Parent: “What did you do in school today?”
Parent: “What kind of stuff? Fun stuff? Boring stuff? Slimy stuff? What is stuff?”
Student: “You know, things, we did things.”
Parent (increasingly frustrated): “Things? Math things? Thing-a-ma-jig things?”
Parent looks in rear-view mirror and notices student has ear-buds in (or is looking out window or asleep) signaling that the conversation is over.
When our children are small we cannot wait for them to begin to talk with us, to engage with us in a way that doesn’t include incoherent babbling, large puddles of drool, and an occasional smile or giggle. We want a conversation, a connection with these small creatures that have invaded our lives. And in the beginning, once they start talking, we are delighted by the questions, the non-sequitors, the naming of things. Then they start school And those conversations become far and few between.
This means parents and families, in order to find out what is happening with their children during those critical six-and-a-half hour days (or longer, depending on the extracurricular), must rely on clear, consistent communication from their child’s school (and teachers).
When children are in elementary school, it is typical for schools to rely on “backpack mail.” You know a newsletter or note tucked into a student’s agenda. As students enter into middle and high school, communication tends to shift and emails, websites, and even social media become the preferred method of engagement. One effective resource is known as “Parent Portal.” Parent portal is a secure, closed system (the student and family have a login and password) where schedules and assignments (and grades) are posted, and email communications are encouraged. Many districts have a main website with links to specific schools. But if you find that there still seems to be a void, you could use:
• Volunteer Spot: a resource to connect your school’s parent group with specific events and activities
• Mail Chimp: a simple effective email communication tool that teachers can use to foster relationships
• Great Schools: which provides school rankings and resources
• Schooltree: which also provides school rankings in addition to communication tools
In a recent conversation, Naomi Moscoe of Schooltree addressed how complicated and confusing it can be for a family to connect with their child’s school community when all the facets of communication are loosely monitored or controlled. The goal of Schooltree is to act as a one-stop hub for all those who need to connect: Principal, teacher, student, parent (family).
By bringing familiar social networking tools, newsletters, calendars, and more under “one roof” the hope is that communication will be facilitated in a much more efficient way thus helping create a stronger community. Schooltree just launched, but it’s well worth a look to see if it might fit your school-home communication needs.
And as we continue to become more reliant on technology such as smart phones and tablets, there are a number of apps that can connect you with your school and district, and many district leaders now even utilize Twitter as a way to engage with community members.
Clear communication means being better able to build respectful partnerships that lead to an increase in a child’s educational (and social-emotional) success. It isn’t about micromanaging your student’s assignments, it is about helping them manage them better. Knowing a child’s grades prior to a report card helps all partners shift the direction those grades might be going in, in a less combative and defensive way. Knowing when events are scheduled can also help a family better plan attendance to those events.
So before you ask “what did you do in school today?” take a moment and find out what is happening in school by connecting with your child’s teacher via a website or email. Follow the school principal or district superintendent on Twitter, and ask specific questions that encourage an actual dialogue to take place. Ask a question such as, “In science today what was the one thing you learned about the parts of a cell?” You might just have to be ready to be schooled.