A United Country – A Peaceful Transition

Today I pray specifically for the safety of all our leaders and law enforcement. Regardless of our individual opinions, violence and hatred are not the answers (thank you, Dr. King). My hope is as we each hold steadfast to our passionate beliefs, that the goal of a united and successful country will be in the forefront of our thoughts, and that compromise results from considerate, constructive conversations. Let us all choose our words and actions carefully so as to not be a disparaging force when we want to be heard. Michelle Obama’s spot-on admonition to “go high when they go low” is a reciprocal obligation. Let’s be kind to those who disagree; but let us each have the freedom and right to disagree. And may we serve as positive role models to our children and the world, that when we disagree, we still maintain respect for the offices our leaders hold. God bless America, especially today. Simply put; ’nuff said…J

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Right from the Start – 6 Ways to Establish Great Communications with Parents


The old adage “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” rings right along with the first bell of the new school year. A small investment at the onset of the school year will get you on the flight path of success with both students and parents, as you establish a co-advocate posture with your new class. It’s a cinch if you plot out a quick strategy for introducing yourself and establishing connections.

Once you get your class list, spring into action:

Obtain home addresses and write a personal postcard to each student in your home room. 

Most years, I take the time to hand write these notes (a rare and treasured treat!) to each student. However, due to logistical time constraints, I have also run a warm, welcoming message through the printer, personalizing each with the address and greeting before printing. Parents have reported that these precious postcards received via “snail mail” were lovingly displayed on refrigerators, night stands, and dressers all year-long (and beyond).

Call every student the night before school

This was always a dream of mine to accomplish…more often than not, I wasn’t able to do it. But as long as they had that postcard in hand, I knew they knew I was excitedly expecting them.

 Host a Before School Parent Meeting

  • Love notes from parents

If you are lucky enough to have a parent meeting prior to the first day of school, give each parent a notecard or postcard for them to leave a “love note” for their child to discover on the first day of school. If parents are not able to attend this meeting, then write the love note from you (“I am so thrilled you are sitting at this desk! Your teacher last year told me you would be great at _____…” etc.). Every student deserves a warm greeting waiting for them at their desk on the first day of school, and parents will find it endearing that you cared enough to add this extra touch.

  • Establish your email parameters

At the parent meeting, set up guidelines as to how you will answer emails as promptly as you can. I finally realized after stressing to hastily answer every email during precious, limited planning periods, it was wiser to ask parents to give me 12-24 hours to thoughtfully answer important emails, so I could give their concern my full attention. I was amazed how appreciative the parents were with this wait time as long as it was in their best interest! I also told them (although this often didn’t prove to be true), that I didn’t read school emails after 8:00 p.m. and to understand a response would be forthcoming the next day.

  • Share your phone contact information

If you give parents your telephone number at your parent meeting (and I recommend you do), state your boundaries for what warrants a call to the teacher. There are legitimate yet rare situations that require a phone call, but I set up guidelines for “gentle” learning opportunities that I didn’t want to be called about (forgotten homework, etc.) or that could better be handled in a face to face conference. We discuss the benefits of students learning from small “knee scrape” mistakes vs. major broken bone type dilemmas. Parents get it! If they know they have your number for true emergencies, you will gain much in trust. It is rare that parents abuse my home phone number. (If you still have a land line phone number, I suggest using that rather than giving out your cell number. Parents tend to text you at all hours of instructional & home time.)

  • Share your webpage, portal, or digital newsletter address

You need to have a dependable, 24/7 vehicle of communication in which a parent can verify or double-check daily or project-specific assignments beyond what the child has copied down in the homework planner. (Some teachers prefer to email parents a newsletter once a week. I preferred my newsletter approach but used emails when last-minute changes occurred.) I offered incentives for my parents to read my weekly on-line newsletter (extra stickers for rewards for students – I have great success with this!). Parents feel empowered/included/informed when you provide adult-to-adult information about what is happening in your classroom.  Add photos, tidbits about the daily/weekly happenings, and be transparent with who you are!

