Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Your first interaction with parents has to be a positive one! They may have heard through the ‘grapevine’ of other parents, teachers or students the kind of teacher you are. firstimpressionYour job is to confirm their already positive opinion of you or to win them over despite what they’ve heard. In reality, Open House may be the only time you have parents for face-to-face communication – make the best of it!

Open House/Meet the Teacher Night is the perfect place to start.  To ensure things go smoothly, begin getting ready for open house before school starts. Once pre-planning begins there are other things that will compete for your attention, so start early!

Put together an informational packet for parents that also has a questionnaire. Include questions about parent expectations for the year, things that have worked well/haven’t worked well in past years, what mode of communication they prefer, do they have skills/interests that could enrich your class. Parents are more than willing to give you information about their student. By asking, you are letting parents know that you too are interested in their success.

Put together a class handbook, include portions of the school handbook but add classroom specific information. studenthandbookInclude a bit of personal information about yourself so you create affinity with parents. Brag a bit on your qualifications; it is reassuring for parents to know that the teacher likes school and continues to learn and hone their craft. Let parents know what you will be doing to ensure the safety of their student. 

If you have an open house where you are expected to make a presentation, use pictures from the previous year of engaging lessons, classroom activities, lunch and the playground for a presentation. Video students talking about something they are studying. Include slides that spell out the class expectations.

Let parents know that they can expect you to communicate with them. Talk about your newsletter and what kind of information it will include. I’ve found that a newsletter every 2 weeks is plenty. If you send it each week, it just becomes noise and unimportant. If you send it with graded classwork, it’s more likely to be read.

An innovative idea that I’m intending on starting this coming school year is an electronic newsletter via QRC code. My hope is to pass out a QRC code at Open House for parents to scan, then update it with newsletter items for them to read. I’m not even sure if that exists but some version of it might!

In general, parents want to be involved in their student’s education. Have a list of in-class and out of class jobs they could do. Give parents an index card with a few questions they can ask their student after the first day of school.  firstdayFor example; What was the best part of the day?; Was there anything that was hard/challenging?; What was easy?’; What are you looking forward to this year?.

 

 

All in all, parents want to know several things that you can address at the open house:

  • Parents want to know that you expect their student to be successful. Tell parents how you plan to accomplish that very goal.
  • Parents want to know the important things. Be organized and prepared! Rehearse what you will say to parents at open house. Don’t waste their time.
  • Parents want to know how they can help. Give suggestions on how they can volunteer both in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

All Aboard the Technology Train

If you are age 35 or younger, you can stop reading this post now:  This post is written for us “old fogies,” especially those of us who have come to use computers late in life.  

If you’ve been teaching for 20 years or more, you may be surprised how tech savvy your students and their parents really are.  Most parents with elementary age kids were born in the mid-80s or later, and have spent most of their lives with access to laptops, the Internet, and digital tools.  They aren’t intimidated by it, and in some cases, they expect you to use technology to reach them.

If you’ve been resistant to get on board the “technology train,” rest assured, you can learn.  I am half a century old (!) and have learned to embrace technology out of necessity, and then out of appreciation.  After I got over the initial hump, I began to learn that most technology is relatively easy to use, once you start.  Just getting going is half the battle.  Use YouTube as a resource.  There are fantastic tutorials online there (and in other places) to show you how to get up to speed quickly.  A peer or friend can show you too, but I’d recommend the “hands on” approach.  You’ll learn more quickly and completely if you’re the one making the mistakes and being forced to figure things out.  If you get stuck, simply Google your question, and an answer is probably a click or two away.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, technology is a great way to involve parents.  Using email is certainly an essential mechanism, and it has the most privacy controls, but social media has a wealth of potential too.  computee.JPG Create a class Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account (or whatever the latest social media fad is by the time you read this post.)  Students can even get involved in creating or sharing content (as long as you monitor their activity.)  If you think videos could be fun and effective, consider setting up a class YouTube or Vimeo channel.  Please note: for any social media projects or online activities, it’s important to get parents to grant permission or sign a general release.

