Whatever happened to …

… parent/teacher interviews?

Last week’s post about report cards serves as inspiration for this week’s thoughts.

At the Faculty of Education, the parent/teacher interview was made in passing.  “It’s the most important thing that you’ll do to communicate with parents”.  I still remember the advice.  Although exactly “how” this was to be done was never covered.  I never had the experience during practice teaching outings although I did ask the question.  The advice that I got was pretty much worthless “Just talk to the parents and tell them what their kids are doing”.  So, ever naive, I thought that was all that there was to it.  After all, my parents had attended interviews about me and I survived.

On the eve of my first set, I asked my department head who was equally as useless in his advice.  “Just talk to them”.

So, I never was prepared and went in cold turkey.  The school bell would ring every 12 minutes so that you knew that the time was up and the conversation ended.  In subsequent years, we got rid of the bells (we never actually used them to signal class change so the sound was bizarre).  There’s nothing more abrasive than a bell in a building made of blocks without bodies to absorb some of the sound!)

My first experience was actually pretty good.  Nobody came.

I found later that, being on the second floor made us pretty hard to find and that the parents pretty much gravitated to the “important” subjects.  You know, the mathematics, English, history, science …  Plus, as a first year teacher, I was pretty liberal with my marks; I hadn’t failed anyone.  I also didn’t realize that we could send home a note indicating that we’d like to see a particular parent.  And, I was new to a school, teaching a subject that many people didn’t understand and probably all of those things served to keep people away.

But that changed.  I became very aggressive in promoting computer science and data processing and it became more important to parents and students to the point that I had a full timetable of the subject and we were recruiting new teachers to teach the overflow. With a bigger selection of students, I did see some students that had challenges with the subject and I did end up getting to chat with parents.  I used to remark that, as could have been predicted, no two interviews were the same.  If there ever is a case for differentiation, just look at the parents of your students.  I had some productive sessions, a lot of sessions seeking advice for what home computer should be bought, and then there are those damn teachers who have kids.

They are the toughest.

Just when you think you’re the world’s greatest teacher, you get challenged on the types of assessment that you use.  I still smile when I think of a few who challenged my decision to not have so many tests but rather focussed on projects and collaboration.  I even had one university professor visit who thought that everything should be a test or exam so that I could conclusively assign a number to a student and not have a waffely mark based on group work.  Sigh.  Where are they now?  (Actually, I know but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go here)

Into the fray, we had a change in the head of Student Services who had a better idea from the school he transferred from.  Instead of the interviews being done in our classrooms, we were all assigned a table in either the gym or the cafeteria.  While it was easier to schedule, I guess, there was certainly a lack of privacy and you haven’t lived until you’ve spent two hours at a table near the servery.  The smell of grease for that long was just sickening.  Later, as a department head, I was part of a revolt that took us back to classrooms. It just made so much more sense.  And, it was easier to pull out portfolios of student work to go along with the discussions.

Parent/Teacher interviews are still the lifeblood of communication and I do hope that Faculties of Education are not failing their students like mine did.  But, is there a more effective way of communicating with home?

Time and technology has made a process available to all.  Just like assessment should be ongoing, so could the sharing of information with parents.

Electronically, we now have classrooms on Twitter and Facebook, class blogs, school / class websites, teachers and parents sharing emails.  Even here, there’s this little guy that hangs out at our house whose parents get daily communications with the Montessori School (including pictures) to show that learning is not an event; it is continuous.

There is a danger with electronic communications that I don’t think every school realizes and stays on top of.  If you say you have a class website or blog or wiki, it should be kept up to date.  I can tell you of school websites that have teacher websites linked to a host that doesn’t exist any more.  That certainly doesn’t speak well for that teacher or school.  Then, there’s the whole privacy issue.  There are so many angles to that topic.

That’s my story.  How about you?

  • did you ever get good advice before your first parent/teacher interview?  Have you mastered them now?
  • do you use report cards and attachments as communication tools?
  • do you have a class blog/website and use it effectively?  How?
  • does social media fit into your communication plans?  Is it effective?
  • do you worry about the privacy of student/parent information in any of these formats?
  • where would you be without computers to facilitate this?
  • is a physical meeting a thing of the past?  Couldn’t you just do a hangout or Skype instead?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.


OTR Links 07/31/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

App or web or both

I had to check myself this morning before I rushed off to do another download.

I had just read this article.

