Posts Tagged parent engagement

What Message Are We Sending In Our First Contact With Parents?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

As we start a new school year, one of the key aspects to consider is our relationships with the parents and families of our students.

In the past year, not only have I had reflective conversations with parents and educators about moving to a focus on communication WITH parents (rather than communication TO parents), but I have also discussed preschool and kindergarten beginnings with close friends as well as people in my family.  I have heard personal stories of parents being told by the school that their child is “not ready for school” or is “a constant problem”.  I have also heard of wonderful school:family relationships being built from the first moment they meet – teachers that have made that effort to focus on the positives, empathize, and truly listen to families as they share stories about their child.  The experiences of those that have been there and those that are nervous about getting there all say the same thing: the first contact that is made from teachers and the school to the families is crucial to developing a positive relationship.

These conversations lead me to reflect on the question, “What message are we sending in our first contact with parents?”

Are we:

  • sending a list of forms to be signed and rules to be followed?
  • calling to tell them about a negative incident with their child?
  • meeting them to do a formal assessment on their child (ie. kindergarten or preschool assessment)?
  • meeting to discuss the deficits their child has?
  • telling families how to parent?

OR

Are we:

  • sharing who we are and opening up a conversation about us and their child?
  • calling to share something positive or just talk about the child?
  • meeting them to just get to know the child and the family?
  • calling to share some noticed strengths and interests of the child?
  • developing a relationship in which there is open communication between the school and the family?
  • determining the best way to meet parents where they are for communication?
  • listening to families about their thoughts and feedback?
  • working to build trust?

I realize that in elementary school classrooms, in which students often have only one teacher, it is much easier to develop relationships with families.  This does not mean, however, that because I am a principal or a high school teacher and have more students that I do not try to develop positive relationships with our families at the start of the year. Each contact we make with our families is an opportunity to foster an important relationship.

For me, I will continue to learn from families and staff at Kent on how important this first contact is in forming relationships.  I will work hard to be visible and present with students and families and initiate positive dialogue around our students.  Many of our families come to school nervously “giving their baby” to us… and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, there is a lack of trust. We must work hard to build this trust through listening and engaging in positive, open conversations with our families.

I recall a parent whom I had a very positive relationship with say to me, “I remember the first time you walked up to me… I got nervous and thought – what did my kid do?”  She went on to state that when she went to school, it was NEVER a good thing when the principal called or approached.  Other parents chimed in saying how nervous they get when they see the school’s number on the call display.  This feedback from parents shows how we have to work to overcome the perception that a contact with the school is a result of a problem; we must have a balanced authentic communication of celebrations, sharing of information, and concerns.  This balanced communication all starts with the effort to create a positive first contact with parents.

As my friend Heidi Hass Gable reminds us, “although educators have often taught and worked with parents, students, and curricula for a number of years… we have to remember, that parents are new each year.  This year is often the first time they will have gone through this grade or subject.”  She encourages educators to be patient, empathetic and understanding to parents (she understands this can be challenging and also encourages parents to do the same for school staff).  So if we approach parents as new to us this year, what will be their first impression of our class/school? How will they feel after our first contact?

Although ongoing communication WITH parents/families helps the school, the students, and the families… it is also important that at this time of year, we work hard to lay the foundation and make that first communication with families a positive one. It is also a great opportunity to share our story of who we are as teachers and to find out who our students are as children. Let’s share our stories and listen to the stories of our families.  Let’s work together as parents and educators to make that first meeting or phone call a positive, effective one.

As this is an area that many of us continue to work on, if you have ideas to share, I would love to learn from you – please take a moment comment and share.

Related Posts:

Power of Positivity: The Friday 5 Positive Phone Calls

Building Trust With Parents

Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

Thank you to my wonderful sister, my friends, and staff for sharing their experiences with me and helping me grow as an educator and parent.

 

 

Tags: , , ,

Building Trust With Parents

LISTEN. CC photo from http://flic.kr/p/8wdXrR

At Kent School we meet with a few different parent groups throughout the year and always get helpful feedback on how we can improve things at for our students.

