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Accountable Talk

Students love to talk and some students love to talk more than others. That isn’t a bad thing! Talking is and should be an essential component of every classroom. The key is to help students understand the different types of talk that will take place at school. I teach my students the term ‘on task talk’. That means that if it is math we are working on, then it is math we are talking about or if it is science then scientific conversations are taking place in my room. This creates a win-win situation as humans are social beings and talking is a huge part of both the socialization and learning process. This is part of the routines and expectations that are established at the beginning of your year.

A second type of talk is question and answering or as I phrase it ‘inquiry talk’. This is different in that there is a key person who is explaining or justifying their solution or work to a group of peers. The students asking the questions need to be taught what thinking questions are, how to create them and what respectful dialogue looks and sound like. The person receiving the questions needs to understand that the questions are not meant to be negative but rather to evoke thoughts and express opinions.

The final type of talk in the classroom is social talk. This is just friend-to-friend conversations that take place. I will often interject these sessions as transitions in the room. For example we have just wrapped up our writing and I will tell my students to take a two-minute social break. During that time they can get up and move or talk with a friend or friends.

The key is to help students develop an understanding of what each type of talk is as well as when and how to use it. This is specific to each teacher and their style of teaching. Embrace the power of talk in your classroom

Showcasing Student Work for Parents

I’m not a huge fan of Parent/Teacher Interviews. It’s not the idea of speaking with parents about their child’s progress, because I am totally on board with that. It’s not the time spent after school, either; I’m usually one of the last teachers to leave my school at night, so I’m pretty used to being around after hours.

My issue with Parent/Teacher Interviews is that the focus is rarely, if ever, on talking about what students are doing daily in the classroom. To me, that’s the important thing: seeing their work and their progress over the course of the ten months that they’re in my class. My students work hard and take pride in their accomplishments. I’ve never liked that interviews are linked to progress reports or report cards because the natural thing to do seems to be to talk about grades.

I hate grades, but that’s another story for another time. 😉

A few years ago, I did something with my class that I felt really offered my students the chance to show their parents just how much they had accomplished that year. It was a really rewarding experience for everyone.

In spring of that year, a few students in my Grade 5 class came to me and asked if we could do a class talent show. This was a congregated gifted French Immersion class with many performers of all kinds. We discussed it as a class and nearly all of them wanted to participate. We decided that we would host the talent show in June as an end of year event and invite everyone’s parents to come. I was not going to force anyone to participate, though, so I had to come up with some reason for the parents of students who were not performing on stage to attend.

My students had been amassing large portfolios of work all year. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to student work and I like them to keep it all at school for as long as possible. Usually this just leaves me drowning in a pile of art projects, scientific models, chart paper, and duo-tangs, but this one year it really paid off. I had my students go through all of their work and choose five things that they were really proud of.

We discussed why they might choose certain pieces over others. Some pieces were chosen because students had worked particularly hard and had done a really great job with them. Others were chosen because they were really fun and exciting. Others still were chosen because students felt that they had made a lot of progress that year. The highlight, for me, was when one of my students chose to showcase her Mathematics notebook. When I asked her why, she said that it was because she started that year hating math, just like every other year, but by the end of the year she felt really confident in math and it had become her favourite subject.

Validation! My teaching is working! But that’s not what this post is about.

We ran the entire event in the school’s gym, which had an attached stage. I pulled out some tables and set them up, then gave each student a space to display their work. They decided how to display it. As parents came in, they were able to wander around the tables and see the work all of the students had put out.

The talent show itself was what I expected: a seemingly endless parade of ten and eleven year olds playing musical instruments, telling jokes, dancing, and doing whatever else they had come up with as a talent. It was really sweet. They did a wonderful job. All I really did was invite the parents; they coordinated who did what and when, rehearsed on their own time, and ran the whole show for parents.

After the talent show, all of the students went and stood by their work. They were expected to explain to their parents why they had chosen to include each piece. I was there and able to answer any questions and chat with the parents, of course, but the students were the stars of the afternoon. I got a lot of positive feedback from parents on the event and they were happy to be able to hear their child talk about his or her work in a positive light.

