Communicating with Parents – Purposeful Strategies

September 1, 2017

Welcome back to the 2017-18 school year!

Things are flying already and I am so glad to be getting back into it. One of my big goals continues to be developing positive and useful communication strategies with our parent community as well as our community at large. Our school has developed a new website and we are looking at some new and enhanced communication strategies for our school.

  • We have a new wireless network with the ability for personal devices and school iPads to be connected continuously over the year without having to login each time (I am sooooooo happy!). This completely changes our communication game, as now we can utilize online social media tools in an easy and ubiquitous manner.
  • We are looking at utilizing Twitter as our main communication tool between teachers and the school and our parents. I can’t wait to see it in action! It will allow sending out information, photos and videos in quick ways without having to maintain a full website. I hope it will be a much more dynamic and timely matter of communication. Twitter has a great App for phones to make it super easy. More information will go out to parents to help them get set up.
  • Our system is now using School Messenger which allows us to text, email, or send voice Mail messages to parents. It has opened up the way we can communicate with all parents in the school.
  • I hope to make a website a much more dynamic tool that demonstrates the daily life of our school and shares needed information with parents.
  • We are hoping to minimize the amount of paper usage by making as much of our communication as possible in a digital matter. There will be, at times, paper communication if needed, but we will try to keep it minimal.
  • Face to face communication is always a priority. We are trying our first open house today at school from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Students, families, and parents may pop in to meet their teacher and see their classroom. Our intent is to try to help students coming from school on Tuesday with as low a level of anxiety as possible. (THE OPEN HOUSE WAS AN AWESOME EVENT! IT GOT RID OF A TON OF ANXIETIES!)

Have a wonderful school year everyone! As always, work hard and learn tons!

Derek

Advertisements

Useful (and Easy) Digital Communication for Parents?

July 6, 2017

I am working on attempting to use digital communication in a much more open and daily manner, as well as my own blog more once again. I took a bit of a hiatus from my blog due to trying to keep my nose above water, but it is time to continue!

One thing I have been working with and fighting with has been to find an easy way to use my phone to share learning at the school. I want to use my phone as my main tool for a number of reasons:

  • I always have it with me
  • It takes photo and video
  • It has speech to text
  • I have learned I don’t have to download the photo and video to send it out…

I have been using Twitter much more for the school, using @BelPark CBE and #BelPark, in order to regularly show and share what is going on. My friend, George Couros, demonstrated just how easy it was at a Professional Learning session I got to work with him at in Calgary.

Unfortunately, up until a month ago, it was all going on my cellular plan as our wireless network was not very accessible in the school. I would have had to log in on my device every day, so I did not bother…

Oh wait, we just got a wireless network upgrade installed where staff will be able to connect their personal devices up and they will stay connected for the whole school year! That means my cellular bill will not take the hit! Yay!

My hope is is to find a way to send out text, photos, and video through one tool so that it goes out through all the Applications that I have set up for parents, including Facebook and Twitter.

After some struggles and lots of tests I think I have figured it out using Twitter. My goal is to have our school use Twitter for communication rather than each teacher have to post and maintain a classroom website…

Let you know how it goes in September,
D


An Hour in the Life of a Refugee Parent

March 9, 2016

We hosted a learning session last night for our new to Canada Refugee families from Syria last night with an amazing CBE DLSA (Diversity & Learning Support Advisor) whose speaks Arabic.

Our presentation was in Arabic. Our PowerPoint was in Arabic. Questions were in Arabic.

I stood there and looked pretty…   (You can argue about that below in the comments!)

Over the course of about 90 minutes, I tried to listen and figure out words, hints about emotions, understandings, and try to see the relationships that were developing between the parents, kids, the DLSA, our teachers, and myself. Unlike French or Spanish, I could not see words on the PowerPoint for clues. I could not hear similar words between languages, as if I was listening to a Spanish speaker and could pick up some understanding.

After an hour, I had such a headache…

After an hour, I was able to go back to my normal little English world…

Put yourself in the place of these parents or kids. I am in a classroom in a new country, in a new city, with new teachers I can barely communicate with (I am getting very good at Charades!), with new kids, not understanding expectations or how to ask questions… That would make for a long, tiring day.

Thankfully, in the end, kids are much more resilient that us old people, and their brains will learn much faster than mine.

What an eye-opener that was…

شكرا

وداعا

(Thank you)

(Good Bye)

P.S. Thanks to Google Translate! https://translate.google.com/


Enhancing Education Through Partnerships

November 4, 2015

http://cbe182.weebly.com/the-stories/day-43-derek-rakowsk-principal-belvedere-parkway-school

I had the opportunity today to be able to write for the CBE182 blog, which is a collaborative, teacher led, and grassroots effort to share some of the learning stories that occur within the CBE every day. This project has the goal of capturing 182 unique stories, one for each day of a school year.

