON!

The bottom picture is how I keep my math groups organized.  The left shows my math groups {high, medium, low}.  They're color coded because of the way I differentiate my math tubs.   The right side is a breakdown of my cooperative learning groups...this is the group kids are in for their math stations/tubs.  They're grouped heterogeneously to help with peer teaching.

This is how I keep my literacy stations and tubs organized.  I implemented this a few years ago and let go of some of my control.  I was SCARED.  But y' was AMAZING.  The kids really loved the autonomy and it was stress free for me!  Basically, I just typed up each student's name on a sheet of paper & laminated it.  I placed each sheet in a literacy station/tub along with an expo marker.  The kids knew that only 2 kids were allowed to work at a station/tub at one time, but they had the choice to go to any tub they wanted.  When they got there, they used the Expo to mark their names off the list.  By Friday, they should have completed all of their tubs/station work.  I could quickly scan over the lists to see if any of my kids didn't go a station/tub if there names weren't crossed off the list.  This was a great little motivator for Fun Friday centers :)

And don't forget...Teachers Pay Teachers is having a ONE DAY sale TODAY!!!  Everything in my little shop is 20% off today.  You can use the promo code MORE15 to get an additional 10% off of your total purchase.  Click on the "shop my store" link at the top of the page to stock up before the sale ends at midnight!

Have a great day and happy organizing {and shopping ;)}!!

Phonics Friday - Small Group Phonics Activities

These last few weeks have been 50 shades of cray.  I'm not sure if I told y'all, but we got a roommate :)  She's actually a friend of my niece's and she was starting her first semester of student teaching here in town.  She had never been to Texas before and was a little wary of living so far from home (Indiana), so she was going to be staying with us until December.  Remember how hard it was to student teach all day & not get paid??  And then rush home, get changed, and wait tables until midnight??  And then wake up at 5:30 the next day and do it all again?  Or was that just me?!?!  We were excited to help her out so she didn't have to do the same.  

She got here last week and her first few days were abruptly disturbed when she got a call saying her dad had a heart attack.  Praise Jesus he is OK!!!!!  However, after lots of prayer she decided it would be best to move back home to be closer to her family....a choice she will NEVER regret.  We, however, miss her to pieces.  She was such a blessing to our little family in the very short time she was here...wise beyond her years!!  The school that gets her is in for a real treat and those kids and their families....blessed. 

Now that we have said our goodbyes, it's time to go ahead with a little Phonics Friday action.

In last Monday's post I said I'd be back today to chat more about the small group games and activities I use during guided reading.  SO let's chat about that.  While these aren't the only games and activities I use, these are a few that have been tremendously helpful...and successful...the last few years in the classroom.  

One of the skills...especially in Kindergarten...that seems to be challenging to many of my kids is sound substitution and deletion.  I take a lot of different opportunities to integrate this skill and practice throughout the day.  We do a lot of this during our calendar time.  When  we talk about the days of the week, I'll often say, "Who can say the word Thursday without the /th/.  What new word do we get when we say the word 'week' without the /k/?  Change the /m/ in Monday to /t/...what new word does it make?  Is it a real word or a nonsense word?"  Those are just a few quick ways I incorporate that skill during my calendar time...takes all of maybe 2 minutes...and they're getting that exposure and repeated practice.  When I want something more in depth and focused, I use these activities/games...

I use the sound substitution prompt cards for quick assessment and review.  It gives me the opportunity to informally assess my kids and check in with their abilities.  Then I know who needs intervention, more one-on-one, etc.  Because the prompt cards aren't necessarily "exciting" for the kids, I made some game boards to go with it.  I read the prompt cards aloud and the kids have to find the picture on their game board that matches the new word.  So, if the prompt card says "Say the word BEEP.  Now say the word BEEP with a /j/", they have to find the picture of a JEEP on their game board and cover it with a counter.  The first person to cover X amount of pictures (4 in a row..3 down...4 corners..blackout, etc.), wins.  They LOVE this!!!  I love taking these kinds of skills and turning them into games that are fun for the kids, but also provide learning opportunities!

