Sunday, July 28, 2013

Read because you can-not because you have to

Dream Big Read! image
Food, water and shelter are inarguably the three basic necessities of life, but Reading is the Number 1 essential for living. Why? Because the ability to read leads to the power to accomplish anything else that people deem crucial to a life worth living.

To Danny Brassell, one of my LinkedIn connections, reading is not only fundamental but is the essence of life. An educator who has inspired learners from grades k- College, he is also a writer, a Literacy Volunteer Trainer, a Coach and a Lecturer. Fortified with all of the knowledge that he has gleaned from his education as well as from  teaching, colleagues and life, he now  offers  professional development presentations to all groups with a passion for education on how to “...inspire people to read, lead and succeed,” (Danny Brassell LinkedIn Summary). His passion-his focus- his raison d’etre- is to inspire all people, especially children to read, read, read.  He says, “It’s not what you read (that is important), but how much you read.”

In the Washington Post on Saturday, July 27, 2013, Michael Alison Chandler wrote a story, “All aboard

Bookmobile cut-out image
Arlington’s reading express,” that made my whole body smile. In an effort to stop summer’s reading brain drain, every Wednesday in July two blue Traveling Trolleys stop at various Arlington elementary schools to transport children and their parents to the library. Not only do the children listen to stories (along with accompanying music) and complete craft projects related to the books, librarians help them to choose books at their grade and interest level.  And the parents? They discover what the library offers, enjoy the chance to attend financial information seminars, and learn how engage their children by reading aloud to them.

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” (Jabberwocky Lewis Carroll), book bouquets to fill summer days!

When I was a child, I read a novel where a book mobile traveled around rural American areas nourishing hungry minds with mystery, intrigue, romance, and tales of daring do. Oh, how I wished that I could climb into a bus converted to a library, even though I lived no more than a ten minute walk (or a six minute jog, depending on my mood) from the community library in Indiana, PA. Maybe the driver would forget I was there while he/she traversed paths less traveled by me as I lost myself in book after book.  

Indiana PA library
Every time my husband was transferred, leading to yet another search for our town, two of our main requirements were: a library and a bookstore bursting with books. As soon as Kimberly was old enough to sit on the floor and leaf through picture books, I introduced her to the Monday Library Jaunts that I had instigated for myself when I was eight or nine.

Every Monday, after lengthy searches through the rows of books, my daughter and I would stack the stroller with a plethora of reading material-enough, we hoped, to carry us through the week.  When Matthew was old enough to hold up his head, he snuggled in the stroller and chewed on one of her hand-me-down Richard Scarry, Berenstain Bear or Maurice Sendak books  while Kimberly ambled along beside it with her very first tote bag, one picturing bunnies sitting in a rocking chair reading, slung over her shoulder.

Reading makes everything possible.

Even though my Garmin tells me when and where to turn, I’m really, really thankful that when the policeman blocks my left turn into Nationals Park that I can read road signs that will guide me South and East so I can make that all-important U-Turn leading me to a right turn into Lot F instead of North and West to lost horizons.

Even though my kitchen cabinets hold a variety of ingredients, reading ensures that I will probably turn them into tasty meals and not curdled quiches that bring up mental gross images, ones that sent my family racing for the loaf of Pepperidge Farm Sourdough bread, the jar of Skippy peanut butter and the toaster a few years back.  Oops…I shouldn’t have said, “bring up.”

Even though people can and will tell us details about the who, what, when where, why and how factors in
newspaper world image
our lives, reading allows us to find out this information for ourselves, to figure out what we think about all of this knowledge and to forge our own plans for dealing with it all.

Is it any wonder that one of the first demands of dictators is to control what and when people read? Throughout history, books have been burned, banned and barred from public consumption.  People have been brutalized, brainwashed and beheaded for owning books.

Tyrants fear the printed page because reading allows people to think, to wonder, to choose, to discover, to compare, to contrast, to mentally escape-to understand what life is all about.

When despots control people’s thinking, minds atrophy, hearts decay and passion disintegrates.

When people choose to do anything but read, minds atrophy, hearts decay and passion disintegrates.

