The Benefits of Student and Family Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes!
This time of school year I tend to get really reflective. I think a lot about what I loved about this school year, and what needs to get kicked to the curb to make next year better. While I have always had a laundry list of items to work on I find it extremely important to also get feedback from my students and their families. I mean, who would be better at offering suggestions on things they loved as well as the things that may have been in the way of an even better experience.

I use these FREE Student and Family Evaluations to get some insight into what my clients are thinking. The opinions that really matter to me are those of my clients, my clients being my students and their families. So, every year about this time I pull on my big girl panties and ask for some honest, no holes barred feedback in the form of a teacher evaluation. Is is always easy? No, but it is always worth it.

Giving the Evaluations


This pack has two sets of evaluations, one for students and the other for parents.

The student evaluation I give in class. I make sure that students know that I want their complete honesty, and for this reason we keep them completely anonymous. Before giving out the evaluation we talk about honestly, and how you can be honest without being mean. I like to share comments that I have received in the past and share how they helped me to shape our classroom. This really gives students ownership.  In the six years that I have given these evaluations, my students have always taken them very seriously. I believe this is because they know that I truly want to know what they think.

The parent evaluation I send home. I have sent it home as a paper copy and as an attachment to an email. Both have worked out well, but I have had a higher return on the paper copy. I think this might have to do with the anonymity allowing families to be truly honest. I place a box at the back of the room and ask students to place it in the box by a certain date. I don't open the box until that date, so that I really have no idea whose is whose. Either way that you choose to share with parents I would recommend attaching a note stating that you would like honest opinions and again give examples of how they have helped you to grow as a professional.

In the end, do I always want to hear what is said. No, I don't want to think that I am not the perfect teacher, BUT I NEED to hear it, because that is how you grow.

One year I was feeling particularly brave and gave the evaluation three times:
First around parent conferences in October.
Again at the end of the first semester.
Then wrapped up the year by giving them again the last week of school.
I received so much wonderful feedback in both glow and grow areas that I used to really improve my teaching and classroom environment.

Interpreting the Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes! Reading over the evaluations can be an uplifting or totally crushing experience based on how you set yourself up. I recommend really embodying a growth mindset, and tell yourself that feedback is how you grow. 

Don't even think about just "looking over" these evaluations. Save them for a time when you have an ample of time to not feel rushed and really reflect on what you are reading. I usually liked to go to my favorite restaurant and belly up to a giant sweet tea and bowl of queso. I would take my time going through the evaluations using sticky notes to make lists of important points for both areas of strength and possible growth. 

I am not going to lie. There were tears almost every time. Most of the time they were happy tears because of something positive that was written that I didn't even realize I had done. Other times, I would be upset with myself for not knowing something. Both of these are important to realize, and the queso makes it infinitely easier to get through it.

After You Digest Your Evaluations

In order to kind of wrap up the evaluation process I would gather up my lists of glow and grow areas and draft an email to parents and a little speech for my class. I wanted to recognize their honesty and let them know that I really read each and every word and was taking it all in. For these, I would usually pick 3-5 positives and the same number of areas for growth to outline and then again thank families and students alike for their help in my professional development. I ALWAYS received more feedback from families after sending this email, and since that was my goal in the beginning it was very much appreciated! 

What Now?

If you are feeling brave and ready to try out this Teacher Evaluation System for yourself, then hop on over to TPT to grab this free printable!


Classroom Project Time

We all know the feeling. State testing is over and we can breathe normally again. Now the struggle of the end of the year begins.

Encourage creative, independent thinking with culminating projects that integrate research, math, writing, art, speaking, listening, and map skills to review skills you have worked on all year!I long for this time after the test every year, but then when it gets here I find myself falling to pieces just a little bit. I know that this is the time of year when students need the most structure. I also know that I need to keep every day engaging and content filled, because my dear friends, it can not all come to a grinding halt after the test is over. If we end our serious learning right after the test then the students know that the test is what counts, when we friends know it couldn't be further from the truth.Okay, rant over, and here is my plan:
For the rest of the year we are focusing on project based learning. This is the stuff real learning is made of, and I love it! Now I know that some teachers are able to just let the projects flow, and I would love to say that I am one of those people, but that just isn't true. So while I may give a boat load of structure and specific directions going into a project, I am all about allowing students to make the choices that will make the experience meaningful to them, all the while keeping the project content rich!
Our first project started this week and we are planning a dream field trip! During this project students will complete research on their chosen trip, take part in four different writing tasks (persuasive, expository, how-to, and narrative), conduct three math tasks, and create their own map! I LOVE watching my students to see where they choose, it becomes so personal to them. 

