Communicating with Parents

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on November 13, 2017

School-to-Home Communications inforgraphic
Click image for article and full-size infographic.

Oh, how the times have changed.

I remember when I was a first year principal. Every Friday, I’d send home a flyer with all of the school events, and celebrate student and teacher accomplishments. I had envelopes full of little pieces of clip art that I would tape on (remember how to do that so the edges didn’t show?), print on a color of my choosing, and mass produce 600 copies.

Yay for technology! Now, the hours I’d put in each week back then can be reduced to a matter of a few minutes per day, but figuring out where and how to communicate with parents takes a little more thought.  There are so many communication channels!  We know the importance of parent engagement—not least of all for our Local Control Accountability Plans—but to get parents into our schools and involve them in decisions, we have to get the information to them in the first place.

A recent infographic about home to school communication brilliantly lays out a comparison between various tools principals use and parents’ perspectives about the effectiveness of each one.

Personal emails? Bingo!  Both agree: effective and specific.

Text messages? Only about 50% of both agree.  Hmm, and here we are in my current district looking to invest in a system to quickly text to communicate with parents. Maybe the regional competencies and expectations might be a little different? After all, here in the Silicon Valley, parents are letting us know they want more, more, more; but I digress.

App message updates to phones? School portals? Auto phone messages? Parents are saying not as effective. Maybe it’s because the survey focused on parents and teachers. I’m not sure. But the startling piece of the infographic that stands out to me is the effort we put into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Parents think this is a much less effective way to get information about their school or district.

In my district, we recently encountered an interesting scenario. At middle school release at the end of the day, we “heard through the grapevine” that a fire had broken out less than a mile from the school. Multiple times we reached out to the local agencies for updates, but little was available. We had no information to rely on to make decisions about contacting parents or releasing students. In an era of information at our fingertips, we could find nothing.

Within a few hours, our district was getting slammed by a number in our community regarding our lack of sharing information (that we didn’t have, by the way). We wanted to be responsive, but also knew that accurate information was essential. In a subsequent debrief with other agencies, we were told they were communicating via Twitter.

Twitter

We could not get a person to give us information in an emergency. We were supposed to rely on Twitter updates. Welcome to the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong. I use social media.  I love Twitter and Facebook. They are quick and effective for disseminating information. But perhaps a survey to parents in our own communities about what they prefer to use would benefit us in our communication plan. In this day and age, there is no catch all, but finding that healthy balance in a way that enables us to respond in an informative, timely, productive manner is certainly the way to go.

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The WHY of Public Education

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on September 11, 2016

Palm holding card with the word WHYStart of the school year has been notable on Facebook as almost every parent with whom I’m acquainted has shared those infamous first day of school photos.

And as students and staff report back, organizations such as Phi Delta Kappa International, US News & World Reports, and even state departments of education are releasing data and reports that coincide with the start of the new year. The most notable one that has come my way to date has been the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) article on perceptions held by the public regarding public education.

PDK’s 48th annual public poll entitled “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” measuring opinions about public education, lacked consensus over the main purpose of public education. 45% of its respondents, representing a random sample of more than 1500 adults covering all 50 states, believe public education is meant to prepare students academically. Another 26% feel the primary role should be to prepare students for citizenship, while another 25% feel the purpose is to prepare students for the workplace.

What I find most puzzling is the lack of explanation of preparing students for citizenship, but even more so that 26% of respondents felt this was the primary intent of education generation after generation. The survey went on to share more data about how students are performing, opinions on keeping schools open when failing, and general perspectives on what our schools are doing to meet the needs of their students. And before I digress too much, let’s take a moment and look at the list of tasks we expect from our teacher, let alone our public schools. We’re responsible for teaching all subjects, receive hefty criticism when students are obese and we aren’t doing enough with physical fitness. We cover sex education and driver’s education, and the list goes on.  I think this picture says it all:

Many words for teacher showing the varied roles a teacher plays

But back to the survey. There is clear confusion about what the purpose is of education, of public education. With the split data shared above, should we be doing our work differently? If only 45% feel we should be covering academics, then should we be doing less in a focus on academics?