‘Anatine’ Is a Simple Desktop Twitter App for Linux


I run Ubuntu on my laptop.  As such, I’ve run and tried many stand alone Twitter applications but always keep coming back to using Hootsuite in a tab in my Firefox browser.

Here’s a screen capture of my home screen in Hootsuite.  I’ve got access to my name being mentioned and then an ongoing monitoring of the great things happening in my Ontario Educators lists.

Hootsuite is unique in that it has tabs inside the tab that’s open in the browser.  You’ll note that I could switch to the tab “My Stuff” or “Lists” with a single click.  I think everyone has their own technique to trying to stay on top of things.  This is my way.

So, the bottom line is that if I had a Twitter Desktop App, I’d actually have to switch to it to see what I want instead of just switching to an open Hootsuite tab.  It’s not perfect; I’m always in search of “perfect” but this is as good as it gets for me at the present time.

And yet, as I’m ready to put a punctuation mark on the post and move on, I realize that that isn’t the entire story.  Yes, it’s the way I do things when I’ve booted into Windows or use my Macintosh.  I think it’s very productive to just being a tab away from what I need.

But that’s not the only game.  There’s my phone and tablet.

I know that they’re capable of running a web browser and I could most certainly run Hootsuite in a tab on them.  But I don’t.

Instead, I do have an actual Twitter app to do the job for me.  Somehow, accessing the resources that way makes more sense.  I could easily write that off to screen size and maybe that’s the story that I’ll stick with. 

And yet, I still wonder.  To Rushkoff it, am I programming my experience or is my experience programming me?  I can live with the former; I worry about the latter.

Your thoughts?  If you use multiple devices, do you use the same strategy or do you adjust it accordingly?

Curious about more applications?  Anatine is available here (Linux, MacOS, and Windows) and if you search your favourite online store, you’ll find that there are all kinds of great applications written by talented programmers.

OTR Links 07/30/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Thank goodness it’s cool to blog.  All the traditional ways of getting cool have had limited effectiveness this week.

Thanks to Ontario Edubloggers for keeping the thinking going, even in the heat.  Here’s some of what I caught this past week.

The Big Ideas in Education (Hint: Pokemon Go is not one of them)

This one line from Deborah McCallum’s blog should bring everyone back to reality.

Unless you’ve been off the grid this summer, you have to had crossed paths with this phenomenon.  There have been stories of mishaps, funny discoveries, people doing really stupid things, people going places that they shouldn’t, traffic accidents, and goodness knows what else.  There even was a full-page article in this week’s local newspaper.  And, of course, educators writing about this latest of “game changers”.

Now, I have no qualms about meeting students where they are but, unless the class is about writing the next viral application or a marketing class trying to reach unreachable markets, it’s just another application.  Nothing more.  Deborah writes a wonderful post that should bring everyone back to reality.

I’ve used the expression “geocaching for dummies” to describe what I’ve seen while walking the dog.  I’ve seen entire families out discovering, running from location to location, my dog “discovering” and there’s a great deal of good things to note but it’s a game.  I wonder how many schools will use the concept for an orientation for students.  If you think mobile phones in the classroom were a distraction before…

In the meantime, read about her five steps and step back into reality.

If you’re not prepared for reality yet, then enjoy her curated Flipboard collection of stories.

Digital Citizenship, Learning, and Student Voice

If you’re thinking about digital citizenship for the fall, then Jennifer Casa-Todd’s recent post should give you great fodder for your thinking.

There isn’t a single educator who would argue with the fact that we need to teach kids how to navigate online spaces safely and critically.  What I have noticed however is that there is an extremely huge variance in what educators think this should look like.  In my research this week I am overwhelmed by the number of different definitions of digital citizenship as well as the different components.

The concept is even more important now that ever.

I’m a people watcher in addition to dog walker and this summer seems to have really upped the ante in terms of people walking (yes, and driving) while connected.  The dog and I have dived for the ditch as cars veer towards us, been forced off paths as people search for those thingys in the park, read every angle or take on the American election to date, heard people quote “facts” as true because they “Googled” them, and so much more.  It’s actually been a summer of bizarre digital behaviour by humans.

Perhaps more than ever, common sense and reason needs to enter the picture.  I think that Jennifer has nailed it nicely when she observes that

We continue to treat Digital Citizenship as discrete units in school. 

