Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

collaboration

Guest Post by Maureen Hayes, #4OCFPLN

Connecting With the Past…Meeting With Former Students (#2): It’s All About a Feeling

It’s All About a Feeling 

This is the second in a series of blogs about meet-ups with my former students. As I shared in my first blog, my students now range in age from 22-34 years old. I recently connected with many of them through Facebook, and plans have been made to get together and catch up.

In 1996, I was fortunate to be part of my district’s multiyear classroom initiative (AKA Looping), which means I taught the same students for two years; from first to second grade. I loved being a looping teacher! Having the same group of students together for two years was an incredible experience! Essentially, we were given the gift of an extra month of school together, as September of 2nd grade became a continuation of 1st grade. There was no “first six weeks” of the new year for getting to know each other and establishing a classroom culture for learning. That had been done in first grade, so we began September right where we left off in June. I knew my students well, and the connections we made through two years together was strong. We were a family.

I taught my second looping class from 1997-1999, and the end of our second year together culminated (for me) with the birth of my daughter. As I was waiting to become a first-time mom, my students pampered me and even threw me a surprise shower. Of course, watching my stomach move around while I was teaching math (right after lunch) became entertainment for my students (and me!) by spring of that year.

Our Looping Class during Year 1- 1996
Rachel is right next to me.

Rachel was one of my students in this looping group. I remember that she always had a smile on her face, and was a genuinely happy kid. Rachel’s twin sister was in the other looping class right next door. I honestly couldn’t tell them apart, but I always knew Rachel because her face would light up with a smile when she saw me.

Rachel and I recently met up for dinner, and the first thing we realized is that we hadn’t seen each other in twenty years! After my daughter was born that June, I transferred schools within my district to shorten my commute. I hadn’t seen her since.

Rachel’s first question to me “how do you remember me?”.  Honestly, I remember every student from my looping classes. They have a special place in my heart. 360 days together over the two years where students demonstrate more academic and social-emotional growth than any other years in school was pretty significant to me.

Rachel shared that she doesn’t remember a lot of details from our classroom. She explained that it was more about the atmosphere, or feeling she remembers and less about the specifics. She does know that she liked school and that she felt smart in first and second grade.

Rachel and I on Halloween

She did remember our class hermit crab (Bud) and hamster (Speedy), and a class trip to Duke Gardens in second grade. Reading groups (guided reading) was a special time and she has always loved reading. Rachel specifically remembers changing groups during the year, and that she was intimidated at first in her new group because she knew they were the “good readers”.

A memory Rachel shared that I don’t recall, is that someone once put glue on the toilet seat in our classroom bathroom. Apparently, I was not happy.

On the whole, we both agreed that this class was a pretty amazing group of kids. There were very few behavioral issues…we really couldn’t remember much of anything,  but these were six and seven-year-olds so there had to be some amount of behavioral issues/lessons, right? I guess I just forget things like that 😊

We looked through pictures together and remembered the students in our class. Rachel is still in touch with several of them, and her classmate Megan is still one of her closest friends. We both noted the lack of diversity in the class and the school as a whole. We had a great conversation about education, equity, and multiple intelligences. It was a fun time together reminiscing and telling stories.

The thing that most resonated with me after my dinner with Rachel was her comment about her memories being rooted in a “feeling”. Though specific memories fad, the feeling of connections, relationships, and belonging remain. Children need to feel a sense of safety and belonging and that someone cares. Only then are they ready to learn.

Rachel and I at dinner together 2019

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Guest Post by  Laurie Guyon, @smilelearning

If you have met me at a conference, a workshop, or in a school, you would consider me an extrovert. I’m friendly, always smiling, and comfortable talking to anyone.  Even as a self-proclaimed chatterbox, I get anxious in certain social situations. One on one conversations makes me nervous. My mind reels with thoughts like “will I talk too much” or “will I overshare” or “will I say something stupid” or “what if there is a lapse in the conversation’.  These thoughts have caused me to avoid what might have been a wonderful conversation. I try to step outside my comfort zone and engage in these moments more often. I know that these thoughts and ‘what ifs’ are part of being human.

