Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do You Know How To Inform Parents Quickly and Easily?

Do You Know How To Inform Parents Quickly and Easily? by A Word On Third


When families know what is happening in your classroom and understand your class culture, a lot of great things happen. Student achievement increases, but you are better able to support kids as a parent-teacher team too. Communicating effectively and often shows parents how much you care. But what exactly do parents want to know? According to Edutopia, parents want to know:

  • Updates on their child's progress or insight on how they improve.
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping. 
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year. 
  • Homework and grading policies.
  • Information on their child's behavior (including how their child gets along with others).
  • Curriculum descriptions, information on instructional programs, and updates about changes in these areas.
  • A calendar of events and meetings.
  • Information on student safety.

That's a LOT of stuff!!! Edutopia has also published a great article called Parent Communication Toolbox, which lists many tools to help teachers communicate effectively. Now, social media can be used to accomplish a majority of the items on the bulleted list above. So many teachers are using social media to share about students now. What a change from when I was a kid; teacher webpages were only starting to become a thing!!

Social media can be great because it helps students to become good digital citizens... but it worries me too. Once something is on the internet, it's on there forever! What if a child doesn't want to be found on the internet (or their parent is against this)? What if you want to use a class Instagram account, but your school district prohibits it because it's not private?

ENTER SEESAW.


I LOVE THIS TOOL! This amazing app let's me have the best of both worlds--it's an educational social media platform that teaches students about leaving a digital footprint... but in a safe, private way. So, head on over to www.seesaw.me and check out what all the fuss is about! First, you'll need to register. Tell SeeSaw that you are a teacher.


And then you'll want to create an account! Use your school email address and get started. It'll only take you 30 seconds to create your actual account. When you open up your first account, you'll see a very short tutorial made of 3 pictures. The tutorial just explains that SeeSaw is a teacher-controlled, online, student portfolio. Once you click through all 3 pictures, you'll see a button at the bottom that says "Get Started." Click it, and your next screen will look like this:


Type in your information and grade level. Click on the green check in the corner of the screen when you are done. If you have more than one class, that's OK! You can start by creating one class and make some more later. 

Now it'll be time to think about how your kids sign in. SeeSaw allows for easy sign-in by using QR codes. You just print the QR code out and post it on the wall. Students will use it when they want to post onto SeeSaw. You could also have them log-in if they have student email addresses, but I definitely think the QR code is faster.

Now, type your students' names in. I prefer typing in only first names (and adding last initials only if needed). I got a little goofy while writing this post and decided to add all 4 of the Beatles and my 2 dogs into my sample class. If you forget a student or get one mid-year, it's really easy to edit your class from your settings panel. I'll show you that later. I recommend adding one fake student to show your students how to use SeeSaw. I named my fake student "Puddleton" after our class mascot. I made our first SeeSaw posts under Puddleton's name when I taught the kids how to use the app. You're going to need to spend a little of time teaching kids how to use SeeSaw! More on that later, but trust me that it's useful to have a fake student account in your class! Don't forget to click the green check mark when you are done! It will be gray if you aren't ready to click ahead yet, but once you add one student, you will be able to click ahead.



Now you're set up! WHAAAAT!? Yep, it's that easy. Here's what your home screen will look like (plus some extra doodles!). Play around and see what you find. It's pretty easy to follow.

Whoo-hoo! Now you're ready to go. The last thing you'll really want to get familiar with is your little Dashboard. I don't know if that's what it is officially called, but that's what I'm calling it. Click on the little round button in the top left corner that has your initials on it. Then you'll see a new menu pop up on the left. There are a lot of features and options on there for your to explore. Here's my quick version for you!



If you want a free month of SeeSaw Plus (which has extra premium features), click on my affiliate link here! We'll both get a free month!!! Pretty cool, right??

Now... what kind of stuff do I post?

Each day, I post at least one video or photo. I also have the kids post them too. I post to share the kinds of things we are learning in class. Doing this helps families to see the language I use when teaching, student expectations and the language they use, and, of course, it shows our learning objectives. Here are some times I find myself posting:
  • Students turning and talking or any active engagement portion of a lesson during Reader's or Writer's Workshop.
  • The share or closure piece of a lesson when students restate what they learned as a class or in partnerships.
  • Any time my whole class or part of the class is debating (like during a book club or a read aloud).
Basically, I post whenever the class is working together during partner, small group, or whole group time. Sometimes I'm sure the parents can hear me coaching or prompting in the background, but that's OK. That's how our class is! Usually I try to step back and let the kids be independent. Luckily for me, this is a great chance to re-watch what my kids are doing later--I've actually used information from the SeeSaw posts to plan for small groups.


This is the screen that pops up when you click on the green plus sign to add a new item. As you can see, it is SUPER user-friendly. It has to be, because the students need to be able to work this app too!


Try to make the students responsible for posting! 