When children aren’t shown the joy the blooms from reading, when they aren’t given opportunities to explore the wonders of their local library, when they aren’t offered a way they can make reading a part of their lives-Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, their minds will atrophy, their hearts will decay and their passions for life will disintegrate.

When teachers introduce a new piece of literature to study, their announcements shouldn’t be met with groans and rolling eyes, but with open minds and eagerness to open new mental doors.

Food and drink nourish the body.  Reading feeds the soul.  All three create a life worth living.

Yes, in June I did post a blog, For the best vacation ever- trip the book fantastic. But that was about books... just books. This blog is about reading-reading anything that can be found on a page-be it digital or hard copy. 

It’s about reading novels, Facebook statuses, Tweets, non-fiction-narrative, memoirs, how-to books or washing machine manuals.

It’s about reading poetry, text messages, Sports IllustratedPeople magazine, emails, recipes on, a blog on the ten best towns to live in, Northern Virginia Magazine, or a post on the cities with the worst drivers.

It’s about reading a Superman, Wonder Woman or The Far Side comic; details on houses for sale in Scottsdale, Arizona, ocean front rentals on the Outer Banks, resorts in Thailand and the newest best-seller.

It is simply about Reading because you can, not because you have to.

Hooray for the Traveling Trolleys. Hooray for bookmobiles. Hooray for community libraries. May they prosper and proliferate like bunnies across this county, this state, this country, and, oh, why not… the world.
camel book mobile

Happy Reading,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bulletin Boards with Brain Brawn

Bulletin Boards with Brain Brawn cover
Bulletin Boards with Brain Brawn is a FREE product.

Creating bulletin boards for secondary classes that are visually eye-catching, mentally stimulating and that build on the concepts promoted in the grade level’s Program of Studies can be difficult. The key is to create eye candy with mental muscle while showcasing existing lesson concepts through completed student work.

Bulletin boards based on general concepts such as Read! Write! Think! leave room for a plethora of ideas while covering the basic components of Reading Comprehension, Writing, Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Sentence Structure, vocabulary and thinking skills. All of the bulletin board designs here use materials that showcase the lesson’s Common Core Standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy objectives.

Teachers, you may take each idea in this product and transform it to fit a whole bulletin board, or you may choose to divide the board into parts. I had one very, very large board that I often divided as follows:
Bulletin Boards with Brain Brawn THEME ME! chart

  1. Information Section: this permanent segment changes information as needed, with some of the elements remaining for the whole year. Information: class times, class rules/policies, cafeteria information (i.e. menus and what academic areas ate during which time frame), Honor Code rules (permanent), quarterly Honor Rolls, the school Mission Statement (permanent), etc.
  2. Reading Section: This segment of the board showcases the students’ comprehension for the text they are studying.
  3. Writing Section: This segment of the board concentrates on what students have written or should write. 
  4. Thinking Section: Although all of the sections of the board exhibit students’ thinking skills, this part is intended to promote the development of specific types of thinking skills i.e. Creative, Critical, Analytic, Inductive and/or Deductive.
Each # 2-4 section displays

    Bulletin Boards with Brain Brawn What a Brick! activity
  • completed student assignments , or
  • the elements that students need to complete a warm-up or in-class exercise. 
Teachers, you can cover the whole board in one paper color/design, or designate a specific color/design for each section. If dividing the board into sections, do staple or pin borders between the segments. Keep the materials colorful and visually appealing. Foam stick on letters and other crafty materials add oomph. Make sure to keep any graphic elements age and class-level appropriate.

Because a number of the cards and charts are left blank, use them for your own bulletin board ideas. Just think: Seven graphics=infinite possibilities.

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

English Lesson Ideas ELA Lesson Ideas Middle School Lesson Plans High School Lesson Plans Bulletin Board Ideas Common Core Standards Bloom's Taxonomy

Thursday, July 18, 2013

With K.I.S.S in mind, planning's no grind

Lesson Planning
Although summer is in high swelter mode, many teachers continue to create daily plans. During these lazy, hazy days, that has to be incredibly difficult- a feat that I was never tough enough to attempt. I salute you, my colleagues who accept this mission incredible.

