We had parent-teacher conferences last week and I did not receive one parent! And I only teach seniors! The lack of parental participation has plagued my district for as long as I've been employed (13 years), so I welcome any technology that might turn this disturbing trend around.
That being said, groups that allow teachers to communicate with teacher/parents would be helpful in many ways. Parents could get more immediate information about the academic progress of their students, as well as behavior problems. They would be aware of what's happening in the classroom in terms of assignments, special projects, homework, calendar events, etc., and maybe even be allowed to have some input. This still sounds a little too good to be true for my district because you can bring the horse to the water...you know the rest.
Hi Saundra! I'll offer a few thoughts from a parent's perspective.
I have P/T conferences for my 3 kids this coming Thursday. I have a kindergartener, a 6th grader and an 8th grader.
My two youngest go to the same school and parent/teacher involvement is assumed. Both girls brought home forms several weeks in advance to fill out to select times, etc.
With my 8th grader at middle school, though, a form only came home a day ago, indicating that attendance was optional, there were no set times, etc.
I found it interesting that there was such a marked difference between the schools' approaches between elementary and middle school. I can only assume that high school will bring an even more lackadaisical approach. Of course, my experience may not mirror others, but I'm wondering whether teachers feel this same disparity in terms of their school's focus on conferences.
Oh wow an epiphany!. I think it might make a great deal of difference if we offered time options in a more personal way, like an individual letter instead of a flyer. I think we do place an important focus on the conferences at the high school level. We offer four (4) opportunities a year. If a student fails and doesn't earn the required credits, he/she has to make that class up in order to graduate on time. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we maintain continuous communication with parents to avoid the onslaught of verbal attacks and pleading in May when it is just about too late.
To avoid those May onslaughts, Saundra, we sent two copies of a severe deficiency notice out to the parents two months before the end of term (in plain white envelopes), outlining what had to be done in order for the student to pass, with deadlines where appropriate. We enclosed a stamped self-addressed envelope and asked them to sign and return one copy. We also gave the students two copies of it and asked them to sign one as well. If the requirements were not met, a second letter went out to say that the party was over and summer school schedule would follow. If a conference were then requested, we would call and say that we were sorry, but at that point, there was nothing to be done, and we didn't want to waste their time by coming in. The good part of a phone call is that you can either pull the phone away for your ear, or politely end your part of the conversation and just hang up if things get really rough. Our administrators were very good about supporting us. If a parent storm-trooped in without an appointment at that point, they would firmly and politely say “no” and send them on their way, no matter how much the screaming or crying. It always amazed me that parents who hadn’t taken the time even once during the school year to come to a conference night or a privately scheduled one could find the time in May to do so. And what was even more shocking was the reason they didn't want them in summer school was because of vacation trip plans!
I think your answer may not work in an urban/rural public school setting. First, sometimes no matter whether sent mail via USPS or by student, the correspondence may just not get to the concerned party. I want to assume that not all parents are negligent, and wish for their child to succeed. As well you know, each student is different and given to varied responses to their learning experiences. And for sure, you would imagine that by their senior year they would be ready for the "Real World", however, many are not.
Second, some parents really do not know what it means to be a parent; is that the fault of the child?
Finally, as teachers, we are expected to wear many hats, and often we have to go above and beyond standard protocol to reach the seemingly, disinterested student. I believe when we are able to reach the aforementioned, that we truly move closer towards becoming a pedagogue.
You're right, jaie1208, in saying that not every solution works in every situation. It would make life a whole lot easier if one size did fit all. The best we can do in a community like Thinkfinity is to offer some thoughts in the hopes that they trigger more thoughts and in the process we work together to find some useful tidbits we can each use in our own environments.
As to the letters, it is true that sometimes they don’t get delivered at all, but sometimes they are ignored or are student “intercepted”. So, in addition to highlighting the seriousness of a senior year failure to parents by asking them to sign a deficiency notice, it also flags additional required follow-up if not returned. We can then call and ask if they had a chance to read and sign, an opening for further discussion.
Typically, by the time May comes, parents of poorly performing students have been contacted a minimum of eight times during the school year and students have had frequent conferences with their teachers, department heads, the school guidance counselor and the principal and offers of help in real and meaningful ways.
Please note that the problem here is not the challenged learner who wants to pass, and who brings his/her sandwich to the “lunch club” every day for extra help. It is the student who cuts school to go to Atlantic City for the day on a regular basis and whose parents won’t take away the car, which they paid for and carry insurance on, because they are afraid their child won’t love them anymore (true story - he looked at least 25 years old and had fake ID).
So, if our approach at the end of the school year sounded harsh, it is because all the efforts all year long have failed both with the parents and the student. Are we giving up on the student? Not at all. Are we blaming them for the lack of involvement of their parents? Definitely not. What we are doing, I think, is attempting to teach responsibility for their choices. And sadly, you are right again. Some of them are not ready for that even at 18. But how will they ever be ready if no one ever says, “Enough” and then helps get them on track by exercising a little “tough love” and following through with constructive involvement.