When I think of conversations I have with parents about the use of technology, I get push back that a focus of tech to communicate and collaborate should be reduced. Granted, I always advocate for a balance. But yet…we have workplaces with a colossal reliance on technology, and if we focus on the 25% of parents who want us to prepare students for the workplace, then there really is a role for workplace preparedness, which includes technology.

I don’t expect the responses to change. A great deal of expectations are placed on the deliverables of our public education system. I predict that the confusion will also continue – much is expected of us. And much will continue to be expected. And the WHY won’t change.

But it may morph a bit. Stay tuned.

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Unconferences: Constructive time for the big kids

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on August 8, 2015

We’ve all been there. Conference after conference. Training after training. Receive the agenda ahead of time and peruse for breaks and down time. Is it lecture after lecture? And yes, I’ve hosted many of just those types of trainings with panel discussions, dynamic speakers (well, some not so much), and agendas that have packed in too much, leaving participants exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those experiences may become a thing of the past if the “unconference” movement continues to grow. For the sake of our own learning, let’s hope so!

The unconference gets underway.
The unconference gets underway.

I recently attended my first unconference, hosted by EdCampLeader and Remind101. What a relaxed day of learning, discussions, and brainstorming.

The approach is fairly simple. Get a group of people together, have no preassigned topics in mind, invite no keynotes, but do plan breaks and meals. Got it!

But wait! Attend a conference with no agenda? It works. It really does. Imagine joining productive conversations that go where you drive them. In an era of so much structure and hands ticking on a clock, you relax into the informality. You’re real with yourself and your needs while at a conference!

Edcamp attendees immersed in discussion.
Edcampers immersed in topic.

Our unconference was the EdCampLdr (aka Ed Camp Leader) held in San Francisco, thanks to Remind (aka Remind 101) co-hosting. We were one of 13+ locations in the nation simultaneously unconferencing their way through the day. Our day began with an overview of the rules:

  • Everyone participates in the brainstorming topics.
  • Topics are winnowed for similarity.
  • We follow the “Law of Two Feet”—i.e. if you are not learning or contributing to a talk or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn.

The first round had us engage in 45 minute long conversations. The topic of the first breakout I joined was “Mindset.” Get ready…talk. Those who were present raised questions, shared their work, and ultimately expanded my thinking in a way that I’m not able to do at a conference. Here are just a few of the topics we covered:

  • Bringing data back from implementations to move to growth mindset iterations
  • Must provide time to reflect and revisit
  • How to use data to build growth mindset
  • Build framework as a school leader
  • What is the common vision of the student we are trying to build as a school?
  • Need to move teachers out of isolation and silos.
  • How do you build it in a school staff that is at a very high performing school?
  • Must create an ecosystem that supports team-taught classes?
  • How might we use strategies that we already have in place to build growth mindset
  • Check out instructional rounds
  • What kind of pressures do our staffs, students, families face?
  • Six seconds for social emotional needs
  • Assessment of Learning vs. for learning
  • How do we build mindfulness in all stakeholders?

Get the idea? The best part is that we were empowered to do more than share our expertise but also to look at how we can add, change, or support programs we have in place. While I gave a great deal, the focus on give and take certainly meant that I took more ideas than I gave today.

Happy edcampers!
Happy edcampers!

A day built around conferences. That is an unconference. That is EdCamp. Check it out and attend one.

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Print books are still da bomb!

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on June 16, 2015

With the expansion of technology and the social media world accessible to our youngest of generations, it’s no wonder Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks are growing in popularity. In our household, iPads have been the norm for years. But like the emerging trends of the 13–17 year olds in households and schools, our nine-year-old twins prefer…you guessed it…print books!

Girl on couch reading a book.

