Monday, April 27, 2015

Win $50 cash to use on TPT to buy whatever you want!

I have teamed up with several music sellers on, and we are doing a cash giveaway!

There will be two winners.  They will each win a $50 gift certificate for use on TPT.  You can buy anything you wish to buy on the website, but if  you wish to purchase S-Cubed Complete Sight Singing Bundle, this $50 will help tremendously!

You can enter from April 29th until May 1st by using the Rafflecopter below!  That's when it become "live"!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Finally! An article in a professional music journal that can help middle school choral music educators and more!

In my opinion, this is the best, most useful article ever written by a professional music journal to help choral music educators in their first year. So happy to see an article that focuses on useful material that is helpful for those of us in the trenches each and everyday. Click here to link to the article.

It helped me, and I am in my 23rd year!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Especially for those of us who teach middle school...

I teach Middle School Chorus.  This is a huge part of my philosophy of teaching this age group...and of dealing with everyone in my everyday life...people I meet on the my students.  Once I realized it, it made all the difference.

Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Very Large Discount for Multiple Licensing of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program

Special April Deal for Multiple License Purchase for S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program

Spring is always the time to get the best price for S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Bundles.

I want to let you know about an awesome opportunity for the month of April for multiple licensing purchases!  It represents a way to get a deep discount for your peers!

Have you or someone in your district purchased S-Cubed Complete Bundle and thought about how much you’d like the other teachers in your district to begin using the program so you can unify the approach the teaching sight singing as a district to your middle school beginners?

Have you ever talked to your district supervisor about purchasing multiple S-Cubed licenses for all of the middle school teachers in your district?

Have you or someone you know purchased S-Cubed and you have a co-worker with limited funds who would also like to purchase the program?

Have you used the program this year, and you want to share the program with other teachers in your district or at your school?

Well, now is the time to do it!

Most people don’t know about it, but when you purchase one of the S-Cubed Complete Bundles, you have automatic access to the TPT multiple license program discounts forever.  You can purchase as many licenses as you want to purchase to use with multiple teachers in your school building and with multiple schools within your school district.  You can come back six months later and purchase more licenses when a new teacher joins your staff.  You can even decide to purchase the program using the multiple-license discount for other teachers in your district and get the teacher/district reimburse you after your purchase. 

You can also take advantage of the multiple license discount to give S-Cubed to another teacher as a gift.

The discount possibilities are numerous once you’ve purchased the first Complete Bundle.

After the original purchase, the remaining licenses are usually HALF the normal price.  With the current price at $209, the normal multiple license cost is 50% off.  That equals  $104.50.

For the month of April, to raise awareness of the multiple license discount, I am slashing the multiple license fee to only $79. 

This is an incredible discount on the program.  It hasn’t cost that little since before people discovered the incredibly helpful tools shared in this program.

It doesn’t matter what your original purchase price was.  It doesn’t matter whether you purchased it in April 2014 or if you purchased it yesterday.  Some of you may have gotten S-Cubed when it was on sale. Others may have paid full price….but now is the time to take advantage of this special discount on multiple licensing.

Here is how: 

Already purchased S-Cubed but want to purchase more licenses?
Additional licenses may be purchased at any time. You can do this right from your "My Purchases" page.

Here's how it's done:
Hover your mouse over 'My TpT' and click on "My Purchases'. Find the previously purchased item, click "Buy Additional Uses", then go through the checkout process and you will be charged the reduced rate for each additional use purchased.

Never purchased S-Cubed, but want to do it for the district?
If you haven’t purchased S-Cubed Complete Bundle yet, then purchase one at the current price, and all of the subsequent licenses will cost $80 until April 30.  After April 30, you will still be able to get a “multiple license” discount, but the $80 rate will only be available until April 30.

Spring is the best time to get the discounts on this program.
Click the image to go to my store!

Please share this incredible deal with all of your peers via social media and word of mouth. 

Thank you for using S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program!

Click here to learn more about the program.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Motivating Complacent and Entitled Middle School Choir for Adjudication

Motivating our singers in our middle school choir can be quite challenging...especially if your program is like pre-screening of any sort...anyone can sign up.

But as a public school teacher, that is how I think it should be.  Our job is to figure out how to motivate and help to thrive even the most difficult situation.

Before I get into specific things I have done and am doing, I want to emphasize a very important ingredient.  