Today we had a First Nation Honouring Ceremony for our kindergarten and grade 1 students so prior to this event, we invited the parents to come in an hour early to discuss education at Kent School (we have created a few First Nation Parent Groups based on previous feedback from parents).  We were thrilled to have over half of our students’ parents come in early.

We started the discussion with examples of how most parents ARE already involved in their child’s education and how some are engaged as well as explaining the difference between involvement and engagement.  I then demonstrated all the ways that families can use technology to become either more informed or more engaged with the school.

As with most meetings, I feel the most important part is the dialogue.  I spoke about how, although I believe school-family communication is very important to student learning, this cannot be done effectively without trust.  We wanted to hear from the parents about how the school can work to build trust in families so they not only feel comfortable coming to the school but also confident that they can speak about their child and feel they have been heard.

After some table talk, we asked the parents to share their thoughts.

  • A father spoke up first and said, “it’s simple… the only thing I ask is that when I discuss my child, LISTEN.  I have been part of schools that have constantly told me what to do but never listened to what I had to say.” [in my opinion, in addition to listening I think we (as educators) need to seek out voices of those who generally do not speak up]
  • A mother spoke up and said, “We know what our child cannot do, we want to hear HOW he is learning and what he CAN do – we appreciate when schools do this on phone calls, meetings, report cards… kids also need to hear this – that they have strengths and areas they need to work on”.
  • A mother stated, “If the school has to tell us something concerning, it is much easier to hear when it is sandwiched between some positives.”
  • A mother discussed how her work affects her involvement, “I feel so disconnected with the school because I work.  I know teachers work all day so I don’t want to bother them in the evening.  I like the idea of having other ways to communicate with teachers so we do not interrupt their time away from school… this would really help me. That way, I can stay connected to my daughter’s school better at times that work for me and the teacher.  I WANT to be connected in person, but working full time makes it tough.”
  • A group of parents said the like receiving the positive phone calls and comments (see post about Friday 5 Positive phone calls)  so they know that just because the school number comes up on the call display, it does not mean it is a bad thing.

There are so many reasons why some parents do not feel they have a relationship with their child’s school.  Policies and directives cannot build trust with parents; however, relationships can.  This is where we need to start.  Build relationships by LISTENING to parents and ENGAGING in dialogue around their child’s learning.

Too often, the education system tells parents what to do or makes judgmental statements that further disengage parents.  We all know that working WITH parents to increase involvement enhances learning in children.  A few parents and families from Kent School have spoken up and provided feedback on how to build trust…

Are we listening? 

Thank you so much to the families that provided feedback; also thank you to our passionate First Nation Support Workers who continue to work so hard in helping our school build relationships with our families.

Tags: , , , , ,

Using Tech to Meet Parents Where They Are

Some of the many ways to connect with families.

At Kent we provide many opportunities for parents and families to stay informed and involved in their child’s education.  Nothing is better than face to face communication but many times this is not possible so I believe it is important to provide a variety of ways that parents and families can both receive information and engage in dialogue with the school using technology.

As I have described in the post “Parent Communication: TO vs WITH”, schools need to use technology to not only provide information TO parents but to also engage in conversations WITH parents around student learning.  Social media, in which parents can leave comments and questions, can be a great tool for this.

Below is a list of the many ways that we use technology at Kent School to try to engage and involve parents by meeting them where they are.  Following the list is a screencast of the many ways that parents can use our blog as a starting point to access the many ways to stay (or become more) informed and/or engaged.

