One of the big buzzwords from the 2016 elections is transparency. Wikipedia’s definition of transparency is “operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed.” We want our candidates to provide any and all information necessary to keep us up to date so that the public has all the information possible to make informed decisions. As teachers, we should also want transparency in our classrooms.
Typically in late October the first set of Parent/Teacher conferences begin. Many parents are a little nervous to hear what teachers have to say about their child and it may be their first opportunity to discuss questions and concerns they may have. By instituting transparent practices from the onset of the school year, these concerns should no longer exist, paving the way for a more collaborative conference with the sharing of ideas for continued student growth and progress.
What can we do to make our classroom as transparent as possible? These suggestions will help you knock down your classroom walls and provide parents with a clear view of what is happening inside.
One of the easiest ways to be transparent is through the use of email and social media such as Twitter or Facebook. Use these tools to:
- Quickly reach out to individual parents with concerns such as poor behavior, not completing work, change in behavior, or anything that can be addressed quickly (privately, of course)
- Post daily classroom schedules and routines
- Share pictures of classroom activities
- Send reminders of upcoming project deadlines, post daily homework, or update changes in schedules due to book fairs, guest speakers, etc.
- Encourage two-way communication by asking specific questions
- Mention specific standards or content taught each week to help parents understand how you are progressing through your curriculum
Another tool available to most teachers is an online grade book. Be sure to keep this up to date so that parents don’t get last minute surprises as you rush to put in grades before conference time. Be proactive, if a student receives a surprisingly low grade on an assignment, send a quick email to the parent with your thoughts on what happened. On the other hand, a surprisingly high score would be a great time to send a complimentary note to the parent praising the student’s success. If you don’t have access to a district-provided online grade book, you might want to take a look at a couple of free options such as Jumprope or LearnBoost.
Consider creating a classroom blog or website to share learning activities. The beauty of a blog is that you produce the content as it fits your needs and your schedule. Some teachers like to update daily, others weekly. The key to this is that it is updated on a regular basis to provide transparency throughout the year. By choosing information wisely parents (and other viewers) will gain insight into your classroom while developing a sense of community. Allow viewer comments so that students receive feedback from beyond the classroom and parents can provide the feedback as well as ask questions. Unfortunately, with the amount of spam on the internet, you will probably need to set your comments portion to require approval before being posted. Another great feature of a classroom website is the ability to create a permanent page with all pertinent classroom information. Edublogs and Weebly are two popular tools for creating blogs. Ideas to include here would be:
- Grading scale
- Current classroom topics
- Special class schedules
- Homework policy
- Behavior policy
- Your contact information
- Tips for parents to help with reading, math resources, etc.
- Links to learning games
- Learning games and interactives
One of your best uses of technology in your desire to be transparent is something that has been around for a very long time, the phone. Many times email conversations and other means of communication get misconstrued. Take the time to phone parents as issues as concern arrive, parents will appreciate it and you can feel confident that both parties have had an opportunity to address the issue. When parents are in two different places, consider using Skype or Google Hangouts for group conversations including all interested parties.
Providing transparency in your classroom from the first day of school will go a long way toward making conference time a valuable collaborative process with parents. By sharing what is happening in your classroom at all times, surprises are less likely to happen. Parents will come to a conference knowing how their student is progressing and be prepared to discuss plans for upcoming learning goals.
In most cases, the time allowed for most conferences is only a short 15-30 minute time period. Spending any of this time having to clarify classroom expectations or policies takes away from time spent discussing individual student needs and plans for success. A transparent classroom naturally provides a solid foundation for building trust and using everyone’s valuable time as efficiently as possible. This is a win-win for everyone, especially your students!
What other suggestions do you have for creating transparency in your classroom? Be sure to share them with us in the comments below.