Lately, though, social media status reports reveal that some teachers who chose to close their classroom doors in May/June, literally and figuratively, are being plagued by itches they just are not yet ready to scratch. What's causing this rash? The Lesson Plan Troll, bored and thirsty for attention, is tickling their brains.

My mind has fallen into a state of lethargy this week, resulting in brain freeze. Not coordinated enough to surf, even if I did live near an ocean, I decided to ride the waves of the Internet in an attempt to ignite my procrastinating writing muse. After a few clicks, I landed on a discussion posted in a LinkedIn group, The Teacher's Lounge.  The question,  "What are the top challenges teachers face when preparing for class?" hooked my yawning attention.

As I read the responses, I wondered, could I, clearly and concisely, put my planning philosophy into words? Clearly and concisely are the key components for this challenge, because although my book, The House of Comprehension- showcase the approach that I utilize-it's a book, not a blog post, a venue where should conserve my words.

After playing around with my basic ideas, I created this mnemonic device: Know Investigate Synthesize Submit.  Based on the widely-used Keep It Simple, Silly concept ( I detest the word, Stupid, which is usually used...but that's a whole other post), here is Connie's Planning Policy:

Unit Structure Chart
from The House of Comprehension (29)

First of all, with each and every lesson idea, PowerPoint and activity that I create, I must consider:
WHO I am teaching (visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners as well as specific student needs,
WHAT I am teaching (the material),
WHEN (time of year and following what specific lessons),
WHY (Objectives/goals: Common Core, Bloom's Taxonomy or other), and
HOW (Step by step plans: student-centered and teacher-directed).

All of these criteria fit into my K.I.S.S plan:
Know (Research, Explain, Apply, Discuss)-READ
Investigate (Discuss, Evaluate, Analyze, Rate)-DEAR
Synthesize  (Create, Hypothesize, Originate, Imagine,          Compose, Envision)-CHOICE
Submit  (Propose, Offer, Present)-POP

My goal is to inspire students to want READing to become DEAR to them so they will have CHOICES and their lives (in school and in the outside world) will POP.

These terms do not only apply just to what I want students to demonstrate through their writing, projects, tests, presentations, etc. during and at the end of a lesson or unit.  While composing a lesson, I must perform each action of the Verbs in the parentheses, too.

Why? To me, teaching is a road, one my students and I must travel together, with all of us moving in the same direction. If I want my students to fuel their brains with  K.I.S.S,  then I must energize my plans with High-Octane doses of it, too.

"What are the top challenges teachers face when preparing for class?"  I would love to read your ideas. Please share them here.

Happy Teaching,

Friday, July 12, 2013

Teaching Lifesavers-Twelve Classroom Management Forms

During the 30+ Labor Day nights that I spent tossing and turning with Start of the School Year Insomnia, my dream fragments didn’t feature lesson plan anxiety, but behavior issue fears. It didn’t take more than a week of student teaching to realize that my stress levels weren’t soaring because of what or how I was teaching, but because of student behaviors and administrative policies.
For example:  
• Apathetic Joey slouched in the back of the class apathetically staring out the window;.
• Sarah was led back to the classroom by an assistant principal because she didn’t have a pass. Guess who got her hands slapped? Hint- it wasn’t Sarah. 
• The students had a difficult time staying on-task while I was taking attendance and handing out the beginning activity.
• Zelda handed in Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” as her original creation for my assignment: Write a poem about a celebrity (she chose Rhiannon). When I showed her Lord Byron’s poem printed in the anthology, she said, “It’s not my fault it wrote the same thing I did.”
And this was just my first day heading a classroom!

Knowing that behavior issues would be stymied with good classroom management, over the years, I created,
revised, tweaked and revised again (and again) these twelve forms in an effort to help me organize and manage my classroom. My main objective was to create a safe and exciting learning environment. In order to accomplish this goal, I knew that I had to thwart disruptive student behavior before it even began, and to ward off encounters of the negative kind with administrators. I offer them to you all who are still leading classrooms. Note: If your school district has forms that they require teachers to use that coincide with various policies, use them, of course. If they don’t, download this packet, “Get thee to the copy room, “ (Sorry Shakespeare, no nunneries here), and in a few minutes you will be ready for whatever left hooks the year might toss your way.

