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 (http://taylor2s.blogspot.ca/2014/03/it-is-certain-you-will-love-these-games.html) 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.

Reading in Kindergarten

Literacy is woven into our day. We do not have “literacy centres”, but we do have learning centres that include literacy. We have shared reading, independent reading, formal writing times that look like a Writer’s Workshop, and purposeful writing that happens around the classroom such as writing cards, letters, making books and recording observations.

There is no “language block”, instead language is used in our morning circle to share our feelings and connect with one another. It is used during read a-louds to teach conventions of books, visualization, sequence, and voice. We learn how to spell familiar words and we learn how to use rich language to describe and express our ideas. Books are connected to our math lessons and science inquiries. We share books that enjoy reading over and over again, and we read new books on the computers and listen to stories using BookFlix.

When I started my new classroom in September, there were limited literacy resources. I acquired a variety of picture books from family and friends and I used the books from our school library to fill the shelves and reading bins. To organize the books, we designated one display rack for hardcover books and another for softcover books. I remember the day that we discussed how to tell the difference. Even now, some children knock on their book to determine which shelf it should be returned to. This also provides a daily opportunity for sorting – see how literacy is never a stand-alone in Kindergarten!

One of the first things I noticed was how rough the children were with the books. It took months of reminders and practice for the children not to throw the books, step on them, or pull at them and rip pages. You would assume that by Kindergarten children would know how to handle books, but for many children in the class handling the books in a gentle and respective manner was not familiar to them. To assist in their practice, we modelled then asked the children to “close your books gently, carry them like a cake, and place them face out on the appropriate book rack”. Now the children are much more aware of the condition of the books, and often come to me with concern that a page has ripped or torn, and ask that it be fixed with tape.

Back in September, there were no (maybe a few) levelled readers for the Kindergarten classrooms. This was the biggest concern for me, as I believe in the consistent use of levelled books to develop readers in the classroom. Through the suggestion of an instructional leader, I was able to order paper copies of what are considered replacement books and use these for a book borrowing program and for work with individuals or small groups in the classroom. These books have been invaluable for my students. Although I do not assign homework in Kindergarten, I do set up a book bag program that allows children to take home a book at their level and write about their book in an accompanying journal. There are not assigned days to take or return a book, therefore it is a program that can suit the families and their schedules. I have some students who return their book bags every day or every other day, while other students may return their bag within a week or two. All of the SK students (and a few JK students) have moved up in levels, but most importantly they feel successful as readers. The levelled readers have not been a “requirement” of the childrens’ day or have they felt pressure to read. By providing them with a book at their level (mostly all at level 1 in September) they felt excited to take a book home and then felt successful because they could actually read it. This encouraged them to continue with the program and become independent readers!

 

 

 

 

 

Levelled books for Book Bag Program

Homework and Parent Communication

While reading the previous post by Samantha, I was thinking about my own students, the homework they do, and the requests or concerns from the parents regarding homework. In my Grade 1 and 2 classroom, there is a definite connection between homework and parent communication.

At the beginning of the school year, there was no assigned homework. However, unfinished work would often be sent home with the students for completion. One student in particular welcomed this opportunity, as she said her parents wanted her to have something to work on while her older sister was doing homework. Other students were rushing to complete their work so they didn’t have to take it home. This resulted in a large gap in completion time from the “rushers” and the “procrastinators.” Since it is usually the same groups of students, I have since been encouraging the rushers to go back and take a little more time, while encouraging the procrastinators to use their time efficiently and giving time for completion at the end of the day. All of this echoes Samantha’s comment about “the importance of differentiation in the classroom.” Not all students will need the same skill practice or review. Some just need more time, and others may need more support or practice.

I communicate to parents using our classroom website, emails, and the agendas – depending on the type of message I am sending. Every week when I write a journal entry on the website, I let the parents know what we are currently working on in class, for example addition and subtraction. I then provide an idea or resource for homework that the parents can use at their convenience, such as a link to an on-line math game or a game of concentration with sight words. For many of the parents it gives them concrete ideas for supporting their children in fun or interactive ways, without the pressure of completing a paper and pencil task while making dinner. I also review the children’s work during the day or when conferencing with them, and make a list of the students who may require more skill practice at home. By recording a particular task in their agenda, the parents are aware that this is specific to their child’s needs. Communication with the parents has provided a consistent extension of support from school to home. It has also helped when a student is distracted or having difficulty, and the parents are able to communicate what might be going on at home as an explanation. To be purposeful and effective, homework should be differentiated to the student or group of learners. At a Grade 1 and 2 level, good parent communication will support the learning at home.

Staying Connected

Similarly to Tina and Roz, I use different means of communication to stay connected with families throughout the year, mostly our classroom website, face-to-face contact, and agendas. It is difficult to limit yourself to one tool to suit the needs of all families. At the beginning of the year I send a paper newsletter and ask for email addresses to invite families to view our classroom website and receive updates from our weekly blog. This is a big hit in the community where I teach, as many parents like to get reminders on their mobile phones or sync our class calendar to their personal calendar. Most of the emails I receive are simple questions that require a simple and quick response, such as setting up interview times or confirming ad due date. Like Roz, if the request is something more delicate, I often call the parent and discuss the concern over the phone or set up a time to meet in person.