It is so important for us to remember is that our students are motivated when we are passionate about what we are doing. Without passion, we will be unable to find a solution to whatever ails us.  We will only find frustration and obstacles.  When those are all we see, it is time for serious self-assessment or, in extreme situations, it may be time to consider moving to a new career outside of the classroom for your own benefit and for the benefit of the children.

Regardless of the passion that so many of us willingly share with our middle school students daily, our students can become complacent and minimal effort.  And with that minimal effort, they may still expect to get an "A" or to get to go on the upcoming field trip or any of the other privileges that should be ones that are earned.

...if we allow it.  

Like most choral music educators, I use many varied techniques based on the needs of the specific children I'm teaching.  As I have shared in previous blog posts and on my YouTube Channel,  I focus mostly on positive, fun approaches with my students.  In the program I created called S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners, I use the game, Forbidden Pattern as part of the "fun" of my program.  It reflects the philosophy that I believe works well with this age group.  Laughter and silliness are almost always the best way to win over our young singers.

However, once in a while, we have to wake our singers up and "get real with them" to help them dig deep and bring their best into your classroom each day.  

In this post, I will share several approaches that I use each year to motivate my students to help to cause them to give their best efforts as we prepare for our adjudication field trip, and I will also share an idea that I used this year with my 8th graders, who were truly the most complacent and entitled group I'd had in recent years.  The approach worked because it truly helped them to give the best performance of their middle school careers.

Not a single one of my motivation techniques has anything to do with auditioning singers.  I don't care whether they can sing in tune or not.  I only care if they show that that want to be there.  

When talking to me about an upcoming field trip, students will say, "I really want to go Mr. Duncan".   I always answer with a smile saying, "Telling me you want to go means nothing to me.  Show me."

Many of them simply want to miss school.  That isn't enough for me.  

We must push them toward demonstrating their desire with hard work and good listening skills every single day.  

Words are nothing.  Actions are everything.  

I watch them and take in information about them based on their actions.  

These ideas have worked well for me.  In my 23 years of teaching, I end up taking about 95% of my 300 un-auditioned students to the event...but I make them work to earn it!


Field Trips are a privilege that must be earned. 

Our adjudication is in early March.  In January, I start the semester by stating the fact that field trips are a privilege, and that while I'd like to take everyone to the adjudication, I will take the children who work the hardest on a daily basis.  Students love missing the school day, so hearing me say that I view field trips as a privilege and not a "right" starts them off with the mindset that they must earn the right to attend the event.  I also share with them that, after the adjudication, we will eat lunch off campus.  They always seem to remember that the most!  Hey...whatever works!


On the first day back from the holiday break, I show them the adjudication forms.  We talk about the rating system.  I share with them the official Georgia Music Educator's Association definition of a "1" (Superior).  We discuss the vocabulary repeatedly and often...tone, pitch, rhythm, diction, interpretation, ensemble and "other factors".   I play examples of choirs singing the songs they will sing for adjudication.  I discuss the scores I'd give those choirs in various categories.  


We start learning pitches and rhythms immediately in January.  

I want them to have ample time to truly dig into the music.  To keep them from getting bored, I mix in some of our spring musical music into the learning as well, but I think it's very important to give the music time to simmer.  "Rush teaching" usually doesn't work if you truly want to reach the highest peaks of music making with middle school children.


The Tutoring List


Sight Singing is a key component of our adjudication process.    I teach S-Cubed Sight Singing Program from Day 1 of the school year in August. and at the holiday break, I give a very important written sight singing test to see how they are doing.  If they fail that test, I put their names on a list on the wall at the entrance to my room.  As long as their name is on the list, they cannot attend the adjudication.

They are given a chance to get their names off the list if they attend tutoring sessions during the second week of January with my student tutors who are available during homeroom time.  Sometimes, our students can teach the material better than we can.  :-)

Knowing that not all of them will understand the material at the same level, I generally mark them off the list if they attend at least one session.  For students who are really behind, I make them come more times.  I am truly just checking their desire.  If they don't come back, they don't care enough.   For children who wait until the last day tutoring is offered, and who really need more help than we can offer in one session, I DO NOT scratch them off the list.  I let them's all about desire. The children who care the most come to tutoring on the first few days to make sure they get the help they need.   

