Category Archives: K-12

If I Knew Then…

I was pretty stupid at the beginning of my teaching career.  Not that I don’t occasionally do dumb things now, but I made enormously big mistakes back then that still make me cringe.  One of them was to see parents as adversaries instead of partners.

I particularly remember a conference with a parent during which I gave a recommendation for things that could be done at home to improve the child’s academic performance and behavior.  At one point, I recall the parent looking at me with frustration and disbelief saying, “You don’t have kids of your own, do you?”

I think I redirected the conversation or ignored the question.  But inside I was thinking, “No, but I have a college education and a masters degree, so I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing!”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

After I became a parent, I realized what a condescending idiot I had been.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that childless teachers are incapable of being great teachers.

I do think that condescending know-it-alls can’t be great teachers.

That parent who writes us a nasty e-mail, calls to berate us, or complains to our administrators about us, cares about his or her child.  Presumably, we do too.  So, it’s our responsibility as teachers to build on that common ground. Even if, from our perspective, the parent seems completely uninvolved, that doesn’t mean we are the only ones who care or know what is best for that child.

Now, I often seek the advice of parents.  For example, if a student seems to have trouble focusing in my class, and the parent says they don’t have that problem at home, I will say, “What do you think might be different at home?  What can I do in the classroom to help your child to have that same concentration displayed at home?”

If the situation warrants it, I invite parents to sit in on the class to observe and tell me what might be some changes I could make to help their child succeed.

In my teacher education, I don’t remember being taught how to work with parents, only how to “deal” with them.

It’s easier for me now to empathize with parents because I am one. But empathy doesn’t require that you have the same exact experiences.  You can empathize with someone whose grandparent has died even if that has never happened to you, because you have probably experienced loss and separation from someone you loved before.

Have you been criticized about something into which you put your whole heart and soul?  Then you know what it’s like when parents are told by a teacher about what they should be doing, implying that they are not raising their child correctly.

Have you ever had to listen to someone berating you for mistakes you have made? Perhaps you thought, “Hey, you don’t know the whole story.” That’s how parents feel when they are called into a conference where teachers spit out a bunch of data and never once ask, “What do you think?” or, “How do you feel about your child’s progress?”

I had to find out the hard way that caring about a child is only one factor in helping him or her to be successful.  Another one is to create a strong relationship with the student’s parents.

Teachers may not all have children, but most of us have had parents – and we know what happens when teachers and parents aren’t working together.

Of course, it goes both ways.  If you are a parent reading this article, then you should know that trying to work with a teacher instead of complaining about him or her in front of the student will promise greater success.  A parent who models a lack of respect for the teacher will be encouraging the child to feel the same way.

It’s not always easy.  Negative human emotions can threaten the parent/teacher relationship.  But, to be honest, it is far, far, easier to proactively work on creating strong bonds from the beginning.

Sometimes I think, “Wow, parents respect me so much more now that I have some years of teaching under my belt.”  But then I think, “No, parents respect me more now because I respect them more.”

And I wish I hadn’t wasted so many years figuring that out.

Note: I tried to find an image to use for this post online, but in every one labeled “for noncommercial reuse” it was easy to identify the teacher – the person talking “at” the parents, a subtle reminder of the roles sadly played in many parent/teacher conferences.




English Idioms and Their Meanings

It’s Phun Phriday – and tomorrow is July 4th!  As we celebrate Independence Day, we should remember the rich history of our country and its diverse inhabitants.  We should also remember that not everything we say makes sense to speakers new to the English language!

Illustrator Roisin Hahessy has created a delightful set of posters to help out those who might be confused when we casually say things like, “Hold your horses!”  You can check out the fun series here.


Hola Llamigo

Today’s Phun Phriday post is an adorable video that I found on Kuriositas.  Hola Llamigo is a creative and fun animated short about a young boy who lives on a pinata farm.  Watch the video to see what happens when his favorite pinata is in danger of being sold.

Screen shot from Hola Llamigo
Screen shot from Hola Llamigo, a short film by Charlie Parisi and Christina Chang

Inspirational Videos for Students (Update)

This week, I’ve decided to reblog some of my more popular posts with some updates. The post below has remained in the top 5 ever since I published it.  Beneath it, I’ve decided to add a few other favorites.

#3:  The Power of Words – I also mentioned this in yesterday’s post of Inspirational Videos for Teachers.  It is good for everyone, in my opinion, to be more thoughtful about what we say.  If our communication is not having the effect we desire, we should reconsider the way we are choosing to deliver our message.

#2:  The Kindness Boomerang – I have never done a post on this one.  I read about it recently on Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day, and knew right away that I would like to add it to my blog.  Although it is somewhat simplistic, it does show how our actions can effect many more people than we will ever know.

#1:  Times of India Tree Ad – This is a powerful video that shows how important one person can be in effecting change.  It says a lot – without any words.