Set up a class twitter account

class twitter page is a great platform in which you can garner enthusiasm for the year ahead, showcase student work, and then share it with parents, grandparents, and people around the world. I have established cherished global connections of colleagues and friends via Twitter. Don’t overlook this powerful opportunity (but double-check constraints, parameters, and campus-specific guidelines from your administration). I found that as long as I didn’t list our school address, took side view or back of head-shots of students, and only used first names, that we felt “protected” from on-line stranger-danger.

Set up a class blog, and encourage parent involvement

Blogging is a powerful tool for student writing and interchange of ideas. Set your classroom blog up so that parents can reflect as guest writers. Nothing authenticates blogging more than discovering responses to a post!

Call every parent after the first day of school

Making these personal phone calls has always been a positive and powerful investment of time for me…these first-night calls are non-negotiable in my book. Not only do I get feedback on what the child reported on the first day of school (hilarious and affirming information!), but I can validate how important their child is to me. I sincerely state something like, “I knew I was going to enjoy your child, but I didn’t realize how special they were until today.” A heart-felt statement like this validates that you recognize they are entrusting you with one of their most precious possession, and that you agree with them. Regardless of how little Johnny might have tested you on Day One, I bet you can find something positive to report. If not – well, perhaps you’re in the wrong profession! If you get an answering machine, leave the message. I can guarantee that the message will be saved and played over and over. Realistic, positive feedback from the first day of school opens the door for trust when you have to make those “other kinds” of phone calls…

Parents, students, and colleagues love and thrive on effective communication all year-long. The initial investment in August will have a lasting impact on your ability to promote what is in your students’ best interests.

Simply put…Have a Great Year!

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Ten Tangible Tools for Teachers

…put people first, and the rest will follow…

I retired from full-time classroom teaching earlier this year, and have been sifting through years and years of nostalgia and boxes of “just can’t get rid of” stuff.  A tattered 1/3 sheet of faded Xerox paper surfaced among other precious treasures in my “Motivation” folder, and I rediscovered the ingredients to a quaint “Back to School Kit” given to me by a veteran teacher back in 1994.  As the only new Lower School teacher to be hired in eight years at this prestigious, private school, I was overwhelmed by generous bits of sage advice from well-intended colleagues, parents, and board members, as to how to successfully immerse myself in the culture of this elite school. Low and behold, in mid-August, an “older” (she seemed to be so to me at the time) educator gifted each teacher in our Lower School with a baggie (pre-Ziploc era) filled with 10 simple metaphoric items.  At the time, it was charming, cute, and hastily read, as new textbooks, class rosters, and bulletin boards beckoned us to hurry along in our preparations.

Fast-forward to today, with the hindsight benefit of my retiree-reflections, the simplistic message speaks volumes about the human aspect we need to offer ourselves, our students, and our colleagues in order to evolve into a seasoned, strong teachers.  Pedagogy, methodology, technology, and solid teaching skills are all essential to becoming a profound educator.  But remembering to cultivate a risk-free and trust-building relationship with all stakeholders is vital, not only  at the beginning of each school year, but a compelling component for building, nurturing, and maintaining a solid learning environment in the classrooms throughout our tenure as educators. Sprinkle this bag of tricks with common sense, wisdom, and flexibility, and you’re on your way! Simply stated: Put people first, and the rest will follow. ‘Nuff said… J

(Author is unknown; I’ve taken some editing liberties.  “Margaret” is the beloved teacher who gifted us all with the wisdom.)

“Back-to-School Kit”

  1. Rubber Band – to remind you of the importance in giving hugs
  2. Tissue – to remind you to wipe someone’s tears (or your own, so you can see the tears of others)
  3. Button – to remind you to “button your lip” and listen more
  4. Toothpick – to remind you to pick out the good qualities in everyone, including yourself
  5. Band aid – to remind you of healing hurt feelings, either yours or someone else’s
  6. Candy Kiss – to remind you that everyone needs a nice treat occasionally
  7. Gold Thread – to remind you that friendship is the golden thread that ties together the hearts of everyone
  8. Eraser – to remind you that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and that’s all right
  9. Lifesaver Candy – to remind you to think of your parents and colleagues as livesavers. Whenever you need to talk, feel free to go visit with them. Ask for help
  10. Mint – to remind you that you’re worth a mint to a lot of people
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Wiggle Room – Let’s All Tinker!