I leave that tutoring list up from mid-January until the day before our trip.  Most names have been marked off, but some have not.  I refer to the lists often.  "As long as you name is on the tutoring list, you cannot go to adjudication."  Slowly, as the time of adjudication approaches, more children show up for help and more names get scratched off the list.

I allow them to get their names scratched off until the week before the adjudication, but I don't talk about it or remind them.  I let them "drive the bus".


Permission Slip List:

I give the permission slips out five weeks before the event because it helps to make it "real" for them.  They have one week to turn them in.  I count is as a homework grade. Then, on Friday, I make another public list that I post on the wall of the kids who didn't turn in their permission slips.

On the following Monday, I talk about the most recent list to my classes.  "If your name is on the "permission slip list", that means that you haven't turned it in, you got a zero on a homework grade, and that you will not go to the adjudication.  If you bring it in tomorrow or Tuesday, you will get a "50" instead of "0", and you will get to go to the adjudication.  After that date, who knows? Maybe you will get to go, maybe you won't."

This puts the ball in their court.  



The "Behavior" list and the "Effort" lists.

During the two weeks prior to the event, I press a bit harder.  At exactly two weeks prior to adjudication, I please two more lists on the wall.  One of the lists is labeled "Behavior" and the other one is labeled "Effort".

At the beginning of class, I say, "If you name is on the behavior list, it is because you've been unfocused or talkative or disruptive in some way while we learn.  I will watch you over the next two weeks.  If you improve, I'll remove your name the day before, and you will get to go.  If your name is still on the list the day before adjudication, you stay at school."

I talk about the fact that I must be able to TRUST the children I take off campus.  If I do not trust you based on your actions act school, then I cannot take you off campus.  

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

I do the same with the "effort" list.  I explain that every single voice matters, and that some of the students haven't been contributing by singing their fullest and best or by using their best singing posture, for example. That's when I teach the two new vocabulary words:


I reiterate that I don't care who the best singers are, I only care who the best and most dedicated WORKERS are.   I talk about how giving my second best effort is never an option for me, therefore, it cannot be an option for them.  I discuss that I do not always knock it out of the park.  However, if I step up to the plate, I am going to take my best swing, and so must they.

These two lists seem to get the biggest reaction from the students. They check them daily.  During that two weeks, I add and delete names as needed.  For the most difficult students, I leave their names until the very end.  I tell them that immediately after the final rehearsal, they need to come up to me to ask whether they will get to go.  When they do so, I ask them if I can trust them.  They always say yes.  I ask why.  I let them talk.  Then, if I feel comfortable, I say "Are you going to make me proud?"  They say yes without fail.  I mark their name off.

There are some children who do not get their names marked off, and that is ok.  It is always a small number of students because I've made them work to earn the field trip privilege for so long.

In our final large group rehearsal, I emphasize the fact that the students are representing themselves, this school, me and their parents with their singing, but more importantly, with their behavior off of the stage.

They always seem to respond to this.


Two weeks before the event, I tell them that, today, you will pretend you are at the adjudication.  You will sing your two songs, and I will score you in all categories so you know what your rating would be if you were there today.

I record their performance.

I grade pretty harshly.  I commend where commendations are due, but I am clear about the weak areas and the fact that there are two weeks left to fix it.  Combine that with the three field trips and a snow day or two, and you have about a week.

That wakes them up too.

I take four choirs to the event, so I show the scores of all of the classes to the others.  I like to set up a bit of competitiveness between them to generate more desire to work hard and to clean up what is messy.

6th Graders Versus 7th and 8th grade...

For 6th graders, this process is key.  Most of my students have never been to something of this high caliber and expectation in their lives.  They are truly "waking up" to its importance with each of the steps listed above.  Often they don't wake up completely until the day before we leave.  It doesn't matter.  As long as they wake up!

Most of my 7th graders took chorus last year, and they all understand this process of earning the right to represent our school.

8th graders...well...they are always special.


Motivating the 8th graders this year...

This year, I had a particularly talented group of 8th graders.  They are truly one of the best I've taught.  Here is a link to their performance at the adjudication on March 10, 2015.

...and, in January and early February, they were the definition of Complacent and Entitled.  They were giving about 50% effort. They were talkative.  

So, one day, in the middle of a lesson, I told them to close their music, place it inside their folder and sit back.

