Happy 2nd Blogiversary

I know, I know! It has been awhile since I have written a blog post. But I have no excuses! What I will say is that I could not let today pass by without announcing that it is the RenewED Teacher’s 2nd Blogiversary!

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Yes, two years ago, on this day, I decided to start a blog. I wanted to share how I overcame burnout and overcame the urge to quit teaching, not once but twice within a seven year span. I still want to share this, as I have since learned that practicing self-care and staying committed to your passion and purpose takes balanced, consistent and daily work.

Fran Warren – Teacher Self Care-Conference and Founder and CEO of The Educator’s Room

I have discovered two ideas that have helped me stay committed to remaining in the classroom! The first is being intentional about self-care. When I say self-care, I don’t only mean surface level interventions such as manicures, pedicures, working out, spending time with friends and family, getting enough rest, and dressing nice, although these do help. I also mean going deep, and dealing with why we are the way we are and dealing with financial debt, childhood trauma, systemic racism, and every other non-sexy aspect of life that can impact us negatively. Self-care is about getting to the root of improving the quality of one’s life–one’s overall wellness. Self-care can be fun, but it also takes some under the surface, hard work. In my humble opinion, I feel it is the number one way to overcome burnout. As an educator, I often ask myself, if I am not at my best, how can I expect the best from my scholars?

The second idea is focusing on why I teach–my passion and purpose meeting. In his book, “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek says, “all organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” I want my scholars to be great, so it’s important for me to work to be great! Keeping my why at the forefront of what I do, has helped me persevere and overcome the urge to quit teaching when I had disheartening

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

days, wild weeks, and yucky years. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. Candidly speaking, I am sure the urge to quit teaching would have sneakily crept upon me again this year if I had not taken the time to regularly remember and reflect on my why. I was challenged as if I was novice, and many days, I felt like one. (I also have had the pleasure of working with some really amazing teachers in Western PA and across the country that have supported and inspired me. Y’all know who you are!!! If you’re wondering if I am talking about YOU, you’re right, I am!).

Speaking of reflection though, as I think about the the last year, and what my goals were for the RenewED Teacher, I realize that I have not hit them! I started a Teacher Book Club that was a flop because I couldn’t keep up with reading the book and being an active moderator of the group. I was unsure of how to keep the group members engaged and accountable for reading and responding to the topics of each chapter. I was inconsistent. I was completely overwhelmed with the changes in my new school building. It seems I bit off more than I could chew. I am not sure I will renew this goal. The beginning of the school year is definitely not a good time to begin a teacher book club.

Another goal was to share blog posts about math content. I have several drafts and pictures ready to use, but none of them are ready to go live. I am renewing this goal!

However, I am leery about setting new goals because sometimes goals define limitations. But as in all of my blog posts, I aim to continue to learn and grow, and always urge my readers to do the same, so we can empower our students to commit to lifelong learning! If I do not set goals, I may allow lack of belief in myself, the wrong unintended goal, past failures, fear, lackadaisicalness, my personal comfort zone, and the need for instant gratification to hold me back from learning and growing. I can’t help but think how this will impact my scholars. Therefore, I do intend to set goals despite past failures and fear vying to collaborate against me.

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This blog has helped me stay committed to education and teaching! I hope somewhere out there, this blog has also motivated, encouraged, inspired and empowered other educators and teachers!

As I enter my 12th year of teaching this year, I shout, Happy Blogiversary!

Stay tuned for the RenewED Teacher’s goals for year 3!