There are still “computer lab teachers” and schools that don’t embrace the BYOD concept.  Both reinforce the notion that there is a time and place for computer use and only there.  Yet, in the real world nothing could be further from the truth.  As long as “Digital Citizenship” (whatever that means) is a discreet thing, we won’t get the results that we should.  Typically, when it’s a discreet thing, it’s based on what might go wrong.

It seems to me the notion will only be effective when it’s treated positively in every subject area where it’s appropriate.  There’s so much good that can be realized that it most certainly outshines the concept of a lesson on the negatives.

Sadly, her resources are generated by technology entities trying to inform the masses.  Why wouldn’t a mathematics or science or languages organization create lessons about the positive returns of good digital citizenship and show how to embed it in their curriculum?

Could it be “about the comments?”

My “Whatever happened to …” series last weekend inspired this post from Aviva Dunsiger.

I’m reminded of our age difference and teaching experiences.  When she started teaching, electronic report cards were just the way that the job was done.  Well, there was a time before electronics, Aviva!  Teachers today have it so easy.  <grin>

What impressed me was that the discussion took an interesting turn beyond the technology but the actual “look” of the document.

 As Mr. Mepham mentions in his comment, the look of our current report card is somewhat “sterile or uninviting.” This doesn’t mean that the content in it needs to be.

I remember reading Les’ comment and thought that report cards could resemble a legal document with the teacher being the “party of the first part” and the student “party of the second part” or some other legal connection.

In that context, it reinforces the importance of the teacher/parent interview as being more important and the report card just being the conversation starter.  I also like Aviva’s observation that the content doesn’t have to be “sterile or uninviting”.

What is your board’s policy on comment writing? Does it reinforce the sterile or is there room to do something else?

Remembering That One Child …

Another interesting post from Aviva’s blog.  “That One Child”.

I’m reminded, as I read it, that my teaching reality was considerably different from hers.  By the time a child has been through elementary school, so many interventions have been tried and documented.  In that way, we had it differently.  If there was a child of concern, we could always go to Student Services and read the OSR reports to help devise a plan.

There are some powerful messages to take away from her post.

  • never stop learning about new techniques to reach students
  • just because you haven’t found the way to reach that one child, never stop trying
  • people outside the profession have no idea.  Classrooms aren’t like in the movies
  • technology, used appropriately, may be an effective way to reach a particular student

Are All Kids Able to Choose?

If you ever have the discussion that “the Ministry doesn’t say that I have to use technology”, pull out this post from Donna Fry.

While her post specifically mentions Apple products, it isn’t a huge reach to pick your own favourite technology and plunk it in.

In the post, she does ask some really good questions that I think all teachers should ask themselves and start thinking about answers for.  I think there’s yet another one for teachers – are you prepared to try something and fail but are ready to learn from the experience going forward?

Absolutely, a document that’s 11 years old should not be taken word for word in lesson preparation.  Talk about obsoleting yourself and your classroom.  Still, it could have been written two years ago and references to specific technology would be out of date.  I will give the original authors kudos though – the language that was carefully chosen can include what we all deal with regularly.  Just don’t interpret the words so literally.

Does Teaching Math Feel Like Pulling Teeth?

So, I guess if you looked into Peter Cameron’s classroom, you’d recognize that he’s not taking the Mathematics curriculum literally.

Over the course of the following years I slowly strayed further and further from the math text to the point where I am today; the math text collects dust on shelves in the back of my room. Finding content is easy! Math is all around us and we have tools at our finger tips to bring real math to our students!  My favourite tools are a camera, SMART Notebook, iMovie, QuickTime GarageBand, Photo Booth and Explain Everything.

It makes you wonder, again, the relevance of textbooks in the year 2016.  Well, except for substitute teacher assistance.

As I look out the window as I key this, I see mathematics everywhere.  Really and truly.  Let me give a shoutout to Geometry.  You rock.

I can’t help but think that if, for an AQ or other course, students just walked around for a single day and record all the math that they see and put it into a class wiki that you’d have the best, most authentic, resource ever.


A popular event over the past few years at the Bring IT, Together Conference has been the “Learning Space”.  It’s an unconference within a conference.

We are looking for topic suggestions for this year’s Learning Space. Please use this form to make recommendations:http://goo.gl/forms/db4H3AWQGAoqZNzY2  

Some topics are pre-planned; some happen on the fly.  If you want to stir the pot in advance of the conference, here’s your chance.

Take a moment, before you head out for the long weekend, to drop by these blogs for some inspiration and leave them a comment or two.  They’ll appreciate it!

Thanks again, Ontario Edubloggers.