Teacher Web Pages That Build Parent Partnerships
by Doug Johnson
Director of Media and Technology • Mankato Public Schools, Mankato, Minnesota
MultiMedia Schools • September 2000
Indulge me for a moment by reading a personal tale of parental frustration.
When my son Brady was in the fifth grade, he came home with a report card that was, shall we say, less than impressive. This bright, hard-working boy was getting D’s in social studies, science, and health. The first parent-teacher conference of the year was held 10 weeks after school began, and it wasn’t until then that I learned of the problems he was having.

At the conference, I asked his teacher a favor. “Please let me know what Brady needs to know in these areas, when the test dates are, and when the projects are due. I will help make sure he knows what he needs to know!”

A bit flustered, the teacher said she would get back to me.

I never saw the list of competencies or test dates, but I also noticed Brady never received less than a B in her class again. While at the time I viewed this as a victory for proactive parenting, I have since worried that the skills and knowledge Brady should have gained during that year fell by the wayside.

Brady’s teacher missed a tremendous opportunity by not enlisting my help and the help of the other children’s parents in her class. Over one-fourth of the year was gone before I knew my son was having problems. Even had I known he was struggling, I did not know enough about the curricular content or teacher’s expectations to know how to help.
 

Increasing Parental Involvement
Genuine, regular, real-time collaboration with parents can make a positive difference in a child’s learning experience. Parents of children with work completion problems can become allies in helping these children manage their time and turn in quality work. Answers to questions about class rules, policies, and supplies should be readily available.

The problem is that collaborations like these take great communication and planning, which, in turn, takes time.

Happily, teacher-created Web pages available on the Internet can help simplify communication and planning efforts. Sure, most if not all of the information an actively involved parent might like to have could be made available through printed materials sent home with students and through earlier, more regularly scheduled face-to-face conferences. But as we all know, print material sometimes doesn’t make it home or out of the backpack. Conferences are difficult to schedule and are real time eaters. The Web can help overcome these problems. (For parents without home Internet access, such Web pages can be printed by the teacher and distributed by traditional means.)
 

Designing Class Web Pages with Purpose
A well-designed class Web page can serve a variety of purposes. These purposes include:

That’s a lot of information that as a parent I would love to have. Just think. Junior comes home, plopping on the sofa with remote in hand. “How’s the homework situation?” you ask. “Under control. Got it done in study hall,” replies Junior. You double-check by logging on to the class Web page, enter your personal username and password, and find that Junior has been missing daily assignments and did not do well in the last test. The assessment checklist for a big project that is due soon is there, too. Ah, something to talk about at suppertime.

As a parent, I can also look to see if my child has any areas in which he or she needs special help. I can work with the school to see that tutoring or a special class might be offered. My goal as a parent is the same as the school’s: to make certain my child succeeds to the very best of his or her ability.
 

Implementing with Ease
But that is also a lot of information for a teacher to not only put online, but to keep current. Those of us with Web pages know that keeping them current, accurate, and organized is an ongoing chore. But there are strategies that can be used to reduce the work and anxiety associated with maintaining a Web site. These strategies include the following:

1. Using forms to create Web pages
While the use of editors such as FrontPage have made the creation of Web pages much easier, creating and maintaining a Web site using Web-based forms is possible without knowing any HTML authoring. A “fill-in-the-blank” approach that automates organizational links and into which information already word-processed can be pasted eases both site creation and updating. It also leads to a uniform, school-wide look and consistent placement of information that will ease parental access.

While a variety of commercial Web sites [www.eplay.com, www.highwired.com, www.achieve.com] offer such forms and storage for teacher pages, it is important to remember that “free” services are usually supported by commercial messages, and parents might view these messages as product endorsement by the school. Our district is contracting with a company to help us develop a customized Web interface and forms. These pages will include integrated access to an online grading program. The pages will also import information like attendance from our student management system.

Much of the information that should be available from individual class sites can be provided by links to district sources of curricular information. Does every third grade teacher need to enter information about the reading curriculum when it is standard within a district? Do all world history classes in a district have common objectives and projects? Can the page link to descriptions of the state requirements that are met within the class? Creating and linking to such generic sites can ease the burden of the classroom teacher.

