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The Longest Sunday Night of Our Lives

By Tips and Resources

I suggest putting family engagement at the top of your list–I promise life will be easier!

Last week, I logged into Facebook and read a status update that said, “August for teachers = the longest Sunday night of our lives.” It follows the perfect equation for a successful post: kind of cynical, of course humorous, but most of all true.   

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For teachers, preparation for the school year begins many weeks in advance of the first day of school. From setting up classrooms and purchasing materials to going on home visits and drafting lesson plans, teachers are already moving at a high-octane pace far before September. Once classes start, teachers’ responsibilities continue to mount while their free time diminishes in some sort of cruel inverse correlation.

It wasn’t until my third year of teaching that I trusted all of this hard work would yield some kind of benefit. And that’s only because I had seen it happen. IMG_0844

I found that banking positive interactions with students’ families paid off.

Whether through texting, calling, or emailing, I shared positive praise, individual anecdotes, and asked intentional questions of families. I’m not going to lie, this was extremely time consuming! Especially for students with many stakeholders, for whom I was trying to cultivate a strong relationship with each one. But, without fail, this work early in the year made all the inevitables that came after easier. We could discuss difficult topics, including retention, behavior, and attendance on a foundation of trust and partnership, which led to faster and more effective interventions.

What is my advice to all you teachers out there? When you’re organizing your chaotic and overflowing to-do list–if I know you like I think I do, you’re probably color coding–keep family engagement at the top. Start connecting now. It will save you time and stress later.

Charlotte Lysohir is a Community Specialist for Kinvolved. She works with partner schools and afterschool programs in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx to increase student attendance rates and emphasize family engagement. She also works with community initiatives such as, South Bronx Rising Together, to help improve education, workforce and economic outcomes by dismantling chronic absenteeism. Charlotte is a Teach For America alumni, and former PreK-4 teacher at KIPP DC LEAP Academy.

Email Charlotte at: Charlotte@kinvolved.com

 

Parent Personalization: Good bye to _________________’s mom or _______________’s dad (Part 3 of 3)

By ThoughtsNo Comments

This is the third part of a three-part series of best practices, written by Michele Narov, Lead Teacher in Newark Public Schools.

Kinvolved’s communication app helps teachers reach parents and other members of students’ support networks to foster relationships. How can teachers make sure these relationships are positive and that the communication app is used to reach full impact?

Tip #10: Get to know your parents as people.

None of your parents are named _________________’s mom or _______________’s dad. 

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Surprisingly, nobody told me this when I started out, or I would have avoided some awkward dismissal time conversations, when I racked my brain to remember parents’ first and last names. During my second year, I took the time to introduce myself by name, smile at, and learn and remember the names of my parents, and whenever possible also learn little bit about them as people.

For older grades whose parents do not pick them up from school every day, referring to parents by names over a message can still add a very important personal touch. 

Tip #11: Never assume your students and their parents share a last name.

I am always careful to not address parents with the last name of my students and to double-check my parent contact sheets to ensure I am using the correct name. More often than not, my students and their parents do not share the same last name, and some people may be offended by the assumption.

Tip #12: When reporting a positive or negative classroom behavior, be specific and avoid ambiguous qualifiers.

This is such an important tip, and I still hear stories from fellow teachers who fall into the minefield of ambiguity. If you tell a parent, “Your child is off task at school,” they can easily misunderstand what happened. If you tell a parent, “Your child poked the girl sitting next to him with his pencil 3 times during math, and did not complete his worksheet,” you have a shared understanding of events.

This is true for positive calls, too! It sounds so much better to a parent to hear, “Alicia aced her last 3 math exams, and today she helped the student next to her to work out a really difficult problem,” than to hear, “Alicia is doing well in school.”

Tip #13: Only leave voicemails or send texts with positive news.

If I have negative news to report, I want to speak directly with a parent. If I get a voicemail, or send a text, I try to just leave a brief message asking that the parent call me back.

Tip #14: Invite parents into your classroom!

Does your school have career days? Invite your parents! We do parent breakfasts a few times a year. This year, the other third grade teacher hosted all of our parents during the holiday season for a gingerbread making competition with students. It was a really great way to get to know parents and also allow parents to get to know one another.

Tip #15: Offer instructional resources

Your parents want to help their kids, but not all of them know how. Provide them with websites, tip sheets, workbooks, and resources whenever you can. Kinvolved’s Community Managers can provide this directed support.

Tip #16: Find a translator!

Luckily, my school has a bilingual team and paraprofessionals who speak a variety of languages. But if you are a teacher at a school without access to translators, most school districts actually offer translation teams as a resource.

 

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Contributor: Michele Narov was Kinvolved’s Summer Business Development Associate. She was responsible for developing and fostering partnerships with schools, after school programs, and community organizations dedicated to improving student success. Michele is a Teach For America corps member, and serves as a third grade math and science teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

Parent outreach: The hot new trend in boosting student performance! (Part 2 of 3)

By Tips and Resources

Tips for Successful Partnerships with Families, Part II

This is the second part of a three-part series of best practices, written by Michele Narov, Lead Teacher in Newark Public Schools.