PARENT INFORMATION AND DIALOGUE

  • Parent Info For Kent Elementary Facebook Page - many parents are already on Facebook so we need to ‘meet’ them there. For my belief on why “Your School Needs a Facebook Page” click here.
  • Good Things At Kent Blog – this is our school blog in which we share all the events and day-to-day occurrences at Kent School.  For the past 3 years we have done a “10 Good Things To Talk About” each Friday (thank you to Yrsa Jensen, SD36 for the idea) and this year we have moved this to a blog format so parents can access this through their mobile devices and also provide feedback through comments.
  • Email – the majority of our parents receive email of any information but many still like to receive the paper version too.  Parents can opt out of receiving paper format here.  Teachers also use email to keep parents informed of student learning.
  • Twitter – our school is on Twitter (@kentelemschool) and the same info that is on Facebook is on Twitter but it is just another way to receive the info or engage in dialogue with the school.  Some of our teachers are also now on Twitter. NOTE:  When something is posted on the blog, it automatically goes to our Facebook Page which is automatically linked to our Twitter account (so there is not much more work in having the same information available through a variety of means).
  • Text Messages (SMS) – our school provides the option for families to stay informed of important events via text messaging (Remind101).  This is not a way to engage in dialogue but only a way for parents to receive info.
  • School Website – a teacher and his students run the school website.  It is used for coding and problem-solving with the kids and as a way for teachers to showcase student projects and provide info on what is happening in their classes.  NOTE: The Fraser-Cascade School District is moving to a more user-friendly, standardized format for school websites/teacher blogs so stay tuned.
  • Library and Principal Blog – our teacher-librarian hosts her own blog here that describes all the learning that happens through our school library.  She also uses it as a way to promote community and family literacy.  I also encourage parents to subscribe and comment on my blogs around my philosophies of education.
  • Contact the principal – my cell phone is available for parents to use to contact me via calls or text messaging.  (Thanks to Chris Kennedy and Darcy Mullin for the encouragement). I am also available through email, my direct line, and Skype (for those parents who prefer “face to face” but are unable to come to the school.

OTHER USES OF TECHNOLOGY SHARED WITH FAMILIES

  • Student Blogs – our intermediate teachers use KidBlogs to encourage connected learning with their students.  Parents will be able to read and comment on their child’s blogs.
  • Animoto - each month, a video compilation of students is created, shown to the students, and sent to parents.  Click here for an example.  Students also create videos of field trips, etc using this program.
  • Flickr - photos of students and events are uploaded to Flickr and available to parents.
  • YouTube – messages and videos of students at Kent showcased here – often using a private link.
  • Google Docs – used for collaboration with students, staff, and parents
  • Google Calendar – school calendar is updated and posted.  My calendar is available online and posted outside my office.

Here is the screencast I posted on our school blog on how parents can access the aforementioned tools to stay involved and/or engaged with Kent School (sorry for the monotone but my wife kept signalling me to keep my voice low as we had 2 sleeping babies :-) )

Nothing is better than face-to-face communication so families are always encouraged to meet with their child’s teachers.  If this is not possible, or preferred, technology can be a great option for families to connect with their child’s school.  We are continuing to learn in this area so if you have any other recommendations or comments, please share them below.

Tags: , , , ,

Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

Communication TO is not the same as WITH. photo from http://bit.ly/pvuhJa

As our school moves to attempt to add another stream of communication to parents via SMS (text messaging), I have been asked – “how many ways do we need to communicate with parents?”  Should parents not just try harder to stay informed of their child’s education?

My responses are twofold:

  1. We need to differentiate our parent communication so we meet families where they are.  Each family has a varied level of involvement and engagement due to time availability, access to technology, and ability to exchange in dialogue.  Some families have the social-cultural capital (non-financial social assets like time, education, confidence, etc) to engage in ongoing face-to-face dialogue with the principal, teachers and staff at their child’s school; others prefer to use technology (email, blog comments, Facebook, etc) to communicate while some families are content (or due to family circumstances, it is the only option) to receive information from the school.
  2. We need to be clear of the difference between communicating TO families and communicating WITH families.  There is a purpose for both but we need to be very clear that TO and WITH serve different needs for our families.  Communicating TO families is a way of broadcasting information while communicating WITH families is a way of exchanging in dialogue.

So with the understanding that we need to meet families where they are and we need to use a number of different tools to communicate both TO and WITH families, what are some ways we can do this?