Here's the same concept for a related consonant deletion. Prompt cards and game boards. 

Here's another final consonant deletion activity we do at teacher table....puzzles!  I know this seems more like an independent activity...and that's what it eventually becomes...but when I'm first introducing the concept of final consonant deletion, these puzzles are key!  These visuals take an abstract concept and make it more concrete.  I'll place about 8-10 puzzles in the middle of the group/table and then have my kids race to assemble correctly.  Sometimes I'll set a timer and see who can match the most pairs in 1/2/3 minutes, etc. or I'll have them play 'til my sand timer runs out.  Eventually...after most of my kids have mastered this concept...I'll move this activity to my fast finisher tubs and give them more opportunities for repeated practice.

Now let's move on to long and short vowels.  I introduce the concept of vowels VERY early in the year (in Kindergarten).  It's something we are constantly talking about.  After all, they're the glue that holds our words together.  It's important they know the difference between a vowel and a consonant and start working to identify both.  

Because we love games so much in our classroom, I created more game boards we use to identify both short and long vowel sounds.  I have spinners or short vowels, spinners for long vowels, and then combined spinners (as pictured below) for both vowel sounds.  For the combined vowel sounds, I'll spin the spinner and then we identify the vowel sound...long or short...then the kids search their game boards to find a picture that has the matching vowel sound and cover it with their counter.  The first player to cover X amount of pictures first, wins.  

Do y'all's kids stack cups in PE?  I can't remember what it's called, but fast stacking??  Maybe?!?!  LOL.  I'm sure that's not it.  Anyway, I realized my kids love to "build" when I saw them stacking cups in PE.  I thought that was so cool.  I try to bring that concept into the classroom.  Although these aren't cups, you could definitely incorporate them with an activity like this.  The idea for this activity is to have kids build a pyramid of vowel sounds starting from the bottom to the top.  I have a set of short and long vowel cards.  My kids have their own "build a pyramid" game mat and a set of double sided counters (any counter will work).  Then I turn over the vowel cards, one at a time, say the word on the card and then the kids have to identify the vowel sound they hear in the middle.  This game is a little tricky because they have build the bottom row before they can move to the middle and top.  All vowel sounds have to be covered on bottom, so if I turn over a card that shows "toe", and they don't have a long o on the bottom of their pyramid, they can't cover anything up.  They have to wait 'til the next card is flipped.  The first person to build their pyramid, wins! 

Another important skill where repeated practice is necessary is blending onsets and rimes.  I think it's really important to give our kids opportunities to decode words in AND out of context.  These blend strips are great for that!  The kids read the onset and then choose a rime.  Both rimes on the strips will make a real word.  They write the word and illustrate it.  I give my kids about 5 blend strips each during small group and use this as a warm-up activity.  To extend the activity, I'll have them incorporate one of their words in a sentence.  Depending on our objectives, I may even have them write a sentence incorporating one of their words...maybe a guided writing activity, etc.  I love that this provides them with the "out of context" opportunity for blending sounds.  

Speaking of blending sounds out of context, this is how we incorporate that skill into our small group time.  Spin and blend word wheels!  The onsets are printed on the outer wheel and the rimes on the inner wheel.  Kids just spin the inner wheel and when it stops they have to go around the wheel one onset and rime at a time and blend them together.  I give them dry erase boards to record the real and nonsense words they can make with each spin.  This is usually incorporated as a warm-up activity and we typically only spin once.  What I love about this activity is that they come up with different words each time they spin. Once my kids understand how this activity works, I'll put these in our fast finisher/anchor activity tubs for repeated practice.  They LOVE these!!!

