It’s September and schools are officially back in session! The most helpful resources for teachers right now? They’re about setting the crucial, strong foundation of instruction and classroom dynamics that will propel student outcomes all year long.
Here are our top picks for important September reads and resources for teachers and coaches, to ensure that foundation is sturdy. From building relationships with parents to supporting students in the return to in-person teaching, we have highlights and article links for you.
Enhancing Relationships with Parents
The recent reliance on distanced teaching actually helped boost teacher-parent communication. This shouldn’t fall to the wayside with the return to in-person teaching.
In fact, shared information and collaboration between homes and schools is more important than ever. Here are some best practices for keeping parents up-to-date and engaged on important topics:
Sharing COVID-19 safety information. Communication from school to home about safety protocols has been constant since March 2020 due to changing health conditions and safety protocols.
Many school systems issue weekly newsletters to keep the school community up-to-date on safety policies and conditions, as well as provide updates on social media feeds and emails. The Idaho School Boards Association provided best practice tips to its members about school communications during COVID-19.
Recommended practices include using language that is honest but also calming and reassuring.
Setting academic expectations. Collaborations and communications with parents about academic needs will need to remain strong. These efforts should also be consistent schoolwide, advised a June paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Administrators can help develop expectations and responsibilities for building effective partnerships with families.
This should include defining the roles of teachers and other non-teaching staff, such as guidance counselors, in parent outreach. It also means ensuring staff have adequate time and professional development to effectively engage and support families, the CRPE paper said.
Last year, teachers in Salem Public Schools in Massachusetts had difficulty keeping track of which students were in quarantine, for how long and what individualized supports they needed. The district hired dedicated remote tutors to support temporary online learners and developed protocols for identifying and tracking remote students.
Providing social-emotional supports. According to the Education Next survey, parents and teachers are aligned that schools should provide just as much focus on student academic performance as they do on student social-emotional wellbeing.
Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee implemented a Navigators program for staff to keep in regular contact with families. Around 5,600 MNPS staff members are responsible for six to 12 families each and could help refer families to counselors and social workers if needed, or arrange food supplies and technology supports.
Promoting accomplishments and connections. The seriousness of the pandemic and the urgency to accelerate learning may leave the celebratory aspects of school as an afterthought. Back to School Nights, whether in-person or virtual, can be promoted as moments to honor parents, staff and students.
Last year, the Dallas Independent School District in Texas created a home visitation program where teachers went to students’ homes to ask the students about their interests and goals, and to strengthen the home-school connection.
Read more at K-12 Dive: 4 ways schools are enhancing parent relationships in the return to classrooms
Are you a coach thinking about relationship-building with teachers? Here are 7 questions to start with.
Planning PD? Focus on Resources for Teachers That Really Matter
Teacher professional development is often overwhelmed with multiple, competing initiatives. But this Edutopia article asserts that achieving goals with excellence is much more likely when school leader priorities are few and focused.
But if you’re narrowing down priorities for teachers and the school team, how do you choose? We’ve highlighted the guiding questions.
1. How much of an impact on student learning and well-being will this priority have? It’s not that some priorities are bad, it’s just that some will have a comparatively larger impact. This means it helps to know the research on what affects student learning and well-being more.
2. Can this priority make an impact within three months? People need small wins now more than ever. Consider choosing three priorities just for the first three months and then reassess.
3. Does this priority address our most pressing needs? Spend some time gathering data so you can identify the most pressing needs of your school.
4. Does this priority build on our existing initiatives, strengths, or school values? Sometimes a new initiative or change feels overwhelming because it doesn’t seem connected to the school’s existing initiatives, mission, or strengths. The path to success is often faster and easier when it’s built on what you already do well. Examine the data you uncovered, and see what strengths your school already has.
5. How much will this priority influence other aspects of the school? In a school, this means that rather than focusing on improving every little thing, we should focus on a few key priorities—or keystone habits—that will serve as catalysts to change the rest of the school.
For example, if you chose to focus on absenteeism as one of your priorities, that would impact engagement (students can’t be engaged if they’re not attending), learning (they can’t learn if they’re missing classes), and staff morale (teachers question their worth when students don’t show up).
Read the full post at Edutopia: The Value of Limiting Your Priorities for the School Year
And here’s more about boosting student attendance based on Harvard GSE research.
A New Era of Supporting Students
Students have been through a lot. Here are 4 ways to support students in the return to the classroom, direct from a teacher.
1. Community builders and check-ins are a must! Having a check-in and a community builder, or icebreaker, exercise before each lesson helped me strengthen relationships during distance learning.
2. Reduce the number of assignments and provide detailed and meaningful feedback. The pandemic amplified existing trauma and poverty for many students. A lot of students do not have access to a stable internet connection and have multiple siblings at home participating in remote learning. Teachers cannot forget these stressful living situations once students return to campus. Students need empathy to learn.
3. Remember: Follow-up is extremely important. Whenever my students or I experience a challenging time, I use that moment to connect with them further. I admit, it can be overwhelming when you have several students sharing their experiences daily, asking for support, or emailing you to inform you why they will not attend class. However, it is extremely important that teachers follow up with students.
We must acknowledge what students share so they feel valued. I make sure to follow up with students about a specific experience or event within two weeks. The small gesture of following up makes students feel seen. In return, students communicate more.
4. Communicate effectively and efficiently: Many teachers use their district’s grading system — usually Google Classroom or Schoology — to communicate with students. While these are important and efficient (yes, these systems are “down” from time to time), I often wonder, are these effective?
It can be easy to forget an assignment due at midnight or a project due date. Our students’ realities are why it’s important that teachers diversify how they communicate to students. Students need messages from apps like Remind, updates using the Schoology platform, individual emails, phone calls as a follow-up and flyers for events. They need frequent and multiple forms of communication.
Read more on EdSource: How can teachers support students as we return to in-person learning
Missed our August Notable Content? Find it here!