COMMUNICATING TO – GETTING THE INFORMATION OUT THERE

  • newsletters
  • reports
  • announcements, newspaper articles and ads
  • emails, SMS
  • Website
  • Twitter feed
  • Blogs
  • Facebook Page

COMMUNICATING WITH – CREATING DIALOGUE

The key with parent communication is clarity of PURPOSE.  We cannot say that we communicate WITH parents effectively if we are not visible in the public and our technology does not encourage feedback and dialogue.  Technology is not a replacement for face-to-face dialogue but can be used in a way to increase the likelihood of these meetings through developing confidence and better school-family relationships.

Schools have traditionally worked to improve communication TO parents and families. In today’s system this is not enough. We, as educational leaders, need to increase dialogue and communication WITH families by not only making ourselves more visible but also by embracing the available social media tools to meet parents and families where they are.

 

Tags: , , ,

A Principal’s Map For Parent Involvement

I am pleased to once again have Sheila Stewart (@sheilaspeaking) write a guest post for The Wejr Board.  Sheila is one of my mentors on the topic of parent and family engagement in school.

Sheila’s perspectives and advice regarding parent involvement come from a variety of roles and experience in education and working with parents.  She is involved in local and provincial parent networks in Ontario, and she supports newcomer families with English language learning.  In the past 8 years, she has worked collaboratively with a number of principals and administrators to support parent involvement initiatives, consultations, and activities.  She recently presented to principal candidates on school councils and parent involvement.

A Principal’s Map for Parent Involvement* by Sheila Stewart

I think being a principal is an amazing and key role to have in education.  I also recognize the work load of principals—from managing the physical space of the school to the responsibilities they have to the school community—staff, students, and families. The responsibility of establishing parent involvement, outreach and communication strategies at the school will rest a large part on the principal as well.

From Davi Sommerfield http://bit.ly/orsLjF

Parent involvement has become a frequent topic of conversation in education lately with the many ways that it is analyzed, interpreted, and deliberated upon.  The visions for and expectations of parents in both their involvement in their own child’s education and in the broader context of school and community may also vary from district to district, and from stakeholder group to stakeholder group—each may want something different in what it looks like and in its outcomes.

So…where to start as new to the principal role, or new to a school?

From the system level (Ministry/Depart. of Ed./District/School Boards) the message may be that the kind of parent involvement to foster and focus on is that which increases student learning and/or specific “achievement” outcomes.  I am not sure there is a set of clear and certain strategies that can be used and measured, but not all should be at loss because of this and nor should parent involvement be dismissed.  I believe that the links with parents and families remain essential to supporting students.

The culture and climate of the school will become apparent quite quickly to a new administrator.  This is the context where a principal will need to navigate various avenues that are suitable to the parents and families of the school’s students.  It is important for principals to find a style that is appropriate to his or her school community, whether the school is large or small, urban or rural, elementary or secondary.  A principal who develops strong relationships with parents and parent groups, will have parents who are more likely to become involved in the school community, and this in turn will have a strong impact on the overall effectiveness and inclusiveness of the school.  The principal will be key in modelling and setting the appropriate positive tone and connections with parents.

As long as principals are familiar with their local policies and mandates regarding parent involvement and parent advisory groups, they should be able to create a suitable and flexible plan for the school community.  Parents will be diverse in the ways they want to be involved, and the best plan for parent involvement should honour this.  Policies and guidelines can be helpful, but there will always be realities to consider.

Before establishing a plan, a principal might want to consider the following:

  • Get to know the ways parents connect to the school currently (e.g. face to face, formal/informal, electronically, social media).
  • Take some time before moving forward with new plans—extra time may be needed to build relationships and trust to support changes you may want to make ahead.
  • Build on what is working well—lead through listening.
  • Help all stakeholders connect to the broader picture of education, while still maintaining that each student matters and has unique needs.
  • Create opportunities and spaces to understand and gain clarity about what parents need, what the comfort zones of involvement are currently, and what barriers exist.

A principal might also want to determine the following:

  • Are parents involved in authentic, engaging ways, or are they receiving mixed messages about the nature or pathway of their involvement?
  • Have parents been receiving information about the positive things and extra efforts that teachers/staff have been doing to support students and the school? (creates confidence and can inspire further support from parents)
  • Has the school demonstrated a welcoming approach and honoured the roles and expertise of parents in their child’s life and in the community?

Communication Comes First!

Regardless of the approach or plan, it will be important to establish clear communication plans and strategies—who, when, how, how often, what—between the school/principal and parents/community, between teachers and parents, and also the parent group with each other and the school’s parents.  Principals are ultimately responsible for school communications, so they need to be clear and strategic in all the various protocols that may be preferred by both teachers and parents. Steve Reifman also has a great list of suggestions on his blog, “9 reasons to communicate frequently with parents”.

It is also important that the school community is aware of how 2-way communications can occur.  This may involve a number of different ways, including electronic communication and/or social media.  Opportunity for 2-way communication often IS the parent engagement.  All else can flow from there, in a much more proactive and realistic way which may also reduce the need for conflict resolution.  On-going input and feedback from parents will also help inform a principal’s decision-making at the school.

Here is what it might look like as you proceed into the school year:

  • Parents who want to support from home will know that it is valued and will still have access to support and 2-way communication channels.
  • Parents who wish to help in the classroom and/or communicate with their child’s teacher will know when and how to do that.
  • Parents who are committed to and interested in the more structured and organized meetings and activities at the school will be valuable and vital for further connections and partnerships with families through shared leadership and outreach.
  • Parents who attend special events, read the school news and blogs will feel connected and will share the good news with others in the community.
  • Parents who cannot attend the school as often will know how to communicate with the school or teacher or parent group.

What is it all for?

Clear and understood channels for communication and an inclusive vision of the different way that parents will support kids should enhance the principal’s ability to facilitate partnerships and positive relationships within the school community that will ultimately support student experiences at the school.  Through various communication and involvement pathways, all parent participation can be valued.  As valued and trusted participants in education, it is more likely that parent involvement will benefit principal leadership, teacher support, and student learning, as well as contribute to an inclusive, vibrant school community.

I hope this framework of ideas is useful and leads to discovering more effective and practical strategies that can be shared further.

*Note: at Kent School, we have a goal of “Family Engagement” as we realize that the support systems of many of our students extend beyond the parents. The ideas from Sheila will be applied to our goal.

Thank you to Sheila Stewart for her efforts and thoughts with this post.  As always, comments and questions for Sheila and others are appreciated and encouraged.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Your School Needs a Facebook Page

“Instead of worrying about the message your school is sending on social media platforms, consider the message your school is sending by NOT engaging with social media at all.” M. Peacock via Ferriter, Ramsden, Sheninger.

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine who has a strong online presence, Kye Grace (@kyegrace), and he encouraged me to use social media for educational purposes – both to connect with other educators as well as communicate to and with parents of students at our school.  I started blogging and created both a personal Twitter account and a professional account (my personal account eventually lost out to my professional account – thus the formal @MrWejr).

He also gave me an idea to create a Facebook Fan Page for the school.  He said that it would be a great way to communicate and share the great things happening at the school as well as a way to post interesting links, images, and videos.  At the time, Facebook in school was a bit of a frustration for many teachers and administrators so I pushed that aside for about a month to think about it.  A colleague and I were discussing Facebook and he mentioned that parents at his school had created their own Facebook Page for the school and were leaving some negatively toned comments on topics such as head lice and behaviour.   At that point I  decided to take (at the time) a risk and I created our “Parent Info For Kent Elementary” Facebook Page.

Parents immediately loved it.  I could post information and great things happening in classrooms at the school from my phone as the day progressed.  Some school and district staff were a bit concerned as to the conversations that would happen in the public domain (without their knowledge).  After some dialogue, thoughts and an experience with a post that would be better discussed in person, I disabled the Discussion Board.  I completely managed the messages on the page; only I could post while others could comment but I was extremely careful and moderated each comment.

Things have gone extremely well with our Facebook Page – parents love it.  We have grandparents and other relatives, former students, and community members (businesses, reporters, etc) that “Like” the page and therefore get constant updates on their Facebook Page.  It is THE best way to showcase the great things that are happening at our school.

I just finished reading “Essentials for Principals: Communicating & Connecting With Social Media” by Bill Ferriter (a brilliant and key member of my PLN and a teacher from North Carolina, @plugusin on Twitter), Jason Ramsden (a chief tech officer at a school in North Carolina and @raventech on Twitter) and Eric Sheninger (a high school principal in New Jersey and @NMHS_Principal on Twitter).  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK FOR ANY EDUCATOR CONSIDERING USING SOCIAL MEDIA AT THEIR SCHOOL.  The authors challenged me to be more transparent and increase the use of social media by stating,

While establishing strong lines of communication within the schoolhouse has always been essential for maintaining focus and for building momentum toward shared objectives, communication beyond the schoolhouse has become more important than ever.  Faced with shrinking budgets and constant scrutiny in today’s accountability culture, public relations has quickly become a new priority for principals.  After all, informed communities tend to care more about their schools. (p.5)

…Principals who take the time to respond honestly to teachers, students, parents, and community leaders in the digital forums they have already embraced will soon find that they are building communities of enthusiastic supporters who feel connected to one another and to their local schools for the first time. (p.10)

…We have to be willing to open ourselves to criticism and to interact directly with important stakeholders in order to be taken seriously. (p.10)

Following the reading of this book, I opened our Facebook Page for others to post as well as added the Discussion Board.  We may end up with some controversial topics on there but my feeling is that these conversations are already happening and I would rather the school be a PART of this important dialogue.  I will still continue to moderate and encourage face to face dialogue to happen in the schools.

We need to break free of the communication that we have used in the past and move to one that encourages dialogue and two-way communication between parents, educators, students, and community members.  Through social media, we will get a better picture of what we are doing well and what we need to do better as a school.

If your district bans social media tools, it is far overdue to have this critical conversation around its use because, as the authors of the aforementioned book quote A. Mac, “in just a few years if you haven’t adopted social media in a significant way you risk shutting out the best and most powerful communications channel we’ve ever known.”  Not only is it important for educators to connect with others via social media, I believe schools NEED to connect with ALL interested stakeholders with a school Facebook Page.

Obviuosly there are some precautions to take when using social media as a communication tool for a school.  For more info on this as well as Twitter and other social media tools, order the the book “Communicating and Connecting With Social Media”; there are some great handouts, letters, and useful resources to overcome these hurdles.

Thank you to Bill, Eric and Jason for challenging and leading our thinking around the use of social media in schools.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Pondering Meetings: Who is at the Table?

Originally posted at Connected Principals blog.

While reading Carol Dweck’s “Mindset“, I came across this great quote from Lou Gerstner:

“Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of position.”

By Richard Rutter http://bit.ly/jRWxgJ

By Richard Rutter http://bit.ly/jRWxgJ

Dweck also adds that from the view of the “…growth mindset, it is not only the select few that have something to offer.”

How many meetings do we have per year that do not include the voices those that have something to offer? Students? Parents? Support staff? Teaching staff?

How many decisions are made without those who the decisions have the greatest impact (ie. How many decisions are made about teaching that involve those that do not teach)?

It is time we move away from the traditional structure of admin meetings and staff meetings to a model of learning conversations that include those who choose to be there and those that want to see action (similar to the movement toward EdCamp model for professional development). What if, instead of a certain number of staff/admin meetings per year, we lessened those and added meetings that were open to engaged parents, students, community members and the dialogue focused on a specific area of interest?

Can we move away from the hierarchical structure to one that welcomes the voices of those that choose to be there – those that are engaged and want to see solutions – and away from the structure that includes only those with certain positions?

I would love to hear from any people that have changed the traditional structures of meetings in their school/district to a model that works to flatten the hierarchy and include more voices of those that “can help solve a problem, regardless of position”.

Tags: , , , , ,