12:00 a.m. Phone Calls

12:00 a.m. phone calls are never fun.

First ring:  Foggy, confused.  What is that noise?  Am I dreaming?  Phone lit up.

Second ring:  Focus eyes.  Screen is too bright.  12:01 a.m.  A call from Saginaw Township Community Schools.  What?  Did I over sleep?  No, it says 12:01 a.m.  That’s too early.  Sudden panic!

Third ring:  Leap out of bed, fumble with the phone, accidentally pull the charger out of the wall.  Adrenaline is pumping.  What is going on?

Hit green accept button just before the fourth ring.

This is a message from Saginaw Township Community Schools.  All STCS schools are closed tomorrow, Monday February 26th, due to a threat circulating on Social Media. This will give the Saginaw Township Police Department and school administration time to investigate. As always, the safety of our students and staff is our first priority.

All Child Care is closed

Staff need not report.”

I had to immediately go to my email to read the text from the phone call.  My brain is still a little cloudy and I can’t process what I just heard.  I still question if I’m dreaming.

Snow days, cold days, freezing rain days, and foggy days still give me butterflies even as a 39-year old adult.  The butterflies are still there at 12:03 a.m. but the feeling is completely different.  Sadness, fear, frustration, and anger.  

I open the Facebook app on my phone and start scrolling.  Parents are getting the calls at the same time.  Several posts, similar sentiments:

“This is getting ridiculous.”

“This is out of hand.  I don’t even have words for this.  Frustrating.”

“School is canceled tomorrow because of a threat on social media.  I am grateful that our school takes it seriously, but this is getting crazy.”

I shake my wife and tell her about the message.  She sits straight up just as confused.  Suddenly my son stumbles into my bedroom.  Hair sticking up, Michigan t-shirt and pajama pants, barely awake, but startled by the strange phone call.  He heard my wife and I talking about school being canceled. “We don’t have school tomorrow?” he innocently asks.  “I checked, we don’t even have any snow.”  I can almost feel my heart break just a bit.  Deep breath.  Swallow the frog clinging to my throat.  Quick cough.

“We will talk about it in the morning, buddy.  Just go back to sleep.”  What do you say to a 9-year old and a 5-year old?  How do you explain a gun threat day?  How is this even happening?  How did we get here?

I wish I could follow my own advice, but that’s not happening as my mind is racing and running through a gauntlet of emotions.  After ten minutes of tossing and turning, I head to the living room.  I try to distract myself by reading Elly Swartz’s new book, Smart Cookie, but find myself going back to my phone every few pages.  School shootings and school security have been on my brain almost nonstop since February 14th.  I have read countless blog posts (see Tony’s post and Aliza’s post on this blog), engaged in Facebook/Twitter discussions (some insightful and some completely asinine), listened to ideas from politicians and community members.  I have wept for the students at Stoneman Douglas and lost sleep wondering how this can happen again and again in our country.  The phone call hits me like a Ronda Rousey punch to the gut.  This is happening in our city, our community, our schools.

I don’t want the focus of this post to be on the debate on gun control or mental health.  There have been plenty of great articles published on both topics.  I do want to focus in on the increasing number of threats that are being made and shared on social media.  First, here is how I asked talking to both my sons.  For the kindergartener, I simply told him we are taking a day off to make sure everything in the school is safe.  He doesn’t need to know anything more than that.  It was a bit more complicated for the 4th grader.  He has heard bits and pieces from the news about the school shooting in Florida.  I told him that someone at the high school threatened to hurt some of the other students at school.  The person that made the threat was probably joking, but whenever there is a threat at schools it is taken very seriously and the police investigate it.  It happened late at night which means they didn’t have enough time to properly investigate so they canceled school to give the police more time.  The person that made the threat is going to be in big trouble with the police, even if it was just a joke.  It is never OK to joke about hurting other students.  If you ever hear any threats at school, make sure you let a teacher know.  I ended by assuring him that school was a very safe place.  I imagine the conversation would be different if my sons were middle or high school students.

