Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Notebook

Kindergarten.  When parents hand their babies over to be taught be a stranger.  I know, most children have been attending a daycare or preschool for a few years already, but that doesn't negate the tears falling from mama's and papa's eyes as they leave their charges with me that first day, week, or month of school.  As the first teacher parents hand their children to, I work diligently to forge a positive relationship.  If all goes well, I set the way for smooth sailing in the following years of a child's education.  

There are many paths to creating a good relationship between school and home.  The spring time registration, letters home during the summer,  as well as an Open House just before school starts have been in place at every school where I've taught.  Yet when a parent wants to know what happens in their child's day to day experience I have found no greater tool than the Home-School notebook.

The notebooks started about seven years ago.  Each child was given a notebook at the Open House just before school started.  I explained to parents that the purpose was to keep communication flowing between us.  Every day I would write in the notebooks and parents could respond, or simply initial what I'd written.  These notebooks quickly took on an individual feel for each child, depending on the needs/interests of the families.  For the shy child, it tracked who she was interacting with, and documenting triumphs at recess.  For the picky eater, it told parents how much snack and lunch was eaten.  For the child with challenges of any sort, it held strategies, plans, and results. As children were given formative assessments I would share the data in the notebook with a quick strategy to work on a few specific goals at home.  Parents would write back how the work at home was going and share what was working for them.  Every notebook was used to record the priceless moments that make a teacher and parent burst with pride.  Together we cheered for the child in the notebook.   

Some parents relished this notebook, writing back every day.  Others would go a few days, then initial all the entries so I knew they'd read each one.  There were times I'd read the notebooks in the mornings to find warnings like, "He didn't sleep at all last night, good luck!" or "She complained of a tummy ache, give me a call if it continues."  Parents would also tell me about the swimming lessons, grandparent's birthday, or book they were reading.  Every morning I looked forward to my ongoing conversations with parents.

The notebooks were a hit, yet they were time consuming.  They were lacking a bit of structure.  My partner teacher isn't as taken with writing as I am and we brainstormed how to streamline the notebooks but still keep the relationship with parents.  The picture at the top of the page shows what we came up with.  Each day we report out to parents how their child did with our Four Expectations.  There is room for a sentence or two to give specific information about the day, and then room for the parent response.  It's tidier and quicker.  It forces me to be succinct. 

When the time comes to provide evidence  of how I work with parents this is my go-to.  With their permission I share pages that highlight our teamwork and how student growth improves through the information shared in the notebook.  My greatest indicator of success with the notebooks is hearing from parents years later that the notebook is a treasured keepsake.  Knowing the value parents give these books keeps me at it, building the partnership one entry at a time.

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