“I restore myself when I am alone.” – Marilyn Monroe

While reflecting on these moments, I thought about my teenage daughter.  She is a self-proclaimed introvert. Her anxiety in social settings is completely the opposite of mine.  She is fine one on one, but crowds get her inner thinkings reeling. She hates public speaking and will avoid group situations whenever possible.  She once told me that my teaching style would give her hives because I like a loud and active classroom. She prefers quiet and independent work. In our classrooms, we have students with all different communication abilities and fears.  How do we foster an environment that can support all learners and communicators?

 

In the TED talk about introverts by Susan Cain, she defines shyness as fear of social judgment.  She states that introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation.  In the classroom, there is a multitude of stimulation. These can be visual noise, people, and expectations.  How each of our students responds to this stimulation tells us if they are comfortable or not. We may even discipline students based on their behaviors.  But, what if we are pushing students outside of their social norms?

 

Bob Dillon and Rebecca Louise Hare ask educators to make sure that there are spaces for all learners in their book, “The Space: A Guide for Educators”.  They mention creating areas that give students a chance to learn and work so they can thrive. When I taught 6th grade, I created a variety of learning spaces.  I then asked my students to choose the spots in the room where they feel they could learn best. I learned so much about my students by giving them the agency to choose.  I utilized choice boards to give students autonomy. Students were more likely to create quality work when given a choice on how they would showcase what they learned.

Have you ever gone to a presentation or a workshop and the presenter asks you to do something you don’t want to do?  For example, I was in one recently where they asked us to do charades. I am not a fan of playing that game for a variety of reasons, but we had to.  I did everything I could to be the guesser and never have to act it out. Then, at ISTE I lead a mini engagement session with the amazing MCE Melody McAllister and Nearpod.  In the session, we had to lead the participants in a rousing game of charades. Once again, I was outside of my comfort zone. The energy of Melody, the Nearpod team, and engaged educators allowed me to participate in the activity.  It was the support and encouragement that allowed me to be successful.

“The greatest art is to sit, wait and let it come.” – Yogi Bhajan

To reach all learners, we need to think about our learning spaces.  We need to think about the amount of agency we give our students and give them a chance to be inside their own heads.  We also need to encourage them to try and do what may not be in their wheelhouse. We can support them with encouragement and time to build on their comfort level.

We want to maximize talent and success for all our students.  This does not need to always be group work and active activities.  Sometimes, the best activity is in speaking softly or to work alone in silence.  But sometimes, it’s using our talents as part of a community that can make us successful.  Finding this balance is what will help us reach all learners.  

 

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Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

Educators have busy schedules and one thing that I hear quite often is that there never seems to be enough time. We need time to plan for our classes, to complete different tasks required by our roles in education, and of course, most importantly is time to spend with our students. But in order to be at our best, we need to find time to take advantage of different learning opportunities to stay informed of best practices and emerging trends in education. We also need time to connect with other educators. It’s through these relationships and finding the right tools that we will grow personally and professionally, and bring our best selves into our classrooms each day. The challenge is not so much in finding resources, but rather in finding the most valuable ones that will fit into already busy schedules.

Personally, I stay involved in a lot of different ways so I can continue to build my professional knowledge and my connections with other educators around the world. Having chosen to spend many of my first years of teaching isolated, I missed a lot of opportunities to learn more, to do more, and to provide more for my students. A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media. It has been an ongoing personal and professional transformation. Becoming connected has increased my awareness of the plethora of learning opportunities available for educators. I have changed my teaching methods, broadened my perspective of strategies and best practices in education and have more options for getting the support that I need to bring new ideas into my classroom.

Here are different ideas for ways to learn on any schedule. These options create a lot of possibilities for how, when, and where we can engage in professional development and become more connected educators. With the summer break coming for many educators, it can be the perfect time to explore new ideas.

Social Media

Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the amount of social media used by educators for professional learning and networking. Depending on your level of comfort and how often you choose to interact, there are many ways to learn, crowdsource ideas and access different perspectives and people with different backgrounds and experiences.

