Parent Communication Part 3: Value Your Parents Expertise

As I mentioned in my last post, building a community is a great way to have edifying communication. You want to have a relationship with your students’ parents because eventually, inevitably you are going to have a conversation that is not all sunshine and butterflies.

When you need to talk to parents about their child, whether it be about academia or behavior trends they are showcasing, always start by valuing their expertise. The parents have known this child since they were born, they’ve been raising them. And often (always) they get defensive when issues come to the table. Think about it. Do you enjoy hearing about your flaws? It is NEVER easy hearing something negative about your child.

Before anything becomes a big issue I will email parents and share that I have been noticing certain behavior patterns. A child showing defiance, or playing rough with classmates, or having issues focusing, are usually things I will email about rather quickly.  After sharing something positive about the school day, and then sharing what I have been seeing, I ask  the parents/guardians if they’ve ever noticed this at home and if so, do they have any advice for me. I want to make sure my parents know that I value what they know about their child, and also if they have notice patterns at home, maybe they have a system that works that I can implement at school. You never know unless you ask. This opens up conversation to hearing if other things happening in a child’s life factor into their school life (as it almost always does).

If the issue is sensitive or dangerous and I am unsure about how to word it, I will call the parents. I also call parents if their child is involved in something and it was not their fault, or something happened to them. Tone can come across so different on email, as I am sure we are all aware of. If it is a repeated behavior and I don’t have time to call, I try to have a colleague look over my email. A second pair of eyes is your best friend. Use your team! They most likely know the student as well and can be very, very helpful.

In the end, the more you can build a positive relationship with your parents, the better you’ll be able to teach their child.

My last post on parent communication coming up next… Part 4: Take Notes!

I really don’t know what I would do without parenthesis. I just love them so much.

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Parent Communication Part 2: Build A Community

Can you imagine sending your little one to school and them disappearing into the abyss that is the classroom and not knowing what happens in the day to day? Maybe you can because you have a child. And if most children are anything like my niece, every time I ask her about what she does at school she says, “I can’t tell you until Valentine’s Day.” And when Valentine’s Day comes, she does not in fact tell me.

The more you involve parents into your beautiful little world inside the classroom, the more connected they feel, and feeling connected often leads to positive relationships.  I’ve had parents who haven’t been able to come into the classroom but ask me to send home materials to cut or put together. I’ve had parents send supplies for parties they can’t attend. I have had parents build friendships with each other because they feel known and seen by being a part of the classroom community I try very hard to foster. It takes a village! Especially when you have 25+ kiddos. At the end of the school year I often have parents who are more sad about leaving my class than their kids are. How do I do it? Well as I mentioned in my last post, I always want to start on a positive interaction with all of my students’s parents. And then I open up the doors to my classroom via technology…

Social media is a great way to build a community! In the past I have had classroom blogs, but I found that while I was able to show what was happening in the classroom I felt that a blog post had to look super polished and it was more time consuming than I would have liked. Also, there was no parent engagement or interaction. I’ve also sent home weekly newsletters. I still have to do this at my current school, but this is focused more on the academics that happen in the classroom, and to be honest half the time parents don’t even look at it. How do I  know? Because they ask questions (a lot of questions) about what I have already communicated in. the. newsletter.

Anyway, after doing some research and chatting with other teacher friends, last year I got a Bloomz account. Bloomz is an app you can download on a smartphone or tablet and it is fantastic. For the first two weeks of school I posted a picture or video of what was happening in the classroom. Parents could like posts and comment on them, just like you can on Facebook.

Eventually I slowed down with my daily posts and posted pictures or videos (small clips of independent writing time, a guest read aloud, math centers, etc.) a couple times a week. On Thursdays I started a “Think Outside the Box” activity and posted every child’s picture creation. I had a parent tell me that this was the highlight of their week. My students were so aware of Bloomz they often asked me to take a picture and post it to our page so their families could see.

As far as privacy and set up goes it was pretty straight forward. I gave a letter to all families during open house. This letter explained the app and gave the class code you need enter when you join Bloomz. Each parent then has to be approved by me (so no randoms can accidentally join) before being a part of the online community.

