Do. Reflect. Do Better. During my Project 180 journey last year, I made a lot of discoveries. The most important discovery was that kids will do and can learn when grades are taken off the table. But I made another important discovery as well, one that has become my mantra, my guide for the endless journey that still lies ahead. Of course, at any stage of any journey–personal or professional–we can only do our best at that given moment. But, importantly, “best” should not be a destination. It is simply a path to our next better. And to get started down that path, we must reflect on our moment, on our best, and take our first step towards better, which then becomes our “better best” when we encounter similar situations down the road. Of course, I was aware of and made use of the power of reflection prior to my 180 journey last year, but it was during this time of exploring this radical new realm, that I came to rely heavily upon my mantra as I sought to make learning experiences more meaningful for my kids. I tried. I struggled. I failed. I succeeded. I learned. In short, I did; I reflected; and I did better. It was all I could do.
This coming year will really be no different. I will employ my “better bests” as I make my way, reflecting on the moments, taking those first steps towards my next betters. But, this year won’t be the exactly the same either. I have a year of learning under my belt from my explorations in the gradeless realm, and I am poised to share some of my discoveries. And so, I am going to share from what I have begun to call the P-180 plan, the do-reflect-do better approach to teaching. But I do not share from a position of this is “the” approach. That would suggest “best,” and I don’t believe in best. I believe in better, and if my betters can help others find theirs, then my journey will be worthwhile.
And so, with you, I will share. Please use if you find some value in my discoveries, and as always, please adapt to your needs. My betters can’t be your betters. It has to fit you. Feel free to make it fit.
P-180 Plan: Parent Contact
I wanted a simple way to make consistent contact with parents to communicate praise and/or concern for their children’s progress in my class. With a 150 students this was not easy to manage, and adding one more thing to my plate did not seem possible. Still, I felt strongly about the importance of connecting with parents, so I made it happen. This is what I did.
- I created an email template like the one below. I did a boy one and a girl one. I started with just one template, but after a few mistakes with pronouns, I created one for each. I did not have one for my transgender kids, but I asked them what their pronoun preference was, and I adjusted accordingly.
Good morning. I have ______________________ in my language arts class. I wanted to pass along how much I enjoy having her in class. (Insert personalized praise or concern message). I believe parents and teachers have to be partners, and I believe that partnership begins with communication, so please feel free to contact me at any time with any questions or concerns you may have. Thank you.
- I committed to two emails per day. One boy and one girl. I know this does not seem like enough, but I could commit to this. For the first few minutes of my planning period, I wrote and sent the emails. Obviously, the two-per-day approach will never result in my reaching all my parents over the course of the year, but it was an intentional effort on my part to consistently make contact with parents. As you all know, we can only do so much.
- The majority of my emails were focused on praise. Parents get so little positive information from school that I wanted to make these primarily positive, relating things like kids scoring well on a test, having an awesome attitude, or making a kind gesture. Other emails focused on concerns.
- To spread it across my five classes, I used a rotating schedule. I would select from second period one day, third period the next, and so on. I would repeat this over the course of the year.
- To keep track of which students’ parents I contacted, I kept a list of names with the date and a code (P for praise, C for concern).
Overall, I was pleased with the approach. I received many positive comments back from parents, and I was able to emphasize the desired praise-and-concern-related items from my classroom. I was mostly able to keep my commitment of two per day, though there were times when the immediate trumped the important, and I would miss a day here and there. Still, generally speaking, it was a success. However, one thing left me a little unsettled.
I didn’t always like how it felt. That is, though I tried to perceive it as something I was doing “for” my kids, it sometimes felt like it was something I was doing “to” my kids. Yes, I connected with parents through the approach. That was the goal. But I felt like something was missing. And now, looking back, I believe it was the kid. I was tossing a line across the gap that connected me to the parent, but I was not building any bridges; I was not connecting. The kid is the bridge. It is she who brought us into contact, and it is through her that we can make the connection, build the bridge. So this year, I will do it differently. This is how I will do it.
- First, I will change the name, “Parent Connection” instead of Parent Contact
- Then–and this is the big change here–I am going to bring the kids on board. I am not going to do it “to” them or “for” them; I am going to do it “with” them. Instead of deciding what I am going to tell Jill’s parents, I am going to ask Jill what we are going to tell her parents. Oh, I will still send the email, and it will still be on a template, but the personalized message will be co-created by the student and me. It will be a negotiation. I will give my two cents, but I want Jill’s two pennies in there as well. This also creates the opportunity for dialogue between Jill and me regarding her progress in class.
- Logistically, I will have to make some changes in how I select kids. I will have to know the day before, so I can ask each kid what message we are going to send home. This will be a challenge for me to remember to do it every single day, so I am going to make it a public component of our classroom community, which means I will have to make it an active part of our culture, not the passive part it’s been. So, I will sell it. And, as part of that sell, I will introduce that on one select day per week (five classes, each will get one of the days) we will randomly pick two kids for Parent Connections. I will do this right after our Smiles and Frowns entry task each day, so the selected kids will have some time to think about it. Then, near the end of the period, I will have a quick conversation with each. I will also have to have some way of recording it, so I don’t forget when I go to write the email the next day. I suspect I will probably just keep a document on my computer and I will quickly type myself a quick note next to the student’s name as we discuss the content of the message.
I don’t want this to be a scary thing. My goal here is not “to get” kids. My goal here is to build connections. I don’t want my kids to perceive this as, “Oooh, Syrie’s emailing Jill’s parents.” I want it to be, “Cool, Syrie’s emailing Jill’s parents.” I want all my kids to see that connecting with parents can be both a positive and productive part of their learning experience. And this approach will be one of my first steps towards my next better in that regard.
Do. Reflect. Do better.