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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Tell your data story visually

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on September 23, 2015

Thmubnail of Janice's infographicHave you been in a quandary about how to present data about your school or district?  Do you worry that your stakeholders will be overwhelmed with so much data they will not be able to see the big picture?   You may want to think about creating an infographic to tell your story.

Communicating the story to your stakeholders may be easier and certainly more engaging if you can do it graphically.  Building an infographic is a lot like writing a press release. Once you have all the research and data at your fingertips, determine the most compelling headline for the story you want to tell.  Create a hierarchy with your data.  What is the main idea and what are the supporting details?

Next, choose a template and build a frame for your story.  Each of the online infographic tools has a number of templates that you can use and adapt for telling your story.  If your story is a comparison and contrast there are templates that work well for that purpose. Maybe your story is linear and you want to choose a template that follows a timeline.  Whichever format you choose, this is the step that will provide the structure for your infographic.

Next, you get to become a graphic designer.  Your template will come with a basic layout, colors, and design elements.  However you can add, change or remove anything on the template.  There are options for adding pictures, graphs, charts, weblinks, or embedding video.  In fact, there are so many options you may want to take some time to see what other people have created or watch some video tutorials that most of the online sites have created to support their tool.

Your first one will take awhile.

Be prepared to spend some time planning the layout.  On my first attempt, I built the infographic as I went along and I spent a lot of time redoing and moving things around which was a pretty tedious process.   The first infographic I created took many hours and I did not think I would ever do another, but once it was done and I began using it, the positive feedback inspired me to try another.

Facsimile of Janice's infographic about CBK LCAP
Click the image to see Janice’s full infographic.

Initially you should take your infographic out for a test drive and share it with only a few individuals who can give you feedback.  Allow time for revisions and then make it public to your stakeholders.  The beauty is your infographic lives on the web and you can continue to update and make changes.

Give it a try! Two tools that I have used are Piktochart and Visme.  Other options are Easel.ly, Canva, Infogram.

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Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on March 30, 2014

Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Twitter

Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!

 

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Getting Parents on Board, Part 2

Posted by Sheila Grady on July 5, 2013

Men, ladders, standards cartoonAs our elementary school prepared to take the STAR tests this spring,  a parent—who, as it happens, is also a former student of mine (sigh!)—stopped in and said, “Hey, whatever happened to the old CTBS test?  What’s this STAR thing?”  Oh my, did  I feel, well, experienced.

At the same time, the question made me realize that we have some parent education to do!  Smarter Balanced is on its way and our parents should know what to expect!  Here is what I came up with for my parent newsletter.  Fellow principals, feel free to cut, paste and mash up for your own purposes.  It’s all about collaboration! 

Common Core State Standards

California’s state education standards that have been guiding curriculum and instruction for years are being replaced with Common Core State Standards.  This new set of standards began development in June 2010 at the request of the Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.  Now simply known by the shorthand “Common Core,” they represent a change in our expectations of student learning.  Keep in mind the 21st Century Skills (see “Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core)—critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration—as we explore the Common Core.

We will start off with a comparison of the current California standards to the Common Core.   As you consider the contrasts shown in the chart below, think of how the world has change since 1997, the year that the current California standards were adopted. To help ground you, in 1997 the movie Titanic hit the theaters for the first time; Steve Jobs returned to a pre-iPhone Apple; and the new name “Google” was coined for a fledgling search engine that had originally been called BackRub.

California Standards Common Core
Adopted by California in 1997 Adopted by 48 states 2010 – 2012
Purpose to establish content of learning for California students at each grade level Purpose to prepare students to compete in a competitive global society
Developed by California Department of Education for California to reflect a strong consensus among educators Developed by educational professionals in 46 states and informed by national and international research, evidence, and standards from countries that are recognized for high-quality education.
Current (albeit 1997) state standards Built on the strengths and lessons of the current state standards
Each state had its own unique set of standards, varying in content and rigor. Standards are the same for students in all states that have adopted the CCSS.
Assessments designed by commercial educational testing services Assessments designed by two consortia; each state choses one.  CA has chosen Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
Assessments are multiple-choice items based on the California State Standards 1997. Assessments are “Next Generation Assessments” that assess depth of knowledge by analyzing and synthesizing information, writing essays and applying knowledge.
STAR Test for all students in California in Grades 2 – 12 Smarter Balanced Assessments in Grades 3 – 8 and Grade 11
STAR Results reported 3 months after test. Smarter Balanced Results reported within several weeks.
STAR testing consumes several days of class time. Smarter Balanced is expected to take 1 to 2 hours of student time.

 

In the simplest form, here are key changes in what we expect children to know and do at the end of K- 12 education:

English/Language Arts

Students must be able to demonstrate these skill “shifts” in English Language Arts/Literacy:

  • Read as much non-fiction as fiction
  • Learn about the world by reading
  • Read more challenging material closely
  • Discuss reading using evidence
  • Write non-fiction using evidence
  • Increase academic vocabulary

Mathematics

And under Common Core math, students must be able to…

  • Focus: learn more about fewer, key topics
  • Build skills within and across grades
  • Develop speed and accuracy
  • Really know math and really use it
  • Use it in the real world
  • Think fast AND solve problems
Map of states that have adopted Common Core State Standards
Green states have adopted Common Core State Standards. Click map for more information.
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Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core

Posted by Sheila Grady on June 10, 2013

When it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards, we have much to do, not the least of which is parent education.  Parent newsletters are one obvious avenue for getting the message out.  Here are some topics and ideas that can help you get a head start on next fall’s newsletters.  Principals, you are welcome to cut and paste and, of course, contribute your own “open source” musings in the comments!

 21st Century Learning

Things are clearly different in our 2013 world, and school is one of those things!  The model of schooling that most of us experienced was established in the 19th century and fine-tuned in the 20th century to develop a citizen workforce for the Industrial Revolution.  In many ways, the schooling we adults received was based on an assembly line model.  As we educate your children, we are not preparing them to work in a factory.  The skills they will need in the workforce will be a “blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies”.   (Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)

Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity

The new basics are critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.  In fact, at our school, we add a fifth “C” to this: conservation.   Let’s review what these skills are and think about how we may already see them being developed in our school.

  • Critical Thinking requires one to reason effectively, solve problems, make judgments and decisions.  We scaffold our students’ opportunities to think critically and provide a foundation upon which to base their thinking.  (Hint – our “Character Counts” program) 
  • Collaboration is the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, to be flexible and able to compromise, to assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and to value the individual contributions of each team member.    (Hint – Parent-Teacher Committees, Fundraising Drives)
  • Communication is the ability to express ideas clearly in a variety of ways—written, spoken, drawn, built, acted out—and to receive ideas from others by effective listening, watching, and questioning.  (Hint – Reading and Writing for sure, but also Art, Music, Tech)
  • Creativity not only means having new ideas.  It is the ability to elaborate or refine  the ideas of others and to be open to new ideas and possibilities.  (Hint – PTA Meetings, Science Night)
  • Conservation means that our students will take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges.  (Hint – our school Green Team!)
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