Teacher Tips To Communicate With Parents – And Vice Versa

Teachers, how do you communicate with parents? Are you leveraging pro-active communication, or waiting until ‘something happens’ to make your first contact (definitely not ideal). I know a large part of the education workforce is comprised of ‘digital immigrants’, but with a little time and motivation, all teachers can (and should) utilize technology to increase communication with parents and students. It’s definitely not too late to start this school year. Here are my eight favorite ways for teachers to communicate with parents (and students) – let me know if I’ve missed one that you use, and which way is your favorite! And parents – what tools do you use to connect with your child’s teacher, and how do they reach out to you?

Still smiling after a long week of teaching!
Still smiling after a long week of teaching!

Teacher Tips To Communicate With Parents

  • Email – This is the easiest way to start communicating with parents. If your school doesn’t collect email info at registration, consider asking for it on a take-home handout, or better yet, create a Google Form (see below) and ask for it. I know teachers who send out weekly updates, communication when they start a new unit, or only email at grade reporting time. I personally like to send out proactive, positive emails at the start of the year to build my relationship with parents before anything challenging happens. Teachers can even keep documents with scripts they use on a regular basis as a template. Email is perfect for beginning digital immigrants!
  • Weekly progress reports – As an AVID teacher, I require my students to utilize a weekly progress report that they take to their teachers for information about their grades and citizenship. They also set goals and track their GPA. This year I’m going to experiment with using Google forms for students to enter their data and then share with their parents. I think a running record of grades, citizenship, GPA and goals would be a great conversation starter for dinner table conversations, and by sharing it with parents, we would ensure they have seen the most current information about their child.
  • School Data Systems – My school uses School Loop for grading and data, and I’ve found that updating the assignment calendar weekly and entering grades bi-weekly really has made grading conversations much more proactive and meaningful. For big assignments, I quickly enter a ‘0’ if not turned in on time; this reminder has really helped increase my turn in rate, and parents appreciate the timely feedback. I do educate my parents at BTSN about my turnaround rate for grading, and let them know that it’s not up to the minute. I remind parents to use School Loop as a conversation starter, and to have their child follow up with me (rather than the parent taking me on) so we can resolve any confusion.
  • Remind – Knowing that teens respond much more readily to texts than email, I began using the Remind.com system to send communicate reminders about assignments, due dates, or just to send encouraging messages or digitally share relevant materials I come across when I’m not teaching. I love that Remind doesn’t require the sharing of phone numbers – it’s a free service that allows subscribers to send/receive text messages. Set up and subscribing are easy – and teachers can set office hours, too!
  • Social Media Facebook/Instagram/Twitter – Since social media is such a part of our society in the 21st century, why not harness its reach and use to communicate what’s happening at school? I know many teachers and counselors who set up Facebook pages (separate from their personal page) to share relevant material for their students. Parents love to see what’s happening in the classroom – why not set up an Instagram account for your class and post snaps of lessons, activities, and field trips? Twitter is a fun way to showcase what’s going on at school, too.
  • Websites – Blogs are a fun and easy way to communicate both informational materials as well as showcase student work. WordPress and Blogspot offer free blog space, as does Google Sites. If your school site doesn’t offer you a website, try using a blog to start one for yourself. Kidblog is another fun tool for student blogging. Digital portfolios are gaining in popularity, and I’ve set them up with both Google Sites and by creating shared folders on Google Drive – quite a few of my teacher friends use Seesaw and love it. I’ve also used YouTube to post and share class videos – you can set your channel to private and just share links with parents, too.
  • Google Calendar – I love all things Google, and Google calendar is an awesome way to communicate with parents. I use it for scheduling conferences by creating a separate calendar and sharing it with families. Google calendar is also great for scheduling and communicating about field trips and special events, as well as for setting up guest speakers.
  • Skype, Google Hangout – Once you’re comfortable with utilizing tech for communicating with parents, you could rely on Skype or Google Hangout for virtual conferences – it’s a perfect (and free) tool that could help you meet with parents who have trouble making it to the classroom during the school day, or could help teachers with their own small children find a more convenient time to meet with parents. There’s nothing better than face-to-face time, even if it’s virtual!

I’d love to hear your ideas for communicating with parents and teachers in the 21st century – please leave your favorite methods in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on The Educator’s Room.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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STEM in Education and The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

If you haven’t heard, STEM in education is all the rage. Training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is our 21st-century challenge in schools, and all educators are responsible – even English teachers like me. According to the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, “Employment in occupations related to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels.” In the next decade, STEM jobs are projected to grow more quickly and pay higher than any other type of employment- many in technology.