  1. Twitter. Although I was hesitant for many years to create a Twitter account, once I did a few years ago, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a nightly or weekly Twitter chat or just follow one of the many hashtags related to education, there is something for everyone when it comes to Twitter. Do you have ideas and want to gather more? Create your own hashtag and use it to invite people to share their ideas with you. Post a poll to get quick feedback, find educators to follow and create a list to keep track of resources and ideas shared. In addition to hashtags, there are many chats and topics to follow. If you want to find educators to follow on Twitter, David Lockhart created a list of 100 educators to look into.
  2. Voxer. A walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes communication and collaboration. It’s easy to get started with and it provides a lot of different ways to add to your professional learning. Use it for somewhat asynchronous conversations with a colleague, create a small group to discuss specific topics such as blended learning, project-based learning or augmented and virtual reality. Using Voxer for a book study also works very well. It provides a great platform for talking about a book and sharing resources, without having to be in the same space at the same time. There are even groups on Voxer, you can search the list and join them. It’s nice to be able to listen to the messages on the way to or from school, perhaps during a lunch break, or while making time for a walk and self-care.
  3. Facebook. Initially used with friends and family as a way to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and maybe to reconnect to organize events like family or class reunions, Facebook is now used by a lot of educators. There are many educator accounts to follow as well as groups of educators to join.

Information Sharing

Sometimes it is easier to find the information that you need, especially information which is current and offers a lot of resources, by exploring the different digital forms of information such as books, blogs, and podcasts. Knowing that the information is credible, up-to-date, and provided by educators with experience, is what sets these options apart from other options.

1. Blogs are a quick way to get information from a variety of sources, especially when you look at different blogs available from publications such as Getting SmartEdSurgeTeachThoughtEdutopiaeSchoolNews and EdWeek to name a few. Searching the list of top education blogs to follow is helpful for finding specific topics, content areas, and grade levels, or even for opportunities to contribute to a blog.

Many educators have personal blogs which offer a lot of inspiration and share ideas and even struggles. You can browse through this list of educator blogs to follow. Some educators that I follow are Mandy FroehlichJennifer GonzalezEric SheningerKasey BellKristen NanMatt Miller, and David Lockhart.

2. Podcasts can be a great way to pass time when traveling to and from work, relaxing or even during exercise. Most podcasts are short enough that you can listen to an episode and pick up new ideas and inspiration. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of podcasts available to teachers, whether created by educational organizations or simply teachers wanting to share their experiences and inviting others to join in the conversation. Some that I regularly listen to and which have been recommended to me are: Edumatch Tweet and Talk, Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), Vicki Davis (Ten Minute Teacher), Will Deyamport (The Dr. Will Show, the Edupreneur), Barbara Bray (Rethink Learning), Brad Shreffler (Planning Period Podcast), Don Wettrick (StartEDUp),  Google Teacher TribeTeachers on Fire, Andrew Wheelock (Coffee with a Geek), Dan Kreiness (Leader of Learning), and Denis Sheeran (Instant Relevance Podcast).

3. Books. There are more educational books available for professional learning than ever before. It’s easy to find book recommendations by following specific hashtags on Twitter or looking at different curated lists of education books. For some book recommendations, I generally follow the hashtags #bookcampPD#PD4uandMe, and #Read4Fun, which are led by different educators. The Read4Fun group also shares books in a Voxer group. For a list of recommended books, ISTE crowdsourced recommendations last year and I also created a survey to gather ideas from educators. Some of the books mentioned on the list include: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Courageous Edventures by Jennie Magiera, Culturize by Jimmy Casas, LAUNCH by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Take the L.E.A.P.  (Elisabeth Bostwick), and What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. Many publishers have books coming out on an almost weekly basis it seems. Check into DBC ConsultingEduMatch PublishingIMpress and ISTE to explore more books available.

Online Learning Opportunities

When we leverage technology in a way that opens up powerful learning opportunities and pushes back the limits based on time and location constraints, we find innovative ways that we can learn.

4. Online Learning Communities. There are different learning communities to join in for professional development. As a Common-Sense Certified Educator, you have access to the newest tools and resources. By becoming Google Certified or a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, educators can enroll in learning modules, training sessions, and receive a digital badge for completion of each different module. Besides building PLN, these opportunities offer yet another way to learn on your schedule, in a time and place that meet your own needs.