These sound isolation & identification cards are great for small group, too.  Anytime I create something for small group practice, I try to make sure it can be used independently too.  That's what I love about these cards.  They have to look at the picture and then isolate the indicated sound in the top left corner that they hear in the word.  Then they have to identify where they hear the sound in the word...beginning/middle/end.  To extend the isolation and identification piece, they build the word as well.  I set out a tray of my letter tiles OR I give them dry erase markers and a dry erase sleeve.  Just depends on the time we have and what my objective is for the day.  I always introduce the CVC cards first and then we move onto the CCVC and eventually the CVCe.  By the time we et to the more challenging skills and concepts, they're already familiar with the activity and catch on really quickly.  This makes a great warm-up and/or fast finisher/anchor activity, too.

Finally, we have our Deep Dish Digraphs.  Who doesn't love pizza?! I love teaching digraphs.  I typically start with these around November when we're in Kindergarten because they see these spelling patterns in so many of their leveled readers.  Equipping them with the knowledge they need to be successful is important to me, but to make this skill exciting and relevant we play this little game.  
I have some old Domino's pizza boxes (not used) and I store the pizza pieces inside.  I place the box in the center of the group/table and then choose a digraph spinner.  I have spinners for all different vs. sh, ch/th/ph/wh/sh, etc.  Just depends on what I've introduced, the objective, and what I want to review/practice.  Each of my kids gets a pizza pan (on cardstock).  The pizza slices are placed in the box face down.  I spin the digraph spinner and then each of the kids reaches into the box and pulls out a pizza slice.  If they pull out a slice with the matching digraph sound, they place it on their pizza pan.  If not, they wait 'til the next spin.  The first person to build a pizza pie, wins!  They LOVE this game!!!!  They eat it up (<-------see what I did there?!?!?!)

Whew!!  That's a LOT of phonics for one day!!!  Ha!!!  If you're interested in any of these activities, just click on the pictures above to take you to the links.  You can grab each of them individually OR you can grab the bundle and save!!  Click on the pic below for more ....

Building Relationships (The Teacher-Parent Edition)

Today we're talking about something that's near and dear to my heart as both a teacher AND a parent...

Establishing and maintaining relationships with parents!!!

When I first started teaching about 13 years ago, I was a very timid and insecure 23-year-old.  I was unsure of  myself as a teacher and I was nervous as all get out about talking to parents.  I remember being asked (by several different parents) on meet the teacher night my first year, "how old are you?!?!" I remember thinking how they must have thought I looked too young to be teaching their babies.  Oh, how I wish I still had that problem. 
#grayhairdon'tcare #crowsfeet #wrinklesfordays

I remember being so scared to tell parents about their child's behavior...would they accuse me of lying?  Or say I didn't know how to handle my kids because it was my first year in the classroom?  
I walked on eggshells when it came to important conversations.  I wanted to seem competent.  I wanted parents to love me.  I remember being terrified to talk about the "hard stuff"...low test scores, struggling learners, etc.  I wanted to bypass those conversations and talk about all the cool things we were going on in the classroom.  Being a professional is tough! 

That first year in the classroom taught me SO much about myself as a teacher...both professionally and personally.  I learned to put on my "big girl panties" and deal with it all.  For me, it was all trial and error.  I made a lot of mistakes and there are situations I wish I could take back and do-over.  But without those experiences, I wouldn't have learned and grown...both personally and professionally :) 

Since that first year, parent/teacher relationships have always been important to me...even the hard conversations.  I'm even more sensitive to these relationships since becoming a parent myself.  
My goal as a teacher has always been to have strong relationships with my parents.  I know some of the girls I've taught with think I'm nuts for having hour long conferences with my parents.  I just can't stop talking. I love building those relationships!!!  

To this day I'm still great friends with SO many of my former parents.  I even had a few of my parents drive from Dallas to Houston when I got married 11 years ago!  Every year I get Christmas cards from many of my former families and I love keeping up with them all on Facebook, too.  Really, they've all become part of my family.  Part of who I am as a teacher.  And I love them to pieces.