In the end, they create a poster to present, and are so into it! Of course the field trip is just the beginning. About the time they finish that one up they are begging for more, so we move right into the next one! One of the glorious things about these projects are that students can work at their own pace and begin and end them one their own, we don't have to stay at the same place as a class which works out wonderfully at the end of the year with all the various times that students get pulled/are absent. 

Have your tried one of Teaching in the Fast Lane's Culminating Projects? Send in pictures of your students in action to teachinginthefastlane@gmail.com for a special thank you! 

** I wrote this post last year while still in the classroom, but never posted it. Although I don't have my own classroom this year I have been volunteering and all these thoughts still ring true

Empowering Students...Without Giving Up Yours!

So often our students are left feeling helpless. This can lead to a power struggle in the classroom that means engagement goes down and disrespect, in both directions, goes up. By empowering out students to take control of their own learning we are showing them that they are an important part of the classroom. The balance is tough though, because we want to maintain control over our classrooms all while watching out to make sure that our students have a safe place to experiment and grow their blossoming personalities. 
In this post there are five ideas for how to give students a little power to have choices in their learning, and therefor help them to grow as individuals. 

Hear Them Out

Sometimes it is all too easy to move forward with a plan without hearing how a student feels about it. This is especially prone to happening when we think, and we usually do, we know what the student is going to say. 

Instead of cutting the student off, hear them out. Then show them that you were listening by validating them with a phrase such as, "I am hearing that you feel ____ because_____." This can also be a great segue into explaining your thoughts on the matter. 

Just by hearing a student out, they feel that they have a little more control in the situation. 

This Then That

This is a very simple idea to institute, and is often known as Grandma's rule, because you come out smelling like a sweet rose. 

It is very simple. You just state that, "First this needs to be done, then you can do that."

This principle works extraordinarily well with students that have a tough time with completing assignments because they would rather do something else. For example, I had a student that just LOVED to read. He would often try to read all day long instead of just about anything else. Sounds like a dream, until you took a look at his unfinished work. I would simply tell him that first the assignment needed to be completed and then he could read. Knowing that he got to do what he wanted to, namely read, as soon as he completed his work gave him the extra umph he needed to get through the assignment. 

Put It In Writing

Some people just need to see it spelled out for them. This is where a contract can come in handy. This can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be, but the important thing is to include the student in its creation. If you try to come up with a plan and then present it to the student without their input, it is likely to backfire. 

My favorite for of contract for the average student was a sticky note contract with very simple statements that they could keep on their desk. I would ask the student what they wanted, and I would tell them my expectations. We would come to an agreement, record it on the sticky note, and then both sign it. Then the student would keep it on their desk. If either of us wasn't holding up our end of the bargain, the other could just point to the sticky to remind the other. this makes for GREAT nonverbal reminders. 

Language of Choice

Another really simple idea that you are probably already doing! This one is simply giving students a choice of doing this or that. The trick is to structure the choices so that the student is meeting expectation no matter what they choose. 

For example:
Would you like to write in pen or pencil?
Would you like to complete this assignment on your own or can I help you get started?
Would you like to do your reading or writing first?
This way, students get the power to make the choice and save face if they have worked themselves up, but they are also meeting the classroom expectations.

Acknowledge Student Power

Sometimes just acknowledging that students do hold the power to make their own choices is enough to get them out of a funk. 

This might sound something like, "I can't make you," followed by then clarifying the consequences. this helps students to maintain a sense of control over their own choices, but also allows them to see the logic of a situation. 

Want More Information?

This following are a list of books (affiliate links) that I have found to be helpful when working with students in the classroom. 

Fables with Squids Will Be Squids

A few weeks ago a friend brought a book over to my house. Now, I consider myself to be quite knowledgable on children's authors and books, but I had never heard of this one. Jon Scieska and Lane Smith have created some of my favorite books to use in the classroom like (affiliate links) Baloney, The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and the Time Warp Trio Series. I thought that I had read all of their books, but I was wrong. This new book, Squids Will Be Squids, quickly took over as my new favorite! 

This book is a wonderful collection of thoroughly modern fables with new animal characters and great morals such as, "Squids will be squids," and "If you are an ant and are going to dump your best friend for a new one, you should know that Echidna is another name for Spiny Anteater."

