As teachers, we all know that good communication with the parents of our students is important. Parents are interested in their child’s education, and want to be informed on how thier child is doing in your class. They want to hear the good as well as the problems, and they want to do what’s best for their child. They will usually conclude that this includes supporting you in what you are doing with and for your child in your class, and most likely in before and after school rehearsals as well.
Whereas teachers of other core academic stubjects have at most a few grades levels of studnets to service, we music teachers are typically responsible for a whole building of students. This means that whereas our colleagues in other disciplines have up to maybe 100 students to teach, we can easily have five times that number, or more. With that many students, keeping all of their parents up to date, sharing the ups as well as the downs, praises as well as concerns can be daunting, or even appear impossible. In this post, I will discuss ways to facilitate staying in touch with more parents than you’ve been able to stay in touch with in the past. The idea here is not to be perfect at this, but to get better at it by working smarter.
First, technology is your friend. There are several options for using technology to help you maintain excellent communication with your students’ parents. First, collect as many parent e-mails as you can. While parents can be difficult to reach by phone, especially during the work day, e-mails can be read at both party’s convenience, and ususally are answered by the next day. You can share grading information, tell the parent their child did an excdeptionally great job in class today, or share a concern and a possible remedy all in an e-mail. If a phone call or conference is necessary, that too can be arranged by e-mail. I find I can reach many more parents by handling e-mail than I can by trying to return and make phone calls. Using e-mail also frees up some time to make those phone calls to parents who prefer that way of communicating.
Secondly, make a copy of all of your students’ addresses. For quick communication of something that does not require an immediate response to a parent who does not have an e-mail address and/or phone service, or who simply doesn’t respond, a quick letter to the home is useful. Again, this can be a notice of a concern and what you are doing to address it, or it can be a congratulatory note for an accomplishment. For this type of letter I use a form with the child’s name filled in and the specifics shown in a checklist. This is especially important for concerns. It keeps the content objective and void of emotion, both attributes of keeping your communication professional. Though e-mail or phone contact is preferred, letters can also be time savers. Just be sure to have any written correspondence you send home approved by your administrator.
Another resouce that is extremely useful is Class Dojo. In a nutshell, Class Dojo allows teachers to message parents, share documents and videos, build digital portfolios that can be shared with parents and more. It not only helps with communicating with parents, but also has tools and resources to help you organize your classroom, and even manage classroom behavior with a rewards tolken system. Initially you print out an instruction sheet with sign up and log in instructins and send it to the parent. Once the parent has logged on, you’re all set to include that parent in their child’s virtual classroom within the application.
Another piece of good communication with parents is having good data to share with them. After struggling to maintain detailed data on students in my music classes, I found the best system is to make running records. In running records, the teacher makes notes that are an assessment of what the child is doing while they are doing it. As with reaching parents, it is not possible to assess every student every class, so make a schedule of who you will make a running record for as part of your lesson plans. For example, you may choose to make a running record of singing alone for six children during a second grade music class. Decide which six children you will assess, and when done, leave the assessing for that class. The next time you see that class, you will have scheduled another six children. Each class, after the running records are made, share the notes you have taken as immediate feedback for the child.
With the running record in hand, convert the notes into a rubric score. For singing alone, you will read your notes, and then complete the rubric for that child. It helps if when you are making the running record you have the rubric in mind or even in front of you on a clipboard. That way, the running record flows easily into a rubric score. Or, you can make the runing record right on the rubric itself. I like to use a rubric that is printed with a space for comments next to each criteria. I make my running record in the comments space, and fill out the rubric all at once, but you can fill the rubric out later if you prefer.
Once converted, you now have data and comments to back it up to share with parents and to use for a standards-based grade. One caution on converting rubric scores into letter grades. Rubric scores do not equate with percentage scores used for grades. They must be converted. Use roobrix to quickly turn your rubric score into a percentage grade. With well documented running records, assessments, and grades in hand, you are in a great position to not only inform parents of how their child is doing in your class, but to also pinpoint those things they are doing well, and those things that they need to improve upon, based on your running record.
This discussion has included several ideas for formal communication with parents regarding their child’s progress in your class. Much of the communication you will have with parents will be of this kind; however, do not overlook the benefits of informal communication as well. The best duty you can have is hall duty in the morning as the children are arriving at school and at dismissal. You can cheerfully greet the parents that drop their children off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and briefly exchange small talk with them. Knowing what the children are doing outside of school helps too. “How did Jacob’s soccer game go?” “Did you have a good vacation in Virginia Beach last week?” These kind of brief conversations build friendships that will garner you precious parental support. Be in touch as often as you can.
If you are a music teacher or music administrator and would like me to visity your district to give professional development, please use the contact page to get in touch with me.