Note: You can download: A Student Information Sheet, A Parent Contact Record, a Parents’ Perspective Survey, and three activities: a What About Me (Student) and What About
Me (Teacher), This is My Future, and What's in My Name Collage from:

Most of these forms are self-explanatory, but here are a few clarifications:
All Forms: In your desk or file cabinet, have a folder for each of these forms: blank ones as well as those you have used in class. The latter is very important for your personal well-being, but also for those times when you need information to take to a parent/student conference.
Tardy Sign-In Sheet: I stapled these together and kept them on a small table right by the classroom door along with a pencil. After a few reminders the first week of school, students knew that they had to stop and sign-in if they arrived to class after the Tardy Sign-In Sheets folder so I could have it handy when I finalized the grades, or if I had to contact parents – whatever was necessary to meet the school’s policy.
late bell. Each week, I flipped to a new sheet. Every grading period, I put the stapled sheets in a

NOTE: Except for the Lesson Launch examples, this packet is for all subjects. Teachers can adapt the Lesson Launch idea to their subject areas. 
Download it from:

Happy Teaching,

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Monday, July 8, 2013

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”

“…your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion…”

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
All too often, “the world is too much with us” as William Wordsworth would say. The news, social media updates and conversations with friends and family near and far stream into our viewing and listening arenas with words cloaked in sadness and emotions left unspoken.  This steady barrage of unhappiness can leave us so shell-shocked that we close our hearts and minds to the needs of those who inhabit our world.

Just yesterday, I learned that:

Children from poverty-stricken families would go hungry over the summer if charitable organizations didn’t bring them lunch (“In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck.” The Washington Post, 7/7/2013).

An online teaching colleague lost a mentor and friend-a woman with a husband and an eight-month-old baby, in a horrific car crash.

A former student revealed that she is caught up in the quicksand of a bad choice romantic relationship, and,

My college roommate told me that her fifteen-year-old granddaughter had run away from home.

Life’s tragedies, humans’ inhumanity, and caverns echoing with the aftershocks of bad decisions-ours and others- will always be with us.  Those feelings of, “I am in this alone,” that emerge from these experiences, however, do not have to take center stage in our hearts and minds. They will, though, as long as we:

Forget to hear the pain, worry and distressing indecision behind the words of our husbands, wives, children, siblings, colleagues, co-workers, friends, neighbors and people we pass on the street because  we remain mired in the never-ending rush hours of our lives,

Drop oral conversations and written messages into figurative or literal Delete baskets instead of listening to stories about love, loss and heartbreak because they fall into the “Been there, heard that before,” category, or,

Encase our minds and hearts under invisible armor to protect these vital organs from any more scarring wounds that explode from life’s slingshot.

“Reach out for me. I'll be there… I will see you through.”

When I was still in the classroom, I spent much of my before and after school and lunch breaks  listening while students aired the joys, woes and stresses that filled their lives. The same scenario repeated itself over and over in my colleagues’ classrooms.  These teenagers didn’t want advice or to be judged.  They just wanted someone to listen, okay, and maybe offer one or two suggestions for dealing with their problems.
We didn’t question or complain about that aspect of our profession, although sometimes we did sigh as we turned our backs on the stack of papers we had to grade. Maybe a college education course entitled, Adolescent Angst and Anxiety-When and How to Listen exists now (if it doesn’t-it should), but it sure didn’t when I was studying to be a teacher.

Our common sense, our understanding about what student confidences we could keep, and our grasp about when we needed to contact parents, counselors or other authorities were the silent third party during these chats. Our students always knew these guidelines.

I still remember sixteen-year-old Joe who scoffed and said, “That man doesn’t care about anything except
stopping by on welfare day for my Mother’s check,” when I asked him if he had shared his fears about becoming pulled into misdemeanor activities that involved his friends with his father. And my heart still aches at the despair I saw in his eyes that he couldn’t quite hide behind his bravado. Sadly, many, many Joes have slid into chairs in my various classrooms in the 40+ years since I knew Joe.  Each one’s lonliness shredded my heart.

