Sunday, May 17, 2015

Forming Family Foundations

"No school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children's best interests. Such communication, which can only be in a child's interest, is not possible without mutual trust between parent and teacher."
- Dorothy Cohen

Parents at a HSCN
The above quote really forms the basis of my thought process in teaching. Parents are the first teachers of children, and I believe they should continue to take a leadership role in their children's education. Parental involvement in the classroom is forming the basis of my graduate research project. I enjoy educating parents just as much as students, as evidenced in my prior posts about the Home-School Connection Nights (final one coming up this Tuesday) and the Battle Tour

Parental involvement is something that I am always praised on by parents, colleagues, and administration. I have my work email linked to my phone, so I can respond to emails after school hours or on weekends within minutes of receiving them. I've even called parents at 10:00 pm to respond to a concern they expressed in an email. Parents have indicated that they enjoy this and have said that they're not used to that level of communication from the child's teacher.  I challenge others to shift their paradigm and make this the norm, not the exception. It literally takes seconds to respond to an email, and the payoff is long lasting. 

The HSCN experience, and many of the things I do in my classroom involving parents, would not have been possible without strong communication between them and me. As with any relationship, the interactions between parents and the teacher needs to be built on trust. From day one, I work hard to form partnerships with each parent. I tell them about my educational background and my personal background. I want parents to see that while I am young, I am fully qualified to teach their kids and also that I am a real person. The bottom line is that I want them to know that I want what they want... the best for their kids.

Last year, I used email groups as my foundation for getting mass communication home. It was a good idea,
ClassMessenger home screen
but this year a few parents indicated that they did not have access to email. I decided to find another way to keep communication alive.

I ended up happening upon ClassMessenger. This is an incredible (and free) app provided through Scholastic. The teacher creates a class account and provides sign up details to the parents. The parents choose how they wish the be notified: email, text messages, or in-app notifications. I can send messages to the entire class or just individual parents. There is also a way to turn on parent-to-parent messaging, but I have not personally activated that. Another cool new feature is the ability to schedule messages (like you would on TweetDeck or HootSuite.) It is a two-way communication system, so parents can also send messages back to me.

I saw this app as my godsend. While some parents didn't have email, all of them had text messaging. I was able to meet them where they were. I sent out a link and a paper to have them sign up.

And I waited. And waited. Two weeks passed, and only 3 of 22 parents signed up. I was tempted to scrap the idea, but I decided to persevere. On Parent-Teacher Conference day, I set up a laptop in the hall with the sign-up website pulled up. I wouldn't begin their conference until they had signed up. By the end of the day, I was up to an enrollment of 21 parents. The final parent did their enrollment a few weeks 

ClassMessenger has revolutionized communication with the parents. They probably hear from me more often than they ever imagined. Every day (or every other,) I share some sort of update from the class. I may send a picture of what we are working on, RSVP slips for HSCN or other field trips, a reminder about an upcoming assignment, or just a link to a new YouTube video we recorded. It is very simple to send a message: I can do it from my computer, my phone, or my iPad. 

One fun way I use this app is for a game I call #FindMrB. I am a history nut, and living in Virginia allows me to fuel my addiction. My girlfriend and I will often visit battlefields. As I am there and if it relates to our curriculum, I send out clues to parents through ClassMessenger about where I am. Generally, I have about 4-5 students who send guesses back to me. If they get it wrong, I explain why it was incorrect and encourage them to make a second guess. Generally, the final clue makes my location obvious. If they get it correct, they are rewarded with a picture of the location (sometimes featuring yours truly!) With the new scheduling feature, I can program all of the clues for the entire day so I do not have to worry about constantly being on my phone. I think my girlfriend liked that feature too!

Snowday Hangout
I also use ClassMessenger to coordinate Google Hangouts on snow days and weekends. In the morning of a chosen day, I will send out a message saying that I will be doing a Hangout and I need to know who wants to join. About half an hour ahead of time, I will send out the link to those who indicated an interest. It a quick and easy way to continue learning outside of the scope of the normal school day.

Another way I facilitate constant parent communication is through my classroom website. Here I have a photo slideshow of different class activities, resources, and weekly updates written by the students, One thing I especially love about my website is the File Cabinet page. I upload all important documents: homework, rubrics, permission forms, reminders, etc etc. If the students need it, it's on
The File Cabinet page
the website. It eliminates the need of me having to constantly reprint things if it's lost. The students can get it themselves in school or the parents can download it at home. Similarly, their daily agenda is posted on the website, so parents can be aware of the nightly expectations.

In the future, I would also like to use Voxer with my class. That idea is bouncing around for next year. I also plan to use ClassMessenger and a website to step up my ESY class this summer. 

Parent communication is critical to my teaching. If parents and I work together, it makes everything flow more smoothly. I feel supported and they feel supported. I advocate for you to make parental involvement a big part of your teaching. Set up a ClassMessenger account, build a website, or just pick up the phone and bring them in! I promise, it will change they way you see your classroom.

How do you incorporate parents in your classroom? What has worked best?

1 comment:

  1. Setting up the laptop for something like a back to school night is a good idea! I love what I use, but want everyone early! TY