Bringing Attention to Your Efforts

Jan 30, 2012 by

I attended the always fantastic Educon conference this past weekend in Philadelphia.  One of the issues that came up in several conversations was about educators getting better at “shameless self-promotion.”  There were lots of people doing terrific and inventive things with kids, ranging from using World of Warcraft as a learning tool along with the narrative of books like the Hobbit; Kids taking on really terrific project-based learning initiatives; schools experimenting with everything from digital office hours (using Skype) to self-publishing with students.  But the problem is that many of these really great ideas are isolated to the classroom or even to the conference.  Not every administrator or teacher even within that particular school district knew what other teachers were up to, or what their results were, at least outside of the grade level or building.  And often teachers noted that parents seemed to be out of touch or not understand what was going on in the classroom.  The answer to this problem is helping teachers engage in a little shameless self-promotion.

For example, after elementary school, the bulletin boards and hallways in our district, outside of some large display cases, are much less engaging than they were earlier on.  Moreover, there are fewer parents and visitors throughout the building, and less time between classrooms, so I wonder how many people are really seeing and appreciating the work kids are doing day in and day out.  From a teacher’s perspective, if we expect students to take pride in their work and have a sense of audience, is there another way in which we can share and publicize what’s happening in class? How about what the goals are or take away ideas from units or projects?

It made me begin to think of ways classroom teachers, grade levels and even whole schools could start doing a little more shameless self-promotion to the community.  Since often things like school newspapers are being cut or squeezed into other electives, what would happen in once a month, a grade level in middle school got together and published an email newsletter to go out by email to all parents and families?  This could highlight what teachers are doing, a preview of upcoming projects or areas of study, examples of student work, and it could even be written by the students themselves.

By looping parents into all the great things teachers are trying or experimenting with, goals for projects and lines of inquiry, and more, the more likely the school is to get support from its parents, and the more cohesive the community will be.  Too often once kids begin middle school, the sense of belonging to a class and a larger group gets lost and reduced down to the kids in any individual section of algebra or history.  By sharing out successes and goals with the whole grade or school, everyone will be more on the same page.  The pro-active communication will help make parents feel more in tune to what school is trying to accomplish, rather than rely on their students for reporting, which too often is limited to discussions like this:

“What did you do in school today?”   “Stuff.”

“Did you learn anything new? ”    “Not really.”

“Do you have any projects or tests coming up?”  “I don’t know.  They haven’t said.”

“What is interesting to you?”     “I don’t know.  Not much.”

I know if I had a better sense of what was going on in the classroom, I could do a better job as a parent helping students find connections between subjects, or placing their learning in a larger context.  I could help them see the big picture.  But too often, this gets lost in the shuffle and a general sense that as the kids get older, the place for parents to be in tune with the classroom becomes less and less relevant.  Yet the need for students having a sense of the bigger picture and metacognition does not ebb, in fact it may increase over time.

I know this is yet another thing to fit into an already clogged curriculum.  But I think it’s an ide that has merit, and can help teachers garner support from families and administrators for their efforts, if they were just a little better at showing off all the great work they were doing, and the great results they see from the kids.  We all need a little pat on the back from time to time, and sometimes, we need to learn to ask for it.  Providing notices to folks about all the hard work you do every day is one way to ensure it happens a little more often, especially since teens are notorious for underselling what they’re doing.  Yet everyone deserves to take a bow for their hard work, especially teachers.

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