"As of this moment, after having already paid the money for the adjudication, I have decided that the 8th graders will not go.  I will take the other three choirs as planned, but not the 8th grade."  I stated a few of the specific reasons, kept it brief, and told them to put their folders away into the slots.

They were shocked.

I never do this to them.  I am not a lecturer.  It's a waste of breath.

They silently walked over to the folder containers and put away their folders while I sat at my desk answering emails.

Later that day, I composed an email to them.

Here is the content:

8th graders,

Most of you who read this email are the good ones...the ones who work hard every day.  

Please print this email out and share it with those who don't bother to read their emails.  Put positive peer pressure on them to do what is right.

As of this moment, as you know, I have decided not to take 8th graders to the adjudicated festival.

Limited effort is given daily by a large percentage of the students in the class.  Today, for example, there were 10 altos who barely made a sound, and I saw 5 boys who didn't even make an attempt to sing when the baritones were supposed to sing.   Many students contribute very little.   Some do not sing at all when we are learning new music.  

You should definitely check your grades, by the way.

I work too hard preparing to help you be the best choir you can possibly be, and many of you do not give that back in return.

For me, it is very disappointing.

Singing and music are too special to me to have it treated in this manner.

I am going to keep an open mind until February 6th.   On that day, based on what I see between now and then, I will make a final decision and announce it to you at that time.  

If we do not go, 8th grade chorus will become a general music class with tests, homework and projects for the remainder of the year.  If I decide to do that, 8th grade chorus will also not participate in the spring musical.  

That would be a sad ending to your time with me here at Henderson...which is very quickly coming to a close.

As I said today, I don't understand people who bring less than 100% to anything they do.  You are practicing to be 2nd.   Second place is never my goal, and it shouldn't be yours.   Even when I don't "win" or end up with the best result, I know that I gave it my all.  

Many of you cannot say that right now. 

I cannot take a choir that has my name on it and put them in front of a panel of judges when, based on what I see, too many of you simply don't care.  I'd rather work with a less talented choir filled with students who give 100% every day than a talented choir that doesn't work.

You get out of something what you put into it.

It is up to you.

Change my mind by proving me wrong.  I'd love it.

I sent it to every single one of my choir members.   I did it on purpose.  Some of the 7th graders responded and said, "Mr. Duncan, I think you sent this to us by mistake."  I simply responded and said, "No.  I did it on purpose."

It sets the standard.  For now....and for the future.

Immediately, I saw improvement.

About one week later, I announced that based on the improvement, I was taking them to the adjudication, but that, per the state rules, I was only required to take 19 people of the 84 in my room.  

So, over the weekend, I chose my top 19 students who always give 100%.  I chose a balanced choir of Sopranos, Altos and Baritones.  I put the list on the wall and announced that I was going to definitely take those 19 children because their work ethic had been amazing all year every day.  That way, I wouldn't waste the registration money, and I'd have a balanced choir.

They say stunned.  

I was comfortable with that decision since I had spent money to send them.  I want to always be responsible with the use of funds as they relate to our choir.  Going to the event with 19 children would work.  They would be balanced, and they would sound good.

At the end of class, they ran to see the list. 

Some were stunned they weren't one it.

So, over the next two weeks, I saw a different class of children.

They gave it.


10 days later, I announced that they had re-earned my respect.  They sounded awesome, but that there were a few who were still giving less that 100%.  I announced that I'd place the names of those children on the wall on Monday.

Again, they all came into the room and rushed to the wall.

There were only 4 names.

Those children brought 100% over the next week, and the choir soared to their best performance.

We do what we must to motivate.  To get the children out of their complacent, entitled space, and to get them to reach higher than they thought they could.  7th Grade Girls in the Sight Singing Room 2015.  These girls are 100% motivate daily.  Awesome group with great positive energy.

These are my 8th Graders...the ones I had to work so hard on.  It paid off in the end.  They were committed and because of the hard work, they deliver a stellar performance.  

My seventh grade girls in the Warm up room.  

The hard work to motivate matters.  

This year, Norma, a sixth grader, gave me this note on the day after the adjudication because she was so excited to have been a part of something so positive.  

She made my day.  All of the days of pushing her 6th grade class to dig deeply to achieve the skills required to sight sing, to learn to listen while they sing and to achieve the skills required to sing in tune a capella and to have good diction and beautiful tone...all worth it.

...Even more so because they didn't audition in the first place.  They signed up because she liked to sing.

