I strongly believe that as teachers, we can’t teach in isolation. The home, the school, and the community need to be working together to really help students learn. I’m constantly reminded of this when I interact with Aaron Puley: a fantastic educator and parent and student engagement consultant for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
Over the years, my approach to parent engagement has changed. When I started teaching 11 years ago, I used to send out a monthly newsletter to parents. I still do. But this used to be all that I did. I told parents what was happening in the classroom, but I didn’t get them involved. Slowly, these monthly newsletters changed to website updates, and then eventually, emails and blogs. These latter two options started to get parents more actively involved in the classroom. They have a voice now. Parents comment on blog posts. They email me their thoughts. They even take part in classroom polls using a free service like Tweetpoll.
And then came the most low-tech, and maybe the most meaningful option of all. I started calling parents every week or two. The phone conversations aren’t long, and sometimes I just leave a message for them, but through these phone calls, we’ve been able to really talk about school. Parents share their observations with me. I share what I’m noticing in the classroom, and we often set “next steps” together. Students benefit when we talk.
Calling parents also tells parents that I want to talk to them. It makes them aware that their opinions matter. And this is so important, as no matter how many hours I see the students at school, parents know their children best. Sometimes even the smallest insight can have a profound impact.
These past couple of weeks though, I’ve really realized the benefit of strong home and school connections. Just the other day, I was talking to a mother about a great presentation that her daughter did in class. I mentioned that her daughter really applied the feedback that I gave to her. The mom started to chuckle a bit, and mentioned that every time she practised at home, she asked her mom and dad for some suggestions on how to do better. Then she used these suggestions, presented again, and asked for more ideas. In class, we’ve been working a lot on descriptive feedback, and it made me smile when I realized that this child applied what she’s learned in the classroom to her conversation with her parents at home. In her own way, she’s teaching her mom and dad about descriptive feedback, and best of all, she’s getting them involved in the learning process. Awesome!
Then there’s the parents that have started emailing me videos of their children applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to activities that they do at home. One mom even mentioned to me that her son taught her how to use the tools they had at home to record the video. She’s so impressed with how comfortable her son is now with using technology, and how he really does use it as a learning tool. He’s also teaching his parents new ways to use technology as well, and now all of them can learn together. It’s videos like these ones that make me happy:
So as we get closer to the end of the year, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the amazing parents in my classroom. Thank you for working with me to help your children learn. You teach your children every day, and you’ve helped me teach them better.
For the teachers out there, how do you bridge the gap between home and school? What are the results? I’d love to hear your stories as well!