5. Summits and Webinars. There are organizations that provide webinars for educators, many of which are offered free of charge or a minimal fee or are subscription-based. For example, if you take advantage of providers like EdWeekSimple K12, or ASCD there are webinars available on a variety of different topics that work with your schedule. As a member of ISTE, joining in any of the PLNs gives you access to a series of weekly webinars and sometimes even more than once per week depending on the PLN. These webinars can be viewed live or as recordings when most convenient to you. The topics are always current and in some cases cutting edge or emerging trends, so you can keep informed of new ideas and teaching strategies, better than you ever could before.

Throughout the year there are even online conferences, or “Summits” which provide a series of speakers and sessions, sometimes held over a multi-day format. These are offered free and in my own experience, have always provided a wealth of knowledge and resources. Personal favorites include the Ditch Summit hosted by Matt Miller, Hive Summit hosted by Michael Matera and EdCamp Voice on Voxer, started by Sarah Thomas of EduMatch.

It’s clear there are many options and resources available to educators for professional development. It simply takes thinking about an area you would like to learn more about, exploring one of the choices and giving it a try.

Post sponsored by ParentSquare. The opinions expressed are my own.

Why Schools and Districts Need ParentSquare

The functionality of a teacher tool with a district-adopted platform

Finding a reliable and secure way to facilitate communication between school and home is critical for helping our students to be successful. When implementing digital tools and district-wide platforms, schools and districts must be cognizant of the rights and responsibilities when it comes to student privacy and digital safety. District leaders must protect the school community by maintaining a safe learning environment while also empowering teachers and families with the right tools to build community and promote family involvement.

For many classroom teachers, the options for tools to use are becoming more limited, whether because of access or school and district policies. While there are many free digital communication tools available, more and more teachers are being asked to not use the free tools and to implement tools that are district- or school-managed. Teachers must look for and recommend alternatives that will provide the same functionality they are used to and that will not require a lot of time to make the transition.

Choosing the Right Platform

There are many digital communication tools available to schools which offer a lot of benefits. It is important to find something that provides quality resources, centralizes school information, and which gives teachers the freedom they need to create a virtual space for their students and families.

Through the right platform, teachers can complete important tasks such as sending class updates, asking for volunteers, scheduling conferences and school events, sharing files and photos, and communicating various types of information to families, for a start. Being able to connect families and the school community with what is happening inside the classrooms strengthens the connection between home and school.

At the school and district level, being able to provide everything that students and families need through a comprehensive program and in a manner that parents and families choose is important. The entire school community benefits by having a consistent and efficient program in place that meets the needs and preferences of each of its members. So why should schools choose ParentSquare?

A Centralized Space for the Community

ParentSquare is available for the district- or school-wide implementation. If you find that you or your school are using multiple different apps to exchange information and communicate, ParentSquare provides one tool that does all of this and more. ParentSquare takes multiple tasks and communicative needs (messaging, attendance and grade notifications, event planner, calendar, fundraising, lunch balances, and much more*) that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one easy to use and widely accessible platform.

ParentSquare facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school through push notifications with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Schools can create wishlists, ask for volunteers and launch fundraising campaigns, therefore streamlining more of the common tasks for schools. ParentSquare enables schools and districts to share information from the same source, which promotes consistency and efficiency in a simplified platform.

Unique Features

With district-wide adoption of ParentSquare, school districts can provide one comprehensive tool to connect families with their child’s school and the district, in a centralized space. Schools can then provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home.

Although ParentSquare combines multiple apps and resources into one platform, it is very easy to navigate. Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” The design encourages parents and families to interact more in the space and work together toward fostering a collaborative relationship between home and school. Communication happens through posts and direct messaging which facilitates a higher level of engagement for families and greater connectedness. Parents can opt-out of certain communications and enjoy the benefits of being connected with the school and their children’s teachers, by receiving messages based on their preferences.

Another unique feature of ParentSquare is the Smart Alert and Notices for sending emergency alerts with options to send to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. You can choose between sending a recorded message or one created using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare. The receipt of each message is verified and detailed analytics for reach and deliverability show the percentage of contacts reached and the number needed to achieve 100%.