I appreciate that I work in a district that puts school safety at the top of the priority list.  It was undoubtedly the right decision to cancel school.  Safety of the students always comes first.  This threat, like so many other recent copycat threats, turned out to be uncredible.  After an investigation by the police and FBI, it was determined that the message was copied and pasted and had likely been shared all over the country.  I have heard similar threats all around the country that turn out to be “jokes” or hoaxes. However, I don’t find anything funny about it.  I hope the police charge both the students and the parents to the full extent that the law allows when threats like this are made.  We have to send a clear and strong message that this type of “joke” will not be tolerated.  It’s offensive to the communities that have gone through real tragedies and increases the anxiety and fear in our students.  

As parents, we need to be responsible for our children.  Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all require users to be at least 13 years of age as part of their terms of use.  Furthermore, just because your child is old enough to meet the terms of use for social media, doesn’t mean they should have unsupervised access.  Parents, we need to do a better job monitoring what our kids are doing online.  Smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks can be great tools for learning, but they can also be tools for isolation, bullying, and threatening behavior.  Parents need to be held responsible for these tools.  We should all have our children’s passwords and let them know that we can ask to check them any time we want.  This isn’t a violation of privacy or trust, it is being a responsible parent.  I have talked to several families that take their kid’s phone at night.  I think that’s a responsible start.  Some other families have shared how they use apps like Kidslox to monitor and limit access.  As parents, we have to be responsible for knowing what is going on in our children’s lives.

As schools, we have to do more to build relationships with students.  I know the academic demands are greater than ever, but everything we do starts with a solid foundation of a relationship.  We need to check in with students frequently and make sure we have resources to help them when needed.  In almost every threat situation, there are signs that a child needed help.  We also need to spend time talking to our students about the seriousness of making threats.  They need to know these “jokes” are going to be investigated and will result in life-changing consequences.  

I want to thank and recognize the students in these schools where threats are happening.  They are doing exactly what we are teaching them to do: if you see or hear something unusual, report it to staff or the police.  When it comes to school safety, it is better to be safe and report something than let it go.  This is something we can fix.  As citizens, community members, schools, staff, and students – it is time to say enough.  Stop the violence.  Stop the threats.  Stop the hate.  This needs to stop now.  America, we are better than this!  

As I was finishing this post, my cell phone rang.  It was my wife.  She said her school was on lockdown because shots were just fired at Central Michigan University.  Central Michigan University is just a couple of miles from her school.  It turns out 1:00 p.m. phone calls are just as terrifying.

Recharge, Refill, Refresh

As an elementary principal, I consider it a call to action when one of my best teachers walks into the lounge and says, “I just need to get through this week.  I will give myself an attitude adjustment over the weekend, but I just need to get through Friday.”  Late January can be an incredibly tough time for a teacher in Michigan.  It’s dark as you drive to school and it’s dark when you drive home.  It’s often too cold for the kids to go outside during the day. (Our district has a policy that the windchill must be at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit to go outside.  I personally hate this policy, by the way, but that is another blog post).  It is the heart of NWEA testing season and Spring Break is still months away.  Even with a great school culture and positive teachers, late January can be rough.  

This amazing teacher I mentioned wasn’t complaining.  She was simply acknowledging her feelings and sharing with supportive colleagues.  Although she wasn’t looking for anyone to solve her problem, I knew I wanted to do something for her.  She is an absolute rock star teacher.  She always has a positive attitude.  She serves on many committees, leads professional development in the district, constantly reads professional books, listens to education podcast while she works out, and is never afraid to try a new idea.  If you could genetically create the perfect teacher, she would be your outcome.  So I knew if she was feeling stuck in a rut, it’s likely others were feeling the same way.

I started thinking about how I could help with her self-proclaimed “attitude adjustment.”  I spent quite a bit of time brainstorming ideas to lessen the stress just a little bit for her.  I thought about a note with some encouraging words or maybe a sweet treat, but neither idea seemed like it would really relieve that overworked stress. I started to think about one of the best gifts I have ever received.  It was from my superintendent last year.  He said, “I can’t give you a big bonus, but I can give you the gift of time as a thank you.”  He told the building principals in the district to take some time off and do something we enjoy. (By the way, I chose to spend my afternoon reading at my favorite local bookstore while sipping my favorite drink of choice…coffee).  This ‘gift of time’ was exactly what she needed.  I knew she was an avid reader and would appreciate nothing more than some quiet time to read, to recharge, to refill, and to refresh.  