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No Report Card Surprises

No Report Card Surprises

Way back in October before the first reports were issued, I was busy inviting half of the parents into my class for heads-up interviews regarding their child’s progress. So many of my students were reading and writing below grade level, had serious behaviour issues, or were just plain struggling to meet the basic demands of the grade 3 French Immersion curriculum. Many students had the “progressing with difficulty” box checked off. In fairness and for reasons of professional integrity, parents need to know before the reports go home. Experience has told me that, although the conversation may be difficult, especially if it’s being heard for the first time, inviting parents in with the idea of forming a support team for their child is a smart way to start off the school year. Start the collaboration early and it can be so much easier if, later on down the road, there is some information you need to share that will be difficult for them to hear.

So, the highest needs were addressed, all parents were contacted and the pre-Parent Teacher Interviews went really well. By seeing many parents in the weeks before the official Parent-Teacher Interview period, I was able to have enough time to discuss in more detail how things were going in school and to have a more relaxed conversation than the 15 minutes provided on interview night allows. Some parents confirmed by examples from home what I was drawing to their attention, while others were positive about setting up supports for their child. However, when the proverbial dust had settled in the weeks following the Progress Reports, and I thought that I had touched base with the administration, learning support colleagues and parents regarding the progress of all the students with the highest needs, I suddenly realized that there was one student who had received `progressing well` on the report, but who was not progressing as well as I had originally believed.  In hindsight, I realize that I had been focussing on behaviour goals with this student more than academics, and this is what had overshadowed the challenges the student was experiencing in the first few reading and writing assignments completed in class.  What to do?

Firstly, I let the administration, learning support teachers and the parents know. Since lines of communication were already well established with the parents, I was able to be honest with them and explain that while progress was being made in the area of behaviour in class, their child was exhibiting difficulties with more demanding assignments. Showing samples of work done in class following the progress report period highlighted the need for help to meet the demands of the grade 3 curriculum.

Secondly, I was able to attend a Student of Concern meeting with the administration and the learning support teachers where we explored how we could determine areas of need for this student, the kinds of supports we could provide at school and what the parents could seek, if they chose to.

Thirdly, I scrutinized assessments, samples of work, and my note book, to make sure I had an accurate profile of the student, and to make sure that the parents had all the necessary information to pave the way for the first Report Card in February. Although the Fall Progress Report may have indicated a student who in general at the time did not appear to be progressing with difficulty, the first term Report Card will indicate what the child`s challenges are in detail, and thankfully, the parents are already aware.

The value of communicating regularly with parents cannot be underestimated. In this case, it was beneficial to avoid any confusion or defensive reaction and to convey the fact that I have the child`s best interest at heart. The positive effects of Parent-Teacher collaboration for the child are also significant and hold each of us accountable.

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Communicating With Parents

Part of our professional responsibility is to communicate with parents about the progress their child is or is not making in your classroom. How much communication? How often to communicate? What way is best? There is no one answer to that. The answer is determined by what is both comfortable and effective for you as a professional.

I use a variety of ways to ensure that my parents know about what is happening in my classroom as well as how their child is doing. The following is a list of the types of communication and what I hope to accomplish with each.

Weekly News – this is a one-page summary that I compose at the end of each week of school. In it I summarize what has been our curriculum focus, as many good news items as possible, important upcoming dates and I typically try to add ways that parents can support their child at home. In addition, our weekly awards’ recipients are listed by name. It goes home on Monday and is due back signed by the following Monday. At the end of the year it is a yearbook for each child. As well I use it as a personal reflection of what I had accomplished that week and what direction I need to go the following week.

Sunshine Calls – these are random calls home where my sole focus is to share good news and celebrate each child. I try to time them with specific deeds of the students as the timing also provides a powerful mode of feedback. If I have to make a call home where the news is not good, I try to ensure that I increase the number of positive calls home after that.

Student Work – I constantly try to share as much of our finished work as possible with parents (not just the evaluation aspect). I will have students share their poetry, a story, read to their family and have the family sign it to show they have had it shared. At times, we invite families in to look at our art displays, attend a poetry recital or drama performance.

