“How precious is the family, as the privileged place for transmitting the faith” – Pope Francis.
Catholic schools were given a unique opportunity to shine during the pandemic. Many schools welcomed students in person with robust safety measures ensuring students were able to learn in person. However, in order to launch in person learning successfully, schools needed to effectively communicate with parents, students, teachers and staff to make sure everyone received updates on important safety measures. The need for additional, frequent communication continues into this year when many safety measures are still in place in schools.
The webinar linked below provides school principals with practical ideas on how they can clearly communicate with school stakeholders to continue to instill trust in the community. Dr. Molly Cinnamon, principal at Pope John XXIII in Evanston, IL and Dr. Elise Matson Dite, Chief Learning Officer for The Procedo Project, discussed ways Catholic school leaders can build a culture of family and faith while engaging parents and faculty and staff in the life of the community.
During the webinar, viewers can learn how to create a family culture in a Catholic school, tips to engage parents, and hear ideas on how to foster an environment of family and connectedness in times of crisis. Building a culture of faith, fun and positivity will help everyone in the community feel a sense of connectedness and belonging, no matter what crisis or or events occur.
By Valarie Pearce, Director of Content Development- Friendzy
Cultivate a working relationship and partnership with parents and families to strengthen community, student success, and academic outcomes.
There are many avenues for student success and academic achievement within the educational framework; however none are as effective, tried, and true as the gold standard, parent engagement.
As a working definition, parent engagement can be defined as, “a good flow of communication between school and home. A communication that encompasses every stakeholder: including parents, teachers, administrators, specialists, club leaders and coaches, and the parent-teacher organization.” (Getting Smart, 2019).
Parent engagement in addition to one of the SEL core competencies, relationship building, is synonymous with student success. When we hear the word relationship as it relates to the classroom, it is often seen as a cover for lack of authority or inability to manage the classroom successfully. However, according to educator James E. Ford, “the relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect.”
“The relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect.”
– James E. Ford
When students enter the classroom they are not blank slates. They enter with beliefs, values, customs and ways of making meaning that are directly in line with their homes.
The ability to reach out, establish and maintain healthy relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals is key to parent engagement.
A certain foundation has to be laid before true learning can take place. The ability to reach out, establish and maintain healthy relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals is key to parent engagement. This foundation builds parent connection, establishes trust, fosters rapport, makes for positive student attitude, and reaps academic benefits.
Here are four tools you can employ to begin engaging parents:
COMMUNICATE EARLY & OFTEN
Communicate early. At the beginning of the school year introduce yourself by dropping a paper in their backpacks, email, text, or phone call, or maybe all three. It not only lets parents know right away you’re accessible but you’re also willing to use diverse communication methods in order to connect.
Communicate often. Let parents know all the great things that are going on in your classroom and the school. Brag a little! This keeps them in the know and allows them to feel connected with what is going on.
Introduce yourself through a paper newsletter, email, or text/phone call.
Take the time to brag about your student’s achievements.
COMMUNICATE POSITIVELY & WITH A SENSE OF WELCOME
Communicate positively. Let parents know when their child has had a big moment in class or a great day overall. This positivity builds excitement for how their child is doing as well as trust that they won’t only hear from you when things are tough.
Communicate a sense of welcome. Invite parents into the classroom. Literally. Just say, “Come on in!”. Some may feel shy or may not have had relationships with previous teachers. The ability to be a class art docent, provide snacks, or classroom supplies always gives parents a sense of involvement and connection. But also note just as family make-ups are diverse, so are family schedules. Some of your families may work during the school hours. Finding additional ways they can support and feel a part is key.
Make sure not all communication with parents is when a student needs support. Share when a student has a great day!
Invite parents/caring adults into the classroom.
Not only in race and culture, but also family make-up of your students. Each of your student’s homes will be unique with its own features including work schedules and support networks. When you have a question or concern you may be speaking with a care-giver who is not your student’s parent, but an extended support unit for the student. These will be valuable class supports for field trips, special class projects, and fundraising as well.
Remember: the home environments and cultures of every student are unique.
Support networks may include caring adults who are not your student’s parent.
PRACTICE TEAMWORK AND COLLABORATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING
It’s important to note that parents are preeminent stakeholders in their children’s education. They are experts as well in the joys, attitudes, and predispositions of their children. Operating from a lens of mutuality transforms parent engagement to partnership. This is where the real “wins for all” takes place.
