Saturday, June 15, 2013

Teacher & Parent Partnerships

Several years ago I went to a conference where Nancie Atwell was speaking. I was so excited to see her; The Reading Zone had changed a lot of my thinking about teaching reading. Reading The Book Whisperer later cemented those new beliefs.

Nancie intimated me; I was in awe of her knowledge. I learned a lot from her presentation, though, and scribbled notes furiously. My biggest takeaway didn’t need to be written down. About halfway through the day she talked about how it’s important to share you reading and writing life with your students, it is also important to share yourself. Nancie went on to say that her students knew her – her favorite candy, the members of her family, what she liked to do for fun. As I sat there, I wondered, did my students know me that well?

From that moment on, I made sure my students knew who I was. I’d tell stories about my children, my husband, my dog. I’d share stories from childhood when I was writing in our workshop. I told them about my addiction to M&Ms. We talked about how my favorite coffee shop, CafĂ© Kopi, is located in a nearby town and how I wish they’d open up one in Monticello. The more I shared, the more they shared. Our relationships grew stronger, our classroom grew closer.

When I started this blog I hadn’t anticipated it would add a whole new level to what I would share with my students. Occasionally I would read entries to them – especially when it was an entry I had begun in front of them, and they would give me feedback. This was wonderful because it helped many of them see themselves as my writing critique partners – and they learned more about me along the way. So the blog helped my students and I grow closer, but it also helped me to reach out to their parents.

As I have mentioned often, I live in a small town. Often I’m blessed to teach siblings, which I love. By the time I reach the youngest child, I feel like I have become part of the family. A goal as a teacher is often to form a partnership with the parents of my students, and I always feel that I am able to do that. Facebook and my blog have deepened that partnership.

While I am certain there might be downfalls to being friends with the parents of your students, I haven’t encountered any. Many of my students’ parents friend me on Facebook, and I accept gladly. And since I always share the posts I write on my blog on Facebook, many of those parents have become blog readers as well. This has been interesting because now not only do my students know me well, so do many of their parents.

This year I had more emails, texts, and Facebook messages than usual – commenting on something I had written, asking for help with a book recommendation, letting me know about something that was coming up that they knew I would be interested in, offering help with an issue I was facing and had mentioned on the blog. In a time where teachers are often disparaged by the media, I never feel that the parents of my students feel that way. On a regular basis I am sent messages of thanks, and it never fails to brighten my day.

Today is a good example of this. Sitting down to read a book this afternoon I heard my phone beep with a text. Looking over I saw this photo of my student, Josh. A few days ago his mom had asked me if I could help her find two books for Josh, she hadn’t been able to get them at the local bookstore. My son happened to have a copy of both and we left them on our front porch for Josh to pick up. 

Two days later Josh came to see me at the pool and shared where he was in the first one I had left. We discussed the series overall and how this book was comparing to the others. Today his mom sent this picture – he’s already well into the second book, proving those naysayers wrong – boys DO read, and even on summer vacation.

I’m so glad I listened to Nancie Atwell all those years ago – my life is immeasurably richer for my students AND their parents having stronger relationships with me. And, if you are reading this and you are a former student or parent of one, thank you! I’m grateful that the end of a school year is not the end of my relationships with any of you.