Monthly Calls – these are extra calls that go to families of my students who have academic or behavour struggles. It is important to keep families updated and to offer ways for them to support their child. It is too late if I wait until reporting time. There have been times when the frequency of these calls increase to bi-weekly or weekly updates.

Meetings – I work hard to have a face-to-face with each family regardless of whether their child has struggles or is working from an enriched curriculum. There are situations where these meetings are scheduled on a regular basis.

Surveys – Occasionally when I am looking at a special event (often a field trip) I will send a survey home outlining what my intended outcomes are, the proposed cost, details and get them to share their thoughts with me. This is sometimes easier for parents to do in written form.

I have made a personal choice to not use email or any kind of social media as a vehicle of communication to my families. There are pros and cons to this decision and should be left up to each teacher. I just caution you to make sure you are aware of the risks that can be associated with that practice so that you can ensure your protection. If you need more information about communication via social media, I would recommend you contact the ETFO Provincial Office.

The final item I would like to mention is that even though as teachers we have a professional responsibility to communicate to parents, we do not have to endure a parent’s tirade, be yelled at or verbally abused. You have the right to stop any meeting or conversation that is deemed inappropriate. Should you need support with a parent, contact your principal or your local ETFO leadership. The one thing my experience has taught me is that a parent’s approach or view about their child’s schooling is often influenced by the experience they had as a student (good and/or not so good).


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Using Twitter in the Classroom

Sure, Twitter can be used to find out what Kim Kardashian had for lunch today, but it can also be used to connect classrooms, teachers, and school communities.

Today I am going to talk about connecting with your families and students through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful tool if used properly. The first step is choosing a “handle” (or name) that isn’t already taken. Remember there is a limit of 140 characters in a tweet, so don’t make your name too long! You might also want to make your name somewhat generic and not directly related to the specific class/school you are at, as that may change next year! Go with something that is specific to you – @TaylorsClass @LearningRules @ClassroomFun @EduFun. Choose something that you can take with you to your next class, your next school, your next experience. It takes a lot of work to build followers and to develop a good collection of people to follow, you don’t want to have to start from scratch each year.

If your goal for this twitter account is just to post stuff to the parents and students in the class, it might be wise to make it a “disposable” account and make it specific to that class and year so you can change it up each year. You might wand a more specific handle: @TaylorGr2_2014 @learning2015 @gr2FI14 – again, be creative!

Once you have settled on a handle, you need to get followers. You don’t necessarily need lots of big name followers for this account – your goal is more to connect your classroom community, possibly connect to other classrooms, share what your class is doing with your school, board, and PLCs. You can do all of this by sharing our handle with those who you think would benefit from seeing the information you are sharing.

Before you tweet, double check the guidelines in your school board around posting student work, names, pictures, etc. Don’t post pics or names of students or their signed work without parent consent.

Even without pics of students, you can still share lots of valuable stuff on your twitter feed. You can tweet text explaining what you are doing, questions that parents might want to ask their kids about what they learned today, agenda messages, reminders, etc…..the list goes on!

Twitter can also be used to connect to famous people. We used to write letters to authors, but now we can tweet them! I have had students write stories in the style of Mo Willems and then we tweeted them to Mo (@MoWillems) and Pigeon (@The_Pigeon) for them to see what we had been working on! We sent Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweets from each of our grade 2 students the day he left space, thanking him for everything he did to educate and inform us while he was up there! Twitter really does make the world a lot smaller!

As a teacher, I have tweeted what my class is doing and it always feels great when parents, other teachers, admin, or anyone really, comments on what we are doing! We often share questions we have, the “I wonder” questions that come out of inquiry – Twitter is an excellent resource for expert knowledge.

If you decide to use Twitter in your classroom, make a point of tweeting at least once a day. Even it if is just to say that everyone is having fun today! I like to print pages that have 140 boxes and teach my kids to write “tweets” about their day and then I will type them in at the end of the period, day, etc. We also post those 140 box sheets on the wall on our “twitter feed” so other classes can see what we are up to!

Twitter seems to be sticking around. We might as well embrace it!

Progress Reports

I can honestly say that after writing what seemed like one hundred progress reports for the first time in my career, that I am very proud of my students and myself for having had the patience to get through them all! Writing comments about a students work in 2-3 lines on a program does not seem to give the students the justice that they deserve. I found a way to get around that.

