How Do You Keep Parents Informed?

Teacher Workload

Sometimes, I think teachers must be those people who thrive on stress.  There should be some official category for this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. How else do you explain the existence of an estimated 3.2 million teachers who stand in front of classrooms with coffee in hand, a plan, and a smile? Maybe it’s hitting me harder this year because I am lacking the conference period and I find it a struggle to keep smiling for six periods and then once the last student leaves, find time to do THE REST OF MY JOB. Admittedly, unless a child is proving to be a behavior problem in class, parents are generally not high on my list of must-dos for the day.  However, as a special education teacher, I know that the parents are critical in the success of my students.  Therefore, I have found the only way to keep parents involved is to PLAN for parent communication.

Schedule Email Time

The only way I will communicate with parents is to write it into my weekly plans. Even with this, I am only contacting parents about every six weeks, but in doing this, I open the door so that parents know they can also contact me.  My plan is fairly simple:

  • Every week, focus on one class
  • Email the parents of any student receiving a D or lower
  • Send out POSITIVE emails
  • Use canned responses

At first, I debated about whether or not this was worth sharing on a public forum.  But if I were to tell the truth, my first years as a teacher involved very little parent input.  Perhaps most teachers find  parent communication a natural part of the profession–however, I struggled with this responsibility for years.

Canned Email Responses

This year, my school enabled Gmail and canned responses is an amazing option that saves me time each week.  Before this, I simply had canned responses saved in Docs and I cut-and-paste my responses fairly quickly.

Enabling Canned Responses in Gmail
Creating a Canned Response

In following this simple plan, I have increased parent engagement throughout the past year and I’ve been able to utilize an enormous resource (parents) for my students.

How do you keep parents informed?


How the Internet Transformed My Teaching

The Problem

After so many years of teaching, I was stuck.  Students were still awesome, but teaching was not the Shiny Dream I had imagined. for some reason, I thought the teacher’s lounge would be this central location where you went before/after school and at lunch.  People brought their work there, graded, joked around (very intelligent jokes) and created this sense of camaraderie that made any of the unavoidable, awful teaching moments bearable.  There would even be a vegan table where we traded the best cookie recipes.  In some of my dreams, there was funky music, and in others, Miles Davis filled the air with restlessness and innovation.

Much to my dismay, I found teaching to be a lonely and isolating experience. I spend the majority of time in my room, grading, planning, writing IEPs, just trying to complete paperwork. My Teacher’s Lounge is in reality the Staff Bathroom where I see the same fellow teachers at the same time and we talk about our weekends of summers in this bizarre setting. I usually walk out smiling or laughing. On my high school campus, with over 100 teachers, there just isn’t time to be social, or truly collaborate and become a better teacher.

The Solution

For my sanity, and the for the sake of my students, I needed to find something to fill the ever-growing void I was feeling daily. With a sudden burst of courage, I joined a Twitter chat: #aplitchat. First of all, this may seem like an unusual choice considering I teach high school English in the special day class (SDC) setting.  However, I think most teachers recognize that good teaching practices are just that, and these practices work with all students, and they can even work for a vast range of  grade levels. Secondly, it DID take courage because I was completely a novice at using Twitter.  I had been following people for quite awhile, but I’d never used it as a platform for engagement.  Honestly, I don’t remember the topic of my first chat; however, I do remember a feeling of being accepted where I was at with technology and my teaching practices.  Furthermore, I found educators who expressed openly the same feelings I was experiencing.  Finally, I found new inspiration and people who still continue to challenge my teaching pedagogy.

Soon after that first experience on a Twitter chat, I found #cwpchat which is associated with the California Writing Project. These were people who I know, or know of through the Northridge Writing Project who have similar attitudes as myself in regards to teaching writing.   Due to these two ongoing chats, I am now able to pop-in on any chat on Twitter and participate and more importantly, gain new ideas and approaches for the classroom.  Since then, these forums have allowed me to continue to grow as an educator and also bring innovative experiences to my students.

Even if you’re not ready to participate in live conversations, there are amazing thinkers to follow on Twitter, and many of the likewise have blogs that can inspire you for the entire year.

Some of my favorites:

Who inspires your thinking about your teaching practice?