Parent Communication Part 4: Take Notes!

Communicating with parents can get tricky. You will have some parents who are determined that there is certain information they did not know. That was never told to them. Etc.

Just like every child you teach are different, no parent is exactly the same either. But some parents can show similar patterns. I like to think that when you have conferences with parents and you bring up things their child needs to work on, or what they are struggling with, there are times when the parent/guardian feels overwhelmed. Making it harder for them to fully digest what you’re saying. There are also times, I think, when I give the parents too much information or resources and they mentally shut down. When this happens they often come back and say, “You never told me this.” Or, “We didn’t know our child was struggling in this way.” Or, “We didn’t know these resources were available for our child.”

Now, you know this is not your truth. You, as a teacher, did everything you could to meet with the parents, and give them information/resources, asked for their opinion, etc. But, it very well could be their truth. Everything went in one ear, and out the other. 

My principal gave me this idea last year when dealing with parents who often said I did not communicate certain things to them. Instead of getting defensive, which I have been guilty of, oh so many times, she encouraged me to take notes of every meeting or phone call that I have with parents. Don’t get me wrong, I usually always document my meetings, but she suggested a step I never thought of. After the meeting is over send the highlighted discussion points, or the meeting minutes, to the parents. You can open this email with, “Thank you for your time today. I am glad we were able to meet and talk about ______. Here is a summary of what we discussed and our next steps.” Etc. 

You can add “next steps for at home” and “next steps for at school” to keep both yourself and the parents accountable. This information often gets documented by teachers and kept in files… but when you send an email to the parents right away, you can refer back to that email when they come to you saying, “they never knew”. 

One way to do this is by forwarding the message you sent earlier. You also want to be gracious and allow the parents to save face. As I mentioned earlier, maybe they really don’t remember you saying something. Maybe they were overwhelmed or tired. By forwarding the email you can remind them what you discussed and apologize if it wasn’t made clear during the meeting, or give them room to say they missed the first email. It happens. 

No one ever told me that the hardest part of my job would NOT be teaching the children, but communicating with parents. I hope these past four blog posts have been helpful for those teachers just getting started, or for teachers who like myself, had to learn by doing.

Enjoy the start of the 2019-2020 School Year! Or for those in the middle of their teaching year, enjoy your final stretch (the end is near!).

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.

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

Growing Green: A Story of Inspiration

I just stumbled upon  this TED story last night and thought everyone needs a bit of inspiration on a Monday morning. I love watching these TED talks that inspire and give me hope as an educator.

After watching this TED talk about this teacher in the South Bronx doing amazing things and truly making an impact, it reminded me of the dream that I have to start my own school one day. Dreams to start a school where students can nurture and grow their creativity. Dreams to start a school where students can follow their passions. Dreams to start a school where students can become agents of change.

What are your dreams and hopes as an educator?

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Digital Research: The Double Edged Sword?

I recently got an e-mail from Allison over at OnlineEducation.Net, who came across this post about the ISTE conference in San Diego, Jee Young wrote last spring.

Allison explained that she helped create a graphic that, “examines how todays students are conducting research in the digital era, as well as the impact technology is having on the quality of their research.”

I thought the graphic was interesting and wanted to share it, so here it is!

digital research image

What do you think about these statistics? To me, most of them make sense, especially concerning how distracting technology can be. It is an amazing tool we have, the internet, but when not used correctly— can be a student’s biggest downfall. There are a lot of arguments to be made for both cases.

I like the three tips at the end for how to research better, as I myself fall victim to multitasking. I am learning more and more how NOT to do that.

Speaking of technology, a school I heard about during my graduate studies that I found really interesting is Waldorf School in California, a school that doesn’t allow computers in the classrooms… I have to admit, after reading this article, I was intrigued. I am not saying that I completely agree with the article, if I had an iPad, you better believe I would be using learning apps in my Kindergarten classroom. Still… I like to look at both sides of the coin.

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Guest Blog Post: Pecha Kucha More Than Chit-Chat

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We are excited to start off 2013 with our guest blogger Jackie. She took the leap of faith and started teaching internationally at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia this past year.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person in Singapore a few months ago when she was visiting during her vacation. She is a faithful reader of our blog and currently teaching 7th & 8th English and technology. We are thankful for her thoughtful contribution! 

Seventh grade students in a growing English proficiency literature class struggled to comprehend Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman until the setting and social issues came alive through their compositions of pecha kuchas.