Each staff member at Hemmeter Elementary completes a “Favorite Things” survey at the beginning of the year.  Once completed, we share the results in a Google Doc.  The survey includes things like favorite hot beverage, favorite magazine, favorite snack, favorite candy bar, and many more.  It’s a great resource if you want to give someone a token of appreciation or surprise them with a treat.  I checked the teachers’ favorite list and picked up a copy of the latest issue of People magazine, a XL pack of peanut M&Ms, a bottle of water, Cool Ranch Doritos, a frosted donut, and a Tim Hortons hot chocolate.  I put it all in a gift bag and headed down to her room.

I left the bag in the hallway and entered her room.  I asked if I could talk to her class for a couple of minutes.  She called her class to attention and alerted them that I wanted to talk to them.  “Can you please leave your work right on your desk, push in your chair, and quietly head across the hall to the computer lab.”  Everyone looked slightly confused, but they followed my instructions.  The teacher was at the end of the line, but I cut her off before she could exit.  I handed her the gift bag and told her the one rule: no work allowed.  I then told her I’d be back to deliver her class in 45 minutes.  

I took the kids over to the computer lab and I did something I love to do with the students: I played coding games with them. The students showed me the Scratch games they have been creating and we challenged each other to solve the different programs.  It was a blast!  About halfway through the allotted time, I received this picture from the teacher:

Based on her tears when I left the room with her students, I know the teacher was very touched by the gesture.  This was about much more than giving a teacher some relaxation time.  It was about more than saying thank you with some of her favorite things.  It was about telling this teacher: “You are special, you are valued, you are appreciated, and when you need a pick me up, I have your back.”

I could sense the rest of the staff could use a little pick me up as well.  I went back to the “Favorite Things” Google Doc. and looked at the favorite hot beverage, favorite candy bar, and favorite donut list.  After a quick stop at Starbucks, Kroger, and Tim Hortons I had everyone’s favorite drink, candy, and donut.  I loaded them on a cart and went to visit each person including the kitchen crew, recess aides, and custodian, in the building.  It was a small gesture, but an unexpected one.  I think that is one of the things that made this meaningful.  It was a seemingly random act of kindness.  It was out of the blue on a random Friday in January.  No one was expecting it, but everyone needed it.  

In the end, the kicker is that I think I ended up getting recharged, refilled, and refreshed the most.  It feels good to do something nice for someone else.  It especially feels good to do something nice for the most amazing group of people I know: teachers.  Please share your random acts of kindness with me on Twitter @jcbailey3

Through Their Eyes: What Teachers Want Their Principals to Know

Psst!  Principals, over here.  We need to talk.  This blog post is for us.  More specifically, it’s about what we can do to support the most hard-working, amazing people I know: teachers.  It’s a rough time to be a teacher.  They are asked to do more and more with fewer resources and less support.  They likely have more students in their class each year and less dollars in their paycheck. Often times it’s easier for society to blame the teachers instead of looking in the mirror and facing the real problems that plague our country: poverty, lack of affordable healthcare, and opportunity inequalities.  These are big issues that we need to tackle, but they likely have long, slow solutions.  Fortunately, as principals, there are things we can do immediately to better support and appreciate our teachers.

I really want to be a good principal.  I care deeply about the students in the building and want them to have every opportunity to reach their full potential. I want my teachers to see themselves as I see them.  I want my teachers to feel valued, appreciated, and HAPPY.  I know I often come up short being the principal they need, but I am determined to do better.  If principals are going to better support teachers, we need to understand what they need and what they want us to know.  I can’t think of a better way to find this information other than asking.  So that is exactly what I did.  I sent the following email to several teacher friends from all different schools.



I am working on a blog post for the new year.  I know the culture and climate surrounding teaching has been negative lately.  I know you probably feel like principals don’t always know the struggles, fears, obstacles, and vulnerabilities that you feel as a teacher.  If you have time and you’re comfortable, please respond to the following question:

What do you want your principal to know about your teaching, your classroom, or your students that they might not know?

All responses will be kept completely confidential.  The responses may be used in the blog post, but no names will be tied to any of it.  

Thank you in advance for your responses.