It’s important to see parents as a wealth of knowledge and mutual partners in co-creating the best learning environments and outcomes for their children and, “When parents, teachers and students work together, they form a powerful connection between home and school—a partnership that can change a child’s life.” (National Heritage Academics, 2016).
The start to the school year is always one filled with excitement and the adrenaline rush from the scent of freshly sharpened pencils, newly decorated rooms and the flurry of back-to-school activities. Parents, students, teachers and administrators have now had a chance to settle in. I caught myself off guard yesterday as I looked at my calendar and realized despite all the work that has been put in, it is only mid-September!
Sure, burnout comes around every school year, but normally those holiday reprieves are enough and the toughest part of the year is that stretch between spring break and the last day of school. I belong to a lot of educator groups and I see many already expressing feeling exhausted, despite being very early in the school year. I also attended open house at my kids’ school and multiple teachers apologized for not having everything quite right yet, or for starting off slower this year.
This is all observational and anecdotal evidence, but it stood out to me. I wanted to take a minute and talk about WHY we are already tired in September and what we can do about it.
Pandemic exhaustion is real. We are tired of worrying, tired of guessing what the right thing to do is, tired of people fighting. We are also acutely aware that our hopes of a post-pandemic school year are not happening this year. It is perfectly normal to feel run down just by the circumstances around us and gearing up to teach takes an incredible amount of energy.
Worrying takes an emotional toll. We are worried about keeping kids healthy and balancing their mental health. We are worried about our personal lives, friends and families. We are worried about protests, anger and making mistakes. We are worried about having to close schools again. We are worried about being effective and how we will be evaluated by administration, parents and peers.
There is a long way to go. It feels like school has been in session much longer than it has and looking at the whole of the calendar right now might feel overwhelming when you are just trying to get through the week. Here are some things you can do to help fight that feeling in this new mid-September slump people may be feeling:
Be upfront with administration, students and parents in knowing what to expect and when. If you are only going to post grades once a week, just say that. If you only answer emails from 4-6, put that information right out there and respect the boundaries you set for yourself. It is hard to say no or to “turn off” but make a practice of doing so. You deserve some time off to be with your own family, do something to relax or catch up on rest.
Please take your sick days. I don’t think I have ever used all my sick days. I feel guilty when I do and resentful of others when they are out too often. Let that mindset go and take a day when you need it, even if it’s just a mental health day. With so much technology in the classroom, use all you learned about remote teaching to set up some sub plans ahead of time with enrichment activities so you don’t have to stress about last minute planning.
You don’t have to do everything you did in years past. It is a rebuilding year in many ways. Give yourself the same advice you would give a student mastering something. Take one step at a time. Cut down on the number of moving parts as much as you can and try to streamline and simplify your classroom procedures, grading, communications and activities.
Put information in multiple places so staff and families have easy access to it, feel informed and avoid feeling frustrated or in the dark. Make it easy to find. Make it almost difficult for someone to not know what is going on. Transparency and consistency help build trust and reduce conflict caused by misunderstandings.
Is there anything you can stop doing this year? We are always piling on new initiatives, ideas and tasks and the pandemic has been no exception. Is there anything that we can set aside this year that isn’t absolutely necessary? When adding new things do we ask, what can we subtract?
Being a principal or administrator can feel incredibly lonely at times. Seek out others in similar positions for support and advice. Connect with colleagues whom you can bounce ideas off of, talk confidentially about leadership challenges or just socialize with. Knowing you are not in it alone can make a big difference.
Assume Good Intentions
If you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with your child’s school, take a moment to realize that nobody gets into education for fortune or fame, they do it because they care about kids. Even if things are not going right, know that the school wants success for your child and for you to be happy. You are all on the same team.
Empower Your Child
With all the adults feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to intentionally help your child develop some self-sufficiency. Encourage your child to know for themselves what deadlines are coming up, which are supplies or needed or what the homework is. Instead of defaulting to checking up on their student LMS, have them routinely explain to you what they are working on. If they have questions, encourage them to seek help before you get involved.