And that’s my job – helping to produce young adults who are educated, confident and employable in the new work force, preparing them for jobs that are likely not even in existence right now.

No big deal, right?

Wrong.

STEM in education

After 25 years in education, I’m learning a whole new way of teaching kids to read, write, speak, listen and collaborate – crucial skills for this generation of future workers. It’s not easy. It requires dedication, time, and an ability to open my mind to new ways of thinking – just like we’re asking our young men and women to do when they study STEM subjects in school. It’s not just about becoming skilled in math and science, however, learning how to think critically and communicate effectively are necessary skills for workers who will have to collaborate on long-term projects and communicate their findings upon completion.

Teachers like me need to help this generation advance STEM in education using the tools we have available. We need to train teachers to use technology in the classroom and how to step away from the teacher-dominated lectures towards a student-centered inquiry-based class. We need to encourage kids to develop grit and determination, and how to explore the ‘what-if’ and ‘I wonder’ questions rather than bubbling in a predetermined multiple choice answer. Our

This is no small task, to be sure.

One way teachers and parents are able to encourage kids to develop a love for STEM in education is through The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier science competition for grades 5-8. Through the program, young inventors have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work closely with a 3M Scientist Mentor, compete for $25,000, and earn the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist.” The mission of the Young Scientist Challenge is to foster a new generation of American scientists at an age when interest in science generally declines. In 2008, Discovery Education teamed up with 3M, one of the world’s most notable innovators – to cultivate the next generation of problem solvers and give students an opportunity to receive mentorship from 3M scientists.

How the Challenge Works:

• Call for entries is currently open through April, 20, 2016. To enter, participants must submit a one-to-two-minute video describing the science behind a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem.

• Judges evaluate the entries through April and May based on creativity, scientific knowledge, persuasiveness and overall presentation. Videos will not be judged on production skills and may be recorded on cell phones or basic digital cameras.

• Ten finalists are announced in the summer. These participants will be challenged to develop their innovations that positively impacts lives (including them, their family, their community or the global population). The students will participate in a mentorship program during which they will get the opportunity to work one-on-one with renowned 3M scientists as their mentors.

• Each finalist will also receive a trip to the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn., to compete at the final event in October 2016. The grand prize is $25,000 and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a Discovery Network taping.

• Since its inception, the Young Scientist Challenge has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in student scholarships and prizes, paired students with world-renowned scientists to give them real-world insights and delivered much-needed resources to millions of students, teachers and families across the country. Previous winners have met the President of the United States, addressed Congress and been featured in Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30” list.

• The 2015 winner, Hannah Herbst of Boca Raton, Fla., created an energy probe prototype that seeks to offer a stable power source to developing countries. She entered the contest because she wanted to help her 9-year-old pen pal living in Ethiopia who lacks a reliable source of power and electricity.

Other recent winners include:

o Sahil Doshi, 2014, who created a battery cell that uses carbon dioxide and other waste materials to help clear the atmosphere of greenhouse gas emissions. His project was spotlighted in the U.S. State Department’s Exhibit at the UN Conference on Climate Change, and he presented his project to President Obama.

o Peyton Robertson, 2013, who created a more efficient sandbag to reduce salt water flood damage. Peyton has since received a Notice of Allowance on his first patent.

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge:

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, including submission guidelines, tips from previous winners and complete rules, please visit www.youngscientistchallenge.com. Submissions will be accepted through April 13, 2016.

 This is a sponsored post on behalf of 3M. All opinions stated are my own. 
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34402227@N03/9080098737 via photopin (license)
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34402227@N03/9080098737 via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Travel with mamawolfe: Language Helps Us Share Who We Are

Nicaragua girls

I’m in a bit of culture shock, actually. I’m still thinking in Spanish – which is quite strange for someone who really doesn’t speak the language. In Nicaragua, communication was quite a struggle for me.

Sometimes I’d try to speak, and it would come out an odd mixture of Franglish – a twisted concoction of my college level French, mixed with years of listening to Spanish, and topped off with my native tongue. It scrambled my brain.

My kids say it takes them about 24 hours to reset the language switches in their brains from English to Spanish, and after that, their fluency takes over. Aside from the copious amounts of slang Nicaraguans use, as well as the dropping of the ‘s’, they manage to communicate quite well. They definitely shatter their ‘gringo’ appearance when they open their mouths, much to my delight.

