Vignette #4 – Inspired by newer colleagues, a veteran teacher gets support to create a class blog and website. With the initial hope of improving ongoing communication with parents and students, Bill shares that the website creates valuable and unexpected opportunities for learning.
Frustrated by the gap in communication that was forming with the families of his students, eighth grade science teacher Bill Tighe looked to his newer colleagues who were actively using class websites to connect with students and families. Throughout his twenty-five year tenure, Mr. Tighe had always been conscientious about sending a paper syllabus home that outlined clear expectations for learning and behavior at the beginning of the year. That said, he admits that the document remained static, and more often than not found its crumpled way into the bottom of backpacks. In addition to wanting an opportunity to make students and parents aware of changes in lessons and curriculum over the course of the year, Mr. Tighe also was searching for a way to better bring parents into the daily world of his classroom. When he did meet with the few parents who came to parents’ night, Mr. Tighe shares that most of them had little idea about what their kids were doing in class (many shared that their kids would not “open up” to them about school) and what was expected of them for homework. The parents had ongoing questions that could not be sated by the syllabus he had sent home in September. They seemed frustrated and confused about how to support their kids who were unable or unwilling to articulate what they were learning. Many expressed the desire to have a place to look up information such as homework assignments, a calendar of due dates, important handouts, and a way to easily ask quick questions. Others wanted information about how they could either assist struggling children or help to challenge children who seemed to need more than what was being offered in the curriculum.
Although Mr. Tighe had resisted the pull towards new technology in his classroom, he could not help but listen to the desires of students and parents who were coming to expect greater access to connection and classwork online. Admittedly intimidated by lack of knowledge and the seeming effort that he thought it would take to explore creating a class website, Mr. Tighe shares that he “held off” until he heard a colleague talking about part of a lesson she had recorded on her website which students then reviewed at home. The concept opened up great possibilities for how Mr. Tighe could fit in more of the hands-on lab work that he was hoping to incorporate in his Biology unit. He joined a conversation that quickly turned into an invitation to view a colleague’s class website and get a tutorial on building his own. In addition to the tutorial, Bill’s colleague shares an article that provides a varied list of free, annotated website building possibilities, from “Wordpress” to “Google Sites.”* He ultimately settles on WordPress because its security options adhere best to school policies around privacy of students. Bill is amazed to have his website up and running in an afternoon, and looks forward to tweaking and adding as he grows more comfortable. In fact, his colleagues advise that he set aside a small amount of daily time to make sure that the information he presents on his website is up to date. If he is to expect parents to depend upon the website for information, he needs to make certain that he keeps it active and accurate. Already, Bill has included his calendar for the year, a homework section, a place for parent/student feedback, and a section with links to articles and websites that he encourages his students to explore. With a major science project coming up in the spring, Bill plans to put some examples of student work from last year up on the website. As the assignment that seems to present the most amount of stress for students and families, Bill is eager to see how taking proactive measures to clarify expectations for the process and exemplars will ultimately help students and the families supporting them. Finally, Bill admits that the creative process involved in building a class website has energized his teaching and connected him (and ultimately his students) with exciting new resources! The positive feedback from parents is also gratifying and connecting!
- Keep parents in the loop with a class website – “This article discusses the process of creating a website to keep your students’ parents apprised of what’s happening in your classroom. The author discusses a variety of tools, including blogs, wikis, Google sites, and paid hosting websites.” There are also suggestions for elements to include in creating useful websites.
- Communicating With Parents Digitally – This short video shows an elementary teacher sharing how she uses a class website to keep parents informed and students connected.