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Tapping into the power of positivity

By Tips and ResourcesNo Comments

This blog post is part of our Guide to Family Partnerships, based on the stories we collected while assembling our 2016–2017 Impact Report.

Research on positive/negative interactions reveals that educators who lead with the positive and continually send encouraging messages—rather than first reaching out about a problem or only initiating contact when something is wrong—have the best chance at building strong relationships.

When schools only reach out to discuss problems, it’s easy for parents and students to feel frustrated, powerless, and disengaged; positive messages provide a welcome bright spot that helps build trust and engagement in schools.

Educator perspectives on how Kinvolved helps

Mr. K. recalls that one student’s mother was surprised to receive through KiNVO a text from him that commended her student’s effort: “She told me that, in the past, when she received a phone call from class, it was never positive.”

For Ms. C., a Community Schools Director in Brooklyn, her team instructs teachers to be “very strategic around what we’re communicating with parents,” which is easy to track and evaluate through KiNVO’s reporting tools. She explains: “There is always something positive you can share with a parent. Send as many positive messages upfront as you can. When you do have to send a negative message, parents and students will better receive it because they’re used to you saying something kind and genuine—they understand you’re communicating because you need their support addressing an issue.”

Putting it into practice

  • Apply the “Magic Relationship Ratio”—initiating five positive interactions for every negative interaction—to build and sustain a strong relationship.
    • KiNVO pro tip:Use KiNVO’s Parent Communication report to compare how many Positive versus Needs Improvement messages you send—grade-level and content teams can set specific communications goals and check their progress each week.
  • Be conscious about the tone and timing of your messages, and keep your content simple and pleasant. Remember that texts can be easily misinterpreted, so if you have to discuss a sensitive matter, use text messages to coordinate a phone call at a mutually convenient time.
    • KiNVO pro tip: Start and end on a positive note, sandwiches in the middle any issues that need to be addressed.
  • Designate time periods where you send only positive messages. This helps establish an encouraging environment, build family and student buy-in, and create a two-way communications channel for collaborating and problem-solving.
    • KiNVO Pro-tip: Schedule positive-only periods at the beginning of the year and after long breaks.

Reaching out to parents when it counts

By Tips and ResourcesNo Comments

This blog post is part of our Guide to Family Partnerships, based on the stories we collected while assembling our 2016–2017 Impact Report.

An encouraging message, sent at the right moment, can make a world of difference. Unfortunately, positive messages are often the first item to get bumped lower on a teacher’s priority list, and for good reason: hectic schedules make it hard to prioritize authentic, of-the-moment outreach to any but the neediest students.

“Normally I wait until a Friday to call, but if things are going well for a student, I only reach out every other Friday,” says Ms. P, a Bronx middle school teacher.

Educator perspectives on how Kinvolved helps

KiNVO allows teachers to quickly and easily send multiple messages, which means positive communication can become part of a teacher’s daily routine.

“We spend lot of time focusing on not-so-great things that kids are doing, so great kids in great moments get looked over,” says Ms. S., a high school teacher. With KiNVO’s help, Ms. S. set a goal to be “equally communicative when students are doing right thing,” and it made a big difference for parents. She recalls, “One mother said, ‘Wow, this made my day.’”

Teachers also use KiNVO’s real-time messaging to reinforce positive behavior. Bronx teacher Ms. E says, “If I have a student who is doing extremely well, right there in middle of class I will text their parents. That sort of communication is more meaningful than calling a few days later.”

Other teachers, like Mr. K, use KiNVO to keep students invested: “I tell them, if you maintain your focus, we’ll send a text together right now.” He describes this as “another tool in my toolbox to keep students motivated.”

Putting it into practice

Here’s a teacher tip for making positive communications part of the daily routine:

  • Schedule for students timely reminder messages for regularly occurring events, like weekly quizzes, to keep relevant ideas fresh in their minds. Pro-tip:
    • KiNVO pro tip: Send an encouraging message to parents the night before an event, offering a positive reminder for students and parents to prepare: “I can’t wait for {{student}} to rock out his math test tomorrow.”

How teachers can encourage students and parents—without working 24 hours a day

By Tips and ResourcesNo Comments

This blog post is part of our Guide to Family Partnerships, based on the stories we collected while assembling our 2016–2017 Impact Report.

Proactive, encouraging words from a teacher make students feel valued and elevate parents to the role of partners, and the strength of these relationships can be critical to resolving any issues that arise throughout the school year. With long rosters and limited hours, though, it’s tough to stay in regular contact with students and their families.

“So many students, so little time,” sums up Bronx high school teacher Ms. B. “I have only one day each week to do parent outreach; I can make make some phone calls, but not nearly enough to reach my 150 students’ parents.”

