Thursday, April 3, 2014

Megan Baker: Why I use Southwestern Advantage books in my classroom

As an alumna of their sales & leadership program, I obviously loved the Southwestern Advantage products and believed in their effectiveness in reaching students.  Now, as an educator, I am even more convicted in the Southwestern Advantage products.

I currently teach third and fourth grade students in a small school in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.  Most of my students have never been past a two hour radius of their home.  I try to incorporate as many “real-world” experiences to my students as possible while still reaching all the standards that are required.  I have found in my years of teaching that kids LOVE non-fiction books.  As a teacher, so do I.  Books about animals, space, and our Earth are so interesting to kids who love learning.  My students choose to use their free-time in the classroom reading the Explore and Learn and Ask Me books from Southwestern Advantage.  They are always quick to tell me the new facts they learned, as well as the cool new experiments they want to try next.   When my students are excited about something they learned, well that makes makes me extra happy, and the smiles on their parents' faces are just as rewarding.

So what about the students who don’t love learning/reading?  In my first year of teaching it broke my heart (and still does) when a child told me he hated school or hated reading.  Unfortunately, I've seen a few of those attitudes in my classroom.  I tried so many incentives/rewards to get those few students excited about reading.  Nothing worked until I introduced the Explore and Learns to my students.  To them, it wasn’t reading.  They just found the facts and pictures interesting.  To me, I knew they were learning and were still reading; that was all that mattered.   I will never forget the day when the one student who disliked school the most spoke the words, “School is fun!"  Now, the Explore and Learns may not have been the only reason he began to like school (I like to think it was my great teaching skills *wink*), but there's no doubt that these books played a major role.

I will always continue to use Southwestern Advantage books in my classroom.  They offer a fun way for students to learn more about topics they are already interested in, and they allow students to share what they are learning before the teacher even covers it (always a high point in a student’s day).  Most importantly though, they show kids that school, and learning, can be fun. Thank you, Southwestern Advantage.

Megan Baker
3rd & 4th Grade Teacher
McPherson County Schools, Nebraska

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kate's Kitchen featured on News 2

A big thank you to Nashville's ABC affiliate WKRN-TV Nashville & WKRN Heather Jensen for an amazing segment spotlighting our new cooking show 'Kate's Kitchen'!

Watch the segment here.

About Kate's Kitchen
One day your kids will be your age. They will either know how to cook healthy meals from scratch or they will live at the drive through and on unhealthy frozen foods. So get your “Kids In the Kitchen” and teach them the importance of healthy cooking.

Kate's Kitchen is featured on our parenting site - part of the Southwestern Advantage suite of web services. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get Out of The Rut

You have probably heard the saying – If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you will always do what you have always done, and you will always get what you always gotten – and quite frankly sometimes that’s not good enough for us.

To illustrate the point, let me share some information with you about why train tracks in the United States areas wide as they are. See if you think it has applicability.

The United States standard railroad gauge (distance between rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them inEngland, and English expatriates built the American railroads.

Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jugs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons use the odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So who built these old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long-distance roads in Europe for the benefit of their legions, and the roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts? Roman war chariots first made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons. Since the chariots were made by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for a Roman army chariot. The Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two warhorses.

If we don’t take proactive steps to get out of the rut, to do things differently, even if we are currently successful, our future might be limited to past practices, which no longer have any applicability to meeting today’s needs and meeting today’s goals.

Is it good enough for you to simply get what you've always got? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Danger In Bulldoze-Parenting - a Teacher's Perspective

I grew up in a community where if you didn’t get along with someone, the advice we heard from our elders was, "Learn how to." If we had trouble working with someone, the teacher purposely assigned us to a group so that we would have to work together. My parents insisted that I learn to work my problems out. They didn’t call other parents to complain about our problems and how they could fix them. I was disciplined by my parents whenever I lacked self-discipline -- when I was disrespectful to others, when I didn't do my share of the chores, or when I got poor grades. Did I like it at the time? Nope; but now as an adult, I'm grateful for it. And now, as and educator, I increasingly see the opposite approach growing into a dangerous parenting trend.

