Positive Notes Home

We’re in the home stretch, three weeks until summer break, wow!  I keep thinking about our school culture and I’ve been reading even more about it as people share amazing articles, links, and books with me (thank you!)  I will keep it short this week because I think it would be really valuable if you went to this link and read a great blog post that was shared with me.  I’ve written about ideas for improving school culture the last two weeks and the theme hasn’t died down in my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not going anywhere!  

Last week I brought up the idea of positive notes home.  The author of the post I shared above makes a great case for dipping your toe into the waters, it’s not a huge time commitment but the power of those notes IS huge!!  As an example, one of our colleagues came to me this week to show me an email he received.  He wasn’t trying to brag about his child but rather was sharing it with me to help confirm my theory.  It was a glowing email about his child’s performance in class and the way it made him feel, as a parent, was exactly the kind of feeling I believe we need to start fostering in this community.  He was proud of his child and happy about the growth shown academically but along with those feelings he was thankful toward the teacher for sharing.  This is what I’m after, that parental feeling of positivity and thankfulness for us (the teachers!)

We need to bring parents to the table.  They need to be more a part of the school community than they are now (as a generalization).  By communicating regularly, and not just for “negative” reasons, we will begin to forge a connection that we can draw upon to help get them more involved in their child’s education as well as the school community.

As I said, I’ll keep it short this week.  PLEASE give it a try, send a few positive notes home and see what comes back!!

Pushing Forward with School Culture

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!  

Starting with Culture

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the culture of our school.  Having been in four previous schools in various places around the world I’ve been a member of a variety of different school communities.  Some have been naturally very positive and others have required a lot of time and effort in order to reach a comfortable level.  However, the one thing that holds true in all of these schools is the importance of creating a community centered around the school.  I believe that means that every stakeholder must be appropriately involved in the educational process, we can’t reach a point where we are ever comfortable with leaving any particular group of people out of the learning community.

Throughout this first year at AC I’ve watched, listened, and felt the pain of teachers as we’ve banged our head against the wall trying to engage students and parents in the learning process.  We have a lot of amazing students and families here at AC.  However, there are also a large number of students and families who are disengaged and, at times, completely oblivious to the reality of the expectations for learning.  I don’t mean to make a sweeping generalization, as that wouldn’t be fair to all of those students and families who are integral parts of our community.  I know that we, as educators, haven’t given up on a single one of these students or families and we work extremely hard to engage them.  What I’m worried about right now is the possibility that we’ve given up on some of the parents, maybe even written them off as completely disengaged.

There is a lot of evidence to support the theory that students whose parents are more involved in the school community do better academically.  This is powerful stuff, especially when you look at our attendance at parent nights or PTO meetings.  Where are all of our students’ parents?  As I’ve settled in at AC I’ve had the chance to sit back, observe, and ponder questions such as that.  There is one thing that keeps boiling to the top as I contemplate our community; I’m concerned that we haven’t done enough of the “right” things to engage our parents.  There is no doubt in my mind that we’ve tried a lot of strategies to engage our AC families but what I think has become obvious is that we’ve yet to find the “right” or most successful strategies.  

Not to be lost in this conversation are the kids, what impact has this had on their learning?  Well, as I mentioned above, there is a lot of research to support the theory that students whose parents are involved in the school community achieve more academically.  That is very important to consider as we ponder, as a school, how to best help our students grow as learners.  So, let’s think about that for a second…which of your students struggle the most to engage with the learning process here at AC?  How involved are their parents?  Next, and what I want you to consider as the most important question, what have you done to further engage those parents in their student’s learning?  Have those strategies worked?

We need to come together over a common understanding of what it means to engage our full community.  As I said earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this lately and I’ve also had a number of conversations with different teachers, parents, and students.  Let’s work as a team to bring this entire community together around one common theme, student learning!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, concerns, and strategies to further engage the different parts of our AC community…please share!