ParentSquare scores on the integration aspect too, integrating with many SISs, so teachers do not have to invite parents and maintain a contact list, thus also protecting privacy. Parents need not join and create a password, they are still kept informed and in the loop, thereby including every parent.

ParentSquare helps to streamline school business and workflows by providing:

  • Attendance notifications with excuse notes
  • Grades, Assignments, Assessments, Attendance in the Portal and App
  • Social and Web Share (web widget)
  • Invoices (recurring and one-time)
  • Payments (spirit wear, tickets, etc.)
  • Fundraiser with Battery meter
  • Calendar and RSVP (adults and kids)
  • Lunch Balance Notifications and other notices with merge fields
  • Secure Document Delivery including postal mail (progress reports, report cards)
  • Advanced analytics
  • SIS integrations
  • Support

Beyond the Platform: What Does ParentSquare Offer?

One thing that I think is important is that edtech companies offer a unified space for educators, parents, and students to access information when they need it. All companies should be intentional about providing support and resources such as webinars, user stories, blogs written by members of the team or teachers currently using the platform, and make sure the information is current. It’s equally as important to actively share new features and any changes that are coming in the near future. I appreciate being able to find a lot of resources and support when I am using a digital tool or platform with my classes.

ParentSquare provides a wealth of information on their site including blog posts, Meet the team, webinars, new features, thought leadership, educator insights, best practices and more. The ParentSquare team also sends newsletters full of information to keep customers informed of events and updates to their platform. ParentSquare is fully invested in family engagement and is helping to streamline the communication between home and school. With ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to communicate, and promote student success and family engagement. Learn more about it here.

Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

Over the last few weeks, I have been exploring ParentSquare and considering how it can be used to promote family engagement, foster better communication and facilitate collaboration between home and school.

Choosing something that will give students, teachers, parents, and administrators equal access to the vital information, resources, school news, and alerts, in addition to many of the other communications that are exchanged on a daily basis is an important task. There are multiple tools that can be used, but this often requires remembering where to find specific information or parent and teacher preferences for communication. Having one platform that provides all of this and more makes sense. With ParentSquare, all of this is possible and it brings with it the potential for using it in different ways that meet the needs of school and home, making it highly beneficial.

What it offers

There are many features of ParentSquare that facilitate more consistent and reliable information sharing and access to resources. Consider the tools and methods you are currently using and then compare with ParentSquare to see how much easier it is to engage families in the education of our students. Think about a typical day and the ways you communicate, the tasks that you do, the information that you exchange and how much time is spent in the process. ParentSquare helps to streamline all of the necessary communications.

Here are 10 of the best features that I think make ParentSquare really stand out and why I recommend that school administrators and teachers take time to explore the platform.

10 features that make ParentSquare a standout

  1. Ease of navigation within the platform: A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Available through the web or mobile devices, getting started and finding what you need is easy, without worry about a steep learning curve.
  2. Increases families engagement: Families choose their preferred methods of communication such as email, text, web portal, app notifications, voice calls, or mobile app. ParentSquare helps to create a closer home to school learning community full of ways to connect families.
  3. Facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school: Messages can be sent immediately, with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Easier to share relevant updates of all school-related activities and groups within one platform.
  4. Promotes better two-way communication with parents: Keep the conversation going with multiple options for communicating in less time. Communicate through direct messages, create polls, and post comments all in one platform.
  5. Easier to plan and RSVP for upcoming events: With ParentSquare, creating events and tracking RSVPs is much easier. ParentSquare even sends reminders for you.
  6. Involves families through photo and file sharing: Share photos and files with families quickly and with private and secure access within the platform.
  7. Creates more opportunities for family involvement: Schools can create wish lists, manage volunteer sign-ups and launch fundraising campaigns, all in one platform.
  8. Language Features: ParentSquare offers direct language translation in real-time for two-way communication. Language translation can be specific to the school or based on family preferences.

 

9. “Pushes” vital information to families when needed: Immediate access to information such as emergency alerts, grades, absences, lunch balances, upcoming events, volunteer requests, parent-teacher conferences and more. Parents do not need to search for information, everything is easy to find.