A very amazing mentor of mine in my school board showed me during my teaching placement how to foster a spark in student’s minds. He showed them their learning skills on their reports before sending in the final project. It showed the student’s what success looked like if they had already attained it and if they wanted to succeed, how they could attain that. Students attitudes changed drastically after seeing their marks.

My students have done nothing but succeed since the moment I met them. They are always working hard and always making sure to be the best student they can be. I make sure that at all points of the day I am showing them how proud I am of their success whether it be a class points system, awarding them marks for it or just pulling them aside to let them know they are appreciated.

When a concerned student came to me today and told me he was worried about his progress report, it seemed to me that students sometimes are more worried about doing poorly then they are about doing well. I think we should start to foster a positive attitude in our classes and show and tell students about success and how to succeed and to stay away from using words like failure or unsuccessful.

Positivity can go a long way and student success is what this entire progression is about, is it not?

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Behaviour Management – is there one magical system?


How you decide to manage behaviour in your classroom will in the end be up to you. There are many, MANY blogs about the topic, and many are worth reading, if not to get great ideas and resources, but to hear about what not to do! Pinterest is full of links to blog posts, posters, resources, etc., that you can use in your classroom. In the end, it will depend on what you are comfortable with, and the group you have.

When I first started teaching, I tried a marble jar. I made the mistake in my first year of taking marbles out when my kids were misbehaving and this was an awful mistake on my part. I totally lost their trust. If you use a system where you give something, if at all possible, don’t take it back. They have earned that and no future behaviour should impact past positive behaviour.

There is more than just a marble jar out there now! I am going to list a few systems I have used, and some I haven’t. Keep in mind that each of these systems needs to be rejigged to fit your own needs for your teaching style, and the group of kids you are working with.

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is a digital app that is great for tracking behaviours and students and parents can check their progress from home. If you are absent a lot (I was often out on union business, personal illness, and supporting an ill child), it is a great system as you can leave it for

an OT and you can “check in” on your kids and see how they are doing throughout the absence. You get to choose a monster/alien/creature for each student. When I created my class the year I used this app, I chose one colour for my high fliers. I didn’t tell the class this, but it was an easy way for the OT to remember what students needed more positive reminders.

The thing I don’t like about Class Dojo is that it is a token economy where you can give and take points away. Students can actually be in the negative. This is very discouraging for students. It has always been my philosophy that if a child has earned some positive reward of sorts, that they should keep it. If you feel this same way, this app might not be for you, or you would just not use the deduct a point feature.

I have also used this app to track behaviours (secretly – not as a whole class management system). I had a student who was struggling with several severe behaviours – hands on, calling out, personal space, etc. We set him up on Class Dojo and the EA that was in our room would track with positives and negatives as it gave us an excellent print out of his trends. You can change the “behaviours” that it starts with, so you can make them as specific as you need. We even changed one to keep track of ticks in another student.

“Pick Me” Coins

A few years ago I read a blog post about a coins system that I used in my Grade 2 class and absolutely loved! Here is a link to the blog post  – I numbered my students, got some counters (many schools have these in great abundance, but you can get them from most education stores for about $5-10 for enough for the whole class). Each time I saw someone doing something awesome, I would give them a “Pick Me” coin. They would then get to put it into my “Pick Me” bin. I just used a small spaghetti sauce container, or pizza sauce container. Something that will fill up quickly and make a nice sound when you shake it. That way my kids knew I was on the lookout. They put their coin into the draw and then whenever I needed a helper or helpers for anything – attendance, hand things out, collect things, water the plants, run something to the office, etc., etc., etc., the list truly does go on, I just drew a number. This was awesome for two reasons – 1. I never remember to change the “jobs” on the job chart and then the one kid in the class that is on a sucky job like sort the garbage complains relentlessly and you feel awful; and 2. There is never any need to pick anyone for anything and have to think about who has been doing a good job, etc. The system does it for you. My only added rule was that they had to be on task when I drew them. If they weren’t, their number simply went back into the draw for next time. I would empty the “Pick Me” jar at the end of every week.