That is why I teach.
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Saturday, March 14, 2015

This is why I share...

This is why I share...So happy when I hear that my materials are helping middle school choral music teachers.

Posted on my Facebook page this morning:

I watched the video of the LGPE sight-reading to show to my kids because I can talk about it but them being able to see it in action was MUCH better, even though many of the 7th and 8th graders have gone and know the process it was a great refresher AND it taught me a new solfege warm-up...taught it to my kids and they LOVE the Re-Fa-La-Fa-Re-Ti,-Do part! Me too! I pointed out to my kids, even though I have said it until I was blue in the face...practice over and again, out loud, do not stop, even if you know it, sing it again, and again, and again...they got to see your kiddos doing it and after watching the video they did MUCH better, as I knew they would! Thanks Mr. D!!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dealing with difficult people in your Middle School Classroom Part 1 in a Series

So much of the teaching approach in my middle school choir as well as the philosophy of  S-Cubed, my sight singing program for beginners, is based on having fun with your children and rewarding them for accomplishments when they achieve something significant on their journey toward learning to take the dots, curves, letters, and symbols off of the page and turning them into music.   

I absolutely LOVE doing things with the students that fire them up and get them excited.  The song my students were singing in the above photo is one of my favorites and theirs too because we get to use fog machines and flashlights, and we do it in the dark!  

Finding ways to make teaching fun for you means the students are more likely to be motivated to strive to do their best work...especially when they sense that you WANT them to succeed.  

In my classroom, I work to create a team-spirit. Every voice matters no matter at what level a student works.  Our aim for the students is to encourage personal growth.  Our "little Mozart" needs to learn a thing or two about sight singing, but so does the little girl who has never done anything with music except read words off a page and sing from rote.

Look at the picture below!  Our mini-concert was the same day as "Crazy Hair Day".  I encouraged them to go for it!  Take a close look below!  

Teachers who use a similar approach can bring out incredible things from their students because the kids WANT to give their best for that teacher.  

Unfortunately, those same teachers can be viewed as push-overs and "too nice" by students, administrators and parents alike, and ultimately, for all of us, the tests will come.  We must be ready to face them.

I believe that we teach people how to treat us.  In our work place, children, parents and administrators do what we allow them to do.  

I believe in a strong, assertive approach to dealing with difficult people.  It is necessary, sometimes, for us to speak up for ourselves in a way that can, at times, be uncomfortable.  We must be willing to confront difficult situations, and handle them head on.  It isn't easy to do, but NOT doing so has its own set of consequences.  The stress we feel from not handling difficult people in our professional environment will manifest itself in some way somewhere down the line.  I believe it is best to address whatever the issue is, talk it out and move forward in a professional way.

Have your ducks in a row...

#1:  To confront difficult situations effectively, we must have all of our "i's" dotted and our "t's" crossed.  Our expectations have to be clearly articulated from the very beginning of the year. 

#2:  We must also be able to realize when we, ourselves, have dropped the ball or been wrong. In that case, we have to admit it, apologize for it and make the appropriate concessions.  If we have some sort of "god-complex", it will ultimately bite us in the behind somewhere along the way.  We are fallible human beings like every one else.  People perceive it when we send out the vibe that ours is the only way and the right way, and we lose support from everyone who experiences that attitude from us.

#3:  When people sense in us that we are compassionate, that we listen, and that we are flexible, they are more likely to respond well when we are faced with a situation like the ones I'll address in this blog series.

The Situation-Poorly Behaved Student and a Parent
Who Blames You

This completely capable, intelligent 6th grade child who does not have an IEP or SST of any sort turns around in his seat and talks while you are teaching. He doesn't begin his "bell-ringer" activity at the beginning of class as the other children do.  He snickers and laughs a lot, and it is disruptive by singing purposefully out of tune to make others laugh.

He does it not because he has undiagnosed ADHD, but because he can.  Somewhere along the way, his parents have indicated to him that they will always listen to him and that the teacher is often at fault.

...but pretend you don't know that piece of information yet.  