2. Phasing in the project
In the Mankato school district we will be taking a multi-year approach to the creation of class sites. (See our planning chart.)

For the first year, we are asking all teachers to have a page that simply lists contact information, class rules, and expectations, with a link to the building calendar. We will also be piloting the online gradebook at a volunteer site. Our current electronic gradebook will be replaced as new staff begin using it or current staff members ask to switch to it. We anticipate that the ease with which grades can be entered from home will be an incentive to move to the online gradebook.

We will also encourage increasing the amount of information on class Web pages as goals for buildings in the district. I expect that the information contained on well-developed pages will be useful enough to parents that they will encourage other teachers to make comparable information available online.

3. Phasing in the online gradebook
Sharing the kinds of information contained in their gradebooks with parents will be a new and possibly disturbing idea for some teachers. We anticipate teachers using the gradebook for at least a semester before giving parents access to it.

The security and privacy of the information being made available is a major concern of many educators. Both teachers and parents need to know that parents will have access to their child’s information only and that security and password confidentiality need to be taken seriously. We will ask parents to come to school to pick up their usernames and passwords in person.

4. Providing support
We all know that nothing helps a project succeed like great support, and nothing kills it faster than a lack of training and working equipment. We will work to provide our teachers with powerful, reliable desktop computers and networks. Training will be scheduled during the school day or during in-service times. Our school media specialists have additional training on both the Web-based forms and general Web page creation so they can provide in-building support to teachers when needed.
 

Conclusion
As a parent, I currently have the choice of sending my son to the local public school in my neighborhood, to a public school across town, to any public school in a variety of nearby communities, to a variety of private and parochial schools, or to a local charter school. I can choose to home school my son, enroll him in a virtual school, or get him early admittance to a post-secondary institution. I can as readily choose the kind of school I want for Brady as I now choose his dental clinic or clothing store.

As a savvy consumer, on what will I base my choice of school? Convenience, of course. But I will also want to be sure the teachers in my son’s school communicate well, are organized, and see me as a valuable partner in his education. As important as a good education is to his future, I can do nothing less. Schools can take an active role in making parent-consumers aware of the quality of their teachers and programs by having useful, informative, professional class Web pages.

 
 

YEAR  ACTIVITIES
Year One: 2000-2001
  • Work with developer to design Web forms.
  • Pilot online grade book at volunteer site.
  • Three to four hour training session on online gradebook.
  • Pilot online grade book with volunteer teachers.
  • Begin planning online site for holding curriculum and assessments.
  • Begin planning online site for describing elementary curriculum.
Year Two: 2001-2002
  • All teachers will have a class page that includes contact information, class rules and expectations, and links to useful building Web pages. Three to four hour workshop for all teachers on using the forms. Teachers wishing to provide more information should be encouraged to do so.
  • Implement Web site for curriculum and assessments.
  • Implement Web site for describing elementary curriculum.
Year Three: 2002-2003
  • All teachers will have a class page.
  • All teachers will be using online gradebook. Three to four hour training session on online gradebook for all teachers.
  • Teachers wishing to provide more information should be encouraged to do so.
Years Four and beyond
  • All teachers will have a class page.
  • All teachers will be using online gradebook.
  • Buildings will add other items from table per building plan.
  • Teachers wishing to provide more information should be encouraged to do so.


 

