I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Good Calls Home

Confession: I have a fear... of parents.

It's gotten better over the years - Open House / Parent Night is much more relaxed, as I finally consider myself "old enough to teach" - I could easily have children of my own my students' age. However, when asked, "What would you do if you were not afraid?" by our new superintendent at the start of the 14-15 school year, I thought of parents. Connecting with parents is integral to a positive classroom climate.

Last year, I made it a goal of mine to connect with parents more often. The plan began with emails sent home celebrating something about their children. I tweaked my spreadsheet of student names, printed it out, and kept track every Friday for emails that would be scheduled for Saturday mornings. The subject of these notes was "Saturday Sunshine." Rain or shine, emails detailing what I noticed about my students went out, with positive responses practically every time (some did not respond, nor did I ask them to).

The first few responses were all it took for me to continue (partial clips here)...

  • Thank you so much for going out of your way after a very busy week to write to me. You should be putting your feet up, thinking of nothing but your next glass of wine! ...
  • Thank you so much for that email-that really touches my heart & makes me proud of my daughter! I appreciate you taking the time to write such a thoughtful email...
  • Thank you for the kind words and for taking time to write us about ______. You made my weekend without power with 3 boys much better...
  • That brought a tear to my eye. Thank you so much for letting me know that!! He is precious:) 
  • Hello!! Wow, that is so nice to hear! Especially because LA tends to be more difficult for her than some other classes...
  • Awwww!  You literally just made my day!!  Thank you!! ...
I could go on and on... I saved them all in Evernote! Their notes back keep me motivated.

However, I still have not conquered my "fear" of parents... It's time to take it one step further...

Rik Rowe of Boston actually created a chat last year for "good calls home" (#gchchat). I figured I was doing this, as I sent emails to parents every week. However, when I caught up with him again - amazingly! - in person this summer, his facial expressions when talking about calling parents on the phone were priceless. He made me want to spread that same happiness he described to parents of my own students.

I'm going to jump in this next school year. I'm excited to keep this positive classroom culture going! To get me ready, I'm planning on doing these things...
  1. Create a spreadsheet of student names & parent phone numbers & names (which I do every year anyway).
  2. Create a script that does not frighten the parents as soon as I say who I am! I think I'm scared of them? They're scared of getting a phone call from the school!
  3. Hang this handy-dandy homemade sign on my door for times when I make these phone calls (room 239 can be quite busy). (Get your own for 99c at Michael's!)
  4. Keep Saturday Sunshine notes at the ready. If a parent is not home, I will leave a message asking him/her to read the email message I send instead of leaving a voice message that could be erased.
  5. Implement something new... STUDENT referrals for good calls home. I've created a Positive Peer Feedback sheet (to copy, cut, and put by a jar) for students to fill out. These will be collected throughout the week, and emails will be sent home to parents using this template: 
Please share this message with (student name here):
    (Message from classroom jar / students here...)
We thought you should know!
~(student name here)'s ELA class

This message was sent as a result of our "positive peer feedback jar," which students can contribute to any day of the week to send recognition to a classmate for a job well done.

Next step? Continue to invite parents into our middle school ELA classroom.

     Plan on it.
          Execute it. 

Update 8/18: Check out this podcast with Vicki Davis, Amy Fadeji and Joe Sanfelippo about building strong relationships with parents from Day One.

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