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Teacher Webpages That Build Parent Partnerships

Teacher Webpages That Build Parent Partnerships
MultiMedia Schools, September 2000

A story
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 ten 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 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 collaboration like this takes great communication and planning – and that takes time.

Happily, teacher created webpages available on the Internet can help simplify those communication and planning efforts. Sure, most if not all of 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 webpages can be readily printed by the teacher and distributed by traditional means.)

Purposes of class webpages
A well-designed class webpage can serve a variety of purposes. These purposes include:
•    Providing a general description of the classroom or course. (Table One)
•    Providing a general outline and timeline of the units covered. (Table Two)
•    Providing specific information about individual units or projects. (Table Three)
•    Providing real-time information about the progress of individual students. (Table Four)
Details of the kinds of information that might be provided on a class webpage are in the tables below.

That’s a lot of information that I as a parent would love to have. Just think, Junior comes home, plops 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 webpage, enter your personal username and password, and find that Junior has 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.

Providing easy implementation
But that is also a lot of information for a teacher to not only get online, but to keep current. Those of us with webpages 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 website. These strategies include:

1.    Using forms to create webpages instead of creating them with a webpage editor.
While the use of editors such as FrontPage have made the creation of webpages much easier, creating and maintaining a website using web-based forms is possible without needing to know 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 websites (www.eplay.com, www.highwired.com, www.achieve.com) offer such forms and storage for teacher pages, 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. Remember also that “free” services are usually supported by commercial messages and parents might view these messages as product endorsement by the school.

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. The plan looks like this:

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 items 1, 2, and 3 from Table One. 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 website for curriculum and assessments.
Implement website for describing elementary curriculum.

Year Three: 2002-2003
All teachers will have a class page that includes items 1, 2, and 3 from Table One.
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 that includes items 1, 2, and 3 from Table One.
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.

For the first year, we are asking all teachers to have a page that simply lists contact information (items 1, 2 and 3 in Table One). We will also be piloting the online grade book at a volunteer site. Our current electronic gradebook will be replaced as we get new staff using it or current staff members asking 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 webpages goals for buildings in the district. My sense is that the information contained on developed pages will be useful enough to parents that they will also encourage teachers to make it available online.

3.    Waiting until the teacher is comfortable with the program before making the gradebook available online.
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.

A major concern of many educators is the security and privacy of the information being made available. Both teachers and parents need to know that parents will have access to only their child’s information and that security and password confidentiality needs 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 inservice times. Our school media specialists have additional training on both the web-based forms and general webpage creation so they can provide in-building support to teachers when needed.

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 church, 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 in good conscience 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, professional class webpages.





Posted on Saturday, July 7, 2007 at 08:29AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | Comments7 Comments

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Reader Comments (7)

Your school district should also check out PTC Wizard for parent-teacher conference scheduling. When you can get a meeting that works with your schedule it makes it that much more convenient to attend. PTC Wizard is an online scheduling system that lets parents make appointments with teachers for the parent-teacher conference night.
It is a must have for all schools.

July 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPTC Wizard

As Johnson presents it a webpage is an excellent way to build parent's partnership and the tables provided should be of great use for some of us building a webpage for the first time. If the individual districts can offer more support to teachers, it is possible that we will see the webpage approach being used more often.
This last school year I noticed the decline in the use of the phone, more and more, parents, teachers and students are now using the digital means of communication more often. The change is very welcome because time is short for everybody.
On the other hand it seems to me that the socialization that an encounter provides is lost by the convenience of digital information.

August 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMarysela Badell-Watson

Although I agree that teacher websites can offer many assets and can aide in improving communication, organization, and strengthening the home-school connection, I am concerned about the sense of responsibility that is being alleviated from children these days and transferred onto the parents. There is value in having children be responsible for their own learning. I agree that it is important to have a strong home-school communication; however, children need to develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning and the more that parents are able to intervene, the less students will feel the need to stay on top of things. If they can always rely on their parents to check on them and view the website for assignments will that take away from the importance of listening and remembering assignments the first time. It seems as though today's generation of children lack a sense of responsibility that children used to have. There is more of a sense of entitlement and responsibility seems to be directed elsewhere other than the children themselves. I think that it is helpful to offer such a progressive means of communication for parents and students and I believe it can be done in a helpful manner; however, I think we need to be careful and remember that part of learning in school is gaining a sense of responsibility. This skill is at the core of a child's education and is the foundation for future success. It is not up to the parent to check to make sure the child did his/her homework, it is up to the child. Honestly, I never had to have my parents check on me regarding schoolwork. Maybe it was the work ethic that my parents instilled in me. I understand that there are children with different needs out there, but there is a difference between accommodating and enabling. No matter what a child is struggling with there is always a need for a child to be responsible for himself/herself. I feel it is important and helpful to keep parents informed, but we need to be careful not to have this affect child in a negative way.

August 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKH

I wanted to add to my previous comment, since it posted before I got a chance to finish.

I feel that there is a great need to provide teachers with structured website formats that are easy to design and update and are interconnected to common helpful websites. A teacher's role consists of so many responsibilities and it seems as though because of all of the extra things that we need to do, less and less time is being devoted to curriculum. The easier it can be fore teachers to create and maintain their websites the better. Our school purchased TeacherWeb for teachers to utilize. The great thing about the program is that it is structured and simple to use. The negative thing about it is that you are limited with how you can structure your website. I feel that it is a great start and is a helpful tool for teachers to use.

August 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKH

Hi Kristen,

You make some very good points. As a dad, I always debated on just how much help to give my own son. I decided that nagging him to get stuff done was better than him failing school, I guess.

I also felt it was my job to do "quality control." In would not do his work, but I would look at it and make him do it over until it was acceptable.

(And I agree 100% about making it easy for teachers to create a web presence.)

Thanks again for writing. I think there is a happy medium here somewhere!

All the best,


August 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you. I think this article is a must-read for teachers. In short, it makes a compelling case for classroom websites, emphasizes that by keeping them current they become 2-way, interactive, in short, USED, and the author has a sensible plan for ramping it up (not to fast; use forms and efficient short-cuts; don't over-commmit; etc.)
As a parent I can also relate to the need for open, on-time, honest communication between all THREE parties - teacher/student/parent - about classroom expectations and student performance. "Catch-up" communications with a child or a teacher should become a last resort, not a frequent phenomena.

September 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCourt Booth

This is such a great resource. As a teacher it is vital to get the parents on board and let them know what is happening in the classroom. There is no need to wait until you are part way into the year and scheduling parent-teacher conferences build this relationship from the beginning.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Dalton

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