Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Glass Walls

As lead learners, administrators and educators, it is our responsibility to transform the thick brick barriers surrounding our school buildings into clear, transparent walls of glass! We should want our community to see all the amazing things happening in school and we should want our children to have a strong connection with the community around them. A positive and productive home/school connection, rooted in strong two-way communication, is critical to the success of all of our students and the school in general. In this day and age of Common Core Standards, APPR, SLOs and the standardized testing craze that has consumed our schools, we cannot lose sight of what matters most and why we entered the world of education - to make a difference in the lives of children. Together, with the families of our students, we must collaborate to help our children learn, grow and develop the skills they need to be successful adults who contribute positively to the world!

Based on various conversations I have had with several other educators, the communication between home and school seems to be inconsistent at best. In some cases parents get a newsletter once a month (by the way, it is hard to talk to your child about something they did weeks ago so try and be more current and timely); while in other settings, parents have to rely on interrogating their child to find out a little bit about what is happening in school. I really don't understand how this is possible in 2012! Why do we work so hard to keep everything hidden in our classrooms? In our schools? Why not share all of the amazing things happening in our spaces with the parents and community? Why not spotlight the successes (and challenges) that our children are experiencing each day at school? I don't know about everyone else, but as a parent, I want nothing more than to know what my son is learning about in school and how he feels about his learning experiences and about himself as a learner. And as an educator, one of the highlights of my day is sharing all of the awesome stuff happening in our building - whether through an email to parents, Tweets throughout the day or a blog post, I want the entire community to know that incredible things are happening in our school every minute of the day. Here is an excerpt of an email that I sent home to the entire parent community late last week...

Good afternoon – we hope this email finds you all doing well and that everyone is having a wonderful week. The children had a busy day today and were thrilled to get outside for outdoor recess on this fall-like day. Aside from the lunch and recess experience, the day provided for some important and meaningful learning opportunities. Here is a glimpse into some of the exciting things our children have been working on this week…

·        Our kindergarteners were engaged in some great writing during their Writing Workshop experience. They are currently immersed in a study of nonfiction writing that focuses on Lists and Labels and today they created their own pieces where they wrote a Wish List- they were so engaged the whole time!
·        Our first graders continue their journey with Functional Writing as part of their Writer’s Workshop experience by examining different artifacts and concrete examples of Functional Writing as they build schema and background knowledge.
·        Our second graders recently explored the seeds of different fruits and vegetables in the Science Room as part of their science unit of study. The children were excited to take apart lemons, peppers and tomatoes as they searched for their seeds and categorized them – it was a lot of fun!
·        Our third graders have been doing a lot of wonderful work in Reading Workshop as they explore the idea of questioning and wondering to help build comprehension while reading independently. The study has taken a sophisticated turn as the children are exploring the differences between “thick” (complex) and “thin” (basic) questions!
·        Our fourth graders continue their studies in mathematics where they are problem solving with an emphasis on multiplication with multi-digit numbers. The children have learned the traditional algorithm but have also been exposed to the idea of partial products as a way to build their conceptual understandings.
·        Finally, our fifth graders continue their study of Italian as part of the FLES experience. The children have been involved in some improvisational conversations in Italian and the results are awesome!

But, don't stop here because there are a bunch of other things you can be doing to communicate with the families of your students and help create glass walls throughout the building. Here are some more suggestions...

1) Pick up the phone and tell a parent how wonderful their child is and how happy you are to have her/him in your class or school;

2) Take a picture of a child during a critical and successful learning experience and email it to the parents as soon as possible (preferably before the child gets home) so that the parents have a talking point and feel directly connected to the learning in school;

3) Create a professional Twitter account and use it to communicate what is happening in your learning space. Be proud of what you're doing and show it off - in 140 characters or less! You should create the account and monitor it but let the kids do the Tweeting! Maybe the day can end a couple of minutes earlier than normal and the children could be pulled into a circle on the rug for an end of day meeting where they could specifically discuss what they have learned, done and accomplished for the day, where they may even include their own personal reactions and Tweet them out!

4) Start a blog... either oversee it as the adult in the space or give the children complete control over the blog and let them communicate about what they have learned and what they are passionate and excited about moving forward. This could be AWESOME... critical thinking, collaboration, creating and then sharing with the world - what could be a better example of 21st Century Skills in action??

5) Create a Facebook page or Edmodo page as a way to extend the thinking, learning and collaborating beyond the school hours and the confines of the school building - there is a LOT of potential here so check it out!

6) SKYPE a parent or family member into the classroom so the children can interview them and find out about their role in the community (or something more general); the person SKYPing in can also ask the children specific questions about what they are learning!

7) Do a weekly or monthly newsletter (either online or one paper - whatever you prefer is fine with me) so that the parents know what is going on in the classroom - this is so important! If we want parents to support their child's learning and development, we have to let them know what their child is learning and how they are developing (at least from our perspective)!

8) Invite the parents and family members into the school and classroom as much as possible for various activities - math games, writing celebrations or PARP - whatever the case, make sure the parents feel welcome in the space where their child learns!

9) Send home a handwritten note commending the child on something positive they did on any given day - the idea of positive reinforcement is critical!

10) Establish an open door policy where parents feel comfortable coming in to see you - without transparent communication, we will not meet with success!

So, take a small step towards turning those brick walls surrounding our schools into walls of glass - our kids and community deserve this level of transparency!


  1. Tony - Way to go! Providing a connected and transparent learning environment will encourage even more family engagement at your school. Love how you model this for your staff and parent population.

  2. Great post Tony! Between flipping parent communication, weekly e-mails, newsletters and other venues we communicate as much as possible. We also have outstanding parental involvement. Over the past 7 years as principal we have (and yes, I keep data!) 98% parental involvement at different school events.
    It's really great when parents get positive e-mails from the principal. I love their reaction when they realize we notice their children. Great job Tony.

  3. Very good and more importantly easily implemented ideas. I am going to get started right now!