This is also how I taught my entire probability unit!

I even started letting my kids nominate each other for Pick Mes. I made a form up and they could fill it in and submit it to me. I introduced it during persuasive writing and it was a huge success – and a great way for my kids to start to look for the positive behaviours in others!

This was an amazing system and my class loved it. The second year I did it, my Grade 2s did not buy into it as much and I had to use something else entirely. Every class is different.

Stop Light

My daughter is in Grade 1 right now and she comes home every day saying, “I was on Green all day!” – her class is doing a stop light system. My understanding, from my 5 year old, is that when someone makes a bad choice, they move down to the yellow light, and then down to the red light. “When someone makes to to the red light, Mme calls home!”

Clothes Pin Charts

I have seen variations of the clothes pin names moving around. The thing I am not crazy about with clip charts, is that it really singles out the kids who struggle. Those kids who have IEPs and behaviour plans are going to really lose out in this system. It is really easy to get discouraged and give up if you know that every day you are going to end up at the bottom. Set those kids up for success – catch them doing something awesome to move them up as often as you can to start the momentum early. If you can get them moving toward outstanding early in the day, you will be less likely to end up at Parent Contact. If you leave it to them, they will likely end up at the bottom.

NOISE and Decibel Reader

I used this idea for snack time mostly. Put the letters to the word NOISE up on the board. Erase a letter each time the kids need a reminder that it is getting too loud. When it gets to just NO – that means there is NO Talking. It took a few times for them to get to the No Talking part to realize they needed to keep it down. I have paired this with an app that shows the decibels of the room so the lunch helpers don’t have to guess, and have just given them an upper range and when the class goes over that limit, take down a letter. I project the app on the screen so the kids can see where they are as well – add a little science to their snack time!

When it comes down to it, there is no one perfect behaviour management system. Your behaviour management system won’t solve your classroom management problems on its own. It is all in how you use it and manipulate it to serve your purpose. Keep in mind that positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative.

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Communication with Parents – Part 2

Getting the word out to all parents can come in many forms. Some teachers choose to Tweet classroom updates, while others use a texting service like Whatever you choose to do to contact all of your parents, should be consistent, and you should be sure to only use it when contacting the whole group.

When you need to address an issue/concern with a parent directly, there are a number of ways to go about doing it. Whatever way you decide to use, make sure you document everything. Document every attempted call, every agenda note, every email you send (and don’t forget to CC your admin when you do contact them through email!). Documentation can become very important if a parent comes to the school upset that something caught them off guard, or claims that they were never informed. Having your documentation can protect you. Record dates, times, type of communication, and the reason for the communication. If you get in touch, record the outcome of the interaction as well. If you are doing this digitally, try not to use full names (instead of saying, “Contacted Lisa Taylor to discuss issues with her son Andrew Taylor….” you may want to code it as, “Contacted L. Taylor to discuss issues with her son AT.”). This just adds a level of security. If you are keeping these files in paper format, make sure you store them securely, as you may be recording the details of sensitive conversations.

So how do you actually make contact? There are several ways you can go:

Agenda Message – don’t include details of a concern/incident in the agenda, as they can often get left on the school bus, or read by other students. Just put a message that requests that the parent either contact you to discuss, or give some dates of when they can meet/when they are available to receive your call.

Phone Message – if you call and get the parent, great! Discuss away. If you get a voicemail system, if it clearly states the family name and you are 100% confident you have dialed the correct number and this is that family’s answering machine, you should still consider only identifying yourself and asking if the parent can call you, or send a message in the Agenda of times that would be good to meet/call. Do not leave details of a concern or situation on the voicemail system, as you don’t know who will listen to it, nor do you know if someone else might overhear it. You also do not want your own voice recorded, sharing information about a student, as this could put you in some hot water. Just ask the parent to call back. If the “concern” is to remember to bring a permission slip, or a forgotten library book, these messages can be left on a machine.

Email – if you decide to email a parent, treat it like a digital Agenda, and just request times for a meeting, or phone call. Do not use names in the communication (i.e., “can you let me know when you are available to chat about A’s progress at school?”), on the off chance that you have mistyped the email address. Also, always CC your principal, both to keep them in the loop, and so that there is a 3rd participant in the conversation. This is more about protection for yourself. If a parent is upset about something, they may try to take email comments out of context. If the admin has been included in the conversation all along, they will be able to defend your choices, and support you without any difficulty.

