As anyone who works in the field of education knows, the summer months are a time of planning, preparation and personal growth (how’s that for an alliteration?) for teachers and school districts alike. After all – how often do you have the opportunity to take three months to reflect on your performance through the previous nine? While much of that time is spent developing classroom units and materials and becoming familiarized with new technologies, there is also time allocated to revisiting age-old conundrums, like how to best engage parents in their children’s learning.

Parent engagement has long been touted as one of the leading factors of a student’s success – whether that manifests itself through fewer behavioral problems or higher grades and test scores – the end result is the same. Generally, students of highly engaged parents are more likely to be promoted, more likely to continue into graduate and postgraduate education and more likely to have better social skills than their peers. Basically, they achieve more than they otherwise might have.

Despite this knowledge, teachers and parents alike often struggle to connect in ways that will meaningfully impact a child’s education and future. After all, how many can relate to this parent from the Minnetonka School district who said, “My child was in Kindergarten and when asked about his day he would always reply, ‘I don’t know’”?

The situation is frustrating on both ends of the equation, and the losers are almost always the students.

What’s worse is that according to a recent Gallup poll, “Only 20% of parents in the study were fully engaged with their child’s school. Another 57% of parents in the study were indifferent, and 23% of parents were actively disengaged with the school their child attends.” In plain language, that means that only one in five parents is fully engaged in their child’s education. With that information, it’s understandable how educators can become discouraged and disenchanted with the notion of trying to take any additional time to connect with parents who, for all appearances, don’t want to be talked to or hear what they have to say.

It’s certainly not an optimistic prognosis by any stretch of the imagination, but there are positive indications that the situation is improving. In a separate study conducted by Speak Up, a Project Tomorrow initiative, a whopping “62% of parents say that being updated daily on their child’s homework assignments, projects, and upcoming tests is an important feature that they can use to help their children succeed in school”. The indication that parents are thinking about how to better prepare their children for success suggests that parents of current students are becoming more receptive to how they can engage with their child’s education than previous generations. In addition, the awareness that technology should be used to facilitate that communication has become more prevalent.

Fortunately for those parents, apps that provide such updates to improve parent-teacher communication DO exist. After we implemented PreciouStatus in the Minnetonka School district, that same Kindergarten parent who was faviconfeeling disconnected with their child’s education went on to say “with these updates I can ask [my child] specific questions about his day which will trigger his memory and we can have a good conversation about what he learned that day.” As a parent, it provides an invaluable tool to prompt conversations with their children that might not otherwise be possible.

And while parents are an important part of the equation, the equal responsibility falls on the teacher’s to provide the updates. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s understandable that at first blush, parent communications apps no longer seem worth the effort, especially considering how historically challenging engaging with certain parents can be and how difficult it is to find the time for something new in an already busy day.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence chimes in on this, remarking “Why am I so bullish on PreciouStatus you ask? Because I have never, in 20+ years as a superintendent seen any program or process be so quickly adopted by teachers nor have as big of an impact on kids, parent, and engagement.”

Educators in the Virginia Beach School District have further remarked: “Once you see the parents reactions, once you see how it can affect the kids, and once you see how it can reflect that relationship that your or you as an educator have with that family then it makes you want to do it”. Two points for parent-teacher communication!

Tackling parent engagement is an important issue, but it’s not the ONLY thing that our educators apply their considerable talents to solving. So when teachers aren’t focused on improving parent-teacher communication to prompt additional parent engagement, creating world peace and figuring out how to get Dennis Mitchell to pay attention for five whole minutes, what else do they do? We took to Twitter to find out.

Earlier this month, we hosted our third and final #preciouschat of the summer with our partners over at The School Superintendents Association (AASA) to glean some additional insights into the issues that were keeping our education professionals busy this summer. Superintendents and teachers across the country weighed in on issues like technology in the classroom to their tips and tricks to personalize learning for their students.

To recap here’s a short overview of the questions asked, as well as some of our favorite answers from the chat. (Note: All tweets have been edited slightly from their original content for readability)

Question 1: How did you utilize the summer break for professional development? What was your most inspiring moment?

To quote our friends over at the AASA, summer 2016 was all about professional development. Here’s what the participants of the #preciouschat spent their time doing:

  • “We’re very proud of all the superintendents in AASA, participating in the #leadtolearn programs; #AASA_DigitalConsortium & #NatlSuptCert.”
  • “I needed to take a more in-depth and instructive approach to the professional development I provide. Go step by step.”
  • “I spent a lot of time updating the curriculum to align to new standards. The administrative retreat was inspiring. Super Team!”
  • “We always look at our formative and summative reading, math, and science data to evaluate and plan for next steps.”
  • “This July @AASAHQ held a #professionaldevelopment redesign matters webinar”
  • I did quite a bit of reading this summer to help with Professional Development. #LAUNCHbook #KidsDeserveIt and more!  I also used twitter!”