In my class, each child can post whenever they are particularly proud of something they accomplished. I sometimes have to provide additional structure for a few kids so they don't become off task due to SeeSaw, but most of my kids do not have a problem with this. If a few do, you may want to try telling them they can only post once or twice per day, or only post during the last 3 minutes of a class period. I also have times in which I encourage SeeSaw posting. During arrival when students have unpacked or during the end of the day during dismissal are both great times for posting if the kids have been thinking about what work they want to show off during the day.

Each week I also have a student assigned as class photographer. This is usually one of my most popular class jobs! This student is responsible for video-taping and/or photographing the exciting things in class. If there's a cool or unusual thing happening, students can either post directly to SeeSaw, or if they might lose out on learning time, they can take a quick picture or video and upload it to SeeSaw later. Class photographers are responsible for explaining what is happening in the video or photo with a grammatically correct caption.

SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!? This is the coolest tool ever for showing parents what kind of learning is going on in your classroom!!! Click below to try SeeSaw out, and get yourself a free month of SeeSaw Plus too.


Once you're ready for more, check out this awesome post I found about some more specific ways to use SeeSaw in your classroom from Mrs. Beattie's Classroom! I am going to try using SeeSaw to help my students practice their fluency starting tomorrow! Click the picture below to see some other ways to enhance engagement with SeeSaw!


Monday, February 13, 2017

6 Secrets You Need To Know To Conquer Hard Parent Conferences

Navigate a tricky parent-teacher conference with these awesome tips from A Word On Third!


It's tough to survive parent-teacher conferences.



Especially the ones which require you to deliver hard news. 


You want the families of your students to know that you are on the same team. Sometimes it doesn't matter how great your intentions are - sometimes, parents DO NOT want to hear what you have to say! Who can blame them? It's hard to hear someone say something negative about your child. This is what makes many teachers fear those hard parent-teacher conferences. I certainly used to. I remember those feelings of dread and anxiety that would linger in the pit of my stomach all day until the conference, sometimes remaining even after the conference.

My hope is that this post will give you the confidence and structure you need so that you can conquer any fears you might have when it comes to holding those hard parent-teacher conferences. I also hope these tips will help you to disarm parents (and maybe yourself too!). These secrets of mine will help you to run tricky conferences smoothly, but they are also just good practices for any conference. They will help you to communicate effectively with parents.

Throughout this post, I'll be referring to an example of some hard news I might need to share with a family so you can see these secrets in action. For the sake of this post, let's imagine that I need to tell David's mom about a serious, repeated behavior, which is that David is not treating his classmates well. He uses unkind words and excludes them. I'm also going to assume that you have about 20 minutes for a scheduled conference. If you have more time--that will only make this easier for you!

The first thing you'll want to do is head over to my store and download my FREE parent-teacher conference template. This will help you to plan your conference effectively.

If you downloaded this before, I've updated this product in my store! You might want to go back to re-download it.

If you already have a template that you prefer using, great. Get it out! When you are about to have a tough conference, it's important to prepare. You want to do this because it helps you stay on track, manage time effectively during the conference, and conveys to families that you know and care about their child. It's so important that parents see that--especially if you're about to have a difficult conference.

If a parent requests a conference, I recommend responding with, "I'd love to meet. What specifically do you want to discuss? I want to make sure to be prepared." There's nothing wrong with that, and it allows you to be prepared and feel confident that no surprises will come your way!

1. Connect with the student's family members as individuals before diving in.

Everyone attending the conference deserves a warm greeting and to be asked how they are. Maybe it sounds like common sense, but sometimes we can be "all business" and forget about these things! If you know something going on in the family that you can comment on (like a vacation or new pet), ask about it to break the ice.

I suggest that you sit in a circle when discussing things with families. The same way we meticulously arrange furniture and desks to have an inclusive feeling in our classrooms, we must make sure parents feel included and equal in conferences. When parents and teachers sit across from each other at a table, it sets a subtle tone of the teacher being the authority figure. No bueno! If you can't sit together at a round table, sit at the corner of a table so that you are next to each other rather than across from each other.

2. State the purpose and format of the conference.

Maybe it sounds silly, but it provides structure for your conference and allows you to stay on schedule. Here's what I might say.
Today I'd like to talk about what I'm noticing David doing in the classroom. I'll start by sharing a few academic observations, and then I'll spend the majority of the time talking about David's social development. During the conference, I will share David's strengths and the goals we are working towards also. I'm hoping you'll stop me to ask any questions you may have along the way. Does that sound good to you?
I like asking family members if that is OK with them so that they feel involved and empowered. It also allows you to re-adjust your plan and devote some time to specific parent concerns if needed.