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

Science Project: When Seeds Explode

When Seeds Explode

As a 4th and 5th grade teacher, and a teacher of science, I believe hands-on activities are one of the best ways for students to learn. I recently heard someone say, “Number sense [in math] is not taught, it is caught.” To a certain extent, I believe this because much of what we learn is more through our experiences. I feel that this quote could also be applied to the sciences.
Think about it: Student one reads a book about exploding seeds. Student two decides to watch a YouTube video on exploding seeds. Student three gets some seeds, a pot, potting soil, and other necessary materials to observe these exploding seeds. Student four reads a book, watches a video, and uses materials to observe exploding seeds. I am sure we all know which student will learn the most and have the most fun!
The cool thing about this lesson is that the seeds that are to be used actually do EXPLODE! What student do you know would not find this interesting?
Please enjoy this guest post and some cool math games that are available with this link: www.education.com
Third Grade Science Science Projects: When Seeds Explode

Research Question:

  • What environmental factors trigger the release of seeds from seed pods?
  • How far away to the released seeds travel? Do all seeds travel the same distance?
  • Do seed pods from different plants release them in response to same stimuli?

Plants such as mistletoe, violets, primrose and pansies release their seeds into the air, often with substantial force. In this experiment, students will examine under what conditions individual plants release seeds and how far the seeds are released.

Materials:

  • Camera
  • Two to four different plants that release their seeds in the air. Pansies, wild geraniums, evening primrose and violets are good candidates, but others work well, too.
  • Compass
  • Windvane
  • Graph paper
  • Tongue Depressor
  • Felt

Experimental Procedure

  1. Purchase two to four different plants that shoot seeds into the air. Do some library research to identify when your plants produce seedpods and when the seedpods mature. Learn whether special conditions such bright sunlight, rain, or darkness are necessary.
  2. Set up the wine vane at the same height as the seed pods. If necessary, you can improvise a wind vane by tying a ribbon to a stick and anchoring the stick in the ground. This step is not necessary if you keep your plants indoors.
  3. Cover the area surrounding each plant with felt. Felt is desirable because the seeds will tend to stick more to the felt than they will to paper. How much felt you need depends upon the size of your plants. Be sure to have at least one yard of felt in all directions from the plant. Do not put plants immediately next to each other or you will have difficulties telling their seeds apart. A basement or garage floor may be ideal for this.
  4. Check your plants several times a day and examine their seed pods so that you know when the pods release their seeds. After the pods have released their seeds, make a record of the wind speed, time of day and distance that the seeds traveled. Draw a map, indicating approximate distances. Graph the distances against the number of seeds.
  5. Estimate the trajectory that the seed traveled.
  6. Determine whether there was a relationship between the seed shape and the distance traveled.

Terms/Concepts: Seed dispersal, explosive seed dispersal

References:

  • Marika Hayashi, Kara L. Feilich and David J. Ellerby. “The mechanics of explosive seed dispersal in orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).” Journal of Experimental Botany (2009).
  • Countryside Info: Explosive Seed Dispersal

For more cool activities please click on the following link: Elementary School 

As we continue to learn and grow together, let’s share resources with each other. If you have cool content-based sites for math, science, social studies or ELA, please drop them in the comments. 

Until next time, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

If Your Students Won’t Stop Talking, It’s Time to Let Them Talk More!!!

Do your students talk too much? Is it stressing you out? If so, why don’t you let them talk more?

(I have been informed by a few people that they want to follow my blog, but were not sure how to do so. You can  follow my blog by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the follow button and entering your e-mail address! 
Thank you!) 
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Courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

While this might sound strange, hear me out. If you constantly hear a little buzz of chatter in your classroom, and you cannot tell from which direction it is coming, this is a sign that your students need more time to talk.

Think about it this way, when you need water, your body tells you when you are dehydrated. On the moderate end, your mouth gets dry or sticky, you may feel sleepy or tired, and you could develop a headache. On the extreme end of dehydration, you may feel an extreme feeling thirst, irritability or confusion.

Just as there are signs and symptoms for dehydration, there are signs and symptoms displayed by our students when they are bored, uninterested, antsy, already “get it,” or need more time to talk. On the moderate end, YOUR mouth gets dry and sticky, you and your students feel sleepy or tired, and you and your students could develop headaches because YOU are doing all of the talking. (Click here to read article on How Teachers Can Talk Less… by Angela Watson). On the extreme end, you and your students feel irritability because they know you see how bored they are, and you are doing nothing about it. They start acting out, talking, and being off task. You are confused about why they are bored, uninterested, and exhibiting these behaviors.  You stayed up late the night before because you were so excited to prepare what you thought was an awesome lesson with great and interesting standards-based content. You couldn’t wait to share it with them!

So what is going on? Well, I will be the first to admit it! Sometimes (Okay, Most times) I talk too much, and I need to make a bubble and shut up! As teachers, I’m sure we all need to “shut up!” sometimes.  Before I continue, I need to mention I am not a fan of this phrase unless it is used in a jokingly manner (For example, one of your students says something so funny, and your only response is a burst of laughter, and you saying “Shut up! That’s hilarious!” There is no disrespect intended here, and it’s loving and fun!). The phrase is rarely used in my classroom except in these rare and extremely funny occasions, and it is treated as a curse word when students use it otherwise due to its disrespectful tone. When/if they use it, my students often have to think of and write 5 alternative statements they could have said instead of those bad words. But nevertheless teachers, we need to shut up!

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Courtesy of Google Images and Creative Commons.

You might be wondering,” How am I supposed to do that? I am the teacher!”

Today, I am sharing a strategy with you that could perhaps help you to do so. I have begun using this strategy in my classroom that allows my students to talk more, learn more from each other, and gets them to listen to me more when I actually do need to be the only one talking.

CLOCK BUDDIES

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Courtesy of Penny Juggins, Fairfax County, VA

Have you ever heard of Clock Buddies? I learned about it at a training I attended about 2 years ago with world-renowned educator and author, Marcia L. Tate author of “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.” I am a huge fan of Clock Buddies as it gives my students several opportunities to interact with each other and with me academically. Students are out of their seats, moving around, engaged with each other and me, and learning from each other. The other day, a set of buddies approached me because they could not agree on the correct answer. One student was correct and the other wasn’t. I think I told the students to use a place value chart to settle the dispute. They were able to come to a mutual agreement with evidence to prove it!

Clock Buddies is meant to be a quick and easy way to create pairs for partnered activities while avoiding the problem of kids always having the SAME partners. It begins with a clock face, with slots for names extending from each hour on the dial. The basic idea is that each student has his or her own copy of a Clock Buddies sheet, with the names of [4-12] classmates on each hour’s slot. Each of those other students, in turn, has this student’s name in the matching hour slot on each of their clock sheets.”

My Personal Clock Buddy Experience

In order to break the ice, Marcia had each of us in the room (about 25 people) walk around for about 5-10 minutes or so, while listening to an old Motown song. In this time frame she had us make appointments with different people in the room for 12 different time slots on the Clock Buddy Sheet she gave us. Once the song was over, she began her presentation. We didn’t use the clocks, but she did inform us that we would. She also cleverly mentioned that having students walk around the room and talk before starting her lesson was a strategy that helped students become engaged and ready to learn before the lesson actually began. I bought in. About 20 minutes into the lesson, she gave us a writing task, and said to meet with our 12 o’clock buddy to complete it. We used the clocks throughout the remainder of our 3 hour time frame with her, and it really helped to keep us focused and engaged on what she was teaching us, and to hear others’ perspectives, and many opportunities to engage in discourse.

What Can You Use Clock Buddies For and When Do You Use It?

  • Anytime!
  • Homework review
  • Partner reading
  • Think, pair, share
  • Question, answer partners
  • Test review
  • Writing activities
  • Partners for field trips
  • Games
  • Gym activities that require two people
    • Can you think of anymore? If so, please share!

Why You Should Give Clock Buddies the Time of Day!

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Courtesy of Pixabay.

Earlier this year, I surveyed a group of teachers on how they continue to stay inspired and motivated to teach. One response was by one of my friends, fitness buddy, and co-workers, Lena Fitchwell. She said what motivated and inspired her to continue teaching each year is by “Changing things up.” As the school librarian, she does an amazing job at cross-curricular teaching. She is always taking a new class and keeping up with what’s new in education and using new strategies to keep her students engaged. I don’t know one child in our building that does not enjoy library (not even the kids that dislike reading!) As teaching can become boring and monotonous if you let it, Clock Buddies is a chance to change things up, everyone!

