A cautionary tale of how just because you did it well before does not mean you will do it well now.
Starting Off Right
There are a number of ways that you can start your year in the classroom, but all of them include good communication. Unfortunately, most teachers are like most students and we wait most of the three months have passed until we begin working on those great ideas that we had all last year and those great ideas that we had all summer, until with two weeks to go, we begin the sprint to the classroom.
A False Start
Depending on when you read this you may be starting in the next few days, or you may have already begun the school year. In my case, I didn’t make my great parent communication video until two days after the school year started. It’s not because I didn’t wish to, and it’s not because I didn’t have a good idea. It is because I had a lot of other great ideas that somehow seem to get put in front of it. So as usual I’ve begun my year with mistakes.
On the flip side, understanding that a year of teaching is a marathon not a sprint, and early mistakes can be overcome, the answer to the problem is to simply not delay and get that communication out. It is nice if that communication happens two weeks before school, but let’s be honest most parents and students, like us, are not in that mindset yet and it may fall on deaf ears for a great portion of its intended audience. On the other hand we could send it out two days before, but that requires us to be ready and it is our very busiest time as we prepare for the arrival of students. I happen to choose two days after the school year started by scheduling default.
What I did
For at least 4 years now, I have sent out an introductory video a few weeks before school started. I introduce myself as the teacher, and go through basic format of the class so that the students and parents knew exactly what to expect before they even step foot in the door. The problem this year was after 4 years that video was dated and was no longer a good representation. Now for those of you whose big challenge is “Oh my I have to make another video” don’t worry, this was not the issue. Once you have been flipping for even a short time, or if you use a technology-enhanced classroom, you understand that making a brand new video of an introduction of yourself really just takes a few minutes. I simply had not made it a priority to carve out those few minutes. Here is this year’s video http://bit.ly/18-19CLASSINTRODUCTION.
I made a significant shift in the organization of content in my classroom this year using digital instruction blocks, but putting them into a single slide show where each slide was really just a compilation of graphics representing various hyper docs or technology resources (bit.ly/18-19PRECALC). What I needed to do was introduced how to use this resource to the students.
Additionally, by putting my face on the video, even though this completely ruins the aesthetics, parents and students were able to see me, get to know a few of my mannerisms or speech patterns, and would know who they were looking for when they went to 3rd hour on day one. Also for the last 2 years I have stolen an idea from my coworker by using a Google Form to share my course syllabus. By using a Google form with various checkpoint understanding boxes I could verify with time and date stamp that each student and parent had repeatedly affirmed they were familiar with the contents of the syllabus. Also I could gathering a little bit of information on access to the internet, access to technology, availability of study hall, and outside school activities from the students so that I would have an idea of the audience to which I would be teaching. This year, I combined the introductory video with the syllabus survey and walked students and parent through the process of how to get to it and what they could do to fill it out. In the end, I’ve gotten much better participation from parents and it has taken less class time on the opening days of the year.
In the final summation, I came up with a very good introductory video and linked it with a very good practice of getting my syllabus in expectations into the hands of parents and students in a way that was both non-threatening and easy for parents. My primary failure was timing. Much like my students, I was about two days late, or even a week late depending on how you wish to look at. My parent communication was effective and beneficial for this year, but it could have been slightly more effective and somewhat more beneficial had I got in out before the students arrived. The good news is for students entering my class next year, or non-traditional point entry students this year, I have that introductory video and introductory list of expectations. Next year not only will I have a good tool, I can use a little better timing.