Engaging Parents & Fostering Home-School Communications

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1 Dr. Wright greets families at our Meet-the-Faculty event in September Engaging Parents & Fostering Home-School Communications Our hallways are often full with parents and community members who partake in school events. Fostering a home-school connection with our students parents/guardians and community members was critical. In addition to information sharing and creating a positive relationship between teachers and parents, we recognized that we needed to learn more about the diverse students we serve. We needed to know about our students families, language, culture, and values in order to provide personalized and inclusive learning experiences. We also knew that the vision of our school would be new to the majority of parents. Parental agreement and support of our vision was important to fostering a cohesive school community. Finally, we wanted to engage parents in new and meaningful ways just as we were reconceptualizing teaching, we were also rethinking the notion of parental engagement and home-school relationship building. Including items such as hard copy notes in backpacks was only one means to communicating with parents. Initial surveys of our parent community indicated that our parents wanted up-to-date and instantaneous access to school communications (that is, leveraging the use of web-based tools and social media). Hence, a range of strategies were implemented to build strong relationships between home and school, to communicate our school vision, and to support the engagement of parents/guardians at Michael Strembitsky School. Our communication planning centered on ensuring parents felt welcomed and valued by the school community as vital partners. We sought communications that showed parents a range of opportunities to become involved, gave choices to partake in school events, and highlighted strategies or events that would assist parents in supporting student success. We continually contemplate how we are providing ongoing communication and dialogue in a variety of formats. Communication strategies include: Ongoing discussions between parents and school Faculty - in person, over the phone, or by . Legacy and vision features that promote school vision (acrylic display hanging in our general office that was developed in consultation with our stakeholders). Introductory materials about curriculum and classroom expectations (packages and postings to School Zone provided to parents at our Meet the Faculty event during the third day of school). 95

2 Authentic Learning in the 21st Century Reconceptualizing Learning and Teaching at Michael Strembitsky School I Participation in classroom activities, fieldtrips (including trips that support PBL) and volunteering for school events. Classroom and school displays (including curricular descriptions and the competency wheel). Mentors (e.g. parents who were police officers came in as guest speakers during health week, etc.) Classroom newsletters. School newsletters (including information on our vision, what 21st century learning looks like, project based learning, professional development topics, grant work undertaken with Alberta Education, results from the Tell Them From Me survey, etc.). Use of social media (such as Twitter) for both parent and student use. Press releases for special school events. Featuring the school vision when speaking with the media. Use of Michael Strembitsky School website. Website is continuously updated and includes information on: academic programming, complimentary course offerings and curriculum descriptions, calendar of events and meetings, student safety information, student-owned devices policy, newsletters, handbooks, instructional minutes/calendar, Learning Commons, information on student safety, etc. Website also provides links to other sites of interest, including Curriculum Redesign and the Framework for Student Learning. Participation in conferences and student-led celebrations of learning. Note from Division 3 teacher to the rest of our Faculty: The Div 3 team came up with the idea of having the parents come during the Student-Led Conferences and spin the 21st century competency wheel to become more familiar with the competencies themselves. Once the parent spins the wheel, the student will have to identify at least one situation, scenario, subject, or program that we have at Michael Strembitsky School that relates to that particular competency. We hope that this will strengthen both student and parent literacy when it comes to our competency wheel, as well as demonstrate how involved the students are in relation to its ideals. Sharing assignments, rubrics and exemplars that demonstrate competency development and 21st century learning.