Pinterest/author unknown

Pinterest/author unknown

Let’s ALL play! I had the distinct pleasure of participating in last night’s Twitter #edtechchat about the emerging benefits of creating maker spaces integrated throughout all content areas.  The conversations were fast-paced and innovative, overflowing with collaborative ideas galore.  I was in awe with the numerous unique perspectives and courageous (and delightfully careless) suggestions for propelling engagement and creativity-infused student-empowering ideas in expanding critical-thinking, open-ended inquiry experiences.  I discovered new colleagues worthy of following, and I was inspired to challenge and re-evaluate myself as an educator, both personally and professionally. Yet, upon reflection, this Vintage/Vet educator had to smile and ponder: are spaces for makers initiated already in preschool & early childhood play? Observing young children with cardboard boxes, tinker toys, Legos, magnets, marbles, etc…inklings of maker spacers in the “making?”  An alert and  awakening educator can simply harness this imaginative, innovative zeal and give it academic direction at virtually any age and with minimum cost (yes…even Teacher In-Services!). I recall exciting and delightful indoor recesses when my energized students begged, “Can we leave this set up for another recess? We’re not finished!”  My classroom often had the messiest room appearance in the hallways of our lower school…as if I didn’t have parameters for cleanliness. But the  unifix cube “road that goes around the world”  built by passionate engineers stayed on the floor for five days, and the  “Georgia O’Keffe doll houses” crafted for the rocks I brought back to the students from a New Mexico road trip encroached upon the well-organized reading center…  Ah, this was authentic creativity in the making, and the springboard for further discussions and inquiry (and yes, academic assignments in STEAM-like fashion). Open-ended and unstructured play in any form is good for our souls and nourishment for our minds. An educator with the mindset for creativity opens doors for student-led projects/learning. Simply put…we all need to tinker and create.  Teachers as spontaneous facilitators can awaken all sorts of minds!  ‘Nuff said, J




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A Cup of Simplicity


… it’s the little decisions and the casual quiet steps that often lead into paths of expanded conversations with an audience around the world…

Day #4 of Flu – coughing and hacking have taken their toll. But today I felt good enough to heat a kettle of water and savor a cup of hot tea in my pretty David Bradbury bone china purchased while studying in England in 2011. Years ago, I was fortunate to have been awarded a “Once Upon a Dream” grant through my school, so off I ventured to explore the skill set required to strive, thrive, and survive in 21st century learning practices. Under the skillful direction of American-born, German-resident Leah Treesh, I was introduced into the wonderful world of tech integration hosted at the American School of London. Little did I realize that my week-long experience would explode into a life-long vision and venture into opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally. So, as I savor this simple cup of blueberry tea on a long, restful afternoon of healing, I am reminded how it’s usually the little decisions and the casual quiet steps that often lead into paths of expanded conversations with an audience around the world. How simple is that?
‘Nuff said…J

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Some days, this is ’nuff said…


We  had a great day today, but… this teacher is tired! Simply put, ‘Nuff said…

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Nerdlution Nervana

Ok, so I was excited to join the Nedlution…but, being a procrastinator, I jumped in without a specific goal (“I’ll find the perfect goal later!”).  At the onset, I was simply committed to not doing school work for 30 minutes an evening.  I had an open-ended, boundless beginning, with no requirements (a gift in itself).  Each day, my thirty minutes of “freedom and flexibility” afforded me a new void that my usual work-all-evening routine hadn’t offered me before. The first night, I floundered a bit, much like a student without something particular to do – feeling guilty that there were papers to grades, response journals to review, blogs to approve. But now, as the 30 minutes beckon each evening, I’ve been able to hone in on something I enjoy or want to do (no To-Do lists allowed!). Little by little, my Nerdlution Nervana has begun to take shape, and I anticipate this daily respite. Each evening I give myself permission to try something slightly different – and I find this open-ended time to be so liberating and refreshing. Be it reading, writing, blogging, visiting with my husband, exercising, baking, or decorating the Christmas tree, I have a mandated 30 minute “recess” from school work every night. Sigh – what a gift to a frenzied educator! Simply Put, thank you Nerdlution!

