Making Family Connections – mulitple methods

In early education, it is important to make connections and build relationships early. It’s obvious to any teacher that we should be doing this in our classrooms with our students but we also need to make these connections and relationships with our students’ families. This is an area where I am still growing.

This isn’t always easy. Some caregivers didn’t have strong or positive school experiences and tend to shy away from involvement opportunities. Some families don’t have access to transportation and need other access points into the school world. Some families may not be “traditional” and may not feel included in school life. I recently discussed this topic with my PLN in the #NCSnowChat

The general consensus was that we should use inclusive language, ask questions, and listen to understand. During this conversation, a few different methods for making those family connections came up frequently. The rest of this blog post will explore my thoughts on using different “tools” for making connections with families. Please chime in with your ideas and opinions in the comments below!

Seesaw/Dojo/Remind (fill in the blank tech tool)

I love Love LOVE Seesaw! It is my go-to for student choice. I love connecting with families on Seesaw and my students enjoy interacting with their families in real time. This year, Seesaw changed from a parent app to a family app and this subtle shift in name, with more inclusive language, makes their product more accessible to more families. Now, 10 family members can connect to a student’s journal and interact digitally. I encourage families to leave comments on their student’s work. The best comments are questions that students need to respond to. I partnered with Caitlin McCommons to give a Seesaw training to parents at our school. One of the resources we shared was a comment list. This gives parents ideas for leaving feedback to their student that helps continue the learning.

That being said, I think teachers need to be careful relying on these tools as a method of communication. I say this as a teacher who used Remind to communicate with families on a daily basis! Using technology tools creates stronger connections with SOME families but is not always accessible to ALL families. Think about it, does every family have a computer (no), does every family have a smartphone (most likely), does every family have internet access (no), does every family have data cell plans (no). You can argue that they can go to the library or so many places have free wifi. Go for it. BUT, would YOU go to the library or to a free public wifi location every time YOU wanted to get online for something? If you did would an app like these be your top priority or would you be paying your bills? I challenge relying on these tech tools for family connections. It is one way but should not be your only way.

Email

I communicate through email like 90% of the time and I know that not all my families have regular access to email, not all families read the emails I sent and might prefer a different method of communication. I choose email because it is convenient and comfortable for me. I’ve come to this realization:

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!

And I need to change the way I do things to make better connections with students and families. I’m working on building relationships with better face to face interactions and more phone calls

Phone Calls

Real talk – I hate talking on the phone. I don’t like talking on the phone to my own friends and family much less calling the families of my students! I know there are people out there who like it and can spend hours on the phone but I just get … bored? awkward? I would rather type something through a text, email, or social media or hang out with someone face to face than talk on the phone. I took a step outside my comfort zone and called all of my families two weeks ago. It took a lot out of me. However, the families really appreciated it! I didn’t even call for a specific reason. I just called to check in. The conversations I had ranged from questions about lunch to assessments, something their child said that confused them to their last/upcoming family trip, new dance classes to current class size legislation. I have to say, as much as I dislike talking on the phone, I enjoyed these conversations and I feel like I built relationships. I’m going to continue these types check-in calls every 3-4 weeks. (If you’re reading this, ask me about it to keep me accountable ok?)

Face to Face

To me, these are the best connections. I enjoy spending time with people. I think that tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures help people communicate. I like parent-teacher conferences. I like to sit down and talk, share work, and celebrate growth with families. I have done traditional parent-teacher conferences and student-led conferences in the past. (How I run student-led conferences is another post for another day.) I like both methods for littles. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to have a student or other families present for a conversation. And, I don’t like to rely on one method. This year I’m going to try goal setting conferences (coming up in the next few weeks) with families before our student-led conferences. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. I also try to be flexible with my conference times. I know that families have different routines and need options. Ideally, I like to offer morning, during the day, and evening time slots. Some families can’t leave work early for a conference and need other options. I pick 1 evening where I stay at school late to accommodate them. This year, I’m going to offer some weekend time slots as well.