With all the great partnerships developing this year at the school, and the kickoff of our “Food for Thought” initiative yesterday, I felt the need to share the many great things happening at BelPark with our parents, School Council, and other agencies and groups in Bowness.​

Thanks for all of your support for BelPark School and for education!!! You made writing this blog extremely easy!

http://cbe182.weebly.com/the-stories/day-43-derek-rakowsk-principal-belvedere-parkway-school


How do we make the most of our School Councils?

October 1, 2014

How do we make the most of our School Councils?

Last night I was part of our second meeting of our Belvedere Parkway School Council and Parent Fundraising Association (PFA). A team from the Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA – http://www.albertaschoolcouncils.ca/) came out to work with us on a session around what is the role of a school council and how do we utilize it to enhance the learning of students. I thought I knew a lot about the work and contribution of school councils, but I was very impressed by the knowledge that Karen and Marilyn shared and guided us through.

 

There were a number of things that I learned that were very helpful:

A School Council is a means for parents and community members to work together with the school to support and enhance student learning. A SC is legislated to advise the principal respecting matters to the school.

The Responsibility of School Councils are to:

  • Foster, develop, maintain, and reflect the culture of the school
  • Provide the opportunity to participate in the advisory role
  • Create the forum for discussion
  • Seek and represent school community views

A School Council needs opportunity to provide advice on the development of the school’s:

  1. Mission, vision, and philosophy
  2. Policies
  3. School development plan
  4. Annual results report
  5. Budget

A great quote I pulled from our session was:

“The School Council is a leader of parents…”

Probably the best thing that we got out of this, though, was this meeting helped us as a School Council in the creation of a School Council culture and the development of a sense of team, setting up how we will work together in the future…

I highly recommend having them out to your school council, as it was hugely beneficial for us! Check out the workshops from the ASCA at http://www.albertaschoolcouncils.ca/?page=Workshops

Work hard and learn tons!
D

 


Going “Back to the Basics” or “Discovery Learning” in Mathematics? The Wrong Question to Ask…

March 19, 2014

There has been a lot of discussion in the media around so-called “Discovery Learning” in math and a petition was presented to the Minister of Education in Alberta asking to have Alberta go “Back to Basics” around student learning. Quoting from the petition, math basics seem to be algorithms, timetables, automatic recalls, and vertical additions.

The question is not about just “memorizing basic facts” or “discovering math.” There is a whole world in between and we need to look at this in a better way than as “new math” or “old math,” but as what is best for our students and designing and implementing mathematical learning that works for each and every one of our students.

We have never left the basics, we have just made them more purposeful…

Let’s actually make ourselves start to think on what mathematics means. Is it beneficial to know basic facts? Absolutely! Is it important to be able to think within math? Absolutely! I worked with my grade 5 and 6 students to easily be able to mentally multiply numbers like 40 x 60 (2400, if you were not sure). They could do that. But, I also have a calculator and am a total spreadsheet geek to do and check operations as they become more complex. There is nothing better than using formulas in a spreadsheet…

Unfortunately, spreadsheets and calculators do not tell me if I am using the right formulas in the correct manners to figure out what I need, or if my answer is the “right” one. I have to be able to understand the output and decide if it makes sense or not. I do not need the headaches that would come from an accountant who cannot understand my bottom line and puts a decimal in the wrong place… Oh my!

3 Analogies to Guide Us…

1. Science – Imagine if we use the same thinking in the sciences. Students should only learn the skills… Science is meant to be experimental and allow students to think. They are meant to think about outcomes, create hypotheses, and come up with ways to be able to test those hypotheses. When I teach science, there are times that experiments don’t work out perfectly. Students had to figure out if it was something in the process, in the materials, or just a fluke. In other words, they had to think as well as the able to use scientific skills and reasoning.

2. “Practices” and “Games” – My son loves soccer and hockey, and he is currently 7 years old. He has a ton of skills that he needs to work on, but if it was only the skills that he practiced, he would get bored really fast and his love for soccer would be lost. Instead, we help students of the game of soccer to do both, they practice skills but they also get to test out the skills in a game situation. We don’t want kids only playing the games, but neither do we want them only practicing. Imagine if we said to a soccer player that they could not play a game until they were 16 years old…

3. Lego – In many ways, learning is a lot like Lego. When they get a new Lego set, most kids will build the set using the step-by-step instructions and will create a perfect replica of the photo on the box. Afterwards though, my son cannot help taking the set apart and rebuilding it into crazy castles with moving arms and laser guns and hidden doors and what ever else is imagination can create. One is not better than the other, but LEGO is supposed to be reimagined and utilized in other ways. Otherwise we would not be able to take it apart and use it and much more imaginative ways that the Lego designers could have ever imagined themselves…

So, to those who say that we need to go “back to the basics,” I argue the “basics” are in the Alberta Program of Studies already (honest, take a look!). It is just that teachers are no longer using only a textbook or a useless worksheet to help students learn the “basics” in isolation.