I would appreciate hearing some suggestions from you about what would work in your environment. Perhaps a little bit of this and a little bit of that and we can build a recipe that gives everyone a better chance of success with even the most reluctant students.
As in Saundra’s school, the high schools I worked in took parent nights very seriously, but went far beyond those nights. In one of them, we changed our model for seniors and added the requirement to keep in touch and meet with parents whose children were failing on a more individualized basis because we were getting the same parents for the scheduled nights and much more often than not, those were parents of students pulling all A's and B's. (A correlation, perhaps?) Because of the ramifications of a senior failure, their teachers would also call the parents they needed to see on the "official" night to invite them, and then follow-up with the ones who weren't able to attend to schedule a private meeting. (The calls became practice after we discovered that mail from the school somehow mysteriously disappeared into thin air before parents even saw it in some cases!)
Some parents we saw only once or twice at the scheduled meets, while others we saw as many as six times in the year. With seniors, though, you have to wonder when they should become accountable for their own choices, since by the time graduation comes, many of them are already 18 or will be shortly.
Thanks for being a concerned parent!
I would be really interested to see what happens when you try this idea with your parents and students. Senior year is a time for communication with parents on so many topics.
Maybe there are other teachers who work with Seniors who would be willing to work with you to make this a true go.
I taught seniors for 30 years. It took me 20 of them to figure out that the best way to get senior parents to a conference night was to bribe their children! I promised them, and delivered, 10 extra points on their next test grade if their parents/guardians showed up, or if they were not available that night, to set up a separate appointment. In the vast scheme of the universe, those extra 10 didn't make a significant difference in their grades, but it did make my students put some pressure on the home front to attend. What was great was that the students who needed the extra points most pushed the hardest, and those were the parents/guardians I most wanted to see. I also found that the old adage, nothing breeds success like success itself, held true. Once some of my more reluctant learners saw a higher grade, it gave them the warm and fuzzies and I found they tried harder on subsequent tests. But, if you are adverse to grade "augmentation", any meaningful reward should work. (I threw a pizza party once, too .) To accommodate and appeal to "differentiated" parents, I also made sure that student project work was prominently displayed. A throw-back to elementary school, yes, but some like the reminiscent quality of it. It is, after all, the last time these parents will be invited to conferences like these.
My school also made an accommodation for junior/senior parents, who were not invited to the first quarter meeting at all, since this was quite early in the semester and was more of a meet and greet, or to the third quarter. Since they were only scheduled for two meetings instead of four, there was a greater tendency to show up. Of course we could always invite individual parents if the need arose.
I also did some strange things during the school year as well, which parents often responded to. For example, when "Johnny" did really well on a test or was showing great improvement, I sent him home with a "sticky" refrigerator note for Mom. Another grammar school trick, but my seniors, and their Moms, loved it. Mom liked the nostalgia of it and did put it on the fridge, and more often than not, Johnny got the use of the family car for a night, or something similar, as a reward from being sooooo good that teacher sent a note home. That generated interest in the parents/guardians as well, who would often come to say thank you for the note(s) at parent nights. Silly, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Following up with a Thinkfinity Community group would be awesome!
Well, now I'm feeling a bit nostalgic, so will close with a sincere good luck. I know you need it!
Thanks for the great comment. I also offer extra credit points to those students whose parents come to conferences but usually it only works for those students who didn't really need the points. I guess I should try to offer different types of incentives because over the years I have discovered that the apple doesn't indeed fall far from the tree. The students who don't care much about school came from parents who also didn't value education. I have some students who say they don't have to attend if they don't want to, and others who race their moms out of the house so they don't get stuck there to care for younger siblings. It's really a sad situation. In Detroit, where I happen to be, they did institute a program that gives Target gift cards to parents come to the schools to use the resource centers. Being able to use the Internet there also helps. It's really a sad situation for the most part. And oh yes, that brings me to another point. Some of this use of technology to connect with parents is meaningless in my district. Still too many homes do not have Internet access, although many of my students use their smart phones to check their grades on Engrade.
Even though I teach 2nd grade, this was a discussion at a meeting I recently attended. One idea offered was to offer 10 points of extra credit to your students if their parents come or a free homework pass. This can be very motivating for students and they put the pressure on their parents for you! Be creative and think outside the box and don't lose hope!
Over at ARTSEDGE we have a terrrific Parents section with a ton of info about how to encourage parental involvement. Let us know if it's helpful!
I love the artsedge kennedy center site section for parents but it's way too sophisticated for the parents in my community. We need to find some way to get our parents to come in and take basic computer skills training so we can teach them how to better assist their children. Some of our teachers make the homework assignments available to parents online but our school doesn't require it across the board. But we need basic classes to teach those parents who can and want to access the information. We need a Parent 101 computer training sessions -- after school or on Saturdays. First our parents would feel empowered and second our students would benefit I feel from their parents' learning. The challenge is to find the staff to teach them and for people to feel this is a priority. I am a PTA member so I am thinking of suggesting some sort of basic parent computers skills training at our next meeting. Another challenge is that over half of our student population is bilingual so that makes it harder, but I still feel it's worth it to try and get a program going. We are a technological society...those with no tech skills are going to be left way behind....
