Monday, August 7, 2017

Home School Communication: It's Not About Progress Reports


Each afternoon during the last school year, my daughter's 2nd grade teacher sent a few cell phone photos and a 2-3 sentence explanation of what they showed. It probably took her no more than 5 minutes to snap the shots of her students, type up the words, and hit send. About once per week I would dash off a few sentences in response thanking her for the photos or letting her know what my daughter had said about school that day. These seemingly mundane quick interactions helped me build an everyday relationship with my child's teacher. The benefits of building that relationship went far beyond a teacher fulfilling her contractual obligations to communicate student progress. There are 5 specific scenarios that come to mind in which her quick photos and messages created a lasting benefit for my daughter and for my husband and I as her parents:

  1. It made it easier and more natural for me too reach out to her one night early in the year when my daughter left her homework at school. Together we were able to come up with an alternative assignment that my daughter enjoyed and also helped her practice the skills she was working on.
  2. That everyday relationship made me think to ask her about her favorite online educational games so that I could direct my daughter's at home screen time toward positive activities.
  3. At one point in the school year, a new class seating assignment created a little social conflict for my daughter. I helped her brainstorm potential solutions. She went to school the next morning ready to advocate for herself, but I also know I could send her teacher a brief email to keep an eye out as my daughter navigated this tough situation.
  4. When we ran into her and her family in town, we were able to talk effortlessly about the exciting things my daughter was learning and doing in school. These conversations didn't turn into awkward impromptu parent-teacher conferences. They were more like pleasant small talk.
  5. Speaking of those parent-teacher conferences, I actually had a tough time scheduling one this year due to our busy schedules. Because of all of our communications throughout the year, though, I could just up the phone or email my daughter's teacher anytime I had a question. No need for a special conference to touch base.
I hope my daughter's 3rd grade teacher takes a few moments each day to use the devices at her fingertips to help build a relationship, too. It is likely that throughout her elementary education experience I will get that kind of communication. But will it continue in the upper grades?

It isn't about nightly homework checks

There is a common practice to hold back on daily updates to parents as learners mature. Usually, the philosophy behind this shift is that as children get older they should take more responsibility for their own learning. But I'm not talk about daily communications that include each night's homework assignments or regularly scheduled progress reports. Rather, as a parent I want to know what my daughters have tried, learned, read, and discussed each day. That way, when they get home we can share and discuss in a way that is more meaningful than, "How was school today?"

Adolescents and teens can be help accountable for their school work without sacrificing teacher-parent communication. The more parents know about their child's day, the more likely they are to be positive proactive forces in their child's education. Every teacher needs as many parent allies as possible, and every parent wants their child to have a healthy and strong relationship with her teacher.

How educators can make it happen

This year, I'm happy to be a part of the #Pledge100 campaign to reach every parent during the 2017-2018 school year. Much of this post has been about my experience as a parent, but as an educator I also saw great benefits when I stayed in constant communication with my students' parents. As a middle school teacher, I kept up a class website where parents could find the class calendar and all materials. Additionally, I sent home personal emails to 3-4 students' families each afternoon letting them know about how their recent experiences, successes, and struggles in my classroom.


These emails took me no more than 15 minutes to write each afternoon. The benefits were two-fold:
  1. Parents knew that I thought about their child as a unique individual who deserved an education that fit him best.
  2. My end-of-day daily reflections helped me think more carefully about how I spoke to and served every student every day. I believe I grew into a better teacher because of this practice.
As a high school teacher, I kept up a similar class website, but also sent home weekly detailed emails with links to examples of student work. These links featured student videos, podcasts, and even ebooks authored by entire classes. Parents enjoyed the celebration of their teenager's learning and I found that the rapid-fire 5-minute parent-teacher conferences we held once a year were much more relaxed.


Start this summer

We even got a message late last week - in the dog days of summer - from my daughter's teacher reminding her former 2nd graders to read. I was so impressed. I showed it to my daughter and she said, "I can't wait to go back to school so I can visit Ms. W and Ms. R. They will be so happy to see me and I can tell them about summer camp!"

If you haven't communicated with your former students yet this summer, don't underestimate how powerful and positive it can be for them to hear from you. The fact that you thought of them during your vacation time will mean to world to them.

And, of course, reach out to your incoming students as soon as possible. Hold off on homework policies and class expectations. Share a little about what you love about being a teacher and how you used some of your summer to get ready for them. Reassure them that you are excited to meet them and get to know them. Perhaps you could even encourage them to write back to you.