Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parent Surveys

As a professional, it is important to get feedback from a variety of individuals in order to get an accurate view of one's job performance and to better understand one's areas of strengths and weaknesses. This feedback can be used to reflect on and improve upon one's performance.  While it may be vulnerable to seek this input, the goal is to grow and develop.

A 360-degree view of a teacher must take into account more than administrative observations, though those can be very beneficial.  Thus, I seek input from co-workers, students, and parents. At the end of each semester, I ask parents to complete an anonymous survey online using SurveyMonkey.

There are many questions that you can ask parents in these surveys, but I try not to make my surveys too long.  There are also many different ways to ask the questions. I chose to ask the questions using a "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" rating scale, making "not applicable" an option. Next to each statement, I have an optional comment section so that parents can explain their responses. I also have an optional comment section at the end for parents to share additional thoughts and concerns.

Each of the agree/disagree statements I wrote focused on a particular area that I feel is important (i.e. communication, availability, valuing relationships, student learning, engagement, etc). These are the statements I use:
  • Mr. Piedra has communicated effectively with parents/guardians.
  • Mr. Piedra made himself available to meet with parents/guardians.
  • Mr. Piedra has a welcoming and caring personality.
  • Mr. Piedra values me as a parent/guardian.
  • Mr. Piedra values my child as a student.
  • My child enjoyed being in Mr. Piedra's class.
  • My child likes history more today than a year ago.
  • I would be excited if my other child(ren) had Mr. Piedra too.
  • Mr. Piedra challenged my child.
  • Mr. Piedra had high expectations for all students.
    Feel free to leave suggestions for other agree/disagree statements in the comments section below! 

    While it isn't my motivating factor, knowing that I intend to send this survey out at the end of each semester helps me to consider the parents of the kids I teach more frequently. Do they know what's going on in class? Do they know how they can help their child succeed? Do they have access to the SOLs/content I teach so that they at least can look like they know what they are talking about when they quiz their child? When, during a dinner conversation, their child says they learned "nothing" that day in school, are the parents able to respond with, "What about the geographic regions, didn't you learn about their location and characteristics today?"

    The main way that I keep parents in the loop throughout the year is by sending a group email a week before every test. The purpose of the email is to inform the parents of the test and share ways that their child can prepare for it. I will also provide information about school-wide events or specific things we are doing in class. I find that parents love this communication and are very thankful for it. Here are some examples of the feedback I get from those emails:
    I would like to say thank you for this.  I have a very hectic schedule with both of my kids and I know as teacher you all are very busy as well.  I just want to say thank you for giving us this heads up so I make sure I can be on top of everything.
    Thanks for the heads up. Jeremiah* should be ready for next weeks test.
    Thanks for the reminder! I will try to remember to quiz Eliza* at the dinner table. She's already refreshed my memory about that period in history, notably about Phyllis Wheatley. Good stuff. 
    Maybe you'll consider sending your kids' parents a survey to seek their feedback.  But, even if you don't, I believe that the least we as teachers can do is keep parents in the loop on a regular basis. Not only is it honoring to them, but it might contribute to greater classroom success!

    *Student names have been changed to protect their identity.

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    Re-enacting the Battle of Gettysburg

    I always love the day my students "re-enact" the Battle of Gettysburg. A lesson that some of my fellow teachers (including my wife) think that I am crazy for doing, this lesson happens to be one of my favorites anyways.

    The questions I asked myself in the planning process:
    • How can I get my students outside of my classroom? 
    • Is there an ideal location to teach about Gettysburg?
    • How can I use props and costumes?
    • How can I make this a memorable experience for my students?
    • How can I make sure that the standards will be taught?
    • How can I ensure that the students are learning?
    At my school, there are hills on the campus that make a re-enactment of Gettysburg possible. For those who may not know: the control of the high ground was a huge advantage for the Union army during the 3-day battle, particularly on the last two days.

    The day before the battle, I tell my students to wear either gray or blue tops and tennis shoes. I usually have enough extra sweatshirts for the students who forget. This year, I was able to provide costumes. Using and Amazon*, I was able to raise $792 in five days to cover the expenses for various costumes. I had enough Union or Confederate hats for each child, a Robert E. Lee costume, and a Union general (George Meade) costume as well. We also had a Lincoln costume for a student who would recite the Gettysburg Address after the battle. The students were so thrilled about the costumes! If you helped get us those costumes and you're reading this, thank you :)

    It'd be difficult to re-enact a battle without weapons, so here's what we do (with administrative permission): we let the kids use sticks as guns. We clearly outline the expectations beforehand so that students know that they may only be used as weapons during the battle re-enactment--not while they are lining up, listening to instructions, or learning about the battle. The kids love much that they are willing to follow directions more than usual.  I proceed to walk students through the different days of the battle, explaining the events of each day, and then let them re-enact what I had just described.

    Students love this activity for several reasons, but first and foremost, it's a chance for them to just be kids! They get to play. Use their imaginations. Fake their deaths in academy award winning ways. It's pretty epic. Students remember the costumes. They remember the hill they "fought" on. They remember the story of Jennie Wade. They remember the speech Lincoln gave...
    The Union held a strong defensive position on Cemetery Ridge.
    The Confederates attack the Union soldiers.
    The Union controlled the high ground.
    A Union casualty.
    Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

    ...And most of all, they remember the joy they experienced.

    *By using the Amazon link above, you will actually help my wife and I earn about 6% of the cost you pay to Amazon. That money will go to support our international adoption expenses.