Recent statistics report that, despite being tech savvy, the 13-17 age group aren’t big e-book consumers. While 20% of teens report purchasing e-books, 25% of 30–44 year olds and 23% of 18–29 year olds buy digital copies.1 While younger readers are open to e-books as a format, the age group continues to express a preference for print that may seem to be at odds with their perceived level of digital savvy.

Are my twingles any different than their older counterparts? It’s doubtful. Several factors play a role in the preference of teens toward print publications, and they are similar to what my mini-me’s have in play.

First of all, their mother still prefers print, be it the traditional get-your-fingers-a-bit-dirty newspaper each morning, the paperback novel that welcomes a dog-ear, or the ability to share a book with a sibling, a friend, a parent. Or maybe it’s the giddy role model I provide when, traipsing around the country, I find a used bookstore full of treasures!

Secondly, the word of mouth power of print books or magazines is much greater than their electronic counterparts, as I recently witnessed with a group of little girls after a football tailgate party. “Oh, I loved that book,” exclaimed one of seven, when looking at a paperback copy of one of the recent Goddess Girls books strewn on a bedroom floor. “Me too!” exclaimed another. My twins watched, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Have you read one?” I would have been stunned if my dirty pant-kneed tomboys had said yes, as the others, clearly girlie girls, headed toward the makeup and music. Yet two days later, having picked up one copy at a used bookstore and coerced one of my daughters to read “just the first fifty pages,” the Little Blonde One admitted the rest were going on her list to Santa.

Finally, my daughters aren’t very visible on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or blogs unless I’m closely supervising their use on my accounts. However, the teens out there benefit from the bandwagon effect that social media can create around reading resources, especially series. If an author can gather a following with just a couple of books, sales of more are soon to follow.

Guess a screen can’t replace everything.

_______________

1“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Tech-Savvy Teens Remain Fans of Print Books.” Newswire. Nielsen, 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-tech-savvy-teens-remain-fans-of-print-books.html>.

 

 

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Coding: The fifth “C”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on April 8, 2015

Let’s face it. When exposed to it, most students take to coding. I’ve observed this in class after class. Regardless of grade level, students love the creativity, the challenge, and the control they can have over coding. Maybe the appeal for some is tied to gaming, but still; can we just think about the benefits of coding and its ability to strengthen the skills of creativity and problem solving?

Teacher introducing coding to students in an elementary classroom
Introducing coding in an elementary classroom

Coding is a great way to make things happen. When programming, students can make a robot turn in circles, a dog dance across a screen, or a penguin traipse over a bridge. Creativity is about finding inventive and amazing ways to make things happen.

Coding does a great deal to teach the skills of discovery. Kids move from following directions to controlling those directions. Teachers who know how to tempt and activate interest in students start with a bit of directions, just enough to get students started, but not enough to help them finish an assignment. Skills and their development are important, not the end result. Liken it to coaching an athlete in the triple jump: you want them to know where to hit their plant foot on the board and how to project off the first landing, but the distance is less important in the beginning than the form.

Empowering students

Coding can also empower students. Coding can spin off into an interest in building programs, designing creative presentations, creating games, and more! The programming in coding becomes a form of expression, a way to communicate and hit yet another one of those “Four C’s” we profess as so important for the generation of kidlets in our classrooms.

Girls at computers working on a coding exercise
Girls code, too!

Students exploring their interests? Yes, another result of coding. In order to really build their knowledge, to explore creative license, students need to have the tools and permission to control their world. Creativity may be a mindset, but it is one built in coding. As I observed 2nd graders during their first coding lesson, their teacher pulled me aside. “See that boy right there? He’s been computer phobic for two years. Doesn’t like to interact with technology. Look at him now! He’s moving the dog through the maze and he’s jumping the rolling containers.” They can create, they can explore, they can even overcome challenges. Bring on the coding!

As the superintendent of a small, innovative and progressive school district, I believe we need to focus on the “Four C’s” and more—the fifth, coding! The jobs that will someday welcome today’s students will call on their ability to problem solve and think creatively. Here’s to creating a #FutureReady generation, whatever that future may hold.

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