There is a lot of hate in our world today, and many of feelings and situations can manifest themselves in our classrooms. It can seem hard to combat at times. This past year at my high school was rough. I won't go into detail, but after multiple tragic events parents were scared to send their kids to school. As teachers we had to make sure our classrooms felt like a safe and inviting place to be. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. First, don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. I couldn't get caught up in the fact that I was falling behind in my curriculum, and absences were through the roof. It wouldn't do me any good to keep on teaching without taking a time out and discussing what was going on with my students. They want to know that you understand what they are going through, and that we were going to all get through it together.
Another thing that I have found to be helpful is to find a service related project that all the students can rally behind. As students work together on a project that is meaningful to them, they will be strengthening relationships between their peers and building a classroom community. I was inspired by the Mr. Rodgers quote that I kept seeing on Facebook: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my Mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." I wanted to find a way for my students to feel like the helpers and not the victims. One project that I'm going to have my students work on next year is centered around the website water.org. They are a non-profit organization that helps bring clean water and sanitation to people in countries that are in desperate need. I'm having my students get into groups and create a fundraising proposal on how they would like to raise money that can be donated to water.org. They will have to come up with an idea that is feasible (for example, they can't decide to sell t-shirts when we don't have the money to get them made in the first place). Classes will vote on the best proposal and then put it into action. Check out the lesson plan I have created for FREE available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
How often do you communicate with the parents of your students? It can seem overwhelming to make contact with parents all the time, especially as secondary teachers. We have 5 times the amount of students as elementary, and we can't stick a newsletter in their backpacks in the hopes that Mom or Dad will find it. My first year teaching high school I taught squirrely freshman, and it seemed like I was on the phone every day for an hour after school contacting parents. That got tiresome really quick! Over the years I've found quick and easy ways to communicate with parents that won't keep you at school an extra hour.
1. Interactive Notebooks- Many teachers are already using interactive notebooks in their classes. Students put a lot of time and effort into those notebooks, so why not make sure parents are checking in on their work! Each quarter give your students a page to glue in for parent checks. It could be a simple chart (see pictured) that allows parents to sign off and leave a comment if they wish. It is a great way for parents to start a conversation with their child about what they are learning in class.
2. Remind (Formerly known as Remind 101)- This free website has been my #1 form of communication with students and parents. This is a website that allows you to send announcements and reminders to students and parents phones. You can use the website, but I prefer the app on my phone, as I can send reminders wherever I am. The reminders show up as a text message, but the beauty of this site is I can’t see the student’s phone numbers, and they can’t see mine (it shows up as a random telephone number). Big test tomorrow? Remind students what they need to study for. Field trip tomorrow? Remind students what they need to bring. It’s literally as quick as sending a text message. New this year is a chat feature, which allows students and parents to respond to your messages and chat back and forth.
When I create new classes each year, I create a class titled “parents” and a class titled “students” so way I can differentiate my messages. When you create the classes it will give them a unique code they use when they sign up. I have the codes ready on a flier to hand out at open house. I also have the codes listed on my classroom website (more on this in a minute) so if you missed open house, you can still get the code. Parents love to be “in the know” of what is going on at school, and this day in age people always have their phone by them. It’s a win-win!
3. Class Website- Many district websites have teacher pages that teachers can post to. The question is- how effectively are you using it? A few things to add to your website make it effective- a calendar with important due dates, links to important resources (such as an online textbook and internet tutorials), codes for your Remind account, and anything else that will help students be successful in your class. On my calendar I post what we did in class every day. It took a while for me to get into the habit, but once I did it only takes a minute or two to update. If a student is absent or a parent wants to know what we are learning about, all they have to do is check the calendar. I know teachers that post their power points and even answer keys to assignments on their calendars. Be careful that you aren’t posting anything that is copyrighted, as you can get hit with fines.
4. Grade Checks- As technology advances, it is getting more and more common for districts to use grade books that parents can check online. Make sure the link to the grade book website is visible on your webpage. If parents don’t have internet access, another great method of making sure parents see grades is by requiring a parent signature on their progress reports. Yes you will get a few forgeries, but for the most part students will get them signed. When I first started teaching I used to only require my D and F students to get signatures. I changed that for two reasons- first, it was a headache to keep track of who required a signature and who didn’t. Second, it is good for the A and B students to get some recognition for their hard work. One of my colleagues even writes notes on them, like “Sarah is doing awesome in class, and deserves those new shoes she was asking for.” The kids feel special, and parents appreciate getting positive notes, not just negative ones.
5. Emails- I know what you are thinking; I promised quick forms of communication at the beginning of this blog post. Don’t you worry- this won’t take you long. Back to my squirrely freshman…. I had many students that constantly got calls and emails home for their negative behavior. Those calls aren’t fun for the teacher, student or parent. They are a total downer. So why don’t you send an email home for the times they have good behavior? This is what I did to save time: open up Microsoft word. Next, type up a generic note to parents that you could use for multiple students. Something like “I just wanted to let you know that Tommy did awesome today in biology class! He was on task and got all his work completed. I would love it for you to recognize his good behavior! I appreciate all your efforts at home that help make him successful at school.” Now click save. You can copy and paste this into an email and change the name out for different students. I had 5 or 6 different ones that I could select based on the student and situation. Let me tell you- when a typically rowdy student gets positive praise sent home, they will start to work wonders for you! Students were happy, parents were happy, and teacher was happy. Try it. It’s worth the 5 minutes it takes to send that email.
What other ways to you communicate with parents? Leave a note in the comments!
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