Using a classroom webpage to communicate with parents
Kathleen Eveleigh keeps her parents involved in her first-grade classroom by integrating a classroom webpage with her daily instruction.
CONSISTENT COMMUNICATION BETWEEN TEACHERS AND PARENTS can be a complicated goal to achieve. Busy teachers find it hard to take time out of their day to make phone calls or write notes to working parents who are difficult to contact. Yet administrators, teachers, and parents continue to strive for regular interaction as a way of involving parents in classroom life and improving student achievement. Kathleen Eveleigh, a first grade teacher at Mary Scroggs Elementary School in Chapel Hill, communicates with parents daily about activities occuring in her classroom by integrating a classroom webpage with her daily instruction.
Kathleen Eveleigh gathers her first-grade students on the floor in front of her to write a summary of the school day’s events. Many classes set aside time for daily news. The difference in Kathleen’s room is that rather than writing student’s sentences on the board or a piece of chart paper, she types their news into a computer keyboard connected to a wall-mounted tv screen. These daily summaries are immediately posted to the classroom webpage. Kathleen began posting these daily summaries last year when her current students were her kindergarteners (she “loops” and follows her kindergarteners each year to first grade).
The positive response from families was immediate. Working parents tell Kathleen that they check the site each day before going home or picking up their child from school. Before, a typical conversation between parent and student might have consisted of the parent asking, “What did you do in school today?” and the child responding, “Nothing” or “Played.” With the classroom website, a parent or caretaker can build on the information conveyed in the daily summary and ask more specific questions such as, “I read that Mrs. Eveleigh is reading Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What happened to Charlie today?” or “Tell me about the Irish dancing you learned in PE.”
Extended family members and friends also enjoy checking the class webpage to see what children are doing. One student’s relative responds to the site and sends news through email from his job in Turkey. Other emails come from teachers and students from across the country who find information about Kathleen’s site through the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), which posted an article and video highlighting the use of technology to create community with parents and students at Scroggs Elementary. (For more information and to view a video that includes scenes of Kathleen writing a daily summary with her students, visit the GLEF website.) Kathleen uses these emails as further opportunities for literacy connections as she facilitates replies to email from the class, small groups, or individual students. One parent sent this email (the names have been changed):
I’m so glad you’re updating the webpage. I love hearing what you did everyday. Ted’s brother Harvey* was at home sick this week. We both read it together before Ted came home and then we would surprise him by knowing what he did at school.
Students use the class webpage to connect to the classroom from home. A student who is at home sick can log on to the site to see what happened in class while he was absent. Another student may insist that her family log on to the site when she gets home from school so that she can read the daily message to her family. The connection between homes and schools is facilitated by Scroggs’ Tech@Home program, an initiative funded by a grant from BellSouth that provides home Internet access devices to families without computers based on financial need.1
Every teacher’s webpage at Scroggs has links to schoolwide information. From the right-hand side of each classroom page, parents and students can link to pages for the media center, the Tech@Home program, the Spanish teacher, a summary of the character education program at the school, school news and events, the Parent-Teacher Association, and the Parent Advocacy Committee (PAC).
Kathleen’s site also includes:
- A welcoming statement including contact information and times that she checks email each day.
- A link to her daily summaries page. The news for each day is posted in different fonts and/or colors and replaced daily with the corresponding weekday. For example, on the day I visited Kathleen’s class, she erased the previous week’s text for Monday, March 10 and wrote the date and news for Monday, March 17. The previous week’s Tuesday through Friday summaries remained on the site to be changed as the week progressed.
- Each Monday, Kathleen sends home a weekly newsletter with students. This newsletter is also posted each week on the site. Through the newsletter, Kathleen sends information about curricular units, upcoming field trips, homework, and/or requests for parent volunteers.
- At the beginning of each school year, all parents in Kathleen’s classroom are provided with a handbook outlining school policies and classroom procedures. Throughout the year, parents can access the handbook through Kathleen’s site. As the grade level chair, Kathleen is responsible for selecting appropriate sites to be included on all the first grade teachers’ classroom pages. Students and parents are encouraged to email sites to her for inclusion in this section.
- Another section of the site includes pictures of students and samples of student writing. (Students’ last names are never used, only initials. Some parents have also requested that their children’s first names not be used.)
Every teacher at Scroggs Elementary has a classroom webpage on the school’s website. The school’s technology specialist developed the basic template for the pages, and staff development workshops provide training on how to add and change content. For teachers trying to create a classroom webpage without the internal support that Scroggs provides, several Internet resources provide instruction, templates, and graphics to educators. One particularly useful site is Kinderart. In addition to supporting the use of classroom webpages to communicate with parents, Kinderart provides links to instruction on creating and maintaining webpages and templates for educators to use in creating their own.
Kathleen recommends the following to classroom teachers interested in creating a classroom webpage:
- Don’t forget to obtain parental permission to post student pictures and work. After a year’s experience with a classroom webpage, Kathleen found that parents were much more willing to give permission this year.
- Use free graphics to “spruce” up your site. Kathleen’s favorite site for clipart is discovery.com.
- Keep your site “clear and uncluttered.” A simple page is easier to create, read and update.
- Attend staff developments to support beginning efforts. Once begun, Kathleen says that a classroom webpage isn’t “time-consuming for the benefits received.”
- Remember to remain flexible in considering your classroom needs. On some days, Kathleen doesn’t feel like she has time to write a summary with the whole class. She may pull a small group together quickly or ask individual students to come and help her write the summary.
Maintaining contact between classrooms and homes is an important goal but can be difficult to achieve. By incorporating webpage updates into her existing daily instruction, Kathleen Eveleigh establishes and strengthens these connections.