Ashleigh, a willowy ballerina cried as she talked about her weakness for sleeping with older men, and how she was tested monthly for aids. Her mother knew about her daughter’s risky trysts. During a conference with Ashleigh’s counselor, the mother shrugged and said, “I’ve explained the dangers to her, but it’s her choice. She’s eighteen.” Ashleigh and I discussed self-respect. I have always wondered if she ever embraced her self-worth.

Did we as a faculty discuss when, where and how to address the warning signs of a teenager ready to
(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
fragment into drugs, alcohol or other perilous behavior? Did we see the unspoken cues of one preparing to run away from home? Not really. Our concerns usually fell into the “What would you do if…” lunch conversations in the teacher’s lounge-conversations everyone knew were based on realities and not hypothetical situations.   Times did exist, though-times that followed sleepless nights-when we did share our worries and fears about students with parents, counselors and principals. Sometimes they listened…sometimes they didn’t.

And from what my friends in the classroom tell me, that’s still the way. That needs to change. Before I settled into public school classrooms, I taught in an alternative school for kids who were failing in public educational systems but who fell between the cracks in regard to the avenues open to them that would help them succeed-personally and academically. While at this school, the students and their parents had to agree to a twice-monthly counseling group based on the premise that, “The child didn’t get to his point on his/her own.” What a totally admirable concept!

Oh, if only public schools had the inclination and the money to reach out and provide a similar program, just think about how that boy sitting all alone on that curb in front of the coffee shop, or that girl locked in her room listening to Adele’s Someone Like You over and over again would feel listened to and not like his or her “ has grown cold, and you’re drifting out all on your own.”

Maybe Federal and state guidelines should emphasize the value of self-respect over test proficiency ratings. Maybe when we tune into what’s bugging Johnny instead of analyzing why he can’t read as well as he should, he’ll be more willing and able to add a few pride pins to his academic success robe.  Maybe when students feel heard, they’ll hear the needs of their schools, their parents, their communities, and most importantly, themselves.

“I'll be there to love and comfort you, and I'll be there to cherish and care for you.”

When our children were still under our roof, my husband and I would listen when they chose to share the burdens that made them fall victim to insomnia or that pushed them to roll their eyes derisively when we asked what was behind their clouds of gloom and doom. We tried to listen with two open ears, anyway. Many a night I followed my daughter or son down to the kitchen when she/he decided that 12:47 was the best time to talk.

(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”
Considering the often overwhelming nature of raising kids, taking care of a home, working and finding time to take a few breaths, were we always emotionally available?  I think so…I hope so, anyway.  Are we now, even though they are well into adulthood? I’d like to think that we are…at least more times than not.
When my sisters, other family members or friends send me, “I need to talk to you; is now a good time?”  e-mails or phone calls, do I release the invisible umbilical cord that tethers me to my computer or to the latest novel I’m reading? Do I pick up the phone or tap out a response with a welcoming, “Hey, I was thinking about you”?

Do I take the time to nurture friendships, some as old as, Taffy, the stuffed bear I’ve had since I was five-years-old? Do I take the time to foster budding relationships instead of falling into the, “I will when I’m not so busy” excuse? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is, “Not as often as I should.”


Sometimes I don’t because I know that the topic of discussion might anger, upset or worry me.

Sometimes I don’t because I am tapped out emotionally, spiritually, physically and logically.

Sometimes I don’t because, although I know these reasons are nothing more than excuses, I realize that I will be more ready to show sincere concern after I have had time to recover my compassion from my own cares and woes.

“Come on, reach out for me. Reach out, just look over your shoulder.  I'll be there to give you all the love you need, and I'll be there-you can always depend on me. I'll be there.”

During my own rush hour days, I sometimes wonder, “When someone I know and love is feeling, ‘The world is too much with me,’ will I take the time to reach out…to listen?”

During the traffic jams crowding my days, if anyone knocks on my door and asks, “Is anyone there? Can I depend on you?” will I answer, “I am, and you can”?
(Knock! Knock!) “Is anyone there?”... “I am.”

