I’ve written before about how parenting changed my approach to teaching. And that’s never been truer than this semester, when we’re trying online learning again but—unlike last spring—we’re actually trying to get it right. I’m attempting to create and deliver curriculum to 91 seventh graders while shepherding one fourth-grader through his own digital learning adventure. I’m the only member of my teaching team who has children, and I feel like it’s given me a really important perspective on what families need for online learning.
So for anybody who wonders … here’s what families need: communication. Parents feel lost and in the dark right now. I’m doing everything I can as a mom. I check my kid’s Google classroom, attend scheduled conferences, and check his grades online. But I can’t sit in his classes with him, and I don’t think that I should. So I don’t necessarily know if he’s missing an assignment, acting the fool in class, repeatedly typing fart jokes in the chat, or turning in work that’s halfway done. I’m trying to give my son room to be independent and make mistakes … but I’m also crossing my fingers that, when he does mess up, we’ll find out in time to get him back on track.
My desperation for information has had a huge impact on my teaching practices this year.
At the beginning of the year, before we even started synchronous classes, I called every student and put their personal cell numbers into my phone. Whenever they’re missing an assignment, it takes seconds for me to send a group text. When they’re late for class, I can let them know quickly so they don’t miss much content.
But I quickly realized that this wasn’t enough. Texting a student to let them know they forgot the homework wrong doesn’t guarantee it will make it into my inbox. (Of course, when I text students’ parents there’s not a guarantee, either, but it does increase the odds.) So I’ve started texting parents several times every class period. Not every parent gets a text every day, of course! I do have to actually spend some time teaching and prepping and grading and I occasionally like to drink a cup of coffee or need to use the restroom.
Even if it’s not every parent every day, I’m sending a LOT of texts.
A few minutes into the class period I text kids who are absent. If they haven’t made it there by the time the students start their first task, I shoot a group text to parents. “Your kids are supposed to be in my class right now and they’re missing. I hope everything is okay. Let me know if you need anything.” Since about 75% of the parents at my school speak little or no English, Google Translate is basically my best friend.
A couple of times a week, I text those parents who have children with missing work. I tell them how many assignments are missing, what the student’s grade average is, and how they can make up the work. I do a form text for this and fill in the child’s name and grade average, so this takes about an hour to complete. I’m getting good payoff. A lot more kids are turning in work for my class than in classrooms where aren’t doing this. And I’m having to contact fewer parents every week. I think the kids are starting to realize that it’s easier to just do the homework than deal with me and their parents breathing down their necks about it.
But what’s really working is the positive communication.
Three weeks into the school year, I saved almost every parent’s number on my phone. I try to send at least three positive texts per class period. If Jose says something brilliant on the class Jamboard, I can send his mom a message in seconds. If Dariana is a leader in her breakout group, I can send her dad the same text I sent Kelsi’s mom earlier in the day: “Your daughter was a rockstar in her small group today. She really took charge and kept everybody on task! I know you must be proud of her.”
My kids are excited when I call their parents. We don’t have in-class rewards anymore. I can’t give them a pizza party or a uniform pass or public recognition with their peers. But I can be their virtual hype man and continually remind their parents about how amazing they are. Then, when they do drop the ball, two things happen. First of all, their parents are already invested and we already have a relationship. Secondly, the kids have some sense that I like and respect them. They want to hold onto that respect and their identity as a good student. Some of them haven’t experienced that before, so they’re motivated to keep it.
It’s time-consuming but worth it!
Keeping parents informed about how their kids are doing in class is time-consuming. It’s one of the most arduous parts of my job if I’m being completely honest. But in terms of payoff, it’s completely worth it. I hope that, as the semester continues, I’ll be sending more positive texts and fewer about missing work. Even if that’s not what happens, I know, as a mom, that every single text is appreciated.
Do you text your students’ parents? Share with us on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group.