I'm definitely no expert when it comes to these relationships, but I think it's an important conversation to have and I wanted to share a few little tips I think  (in my own experience) are really important for establishing and maintaining them.

1.   Making deposits before taking withdrawals
Oh goodness is this important!  As a parent, I don't want the first thing out of my teacher's mouth to be something negative about my kids.  Trust me...I know they can be a handful, but ohmiword...hearing the bad before the good would sure make me wonder if they see anything good about my child at all.   Every parent's wish is for a teacher to love their child and see the good in them {or maybe that's just my wish??!!}.  I always try to keep that in mind.  Every student is someone's child. 

Every year we have our sweet little stinkers.  We really want to nip their not-so-desireable behavior in the bud before it gets out of control and our first line of defense is to pull clips/call parents/send home notes, etc.  I'm not saying any of that is wrong, but if that's the first conversation our parents have with us, we're probably less likely to bond.  That could make for some really awkward and tense conferences in the future and it could put our parents on the defensive if other situations arise throughout the year.  Until you're able to have positive communication with your parents, try and find the best in every student and focus on that.  Make a deposit before taking a withdrawal.

Here are some tips:

-Make a positive phone call home to each of your parents/guardians the first few weeks of school. This establishes a good connection with your parents and starts the year off on the right foot.  Don't email.  CALL.  Call a few different parents each day so that you aren't trying to fit it all into one afternoon.  If you're worried about getting "stuck" on the phone in a long conversation, preface the conversation with, "I know you're busy and I don't want to keep you, but I just had to call you and tell you how much I love having Susie in my class!  She is always so happy and I love the way she takes the initiative to help without being asked.  This is going to be a great year!  I just wanted to let you know!!"  

-In addition to a phone call, send home a handwritten "thank you" card to each of your parents the first few weeks of school.  I've done this for years and always have parents tell me how much they loved the gesture.  My thank you cards read something like this....
"Dear Mr. & Mrs. Carroll, 
Thank you so much for trusting me with Landon.  He is such a sweet boy with so much potential and I can tell this is going to be a great year.  I am so excited to watch him grow this year.  He is so kind to others and has such neat handwriting.  He loves to participate in our group discussions, too!  Thank you so much for giving him such a great foundation and preparing him for our year together.  I'm looking forward to partnering with you this year and if you ever have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, please contact me at (123)555-5555.  This is going to be a wonderful year!
Sincerely, me"
I always try to include something specific about their child in the note (handwriting, participation, etc.).

- Keep a "behavior sheet" for every student in your class.  At the beginning of the year, organize these into their portfolios.  Carry around a clipboard with blank labels.  When you notice something great about your kids, jot it down on a label and stick it on their "behavior sheet".  These behaviors could be well with others, helps without being asked, very attentive, always positive, etc.  Notice the good and jot it down.  When you want to make a positive phone call home or send home a quick little "happy note", you'll have specific examples of things to include in your conversation :)

2. Be Accessible
An "open door policy" can mean a lot of different things depending on where you teach.  As teachers we definitely want to establish boundaries.  It can be distracting for our kids when there are too many visitors and it can definitely throw off a routine and cause interruptions in our instructional time.  Make sure those boundaries are set, but also make sure that parents know they are welcome.  If your school doesn't allow parents in the classroom, this might manifest itself by way of phone calls and conferences.  I personally give parents my cell phone and tell them "if you can trust me with your child for 10 months, I can trust you with my phone number.  I may not get back to you right away if I'm spending time with my family, but if it's an emergency I will contact you as soon as possible."  This sets boundaries in a nice way, but also lets them know I'm there for them if they need me.  Of course, this doesn't work for everyone, but it's something I'm comfortable with and it works for me. And I always want my parents to know that they can contact me about anything...if they're unsure about something, have a question, are upset, worried, etc.  Whatever it is, I want them to know they can contact me about it.  I personally prefer phone calls because tone can't be read through an email and so many things can get misconstrued and taken out of context.  HOWEVER, I also know that email is important for documentation purposes.  