Here are links to my original posts on #3 and #1: The Power of Words and Times of India Tree Ad.

Also, you might want to visit my Pinterest board of Inspirational Videos for Students here.

UPDATE 6/23/15: I originally published the above list in 2011 – so I’ve definitely accumulated some more favorites over the years. Here are three more I would add:

#3: A Pep Talk from Kid President – My students love all of the Kid President videos, but this is the first one they saw in my class and they beg for it again and again. (Be sure to look at my post on Kid President’s book, too!)

#2: Mark Bezos TED Talk and King of the Island (TIE!) – These two very different videos really complement each other.  They are about being a hero in ordinary life.

AND, Drum Roll Please…

#1: Caine’s Arcade – I never get tired of this video, and I’m always making people watch it when I hear they have never heard of it!  I think, in many ways, Nirvan Mullick and Caine have inspired me to be the teacher I am today.  Once you watch this, you will definitely want to learn more about the Global Cardboard Challenge.


Sew, What Have You Learned to Make Lately?

It’s the National Week of Making.  What are you making this week?

About 8.5 years ago, my in-laws gave me the sewing machine I request for Christmas.

About 7 years and twelve weeks ago, I stored the sewing machine in a closet.

About 48 hours ago, my daughter took it out.

I had every intention 8.5 years ago of teaching myself how to use the machine.

In the time since then I’ve learned how to program multiple robots, use a 3D printer, make electric circuits, and Knox my daughter’s hair for synchronized swimming.

But I didn’t learn how to sew.

This year, my daughter took “Principles of Human Services” in middle school this year, which included a sewing unit.

As part of modeling a Growth Mindset, I like my daughter to see me learning new things.  So, I enlisted her help in learning how to use my dusty sewing machine.

Just to clarify, I have never. used a. sewing. machine. in my. life.

I learned a lot of new vocabulary.

“Where’s the bobbin?” my daughter asked.

“I don’t know.  What’s a bobbin?”

“It holds the thread.”

“Isn’t that what a spool is?”

We had several conversations like these.

It was a good experience because my daughter usually relies on me to figure things out – which I’m trying to rectify – and there were multiple opportunities where we were both at a loss just trying to get the needle threaded.

After I spent hours wondering why in the world any one would choose machine sewing over hand-sewing, we finally got the new/old sewing machine going.


Despite the attempts of our bulldog to sabotage the whole operation by pulling the plug out of the wall.


It’s possible he is a bit concerned about what we are planning to make with this machine.

Bulldog with Fabric

He has never been overly fond of us dressing him.

What I love about learning new skills like this is that they give me a sense of freedom.  I feel like I don’t have to rely on stores to have what I want – I can make what I want.  Can’t find the throw pillows I envision for my living room?  I can make my own (with a bit more practice). I think that’s really a huge part of what Maker Education is all about.

Now, I just need my daughter to take an Auto Mechanics course next semester and I’ll be all set…

Legos are Awesome

There. I said it.  I never thought I would.  Growing up, I had ZERO interest in Legos.

As an adult, I’ve continued to have ZERO interest in Legos.

Until a couple of years ago.

It turns out that Legos are a lot more versatile than I thought.

I briefly related my newfound respect for Legos in one of the posts I did for my Maker Space Essential Series.  If you do a search on my blog, you will find plenty of other posts related to Legos.

Since this is the National Week of Making in the United States, I thought I would curate a few more resources for you that offer opportunities to use Legos for more than just following the instructions in the box.

Make Magazine has an online page of Lego Ideas, which includes how to make a Lego puzzle.

The Lego Quest blog has 52 Lego challenges on it, one of which was to use Legos to represent a favorite song.

image from Lego Quest
Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” – image from Lego Quest

Finally, here are 25 Lego Learning Activities, which include making a balloon powered Lego car.

Don’t have your own Legos?  Well, you might have great success, as I did, just asking for donations.  Or, you could always make your own, like this student did on his home 3D printer to make a gift for me. (He made the green ones.)

3d Printed Legos

Yep. I used to think the only way Legos could make me cry would be to embed themselves in the bottom of my bare feet at inopportune moments.

Now they make a different kind of impression on me.


According to the White House, the United States is celebrating a “National Week of Making” from 6/12-6/18 this year.  A National Maker Faire was held in Washington, D.C., on the 12th and 13th, and people all of the country are sharing ideas with the #nationofmakers hashtag.  You can go to this link to get ideas on ways to engage in making.

As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of the “maker movement” – especially within our schools.  It’s good to see it getting this kind of attention for the 2nd year in a row.

For a list of makers who participated in the National Maker Faire, check out this page.  You will see new ideas and new people that you might want to reach out to for “maker” advice.

If you would like some more resources, I have a Pinterest Board full of ideas and links to great websites for Makers!

image from
image from Go Make video on A Nation of Makers