The Most Important Educators

An elementary school teacher’s struggle to get on the same page with all of her parents.

GUEST COLUMN | by Danielle Fugazzi

CREDIT Danielle FugazziI chose to be a teacher to help children be successful at school so they get the best possible start in life. Despite my best efforts in the classroom, I know that was only half the opportunity. Parents are the first and most important educators for their kids, so I always strived to get them involved in my classroom to support my teaching, and to build a strong and thriving community.

But guess what? As perhaps many of you have also experienced, I was challenged to reach some of them, to channel their efforts to the right kinds of engagement, and frankly, to even build trust with a few. The biggest issue in my classroom over the years was that parents were not checking folders or getting all the information and extra work that I would send home. So, I used to have the same parents involved over and over, struggling to get the support and involvement that I, and my students, needed from the rest of them. All I would get from many were merely complaints: “I didn’t see this information” or, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do this with my child”.

These tools either created more work for me, were hard to use, or parents simply ignored them. As a result, after all these efforts—nothing seemed to improve.

I knew there was a better way and tried to find a tool that could help me achieve my objective to involve parents. In the four years I’ve been teaching kindergarten class in New York City, I went from one solution to the other—without clear results. These tools either created more work for me, were hard to use, or parents simply ignored them. As a result, after all these efforts—nothing seemed to improve.

This past year, I was invited to be a part of a pilot program, and I took another chance. I had my doubts going in, given my prior experience, but once I saw the platform I was very intrigued by its simplicity, very intuitive design, and fun feel.

What I discovered over the past year of using it completely changed my perception of what is possible and truly transformed my classroom. I build a close-knit community with my parents and kept myself very organized with a system that consistently delivers great parent engagement.

I used to think that parent engagement was a lot of work because of all the follow up e-mails I needed to send to get parents’ attention, weekly e-mails I used to write on the weekends to update parents, and the need to remind all parents at the pick-up about some important events. It was not only taking a lot of my time, but occupied a lot of my attention and mindshare.

I found that such a platform—I use ClassTag, which is free for parents and teachers—makes it easy to put a system in place, improve engagement and save time along the way. All of the families in my class signed up within days. I had parents thanking me for this new way of communication, one even told me, “Now I feel like a better parent. I always know what is going on and it is so easy to get involved.”

There are so many features I love, here are my favorite three:

  1. One-click signups for field trips, parent teacher conferences, events in the classroom and in the school community. Parents bring materials into the classroom that the teacher requests through the To-Do List. It is so easy and it automatically reminds them without the teacher having to follow up!
  1. Week at a Glance is another great feature that helps me with my parent communication! I don’t have to rewrite any of the information I would normally write in a weekly email to parents because it is already done for me! It automatically pulls all upcoming events, I can add a custom message and parents get beautifully designed weekly summary in their inboxes every Friday.
  1. Stats are simply amazing! I know exactly which families have been participating and engaged with the classroom. If I see that parents haven’t been participating I can always reach out right from the stats page or make sure I can select them once they do volunteer.

Now, as the new school year is starting up, I am very excited to use my favorite app/platform with my new class because I know we are not only going to achieve excellent results, but the parents are going to love it!

Here is how you can get started to produce results for yourself this year:

  1. Set expectations with parents at back-to-school night or as soon as you have parents’ e-mails that your chosen platform is the way you are going to organize your classroom communications.
  1. Add upcoming events to your platform before the beginning of the year so that you have the system in place before the year gets busy: Pin announcement to welcome parents, Days off, Events that you already know about and To-do requests for any assignments e.g., reading logs, sight words assignments and whatever else you need parents to do.
  1. Set aside 30 minutes on Wednesday or Thursday to add events and activities for next week and beyond, add custom message for weekly summary.
  1. Remember to share moments about what you are learning and how parents can support you and fun pictures from the field trips.
  1. Monitor engagement with Stats to see how your parent community is responding

This is what got me the results last year, and I am very excited to share my lessons with you. It’s truly transformational—I have never seen this level of parent support before. I’m glad I persisted and gave it another shot. Are you ready to find and create a system that consistently gets ideal parent engagement?

Danielle Fugazzi is a first-grade teacher at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.

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