One of the first nights we were in Nicaragua we walked to the nearby internet/phone cafe to make a few calls home. As my three teenage daughters and I entered the small room, we were greeted by a handsome young man behind the counter. I kid you not – he took one look at us, turned slightly to the side, and began slowly taking off his t-shirt to reveal his well-toned upper body. As the four of us stood there dumbfounded, I quickly gathered myself and whispered, “Say something in Spanish – he needs to know you understand him before they start making fun of us!” Quickly, the girls regrouped and asked to use the phone in impeccable Spanish, and he smiled and let them into the booths.

Walking home that night, I thought about my comfort level in Nicaragua. I’m basically at the mercy of my children to communicate for me, which is an interesting place to be. In Nicaragua, I’m much more comfortable being an observer. I can pick up enough of the conversation to act, to do something, to get to the right place, but to truly jump in and get to know what people are thinking, feeling or believing is nearly impossible for me. It keeps me at gringo status. It forces me to trust, to rely on someone else to do my talking.

To have my voice.

For someone who has worked so hard to find her voice and learn how to use it, that’s a little unsettling. My lack of language keeps me on the outside.

One day at the worksite things weren’t going so well for me. In the space of about 30 minutes I had fallen on my butt and dropped a heavy wooden sifter down my leg, leaving a huge, bloody scrape. I was hot, tired, and worried about what accident would happen next. Perfect time for a walk.

I set out down the road with Cameron and Niki, just hoping for a diversion from my looming injury. While I walked off to take a photo, Cameron struck up a conversation with a young man feeding his pigs. Curious, I walked over and started listening. I couldn’t follow much, and Cam kindly started translating about the beautiful cows in his pasture (well fed and bred for plowing the rocky fields) and the hungry pigs, who were being fed the milk left over from something or other.

Nicaragua pig farmer

We wandered down a path and caught a glimpse of a distant view. At Cameron’s urging, we started down the steep trail and soon stopped at a beautifully manicured yard, the dirt carefully swept and red hibiscus bushes in bloom. While Niki and I snapped photos, Cameron called out “Hola” to an old man sitting on his porch. With that one word, we were welcomed into his home and given a tour of his beautiful yard. He told us how he had lived there 50 years, and his wife proudly shared the fine construction of their home.

Casas Viejas, Nicaragua, family

After a few photos, the man told us to keep walking down the path for a view. Just as we were leaving, another young man spoke to Cameron in Spanish and asked us if we had time for a walk, and he would take us somewhere special. Cameron agreed, skipped after him, and Niki and I scrambled to keep up.

 Casas Viejas, Nicaragua

We walked through a community we didn’t even know existed, past well kept homes and smiling Nicaraguans. We were the only ‘gringos’ for miles.

Suddenly, we stopped at the edge of a cliff. The most breathtaking view awaited us, and we were speechless.

 Casas Viejas, Nicaragua  Casas Viejas, Nicaragua

Cameron continued his conversation as we snapped dozens of photos. Our guide pointed across the valley, and said he wanted to take us there. Again, Cameron agreed and we tagged along.

 Casas Viejas, Nicaragua

We wound up here, at the private watering hole for the community. We felt incredibly special to have this behind-the-scenes tour.

 Casas Viejas, Nicaragua

Walking back to the work site, I realized that without Cameron’s fluency we wouldn’t have had that experience. We would have snapped a few photos of the house and maybe, hesitatntly gone down the path a bit more. could I have said hello like Cameron did? Of course, but did I? Of course not. Would I have allowed myself to be led into the community alone, not understanding where I was going? No way.

To think of what I would have missed.

Sure, with my Franglish I can buy a Fanta or a pair of earrings. I can even get the kind of beer I want, and get myself to breakfast on time.

But I cannot ask why I need to drink the Fanta out of a bag. Or why I can’t take the bottle of beer instead of the can, or how Enrique prepared our delicious breakfast meal.

I can just smile and say, “Gracias”.

Language = power. Language opens doors, makes friends, and connects us. Language gives us a voice, enabling us to break down the outside and get to the good stuff – the gooey, sweet inside that makes us who we are. I’m so glad I got a taste of that.

Lily and her Agua Fria, Nicaragua brothers.
Lily and her Agua Fria, Nicaragua brothers.
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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