As I read this book I knew I had to find a way to use it in classrooms, and it obviously needed to be with fables. Voila! A mini-unit is born!
This FREE Mini-Unit is a great way to bring a little fun to teaching fables. Included in this pack are mini posters about fables and personification, a graphic organizer for use with the fables in Squids Will Be Squids, and a writing project with rubric for students to write their own modern fables.
I think that this mini-unit will be a blast to complete after testing is done, or anytime of year, to get the creative writing juices flowing, and have some major laughs in the classroom. We all know that kids find lessons in the funniest of stories.
If you complete this unit in class, I would love to hear from you in the comments about the funny morals that your students share with you! 


Terrific Testing Tips

It's that time of year again, and while there is no denying that testing season is the absolute worst, I wanted to offer up some tips for making it suck just a little less.         
                           

Gamify Test Prep

Gamification works! By turning review into games it increases engagement and allows students, and you, to have more fun with it. To check out my favorite ways to gamify test prep click on over to this post

Practice Challenging Problems

Give students the most difficult and challenging problems you can think of. This serves two purposes. The first is that students will get used to this increased rigor and then have an increased level of confidence on the test itself. The second is that it gives you the chance to model techniques for working through frustration.

If you are looking for strategic test prep my Test Smash and Big Ten Math series are great places to start!

Stretches Students Can Do In Their Seats

Four hours is a long time for students to have to sit still and quiet. If we are being honest, four minutes is a long time for them to sit still and quiet. Practice stretches that students can complete while still quiet in their seats. This might look like stretching your arms as high as possible into the air, reaching your arms as far to the ground as possible, or crossing the midline. 

The key is to get oxygen to the brain, but not be distracting. 

Compliment Capes

These are a great activity to do the day before testing. Tape a piece of paper to each student's back and have them travel around the room writing compliments on one another's capes. I love to see their eyes light up when they read all the nice things that their classmates wrote about them. It is a real confidence booster!

To the right you can see a picture my friend Katie took of her students and their compliment capes! 

Earlobes

Did you know that if you are tired squeezing your earlobes will help you to wake up? This little trick always makes my students giggle, but sure enough, I always see them doing it come test day. 

Positive Self Talk

Self talk is an important skill to teach our students. I love to use this video to show what positive self talk looks like, and it is has never steered me wrong. It is just a really cute way to start the day off right! Sometimes I break out the mirrors from our math manipulatives and have students practice positive self talk like that. 

Positive Note

The last thing I do before leaving the day before our big test is write each of my students a positive and personal note on their desk in dry erase marker. That way, when they come in the next morning it is the first thing they see. I tell them to erase it, but to remember that it is there all day cheering them on.

You and your students are ready!

Helping Students Follow the Rules

Do you have that one, or maybe nine, students that want to follow the rules? They really do! They want so badly to please you, but there seems to be this force working against them. These are usually your students that are hard on themselves, struggle to maintain self control, and have a tough time in the classroom. They can also be some of the sweetest kiddos in the world, because they are really searching for acceptance and approval from you.
These students are prime for outside influences, and often think that the world is against them. We can help these students to feel successful by putting a few easy to follow steps into the classroom that will help students to have a more positive self image, and build their sense of self worth. 

Expectation Reminders

The key to reminding students of the expectations is to be respectful and use phrases such as "We agreed," or "When we discussed this." Make sure that you use "We" language to build the sense of support for your student instead of instilling an us versus them mentality. Many students only need this subtle verbal reminder. 

For tougher students, it is a great idea to sit down together and write an expectation contract that you both sign. During this sit down make sure to establish the expectation as well as what the student feels they need in order to meet the expectation. This way, you each have expectations to meet and the student gets a sense that you are in this together. 

Make a Better Choice

When a student is having a tough time in the moment a simple question can make or break the situation. With younger students you might say, "What would be a better choice?" With older students a good alternative is "What would be a more responsible way of doing that?" 

Either way, the key is to interrupt the student's thought process, and remind them that it is their choice. This can be very powerful. 

Redirect

Just like asking students to make a better choice, a simple redirect can help a student to evaluate their situation and determine an alternative with better options. This option is most powerful when you are able to stop the student right as they head off the rails. A redirect should be simple, one word even, that pulls a student back to engagement. 

Right Now Validation

We all get in a mood where nothing can help, but this one might just be the trick. Right now validation means making students aware that you understand how they are feeling, but also letting them know that the task at hand has to be completed. It might sound a little like, "I know that you are frustrated with this math problem and we can talk about that, but we need to figure out a way to solve it before we can move on."

