Friday, March 19, 2010

An Open Letter To My Students' Parents

I sent this to my students' parents today as part of my weekly update. I am posting it here because I think other teachers might find some value in using some or all of the wording to motivate their students' parents to engage a bit more as well. What are your thoughts?

Dear Parents,

Sometimes, I get to witness some pretty exciting “Aha!” moments with the students. It’s a thrill for me to be present as they have these experiences. I’ve just assumed they bring these moments home to you but I’m often surprised when I ask the students if they share what we are doing in class and too many of them respond with “I forgot” or “I was busy.” I’m a parent too, so I KNOW that by the time they get home, there’s so much going on that it’s so easy to neglect these quick conversations where your child can be the expert. This is your child’s chance to shine (and control the conversation). It’s not too often that 9 and 10 year olds get to have that kind of power, but if you can let them have it for 15-20 minutes each day, you will be amazed at what you will not only learn about what’s happening in class, but also what is going on in your child’s head. Letting your child do this is a great way to help him/her build confidence and language skills as well.

If you ask your child what he did in school today, you may not get many answers, but you can arm yourself with information and be prepared. Nobody likes to be “grilled” with lots of questions thrown at them, but if you already know some of what’s happening, you can easily start a conversation with comments about what you already know.

Here’s how to begin:

1. Read our class blog (this is different than the kidblogs) and provides some insight into what we’ve been doing. My email signature has the link and you can also get there from EDLINE.

2. Read our Kidblogs. Your child is publishing there. You can send your child’s blog link to family and friends via email and ask them to comment on your child’s blog. YOU can comment on your child’s blog. By engaging in this type of online writing, your child is learning how to publish for an authentic audience in a safe, controlled manner. Are you reading his/her work? The link to the kidblog is also in my email signature and is also in EDLINE. Remember that nothing becomes public until I approve it. That includes posts by your child and comments by others.

Have a great weekend!

Mrs. Kolbert


Mrs. Blanco said...

Thank you for sharing this Lee. Often I hear from many of my teachers that parents aren't involved enough in the daily lives of their students. I hear over and over again that my teachers and their students spend so much time publishing on their blogs and wikis, but their parents don't request to be members/followers or leave comments. I can't wait to send this link (and the one about ten things students can blog about) to my teachers and see how they adapt your letter and suggestions to fit their needs.

Henrietta Miller said...

What a great letter Lee, I regularly email my parents too and I might just think of trying to style one like this too. It is good to let them know of you Ahh moments and to remind them of how they can contribute through the blogging process.

Bob Cotter said...

Nicely said ... I really like that you have two blogs for you and your class ... one for you to communicate with parents and one for your students to communicate with a larger audience of peers and others.

Lee Kolbert said...

@Mrs. Blanco
It was exactly that frustration that led me to write this to my parents. So often I hear that my parents aren't reading or are even aware of what we are doing. Hard to believe though, because I send home an email newsletter every week. Truth be told, they aren't reading it. Sad. Thanks for your comment.

I've been wanting to address this issue with my parents for awhile and just decided to go for it. I figured going the blogging route was a safe, non-threatening way to encourage parents to contribute. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

I'm not crazy about having too many online spaces that parents are expected to check, but they really serve different purposes. I'll be happy if they will check at least one. Thanks so much!

Karen Kliegman said...

Great letter, Lee. I have a couple of classes using kidblogs, too (4th/5th grade)- maybe we can open up our blogs to each other's classes?

poulingail said...

You can lead a horse to water......
I have been sending a newsletter home every Friday for years and posting it on my blog for a couple years. Some parents love it, others never even look at it, not on paper and not online. The result has been too many uninformed parents. We also use and while I'm finding it to be a wonderful opportunity, many parents don't know what their kids are talking about when they ask to go online and work on a blog post. I teach kindergarten so this is especially appalling to me. The purpose of my newsletter and blog are to inform parents about what is going on in the classroom. There are pictures and videos to serve as conversation starters and I generally explain any new learning activities we are engaged in. Those who read it give wonderful feedback and that keeps me going.

David Truss said...

Great stuff Lee,

What you've done is suggested, in a positive way, that parents be partners in their child's education and that they participate with you, your class and most importantly, their child.

Very nicely worded!

Here is something I sent home in my newsletter a while back to parents at my school:

An Engaged Parent

Often we can get trapped in a routine where our only conversation with our children is ‘What did you do in school today?’

When my children were younger, I stopped asking them that, and started asking them two other questions:

1. ‘Who did you help today’ – A question that shows that I value generosity and kindness. I accepted ‘No-one’ as an answer, but that answer decreased over time.

