Communicating with Parents
As students move into middle school, the lines of communication with parents change. What works in elementary school morphs into something different as students become adolescents. We believe it is very important to keep parents informed about what is happening in their child’s education. While we recognize that parents want to be involved, we also understand that families are busy, and get busier, the older the students become. Sports, clubs and other extra-curricular activities increase, making it more difficult for parents to stay on top of their child’s homework, studying, etc.
Our simplest (and low tech) method for communication is asking parents to sign the student’s agenda/planner. Most middle schools use a planner of some sort. This allows us to build good study habits and time management.
Included In The Daily Agenda
Each day, we list the topics that will be covered that day in the core classes, along with any homework for that night. As students enter class each morning, they are expected to copy it down. We also have a student copy down the assignments from the team teacher and then write those assignments on the board, as well. This means that all of the topics for the day are listed on both boards, all day. Students are required to copy everything that we write.
Each afternoon, we have D.E.A.R. time. This stands for Drop Everything And Read and consists of 15 minutes of silent reading time. During that time, we walk around with a clipboard and a chart. We check each student’s agenda, circling the homework, writing a note to parents, if needed and initialing the entry. We also check for a parent signature. If it is signed, we put a checkmark on the chart for that day. If it is not, we put a zero.
Incentive for Signing
How do we ensure that students take the agenda home to get signed, you wonder? We offer an incentive. Over the years, we tried extra credit, candy, random drawings and other rewards. All of these met limited success. It wasn’t until we began issuing homework if the agenda was not signed that we had a high level of participation. The idea is simple and fairly easy to carry out.
If a student has his or her agenda signed each day of the week, he or she gets no homework on Thursday. If a student misses out on even one signature, homework is handed out. We make sure the homework is a simple worksheet – nothing to complex. We position it as an annoyance. It has been our experience that annoying the students with an assignment causes them to have their agenda signed.
This assignment is not graded, it is simply a ticket into the All Done Club. You would be surprised how many students will get their agenda signed, in order to avoid this homework (which is our purpose, after all)! Friday morning, when we check in the work, any student who wasn’t assigned the homework simply gets a mark in the box on the All Done Club chart. Having marked off everyone’s signatures on our chart as we checked agendas makes this simple.
Getting the Agenda Signed
We explain to the students at the beginning of the year that it is THEIR job to have the agenda signed, not their parent’s. Suggestions we give for ease of signing include: leave it open on the kitchen table, propping it near the front door, or even leaving it on their parent’s pillow in the evening (for those parents who work night shifts). We remind them that they don’t have to be present when their parent signs. This removes much of the pressure on the parents. In addition, we try to remind everyone that the worst that will happen is they have an extra assignment on Thursday evening. (Not really the end of the world, after all!)
Parents really appreciate this routine. It makes it easy for them to see what their child is studying in school, as well as any homework or upcoming quizzes/tests. In addition, they can write a quick note to us in the agenda and we’ll see it the next day. It is one more method for communicating with parents (particularly those parents without internet access).
While it sounds like a lot of work, once it’s begun, it nearly runs itself. We try to copy stacks of worksheets in advance. In a half hour, you can have 4-6 weeks worth of agenda homework ready. We use the same charts for the agenda signatures that we use for the All Done Club. In fact, I keep my charts all on the same clipboard, so if a student is wondering if he or she will have homework Thursday, it’s easy to check.
The other benefit to this system is the documentation. Throughout the year, I can see which parents have signed and which ones have not. This means I have data showing my communication with parents. Collecting this sort of data is more important than ever. With teacher evaluations increasingly based on parent communications, student growth, etc, this is one more tool to help the teacher, along with the student and parent. The success of this system has made my life easier, in more ways than one.