Changing the World Through a Few Simple Emails

Win-Win: Developing real-world skills in students and keeping families involved in their kids' education

Photo of Andrea Orluski

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If I got paid for the hours and hours I spend writing emails and making phone calls to my students' families, I would be filthy rich. With 120+ students, it takes a lot of time and effort to keep families updated on their students' progress. The bare minimum is that I make parent contact when students are failing at progress reports and at the end of the marking period. Multiply that by six marking periods a year and factor in the additional emails and phone calls for behavior problems, achievements in class, Remind 101 messages about upcoming due dates, and the positive note home every now and then, and it's a miracle that any of us high school teachers sleep. There has to be a more efficient and effective way. 

I recently read an article from The Atlantic that detailed how one New Hampshire school is turning over the responsibility for parent-teacher conferences to students. In short, the students are responsible for scheduling the conference, preparing a showcase of their work, reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses, and presenting all of this to their parents and teachers. If you're interested, the article is linked at the end. I love the idea of giving students more ownership in their learning while also teaching them the real-world skills of organizing, presenting, and leading a discussion. Yet the skeptic in me still has to wonder how this can be done with 120+ students' schedules (how do so many of my freshmen have jobs already?) let alone the other commitments of their teachers and parents. 

In typical millennial fashion, I have to look to technology as a possible solution as I simultaneously question my pedagogy and practices. 

Our state standards and the district's curriculum require that our students produce an informational or work-related document. Why not have our students email their parents about how they are progressing in class and copy their teachers into the email, too? My emails home may get sent to the "trash" folder, but what parent would ignore an email from their child? My common woes with parent communication can easily be tackled by putting students in the driver's seat. I want my kids to know I am consistently monitoring their progress, but more importantly, I want them to monitor their own successes in my class. They should be held accountable both when they succeed and when they struggle. The world isn't always easy, and I want my kids to leave my classroom in June knowing, if nothing else, how to help themselves succeed in this world. 

We already use technology daily to update grades, take attendance, present lessons, and collect students' work. I think teachers can take a lot of work off themselves if we turn some things over to our students. This isn't just about the kids who are failing my class at progress reports and report cards. I've found that my all-star students rarely get positive feedback from their teachers and their parents. I'd love to see my all A students email home to share their success with mom and dad- who often don't know just how much work has gone into achieving that grade. When kids are asked to reflect on why they ultimately received a certain grade, they are grappling with a big idea: my actions can have positive or negative consequences. Perhaps if more adults understood that concept, we would live in a more pleasant world. Call me crazy, but I got into teaching so that I could change the world. I think my 9th graders are a phenomenal place to start. 


If you'd like to read the article referenced from The Atlantic, you can check it out here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/when-students-lead-parent-teacher-conferences/477069/

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

Teachers can decrease the amount of time they spend contacting parents and increase students' ownership of their learning.

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Photo of Clint Heitz

Andrea - Your idea fits so nicely into the Guideposts to Success idea as I've evolved as another great/easy way to connect, and I would love your support. If you have the time, could you please join the selection process and support Guideposts to Success? Thanks!

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