Educator perspectives on how Kinvolved helps

Ms. F., an afterschool program coordinator in Harlem, shares that she only offered positive feedback if she happened to see a parent during dismissal: “I rarely used email, and never used text messaging. KiNVO makes it easy and casual to send positive messages.”

For Bronx teacher Ms. S, having KiNVO technology at her fingertips helps positive communication flow naturally: “Sometimes I’ll be at home in my apartment and think, let me send these three kids’ parents messages to let them know their kids are doing a great job.”

Harlem Community Schools Director Ms. A appreciates that now teachers connect with each other about student performance from class to class: “I can send a message to my colleague about a student we share, something like, ‘Aaron had a really good day in math. He completed all his questions. Keep it up.’”

Teachers also use KiNVO’s direct-to-student messaging to send quick, uplifting texts that show they care, and many teacher embrace the mass messaging feature to reach many students at the touch of a button. “I’ll text my students in the morning with something like, ‘It’s a beautiful day to come to school,’ or a motivational message,” says Ms. N in the Bronx. “My students feel more connected than before; they know they can text me anytime and I will respond as soon as I see it. When they have that sense of belonging, I think it motivates them to come to school.”

Putting it into practice

Here’s are a few suggestions for how any teacher can communicate with positivity and efficiency:

  • Set a positive tone for the day by sending a positive or motivational message to students who need extra support.
    • KiNVO pro tip: Choose the “Recurring” option to automate messages and reminders.
  • Develop a set of differentiated mass messages, separate students and/or parents into groups, then alternate which groups receive which message each week. This adds a sense of personalization to your communications.
    • KiNVO pro tip: Set up a customized template with student names—like “{{Student}} did an awesome job in Spanish today!”—to easily show you care without an extra lift.
  • Choose one student per class, per week and send to him or her a unique, non-mass message with a positive tone (e.g. highlighting an insightful comment made during discussion or wishing good luck on an extracurricular activity).
    • KiNVO pro tip: To keep track, simply move down your roster in alphabetical order and mark in “notes” after you sent the individualized message.
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ESSA compliance and reducing chronic absenteeism

By Tips and Resources

Recently we talked about The Every Student Succeeds Act, known as ESSA, the first iteration of our U.S. national education law that specifically mentions chronic absenteeism. Former iterations of the law (ESEA, No Child Left Behind) only included stipulations for truancy, and schools only reported on average daily attendance (the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction). Chronic absenteeism differs from truancy in that it tracks both excused and unexcused absences, and accounts for missed class periods. It also uncovers absence trends that are often unrepresented in average daily attendance numbers.

ESSA’s specific inclusion of chronic absenteeism is significant; currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to implement ESSA that now include chronic absence as a measure on which they will report and to which they will hold schools accountable. ESSA requires all states to report the data, even if it isn’t used for accountability.

But how do these states plan to measure and fight this pervasive issue? What steps should they take to begin to significantly reduce chronic absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism affects about 6.5 million students across the country. A recent report from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center shows that 30% or more students are chronically absent at almost 10,000 public schools across the U.S. These staggeringly high numbers indicate larger, systemic issues within our education system and in low-income communities (in which chronic absenteeism is especially high). If we are going to begin to address this problem, we must start by tracking thorough, meaningful data on missed class time.

In a new report from FutureEd, a ThinkTank at Georgetown University, authors Phyllis Jordan and Raegan Miller say that states should start by setting standard definitions of what counts as an absence. For example, how many periods count as a full day?

Setting standard definitions for what counts as an absence is part of keeping students and their parents informed about how much school they’re missing. Absences add up quickly; missing just 2 days a month means a child misses 10% of the school year (at which point, the student is considered chronically absent in most states). Our annual  Impact Assessment (for release in Jan. 2018) revealed that many students were not aware of just how much school they were actually missing–nor were their parents. Families appreciated that KiNVO–our app for enabling easy parent/teacher communication and tracking accessible attendance data–keeps them informed about student attendance patterns.

The next step will be to set reasonable goals for schools and districts, which many states have not yet done. Setting goals for widespread issues that vary district to district–and student to student, for that matter–can be quite difficult. It’s important to be ambitious, but realistic, and specific, but inclusive. For example, No Child Left Behind’s standard proficiency metric did not account for students’ backgrounds going into standardized tests, and thus received significant backlash for doing more harm than good in many cases. A state must determine which percentage of chronically absent students is too high for a school, and then determine a way to measure improvement.

Some states did include a measure of improvement in their goals for chronic absenteeism, which they plan to assess in relation to grades and test scores (as attendance and achievement are typically linked). Assessing attendance data through this lens is a very good place to start.

After setting standard definitions and goals, FutureEd emphasizes the importance of assigning the appropriate weight to chronic absenteeism in state accountability formulas, and creating inclusive but fair chronic absenteeism models that discourage schools or districts from gaming the attendance system.