3. Share strengths and goals.

This is so darn important! No matter how good at a particular subject a student is, he/she is still working on SOMETHING. Similarly, if a child is really struggling in a particular area, he/she is still great at something! It's important to share these. I find parents really appreciate a little reassurance when discussing goals, especially if their child typically performs above grade-level. If you are used to hearing how amazing your child is, and you never hear any feedback about what your child should be working on next, wouldn't that make you a little worried? That's why I like to prepare families for this ahead of time.


Ok, so so far, all of the 3 tips I shared for you should be present in ANY parent-teacher conference, challenging or not. The following 3 tips are extremely important in the more challenging conferences, and I find they can make or break the success of the conference.


4. Share delicate information tactfully!

Think about why you are sharing the tough news. No matter how many reasons you have, one of them should be to help your student improve. If you are angry, you need to reframe your perspective until you can find a productive reason to share this news. I like to share tough news this way:

  1. Start with a specific compliment. ("He does so well," is not the same as, "He does so well during class conversations because he participates often. The class benefits from hearing his ideas.")
  2. Objectively state the behavior you are concerned about. (Bonus points if you have reached out about this issue before--you can refer to prior contact, and what parent wants to be blind-sided by bad news?) Share any consequences you have already observed happening as a result of the behavior.
  3. State why this information concerns you.
  4. Give a different specific compliment. (Compliment sandwich much? Remember, these compliments must be genuine.)
  5. Ask the parent if he/she sees this at home and request any helpful input he/she might have.
This approach really prevents parents from becoming aggressive or defensive as much as possible. It shows parents that you are not attacking their child and that you still see positive things in their child. It conveys your concerns respectfully, sensitively, and the objectivity you used gives you credibility. Similarly, by remaining objective, you are also showing concern over a child's chosen behavior rather than discrediting their personality. Let me show you what this might sound like in action now...
David has been showing off his amazing work ethic each day. He always makes sure to complete his classwork. I can tell how much he cares about doing well in school because he puts so much effort into each and every assignment he completes and he checks it over before handing it in, especially in science class. His written observations during science experiments are extremely detailed. There is something I have noticed (insert time frame here) that is concerning me. David demonstrates difficulty with treating his classmates respectfully. He sometimes chooses to use unkind words with peers and excludes them from recess games. For example, I know we previously discussed another incident in which David called another student names in class. Also, yesterday David told two classmates that they were not allowed to play a recess game with the group he was playing with. When David and his two classmates came back from recess, I helped them to settle their dispute, but David said he was still upset afterwards. As a result, he was distracted during science class. He only wrote one observation, though I regularly see him writing at least 4 or 5 observations during most experiments. I also noticed that those same two classmates he excluded from the recess game told him that they did not want to work with him during a group project and avoided working near him for the rest of the day. When David chooses to use unkind words with classmates, I worry that it is impacting his ability to maintain friendships. I know fitting in is important to David, and I don't want him to find himself struggling in social situations due to this behavior. I also know that David will show more growth academically when he is not worried about these social issues. (Notice how I objectively brought up how a social issue could impact academics? I recommend doing that too!) I really enjoy working with David, and I don't want to see these things happening to him. It is clear that it upsets him. He is a capable worker, and I know he cares about his school performance. Have you seen anything like this at home before?

5. Listen to and validate family members' feedback.

Now it's time to listen. No matter what judgements you have made about a family member, you can learn a lot about a student by listening to the family members' feedback. You can learn about how family members address this behavior, what the family members value, etc.

I also recommend asking the student's family member what strategies he/she uses to deal with the behavior that seem to work best for your student. Remember, you only know this child better than the family member does in the school setting. Your student's family member knows your student better in every other setting! Sometimes children act very differently in both settings. It's hard to believe, but it's very true. Sometimes you will see more positive choices and sometimes you will see more negative choices than the family members do.

Now, just to cover our bases... if your conference gets too tense or aggressive despite your best efforts to be sensitive and respectful, it is okay to end it. As a matter of fact, you should. You can always finish the conference at another time with an administrator, case manager, guidance counselor, etc. present. You could also invite the administrator ahead of time if you know the conference will be tricky (but make sure to inform family members ahead of time so they don't feel ambushed or ganged up on). However, if you are following these tips and you are working hard to communicate with families throughout the year, it's going to be very, very rare that you find yourself in an aggressive conference. 

6. Make an action plan.

Assuming the family member is on board and you have successfully delivered your hard news, now it's time to think about what you've heard. Do you need to make a behavior plan? Do you need to communicate more regularly? Do you need to schedule a follow-up conference? Make a plan with the family member and stick to it! How are you going to help this child solve this problem? You might not know right away, so you might decide to reach out to each other in another week to see what ideas you have generated.


                  

If you're looking to improve relationships with families, I recommend checking out the above posts on fostering a connection with family members. It's always easier to be proactive than reactive. When you have an existing relationship built on trust, parents see you as an advocate for their child instead of an adversary. Just click on each picture to be taken to another blog post.

What are your tricks of the trade when it comes to running a tricky conference? Share your best idea that has saved you grief below!!