[Category: After Class]
Developing Effective Communication Between Schools and Parents
by Antonio Mariconda
In the 70’s a Baseball pitcher called Mike Paul gave a journalist this oh so great statement, he said “…honesty, humility, transparency and accountability are the building blocks of a positive reputation. Trust is the foundation of any relationship.” and is that ever more true than between the school and the parent.”
In schools transparency and access to information is key
The lower level, impersonal criticism from parents of their child’s school is often complaining about what is not being done, even though the schools actually do, it just isn’t widely known about! They say an informed community is a happy one. This was the notion this case study.
This journey started at BETT. I was captivated by Ewan McIntosh at a past Bett Show, he was talking to his massive audience about innovative change. Innovation and the best ideas are born from finely defined problems. My collaborating school had a problem, that could have been an issue doubled.
A problem that a Parental Questionnaire highlighted was that only 46% of parents strongly agreed that the school provides valuable information about their child’s progress. Highover is a school that strives for 100% – 95% either strongly agreed or agreed but they wanted to convert this 46% who strongly agreed to 100%.
A problem doubled as the school was chosen for expansion, leading to twice as many pupils. So the true challenge was, how might we encourage twice as many parents to engage fully with the school community and their children’s learning?
A Google Form questionnaire was sent out to establish the hurdles of passing on information. The first hurdle identified was a conflict of timing. A conflict of timing between the two sects of our parental community.
The parents who commute to London for work wanted meetings to be held after dinner time so they had a chance to make the parental awareness sessions we timetabled throughout the year.
The parents who do not commute to London for work wanted meetings to be held before dinner time so that the session would not impact evening routines.
In 2012, we signed up to access Google for Education to build our virtual learning environment for our school. This enabled us to create email accounts for every member of our community, blogs for every class, club and initiative so that announcements can be shared, and enabled us to build our school, curriculum and class sites around our needs and requirements, making as much information each parent needs from us easier to access.
But that wasn’t going to get the 100%, we wanted to offer more.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Mark Peggs in a recent post in socialbarrel.com found that it is 30 times more likely that a graphic will be read than pure text. We thought an easy way to share graphics to a wide audience would be through YouTube, so we set up Highover’s youtube channel.
We borrowed a swivel and recorded our first parental awareness session. The recorded parental awareness sessions were then uploaded to our YouTube channel for the parents who were unable to come in person to watch at their own convenience. However, that wasn’t providing the two-way interaction with parents that we were striving for. This thought-provoking engagement that starts real change.
We delved deeper into our Google for Education tool box and started playing with Hangout-On-Air. We arranged our first Hangout-on-Air event and publicised it on our website, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube channel. Parents could freely attend remotely. Even better still, I could present and parents could view from the comfort our sofa meaning they didn’t have to leave the house again, and I didn’t have to stick around at school.
Interaction was enabled by the chat facility, the screenshare which allowed me to cast my presentation to their screens at home and the Q&A feature, which allowed them to ask their questions at any point without disturbing the flow of my presentation. I could either answer them in the next sentence when they popped up on my screen or at the end of the presentation. By clicking on the question, I could show parents as the question that was posed that I was answering would appear on their screen.
The hangout on air would then be saved onto our YouTube channel so that parents could refer to it at any other time, and those who could not view it live could go to our channel and view the hangout retrospectively at their own convenience.
We set up a backchannel, using TodaysMeet to ensure that we could interact later with those who could not attend, or even with those who had a question or thought after the hangout.
This also gave parents and other stakeholders a chance to make suggestions to enhance the school’s initiative. The school could review these suggestions and maybe change strategy if a good idea was put forward from the parents which there invariably are.
Parents feel that they own part of the process too. This is important as it also guarantees their participation in the initiatives we put forward and ask to be supported for the betterment of their child.
So these sessions made parents more aware of how the school constantly innovates to create excellent and enjoyable learning opportunities for their children but how could they show the impact in their classroom and on their child’s learning and progress? Well this highlighted our second hurdle!
Parents wanted more time with members of staff to talk about how they could support with their child’s learning at home. Essentially the ten-minute Parents’ Evenings that are held twice a year, just weren’t cutting it anymore. It was never quite enough time to share really useful information about what parents could do to have a joint impact on their child’s learning and our open door policy before and after school was of little or no use with parents who were at work during these times.
So our next simple challenge was born, what if there was a way that motivated children to learn and informed parents of their progress wherever, whenever?
A potential answer of showing what individual children can do or what they can work towards, has been around in various versions for years! Badges… Digital badges.
What are digital badges?
On the surface they are a collection of visual representations of what a child has achieved, more deeply, they are proof of what they have done and a tool for all support structures at home and school to work together to help the child achieve more.
Lots may not be coders or fluent in json (the language behind Open Badges) so Credly could be an option to design, add evidence information and give the badges you create.
Within each badge we added an Outline of Learning shared Google Doc so parents were aware of what the unit was about. These also feature on our website. This provided them enough information to start a conversation with their child about their Computing learning.
We created 3 levels of badges ‘Initiator’, ‘Developer’, and ‘Extender’ that matched up with entering, securing and exceeding age related expectations. The main drive behind the badge was, and still is, to create a tailored curriculum for each child. Lesson scores were collated in the good old fashioned Google Sheets Markbook based on child’s performance, teacher observations, and self-assessment.
However, children are not then pigeon-holed into that badge. The work and support they receive at home counts! Highover’s whole computing curriculum utilises Cloud-based apps, most of which link with Google Drive so children can access their work, add, develop and refine. Parents could offer support and encouragement at home. The editions to their work could see them gaining more points as they have added features listed in the higher bracket of the rubric. So if children gain the initiator badge they could work towards the developer badge and the extender badge whenever they liked if they so wished too, encouraging a growth mindset.
To focus support and let parents and children know what to work on, individual portfolios are sent out to parents of each child in our school at the end of each Computing unit with the badge so they could see what to work on next to get to the next badge level.
The journey started at BETT and it developed at BETT too
He said his specialism was the affective learning domain, the emotional and social aspects behind critical thinking, essentially what is it that encourages child-led, motivated learning?
So Mark is the head of a Belgian think tank for education and is essentially besties with all the educational thinkers who greatly interest me!
His Phd was in affective skills in learning, on that overground journey. He told me that children would be more concerned about getting the points than they would be about finding their own next steps in learning. And after close observation of our pupils’ behaviour, I found that he was right. So what did we do? Distinction. And added point where children embraced discovery learning, finding things out by clicking and seeing what happens and sharing with us the clicks that made improvements!
At the end of each session children complete a Google Form self-assessment where they think about their own performance in relation to the Badge rubrics. To close it we added this final question, to end the lesson encouraging children to think about next steps; what they could do to make their first thought or efforts even better.
A small part in the process of fostering a growth mindset to a task, acknowledging that learning is a life-long pursuit and that tasks are rarely started and finished within the timeframe of any given lesson.
Antonio is an educator who promotes the blend of digital strategies with effective unplugged strategies to enrich teaching, to increase engagement and enjoyment to stimulate learning and progress.