This validates the student's emotion and feelings, but reinforces the idea that the work must be done.

"Get Out of Jail Free" 

Sometimes students fall off a fit of a ledge when something little happens and they don't know how to come back from it. Sometimes it seems easier to them to truly be in trouble than to admit that their situation isn't that bad and move on. This is especially true if a student is trying to "save face" in front of their peers. 

By allowing students an out of sorts for recovering from a minor blip in order to be able to move on and get back on task you give them the power to make positive choices. 

Want to Know More?

The following are some great options for books for yourself and to share with students that can help empower them to take control of their choices. (affiliate links)

How to Lose a Student in Ten Ways

Try Too Hard to Identify With Their Pop Culture 

I know what you are thinking, "But we are supposed to identify with them!" Yes, and no. When there is something in pop culture that you truly enjoy, but all means incorporate it into your classroom. BUT if there is something that you barely know what it is, but you think it just might be cool with your students, don't touch it. 

Take your cues from your students. If they want to share something with you, embrace it and go with it. This also means, that you shouldn't take every little pop culture reference and turn it into a lesson. Instead be selective, it will be more meaningful. 

On top of this, be very careful with how you appropriate your students' cultures. Every culture should be celebrated for its unique qualities, not just how the mainstream interprets them.

Be Sarcastic

Sarcasm has no place with children in a classroom. Period. It is belittling and leads to misunderstandings. Just stop.

Don't Learn About Their Lives

Ask your students questions about their lives. Lots of questions. Let them know that you are invested in them as people, not just students. When you have a relationship with your students, you life is easier, and you will grow together.

Inconsistency

Don't be wishy washy. Don't do it. Sometimes you are the only bit of consistency that your students have. Don't take that away from them. This does not mean that you can't change your mind, but it does mean that you may need to explain your reasoning from time to time.

Keep Them In Their Seats

Dr. Kagan said it best, all students want to move, talk with their peers, and have fun. Gone are the days of keeping students in their neat rows of seats all day long. Here are the days of cooperative learning, movement, and engagement. 

By using brain breaks and other kinesthetic activities students are getting more oxygen to their brain, and are therefor able to focus on their task. 

These dice simulations are a great way of getting students up out of their seats and moving around for an experience they won't forget. 

Favoritism

Repeat after me, FIRM BUT FAIR. One of the absolute worst feelings is when you feel like you are getting a raw deal. This is perpetuated when you don't have the maturity to see that not everyone needs the same things.

Am I saying that everyone gets the same things and treatment all the time? Absolutely not. I am saying that everyone gets what they need.

Be Clueless About How They Are Feeling

Our students come to us with a lot of emotional baggage. We need to be keen as to their feelings and life happenings. If Maslow's hierarchy items are not taken care of, then a student is working at a deficit. Take the time to get to know your students' emotional needs and situation. Ask simple questions such as if they ate breakfast, who is home with them, and how did you sleep last night. There is a wealth of knowledge and understanding in their answers. 

Don't Share About Yourself

Elementary students already think that teachers are some breed of alien that never leave the school. Open yourself up to them and share your passions. As a hobby I race cars. I share all about my hobby with my students and it forms an instant bond. I also tell me students a ton of stories about my cat and the silly things she does. 

Now this does not give carte blanche to use your students as a sounding board. Choose what you share carefully. You want to be a real person, but remember that they are kids. 

Be Cold

You are not a robot, don't act like one. When I first started my student teaching a teacher told me, "Don't smile until Thanksgiving." I thought that was ridiculous then, and I find it even more ridiculous now. 

Show emotion to your students. When you are happy smile, laugh, and spread your joy. When you are having a hard day or not feeling well share that too. Students need to know that it is alright to express emotions in healthy ways. They need you to model that for them. Even more, you need the ability to express how you feel. 

Give Commands

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I am not saying that you should merely propose ideas for student action, but you don't need to be a drill sergeant either. There are many, many happy mediums. 

I have always chosen to treat students as adults by using my "pleases and thank yous" when requesting they do something. I feel that this serves the purpose of showing them that I respect them, while also modeling appropriate manners.

Bonus

When I first started teaching I was assigned the book How to Talk So Kids Can Learn, (affiliate link) and it was solely responsible for a complete mind shift on how I communicated with students. If you are having a tough time connecting with a student I would highly recommend it! 

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