The responses were both incredible and eye-opening to me as a principal.  They were eerily similar to one another.  Regardless of the building, the grade level, or the experience level of the teacher, each and every response had a very similar message.  Here were the most frequent responses:

“I want my principal to know that I am doing my best and even though I make mistakes, I’m working to improve.”

“Don’t punish me for a job well done.  I can’t serve on every committee and serve on every team.  It is burning me out.”

“A little acknowledgement goes a long way.  A simple note, text, email, or passing word in the hallway makes my week.”

“Check in with me and be available.  I need a principal to listen.  I don’t need a solution to every problem but I want to know my voice is heard.”

“When you make a mistake, as we all do, own it.  Admit the mistake and try to correct it.”

“I want the principal to be a real person who is visible to teachers, students, and parents.  Be involved in the school activities and not just sitting in the office.”

“We believe in your (or the district’s) vision, but stick with it.  Give us time to implement new strategies and programs.  We can’t chase every shiny new idea.  Let’s pick good practices and perfect them before abandoning them or trying something new.”

However, this was the message that rang the loudest to me:

“Don’t forget what it’s like to be in the classroom.  The stresses, the demands, the pressures, and the many balls in the air.  Remember that lessons go wrong, especially when trying something new.  Teaching and learning is messy.”

I love the rawness and honesty of the responses I received from teachers.  They weren’t bitter, although you certainly couldn’t blame them if they were.  When they complained about lack of services, class size, or resources, it wasn’t because it was an inconvenience to them; it was because they cared deeply about helping their students.

We need to be better about acknowledging the tremendous work they do each day.  This can be a quick email, text, kind word in the hallway, or a sticky note on their computer.  We need to check in frequently and ask how we can better support them as teachers.  This can take many forms including covering classes for them so they can observe colleagues, providing more opportunities for collaboration and professional learning, and giving them time to implement new strategies.  We need to stop bouncing from new idea to new idea.  Instead, let’s focus on getting better at the strategies we are already using.  If we are going to preach for teachers to innovate and be risk takers, we need to understand that lessons will not always go as planned.  Teachers need to be praised for taking risks, not punished for a lesson not going perfectly.  I often tell my teachers, “I would rather have a lesson be a complete disaster while trying something new than have everything go according to plan with an outdated practice.”  

The message teachers want us to hear is loud and clear.  They are working as hard as they can.  They are doing everything in their power to help the students in their classroom.  The classroom is where the rubber meets the road.  Teachers are the ones working directly with students.  The responses to my email provide a roadmap on how we can better support them.  Principals, let’s make sure 2018 is the year every teacher in our building knows that we have their back and support their work.

Building Relationships in the Wilderness

This is my view from work today.


It’s incredible, awe-inspiring, and beautiful.  Hartley Outdoor Education Center sits on 300 acres of hardwood forest.  It includes a pond, wetlands, historic coal mine, several original log cabins, and the Fowler one-room school house.  It is an educational staple in the Great Lakes Bay area in Michigan.  The three day, two night trip our fourth graders take every year is one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.  I don’t remember much about my own time in elementary school, but 28 years later I still remember every detail about Hartley.  I am fortunate that I am able to return every year with our fourth graders.  Hartley is so much more than just a nature center. It is an experience. It is an opportunity to truly get to know the students in your building in a way only an overnight trip can provide.  Hartley is the trip that turns your class into your family.

It starts with teamwork and collaboration.  The Confidence Course is one of four sessions that the students complete during their time at Hartley.  The students have to work together to complete a maze while blindfolded, build a log cabin with timbers, cross a moat on a rope swing, and find a way over a ten foot wall.  Regardless of how athletic or smart you are, these tasks cannot be completed without teamwork.  It never fails.  The students always struggle at first.  They struggle to listen to each other.  They struggle to take turns.  They struggle to get past the first obstacle.  Just when they seem to be at their breaking point, they come together.  The listen to each other.  They divide the tasks and share responsibilities.  They complete obstacle after obstacle TOGETHER.  You can almost see them becoming more kind and more empathetic right before your eyes.  Although the tasks are hard, they make success even that much sweeter.