10. Analytics: With the reports, it’s easy to determine who received messages, how they obtained the information and how many people still need to be contacted. Access to the “Overall Snapshot” makes it easy to see how the information is being received and areas that need to be improved.

 

 

 

 

 

School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare

Find out how ParentSquare can make a difference in your school. I recommend that you schedule a demo to learn more about the features and possibilities with ParentSquare. Personally, I like to get started by exploring the website, learning about the team and the platform as much as I can before the demo. It is helpful to consider the different methods or tools you currently use for communicating and collaborating with students and families. Perhaps even make a list to compare. You will see how ParentSquare unifies so many time-consuming tasks and streamlines the exchange of forms and correspondence, into one tool that provides it all.

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Sign up for a demo today!

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Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

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When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

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With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

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There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.

 

 

Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

Why having a way to connect is important

One of the most important tasks for educators today is to find ways to be accessible to students. We want to build and foster a community of support, share information, and be available to our students. Developing a reliable way to communicate is critical for student success. While there are many traditional options available, ranging from posts on a class website, an email or even making a phone call home, educators need to be more accessible and have a way to exchange information in a timely manner.

With so many digital options available to choose from, those traditional methods of communicating have been converted into a much faster means of sharing information. Depending on the type of communication that you want to have for your classroom and parents, there are many possibilities to choose from. It simply takes figuring out what you hope to accomplish and to do better through this new method of communicating.

Why use Class Updates?

A few years ago, I started noticing what I refer to as a “disconnect.” When students were absent from class, had forgotten assignments at school, or did not understand the homework, it negatively impacted their opportunities for learning. I did not want the opportunity for learning to be lost due to a lack of communication and availability. I held myself responsible for finding a way to remedy the disconnect and find a way to be more available for students and for students to access class resources when they needed.

Class Updates, a student and teacher communication tool, offers a lot of ways to create more of a connection between students and teachers. When I first started using a messaging app, I only used it to send reminders to students and for students to be able to ask me a question. However, with Class Updates, there are some great features that enhance the learning experience and facilitate a better connection and method of communicating.

Some of the unique features of Class Updates include:

  1. User Profiles — include a profile pic, bio, and social media links
  2. Class/Teaching Schedule — set up your daily schedule, including start and end times
  3. Class/Group Calendar for important reminders/events/meetings — easy to set up a calendar to share with students
  4. Group Chat/Communication — message the entire class and facilitate conversations beyond the class period,
  5. In-app Messaging/Chat (individual to individual),
  6. Access to help when students need it — Teachers can be emailed directly from the app.

Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

Students have shared how beneficial having tools like Class Updates is for asking questions, receiving reminders, and knowing when tests, homework and other events are coming up in class. You know something is working when the students tell you how helpful something is, especially by having the ability to ask questions and receive help when they need, which is often beyond the class period.

Some ideas for using Class Updates

-Field Trips are easier with a messaging tool

– Send reminders of assignments and upcoming tests and quizzes

– Announce a change in schedule

– Engage students in a group conversation after class ends

Questions?

Feel free to contact me at rdene915@gmail.com or connect with me on Twitter @rdene915. Remember to sign up and try it, Class Updates is free for everyone. Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

This post is sponsored by Screenleap. Opinions expressed are my own.

At the end of January, I attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. FETC has become one of my favorite conferences to attend and each year I return to my school with a lot of new ideas and tools that I’m excited to try in my classroom and share with colleagues and educator friends. This year was no exception. After reading about the 31 start-up companies that would be participating in the “Pitch Fest” competition happening in the expo hall, I decided that I wanted to start there. These companies—the “best-of-the-best startups”—would be pitching their products and services to a panel of judges. I find this to be one of the “musts” for me each year to learn about the new ideas and products available to educators. I enjoy getting to talk with the companies to understand their tools and how it benefits educators and students.

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Before arriving, I had received a flyer from Screenleap. I took a quick look, but decided to set it aside and instead make time to meet with Tuyen Truong, the CEO and Founder of Screenleap, at the conference. We had a great conversation and I was immediately impressed with what I learned about Screenleap from Tuyen and from the reactions of other attendees who had stopped by the booth to learn more about Screenleap.

