Friday, February 12, 2010

Improving Parent-Teacher Communication

Parents are the most valuable players in a child's education. What they do to support a child's learning can have a tremendous impact on his or her success in school. Yet this is one relationship that often struggles to get off the ground. Parents and teachers both have a variety of past experiences, sometimes negative, that can make them apprehensive about contacting one another. Ultimately, the child loses in this situation.

In order to facilitate clear communication between both parties, it's important to outline expectations. Here are some guidelines that I've pulled from my (very-much-still-under-construction) classroom website.

What I expect from parents...

1. Honor our limited instructional time. We have a tremendous amount of material to cover, and the year will go by quickly. Please make sure that your child arrives to school on time each morning. Also, if at all possible, please try to avoid picking up your child prior to dismissal or scheduling appointments during the school day.

2. Maintain regular communication. You are the most important partner in your child's education. I try to make myself available at all hours, and I'm happy to provide multiple methods of correspondence. If, at any point, you have a question, concern, or comment, please do not hesitate to let me know.

3. Talk to your child about school each day. Find out more about what topics are being studied and make positive connections with your interests and experiences whenever possible. Children are more motivated when they have adult role models that share similar interests with class material.

4. Provide a structure, space, and routine for completing homework each night. At a minimum, your child is expected to read 30 minutes every night. You can check other homework assignments and information elsewhere on my website.

5. Enforce a regular bedtime. Children need far more sleep than adults, and interruptions to a normal sleep schedule can sap a child's energy during school.

6. Read with your child on a regular basis. Children benefit from both listening to adult readers and reading to an adult. Consider sharing a favorite book with your child or reading a new book together.

7. Visit the public library. The public library has thousands of children's books in multiple genres and far more resources than we have available at school. A public library card is free to you and your child, so please sign up and visit at least bi-weekly if you don't already.

8. Encourage your child to take responsibility for his or her learning. While I provide multiple sources for information about school events, upcoming assignments, etc., your primary source for information should be your child. Monitor your child to make sure that he or she is recording all assignments, preparing for tests, and completing all homework. You'll quickly learn that I am not the type of teacher that provides "busy work," so it's absolutely vital that your child stays on top of all assignments. Work together to create a schedule for larger assignments and projects.

9. Get involved. There are several different ways you can become involved in your child's education, and it sends an important message about how much you value school. Join the PTA and attend meetings. Volunteer to help in our classroom before, during, or after school -- there are always projects that could benefit from an extra set of adult hands. Don't be shy about seeking out these opportunities. I'll regularly update or classroom calendar and the link How You Can Help to notify you of upcoming events.

10. Respect my time. I am more than happy to accommodate your schedule to ensure that you can attend conferences and stay involved with your child's education. If you make an appointment for a conference, especially on an official parent-teacher conference day or significantly before or after school, please notify me as soon as possible if you'll need to reschedule. It's very frustrating to me when I stay late after school or turn away other parents requesting specific conference times only to have a parent not show up. I don't mind rescheduling, but please notify me in advance so I can make the most productive use of my time.

What you can expect from me...

1. Regular communication. I send home a weekly newsletter that describes several class activities, major assignments, and important dates. I will also be updating this website and our class calendar with homework assignments and important events on a daily basis. When events happen in school that merit your attention -- both positive and negative -- I will call or email. My preferred method of correspondence is email because it helps me keep track of everything, but I'm more than happy to discuss matters on the phone or in person as well. I want you to feel well informed about what's happening in our classroom, and if a method of contact isn't working out for you, please let me know.

2. Transparency in grading and expectations. I will update your child's grades through the online parent portal at least once a week. When major assignments are coming up, I will provide study guides, checklists, and/or rubrics to inform you about how the assignment will be evaluated.

3. Meaningful assignments. I want learning to be fun, yet challenging. I see textbooks as important resources that can support our learning, but they're not the primary source for our learning. As a result, students are often given assignments that draw on other resources and materials. They'll be doing far more reading and writing tasks and problem solving activities than worksheets.

4. Respect for individual learning styles. I work very hard to create assignments that are appropriately challenging for all students. I recognize that some students may need more or less time to learn something, and students learn things in different ways. I try to offer many different learning opportunities that address these individual needs. If, at any time, you feel like your child's needs are not being met, please talk to me so that we can revise our plans.

5. Prompt feedback. I'm typically able to grade tests and quizzes within 24 hours. Projects, especially ones that involve student writing, require about a week. Homework assignments vary. I don't grade every homework assignment. Sometimes I grade for accuracy, other times I grade for completion. Students won't know in advance how their homework will be graded because I want them to treat all assignments seriously.

6. Accessibility. I value any opportunity that I can get to have parents involved in education. If the parent-teacher conference schedule doesn't meet your needs, I will be more than happy to arrange another time to talk. I can be available before or after school. I'm also open to teleconferencing by phone or Skype in the evenings. I make my contact information available because I want you to feel comfortable using it. Feel free to call me on my cell phone any time before 10:00pm. If I'm not available, I'll call you back as soon as I can.

Teachers: How are you communicating expectations to parents and building their support? What ideas need to be added to this list?

Parents: What other kinds of information would you want from your child's teacher? What more can/should be done to help you get involved?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Anticipating a New Year

As I've mentioned before, I'm not teaching this year because my husband's job caused us to relocate to another state for 10 months. (Well, a year, but I'll only be there for 10 months...). I'm using the time to finish my master's degree. But now, as it approaches the time for me to get back on the job market, I find myself increasingly anxious to get back in the classroom and prepare for next year. Assuming that I return to my former school (which seems likely), I have a good idea what grade level I'll be teaching and what the curriculum will entail. This definitely makes my early preparation easier.

Based on what I've been working on so far, here are some suggestions for how to prepare for a new teaching assignment:

1. Familiarize yourself with the teaching standards. I'll be teaching in Georgia which uses the Georgia Performance Standards.

2. Pick a content area, and read everything you can get your hands on. In my case, I'm incredibly interested in literacy, and I've already amassed an enormous book collection on topics related to reading and writing instruction. I'm poring through those as fast as I can to enhance my expertise on the topic. When I get tired of that topic or feel like I have everything well mapped out, I'll move onto another subject area.

3. Make to-do lists as you read and write yourself reminders. It's only February now, and I won't be in my classroom until August. That's too much time to remember everything! I'm using the web-based program Remember the Milk to make my to-do list.

4. Don't wait to write lesson plans. If you come across something that you want to use later, write it up! Even if it's vague or missing specific details like which text you'll use for the mini-lesson, those details will be easy to fill in later on. It's better to at least get something written. I'm using Evernote to organize my ideas. As I come across interesting lesson plans, I put them in a new note and tag them with the standards that seem relevant to the lesson. Later, I'll be able to sort my ideas by standard to find what I'm looking for.

5. Start building your Professional Learning Network (PLN). I've been pleasantly surprised by the interactions I've had with other educators on Twitter, and I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of the amazing learning communities at Two that I'd strongly recommend are The English Companion Ning and The Educators PLN.

6. Immerse yourself in children's literature. If you're going to be an expert on reading, you need to know the content as well as how to teach it. The great thing about children's books is that I can read them much faster than adult literature, so it's less of a challenge to read several.

7. Be at peace with the idea that no matter how early you start to put things together, you'll never be able to get everything done before the children arrive in August/September. Every year I try, and every year, I don't quite get there. And I've never met a teacher who does. There will always be one more book/poster/chart/project/manipulative that I want to read or make, but until I become superhuman or learn how to stop time, it probably won't happen.

Teachers: Are there other suggestions that you have for things to do in anticipation of a new school year when you're still several months away from the start?
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