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I know I can, I know I can…
I’m so into this challenge. Watch me soar!

I’m a perfectionist, a procrastinator, and a slave to the contents in my school bag. As a result, my personal life is in a state of paralysis. So my goal is to simply spend 30 minutes an evening NOT doing any school work, but to instead exercise, read, write drafts to my story topics (thanks PiBoIdMo), putz, knit, visit with my husband, or read for pleasure. Simply put…to do something solely for me, and not for school. I think this enforced 30 minutes an evening “time out” will make me a more balanced and happy educator in the long run. ‘Nuff said!
Simply, J

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Farewell to Arms…and Legs, and Wagging Tails

Two days ago I had to put my beloved golden retriever down.  Sadie suffered heart failure while we were bathing her on Saturday…I blame myself for the emergent situation, although the vet reassured us the yet-to-be diagnosed cancer somewhere in her body had either invaded her heart or compromised her system and she would have encountered the heart failure anyway. Nevertheless, the trauma of making the tough decision to end her suffering was wrought with the ultimate pain of being the voice for this dependent, trusting, and vulnerable friend, and I found myself in this situation for the sixth (and final!) time with a pet.  I know people usually assert that they will never again have another pet. But I mean it this time…the pain and heavy responsibility of having to make that decision to end a friend’s life is not worth the twelve years of joy and happiness shared with the furry family member. I cannot endure the heart ache and distress involved in making the emotional choice nor can I endure again the saddest of sad goodbyes. The deafening silence when I come home from work magnifies the emptiness of the house; the leash and collar hanging quietly on the hook cry out with loneliness; the half-full bag of dog food in the utility room waits patiently to be opened. It’s too hard.  Call me calloused, cynical, or a coward…the price of saying farewell is too high to bear again. Simply put, I desperately miss and mourn the loss of my dear, sweet Sadie.


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What is Leadership to a Second Grader?


What Attributes Make a Leader?

Mrs. Cooper’s second grade class devoted the months of February and March to evaluating United States Presidents. They reviewed qualities required of an effective president, which led to an in-depth inquiry about the differences between fame and heroism, as well as a search to determine characteristic traits of leaders in general. Students prepared and displayed research reports about their particular presidents in the Lower School Library.

presidential evals   presidential reports 

Students & parents participated in an on-line “Take My Poll” on Mrs. Cooper’s Webpage to submit their vote for the Presidential Trait they felt was most important. 


What trait do you think is most important for a president?
Choice Responses Percentage
Wisdom 1 3.70%
Honesty 9 33.33%
Intelligence 3 11.11%
Compassion 1 3.70%
Determination 13 48.15%

During a discussion of the results from the poll, students shared that a president should persevere and not give up, even when facing opposition and disappointments.  Hence, “Determination” was the trait that received the most votes. There were compelling arguments that Honesty was very important as well.

Dr. Krahn, TVS Headmaster, was invited to visit the class to share his ideas and visions about leadership. Students asked thoughtful questions and offered second-grade solutions for issues facing Dr. Krahn and other world leaders.

Krahn   krahn1

The students then began the writing process about leadership in their journals, but yearned to share their insights with others. With the collaboration between Technology Teacher, Mrs. Karen Arrington, and Mrs. Cooper, the student researchers began to blog their thoughts. Thanks to the proficient curration skills of Mrs. Arrington, the process went full-circle into publication.  The project made the top story this week in Mrs. Arrington’s blog! Readers and responders are encouraged to visit Mrs. Cooper’s blog and are welcome to leave comments for these presidential experts!



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