What is a pecha kucha and how did students compose them in our classroom? To begin, Pecha Kucha is the Japanese word for “chit chat.” The term refers to 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The idea originated as a way to prompt presenters to create thoughtful, compelling representations as an alternative to a popular presentation method that tempts people to be wordy, not in a good way.

Our class took a cue from a previous teacher at our school, Jabiz Raisdana, to attempt amini-pecha kucha (10 slides shown for 20 seconds each) as a way to familiarize ourselves with the setting of Boy Overboard, Afghanistan. Because students appreciated the visual aspect of pecha kuchas, we decided to expand it to examine the themes of  the book, Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. Also, the Middle Years Program (part of the International Baccalaureate program) at our school, requires a “Visual Literacy” criterium for English Acquisition Learners which pecha kuchas provide an opportunity to demonstrate.

“Pecha kuchas helped me understand the book better,” was overheard by one student in the middle of researching this project. Boy Overboard proved to be somewhat challenging with its vocabulary referencing war and its Afghan setting. When asked why and how pecha kuchas helped her, the student responded that the slides allowed her “to see” scenes from the book.

Students gravitated toward the social issues surrounding the book as well. We tied the theme of gender equality, prevalent in this book set during Taliban control, to the UN Millenium Development Goals. Students followed the unfolding story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for her BBC blog and views on education for girls–and connected this to the characters in the book as they are forced to leave Afghanistan because their parents run an illegal school for girls.

We capitalized on the text-to-world connection and the visual nature of pecha kuchas to build a scaffold for students. My hope was not only that the students learn about Afghanistan and themes of the novel, but how to comprehend written and visual texts.

Here are the steps we took to compose our mini-pecha kucha reader responseassignment:

  1. Discussed the elements of the book: characters, setting, theme, etc.
  2. Identified setting or themes that would help students better understand the novel. (Made a list.)
  3. Partners chose a theme and began planning by copying and sharing this planner.
  4. Carefully evaluated and selected images that supported an understanding of the topic.
  5. Cited each image, while starting with a search of Creative Commons images.
  6. Composed text for each image that reflected an accurate reading of the image while connecting it to the topic and how it helped the students better understand the book.
  7. Recorded the pecha kucha while timing to be sure the slide was shown for roughly 20 seconds only.
  8. Screened the pecha kucha for the class, answering questions about why certain images were selected and explaining how the slideshow connected to the novel.

Pecha Kucha Evaluation Rubric.

Here is an example of a finished mini-pecha kucha on the topic of Desert Life in Afghanistan by 3 seventh grade students; Holly, Elaine and Da Ran.

Reflections: After the assignment, I had these thoughts:

  • We are still working on beginnings, middles and endings when writing. Although the pecha kuchas encourage writers to focus on the specific image shown, we are still thinking about we can incorporate a “wrap-it-up” ending and tie the topic to the novel.
  • Many students struggled with selecting images that “looked” like they fit the topic, but they were not sure if they were taken in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere. We discussed how Flickr images often include a description of the photo and could provide more context than a simple Google image search.
  • Students shared the citations with me on the planner, but where should they include them on screen in the final project? Rolling credits?

For more from Jackie, go to: http://jakartajackie.wordpress.com/

Our Changing World

I love that we cannot teach the way we were taught to teach (or the way we were taught) because education is constantly changing. The way we teach now is not the way my parents were taught, or I was taught. My parents were educated to be part of a world where things had yet to exist (the internet, cell phones, 3D movies!), and I was educated to be a part of a world where things did not exist (wi-fi, tablets/kindles, smartphones, 4D/Imax!), so are we educating the youth to be a part of the future world (can you imagine the things that have yet to be invented?).

One thing I hope never ceases to exists are real books, and putting a pen to paper. There is something about holding a book, smelling the ink on the pages, and getting lost in a story that you just can’t get with an electronic device (don’t get me wrong, I loved my kindle— before it broke/I broke it— it was so convenient). I have heard that teaching cursive (even handwriting) is a lost art now, no one hand writes anything anymore, it’s all typed. LIES. I write every day, haha.

Teaching Kindergarten is new for me (did you know? have I mentioned that yet?!), and one of the joys I have found this year is watching students discover books for the first time. When they pick up one of those small, simple books, and can read the words from the beginning to the end for the first time without your help— their smiles are infectious, the joy is actually contagious. Would it be the same if they learned those words on a screen and flipped pages on a tablet? I don’t know.

Will hard books cease to exist? What do you think? What is something you hope will never leave the education world?