Tag Archives: family communication

Unlocking family communication in math class

Students write weekly emails to their families

family communication around education, social media and digital citizenshipLizzie Stockbridge, a 6th grade math teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont, gives students 15 minutes every week to write an email home.

But when she started she had no idea how powerful this simple routine would turn out to be.

Unicorn stories!

 Here’s a recent snippet from an email by a student who writes about “Herald the Unicorn” each week:
As you recall last weeks event’s were brutal for Herald this week though they get even worse as I must have reader advisory for this because its so scary it will make you look around and wonder if there really was something moving around in that closet, so creepy it will make you want to run away and actually do that homework that you were told to do if you choose to keep reading you have been WARNED.

Intrigued? Well, read the whole email here as well as his father’s full response, which starts:

John, nearly all of your sentences in this week’s submission are run-ons, but all is forgiven. Why? Because this work is simply fabulous. Foreboding, tense and yet simultaneously humorous. You are juxtaposing genres here, with touches of theater, fable, horror and, dare I suggest, even poetry.

Lizzie’s students are really engaged in this routine. They use their weekly emails to express creativity, raise red flags, reflect on academic learning, process intense events — all sorts of things.

Melding student voice & family connections

Lizzie is a first-year teacher but she recognized the importance of connecting with families. And she knew that the key was to follow the lead of students to make sure it was meaningful.

At the end of the first week of school, students hadn’t yet delved into the math curriculum. When Lizzie read the first set of emails, she found that “they were just so excited about everything that had happened. Before school, after school, how there’s sports here now, how there’s clubs, blah, blah, blah. All the different teachers that they talked to. … Once I saw how invested they were in these other things, I just rolled with it.”

That’s responsiveness. And her instinct to let her students lead planted the seeds of the good things to come.

How does it work?

There are a few simple components to Lizzie’s approach.

  • The gift of time: Students write for 15 minutes on Fridays. Lizzie sets a timer and students are asked to reflect on their week. Otherwise there are no constraints on topic or format. Some students use speech-to-text and some even use emojis rather than formal writing.
  • Email buddies: Each student has at least one “email buddy” to serve as their authentic audience. Lizzie had originally thought she would require the email to go to somebody in the home, but she quickly realized that this didn’t work for everybody. Lizzie makes sure that every student has at least one person to email. For a couple of students this meant connecting them with an external buddy who had some time on his hands: Lizzie’s father. And a few students chose to email teachers within the school with whom they have close relationships.
  • Responses encouraged: Lizzie periodically reminds email buddies that responding makes a big difference for students’ buy-in. When students do receive a response: “It’s clear that they’re excited about sending the emails and the parents who respond often start the email by saying, ‘I love your Friday emails. They brighten my day.’ Then I hear the kids come in and they’re like, ‘They got my email. We talked about this. We talked about that,’ which is great.
  • Teacher CC’d: Lizzie receives all of the emails as well. She skims them over the weekend. “I usually do it on Saturday morning and I’m just sitting there on my computer like, ‘…That’s so cute.’ Yes, it’s nice, yes.” This part is key. So many positive things flow from the fact that Lizzie takes the time to look through the emails.

8 positive impacts of weekly emails

In addition to strengthening family communication, here are eight more benefits of students writing weekly emails home.

1. Teacher student relationships

Lizzie values learning about her students. This was big part of the reason why she altered her original math-focused email plan.

When I saw how they enjoy me talking to them on Mondays being like, “Oh, how did that football game go?” Like, “What? You know I played football? You read my email!” Which is really cool. Instead if I’m like, “How did ratios go last week in Math?” They’re like, “I don’t want to talk to you about this.” That was my major switch.

As a former math teacher, I was always jealous of ELA teachers who learned so much from students’ writing. The weekly emails do this for Lizzie.

2. Curricular relevance

Lizzie uses what she learns to directly support math learning as well.

It makes teaching math so much easier to me. Because if I notice the kids not getting it, I can make connections. “Okay, I know that you have watched Spiderman this past weekend because I saw it in your email.” And so I’m like, “Okay, what if Spiderman needed to save someone and they needed – what do they need to make the suit? …when I ask them to create their own problems, they can easily do it and they connect it to things that are going on outside of the class. Where I feel like last year if I ever ask my students to create anything, it would just be surface level class pencils to markers, but now, I feel like they know that they can talk to me about everything that’s going on because they know that I read it.

3. Crisis prevention & support

In several cases, Lizzie has come across information that was helpful to her team mates for supporting a student.

It helps in other classes, I noticed, because I found some emails, some red flag emails, and I immediately just contact the team or I contact whoever needs to be contacted. Also, for kids who shut down in class, they don’t tell us anything but then they’ll email about it. It’s nice to see that I can see what they’re thinking without them having to verbally tell me.

In one case a student noted that “my teachers hate me.” Lizzie notified her teammates and they talked to the student about it. The positive change was immediate. “She’s like a completely different kid. She comes in all bubbly and says hello to us every day now.” Listening is a powerful strategy and the emails give students another venue for voice.

4. Students connecting with their families

Lizzie was hoping that students and families would talk about school more at home due to the Friday emails. Her action research suggests a moderate shift based on parent survey responses.

Lizzie did see some interesting exchanges however:

A lot of students think ahead to their weekend. …they often talk about what they hoped to happen in the weekend. They send a list home of things that they want to happen. … It’s something they usually send an ask home of, “Can we eat popcorn while we watch our movie?” Or, “Can we watch this movie instead of that movie? Could we go outside? Can we go sledding? Could we…” It varies, but they are usually sending a list and then asking something of the people they send their emails to.

Kids getting a jumpstart on weekend negotiations suggests that they saw this as a legitimate communication tool for the stuff they care about.

5. Student learn life skills

Lizzie was amazed at how little her 6th graders knew about the tech skills related to emailing. Students needed to learn how to use Outlook, how to create a signature, how to enter email addresses, and how to access responses.

It became apparent several months into the school year that she had forgot one important aspect. A parent pleaded, “Can you please teach them how to reply?” Students had been creating new emails each week. Contributing to an ongoing threaded conversation is certainly a 21st Century life skill!

6. Student reflection

Lizzie framed the emails as a form of reflection:

I do call it an email reflection, and so now when they hear the word reflection, I think that they are correlating the, “Okay, now I have to process what I have done.” I don’t know if it’s true in all cases, but I’ve noticed that whenever I say reflection to them, they know exactly what’s expected of them.

In some cases students were focusing their reflection on academic learning. In many cases they were just thinking through the day-to-day tribulations of young adolescence.

I’m thinking that it’s a way for them to process what has happened to them this week, and if that is school related or if that’s something outside of school, that’s up to them, but taking that time to think about what they have done for the week or what they have done for the hour is really important.

In a school-wide survey, Lizzie’s team received positive responses relative to other teams. Parents were impressed with the family communication and students were enthusiastic about reflection. Lizzie and her team mates consider the Friday emails to be an important contributor to the encouraging feedback.

7. Kids like it

If Lizzie has to skip a Friday, she gets a lot of push back from students. Students sometimes finish their emails in study hall. And students have sent their Friday email when they were sick or traveling.

Pie chart showing 72% of students enjoy Friday emails and 25% more say "maybe."

Some students have gotten really creative. One student created the idea of “Girl Power Industries,” where her weekly learning is framed as world-changing. And if you check out a typical email from her then you might believe that this girl is indeed likely to change the world!

8. Families like it

Lizzie has received good feedback from families as well.

Pie chart that show 94% of parents enjoy Friday emails.This comment on the survey seems to capture the parental gratitude:

"Thank you so much for taking the time to create the weekly reflections with the kids. It's a wonderful glimpse into our child's week through his own words and memories. It seems harder these days to tease conversation about school out of him, this really gets the ball rolling around the dinner table. Thank you and keep them coming! [redacted]

And Lizzie has felt the difference in her interactions with families.

Parents are constantly reaching out to me. Every week, I at least have five parents reaching out to me. It can be simple things, concerns, or just check-ins … When I see parents and introduce myself. They’re like, “Oh no, we know who you are.” Immediately they’re like, “Yes. We know you. You’re the math teacher. We know exactly who you are. We hear about you and see your emails,” which is really cool.

It’s so important to be seen and to be known. For teachers, for students, and for their families. Sometimes the simplest routines can help us be human.

Action Research

Please check out the screencast below to see Lizzie’s presentation at the Middle Grades Conference on her approach, her action research, and her findings.


How could you empower students to reflect via email?


17 ways to communicate with students’ families


Communication with student’s families outside of student led conferences (SLC) is vital. Giving parents the information they need in order to protect that time for the student voice to take the lead in sharing the learning, goals, and needs is essential. Let’s take a quick look at the why, when, and the how, with a little quality brainstorming.


Family engagement…

family communication bingo

When we engage families in their students’ education the benefits are numerous. The findings from the 2017 report from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Family Engagement (Wood, Bauman, Rudo, Dimock 2017) suggests:

  • Schools that reach out to families and the community and build strong parent-school relationships also were found to have a positive impact on students;
  • Empowering parents to exercise leadership within a school as an approach also has shown positive results;
  • Engagement at home is a statistically significant predictor of grades and days missed at school. Students with more engaged parents had higher academic achievement and fewer missed days of school.
  • Increased communication effort with families can have a positive impact on school success and student outcomes;
  • Consequently, employing multiple strategies in a program will likely increase the odds of getting families to engage and of positively affecting school and student outcomes.

…and equity.

We cannot assume that all students have the same opportunities. Additionally, we cannot assume all parents have equal access to information to support their learners. That’s where you come in. Schools can provide a tailored stream of communication. All of which can increase the possibility for students, educators, and parents to engage in conversations about learning.


  • often
  • frequently
  • regularly
  • routinely
  • consistently

All of the above!

Communication prior to the student-led conference should be considered a necessary component of a successful conference. There’s a tremendous amount of information parents want to know. But this is really a year-round need.


BINGO, people. B. I. N. G. O.

And family outreach was its name-o.

family communication bingo

Let’s step through them together.

  1. Class blog. Private or public, password-protected or open for all, a regularly updated class blog can be a rich source of information from families.
  2. Google Classroom (or other LMS). Most LMSes have a way to invite parents in and make channels of communication available.
  3. Community dinner. Make it a class or team project to plan a dinner for all families. Even if you just go the Stone Soup route.
  4. Weekly student videos. Give students a low-entry prompt to sit down and each week, make a short video message for their family. Middle level educator Joe Speers provides an amazing (and short) blueprint for this activity called The Best Part of My Week.
  5. The Phone Call. Picking up the phone and calling a family, especially with good news about their student, still rocks.
  6. twitter or instagram account. As a class or team, you can maintain a twitter or instagram account that shares quick photos or videos with families. Keep it open or make it private at your discretion.
  7. “Talking Points for Parents”. One of the hard things about being a parent is not knowing what to ask your student besides, “How was your day at school?” Jump on in there and send parents regular Talking Points: questions they can ask that pertain to specific activities their students are doing. “How are the trout coming along? Will they be ready for release day, y’think?” “How’s the bike trail project coming along? Have y’all started digging yet, or are you still working on the map? …Can I see it?”
  8. A Paper Newsletter. It’s great practice to have a mix of tech-rich and non-tech activities at the outreach ready. Think equity: do all your families have bandwidth, or devices, or are familiar with all the platforms? The paper newsletter is nice and non-techy, and some of your students are just itching to do some graphic design. Itching.
  9. Workshops for parents. A little more time-intensive, but worth it. Every so often, organize a workshop to help parents understand a little more about what’s going on in the classroom. “Get Into Google Classroom”, for instance. “What’s new with flexible pathways?”
  10. Google Hangouts. Or Facetime, just a quick videoconference can take phone calls to the next level.
  11. Volunteer opportunities for families. Everyone can use an extra hand, now and then.
  12. Class app. Middle school educator Jared Bailey developed a quick web-based app families could install on their phones that provided an on-the-go showcase for student work, student comments and progress. And if that sounds intimidating, does one of your students — or one of their parents — want to build one?
  13. Regular email updates. Email is not dead, it was just briefly resting for a moment there. The email newsletter, distributed either via bcc: or through Mailchimp or Constant Contact, can be a fun writing exercise for giving group updates for your families. Let it all out, Shakespeare.
  14. Open houses. Throw the doors open and see who shows up. Invite them in and chat. Maybe they’ll bring cake!
  15. Shared calendar. At the Mater Christi School, in Burlington VT, the school creates and shares Google Calendars with families. That way they know about upcoming deadlines, ongoing projects, planned school events — the whole shebang.
  16. Weekly (teacher) videos. Education rockstar Michael Berry models this incredibly well with his series of (more than) weekly videos.
  17. Class Facebook Group. Lock it down, keep it open, but tons of parents are on facebook, and it’s a great way to get families talking not just with you, but with each other.

A few quick rules:

You’ll note that a couple strategies are on the card more than once. Those are strategies that have a relatively low bar to entry, or are particularly powerful. Like a phone call, or a weekly student video, for example. So yes, if you do either of those, you can check them off everywhere they appear on the card.

Also, if you let your students run the class twitter or instagram account? You can mark off the additional square of your choice. An extra freebie for your awesomeness.

Hi, there’s homework.

Now, we’re making available a package of bingo cards for y’all, to get you inspired with these 17 different ways you can communicate with students’ families. As an individual or team, break out the bingo marker and daube the strategies you are using. Yes, there are extra points for yelling.

Download your package of bingo cards at this link (.pdf).

We have online and printable versions of the filled card, above, as well as a blank bingo card template. That’s right, you and your team can sit down and choose from any of the SEVENTEEN strategies above, or write in your own. Pin them up in your rooms or tack them up in your Schoology and check off each one as you use it. Print or post additional cards as needed.

family communication bingo

Or print them for your students and encourage them to fill them out. Give them ones you’ve filled out and ask them to check off what they get through.

But wait, there’s more.

The first 10 folks to complete a BINGO and send a picture to our Instagram or Twitter account with the hashtag #familycommunicationbingo will win your choice of a Tarrant Institute journal or a Tarrant Institute water bottle.



How many ways to communicate with families do you or your team use?

How to get students to communicate with families

Welcome to the Best Part of My Week

And yours, likely. Peoples Academy Middle Level educator Joe Speers shares how to get students to communicate with their families. He uses a technique called The Best Part of My Week.

Speers’ sixth grade students use the iOS Explain Everything app to record a short message to their families, talking about the best part of their week. Each message must include a selfie, a short text-based message and a voice recording. Then students store each message in their Google Drive. That way, families know where to go to get the latest updates from their students. But best of all, these messages can be included in the students’ PLPs. Short, personal, and emotional goalposts depicting what each student finds most satisfying about their lives as they grow and change.

how to get students to communicate with their families

While Peoples Academy uses the Explain Everything app, any digital app that can combine text, photo and audio can work. Shadow Puppet? Yup! iMovie or WeVideo? Why not! The tool’s almost immaterial, so long as students feel comfortable. The underlying principles here are mindfulness, reflection and repetition.

  • Mindfulness: It takes a steely resolve to carve ten minutes out of a busy school day for one specific activity.
  • Reflection: We know how much students benefit from reflecting on their learning. This is just applying that principle to their emotional selves as well.
  • Repetition: Every Friday. (Snow days notwithstanding.)

Joe previously showed us how his students use Corkulous to create vocab flashcards, and how he uses Google Drive to organize student work. Which is to say: he is rock n’ roll personified.

How do you get students to talk with their families?

Want end-of-year family involvement?

Try Passage Presentations.

family communication around education, social media and digital citizenshipThe end of every school year is tough. Teachers and administrators struggle to keep students in line, finish assessments, plan field trips, and tie up loose ends. But what’s really important? To provide closure, celebrate accomplishments, and allow students to reflect on how they’ve grown and developed. And including family in those celebrations is vital.

I had the pleasure of witnessing a particularly strong example of how well this can be implemented.

Continue reading Want end-of-year family involvement?

QR codes and videos at Parent Conferences

Expanding parent conference time with technology

family communication around education, social media and digital citizenshipWe’ve all been there: how do you fit 40 minutes worth of information into a 20-minute parent conference, still have time for questions AND stay on schedule?  Bulletin boards hanging in the hallway help. They serve two purposes, engaging parents while they wait and giving parents a view into the classroom. But that view is static and doesn’t always feel authentic.

Mrs. Natalie Byrne, a 1st grade teacher at Christ the King School, found herself considering these questions as conference days grew near. Her solution reminded me of the answer to a riddle: once you see it, it seems obvious, but only after you rub the grit out of your eyes.  She proposed engaging parents through their smartphones with an interactive bulletin board full of QR codes linked to videos.  

Continue reading QR codes and videos at Parent Conferences

The Parent’s Role in a Student-Led Conference

How can you support your student in sharing how they learn?

the parent's role in a student-led conferenceIn recent decades, schools have turned the table on the traditional parent-teacher conference. More and more, schools are engaging the student and putting him or her in the driver’s seat at this learning conversation. A student-led conference (SLC) can be a beautiful thing. But parents sometimes struggle to understand them. They are, after all, a complete departure from what most parents experienced as kids.

So here’s a look at the parent’s role in a student-led conference.

Continue reading The Parent’s Role in a Student-Led Conference

Student-led conferences and engagement in PLPs

A middle school case study

Katie Bryant, an English teacher at Lamoille Union Middle School, presents the results of her semester-long action research project examining the relationship between student-led conferences and engagement in PLPs, or personal learning plans.

Here’s what she and her team discovered.

Transcript appears below.

Hi! I’m Katie Bryant.

I teach at Lamoille Union Middle School, I’m on Team Extreme. And a lot of my faculty went to MGI last summer, working on creating implementation plans for PLPs at my school, as they’re brand new this year.

I felt like the student-led conference was going to be a really big part of that.

Just really quickly about my school:

We have four mixed 7th/8th grade teams, 4 core teachers and a special educator on each team. There are about 60 students on each team.

We are in the third year of our 1:1 iPad initiative, so students all have iPads and a lot of students bring them home, and they use them throughout the content areas.

We are in our first year of implementing PLPs — pretty daunting, pretty messy, but really good work. And we are using Google Sites for PLPs. I get that question a lot. Yes: we are using our iPads to create Google Sites, which is tough, or uncomfortable at first, but is actually working better and better.

And then student-led conferences were only piloted on my team this year, so the other teams continued with traditional the parent-teacher conference model, with the intention of possibly trying student-led conferences throughout the school next year.

This was my abstract:

student-led conferences and engagement in PLPs

By the end of the project, the question and my abstract felt very different. I don’t know if others  had that same experience, but I felt like the question was really hard to answer, especially with the feedback that I received, and it became more about implementing the student-led conference — as messy as it was going to be — letting it go and just allowing it to happen. And then learning from it.

But I was really interested from the get-go in how these student-led conferences might influence engagement in a PLP.

Are the students motivated by the fact that they have to make a presentation to their parents about their goals? Or not. That was basically my question.

Honestly, I feel like my whole team should be here, as I couldn’t have done it without their support, and as you might’ve experienced, it takes a lot of time up front — tons of time up front, and totally worth it in the end, but without a team that functions really well together I don’t think this would’ve happened.

We had a lot of tools to work with.

We worked together to take a lot of tools from around the state. Peoples Academy Middle Level, lots of stuff from Main Street Middle School around goal-setting; scripts and all these different materials, and tried to make them our own.

We had students setting up sites of their own — super-basic, we’re in the infant stages of these sites.

We have an About Me page, and then some goals, evidence, future. And where we’re at right now is how do we use this evidence and reflect for our next step.

We created a goal-setting template, because one thing we knew we really wanted was “My goal is important to me because…” So when they’re presenting to their parents they’re saying why their goal is important.

We had a student script that students could use for the conference themselves. They had that in front of them when they stood up in front of their parents and their teacher.

And one of the awesome things we realized with that was that because they took their iPads home, every student was creating a Google Slideshow for their conference. And they were able to work on that at home, even if parents weren’t able to come to school. We also Skyped with a few parents, too, which was awesome.

We had a take-home script for the students, which was specifically for when they were at home  at the table with mom or dad (or both! or whoever) and they could go through their goals together and their parents could add goals and comments.  And there’s a place for a parent signature on the back. Some families took advantage of that.

For us, parent involvement is a big issue at our school, so having students to have the ability to do this at home — you don’t even have to have wireless, you can just download and save a copy on the iPad — was really a nice option for many people.

So in order to plan for the student-led conference we gave each student a template that we gave them to fill in. We actually had them keep in some of the Act 77 language so that they could explain that to their parents: “Why are we doing this? THIS is why.”

And then we had a personal goal, an academic goal, and really simply, evidence from each core class: what is something you’re really proud of?

Here’s a student example.

His personal, long-term goal is to get a job in the art industry as an artist, book illustrator or animator for movies. And then he went through how he will know when he’s achieved his goal, and why he wants to:

And then he has an academic goal as well:

And then we gave students a lot of free rein, and we made suggestions as to what they to choose from their classes, but they were able to choose, finally, what to show their parents:

We said, “Choose something from Math that you’re really proud of. Take a picture of an assignment or it could be a project you did on your iPad that you want to import. And he did that for each core class.

[huge_it_slider id=”3″]

Pre-SLC Student Survey

So I tried to ask students before the conference how they felt about the student-led conference, if they’d ever been in a conference before. Here are a couple of quotes from my survey:

“I have never talked in front of my parents and teachers before and I’m a little nervous.”

As you might imagine, 7th and 8th graders, most of them said they were very nervous. A lot of them said they felt awful about it. Here’s another quote:

“When I was in Michigan parents had a conference with your one teacher, and you sat outside of the room when they talked about how you were doing in school and what you needed to work on or any behavior issues. The meetings ran for about twenty minutes and never did the student get to talk to the teacher and parents at the same time, and after the twenty minutes were up your parents came out of the classroom and said good job or I am disappointed in you.”

Ouch, right?

I was really interested in seeing how their feelings would change after they presented to their parents.

Post-SLC Student Survey:

“The best part was having my parents be proud of me and letting me tell my parents how I felt like I was doing in school and how I felt about my grades and teachers.”


“I liked getting to present what I do well and what I would like to see myself do better and compare it to my teacher’s and parent’s ideas.”


“The best part was that I got to lead it and it helped me talk about what I’m doing well and what I need help with. Plus it made me feel good to get feedback on my work in that very moment.”

and then:

“The best part was getting to show your parents what you’re proud of and getting to interact with your parents and teachers at the same time. I also think that it was nice to have your parents and teachers make a goal for you and to have them know what you’re doing in school so they can help.”

A lot of this feedback was really great to hear: a lot of the students were really nervous in the beginning and then in the end felt really empowered, which was great. Not every single student felt that way, of course, but it was nice to see a lot of shift in their perspective.

Parent Surveys

One of the really big things I wanted to make sure to do was to capture the way that parents experienced it, so when parents were there, we had a survey for them to fill out as soon as they were done with the conference. It was up on a desktop, there were no internet issues, they were logged in, they could do it on their way out of the room, to find out how they felt about it. And I got some great input from them.

100% of parents preferred this model to a traditional model, which was pretty surprising. They all loved it. Some, I think, were maybe a little uncomfortable coming in, and then they stayed and loved it.

  • “The best part was hearing about my son’s goals that he has set for himself. Hearing him talk about what he wants for his future and the path he has taken to make sure he can reach his goals.”
  • “The best part was watching my son taking control of his own education.”
  • “The best part was being able to use technology to participate remotely and share the material.”
  • “The best part was that it was led by my son!!”

SLCs and PLPs

The other thing that was just great about doing this with the PLP, hand-in-hand, was that we were able to get a goal or a wish that the parent has for their student, there that day. So they sat and listened to their child’s goals for themselves, and then they were able to articulate a goal or a wish that they had for them. And that gets immediately implemented into their PLP site, as something that we can watch over time. It was really nice to get that parent involvement, which is part of Act 77 and also best practice.

Did the SLC motivate students to set and achieve goals?

Really hard to answer. Really, really hard to answer. I asked students that question. I didn’t really know what else to do.

  • “Not really, but I am trying more this trimester then last one.”
  • “I think it made me more aware of my goals and more likely to start taking them seriously.”
  • “Definitely, because it gives you something to work towards, and makes all these hours in school not seem pointless.”
  • “I think the SLC makes more people aware of your goals and more people help you try harder to reach them.”

Although not concrete, really nice to hear that at least some students did see the connection between motivation from the conference, and their goal-setting.


There were a lot of challenges.

Asking the right questions, is always really tough for me — asking the right questions on the forms themselves. Knowing how to ask the right questions so you’re getting the kind of answer that you’re looking for is really hard. So that, moving forward, is something that I’m constantly trying to improve. Not to get the feedback you want, but to get at the feedback.

Another challenge — and this is kind of a good thing and a bad thing — is that there’s so much out there around the state, that people are using for goal-setting and reflection and student-led conferences and sites — there’s tons of stuff and it’s all awesome. But you have to take it and make it your own. Otherwise it doesn’t feel authentic.

That was a challenge sometimes with me and my team. We had all this stuff and it was great, and it’s really about how do you make it your own?

Time. That’s basically the biggest challenge.

For me, it was really hard to know that it was going to be really messy and imperfect and it wasn’t all going to work out great. And maybe parents were going to be upset, or… who knew? But to just go with it and let it go. That was hard.

And the last was, of course, building in time for the students to prepare for the student-led conference. I spoke with my administrator at the beginning of the year, to let her know that this was my personal focus for the year and I would be taking some content time to help students prepare for their student-led conference. I’m an English teacher so it does make sense for reading/writing/communicating that this would fit in with my content, but I did have to have that conversation.


As a team, we were able to conduct SLCs with 70% of our students and their families, as opposed to less than 40% last year using the traditional model.

In the past some combination of teachers had been in a room together doing conferences, and that limits you, right? You don’t have as many time slots. In this case what we did was homeroom teachers met with their students in their homeroom and their parents, and then if anyone was very concerned about meeting with the Math teacher we set up that too. Which was great.

  • And as I said before, parent involvement in our school is a big issue, so this is a huge jump for us: 100% of parents reported that they preferred the SLC model to the more traditional model. That was great to know.
  • Watching students interact with parents and teachers in this way was really insightful.
  • 83% of students were nervous or unsure about leading a SLC beforehand, but 71% reported that it went pretty good, or fantastic, afterward.
  • 50% of students had achieved one of their goals by the end of the first trimester.
  • At the SLC we were able to capture a goal that parents have for their students, which serves as a start to involving parents in the process.

Next Steps:

We’re working on carving out time in the spring to have a follow-up SLC, which has never been a part of our schedule before but it makes sense, to plan another evening, have the parents come back in and check in on goals.

We’re going to share our experience and results with the rest of our school, hoping that they too will pilot some SLCs next year.

We’re going to continue our PLP work, especially around goal-setting; also a very messy process.

And we’ll improve the SLC process on Team Extreme next year.

That’s pretty much it.

Student-led conferences image by Clive Warden; licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 (reuse-attribution).


Balancing screen time and family time

When to put the device down

balancing screen time and family time
Photo by Brian Dewey, CC 2.0.

Let’s face it, it’s a challenge to balance technology in our lives; but it’s essential. 

Parents and adults need to guide their young adolescents and children towards developing this balance. Arguably, we don’t have good technology habits ourselves, but the modeling and mentoring of developing a healthy relationship with technology is a critical role for parents.

Continue reading Balancing screen time and family time

Multiple platforms, multiple voices: scenes from a 1:1 rollout

Collaborative blogging puts students’ voices out front

getting student perspectives on school changeHazen Union School 8th grade student Elijah Lew-Smith shared the first student post of the school year on the school’s shared Middle Level Blog.

Check out his post to see this year’s new initiatives: 1:1 with iPads, a new House structure, and the focus on Project Based Learning, from a student perspective.  

But that’s not all.

Continue reading Multiple platforms, multiple voices: scenes from a 1:1 rollout