In-Person – this is always the best way to do it. Body language, tone, expression, some or all of these things are lost in the other forms of communication. If at all possible, try to just use the other 3 types to get to an in-person meeting.

Don’t forget, no matter how you communicate, make sure you document everything. Everyone is different in how they keep that information, but the most important thing, is making sure you are keeping track of the communication with as much detail as you can. These notes not only help you to remember what was discussed/decided, but they also may help you if there is a dispute or concern.

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Communication with Parents – Part 1

Communication with parents/guardians is not just a courtesy, it is a legal requirement as part of being a teacher. How you communicate with parents/guardians depends a lot on the content of the message.

Sometimes information is for all parents. This can go out in a newsletter format. Be careful about setting up unreasonable expectations of yourself around how often your newsletters come out. If you start the year sending them every Monday, parents will start to depend on seeing them on Mondays and you will preset that expectation that they will continue to come weekly, even on weeks when there isn’t a lot to share. Don’t make work for yourself, try to make your newsletters (should you choose to send them home) more sporadic so you don’t set yourself up with these expectations that you are sometimes unable to maintain.

If you choose to go digital, make sure you provide a non-digital option for families who do not have access. If you have families who do not speak English at home, you may want to speak with your admin about resources available to you in your board for translating some of the essential information to ensure all families are getting information equitably.

Deciding on a digital format can be challenging. Many teachers choose to set up a classroom website or blog, which allows them to post information. Be careful about allowing 2-way communication happen on the page without moderation. The last thing you want is your page to become a place for parents to start complaining or chatting about unrelated items. In my experience, using the Blog format (Blogger through Google was the format I used) is a great way to share resources and activities. There is a moderate option in setting so students and parents can comment but they come to you first and you can decide if they get posted. Sometimes a comment might not need to be posted (i.e., “can you please call me tomorrow to discuss the report card?”), whereas, others add to the value of the resources and information shared.

This link ( is to my classroom blog that I used last year. I shared the link on every paper newsletter I sent home, tweeted it, wrote it in agendas, had the students start there at the beginning of each session on the computers in the class – we used it all the time! My class was used to the site and they would go home and share it with their family. I could then use it share information with the families. (I went on leave at the end of the year and was even able to invite my LTO onto the site as a guest blogger to post while I was away!).

If you choose to email your newsletter, send it as a PDF and CC your principal. This adds an extra level of transparency. Be advised however, that when it is sent as an email, it is easy for a parent to hit reply and ask a question, make a comment, etc (i.e., should we send extra mittens that day just in case? – something that they can figure out on their own, or put in the agenda if it is really a burning question). Make sure you send it during normal school hours (8-5 is a good general rule of thumb) and be careful not to engage in casual conversation over email. You need to maintain professional boundaries when dealing with parents at all times. With email, it is easy to get casual.

Communication is an essential part of teaching. When you are communicating with all of the parents in your class, you can be more general in your approach. Next week, I will look at more specific communication tools for when you want to contact individual parents.

Communicating with Parents and Guardians

I consider communicating with parents to be one of the most important parts of my job. I won’t lie and pretend that I have it all figured out (and I certainly didn’t in my first year), because I find there’s only so much time in the day and sometimes that message I meant to send home didn’t quite make it out, but I have learned a few things over the past few years.

Here are a few of my “rules to live by” when it comes to communicating with parents:


Pick a system and stick to it!

My first year, I didn’t have any kind of system. I jumped into someone else’s class to cover a parental leave and just followed the minimalist system the previous teacher had put into place. It was short and sweet: students write in their agendas, I sign to show that I’ve seen it, parents sign to show that they’ve seen it, the end. It meant notes never went unnoticed.

About a month in, I kind of stopped following this system. There wasn’t any reason for stopping, other than my own absentminded nature. I missed a few notes from parents (which weren’t incredibly important, else they would have called the office, but they were worthy of my time just the same). By the end of the year, I wished I’d stuck with the system for my sake, for parents’ sake, and for the sake of my students.