Kinvolved’s communication app helps teachers reach parents and other members of students’ support networks to foster relationships. How can teachers make sure these relationships are positive and that the communication app is used to reach full impact?

 Tip #6: Gather all the information before you call.

If you are calling a parent about something that happened when you were not present, or some sort of behavior, consult with your students, and make sure you have all the information beforehand. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but during my first year of teaching I called a parent about a student who was squinting at the board only to learn this child brought glasses to school every day but was leaving them in his backpack. His parent was still happy I called to inform her that her son wasn’t wearing glasses, but a few more probing questions with my student would have given me a better picture of the problem.

Similarly, if I need to call about an ongoing issue between two students, I make sure to gather the full picture of events based on specific accounts from both students so it doesn’t turn into a conversation based on hearsay.

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 Tip #7: Come up with a plan.

A few weeks ago, I had to call the parent of a student in my class who was constantly daydreaming and off task during the beginning of class and introductions to new material, despite constant personal reminders.

Before I called, I spoke with my student and together she and I came up with a plan to move her seat closer to the front of the room, and make sure she filled in her notes at the beginning of class. When I called her mom, I was able to say this is what is happening, and here is how I’m handling it, with a list of expected results her daughter and I had decided on together. Communicating your plan to deal with the issue can help make sure your conversation is productive.

Make sure to ask parents for feedback. Sometimes, if you don’t pose the question, “What are your thoughts on this?” parents won’t volunteer their opinions, or may assume you are not consulting them. They are experts on their children, and often their feedback on your plan to address a behavior can be most vital.

Don’t feel pressure to get back to them about their feedback during the course of the call. It’s okay to say that you would like to consider their comments and get back to them.

Tip #8: Monitor success and report back

Monitor the students’ behavior after your parent phone call. Note specifically what is changing for the student and how they are behaving. Report back to the parent about how their student is doing, even with a quick message or text. This feedback can be a very valuable follow up and encourage the student to continue working hard, especially for younger students who are learning the difference between positive and negative classroom behaviors.

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Tip #9: Ask for feedback on your communication methods

You shouldn’t overwhelm your parents with requests for feedback, but checking in during the middle of the year with a survey on your communication style isn’t much of a demand on their time and can be very useful. Also, during parent teacher conferences, it never hurts to ask parents if there are any updates they would like to receive that they are not receiving already.

Research shows that just because parents can’t always be present in the classroom doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved. In my classroom, I have found that systematically reaching out to parents has affected my students’ performance data nearly as much as my academic interventions have. How are you making parent communication a priority in your classroom or school program?

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Contributor: Michele Narov was Kinvolved’s Summer Business Development Associate. She was responsible for developing and fostering partnerships with schools, after school programs, and community organizations dedicated to improving student success. Michele is a Teach For America corps member, and serves as a third grade math and science teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

So much data, so little time: Let’s start with the basics.

By Tips and Resources

Blog contribution by Miranda Meyerson, Kinvolved Community Manager

We have an overload of, and perhaps an acute obsession with the data at our disposal. There are a myriad of data points related to education. Educators are likely to experience choice paralysis since there are so many facets of their students’ education that they can analyze. I could spend three days dissecting data from one day’s worth of teaching when I was a history teacher.

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We know that teachers’ time is stretched thin, and they cannot do it all. Let’s start with the lowest hanging fruit, the data point that’s easiest to understand: student attendance.  Attendance data is more predictive of graduation than test scores or grades. That is data we have at our disposal every single day.

We at Kinvolved are making attendance data easy to track, understand, and act upon.  Mayor Bloomberg’s Truancy Task Force encouraged schools to use attendance data as an early warning sign of underlying issues. Reviewing attendance data is the smart thing to do. Once a student misses 18 or more days she is “chronically absent”. It indicates that something is wrong, and that child needs some TLC before they fall too far behind.

Kinvolved’s attendance system tells teachers and administrators which students are most at risk, according to their attendance data. We make the data straight forward and easy to understand. Our users and partners can see the most important data points related to attendance immediately . This allows educators and parents to take immediate action and track the results.

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Make an effort to connect with those students whose data indicates they may be in trouble. Keep them coming to school even if that connection has nothing to do with academics. With a chronically absent student, teachers’ priorities should be to connect with and engage students to attend class.

Interventions, such as mentoring, work. They are worth the time investment. It may take years to help a student improve five to six grade levels in reading and math, but minutes to send a text to unsuspecting parents or schedule a meeting with a mentor or counselor to help improve attendance of a chronically absent student. The care an adult shows a student when addressing their attendance matters. Students, despite what they may admit, want their teachers’ approval, and they will show up when a mentor or teachers takes action to make sure they are in school. That improvement in attendance alone can help drive up graduation rates, despite low test scores or low skill levels.

We urge you to use your data wisely, and reach out to those students whose attendance data suggests that they need help. Once kids are in class, the academic progress will follow.

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Miranda Meyerson joins Kinvolved as our Community Manager. Miranda is a former educator with 12 years of experience in the classroom. She recently supported Kaplan TechStars, and also works with other education technology companies in New York City. Email Miranda at miranda@kinvolved.com. She loves meeting new educators interested in improving classroom attendance! 

© 2019 Kinvolved™. All Rights Reserved, Kinvolved Inc.

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