One of my favorite things to do at Hartley is watch the students during free time after the confidence course.  They are not in their “normal” friend groups.  Everyone is talking to everyone.  Everyone is playing with everyone.  The relationship between the students has changed.  They are not classmates anymore.  They are family.  They forget about who is a rock star in math and who is the best soccer player.  It doesn’t matter who has the coolest clothes or the biggest house.  These people are your friends because they helped you across the moat, they encouraged you to swing when you were too scared to let your tiptoes leave the plank, and they believed in you and supported you.  These new qualities are so much more important than any of the previous status symbols.

Another session at Hartley is the outdoor survival course.  This course is built around the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  Hatchet is one of my personal all time favorite books.  I read it when I did my student teaching in 4th grade, and it was the book that turned me into an avid reader.  The students, just like Brian in the book, have to learn to survive in the outdoors.  They build a shelter, start a fire, and devise strategies for finding food.  

Students spend almost the entire three days at Hartley outdoors.  They learn to appreciate nature and embrace its beauty.  Hartley is more than just an outdoor experience for students.  It is the first step towards independence for most students.  

For many students, Hartley is the first experience away from home without family. It’s the first time they are responsible for cleaning tables, serving food, and scrubbing the bathroom floor.  They gain a new appreciation for keeping the floor clean as they are responsible for vacuuming.  Hartley challenges students to be brave.  It challenges them to be problem-solvers, collaborators, and good teammates.  It scaffolds them toward independence.


Hartley is an exhausting three day trip.  The fresh air tires you out and with 90 students in the dorms, you get very little sleep.  However, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  I am so thankful I am able to attend this educational experience every year with my students.  This year in particular is truly special for me.  As I look out the window one more time, I see my son’s group approaching.  They are back from their trip to the confidence course.  I get a little teary eyed typing this because I know his time in elementary school is rapidly coming to an end.  He is not the scared kindergartener that grabbed my hand walking to the door.  He’s the young man that helped his team navigate through a maze while blindfolded.   He’s having the time of his life. Thank you, Hartley Outdoor Education Center, for providing him and countless other students memories that will last a lifetime.

The Book Buzz: Promoting a Reading Culture by Letting Students Shine

Unintended consequences can be powerful.  They are probably the best thing about a new project.  You begin with an ending in mind, only to find that some of the best parts are those you never even dreamed of at the beginning of the project.  That’s exactly what happened with The Book Buzz.  

This year our entire school decided to participate in Jillian Heise’s #classroombookaday project.  Every classroom would dedicate time everyday to read a picture book aloud to students.  As a staff, we brainstormed books to share, built fun bulletin boards to track our reading, and educated parents about the benefits of this initiative.  I struggled to figure out how I could best participate as the principal of the building.  During the first two weeks of school, I took time to visit each classroom as a guest reader to help promote #classroombookaday.  I told students that I was excited that they were taking time each day to read a picture book and that I planned to read a picture book every day as well.  I even turned my office door into a giant grid where I would add the cover of the book I read each day so the students could see my progress.  Even after all these efforts, it felt like something was missing.  It felt more like I was participating alongside the students than with them.   That’s when the idea for The Book Buzz hatched.

I am always looking for new ways to build relationships with students.  It’s the part that I miss most about being in the classroom.  As a classroom teacher, you spend 8 hours a day with your students.  You know their wishes, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.  As a principal, it’s just not possible to have this same relationship with every student in the school.  However, I have never stopped trying.  My original idea for The Book Buzz was pretty simple.  I would talk to a student each day about a book they enjoyed during #classroombookaday, we would film it, and post it to YouTube.  I didn’t know anything about having a YouTube channel, other than my two boys spent an unbelievable amount of time watching a British guy with cool hair play Minecraft for hours each week.  Although I didn’t totally get it, I knew YouTube was a big deal to kids.  

After reaching out to a couple of colleagues and watching several YouTube tutorials on how to create a YouTube channel (none done by any British guys with cool hair), I was ready to begin.  I knew I wanted a short musical opening with pictures to introduce the show each day.  This was really easy to create in imovie.  I snapped a couple pictures from around the school, uploaded them to imovie, added a preloaded theme song, and the intro was complete.  Although this took time initially, it became much easier with each new try as imovie allows you to easily save the intro and add it to another video with one simple click.  

For the first episode, I asked the fifth grade teachers to recommend a student that really loved one of the #classroombookaday books that had been shared so far this year.  I made sure I had a copy of the book the student wanted to share, asked them to bring their independent reading book as well, and had the parents sign a permission slip for filming and publishing.  Within 20 minutes, the first episode was up and live for the world to see.