In the Community

Making connections with families in the community can be fun! I used to avoid running into families at the grocery store or Target. But now that I don’t live in my school community, these chance encounters are special. It is so fun to see a family out in the world interacting and the students are always surprised to see their teacher, not at school. They treat you like a celebrity! Our school PTA plans family nights out to local businesses as fundraisers or to support our sponsors. I love going to these events to see current and former families. The conversations are so natural and not just about school life and academics. I feel like I create genuine connections. This year, with my team, we planned a weekend outing to the arcade. We planned to be there during a certain time and invited families to come and play with us. We used it to launch our arcade building PBL for our force and motion science standard (Sci1P1). It was so much fun to play games with my kids and have meaningful conversations using vocabulary we were using at school while making a real-world connection to the content we were learning. I enjoyed this so much, I would like to plan other community outings for my families!

I have in the past and will continue to use a combination of all of these methods and tools for family connections because developing a strong, collaborative relationship with my students and their families is important to me.

After starting this blog post and outlining it, I participated in a #SlowFlipChat with Jessica Twomey and Christine Pinto in the #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles community using Flipgrid as a tool for communication. The topic was *drum roll please*

Making Connections!

And that chat inspired me to finish writing this post. You should totally go check it out. I’ll make it easy for you, click here.

I Dove Into PBL & You Should Too!

I’m a north personality meaning I dive in head first and I’m not afraid to take risks. I jumped into PBL after reading only 1 chapter of Hacking Project Based Learning and finished that PBL, #PBLclouds, before finishing the book. I skimmed the book but didn’t read it. I learn best through trial and error and  I don’t need to all the details before buying into a new concept or method.

In addition to #PBL clouds, I now have done PBLs focusing on Sun, moon, and stars (planned as I went),

force and motion through the building of arcade games (I didn’t have a great guiding question)

and one on solving 2 major problems at recess through designing something to add to our playground spaces (more of a Problem Based Learning than Project and feedback was not intentional).

I am so interested in including inquiry-based approaches in my classroom, it is one of my Professional Development goals this school year and I am participating in a book study on The Curious Classroom. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It is not hard
  • It is time-consuming
  • You must plan ahead
  • You must be flexible

Here’s what I’m working on:

  • I need to improve at intentionally planning my PBLs. By that mean I am going to more fully dissect my standards searching for the High Impact Takeaways (HIT). Each learning experience within the PBL will then more clearly align to standard and lead toward an answer to the umbrella question. Planning this way will also help me see the cross-curricular connections. Once these are clear, I can use the PBL to reach more than one standard strand in more than one subject area.
  • I need to shift assessment responsibility to the students. For starters, assessments need to be more authentic and measured throughout the PBL. Currently, my assessments are based on observations and conversations with students about their work. I’m not 100% sure how this will look but I’ll figure it out! I’m thinking a documentation system that lays out my HITs and allows for comments and photos of evidence of student progress or mastery. If you have any suggestions, please reach out or leave a comment below!
  • Feedback needs to be a bigger focus in my PBLs. I want students to give me feedback, I want to be better about giving feedback to my students, and I want them to give feedback to each other. Focusing on feedback will ensure students have a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards within the PBL.

Here’s what’s next:

  • I’m working on a PBL share with my friend, Kara Damico. Together we planned and implemented a vertically aligned PBL on community impact through solving recess problems. We will be sharing, along with students about the impact this PBL had on student learning. We will also be working on writing this PBL up for possible publication within our district.
  • Part of my PD goal this year was to implement 1 PBL each quarter. I’m beginning the work on planning a community and map PBL to hit both the 1.E.1 and 1.G.1 NCSCOS Social Studies Units. Thoughts? Ideas? Resources?

I am by no means an expert on PBL but I do think I am slowly moving forward and growing in this area. I highly recommend the 2 books mentioned in this post and you’re welcome to borrow my copies if you want!