 

Where Can I get Access to Clock Buddies?

You can simply Google or use Pinterest to find a variety of different templates for Clock Buddies, but why would you, when you can click right here for a FREE COPY!

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Courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

Tips If You Decide to use Clock Buddies in Your Classroom

  1. Students need to write their name on the paper. Either in the center of the clock or at the top of the page.
  2. Teach students how to ask: “Are you available to be my Clock Buddy at 12 o’clock?” I have heard students respond by saying, “Sorry, but maybe when we make appointments for 3 o’clock, you can be my buddy!” The language is helping students to speak politely to one another.
  3. Make sure students know that must have 4 different names on their sheet (they may not have their best friend as their clock buddy more than once).
  4. Start with 4 slots only. It can become quite daunting for your students to start with more.
  5. Only fill one slot at a time. Tell students to stand up and find a buddy for their 12 o’clock slot, write each other’s name on the line, and return to their seats. Then have students complete the next time slot. Continue this pattern until all 4 slots are filled.
  6. Some students will not want to participate or stand up, encourage them to participate, but do not force them. Explain to them they are still responsible for completing the work, but they will not receive a grade for participation. Once they see the rest of the class having fun with their buddy, they will most likely want to join. At this point however, it may be too late if everyone already has a buddy. You can use this as a teachable moment on how sometimes you can’t always get what you want when you want it, and have the student sit this one out, or you can choose two students you want this student to partner with since they have no scheduled buddies. Hopefully in the future this student will learn to partake in an activity when the opportunity presents itself or risk not being able to make his or her own choices.
  7. If you have an even number of students, the teacher may not need to be a Clock Buddy. If you have an odd number of students, the teacher may need to participate as a Buddy. (I typically choose students that may need more help with specific topics or have difficulty reading.)
  8. Watch out for students that may be intentionally or unintentionally left out. Do not sweep this under the rug. Be upfront about what you notice and make it clear to your students that you notice it, and that it’s not cool. You do not necessarily need to name the student(s) that were left out because most of them already know who you’re talking about including that student. Just tell them that everyone needs to be included. 2-3 students should walk up to the left out student the next time it’s time to choose a buddy. J
  9. Be willing to give up some control and quietness with this. You will observe your students talking about what you actually asked them to talk about and learning from each other.
  10. Make multiple copies of the clocks. Each day will be different if even one student is absent.
  11. The more you use Clock Buddies, the easier it gets in your classroom. You also learn different ways to use it, and it becomes less time consuming to set the buddies up over time. It should also alleviate the need for students to talk so much when they are not supposed to.
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Courtesy of Pixabay.

As we continue to learn, grow, and renew our passion for teaching, we must try new things. Will you try Clock Buddies in your classroom? How will you use this strategy? If you decide to use it, come back and tell us how it worked. Did it work well? What things would you change? Did the students like it? Did they stop talking less when they were not supposed to? Do you have any suggestions or tips that I may have overlooked? Please share. Thank you for reading, commenting, following this blog, sharing, posting to other social media outlets, and committing to renewing your passion for teaching.

Until Next Time, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith (The RenewED Teacher)

5 Tips to Build Strong and Real Relationships with Your Students and Their Families

So this post is one day off of my regularly scheduled posting day. I guess I should mention that I was at my school until 8:00 pm last night finishing up last minute organizing for the first day of school. Yea, I am crazy, and my husband was maaaadddd. LOL! But he’s fine now. LOL!

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

As I ventured off to work this morning, my mind raced a mile a minute about everything. Have all the families and students received the letters I mailed last week? How many letters will I receive back from families with “Positive Thoughts on Their Child?” What will this year’s group of students be like? Will all of my students be in class today? Did they all have great summers? Do I have everything I want to do today copied and organized? Will my promethean board work so I can display my PowerPoint Presentation? Do I have enough time to complete everything? Why is lunch at 1:25pm? I am going to be starving. Will the busses be on time? Will I have enough time to hit the gym or read the final chapter of Awakened today? Will I fall down the stairs in my heels? I mean everything was on my mind! Can you relate?