Now, it’s important to understand what The Book Buzz is and what The Book Buzz is not.  

The Book Buzz is not:

  • It is not a professionally recorded show.  We don’t have an expensive camera (I use my ipad) and we don’t have high tech microphones (although we are trying to find a way to improve the volume).  
  • It is not rehearsed ahead of time.  I have the student reread the story right before filming so it is fresh in their mind, and I usually ask them their favorite part immediately before filming.  That’s it.  
  • It is not a show with a lot of editing.  We usually film one take and leave our stumbles and mistakes for the world to see.  The goal is not to be perfect, the goal is to be genuine.  

The Book Buzz is:

  • It is so much more than I ever imagined when I first had the idea to start the series.  Originally I intended it to be another way to build the reading culture in our building.  Kids talking about books and sharing recommendations.  
  • It is a way for me to be more involved in the #classroombookaday initiative.  
  • It is an opportunity for kids to have an authentic way to talk about books.  

I knew they would think filming a YouTube show was cool and fun.  However, it ended up being so much more.  One of my favorite parts of starting any new project are the unintended consequences, those things that happen by accident that you didn’t plan for or imagine.  Unintended consequences are the cream in the Oreo for me.

My favorite unintended consequence from The Book Buzz is how The Book Buzz became one of my best relationship building tools with students.  I love that I have 20 minutes carved out every day that I spend one-on-one with a different student. We always spend the first 5 minutes just talking, sometimes about books but most of the time just about what is going on in his or her life.  It’s been awesome.  I have also noticed that I am having more meaningful conversations in the hallways, at lunch, or on the playground with the students that film on The Book Buzz.  It has also been a great relationship building tool with parents.  Just about every parent that has had their child film an episode has emailed or called to say how excited their child was to film the episode and that they appreciated their child being given the opportunity.  

I knew The Book Buzz was going to have a positive effect on the reading culture in our building.  However, I completely underestimated the effect.  I never imagined that students would subscribe to the channel and watch the videos that didn’t feature themselves. I always ask the kids before filming if they have ever watched an episode of The Book Buzz and almost every student has responded, “Yes.  I watch them every day when I get home.”  I was amazed to hear how many teachers were showing the episodes in class as a book talk for a book they wanted to “bless” in their classroom. 



The final unintended consequence from The Book Buzz and probably the most important was how it gave students a chance to shine simply by being themselves.  They were so excited to share their episode with family, friends, and other students.  I knew The Book Buzz was a success when I overheard a conversation in the hallway:  

“I loved your Book Buzz video.  It was so good.  I think it is going to go viral.”  

The featured student had the biggest smile on her face and replied,

“Aww. Thank you.  I feel like a YouTube star.”   

The Book Buzz isn’t a fancy production.  It has low sound quality at times and we often stumble over our words.  But it’s perfect to me.  It gives me a chance everyday to spend time, one-on-one with a student.  It gives me a chance everyday to build a better relationship with a student.  It gives me a chance everyday to focus on the most important part of my school: the students.  Most of all, it gives those students a chance to shine, everyday by simply being themselves.

“BE U x 2” – Peter Reynolds

You can watch an episode of The Book Buzz by clicking on the picture below:

If you would like to start a similar project in your building, please feel free to email jcbailey@stcs.org.  I am happy to answer any questions or share any materials I have created for the project.

Bringing School Home: Our Seesaw Story

Amazing things are happening every day in our classrooms. I realized early on, however, that parents rarely hear about these amazing things.  Parents see only what we send them.  In their minds, the classroom is often a reflection of what shows up in the take home folder each night.  This is often a poor representation of what happens during the day.  We knew we needed a better way.  We needed an easy, quick way to share what was happening in the classroom.  How could we do this?  That question led us to find Seesaw.  Seesaw has been one of our strongest relationship building tools with parents.   We knew parents would love seeing what was happening each day.  We are fortunate to have two Seesaw ambassadors in our school, Jennifer Moeller and Kelly Hendrick.  They have volunteered to collaborate on this post to share how Seesaw is used to build relationships with parents in their classrooms.