Last but certainly not least, we must support teachers and administrators in planning interventions within their schools. Teachers and administrators are fighting on the front lines to ensure that all of their students are in class as much as possible. Equipping teachers with the tools to more easily communicate with families and plan meaningful interventions is a crucial part of process. Kinvolved supports teachers and administrators by providing them with tools to facilitate data-driven discussions and interventions; helps them streamline daily routines to increase bandwidth; and strengthens engagement by enabling new connections and conversations between educators, students, and families.

In the coming months, we will continue to explore ESSA policy, state accountability plans, and how Kinvolved can continue to grow and evolve to support districts implementing plans to combat chronic absenteeism.

Sparking Success One Student at a Time with Digital Courses

By Tips and Resources

We’ve all heard how digital courses are the wave of the future. Schools across the country are using online courses to expand their course catalog so they can offer students more electives or honors or Advanced Placement® classes. Some districts have opted for digital curriculum to replace textbooks that quickly become out of date. Many districts now require students to complete at least one online course to help them develop 21st-century learning skills.

From an educator’s perspective, these are all excellent reasons to implement digital courses in an online or blended learning environment. But sometimes it is good to take a look at how online learning is sparking students’ success in a way that traditional courses never could.

Turning Learning Challenges into Learning Successes

Nine-year-old Gabe enrolled at Bonneville Online School (BOS) in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in the fall of 2015 with a medical diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia as well as behavioral issues with his previous brick-and-mortar principal and classroom teacher. Initially, he was placed in grade-level curriculum. His learning coach—his mother—immediately realized this was too much for him. She was devastated to discover that his reading and other learning skills were well below grade level, and Gabe felt defeated by the learning process.

Gabe’s mother and teachers met as a team and began a special education referral process. They learned that, although there were significant holes in his learning, Gabe was highly capable and just needed the support of the right curriculum, a teacher who was willing to provide appropriate modifications, and a loving learning coach. They determined that no IEP was needed—instead, a 504 (defining accommodations) and the right curriculum were ordered.

With online courses from Fuel Education, Gabe was able to work at his own pace. A semester later, Gabe is a confident and enthusiastic learner. He doesn’t use his diagnosis or previous difficulties in school as an excuse not to be successful. He puts in the extra effort needed to stay on track and even works on Saturday mornings and school vacation days!

Overcoming Obstacles to Graduation

Hard work is nothing new to Yarima. At age six, she pumped gas at her uncle’s gas station. When she was 12, Yarima started caring for her great uncle, a disabled Vietnam veteran, while her mother worked three jobs to support the family. By the time Yarima entered high school, her great uncle required almost constant care. She would miss months of school at a time, and when she did try to attend her local high school, she felt hopelessly lost. When her great uncle passed away, Yarima and her family lost their home.

By her junior year, Yarima was working two jobs and often didn’t get home until after midnight. School just didn’t fit into her schedule until she found Falcon Virtual Academy in Colorado Springs. Here she was able to take FuelEd Online Courses at home, and get face-to-face instruction and support at the district’s blended learning facility. This gave Yarima the flexibility she needed to complete her online courses between jobs. On May 17, 2015, Yarima received her diploma and a whole new world of opportunities opened up to her. Watch this video to learn more about how Yarima overcame obstacles to graduate.

Staying On Track throughout Illness

Lydia, a student at Bend Lapine Online in Colorado, is among the many students who have been highly successful in the traditional school and also benefits from the blended program. She was a very strong student, driven to the point of being a contender for school valedictorian. When she developed an eating disorder that required her to go into a residential treatment program, Lydia was concerned that she would fall behind in her classes. Her parents were afraid that if she was not able to keep up with her classes, Lydia’s anxiety would increase, which could worsen her eating disorder. But her treatment program was in another state, so the only way that she could continue with classes would be if she could take them online.

The school’s solution was to use the Fuel Education technology platform to allow teachers to stay in contact with her, and online instructional materials so that she could continue to make progress in her courses. When she re-entered the school, she found that she had not lost any time, and could pick up where each of her classes were. She not only graduated, but was school salutatorian.

These are a few examples of ways digital courses are sparking student success. To learn more about what students think about online learning, download this white paper released earlier this year by the Evergreen Education Group.

This​ ​article​ ​was​ ​contributed​ ​by FuelEducation. ​ FuelEd partners with schools and districts to provide students equitable learning opportunities that are personalized to serve each student’s different interests and learning style, no matter their level.  FuelEd offers digital curriculum in all subjects for grades; instruction, training, support, and other services that are critical for a successful online or blended program; and an open, easy-to-use learning platform that provides actionable data on each student and enables teachers to customize content. FuelEd is co-sponsoring Kinvolved’s Data Driven Leadership Summit on October 19th, 2017.

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