Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Simple Communication

I'm in my 14th year of teaching. There are a lot of things I have worked hard over those years to hone, reflected on to improve, strived to perfect, but in all that time I have stunk at communicating with parents. I know that part of the reason is concerns about a language barrier. Many of our families do not speak English, or only speak it a bit, so phone conversations can be a challenge.

One thing I've done for several years is send postcards home to my students. Several times a year I will write to each child after they've had a great day, worked really hard at something, or done something extra kind. I will mail the card to them, knowing that their parents will see it. I think that's my greatest success when it comes to communicating with families.

Sadly, that doesn't seem like enough after all these years. I have a daughter in school and I know, firsthand, how important it is to hear from the teacher about what is going on with kids. It has been, for a number of years now, a goal to improve in this area and it has continued to remain stagnate.

Yesterday we were exploring fractions and trying to understand what the top and bottom numbers mean. It started slow but before too long several students were really digging deep, asking great questions, and noticing important things. We're not fully there with fractions yet but we made significant progress yesterday thanks to these kids.

These were not the kids one would have expected this from. I was astounded by their perseverance and their deep thinking. So as soon as they all went home I got on the phone. I left two voice mails (I hope the parents get those messages - phone numbers change so often for our students it's impossible to be sure) and talked with one mom. When I identified myself to her I could immediately hear her resignation and preparation for bad news. I told her what a great job her son had done and she said, "Really?" We continued to talk and the change in her was immense. She is not accustomed to hearing good things about this child.

That's on us as a school. He is a student who struggles with self-control. He has trouble staying focused on just about anything. However, he is smart and funny and has a ton of potential. I hope his mom knows that just because he is her son and she knows him. I hope we haven't colored her picture of him so significantly that she can only see the challenges.

My new goal is to make three positive phone calls home each week.Stating it here will make it just a bit harder to ignore. (Plus, I think it's possible the intern working in our room will read this and then I will have to stick with it!)

I want parents to know that we see the wonderful things about their children. If they already see those things it will simply reinforce them. If they are having trouble seeing those things maybe my words will help them focus.


Angel Read said...

I love your idea of sending post cards home as one way of communicating... I bet the kids love getting mail, and its something they can save forever and be proud of! :D

Jenny said...

Angel Read, I started doing it because I know I love to get real mail, versus all the junk, so I figured that must be true for kids too. I've had kids bring them in the next day to show me - as if I might be surprised - they'll say, "Ms. Orr, you sent me a card!" It's a great way to start a day.

ClassProf said...

Jenny, a great post for all educators. It's always easy to fall into the habit of communicating bad news but forgetting to tell parents when their child does really well.

I am inspired by your ideas of postcards and personal phonecalls.

Good job!