 

In this post, I want to share some tips on what I feel is one of the most important things any and every teacher should do to have a successful year. Yes, the answer is build strong and real relationships. I personally feel that relationships are the foundation to a peaceful and successful school year academically and emotionally (for some kids, physically as well. We all know a student that has been or can be physically aggressive or violent towards his or her peers and or teachers and other staff).

I do many things to build relationships with my incoming students and their families. Caution: The only year in which these tips did not work in my favor is when my roster was drastically changed after I had already mailed the letters. Gasp! So please be 100% sure that the class roster you receive is the final one. I send my letters out later and later each year to ensure students were not swapped around unbeknownst to me.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

So here they are:

  1. Reach out to your students and their families before the school year starts.

Before the students arrive at school or even attend Back to School Night, I type a letter to ALL students and ALL of their families. The letter introduces them to me and some things they can expect throughout the year. I do not discuss academics or behavior specifically, and this is on purpose. My purpose is to inform families I am qualified to teach their child, to put their minds at ease, and build positive relationships that leads to open and honest communication. In the letter, I also take the opportunity to provide my e-mail address for them to communicate with me, and to share some positive thoughts with me about their child. I have a copy of one of the letters below. In addition to a letter from me, my incoming students receive a letter from a previous student I had the year before. At the end of each school year, I have my students write letters to my incoming 5th graders. The kids really love this especially if it’s from someone they know. Most families really appreciate receiving a personal letter from their child’s new teacher. (Yes, I bought all the stamps. I bought 90 this year as I wrote letters for both sets of students and families I will teach this year. This is the first time I have done this. I’m curious to see what happens. My relationship is typically stronger with my homeroom. I don’t necessarily like that, so I suppose it was time for a change. I predict relationships will be equally as strong this year.) I will be adding a template of my letter to TeachersPayTeachers for free this weekend so please pin this post so you can return to it later at your convenience.

  1. If you do not live in the community in which you are employed, make it a priority to have a presence there when you can.

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    Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

I reside 30-40 minutes from where I work depending on the day. It can be hassle at times, and maybe even annoying, but I do work with people that have even longer commutes. Because I live pretty far, I am not often seen in the community so I do have to make it a priority to be there so that I can see the world in which my students live. Some things that I do to have presence is shop in the area at the grocery store, coffee shop, nail salon, etc. I also visit the library which is about 5 minutes from my school building. Additionally, I volunteer for different events over the summer. This summer I volunteered to help distribute books to local families in their neighborhoods at multiple pre-designated stops. I also volunteered at a local annual festivity with teachers and administrators in my school district to share out information about our schools.

I have to admit I did receive comp time for doing this, but I would have been there with or without the comp time because it’s an opportunity for me to meet with upcoming students and their families and to reminisce with previous students.

Being visible in the community in which you work shows that you care about where your students come from. It also helps to break down walls with families because they get to see you outside of your profession. When this happens, you are more personable to them. I have walked into Wal-Mart looking like a homeless person before only to see one of my student’s parents working the register. While I was slightly embarrassed for the parent to see this way, I thought of it as an opportunity for her to see me as a human being and not only as her daughter’s teacher. This was about 6 years ago. The young lady has since recently graduated high school this past year. She and her mother invited me to her graduation. I taught her in 5th grade. Yes, I attended. I think that says something about relationships.

  1. Attend Back to School Night or Open House.

Our Back to School Night was this past Monday from about 5:00pm to 6:00pm. Almost all of the teachers in my building attended (as far as I know, all of them were there). I work with an amazing group of committed and dedicated teachers who all want to teach and make a difference in the lives of our students. I must say that I am blessed to have some great co-worker/friends! But these back to school nights give us teachers opportunities to meet with families and mingle. It gives the families an opportunity to visit your classrooms to see what’s inside and how things are organized. I am sure that it eases the nerves of many of the incoming students and parents alike.