3 Specialized materials, assignments or resources. Use of student agenda books for students from Kindergarten-Grade 9. The front of the handbook contains the MSS Student-Parent Handbook. Progress reports that showcase students achievement, performance, and competency development. AJ Ould, our School Council Chair, stops by to check out Shark Lakes. Mr. Ould spent considerable time talking to our Grade 9 students about their scale drawings, finished products, and project plans. Use of SchoolZone. SchoolZone is a secure web portal that has been designed to provide parents and students with school and student information. The portal includes: School Newsletters, homework, assignments and rubrics, progress reports, attendance records, notices about overdue library books, achievement results, and links to great online resources. SchoolZone is available at any time and on any computer connected to the internet, from home or work. Both the school administration and teachers are able to post information about school council meetings, volunteer opportunities, school assemblies, etc. making it easier for parents to find out about school happenings without sending home lots of paper. Access to Google Apps. With more student-owned devices coming into school, and with the shift from wired to wireless access, it is essential that students are provided with a consistent set of learning resources anytime, anywhere. By providing our students with Google Apps through SchoolZone, new teaching and learning strategies have been adopted and developed to support student learning anytime, anywhere with single-sign-on access. Parents/guardians are able to review what the child has been doing by looking at actual samples of schoolwork that have been collected in an electronic portfolio. Google Apps allows students to communicate and collaborate using Google powered and calendars, and make documents, presentations and websites easily. Accounts are created and administered through EPS District Technology and using Google Apps Education Edition. Students now have access to their files, school , grades, calendars, and collaborative tools to create documents, presentations, and sites whenever they have access to the internet at any time, from any device with web capability. Teachers will continue to post assignments and class information to SchoolZone, but now these include online, collaborative documents. Development of grade-level Share sites for parents (including use of QR codes) Use of student blogs. 97 Parents are often invited to see learning in action. Here, one mother is seen talking with Grade 9 students about their Shark Lakes projects. Use of telephone/voice messaging system. Inviting parents to assess their child s work or PBL projects. Participation on School Council and Strembitsky Parent Foundation. Information about our work was shared at meetings throughout the year with

4 ?Provocative Questions Authentic Learning in the 21st Century Reconceptualizing Learning and Teaching at Michael Strembitsky School I Mrs. Harris talks to parents about the Grade 1 program at our Meet-the- Faculty event in September. Allowing for greater parental voice by seeking Parent/Guardian feedback for the school planning process, Holiday concert planning, general feedback in newsletters (clip and return), etc. Parental voice was also sought when making placement decisions for diverse learners. 98 Ongoing presentations whereby parents learn more about school happenings and vision (e.g., discussion about our vision and competency development at our Grand Opening ceremony, talking about service learning in opening comments at our Holiday Concerts, talking to School Council about their role in relation to Ministry, highlighting district and school policies within School Council presentations, etc.) Tracey Marshall Craig, the Chair of the Summerside Playground Committee, talks with MSS parents about the playground project and fundraising. For all of us at Michael Strembitsky School, we were intentional in our efforts to initialize a range of strategies and tools to foster home-school connections. This year was about creating a network of two-way communications. Cognizant that a one size fits all approach would not serve our diverse student and parent/guardian body, we developed a plan that allowed parents numerous ways to provide input about their child s progress and school happenings. Our experience, thus far, is that significant and meaningful parental involvement is critical to improving learning and garnering parental understanding and support of our school vision. Parental engagement has made MSS a much richer and positive place to learn and teach. Our understanding of meaningful parental engagement draws upon years of seminal research by scholar, Joyce Epstein, and is built upon our belief that meaningful engagement requires sustained and deliberate efforts. Implications for Practice Reflections Unanticipated Learnings r l Web Links f Research & Resources