I hope so.

(Thanks to The Four Tops for writing such apropos lyrics in their song, I’ll Be There).

Until next week,

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Carry-ons are Free on this Lesson Up Express

Somehow, I must have deleted this post (highly possible), or maybe  the infamous Mr. Big Bad Wolf from my teacher resource,  The House of Comprehension, ate it so teachers wouldn't have it to help their students build strong comprehension homes.  Whatever happened, I am re-posting it because it has been a top download in my Teachers pay Teachers store earning a 4.0 rating and a popular Pin on Pinterest.  Enjoy.

Other than hairstyle, few items show more about a character than the clothes someone chooses to wear and his/her accessories. This FREE activity not only focuses on the type of purse/attaché case/tote/ backpack, etc. that a character would choose, but also on the items a person would keep in it.

After brainstorming what type of accessory celebrities would choose, as well as what items to store in it, students will do the same for their teacher-assigned character.

Note: This makes an engaging end-of-the-year  or start-of-the-year activity.  Ask students to choose a character from any of the literature that they have read in the present or a past school term. For assessment purposes, the amount of depth that students reveal in completing this activity shows how much lesson time you will need to spend on increasing their character comprehension proficiency.

For either of these activities, it doesn't matter if a character is assigned more than once. In fact, the explanations students write for repeat character choices will really show their interpretive, analytic and critical thinking skill levels.

This Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy aligned plan includes detailed Teacher Notes. Adolescents understand how accessories play a major role in defining a person. They will have fun showing their understanding of a character's personality, values, and interests in this captivating activity.

Download this FREEBIE from:

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We are family…teachers, students and parents are we!

Maybe I think too simplistically, but even after three plus decades in secondary classrooms, I still believe that teachers, parents and students compose a formidable familial force against the Anti-Education monster.  In cases where this Triple Threat Trio marries their separate but equal academic perspectives and goals, the school experience is one that blossoms with the joy of learning and the thrill of success.

Sister Sledge might have recorded We Are Family in 1979, but her lyrics are just as meaningful to all of us concerned with education thirty-five years later.

“Living life is fun and we've just begun
To get our share of the world's delights
(HIGH!) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal's in sight
(WE!) no we don't get depressed
Here's what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won't go wrong
This is our family Jewel"
~Sister Sledge We Are Family

As a perennial student, a retired teacher and an education-oriented parent (grandparent), here are ten thoughts the Triple Threat Trio can use to create a successful academic arena for every school-aged child.

1.       Call a moratorium on trash talk such as “She/he is just a teacher,” “Those that can do; those that can’t teach,” and “Teachers are just glorified baby-sitters” in hearing range of the impressionable minds of children.
A staunch advocate of the Freedom of Speech, I would never tell anyone what to say-orally or in writing.  I am asking, though, that we work together to foster an atmosphere of respect. After all, academic success is the goal we all desire for children.  

2.      Promote academic achievement by being involved in children's studies.
Most teachers have agendas they hand out to students at the beginning of a unit and they remind students to share their copies with their mothers and fathers.  Parents need to ask for a copy if they don’t, and keep it posted on the refrigerator or in another prominent place. Communicate with each other through voice mail, e-mail, texting and personal web pages.  When young people know their parents are actively involved in their education, they are more likely to develop a responsible attitude toward their studies.

3.      Hold children accountable for their in-class and homework assignments. 
Any parent quickly learns that asking, "Do you have any homework?" is likely to result in a mumbled, ''No," or "I've finished it." Productive dialogue exists when parents open a conversation with a comment like, "I understand you have an essay on The Metamorphosis due in a few days.  Do you really think the character turned into a dung beetle?" Young people will be more inclined to complete any assignments without excuses when they know that their parents not only care about their grades, but are interested in what they are studying. Teachers welcome the support for these assignments that are necessary to understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses.

4.      Reinforce the concept that any work is the young person’s responsibility. 
Teachers and parents must make it clear that they will be on hand to support, to explain or to discuss any problematic area, but the completion of an assignment is fully the students’ responsibility.