My second year, I was determined to keep up with communication. I thought I would be tech savvy, have a blog, keep parents up to date every week with what we were doing in class… and it was GREAT until our job action started and I had to stop my blog. Parents were confused. They missed the information. I tried (and failed) to have my students adjust to a new system (the agenda one from the year before) but so many had misplaced their agendas by that point that it was pointless.

My third year, I started a blog again. No job action! I can do this! Only no, I couldn’t, because my personal life got crazy. Unless I was doing something in-class, I wasn’t getting it done. My blog fell apart a few months into the school year and again, trying to change halfway through just didn’t work for my students.

Fast forward to this year. I’m trying the agenda thing this time. No newsletters, no blogs, just straight-up agendas. Kids write down the relevant info, I sign off on the agendas before they leave, parents sign each night – done. I built 10 minutes into my day to accommodate this. So far, so good.


Communicate regularly, not just when there’s an issue.

Too often, parents only hear from teachers when something has happened at school. It naturally makes parents defensive when hearing that it’s a teacher calling, and that doesn’t help your relationship with them. I realize that contacting every single parent in your class on a super regular basis would be difficult, but I don’t mean you need to call all of them every week. Here are some things I and my colleagues do to keep regular communication lines open:

– Pick a few students a week and highlight something they did. I try to write a short, sweet, one-sentence update in about eight kids’ agendas a week. That’s fewer than two per day! For example, today we had a hip hop workshop and I noticed a few students doing a really phenomenal job and having lots of fun. I wrote a short note to their parents about it to let them know that I noticed their child participating actively. They always appreciate it, and it gives them an “in” to talk to their child about what’s going on at school.

– Call before school starts! My grade partner actually calls all of his students’ families the week before school starts to talk about the Middle French Immersion program, find out about their goals for their child’s education, etc.


Invite parents into the classroom to see their children in action.

Throughout the year, I do a lot of small presentations and activities in-class with my students, especially at the beginning of the year. Virtually any time students are going to be doing a presentation in front of the class, I invite their parents in to watch the presentation (and any others happening that day). Not only do they get to see their child speaking in French, but they understand my feedback after in a way they might not have otherwise. When I say, “It seemed like ________ was very nervous when presenting,” they know what I’m talking about because they were there.

Parents, in general, are very respectful of your students’ learning time. I’ve never had a parent try to speak to me after the presentations about their child’s progress or insist on staying. They come in, watch the presentation, and leave – but they leave feeling like they were involved in their child’s education.


Take photos of students working and share them with parents.

I love technology. I take photos of my students working on things and upload them to Google Drive, then share the photos with my students. They can show their parents the photos at home. They like seeing themselves – especially when they’re playing ukulele or doing drama – and parents like to see what they’re up to. Because Google Drive is password protected, I have never had parents be concerned about privacy, but they always have the opportunity to ask me not to share photos of their child.



Something I’ve started this year is what I call my “AMA” or “Ask Me About”. Lots of teachers do this and it’s a GREAT way to get parents to ask their children about what’s going on at school. On our agenda board, we have “Ask me about…” written permanently up there. I change it every few days (not every day) to reflect what we’ve been learning in class. Last week we learned about prepositions in French, so one day it was “Ask me about… les prépositions.” When we started learning how to play the ukulele, that was our AMA.

The AMA is great because it gives parents a specific question to ask instead of asking their child, “What did you do at school today?” Kids can’t respond with, “Oh… nothing.” Parents know that if it was the AMA, their child should be able to tell them about it. If he/she can’t, there’s a problem. Not only does it engage parents, but it helps me to know if there are any major errors in understanding, because parents will come back and flag it for me if they asked their child and he/she said, “Oh man, we were doing that today but I have NO IDEA what we were doing.”


Communication is vital. You want parents to know what’s happening in the classroom. You want parents to know how their children are doing. Nothing should be a surprise – not the topics being studied in class, not their child’s progress, not whether or not their child is enjoying something. Invite them in. Chat with them in the hallway or when you see them after school. Engage them.

When parents are invested in their child’s education, their child is a lot more invested, too… whether they like it or not!