Since I teach a grade one and two class, I walk them each day to the outside door to meet their parents or sitters. The parents that I see daily or weekly can easily approach me with a quick question or I can provide an update without having to make time for the phone or computer. For example, I have a grade one student who has arrived in September with no English language. One or two days a week, her mother may ask me about something we have done in class that her daughter is trying to understand and has told her mother at home. With the mother there as the translator, we achieve quite a lot in a few minutes. These quick discussions are easier, more casual, and provide positive support for the student’s learning on a consistent basis (in addition to the support she receives in the classroom), which connects her learning to her home and family.

At my school, every student from grade one to six purchases an agenda in September. At first, I thought this was taking a step backward on my path to improve parent communication with the use of technology. Now, I realize it is just one more means of communication – not only between me and the parents, but it supports communication between the students and their parents when they refer to it together at home. I decided that if the children are all buying the agendas in my class, then we would make good use of them. So, when the students get settled at entry they first open their agenda and find the day’s date. We do quick math skills, talk about health and wellness while evaluating our feelings and assessing our exercise and eating habits for the week, in addition we use the calendar in the agendas rather than a shared calendar, and the students write reminders to themselves. I do not sign the agendas daily, but I do a quick walk around to either read, respond, or initiate a comment as needed. It has also helped with classroom management during the transition from entry to the time we meet together for our gathering circle. The children have learned to explore their agendas (agenda work), if my attention is focused on addressing a student concern or speaking to a parent at the classroom door.

Although keeping up a few forms of communication sounds like juggling balls in the air (and it sometimes is), it is the best way to meet the needs and include all families. By ensuring that you have communicated with parents about any concerns, your face-to-face communication during scheduled interviews will be easier for you and the parents!

Connecting with Parents

As the busy school year develops, parent communication is very important. All parent(s) want to know what his/her child is learning at school. Having a 5/6 all boys class made me find ways to involve the boys and open the communication for the family and to the school. To describe my class a little, it all boys with over half of my class on IEPs; 1 gifted, 2 HSP kids, 1 Aspergers, some identified LD and some still on the wait list for an assessment. Also, many boys have anxiety which some have been medically diagnosed and others are not. Agendas are a routine we are working to develop both for parents to read and for students to use them.

Communication I have used:

– started a bi-weekly newsletter, written by the students;

The writers are a job assignment and hands regularly go up to take on the job. I do give some content to include such as curriculum information, projects and areas of curriculum we are working on. The writers are able to add their content also and I do give a final approval. Once edited and published, I was impressed that the boys all took them home, not one was left in the classroom!

– meetings for IEP;

Most of my parents requested a meeting to develop the IEP so I had to find some time to meet with approximately half of my class. I scheduled all meetings with student entry time as an end time and gave parents 20 minutes to discuss the IEPs. This allowed me to meet with all parents who had requested a meeting, leaving me enough time to input the added information into the student’s IEP. I did keep in mind if parents had other concerns to discuss, another meeting would have to be scheduled.

– use of the agenda;

Many parents have asked for me to communicate through the agenda. At times, it seems like limited communication, I still take the time to develop a routine where students place their agenda on my desk and I initial every morning. I do not sign agendas at the end of the day as I am trying to help the students to build the routine of utilizing the agenda. I do give agenda time at the end of the day and write on the board the evening’s homework and reminders. The students are aware I will look at the agendas the next day therefore the routine is beginning to develop. If there is a need to write a note in the agenda at the end of the day, I do so.

– phone calls home;

Although there are limited phones and phone lines in the large school I am in, I have developed a routine. I take one prep period a week to make phone calls giving parents an update. I try to call every parent once a month.  If there are no concerns from myself or the parents, I start to give strategies to help with homework routine and learning skills. I also inquire about items getting home and inform parents about the class newsletter used as my way to keep parents updated.

– parent meetings;

Many parents have been calling to set up meetings. I am in an involved parent community; this is the norm in my school. Again, due to the early start of the year, I schedule the meetings with an entry time as the end point (i.e. 20  minutes before school or at the end of lunch). Some of my parents are colleagues and I do schedule those meetings for after school. All meetings have gone over 20 minutes but we are also discussing education related issues not just the colleague’s child.

– email;

I do not give out my email unless it is asked for. If parents do email me, my email reply consists of a simple acknowledgement of the concern and asking to set up a phone call meeting or face to face meeting to discuss the concern. Email is very easy to misunderstand and often I am in rush to read all my emails and do not have the time to finely craft an email response to a parent’s concern. If you do decide to use email, please save your email in draft and take another look, either a few hours later or the next day. Often, a discussion with an experienced colleague or time away from the concern gives us a different perspective.

 

What I have done are just examples of parent communication and have changed for me based on the school I am in or the students in my class. In some schools I have seen parents daily, even in upper junior grades, regular parent communication is quick. You have to do what works for you and your community. Most of all, remember to document your parent communication. Get some labels, print off a sheet with all the students name, record the parent communication and stick it on a paper in your communication binder.