Ask Questions to Avoid Frustration Build Up
Nobody likes to be the parent who is always sending emails, but repeatedly feeling left out of the loop or like you are guessing what is going on can be stressful. Over time, that stress can get to a boiling point. If you find yourself consistently struggling with a teacher, take some time early in the year for a phone call or to meet and get all of your questions answered. Remember Matthew 18:15-20. Avoid going over someone’s head to complain without first attempting to reconcile with them directly.
Don’t forget the power of prayer in difficult situations, not only to give you emotional strength, but also for the mental health benefits and quiet time it allows you. If you do find yourself in a difficult situation, praying together can often help diffuse it. Invite the Holy Spirit into your work, your worry and your life.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
As a busy parent, juggling school physicals, uniform shopping, haircuts and reprogramming sleep cycles over the next couple of weeks, it has me thinking about of those new school year resolutions I always make and never keep past October, like making the boys eat a good breakfast, kids making their own lunches and daily checks of the school website. My own executive function has suffered during the pandemic and despite the new stressors around returning to campus after 18 months of virtual and hybrid schooling, I am looking forward to having a routine again (even though it involves a commute). I have a 9th grader and an 11th grader, and boy have we gotten lax about routines in the last year. Summer was a welcome reprieve from responsibilities, but now we are in it to win it!
Executive function isn’t fully developed until around age 30 and it is not one single skill, but components of cognitive function. Depending on where a child is on the journey, they may be further ahead in some areas, while still developing in others. Taking time to build and practice some executive function habits and skills into our early routines in the school year can help set kids up for success for this year and for life! Over 90% of students with ADHD struggle with executive function, so simple supports ingrained into classroom habits can help all students succeed while building lifelong executive function skills. Here are 5 ways to build executive function into your classroom routines to ease the transition back to campus and save yourself headaches later in the year.
Say them, post them on your website, make sure they are in the assignment instructions and repeat them in the rubric. It sounds like overkill, but when you think about how much time you spend repeating yourself, you will actually be saving time and sanity in the long run. Over time your students will know that if they didn’t get it the first time, there are always other places to look. This can also help reduce anxiety for students and parents who struggle to keep up with what is going on in the classroom.
Practice Routine Reminders
The first few weeks of school are full of routines and procedures. Students are learning where they have to be, what materials they need and possibly navigating a new campus like my freshman will be doing. It takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic so practice is essential. Secondary students are juggling 7 instructors’ preferences and routines and even elementary students often have to circulate to different classrooms and teachers. “Rules have consequences and routines have reminders.” Realize that some students may pick up your routines quickly while others will take longer and need more practice until the behavior sticks. Avoid negative consequences for mistakes in favor of reinforcements and reminders.
Empower Choice of Tools
Some people I know love project management software, some write down checklists. Personally, I live and die by my calendar. Different things work for different people. As long as a student has a system and it is working for them we should empower them to use it. Provide a structure for staying organized in and out of class, but allow for some variation as long as students are successful. High stakes notebook checks that only measure organizational skills are not measuring content mastery. Think about how you can help students build wins and confidence in their ability to manage multiple responsibilities and tasks in a way that works for them.
How often do we ask students if they have questions, get no response and then get asked the same question multiple times? It is not because they were all willfully not listening, but likely they didn’t feel confident enough to ask a question aloud. Consider building in a thinking time of 60-90 seconds after giving instructions before anyone can begin. This will make space for students to process instructions, reread them and get clarification without feeling like a nuisance. It will also remind them that asking questions is part of taking ownership of their learning and is an appropriate behavior.
Built In Assignment Breaks
I mean this literally and figuratively. Take long term projects and break them into smaller deadlines and goals so they are not overwhelming. Better yet, have students practice sectioning big projects into smaller manageable deadlines, making their own accountability plan when possible. Additionally, don’t forget the importance of students getting out of their seat and moving around. If the class is not connecting with a lesson or seems lost, take 30 seconds to stand up, stretch, jump up and down or get the blood flowing in a different way so they can reset and retry.
Executive function can be just as important a predictor of academic success as IQ. Lead with compassion and patience as you jump into the new year with routines, rules and procedures. Sometimes we have to go slow at first to go fast later. Take time to reinforce, remind and practice to help build resilience and empower students to take responsibility for their executive function skills. Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate successes, particularly with those who struggle the most.
How can we help you?
Mailing Address: The Procedo Project 28 W Grand Ave #5 Montvale, NJ 07645