  1. Have lunch with your students.
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Real talk with real students. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

This tip is a bitter-sweet one. While I enjoy getting to interact with my students in a more personal setting (less academic), I do not like giving up the adult time I get with my co-workers or the alone time when I choose to have lunch by myself. However the benefit of spending this time with my students almost once every week far out-weighs the small amount of time I miss with my co-workers once per week. (Sorry! I still love you all!) Here is why – I learn things about my students I never would have known had not sat down and eaten lunch with them.  I get to learn about their interests, likes, dislikes, problems, etc. We have real conversations about real-life things. We also have fun! Last year, my students loved music and dancing. All they wanted to do at lunch was dance. So all I did was put on clean Youtube videos for them to sing and dance to. And guess what? I sang and dance too. I learned all the latest dance steps, songs, memes, vines, etc. They kept me youthful so to speak. LOL!

 

  1. Invite families into your classroom throughout the school year.

Although I welcome families into my room anytime throughout the year, a few times a year, I specifically invite them in. When we have are Harvest Day in October, I invite the families in to help with our Pumpkin Investigation. After we have our parade of costumes, many families follow us back into the building to visit, observe what we are doing, and many decide to stay and participate. Most times they are very helpful because things get quite messy with the pumpkins. For families that have younger siblings that are not school-age, I welcome them too. Some families will not come if they have to find a sitter to come to the school. I had 2 or 3 little babies in my room last year for the investigation. They were so much fun!

Before winter break begins, we usually have a half day so I invite families into the room to have hot chocolate and some sweet breakfast-like side. We do an art craft and then watch a holiday movie that we have voted on. I have seen students cuddled on their parent’s laps, lying on their bellies on the floor, simply relaxing being with each other. Since I don’t show movies often, it’s a precious sight to see.

Each year, my students and I put on a pretty big 50 States presentation at the end of the year. After an extensive amount of research, and a unit on the states and capitols, students choose a state to narrow their research. To present what they have learned, students create floats, PowerPoints, Prezi’s, Posters, Paper I-Pads, and Books. While I do have a rubric for this project, I give the students free-reign to choose how they display what they have learned. I can’t wait to see how creative the students are this year.

Once the projects are turned in and presented to the class, we choose a date and time and create an invitation to invite families in for the big presentation. We come up with the order of events and rehearse for about 2 weeks or so. I usually thank the families for coming, and then I sit, direct, and let the kids do their thing. I have yet to be disappointed. On Monday, at our Meet the Teacher Night, I had a parent say, “You’re the teacher that does the 50 State’s Presentations! I can’t wait for those in the spring. I will be here!” This was my first time meeting her and her son, so I am assuming she heard about this from word of mouth.

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Stay Connected!!!Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

If families are unable to physically make it into your room, invite them in digitally! Use the Class Dojo so that you can post pics of what their children are doing in class. Of course all families won’t use it, but it’s another option for them see what is happening on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Another way to stay connected.

 

  1. Bonus Tip: I guess there were more than 5. I do not shake hands of my students or their families. I go all the way in for the hug. So tip number six is hug every family member.
  1. BonusTip: Stop always using the words parents and guardians. We have too many children that do not live with their parents and the word guardian just sounds…yuck! Just call them family.

These are my 5 (I mean 7) tips for helping to build real and strong relationships with students and their families. I am proud to say that these tips have worked for me year in and year out, with small tweaks here and there over the years. I am also pleased to say that I can count the number of problems I have had with families on one hand (and I mean that literally). I usually do not have behavior issues with students either. What I mean by that is that I do not have to send students out of my room often or write them up. But every year is different. I’d like to believe that these tips on building relationships have something to do with that. Getting families to trust me is important because it gets their children to trust me and buy-in to what I am trying to teach them.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

I am always interested in what you have to say so I’d like to know how you build relationships with your students. Maybe I can add a few of your ideas to my bag of tricks and vice versa. Have you tried any of the tips above? How have they worked for you? Remember: as we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, please share your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for reading!

Until next time, Happy Teaching! 🙂