When it came to class parties the parents in charge could send out a list of all the party supplies we needed and then other parents would click what they could donate. It made it so easy to keep track of who was sending what to school.

I received a lot of positive feedback on using Bloomz as a way to communicate with parents. I have had other colleagues use Instagram as a way to connect their parents, as well as Seesaw (similar to Bloomz), Remind (a messaging app that works really well in upper grade levels), blogs, and Twitter. This next school year I am going to try out an app I just learned about called classtag. My main reason for trying this app out is because it has the option to translate your announcements and posts into over 50 languages. The app also has a section where you can adjust the time slot in which you are allowed to send and receive messages during the day. This will help keep me accountable as I tend to work at home a lot and if a parent messages me at 10 p.m. I think I need to respond right away. The app will only alert me to messages sent from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. or however long I choose. Classtag also lets you earn rewards towards classroom supplies. And every teacher, everywhere, LOVES free classroom supplies. I may switch back to Bloomz, because I really did love it, and I will see what the parents prefer as well. Because (fingers crossed) I may be teaching some younger siblings of students I had last year. If you decide to use ClassTag, use my code and we will both get points towards rewards!

Possible Tools to Build a Community:

Up Next… Parent Communication Part 3: Value The Parents Expertise

Parent Communication Part 1: Start Positive!

It’s that time again! Well, uh, for those of us not in Australia or other places like South Korea that start the school year in Feb/March… I am talking about Back to School Time, obviously. Some teachers have already recently opened their doors to a new class of students, while others are just a few weeks away.

While getting my classroom ready and lesson plans prepped (just kidding, no lessons have been prepped yet) I’ve been reflecting on how I start every school year. I decided to do a series of blog posts about Teacher-Parent Communication. The one thing they never taught us eager educators in college. Yeah, it’s a gross oversight if you ask me.

For the next four blog posts I will cover the following topics:

  1. Start Positive (this post!)
  2. Build a Community
  3. Value Your Parents Expertise
  4. Take Notes!

At the beginning of every school year I want my first form of communication with my students’ parents to be a POSITIVE one. Because there may come an email or phone call not too long after… that is not entirely positive. First impressions are important. Imagine  if the first thing your students do when they meet you is pointing out all of your flaws as a teacher? Ew.

Therefore, I make it a goal to send a positive note home, about each one of my students, within the first two weeks of school. This keeps me accountable to get to know something about all of my students quickly and see specific skills, talents, or behaviors they have that add value to our class. I am a firm believer that every child who comes into my class adds value.

How you send this positive note home is up to you. I tried doing physical notes home and sometimes they wouldn’t make it to the parents (because I teach the littles). I have worked at schools where we are not allowed to call directly, and I have worked at schools that have not allowed me to email parents directly (yes, that’s a real thing, and it was hard). It depends on where you are and what works best for you. I have landed on sending emails.

Here are two examples of emails I sent at the beginning of last year. I changed the names but the rest is the same. Find something specific about each student to give positive feedback on. They don’t need to be long. My goal is to send home two or three a day,  the first two weeks of school. You may be wondering if two weeks to get a note home is still too long to hear from the teacher, especially if you teach younger kids who are just beginning their educational journeys. Because I don’t have any visible superpowers (yet) and don’t have the time or energy to do 25 emails within one week, especially the first week of school,  I make sure to communicate with the entire class of parents what we do in the first few days of school. (I cover this more in Part 2: Build a Community.)

Email Example 1:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

I wanted to send you a quick note to tell you how much I love having Jane in class. She is responsible and kind, and always helping me remember things I may forget. She’s a great classmate, too!

Kind Regards,

Melody Welton

Email Example 2:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Robinson,

Joe made my heart smile big time today! He had a few tearful moments this morning as he is learning all of the new classroom routines. Joe couldn’t remember his floor spot, so he didn’t move to the rug when the rest of the class did. I asked him why he stayed in his chair and was impressed when he was able to communicate, “I forgot where my spot was.” 

This afternoon he gave me a quick side hug when entering the classroom after putting stuff in our cubbies 🙂 I look forward to getting to know Joe better this year!

Warm Regards,

Melody Welton 

Who can’t wait for the never ending sea of laminating and cutting to begin?!

Parent Communication Part Two: Build a Community, is up next!