Jennifer Moeller, Kindergarten Teacher:

I first used Seesaw in my classroom two years ago, but last year I can honestly say that I used it almost every single day.  I asked myself daily, “what part of our school day can I show parents?”  I uploaded pictures of the children playing, eating, working, singing, exercising, and the list goes on.

It wasn’t until one father reached out to me that I really understood what an impact this app was having with families. When he and I met for fall conferences, he told me a very personal story of how his wife had passed away a couple years ago.  As a result, he was raising his two young children on his own while finishing his last year of medical school. He broke into tears as he told me how much he appreciated me sending pictures of what was happening in the classroom, as he was not able to volunteer and see for himself.  I had his oldest child in my class and this was the first of his two children to go off to kindergarten to be independent all day. This was his way of being connected to her at school and I could help him to be connected.  I could tell that he had viewed the pictures within minutes of me sending them because he would always “like” them by adding a heart.

To my surprise, he nominated me for a B.L.O.C.K. award that spring.  This award is given by my district each year to staff that portray Benevolent Leaders Of Creativity and Knowledge. His letter was heartfelt and it expressed how much he loved and appreciated the connection I gave him by seeing the inside of our classroom each day.  Although I did not win the award that spring, I did win in the end. I know that what I’m doing with Seesaw in my classroom has a powerful connection with my students and their families because of this one child and her dad.

Kelly Hendrick, Third Grade Teacher:

As a teacher, I am constantly asking myself, “What else…?”  

-What else can I do to help my students learn?  

-What else can I do to help include my parents in our classroom days?  

-What else can I do to better myself as a teacher?  

Well, a few years back, I found a FREE classroom app that answered many of those questions…that app was Seesaw.  

At first, I used Seesaw to post photos of our classroom and pictures of the students hard at work.  But again, I found myself asking, “What else can I do with this amazing resource I have at my fingertips?”   I started posting glimpses of student work and locker art.  The parents were loving it!  They really felt as though they were a part of our classroom day by seeing their children’s accomplishments.

As time went on, I realized that I wanted this experience to be as interactive as possible, so my Seesaw entries took a turn in that direction.  One day, I posted our “Problem of the Day” for the parents to solve and their participation was through the roof.  The students went home that night with the answers in their heads while the parents were able to also talk and share their own experience in solving the same problem.  What a fun way to bring the classroom to life for everyone!

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The other thing I realized was that our classroom anchor charts hold valuable trinkets of information to help parents feel connected to our current learning, so I started posting those for reference as well.  Students and parents could use them as a guide and resource at home or in the car – wherever it was convenient.  Technology can be a beautiful thing!
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The list could go on and on regarding the other opportunities I have found to interactively include parents into our school day, but a few of my personal favorites are video recorded “Book Talks,” links to Educreation “Book Trailers” made by students, and live recordings of students reading aloud.  These are just some of the “non-traditional” ways to communicate all of the awesome things we do in the classroom with parents who always want to know and see more.  

I will undoubtedly continue to ask the “What else?” question as the days and years go on, but I really feel like I’ve hit the classroom jackpot with this learning journal app.


Tell Your Story

During a conference four years ago, educational leader Colby Sharp said, “If we don’t tell our story, who will?”  I still think about this question all the time.  We live in a time where teachers get blamed for everything.  We are bombarded with a false narrative that public education is failing.  It’s not.  However, we do need to do a better job telling our story.  We need to do a better job telling it to community members.  We need to do a better job telling it to legislators.  And we need to do a better job telling it to parents.  Seesaw has been a powerful tool for telling our story.  Amazing things are happening every day in our classrooms.


This article was collaboratively written by Jennifer Moeller, Kelly Hendrick, and Jim Bailey

Kelly Hendrick is a 3rd grade teacher at Hemmeter Elementary in Saginaw, MI.  She loves connecting with her students each year and learning about their favorite things.  She has a husband, Trace, and two of her own children, Liam (6) and Ellie (3).  She loves to golf with her family and browse Barnes and Noble with her kids who MAY have been known to put on an impromptu puppet show in the children’s section from time to time 🙂  You can follow her on Twitter @kel2orange

