Back in 2001, I had this novel idea to connect my students and their parents to the classroom. I was especially interested in getting to know and partner with the previously elusive parents of my black and brown students. As a teacher of special needs adolescents, and a newbie in public school education, I needed all the help that I could get in effective classroom management. Those students ran me ragged every single day, and my biggest task, and great challenge was to keep them from leaving their desks to go on the IMac’s that sat in the rear of my classroom. There were 6 of them-computers, not students.
Everyday, these kids gravitated to those PCs, often arguing over whose turn it was to ‘play’. This was truly the right word-play- because that is what they did for the most part. But, the point was that I had these students who were incredibly fascinated with them, and they preferred to engage there than engage in my lessons.
Initially, I thought that these monitors were simply all about recreation, distractions, and play. So, I incorporated the computers into my behavior management plans, and contracted with students to draft a working schedule of times each could have at it, so to speak. I had no clue as to the depth of knowledge and information available online, and hadn’t a clue as to how to power these machines on or off. My students certainly did, though I had to learn that it is not a good idea to just pull the plug out of frustration that students would not leave them alone.
I attended an after school professional development workshop for basic skill acquisition. You know, like turning them on and shutting them down. How does one navigate this internet and even AOLs ‘you’ve got mail’ call were fascinating to me.
There is an old adage that says, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”! That’s what I did. I decided that I needed an Apple IMac for myself, and so I purchased one. Not because I knew the importance of technology, or that there was so much information to be had online, but because I couldn’t let those kids win out of learning time, and lose out on life success, in the end.
I was basically clueless about navigating an online world or email accounts or even teacher-created websites. But, as a do it yourself type of person, and a learn-by-doing person, as well, I became an expert at this brave new world. My lessons were developed from my internet searches, since there were no textbooks given to me for my students or my lessons. Language Arts and Social Studies, which were the subjects that I taught in middle school.
The IMAC was a God-send, along with the teacher supply store of which I was a frequent patron. I purchased a printer/copier to develop my own worksheets, made enough copies for all of my classes and made life a little easier for the remainder of the year in hopes that my cries for texts would be heard. Never happened, though! No texts!
Anyway, the biggest find of my journey year of firsts, was my idea to create my own website for my students. It was rather crude, by today’s standards, but useful info was to be had on my site. Students could access homework information, school holidays, special events, their behavior progress, grades from exams, and even study tips. I am proud to say that grades, behavior, and my comments about each student specifically, was a home run with parents. That year, parent involvement went through the roof. Every parent showed up at every conference, and were equally on top of grades, homework and behavior progress, as my ‘strong arm’ reinforcement for classroom and at-home learning.
I no longer had to threaten my students that their parents would get a call from me, because they knew that I would call AND I would post it on the site. I was a strong proponent of calling parents-good and bad. Because of my background in psychology, I also knew how to positively frame communication in ways that overshadowed any concerns. I got my messages across to parents, loud and clear. So, they were always receptive to my calls, and I was always there. No parent ‘attitudes’!
My website was a huge success, though never acknowledged by administration as a school/district first. That could also be because I never thought of it as anything innovative at the time. It really was about my students’ academic success, and not my recognition. No other teacher offered a site for their students and we had a technology teacher in almost every school! Go figure!
I simply stumbled upon a gem while seeking a solution to classroom management, ways to keep parents informed, and help my students stay on track with classwork. I never wanted any excuses that they had forgotten what the task was, because they were advised to check the site for updates every day. Their parents, too! I was, after all, working my butt off trying to promote learning without one set of books for my students or myself. So, no excuses was my mantra!
Teachers, if you do not have your own site yet, CREATE one TODAY! There are templates you can use that will practically set it up for you! As a strong proponent of teacher-based websites, classroom-based, and subject- specific sites- across the board in K-12 education, it is the single most productive and proactive strategy to employ. It supports engagement, instructional relevance, cultural proficiency, capacity-building, academic achievement and parent partnerships. It worked for my classes more than 15 years ago, and today, everyone has a handheld device, especially your students and their parents. No excuses!!!