Question 2: What goals have you set for the students in your district or classrooms for the upcoming school year?

  • I’m looking forward to personalizing goals for the students in my room. I also want to find ways to better support teacher peers.”
  • “To develop Professional Learning Communities for cognitive rigor & questioning. Train Ts on CR & Good Q. Have Ts  practice & use. Then they train Ts”

Question 3: How are you reimagining or revamping classrooms/learning spaces to better suit students?

  • “We have established open collaboration and individual reading and learning areas in our libraries, our literacy hub.”
  • “We are in conversations about rooms with flexible spaces that allow for large and small groups for collaboration and teamwork
  • “I’m also adding a small maker space (more like a tinker space)!”

Question 4: Will your school/district be implementing new technologies this school year, and what benefits do you foresee students acquiring from them?

  • Students should be allowed to use cell phones and personal devices. Have them use for research and investigations”
  • “We will be opening up the world of coding to our students. Thousands of Coding jobs in our country go unfilled.”

Question 5: Will you be introducing any new resources or programs to your schools or classrooms to enhance students’ learning experiences?

Question 6: How you do jump start relationships with new students and families to create higher levels of community engagement?

  • It’s critical for parents to know our expectations, but more critical is that parents have high expectations of us.”
  • “You have to answer the question for parents, “how can I help my child?” Or better yet, How can WE help your child TOGETHER.  Same goal, same plan, better results!”
  • “Kindness, 5-star customer service, be present, vision, communication, and open your building for a tour.”
  • I always ask parents what they can share/how they would like to help.  Even extra supplies make us feel more connected”
  • “Have students choose grade by encouraging them to go deeper with responses.  Have Parents understand that grades are measured by depth.”
  • Sending home our student designed stuffy each week, they send in pics and stories of what they did with it to share on our class blog.”

Question 7: Is there anything that you’re experienced this summer that will influence you to do something different in your district or classroom(s) this year?

  • Response to start of year professional development –> go slower and deeper –> encourage continuous professional development.  No one and done big show.  It does not work!”
  • “I worked with almost 200 teachers this summer to learn the benefits of inquiry-based learning! A strong focus on refining the use of effective feedback in the classroom”

Question 8: What strides towards personalized learning do you hope to make in your schools and classrooms this year?

  • Personalized Learning is more successful when teachers and students reflect.”
  • “We provide personalization with precision by tracking discipline, attendance, and learning for each child every 30 days.”
  • “Better tracking and comm with my kindergarteners about their goals, how to get there, and with parents. The org part of it can be tricky.”

The insights from the chat are certainly telling, especially when it comes to leveraging technology to enhance learning and to build meaningful relationships with parents at the very beginning of the school year. Given how ubiquitous technology is in many of the above answers, it stands to reason that it is an essential key to the foundation of any successful parent/teacher relationship.

As with any successful relationship, the first step to developing meaningful parent/teacher connections lies in a mutual understanding of the end goal (which, for most, is probably something along the lines of a student maximizing their potential). It also requires an understanding of what is expected from each party. For teachers, that means understanding that they will be held accountable for relaying what is happening from a day to day perspective in the classroom. Parents, on the other hand, have to be receptive to these communications and ready and willing to act on them. Without that joint understanding, it’s impossible for the relationship to progress further.

Please_Use_Boy_In_RedWhen clear channels of communication are established, they also open the door for parents to help teachers implement more personalized learning opportunities to foster a deeper sense of curiosity and discovery in the student. Let’s say, for example, upon discussion of what was learned that day, a parent finds that the Titanic has truly piqued the interest of their child. They could, in turn, share that passion with the student’s teacher. If the student is fortunate enough to attend a school with individual learning areas in the library, they could develop an independent research project that delves into a more complex topic. That project, could, in turn, spark a lifelong appreciation for history that may have previously gone untapped.

In addition, parents who have an involvement with what topics are being covered on a daily basis will be able to ascertain whether or not their student has a total grasp of the subject matter BEFORE a test is bombed or an essay failed. By taking the additional time to assist teachers in evaluating how successfully their student has mastered a discipline, students are less likely to have gaps in their knowledge that might be detrimental to their advanced mastery of a subject later in their academic careers.

Alternatively, as a result of parent’s taking the time to engage with their students on what they’re struggling with, students might also learn to love a subject (like math or science) that they had previously rejected for being “too hard”, simply because the time needed to fully process the material hadn’t been taken – either because the student learned at a difference pace, or learned differently than the majority of the other students in the class.

Like much in life, however, the ability to forge these connections is ultimately the responsibility of the parent and the teacher involved. While technologies like ours may exist to better facilitate the process, they can only be used to their highest and best abilities when both parent and teacher is committed to using them correctly. When that happens, though, it’s cause for celebration. As a teacher from the Minnetonka School district expressed, “I get to celebrate each learning achievement real-time with parents and I know they speak about it based on what the child says the next day.  It changes our classroom!”
What a great way to start the school year.