Not long after speaking with Tuyen, I presented my own poster session on designing “Creative, Personalized, and Productive Classrooms.” A common interest of the attendees was that they wanted to know options that would enable them to share lessons, to work with schedule changes that interrupted the normal class periods, and to provide access to learning opportunities for their students when their students needed them. Screenleap immediately popped into my mind and so I gave them a brief overview and pointed them in the direction of Screenleap’s booth in the EdTech Startup area.  

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Tools with Purpose: Getting Started Quickly

Common issues for teachers regarding education tools are knowing where to start and whether something will have a big learning curve. These are both important factors, but we should also consider the WHY behind adding the technology. Based on the interests of the educators that I spoke with, thinking through it and trying it out on my own, Screenleap definitely addresses these concerns by making it easy for teachers to set up and start using with students and by saving valuable time for teachers who use it.

So How Does It Work?

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Screenleap for Education allows teachers to share their screen with students and record it for later viewing. Whether the students are in the classroom or absent from class on a given day, they can watch the screen share live from wherever they are or access the lesson afterward when it is convenient for them. You can learn more about Screenleap for Education here. If you would like to try it out, you can start a free trial here!

Why Use Screenleap for Education?

When thinking about adding some new technology into the classroom, we really need to focus on the why behind choosing a specific tool or method. What difference will adding this tool make and how can it enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are being used? What sets it apart from other tools you are currently using?

I think the benefits are clear with Screenleap for Education:

  1. Teachers can share from any device (including Chromebooks, iPads, Android, PCs, and Macs).
  2. Students don’t need to install any software to view their teacher’s screen, which makes it easily accessible to all students and saves time on IT administration.
  3. Everything is automatically recorded on the cloud for later playback. Teachers don’t need to manually upload the recording after the screen share.
  4. It saves teachers a lot of time because now they do not need to reteach lessons to students who miss a class since the recorded lessons are available for students to watch on their schedule. In addition, when it comes to re-teaching, you don’t always present the information the same way, so having a solid lesson that can quickly be shared with students to view and learn from is a real benefit for you.

Ideas for Using the Recording Feature

Depending on the content area you teach, or even if you have a different role than a classroom teacher, creating these recordings is easy and of great benefit. Having recordings available that you can share with colleagues, offer as extra instruction for students needing review, or even as a way to get feedback from colleagues about how you delivered a lesson, are just a few of the great ways to use the recording feature of Screenleap for Education. There are a lot of other possibilities for teachers, students, and administrators when the recording feature is used as part of a teacher’s daily instruction.

Getting Started

I found Screenleap for Education very intuitive and easy to get started with:

  1. After creating your account, there is an initial setup step where you can create your classes and add students to them.
  2. Once your classes are set up, it is easy to start sharing your screen with your students: all you need to do is click on the button for the class you want to share when your class starts. If it’s your first time sharing your screen, you will be walked through a one-time app installation before your screen share begins. null
  3. Once your screen share has started, your students can watch your screen share by signing into their accounts and clicking on the “View live class” button for your class.
  4. While you are sharing your screen, it is automatically recorded in the cloud.
  5. When you stop your screen share and have recording enabled, your recording will be processed and made available to you from the “Recordings” page. If you have automatic sharing configured, the recording will also be made available for your students to review.

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Additional Features That I Like

  • If you want to remove something from your class recording, you can do so and then upload the updated version.
  • You can share the same recording with multiple classes.
  • You can track student engagement in real-time by clicking on “engagement” or after the recording has been processed. You will see a snapshot of the engagement graph at the bottom of every recording.

Conclusion

Screenleap for Education offers a lot of benefits for teachers, students, and administrators: students can easily follow along in the classroom or from home, teachers do not have to reteach lessons that students miss, students can review lessons before tests, and administrators have resources available  that can help to improve test scores for their schools through better learning. In addition, being able to stay connected and keep up with class—even when not in the classroom—and having information available to share with other teachers and administrators really makes Screenleap stand out when it comes to tools that benefit student learning.

Let me know what you think of Screenleap for Education. Again, you can start a free trial here

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