These ideas also create a unique opportunity for parental involvement and volunteering.  A busy professional may not have time to volunteer in the classroom during the day, but putting in a few hours during their off time to update your Facebook page or add pictures to your class blog is a wonderful way to get them to participate.

Once you’ve established your communication outlet(s), you can use them for these and other ideas:

  • Send updates to parents about class activities, special announcements and upcoming lessons.
  • Research and suggest apps for parents to download for students to use.
  • Send an article or link to parenting tips on blogs and online publications.
  • Record lessons or special activities and upload to your video channel; send links out for parents who aren’t able to attend.
  • Set up a Shutterfly, Flickr, Google Drive or Instagram account share pictures.
  • Learn to create QR Codes to make it easy to share links and connections.

To make it easy on less-savvy parents, you can always print out copies of the information and send it home with the kids or through traditional means.  

Squad Goals

The life of an elementary teacher can be a lonely one.  In some schools, a solo teacher may be the only adult in their classroom and have little access to others.  If she or he is lucky, an assistant or college intern may spend some time in the room.  But it’s not uncommon for them to be the only adult in sight for hours at a time. New teachers, take note:  Being proactive in building a “squad” is an essential task.

Your “squad” should be a diverse support team assembled to make life easier, provide encouragement, and keep you sane when the stress of teaching builds.  squad

Look for immediate support in the form of other teachers (in your grade level and out) and the key staff members at your building (custodian, secretary, technology, nurse, counselor, cafeteria workers, etc.)  Sharing ideas and getting feedback is an obvious benefit, but just having friendly coworkers to chat with about life and outside activities is just as important.

Developing friendships outside of school is crucial too;  having a safe and objective listener to hear your concerns is vital.  This helps you avoid the temptation to “vent” to your fellow teachers or parents.  Those conversations are dangerous; they can quickly escalate into negativity, gossip or insubordination.

Develop a healthy and proactive rapport with parents.  You don’t want your first interaction with a parent to be a discipline issue or a discussion over a child’s poor performance.  Create consistent and positive touch points where you engage with parents early and often. (I will be posting more suggestions about this in a future blog post.)

At times teachers build a wall between themselves and the administration.  They see the Principal as the “enemy,” and prefer to keep their distance, believing that “out of sight, out of mind” is a smart strategy.  Working to include administrators on your squad may be tough, but it can have great rewards.  If your administrators are receptive, here are some ways to include them on your squad as well:

  • Ask the Principal or Assistant Principal to suggest some times when sending students to the office is most convenient.  During these times, you can make a regular practice of having children share their writing, journal entries, artwork, or special projects.  If a student is struggling in an area, getting help from the Principal or Assistant Principal can be helpful, and in some ways, it might even be a refreshing change of pace for someone whose days in the classroom are in the past. Administrators have things that come up unexpectedly, but for the most part, they are happy to set aside time for brief student visits.
  • Ask your administrator to come and read a story or share an experience with your children. This will not only make them feel closer to you, but it will also help reduce the intimidation factor for your students.  They will also have a chance to better understand what you are teaching and have an appreciation for your classroom management skills.  (And you probably don’t want your Principal’s first visit to your class to be during a formal observation, do you?)
  • If you have special occasions when parents or grandparents are “guest starring” in the class (like career day or a child’s birthday party), you might reach out to your Administrators to sub in for a parent whose work schedule prevents them from participating.  Being the ‘honored guest’ of those children helps build their self esteem. (The same tactic can work with other members of the staff too.)

Ask administrative assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers or counselors to visit your room regularly too. Students see their faces every day but they may rarely interact with them. Having them share with your students is a great way to open your classroom to a new world and build positive relationships.  Other adults in your school might be able to reach and impact a student’s behavior in a positive way that as the teacher you are not able.