The Vatican is More Transparent Than The Classroom.

This year, as we wind to a close around here from the student side of things, amid all of the chaos of the crescendo that is the end of a school year, all I want to think about is transparency.

I don’t usually get parent phone calls in this position, but when I do, it’s almost exciting in a sick sort of way.  The best are when there is a little time to prepare, as in when someone from one of the schools passes me a heads up so that I can prepare some resources.

The few calls I have received as of late all point to one of the most puzzling problems we have: (to quote) “I don’t see anything coming home.  I have no idea what is going on in the classroom.”  Our teachers are excellent and among the hardest working I have ever been around, but why was I hearing about this so frequently?

Puzzling?  Extremely, and here is why.

Look at this example, and this one, and this one.  There are teachers who are leveraging the power of their students to produce evidence and examples of what is occurring in the classroom if not on daily basis, at least a weekly one.  This idea, of course, did not arise with the Google’s purchase of Blogger, but rather has been around forever; however, as our children rise out the elementary school and leave the trappings of the elementary classroom behind, the practice of the “Friday Folder” appeals less and less to them.  The neatly typed and clip-arted newsletter just isn’t making it to the refrigerator in 6th grade.

Use the technology to increase transparency.  These four organizations, long considered bastions of rigid secrecy and privacy, are far more likely to divulge information about what is going on within their walls than a good percentage of classrooms around the country.  Why?  I think we should be proud of what is going on in our classrooms and schools, and we should invite discussion and dialogue into them around student work.

Going one step further, the rebirth of the student portfolio has me intrigued within this format.  Teachers who have worked with their students to create a blog often run into one big problem: what do you do at the end of the year when those students no longer are yours, yet they still have an account in your class blog?  Does their work permanently reside with you?  Several schools around the world are using platforms like Moodle, WordPress MU, Google Apps for your Domain, or even local server tools available through the Mac OS X server to house student work in a manner that it follows them through the course of the years within a district or school.  Let’s promote that!  Let’s talk about having easy access for students, and parents, to student work as it’s in progress.  How many conversations have you seen occur on-line between students who would never speak to each other in class?  Will the same be said for parents and children who cannot relate to one another well in person?  Will their on-line interaction over their published work help them relate to one another at the personal level?

Perhaps I am taking it too far, but there is merit here, and I am actively looking for examples of how schools are doing this type of work.  Please add yours!

Cross-posted at TechLearning and Ecology of Education.

What I Liked About Back to School Night

My son is in preschool,  I’ll lead with that.

My wife and I went to his back to school night last week anxious to see his school and meet his teachers.  For us, it was like reconnaissance: my wife is also a teacher and her back to school night was coming up and we needed ideas.  Plus, our son is close-lipped about school, always answering our questions with “I don’t know.”  As we sat there, cross-legged at “circle time,” I took some mental notes, and I also started recalling the back-to-school nights I had lived through in the classroom.  What I remember, and what became apparent to us as the blood rushed from our feet under the weight of our adult bodies, was that the more time I spent on rules and regulations, the less everyone was engaged, including me.

What do we want to know when we enter our child’s classroom?  Do we need to know that the penalty for chewing gum is a wearing it on his nose?  I think we have to take a page from good presentation skills here: if they need to know my rules, I can provide them on a handout.  What we wanted to know as we entered his classroom was what he did when he wasn’t with us.

His teacher did a masterful job of this.  We sat like preschoolers and followed their mini-schedule.  She moved as if we were the kids, showing us the actions she makes as she instructs; every action is mirrored by the words used to describe it.  We got to know her and who she is.  We spent time imagining our son working and interacting with the same things we were.

We are in the midst of back to school night time for most of us here in New Jersey.  Our district is going through them this week.  When you plan for our back to school nights, I hope you all think about what you would want as a parent.  For my wife and I, we wanted to be able to see how he would interact in that environment, and we wanted to know that he was in a supportive environment.

These are the things I would want to see as a parent in my child’s classroom:

  • Be Genuine.  Be who you are with the parents of your students.  They want to know that there child is learning, is challenged, and is supported.  By showing them your true self, it helps them see those things.
  • Don’t give us your resume.  If you are standing there in front of the room, we’ll assume you are qualified.  If parents ask about your credentials, you might have bigger problems on the horizon.
  • Show samples.  Student work on the walls, of course, but also show us examples of lessons they are doing currently or will do in the future.  What I liked most about our preschool visit the other night was that I now know what is on the horizon and what I can expect him to be doing in a class period on a given day.
  • Be Gracious.  You have big class sizes.  You have 130 students over the course of the day.  They have one child in one room at one time.  Understand that they are singular in focus, as you would be too.

Anyone have any other suggestions?