Table 1: General class description
SCHEDULE INFORMATION  FOR UPDATING  POSSIBILITIES
Teacher name and contact information Annual Name, school phone number and extension, and e-mail address. Home phone if desired. Best times to contact. A personal note of welcome that includes encouragement for parents to contact teacher if there is a question or concern.
Class rules and expectations Annual Policies on classroom behavior, homework, and extra-credit assignments. Carefully articulated and agreed upon by parents and students as reasonable, this information can reduce misunderstandings during the year.
Link to school calendar Check annually Building-created calendar based on district calendar. Should show beginning and end dates of school, holidays and breaks, days in which students are not in school for other reasons, and events and activities (athletic events, open houses, field trips, science fair, testing dates, etc.).
Supply list Annual Paper, pencils, calculators, etc. School policy on how students without financial means can obtain these items.
Field trip information As necessary Descriptions and printable permission form. Costs and call for chaperones when necessary.
Class news with photos and descriptions of current class activities Monthly/weekly What’s going on? Current projects and interests of students. Special events. Careful with this area—if not regularly updated it will make the class pages look old and tired. Make sure parental permissions are on file if student photos are used. No last names of students should be published.
Requests and guidelines for parent volunteering Annual While the district or building may generate these, teachers with special volunteer needs may want to let parents know.
Drop folders for student work Annual If students have access to this page, a write-only drop folder for turning in work electronically has a logical place on the class page.
Class electronic mailing list Annual with updates as necessary An easy way for a teacher to communicate quickly  with all parents who have an e-mail address, and if desired, for parents to communicate with each other.
A counter that records the number of visits to the page Reset annually Of value to both teacher and parents if they wish to see if the site is being used and useful.
Table 2: Unit outlines and timetables
SCHEDULE INFORMATION  FOR UPDATING  POSSIBILITIES
List of units taught in each subject area (elementary) or in each class (secondary) As dictated by curricular changes A general outline of the major areas the students in the class will be studying.
State requirements met by class or units Annual update or as needed If part of a state-mandated curriculum, this reference should be made. Indication of any testing the state requires to show mastery.
Projected dates of units beginning and ending Annual Advise parents that these are approximate. “We will be starting our unit on rocks and mineral just after spring break.”
Major goals for each unit As dictated by curricular changes Simple declarative statements of what the student should know and be able to do. “By the end of this unit, I expect your child to be able to identify the major landmasses on earth and be able to locate the major countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa.”
Samples of final projects from previous years Annual Helps give parents examples of exemplary projects as a quality indicator for their own children’s work.
Table 3: Information about specific units and projects
SCHEDULE INFORMATION  FOR UPDATING  POSSIBILITIES
Learner outcomes for units Annual with adjustments as needed A detailed list of skills and information that students need to have mastered.
Major activities Annual with adjustments as needed Projects, readings, tests, experiments, papers, etc. Best if linked to assessments (below).
Homework assignments and due dates Weekly Disclaimer needs to be added for parents that due dates are subject to change. (They might be later, but never earlier.) This could serve in lieu of a lesson plan book.
Vocabulary words, spelling lists, number facts, formulas, etc. Annual with adjustments as needed Lists that call for memorization with which parents can help students practice.
Assessments/evaluations for unit and projects Annual with adjustments as needed Checklists and rubrics for major projects can be useful to parents to help the student self-assess work.
Online practice tests Annual with adjustments as needed Practice tests that come with standardized tests or teacher-generated tests. This can be created so the tests can be taken online or printed out. Amazing how much better students do with practice.
Active links to online resources and Web pages Annual Online lecture notes and links to readings and teacher-selected resources on the Web.
Suggested enrichment activities with which parents can help Annual Supplemental reading lists, enrichment activities activities with which   for G/T students or others who are highly motivated, or “fun” family activities that tie into the content of the unit.
Table 4: Student progress reporting
SCHEDULE INFORMATION  FOR UPDATING  POSSIBILITIES
Online gradebook Weekly Parent (and student) access to scores on daily work, quizzes, tests, and projects. Teacher comments on student performance. Data entered by teacher via the Web from any machine in any location.
Final grades for quarter, semester and year (or equivalent marking period). Each grading period Part of online gradebook.
GPA and class ranking Automated through student information system  Of interest to some parents and students. This does not need to be hand-entered by the teacher, but should be imported from the school’s student information system.
Standardized test results Automated through student information system Of interest to some parents and students. Should be linked to information on how to interpret the scores. Imported from the school’s student information system.
Attendance records Automated through student information system Good check for parents of students who may have attendance problems. Imported from the school’s student information system.

 

Communications to the author may be addressed to Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology, Mankato Public Schools, Mankato, MN, or by e-mail to dougj@doug-johnson.com.
 

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