Every parent wants to see their children happy, safe, and successful. Teachers want the same for their students. However, the growing hurdle is the mindset that if a child gets upset, the parent(s) should step in and fix it. If a child receives a bad grade, the parent talks to (or occasionally blames) the teacher. If a child doesn’t get along with a peer, the parents take it into their own hands. Many call this “bulldoze parenting” because these parents want to clear a wide smooth path for their children -- a worry-free utopia where young people can avoid these "distractions" and mature into successful adults. Being a loving and caring parent is great and much healthier for kids than apathetic parenting. But, what does bulldozing teach the child? What I see it teaching many children is that they can always get what they want through a little complaining. I see it teaching the child that if they make mistakes or slack on their responsibilities, they won't have to deal with the consequences. Bulldozing doesn’t teach the child how to be independent, responsible, or respectful.

I always have to laugh a bit when I have two students who do not get along and their parents request that I make additional efforts to keep the children separated as much as possible. I always want to remind those parents that in their own professional world if they don’t get along with a co-worker, the boss' solution is probably not to separate them at the workplace but to find a way to work together. I imagine one reason divorce rates are higher than ever is because when times get tough, the socially acceptable thing to do now is to "take some time apart." Separation from your problems doesn’t solve them. Bulldozing the problems out of the way for students may help them feel better in the moment, but long-term it teaches them the wrong principles. I’m not suggesting putting those two students in a room and letting them figure it out by themselves, but subtle and guided interactions together are what lead those students to get along. Maybe they won’t become best friends, but they will at least learn to respect one another and that is the ultimate goal. That type of attitude can start in the classroom and then snowball into other areas of their life and future.

A teacher’s job is to not only get students next-grade-ready, but also life-ready. I ask that all my students to do their personal best in their studies, and to also learn the necessary skills to be responsible citizens. Having manners, respect, and being team players are just as important to me as knowing how to read and write. Yet, when parents try to draw up the classroom seating arrangements and who should be in which study groups, it creates a roadblock for what the teachers are doing and removes an important learning aspect for the students. I understand that when parents suggest those ideas to the teachers, they are trying to help. They want the best for their children; they just don’t realize that their over-involvement is hindering their students in the process.

There are ways for teachers and parents to work together to help our students grow both in and out of the classroom. One way is effective communication, and I don't mean just sending out the weekly newsletter. I mean real communication -- for the teacher to be honest about the behavior the student shows while at school. Parents also need to explain their child’s at-home and extra-curricular behavior to the teacher. The two behaviors can be examined and then a thoughtful plan on helping the student can be determined. As teachers, we have to remember that parents know their children the best. Teachers would be making a HUGE mistake if we didn’t take what the parents said seriously and whole-heartedly. Parents also have to understand that teachers have a classroom of 20+ other students (plus their parents). Teachers not only have to think of the best interest of the individual child, but the classroom as a whole.

Another way is being aware of our boundaries. Teachers go through a very rigorous program to become an educator. We spend hundreds of hours in the classroom before we get our own classroom. We attend ongoing seminars, training, and continually read and study to further our own education. When it comes to the classroom setting, we are professionals at knowing what is best for our group of students. Parents and teachers should both be cautious not to over-step our boundaries. By working together, when students enter the classroom, teachers can pick up where the parents left off and vice versa. That type of support system always fosters the best results for the students.

Parents, staff, and administrators all share the same goals -- we want the best educational experiences for each of our students. We want them to become smart, active, and responsible citizens in our communities. When we know our roles, trust and support each other, and create an environment where our students can learn by experiencing challenges and mistakes, I'm confident we will see them excel in both their studies and in their character.

Megan Baker
3rd & 4th Grade Teacher
McPherson County Schools, Nebraska