I want to share with you an experiment gone really right. Over 2o years ago, a very good friend of mine and I started working with high-risk youth (Grade 6 -8) in our board in the summers. We had developed a program based around adventure-based learning. Our focus was to use the outdoors and physical challenges to assist them in developing social and self-regulation skills that would increase the probability of their success in school. One of the tools we developed was a Daily Newsletter (as we called it at that time) to inform families of their child’s progress as well as provide a summary of the days successes and occasional not so good outcomes. That one teaching tool has evolved over the last twenty years into what is now my Weekly Parent Book.
At the end of each week, at my classroom computer station I sit, look around my room and ask myself the following questions:
- How well did I meet the needs of each of my students?
- Did I make time to talk with each student on a one-to-one basis to find out how their life is going?
- Did I push too hard or not hard enough in moving them along their academic journey?
- What did I accomplish this week in literacy, numeracy etc.?
- What went well in Room 16 this week?
- What did not go well in Room 16 this week?
- How will I use that information to make the next week more successful for everyone?
That weekly routine has turned into one of the most rewarding and successful self-reflection tools I have ever had. Its initial, sole intent was to inform parents of what was going on in their child’s classroom. What it has become is a tool that I use to inform families, publish good news stories, share advice on how parents can help their child, updates on school-wide initiatives and most importantly, a tool to reflect on my week’s teaching.
It is a time that I actually use to decompress from the week’s events, look back in order to plan ahead for my next week and set goals of what I need to accomplish the following week (from a curriculum standpoint or what is needed to help specific students move forward). As the year progresses, the content of the weekly news becomes a shared work whereby students start to contribute to its production. That is when this tool becomes a very powerful learning tool for all of us.
Of course being the old school type, every Monday our morning circle starts with the sharing of the past week, goal setting using the feedback on that two-sided sheet of paper and then the ritual of adding it to their Parent Book to go home and be read and signed by an adult in their home. It goes home on Monday and is not due back until the following Monday to accommodate a wide variety of family scenarios and work schedules. The back of the page usually has some photograph that was taken during the week, an advice column, new goals for the class, a funny parent story or some other kind of important read for my families. At the end of the year it turns into a yearbook that can serve as a memory of their year. I still have all of my copies and when I need a little nostalgia fix all I have to do is go back and look through my career, year-by-year.