To save his dignity, I try to find non-verbal cues while I teach to get him back on track.  I walk near him.  I look at him.   He doesn't receive the cues.  So, I discreetly ask him to come talk to me after class...always maintaining his dignity.  I ask why he believes I've asked to speak with him.  I let him talk.  Doing so can often prevent any further steps on your part because, if we've built proper rapport and trust with the children, they will often admit what they've done and promise to do better.  If that is the case, I always ask if he'd like his seat moved.  I let him "drive the bus" on that decision.  If he says yes, I move his seat right away.  If not, I leave it alone, but I always end with this, "This behavior is disrespectful to me in the following ways....  Have I ever been disrespectful to you?" must be 100% positive that you're ready to hear this answer.  If he says yes, you must be willing to hear it, learn from it and be willing to assess yourself.


It is key that we must always treat our students with dignity and respect.  In my view, respect is a circle.  We ALL must give it in order to receive it.  The "old school" view of "I am the teacher, therefore, you must respect me" is completely outdated and didn't work at all for me during my first couple of years teaching this age group.  It just made the kids angry at me all the time.  I believe that approach also leads to frustrated, bitter teachers who aren't happy in their jobs, but that's another blog post for later.

I always end my conversation with my 6th grader like this..."If you fix it, nobody has to know we had this conversation.  If you do not fix this, I'll be in touch with your parent."  I say it in as light a way as possible, but I make sure it's clear, and I make sure that I am looking at him in his eye.

Most students fix it, and all is good.

For the sake of this post, let's assume he did not change his behavior.  He continues to disrupt in ways described above. My frustration grows.  He takes other children "with" him, and the atmosphere in the room has begun to shift in a negative direction making learning more difficult.

This child needs a wake up call, and I need to get my classroom back.

I don't give second warnings.   I stopped years ago.  Word spreads when you don't follow through.  The kids talk!  

So, I swiftly follow through and, as promised, I email his parent.

I prefer email to phone calls for a multitude of reasons...especially on the initial contact.  It has a date stamp, and ultimately, if I've planned well, it will work in my favor down the line when the administrators end up with this young man in their office.  With email, we certainly have to phrase our words carefully, clearly, and compassionately, but that is important to do anyway.  

I always begin the email with something positive.  "Your child exhibits leadership in the following ways....Your child is very smart and that is demonstrated in how he voluntarily answers questions in front of the rest of the class."

Then, next, as objectively as I possibly can, I share with the parent the behaviors that are unacceptable.  I use language like this:
*He turns around in his seat.
*He talks and giggles while I am teaching.
*He sings out of tune on purpose to make others laugh.
*He doesn't begin his "bell-ringer" activity on time.

I avoid language like this:
*He is disrespectful.
*He is rude.

...Just the facts.  No judgment.

I end the email with the following statement in order to demonstrate that I wish to partner with the parent to find a solution:  "If you have any suggestions for me that can help us help your child have more success in the classroom, I welcome them.  If you have questions or concerns I've not addressed, please let me know."

Three days pass.

The email comes, and it is filled with all sorts of language that makes it clear that the parent has asked the child what is going on, the child told half-truths or lied altogether, the parent believed the child, and rather than hold the child accountable, the parent reprimands and blames you.

What do you do?

The next step is simply to respond immediately and ask for a meeting with the child and the parent and you.  In your email, you will not respond in anyway to any of the allegations.  Is she is willing to reprimand you without sitting down and talking, that is all you really need to know.  

You should remain emotionless and move to the next step.  You will simply write, "I would like for the three of us to meet together."  

You will leave at least 3-5 options for meeting times...mornings and evenings.  You must make it nearly impossible for them to use the excuse that they "can't make it".

Protecting yourself from parents who are bullies...

You will ask a co-worker to sit in on the meeting because this is clearly not going to be a supportive parent.  I am always careful to protect myself from "parent bullies".  These are the parents who always believe the teacher is at fault, and they are aggressive with teachers in conferences.  They are a rarity, but in my 23 years, I've encountered two.  I was very grateful to have had a colleague with me.

From this moment, one of three things will occur:
1)  The parent will respond, show up to the meeting and the three of  you get to work together to help the child.
2)  The parent won't respond, and you will suddenly have a well-behaved child sitting before you.  It's a "miracle".  In these instances, I believe that Mom or Dad must have said, "You better not make me have to come up to that school."  :-)
3)  Or...The parent won't respond, and the behaviors continue.

With any response or non-response, you must proceed.  Hearing nothing is hearing something.

If the parent responds, and shows up to the meeting, it can go a variety of ways. 

