Last week I wrote about school culture and how it is, perhaps, the single most important piece to achieving the academic success that we strive for in education. I’ve continued thinking about the importance of shaping a school’s culture and have had a lot of conversations and feedback based on last week’s post (thank you to everyone for your thoughts!) As a result of all these conversations I decided to start trying (and modeling) a few strategies that I thought could be beneficial to further engage our student and parent populations. I’ve found a high level of success at the initial level and I’m excited about some of the feedback I’ve received from parents and students alike.
In the past I’ve written about the importance of feedback and how giving and receiving feedback are things that people need to practice. Similarly, I read Thanks For the Feedback a while back, upon Dan’s recommendation, and have been thinking a lot about the concept of learning to receive feedback. There are a lot of factors at play when receiving feedback, which is what we’re asking our students and parents to do as part of the process of further engaging with academics. One of the most impactful ideas is that people need to be in the right mindset when receiving feedback, otherwise it may fall on deaf ears and be ignored.
One challenge that exists when sharing feedback with students and parents is that all too often we only make time to share the “negative” feedback, the stuff intended to help our students improve and grow. This is essential information and must be shared with students and parents, but it’s not the only piece. Balance is an important part of life, in all aspects, and when it comes to feedback there is no difference. In order to reach a level of balance in student/parent communication that will act to further engage these stakeholders we have to ensure that we aren’t solely focused on the “negative.” If we only contact parents about “negative” issues or approach students with “negative” feedback they will begin to block us out and our feedback will be completely lost.
Which brings me to my idea, one of a few I’ve been trying out lately…and seeing incredible results! Positive messages home. I’m not making things up just to have an excuse to contact parents and celebrate their kids. Rather, I’m looking for the positive and taking the time to share the celebration with students and parents. Meanwhile, I continue to make my usual parent contacts for less desirable reasons (detentions, missing work, etc.) What I’ve noticed is that when I copy (CC) parents on these messages to the students (I always do this), I’m receiving a response from the parents 85% of the time when I share a positive message, compared to an approximate 20% response rate for “negative” messages. One of my (many) theories is that as we engage more parents with positive messages that our response rate on “negative” messages will increase. It’s only natural, that as parents begin to see that we’re in this together, that they’ll begin to engage further with their students academic pursuits. When I have kids come up and thank me for sharing a positive message with their parents I know that they’ve had a conversation around this topic. My hope is that we can find a way to help parents open the lines of communication by starting with the positive, then when the “negative” arises they’ve already established a path for having these conversations.
It takes a village to raise a child and we’re all in this together. After a few conversations around this topic, some teachers have already jumped on the bandwagon and have begun to share more frequent (both positive and “negative”) messages home, with wonderful results. If you’re keen to help continue this surge toward a more positive school culture I encourage you to give this a try. Let me know if you’re thinking about it and I can give you some time-saving tips to help prevent spinning your wheels unnecessarily. There’s no better time than the present to celebrate the wonderful students we are fortunate enough to work with every day, you never know when that one positive note home is going to change something for a student or parent!