Rather, I hope that students would be learning math in a fashion that creates high levels of engagement, authenticity, energy, focus, and, most importantly, THINKING!

When I am budgeting, I use a spreadsheet with 870 lines and 11 tabs, and there is no “correct” answer where I get a nice checkmark from the “teacher” if I did it correctly… There are tons of options and different approaches, and it is definitely an art! I used to be able to copy my teacher very well in school, and so was “good” at math. I did not have to actually think, I just had to be able to recreate what the teacher did on the blackboard, and I knew my basic facts, but I did not understand it. Math is not a nice, cut and dried “find the correct answer” kind of discipline.

After all, Einstein would never have gotten anywhere if he had only worked on mastering one method and only knew algorithms, timetables, automatic recalls, and vertical additions! Math is changing and growing, and we need to become better at enabling students in how to use and understand math, as mathematics is so much more than just memorizing basic facts…

The whole question of “old math” or “new math” is moot, as we need to set up mathematical learning that works for each and every student.

Change happens because we have learned and grown, and that we want to make something better. We have learned and grown in understanding of how we learn math, so let’s continue to make it better.

Just having the tools does not make you a carpenter! But if you don’t have the tools, you can’t be a carpenter… (And I am sure any carpenter would tell you there is a ton of thinking and math in their work!)

Click here to go to the Make It Memorable: Learning is More Than Memorization petition

Yours in great mathematical learning,
D


Creating and Sustaining Meaningful Family Engagement

November 6, 2012

Family partnerships that are engaged and participating in their child’s growth and development are imperative (according to the research) in order to improve schools and learning. Big surprise, I know…

Parent engagement has been a major part of our work at Keeler School, as we know that the more engaged our parents and community are, the better the outcomes for students. Often, our parents are unsure of how they can be involved. I have done a lot of work over the past years in enabling parents to be advocates for their child, often especially if they have any type of identified different needs, but how else can parents become engaged?

To be honest, as an educator and parent, I don’t even always understand how to be the best advocate for my children within the education system…

Families can be engaged as:

  • Supporters of their children’s learning
  • Encouragers of an achievement identity, a positive self-image, and a can-do spirit
  • Monitors of their children’s time, behaviour, boundaries and resources
  • Models of lifelong learning and enthusiasm for education
  • Advocates for improved learning opportunities for their children and at their schools
  • Decision Makers/Choosers of educational options for their child, school, and community
  • Collaborators with school staff and members of the community

The following is from American research by Dr. Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in her book Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships.

The Impact of Family Engagement

  • Faster literacy acquisition (from reading or talking with your child)
  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Enroll in higher level programs
  • Are promoted more and earn more credits
  • Adapt better to school and attend more regularly
  • Have better social skills and behaviour
  • Graduate and go on to higher education

This tells me that parents MUST BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION for many of the issues we are facing in education.

What do I believe about all parents?

  1. They all want the best possible for their kids…
  2. All parents can be supporters and advocates for their kids…
  3. The accountability for building and enhancing positive relationships between home and school is on the staff and leadership of the school…

Parent engagement has changed at Keeler School, and we are already seeing the benefits work into how students are learning. Parents feel welcome just coming into the school, and most know my name and have met me in person. The very first 2 minutes a parent spends in the school are critical. Did they feel welcomed and were they treated positively? If not, we could spend years trying to fix two minutes of time…

Many of our parents did not have positive school experiences when they were young and much of emotional ramifications still carry with them as they come to Keeler. I believe it is my and my staff’s job to get past that, and we have to do it fast! Back to building positive relationships folks! We need to respect our parents and find out what they know about their kids already.

Parents have reasonably easy access to the leadership team and me when they need it. Five minutes early on may save hours of meeting and fixing later…

All parent activities are connected to improving and enhancing student learning, but I see a lot of potential in working with families around whole school goals, but as well making sure they are part of developing and meeting their child’s goals as well. I think that we cannot assume all of our parents know how to support their children’s learning goals, and we need to help them practice in order to learn and develop their own skills as parents.

I am nowhere near a perfect parent, and have made mistake after mistake after mistake… For me to come off as a “high and mighty educator” would be so detrimental to developing parental capacities, so I try to joke and share about some of those mistakes and tie them into our discussions in order to promote comfort and enable us to move forward as a Student Learning Team.

In the end, it is all about the student and the learning. If developing and engaging our parents will help that, why would we not do this work? There is our biggest commonality. We are all here for YOUR child(ren)…

Remember, as a parent YOU are your child’s first and best teacher. Your job as a parent is to educate… And we are here to work with you!

Work hard and learn tons!
D


%d bloggers like this: