What did you do at school today?” Communicating classroom happenings with parents
by Amanda Rutter
“What did you do at school today?”
“What did you play?”
“I don’t remember.”
This is a typical conversation between a child and parent at the end of a school day. Although children tend to say that they played at school, which is certainly accurate for preschool and primary grade children, the truth is that many other things happened during a typical school day. Also, children learned through play.
Making sure that parents know what their children did at school is important. It makes them feel involved, knowledgeable, and responsible—they feel like good parents. Research has shown that when parents and families are involved in their child’s education, there is better student attendance, greater parent and student satisfaction with school, fewer discipline reports, higher academic achievement, and reduction in grade retention (Anderson and Minke 2007; Ferrara and Ferrara 2005; Park and Holloway 2013; Yoder and Lopez 2013). Similarly, for preschool children, parent involvement is a strong indicator of both program quality and professional skill, confidence, and commitment to children and their families.
Because the benefits of effective parent-teacher communication are so positive, teachers often seek efficient, clear, and routine techniques for letting parents know about their children’s day-to-day activities. Consider, implement, or tweak these ways in which I worked to keep parents informed and improve parent-child communication.
In searching for a quick and easy communication strategy, I developed the “Today we…” bulletin. Each day, often during lunch or at nap time, I composed the bulletin, outlining just two things:
What we learned (with suggested follow-up questions for parents) and
What we did.
This strategy helps answer parents’ questions about what really happens in the classroom, with more personal and up-to-date information than a simple lesson plan. The strategy also helps parents ask focused questions that elicit more descriptive responses from their children. The bonus: Using key words like matching, exploring, building, solving, and finding help parents understand the worth of active, hands-on learning.
I posted the bulletin outside the classroom door.
Tuesday, Oct. 12
Today we explored sea shells and talked about salt water, sand, and floating. Ask your child about the differences between the water we drink and the water in the ocean.
Children matched pairs of shells, sorted shells by color, traced shell shapes, and investigated objects that float and those that don’t. We read Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes.
Today we… reimagined
No matter how interesting and informative the bulletins are, however, in time it became clear that only a few parents actually read them. The hallways were busy, and families were typically rushing off to appointments, play dates, extracurricular activities, or home. The majority of the parents simply did not have time to read the bulletins.
I thought that there must be a better or additional way of using the “Today we…” bulletin. Smart phones to the rescue. When I realized that most of the parents had smart phones and that I had telephone or e-mail addresses on file, I let the parents know that I would both send a message every day and post the bulletin as before. I hit the jackpot!
After the first day’s message was posted, I had several encouraging e-mail replies.
“Ms. Rutter, thank you for e-mailing this out. I never have a chance to read the ‘Today we …’ post at school, but this is perfect!”
Through the “Today we…” bulletins and e-mails, I began to establish stronger bonds with families. Now we had a secure avenue of communication. Parents also told me that they found it easier to ask their children questions about what they had learned at school because they knew what was occurring daily in the classroom. Both lines of communication were improved: mine with the parents and the parents with their children.
To my great satisfaction, I also received enthusiastic e-mails from parents telling me in detail how their children described what they learned in class because of my suggested follow-up questions. To my delight, I also received pictures of activities that families engaged in outside school to extend learning.
“Ms. Rutter, here are a few pictures of Will picking out and carving his pumpkin. He told me I HAD to send them to you right away! He was so excited to tell me about the parts of the pumpkin and that we could bake the seeds to eat as a snack.”
Through parent feedback, I learned that families began to feel more involved in the classroom and found it easier to stay informed through the e-mailed copy of the bulletin. Parents were more comfortable approaching me and engaging in conversation, and I felt at ease as well. We had a more personal relationship, and not only did I feel like a greater part of their lives, but also parents realized how important their children (and they) were to me.
Of course, this system works only if all the parents have access to electronic communication tools. Poll the parents and observe how they use technology. Increasingly, however, smart phones are replacing land lines and are built to receive short text messages or e-mails. Don’t be tempted to skip the door bulletin unless you have total support for the electronic communication.
You can do it too!
I prefer to type my “Today we…” bulletin, but you can also follow a handwritten template. I use standard white letter, 8.5 x 11 paper and size 13 Calibri font. Make sure your choice of paper and font size and style are simple and easy to read. Similarly, if you handwrite your bulletin, print neatly and use dark ink.
Please note that the “Today we…” simply cannot describe everything that occurs in the classroom. There is just too much than happens in a day. One solution is to bullet the highlights. Here’s an example of a “Today we…” paper bulletin.
DISCUSSED AND LEARNED…
The butterfly lifecycle
4 stages: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly
Follow-up question: What turns into a butterfly? (A caterpillar)
Follow-up question: What do butterflies eat? (flower nectar)
DID LEARNING ACTIVITIES…
Read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Follow-up question: What did the caterpillar eat? (strawberries, hot dog, cake)
Observed chrysalis in the class garden and looked for butterflies outside
If you are able to communicate with parents electronically, make sure your subject line is specific and consistent—Today we… 22 November, for example—to both encourage parents to look for the message and to avoid alarm about accidents or illness when children are in your care. Keep the message short, and minimize formatting so that the information is limited to one screen.
You too can make a “Today we…” bulletin for your classroom, no matter what age or grade level you teach. The bulletin can be adapted to your school and classroom environment as well as to the needs of the children’s parents and families.
Stay creative. If you’re not able to e-mail families, consider posting to the classroom website. If you can’t communicate with your families electronically, consider tucking the bulletin into children’s backpacks or lunch bags.
The time and effort are minimal when compared to the numerous benefits of the project. When you help parents feel involved in their children’s education, they know that you are a valuable and trusted ally.
And best of all, the parents of your students will be able to obtain an answer to their often-asked question, “What did you do at school today?”
Anderson, K. J. and K. M. Minke. 2007. Parent involvement in education: Toward an understanding of parents’ decision making. Journal of Educational Research, 100 (5), 311-323.
Ferrara, M. M. and P. J Ferrara. 2005. Parents as partners: Raising awareness as a teacher preparation program. The Clearing House, 79 (2), 77-81.
Park, S., and S. D. Holloway. 2013. No parent left behind: Predicting parental involvement in adolescents’ education within a socio-demographically diverse population, The Journal of Educational Research, 106 (2), 105-119.
Yoder, J. R. and A. Lopez. 2013. Parent’s perceptions of involvement in children’s education: Findings from a qualitative study of public housing residents. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30 (5), 415–433.
About the author
Amanda Rutter is a doctoral student at the University of Houston, specializing in early childhood education. Her research interests include child development, at-risk and minority populations, and universal pre-kindergarten. She is a former pre-kindergarten teacher and taught youth swimming for more than 12 years.