Working toward the positive solutions through the meeting:

I always greet the parent and child warmly and look into their eyes. You can learn so much from that brief moment.  Are they nervous? Defensive?  Open?  Closed?  

I start with some positive things.  "Mark is very smart.  He answers questions correctly in front of the class almost 100% of the time he attempt to answer aloud."

Then, I cut to the chase...

I often like to ask the child to speak first and to name the areas in which they think are weak.  They usually have a difficult time lying in front of you, another adult and their parent.  Sometimes, however, if I have a child I believe is fully capable of not telling the truth in that situation, I take control and describe the behaviors.  I often refer to the child and ask them to elaborate and share.  My goal is to create a dialogue.  I don't want to lecture.   

Sometimes, as a solution to the behavior issues, I suggest an agreement in which I send a daily "grade" form home with the child to be signed and returned by the parent the next day.   In the conference, I clearly describe what "good behavior" looks like for that particular child.   I leave a space on the document to write notes in addition to the grade.  "Today, he began his bell-ringer immediately upon entering the room", for example.   I try to be specific so we can help get the child going in the best possible direction.  It is up to the child to ask me to sign the document daily, and I make that clear in the conference.   I get the parent and the child to sign the agreement that states their responsibilities.  This creates personal accountability on the part of the child and the parent.  

It also creates a wonderful rapport between the student and me because he starts to feel positively about his work in the classroom when he gets immediate recognition from me.  It only takes a few seconds each day.  We usually do it for about 2 weeks.  By then, the new behaviors are in place, and the child is feeling good about his work in your room.

Belligerent Parents...

If, in the conference, you are faced with a belligerent parent who is unwilling to cooperate and continues to blame you for all of the problems with this child, here are some suggestions:

I always remind the parent that I have as many as 85 children in a classroom, and that it is not ok that this child is disrupting the learning of the other 84 children in the room.

I also usually say something like this with those particular parents in hopes of awakening them:

"I will be teaching your child for "X" more months or years.  Your child will be with you for a lifetime.  If someone doesn't begin holding him accountable for his poor choices soon, ultimately, it won't be me who is picking up those pieces, it will be you.  Between now and (whenever your time ends with him), I will be holding him accountable.  Here is how:   His grade will be impacted, and I will be writing up disruptive behaviors to the administrators.  The punishments will be In-School-Suspension, Out-Of-School-Suspension and eventually expulsion is possible.  I want to remind you that this class is not required.  If he is unhappy singing in chorus, or if you truly do not trust my ability to treat your child fairly or impartially, he can be moved from my class to another class during the next nine weeks.  Here is the form you'd need to sign to start that process."

I rarely have to use this option, but it can happen, and we must be willing to allow it.  It isn't personal.   It almost NEVER comes to this point, but when it does, you have done due diligence, and will almost undoubtedly have the support you need from your administrators.

My primary focus is creating a learning environment that allows the majority of my wonderful 300 students to flourish and learn.  When something or someone stands in the way of that and is unwilling to work with us toward helping their child improve for his own benefit and for the benefit of the rest of your class, our attention must turn to protecting our own flock.

By the time it gets to this point, you have created lots of email documentation to prove you began the conversation and worked on it with the parent.  

No show and No change

If the parent doesn't come to a conference, doesn't respond to any emails, and the poor behaviors continue, I email again and
"cc" an administrator.  I also call the parent and document the time of the call, and since very few people answer the phone these days, I leave a detailed voicemail.  

Realizing that I am probably dealing with absent parents, I try to find some more positive solutions for that child.  "If you behave well today, you can come to my desk at the end of class and get a Starburst" or whatever positive recognitions you may wish to try.  

If that doesn't work, I've collected my documentation, done my due diligence, and I begin writing up the incidences to the administrators.  This is always a last resort when we discover that we have absent parents because we, the teachers, may be the only ones who expressed to this child that we care about him.

Almost ALL of these efforts are avoided when we reward positive behaviors in our classroom, demonstrate compassion, listen to our children and make learning fun!  That's way I choose that option whenever possible!

Stayed tuned for the rest of the blog entries in this series.  In this three part series, I will share some ideas that have worked for me when dealing with difficult colleagues and administrators in the future posts!

Two things we must always remember:

There is always a solution.
Inaction is matter who is taking it (or not taking it).  It's up to us to determine how to act based on that action or inaction and make the decision that works best for our children and for ourselves.

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