2. ‘What was your favourite part of the day?’ – A question that gave me far more to talk meaningfully to them about than what I got when I asked ‘what they did’. It doesn’t matter what you ask your child about their day, what matters is that you ask, and that you show a genuine interest in what they say.

In my years as an educator I’ve learned that students both want and need to be heard, and students who have parents that they talk to, openly and regularly, tend to be much better equipped to be successful in the future.


Mark Moran said...

Often I hold things back because I think they need not be said, and then am stunned by the "holy cow" reaction I get when I finally blurt it out. This letter is great, and while some of us wish it need not be said, the sad truth is that the majority of parents in this country should receive this letter every week. My kids' kindergarten teacher circulated a book of class work to families every few weeks for review and comment; in our house, we'd compete to come up with the most creative and clever comment, often with an inside joke for the teacher; most other families wrote "nice work, class, keep it up." And the larger point of the letter is to give your child "the floor" when he comes home; the most introverted child will open up if he believes you are sincerely interested in what he has to say.

R McDonald said...

Well put Lee, I also have two Blogs running in our classroom, and this is exactly the type of communication I need to get across to my parents. Thanks so much for sharing... p.s. How is your son's shoulder? I'm a hockey player/hockey parent myself.Hope he is playing again.

techamateur said...

Excellent letter Lee. I am impressed with your letter and plan on sending something similiar. It's sad that many parents in my room do not look at my web page or even read my email. Those that do are very appreciative and informed but I find many do not know what it is going on in my class. I hope some will find the time to read my letter when I post it.

Mechelle said...

Lee, Thanks so much for giving us a template. At the end of the day.. I ask my students what they learned today. This also helps them remember what to talk about in case mom or dad does ask. I am just starting out with blogging and am very excited about using blogs with my students & parents. The communication with the parents is so important and for some of them unfortunately it is a settle reminder like this that will help them to pay some quality attention to their children. Thanks Again!

Lee Kolbert said...

Our kidblogs are public. Since I approve everything, and have parent permission to publish, I leave them public. At this time, there is no way to make them public to only some people, so if yours are not fully public, we won't be able to see yours. My kids do enjoy reading other kids' blogs though, so if you are comfortable opening them up, please send me your link. lee.kolbert at
Best of luck with your blogging. Are your kids loving it?

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. I might just add yours to my next update as sort of a "Part II" to my Engaging With Your Children series. I just made that up, but I like it and your excellently worded and simple suggestions would be a great way to follow up. Thanks so much!

I love that idea of circulating a book or some other student work for comments. Sort of like a hard-copy blog it's an easy way to start some great conversations. As for you holding back on what you think is obvious... I'm with you. Thanks so much for your comment!

Jordan's shoulder is healed and returned in time to join his team to play in their National Championship series. They made it to game 3 and then lost to Hope College who should have totally kicked their butts but didn't, so it was a great game! Thanks for asking. :)

I guess all we can do is lead the horse to water. I could confidently say I'm reaching 30% of my families via my online communication (and that includes reading my emails - although 100% receive them). Although, we're never satisfied until we hit 100%, I think 30% is pretty good. Even if only one parent increases his communication with his child because of her blog, then there's a conversation that might not have otherwise happened, so I'm happy. Thanks for your comment.

What a great idea to spend a few minutes summarizing the day with the students. I'm going to start doing that tomorrow. Thanks so much!!

Caitlyn Warnberg said...

I think that it is so important to get parents involved in their child's education and blogging is such an excellent way to do that!
I'm a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class and we've been learning about how to effectively use technology in the classroom.

Wendy Randall said...

I think that this letter is a great idea and I will be using it with my parents at the beginning of next term. We have a class blog and the children will be getting their own blogs next term. I teach a year 2 class and I send home a Fridge Facts sheet every fortnight to let parents know what we are doing and I also put it into our document box on our blog for parents to download. They think that the blog is a great idea and we constantly encourage them to read our blog and leave a comment but of course this does not happen. I think I will use the ideas in your letter, maybe this will encourage them to be more active on our blog. I am also considering holding some workshops for the parents to boost their confidence in using the blog and supporting the children.

Aimee Cotton Bogush said...

As a frustrated parent (and former teacher) of children in a school that does not foster any communication with parents, let alone meaningful communication, I have to say I think it is just fabulous that you provide these opportunities for parent engagement. I plan to show your Open Letter to some folks around here. Thanks for sharing it!

Heather Mason said...

At it's best...this empowers parents. I have seen a lot of talk on Twitter about whether or not teachers are working with parents. Often parents just don't know how to engage kids about their school day and teachers write that off as disinterest.

And if they don't use it, at least you can say you gave them every opportunity.

toni said...

Thumbs Up for your posting

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stevesmith said...

Nice letter .. Really like it..