5.      Always be aware of academic progress. 
An A or an F or any grade in-between should never, ever be a surprise to parents, teachers or students. Neither parents nor teachers should wait that long if they believe that a child is struggling. Likewise, students need to talk with their parents and teachers when they still have time to bolster their grades.  If parents question a child's grade, they should contact the teacher for clarification.

6.      Be Proactive-not Reactive.
Excuses are unacceptable. Sometimes situations occur beyond the student's control that may negatively affect a student’s grade.  A death in the family, an accident, or an act of God cannot be foreseen, but teachers will work with students to help them complete any missing work or assessments. A broken printer, a marathon phone session with a friend steeped in a romantic crisis or the sudden onset of the flu hours before a paper is due do not fall into this category. When parents are aware of upcoming assignments, they might restrict phone privileges the night before a due date, ask to see the rough draft or tell their children to check the printer a few days prior to the deadline to ward off any problems.

Young people need to understand that they will be held accountable for the choices they make-in school and in life beyond graduation. A perceptive parent will know an excuse for what it is and won't accept any as a valid reason not to be prepared for school.

The most beneficial situation occurs when parents state that they expect their child to be responsible and accountable, and that a last ditch effort won't be condoned or tolerated. Though they won't admit it, young people know that they need help managing their actions, as well as firm guidelines from the adults in their lives.

7.       Parents, teachers and students should show support for the school's policies. 
One of the most abused programs is the attendance policy.  All schools have very clear criteria that detail how many times a student can be tardy or absent before the grade is negatively affected.  Still, some students accrue an exorbitant number of excused absences. For example, in a 9-week quarter, 10 absences are excessive. Students need to understand that teachers will report absences and that their parents will uphold the school’s policies, ensuring the belief that academics will always come first.  

8.       School, not an outside job is the children's top priority.
Considering today’s economic realities, the extra money that many students earn is vitally necessary for their families to make ends meet.  This is an unfortunate situation, and not one that is not easily resolved. By working together, teachers, parents and the student can determine a viable solution so the young person's education is not impaired.
On the other hand, if the job is solely to support a snazzy new car or other material needs the parents should not encourage a paycheck before academics.  From ages 6-18, school must be deemed the top priority.

9.      Academics must take precedence over athletics or other extracurricular activities. 
This can be difficult considering the highly competitive process of college admissions.  Those students with a combination of good grades, decent SAT's and lengthy activity sheets are considered more likely to be accepted than those with the same grades and SAT scores but with fewer clubs and sports.

Athletics and certain activities such as sports, drama and band can easily take a toll on students’ study time and energy, as well as on teachers whose courses are performance-based. Still, academics should never take a back seat to anything. Parents and teachers should help young people learn time management skills as well as how to schedule study hours. All three groups must promote the scholar athlete, the scholar-thespian, or the scholar-drummer, not just the latter half of the equation.

10.  Promote open communication with school personnel.
One of the most difficult problems educators and administrators face occurs when parents retort with a, ''Not my kid," response when they are presented with a disciplinary, academic or legal issue.  Parents must be honest in regard to their children’s actions, be they academic, extracurricular or personal. If a problem arises, everyone can work together to solve it. Understandably, some information is not necessary for the whole staff. Possibly only the counselor or administrator needs the full story when dealing with a personal issue. In most cases, teachers need only to know if a problem exists, and what behaviors to look for.  Full disclosure isn't necessary.  Dishonesty or denial can only lead to misinterpretations and false assumptions that could very possibly be detrimental to the child's success.

Neither should parents or educators harshly berate a student publicly. Yelling at a child for laziness, a lack of motivation or low test scores in a public setting is detrimental for everyone.  Often openly chastised students will respond by cutting classes or by acting inappropriately until they have dealt with their embarrassment.

Educational environments thrive when teachers, parents and students present supportive and deferential attitudes for each other. Ultimately, all three hold the power to influence academic accomplishments. Successful students are strengthened by a responsible and respectful attitude for themselves, their family and their schooling. And the roots for this mindset are planted at home and nurtured at school.

We are family.

Until next week,

(Thanks, Sister Sledge, for your fitting lyrics from We Are Family)