5 Implications for Practice It is important to garner feedback from parents and others as to the most effective means of communicating classroom and school information. The communications strategy used ultimately needs to meet the needs of the parents and school community. Use of Google Apps provides parents with anytime, anyplace access to their child s work and assignments. Many parents were impressed when teachers logged in and provided real time feedback online, while students were working on their assignments from home. Parental engagement and communications at conferences were the focus of one of our brown bag sessions for newly-hired teachers. Parents/guardians and teachers both have critical pieces of the picture of a child s development and learning. Hence, it is vital for parents and teachers to communicate effectively with one another each can be more effective when information is shared on an ongoing basis. Clear and ongoing home-school communication ensures greater responsiveness to students unique needs and overall development. Technology allows educators and parents to be linked into a more robust web of mutual support than ever before. Schools and homes can be connected through a range of applications and web networks that allow for freely sharing information via , blogs, websites, Google Apps, etc. This provides parents access to information about their child and the school twenty-four hours a day and year-round. Parental involvement and engagement can take many different formats. We tried to create an inventory of parental expertise to draw upon. This was a different way of conceptualizing the role of the parent that is, the parent as expert who has something important to contribute to our programming, both for student and teacher benefit. This mentorship database was posted on School Zone as well as our school website. Student achievement is impacted when parents are involved in their schooling. 99 Provocative Questions Does additional reporting of student progress (in the form of a formalized interim report three times during the school year) enhance student learning? Enhance parental communications? To what extent do parents value formative feedback over summative grades? How can new technologies be leveraged to stream or store classroom happenings or school events for working parents? What are the FOIP implications? How do we engage parents in the issues that they raise? For example, parents continue to want traffic issues addressed; however, few parents volunteered to assist with parking/traffic planning and supervision. How does a large school manage logistics and time when engaging families in school events? (e.g., multiple holiday concerts) To what extent do the factors that parents perceive as supporting the school and contributing to their child s success align with the expectations of teachers and administrators? How do we move from an understanding of parent/guardian involvement in schooling as only occurring when parents/guardian are at the school? With work and busy home schedules, many of our parents/ guardians struggle to partake actively within our daytime school activities. How might we engage families in school-sponsored activities or communications outside of the scheduled school day? How do we make this manageable for teachers?

6 Authentic Learning in the 21st Century Reconceptualizing Learning and Teaching at Michael Strembitsky School I If the school is truly the hub of lifelong learning for a community, how do we provide parents and community members access to learning opportunities within our facility? How might learning opportunities that benefit students, teachers and parents be hosted in evenings or on weekends? (e.g., wellness conference, career fairs, learning a second language, etc.) What type of professional learning activities might school members engage in to further develop an understanding of how to create meaningful partnerships with parents? How do all educational partners (Ministry, school board, school council, etc.) promote and facilitate meaningful parental engagement? Reflections 100 The old saying a complaint is a gift had to be embraced by our Faculty. In the fall of 2012, we were confronted by small group of parents who wanted more information about PBL. They were concerned that their children were being short-changed on the curriculum. Others indicated that PBL was asking too much of kids. One father even argued, I didn t send my child to school to learn how to think. She needs to know what to think. Instead of being defensive or ignoring these comments, the school administration compiled the feedback, complaints and questions. This data was presented to the school Faculty. We analyzed this data and collectively brainstormed how we might better address these concerns. Communication was viewed as a top priority just because we were convinced, didn t mean that our parent community was convinced. All of us left the meeting with common language, key messages, and practical strategies to better communicate with our families at upcoming conferences, via SchoolZone, and in newsletters. (Lisa Wright, Principal) Unanticipated Learnings Although parents expressed the importance of ongoing feedback on their children s learning, we were surprised that a number of families did not access their child s online interim reports or Term 1 and 2 progress reports. We wondered if there were some families that did not have access to a computer to print the reports, or if parents had the skills required to navigate SchoolZone and download the respective documents. It was advantageous to carefully delineate the role of the School Council and the Strembitsky Parent Foundation. While the School Council dealt with operational and instructional matters, the Strembitsky Parent Foundation focused on fund raising and planning school/community events. To ensure that everyone, regardless of income or other circumstances, has equal access to such electronic tools, we need to consider how parents can access computers in a variety of public settings such as our school, in public libraries, etc. We have yet to determine how parents could access school computers and how we can assist parents in developing the skills needed to access information posted to SchoolZone or other school communications.

7 Many parents indicated that they wanted to use Twitter and Facebook as a means for connecting with the school. We found that few parents actually followed us on Twitter. Most of our communications on Twitter focused on school logistics such as upcoming dates and events. There is limited space to communicate more fully and with greater detail. Originally the school principal was charged with Twitter communications. Over time, it was apparent that this responsibility needed to be delegated to one of the Assistant Principals who better understood how to hash tag, attach photos, etc. Teachers continued to work with parents on a one-to-one basis regarding 21 st century competencies and project based learning. The outcome of these conversations was improved teacher articulation of our vision as well as increased parental understanding. Flipped classroom models were explored by some teachers as a means to providing parents with a glimpse into classroom instruction and curricular expectations. The use of the flipped classroom is an approach that we will continue to explore as a means to provoking conversation between parents and their child at home. 101

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