We offered such a course, Bev, encouraging parents to come with the students, thinking it would be a great activity to share with their children, who could then serve as their "mentor" at home. It was free of charge. We had three labs ready, with 100 workstations in total, and three qualified computer teachers to teach it with a minimal stipend to cover their expenses. We set up topics for each of the six nights offered, so they could pick and choose only the areas they felt they needed, from raw beginner to advanced intermediate. In a population of 1,800 students, we had only 15 takers and only 3 students, but I don't wish to discourage you. That was quite a while ago and parental awareness of the need for computer literacy has certainly increased over the years. I do suggest the flexibility of designing a mix and match program, though.
We then decided to see if we could pique interest by offering a series of one-night presentations on specific topics that affected parents on a more "real-world" level for them -- everything from managing time to financial planning to quick dinner recipes. These did much better, with 50-100 in attendance. We also saw more of those parents attend parents' nights as a result. I think it was more to see the teachers who gave these night sessions to report their progress than to see their children's teachers, but it got them there.
Ultimately, we need to look more closely at what is causing all this lack of interest and address, to the extent that we can, those issues. Some parents are embarassed to attend because of their own lack of education, I discovered, others by language barriers. While I don't feel we can change the attitudes of totally disinterested parents, we can certainly make provisions for the many who do care, but simply don't show it for one reason or another.
I sometimes talk about how well my "Rent a Kid" program worked with teachers and students. I used to hold Parent trainings and they loved it. What a out combining the two ideas and holding a "Bring your Parent" training session. I can see some students getting their parents involved. Once in the training they have each other. You would need to make sure that you call for switching the person on the keyboard once in a while just like you do in the classroom so parents do get quality, hands-on time.
This way, you may have an interpretor for parents who may not speak English as well as their children do. And it could provide some bonding time for parent and child.
I learned this amazing structure from a friend: In Iowa, there is a school system and city that has brought together the local school and family services together. Medical, economic, etc. agencies are all in one school building. The parents have to to attend their child's school in order to get basic services and satisfy needs. The parents then see what is going on at their children's school and are subconsciously learning more about the school, and maybe even running into a teach or two that their child has at the school. This is probably not what you're looking for, but it is a great model that leads the horse to the water, and they drink the water also.
Thanks Christopher. I have actually heard of this before. I know it would work because the DHS offices are always packed. I'm sure there would be a load of red tape to go thru to get this instituted but its definitely worth a try. This might end up being my good deed for the decade. Ill report back one day or you may even hear about it on tv!
Our elementary schools have special times such as early morning events to meet with parents such as Muffins with Moms or Doughnuts with Dads. During these times, teachers are able or they try to find out good days and times during their parents' busy lives that they might could meet for one on one conferences. Many of our children are raised in homes of grandparents; therefore, there are special times for them, too, to visit the school. Our junior high and high schools are becoming more and more interested in our districts online learning environment where teachers post weekly assignments, lesson plans, upcoming projects due or tests, etc. Teachers also post dates and times of important events. One of our high school principals made this mandatory two years ago, and now parents of younger children are asking why it is not available in younger grades (junior high). Well, this year our largest junior high is on board and the parents and students are finding it to be a beneficial resource. Of course, many students still do not have computers in their homes, but computers are made accessible in special areas of the school after hours, local library, family resource center, or churches.
My wife is an educator at our local elementary school (where my 2nd grader also attends school). The administration and PTO organization work hard to engage parents in all aspects of their children's education.
Technology can also play a role - my son is is an accelerated reader program - I receive emails updating me on his accomplishments.
Chad, I also work in a school with very poor parental attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Fisrt I was going to suggest you call the parents at home, but if it's like where I work, the phone numbers you get more ofthen than not don't work. However, I keep trying, and when I do reach home, I start with something positive, and also offer whatever helop I can. In some cases, I have just called to tell the parent how their child is progressing, that they are doing well, etc, and the parent is so shocked, they are speechless. As far as a venue to connect, such as an online website, etc., many of our families do not have computer access, so this is not a realistic option. Lastly, the parents that do come are not usually the ones you hope to see. It's like preaching to the choir.
Parents may be more interested in their children's education if they have resources available to supplement their children's learning at home. Thinkfinity provides many activities appropriate for after school activities.
Teachers could include the URL for the Thinkfinity Community in materials they send home with students at the beginning of the school year. They could provide a brief explanation about the community and encourage parents to join so that teachers could then communicate with parents (and vice versa) via the Private Messages feature of the community or within a specific school group. Parents could also join the group Parents & Families and participate in discussions with other Community members.
In the school district where I taught, we could not email parents unless the parents came to the school and personally gave their email addresses to teachers. The concern was that students might pretend to be parents and provide email addresses to teachers which the students accessed and not the parents. Using the Thinkfinity private messages would probably be more secure for parents than emailing. Also I believe parents would find some of the discussions in the community very helpful in educating their children.
Another good resource for sharing information with parents comes from SchoolNotes. This is not a Thinkfinity resource, but the free web site offers communication options for teachers, parents, and students.