Jennifer Moeller is a kindergarten teacher at Hemmeter Elementary in Saginaw, MI. She loves getting to know her students and building positive relationships with them and their families that last for years. She has a husband, Nate, and two children, Sadie (8) and Sam (7). As a family they love to spend time together watching movies, taking weekend trips up north, and just being outside. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @jenmoeller33

Building Relationships in Unexpected Ways: The Story of Recess Baseball Club

I love baseball.  The kind of love that includes things like subscribing to three different baseball podcasts, coaching two Little League teams, and having every Baseball Prospectus from the past ten years.  I own enough Detroit Tigers shirts that I could wear one every single day of the month without repeating.   I love baseball so much that the most surprising part of this story might be how long it took me to realize that sharing my passion with students would be one of my best relationship building tools.

Recess Baseball Club started simply enough.  Two years ago I found myself bored monitoring the playground during recess time.  My baseball glove, bat, and ball were in my car from Little League practice the night before.  I grabbed four frisbees for bases and headed out to the open grass area on the playground.  I yelled to the students, “Does anyone want to play baseball?”  A mob of students ran over and we spent the rest of the recess playing baseball.  Not a bad way to pass the time.  

I was surprised the next day when a dozen or so kids showed up to lunch with baseball gloves.  “We can’t wait to play baseball today,” one of them said to me.  I guess we are playing baseball again, I thought to myself.  At the end of recess while picking up the bases, one of the first grade students approached me.  As the principal of the building, I unfortunately knew him well after several trips to the office.  He thanked me for playing baseball with him during recess and told me he loves baseball too.  He told me that when he goes to his grandma’s house, he even gets to watch the Tigers.  He also told me he wishes he could watch them at his own house but his mom doesn’t own a TV.  During our conversation, I learned about his rough home life and the struggles he faces every day.  Baseball became a way for me to reach him.

Recess baseball club continued to grow and each day I had more students heading out to the field to play ball.  We eventually ended up with so many kids that wanted to play that I had to rotate which grades got to play each period.  A couple of local businesses heard about the program and asked if they could do anything to support the program.  They donated money to buy baseball gloves, balls, and real bases-no more frisbees.  I was surprised one day when the fire inspector called and asked if he could come play some day.  He was guest pitcher the next week and the reaction was priceless.  The kids were so excited to see Firefighter Brian on the ball field.  We plan to invite more community leaders out this year to join us as guest pitchers.  The possibilities for the program are endless.


The Recess Baseball Club had unintended positive consequences that I never could have imagined when I first grabbed the bat and ball from my car.  First, the number of office referrals during recess had dramatically decreased and misbehavior had almost completely disappeared.  The students were too engaged and having too much fun to misbehave.  

Recess Baseball Club was great for building community in the school and allowing leadership opportunities for students that didn’t always have the opportunity to lead in the classroom.  Like most students, my students can be very competitive.  We set very clear expectations early on about expected behavior during Recess Baseball Club.  The #1 rule of Recess Baseball Club was to have fun by developing a love of baseball.  I intentionally pulled aside my travel baseball players at the beginning for a special role in Recess Baseball Club.  They were going to be the most enthusiastic supporters of kids that have never played before.  I loved the time I spent with them talking about how they could encourage others and how they could use their great skills at baseball to help me “coach” the kids playing for the first time.  One of my favorite moments of the year was watching one of most competitive students consoling a student after he made an error that cost his team the game.  In the past, this particular student would have been the first student to yell at a teammate for blowing the game.  Now, because he was trusted to be a leader, he showed the compassion we hope for our students.

Another thing I noticed was that baseball was starting to spread to the classroom.  Nicol Howald, one of my amazing teachers, asked if I had any favorite baseball books that she could add to her library because the kids were suddenly interested in reading about baseball.  The students passed around copies of The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John Ritter, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane, and Baseballogy by Kevin Sylvester.  The fifth grade teachers invited me in to teach a sabermetrics lesson during math class.  We proved that sacrifice bunting was dumb and learned how to calculate run expectancy.  I was able to connect with kids about baseball.


Make no mistake though, this is not a story about a baseball program.  This is a story about opening up and sharing our personal passions with our students to help relationships flourish.  Be real.  Allow your students to see the real you.  Share the things you are passionate about with them and learn about the things they are passionate about.  Strong relationships begin to form when we take the time to really get to know each other.