3.  Be Upfront
Don't be scared to talk about the hard stuff.  You're not doing anyone any favors by tiptoeing around the hard to have conversations.  As always be professional and kind, but by all means, be upfront.  Parents need to know if you have concerns and you need to tell them exactly what your concerns could mean for the future.  They most certainly don't want to be blindsided by anything.  If your sweetie is bullying his friends, let your parents know what you see so they aren't in shock when he is sent to the principal for something really serious.  If your sweet baby is struggling in various academic areas and isn't on track to be promoted to the next grade level, let your parents know before the last day of school.  Nobody likes to be surprised!!  

4.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!!!
I don't think I can stress this one enough!  I've always had great relationships with my parents, but there have been a couple of times when parents have been upset with me (happens to us all!) due to a misunderstanding or miscommunication.  Parents are the best advocates for their kids and I always encourage them to do just that...advocate for your babies!!!  Heck...I'll advocate for mine because I know no one else will.  All that to be said, the better the communication, the less you'll have to worry about anyone misunderstanding.  Here are some things I've found that really help keep parents in the loop.

- Parent/Teacher Conferences - I'm not talking about the conferences you're required to have 3-4 times a year.  I'm talking about the conferences that are needed to discuss pressing issues....behavior, academic concerns, bullying, etc.  Be proactive and set-up conferences when you feel there's a need. 

- Weekly Newsletters - Let's be real.  Our students aren't always forthcoming about what's going on in their classrooms.  I know when I pick up my boys at the end of the day the first question I ask is always, "how was your day?!?!" or "what did you do today??!!"  The answers are always "fine" and "nothing", LOL!!!  But it's SO true!!!  Being a parent myself, I always want to know what my kids are doing when they're not with me.  What are they learning?  What can I do at home to help them be more successful in the classroom?  Are there any special events/birthdays/activities coming up?  A weekly newsletter keeps them in the loop and aware of what's going on.  I email my newsletter to my parents and include a section for "What We Learned This Week", "What We're Learning Next Week", "Upcoming Events/Birthdays/Activities", "Important Reminders", and "Kids Say the Darndest Things".  

-Simply Circle - This is an EXCELLENT platform for communicating with parents!!!!  If you're not familiar with Simply Circle, you must check it out!!!!  

5.  Love Their Kids
If you do nothing else, LOVE their kids.  Even the babies that are hard to love.  Love them.  Be kind to them.  SMILE at them.  Praise them.  Compliment them.  Hug them.  Make them laugh.  Listen to them.  Love them, love them, and then LOVE THEM SOME MORE.  When you love them, they love you and in turn, so do their parents.  I have LOVED my boys' teachers to pieces because I know they've loved my boys.  I hear what my boys say about them.  I hear how my boys feel about the way they're treated.  They have LOVED their teachers and because of that, I have loved them, too.  
If you can and if you feel comfortable, here's a tip...

-Spend time getting to know your kids OUTSIDE of the classroom.  Attend dance recitals, baseball games, church events, etc.  You can't attend every single event for every single child, but try to attend at least one.  Send home a little survey or questionnaire at the beginning of the year asking your parents for a schedule of their child's extracurricular activities/events.   Just an extra little something to show you're invested in WHO they are...not just who they are in the classroom.  And ohmiword, the look on your kid's faces when they see you at THEIR event?!?!  Priceless!!!!

And just remember that sometimes, no matter how much you much you much you LOVE their child...some parents might not see eye to eye with you and/or your teaching philosophy.  Sometimes they want what you can't give.  Sometimes they don't want what you're giving.  But as long as you have their child's best interest at heart....and as long as you are doing everything you can to give their child every opportunity possible...that has to be enough :)  
Just remember to be positive and professional in every situation and take every experience as a learning opportunity.

What are some things you do to establish and maintain parent/teacher relationships?!  I'd love to hear more!!!