Teachers take great care in establishing a "sense of community" among their students at the beginning of each school year. Within a strong community, high expectations are established, children feel deeply connected with each other, and a level of trust is forged that encourages everyone to share their thoughts. Ultimately, an attitude of "We can accomplish more together than we can alone" is built.
Creating a strong community among our classroom parents is essential too. I need parents' support and participation in their child's education. Schools can be a place where parents make connections with each other and feel a sense of belonging. This can be especially comforting when extended families are a world away. I also want the parents of my students to feel "We can accomplish more together than we can alone."
To promote solid relationships with my parents, I use email as a tool to communicate with families every day. I start this process before school even begins. As soon as records are available listing family data including email addresses, I copy email addresses into a "class group." I send out a welcome "test" message to work out all delivery kinks.
On the first day of school, I send an email within the first hour of school. I have it already composed and saved as a draft, so all I have to do is hit the send button. Sending this message takes seconds on that first day, but pays off in goodwill the rest of the year. In addition, because I teach kindergarten, many parents are very anxious to hear anything about how their child is adjusting to school. Here is a sample first-day message:
Hello! Just a quick note to put your mind at ease; the morning is off to a wonderful start. First thing we did was to find the bathrooms! That's always good information to have. From there, we gathered on the floor by the rocking chair and learned to sing our "We Welcome You to School" song. After that, it was time for "specials" – these are the enrichment classes your children will have each week. Today we went to art class, and that is where our class is now. I'll pick the children up at 9:05, and then I've got a special story to read — Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. I can already tell this is a happy group of children from all the smiles on their faces. Thank you for sharing them with me.
From this point forward, I send a quick "Daily Activities" email after school each afternoon with bulleted highlights of the day. I want parents to be aware of how hard we work, and the important things we've accomplished as they happen. My ultimate goal is to give parents some "talking points" for the dinner table. Dads and Moms, especially those who travel, have commented how they feel connected with their child's day. I've even had grandparents from all corners of the country ask to be added to the list. What a great way to stay in touch! Of course, not all parents have access to email. For those parents, I combine the daily entries into one document. On Friday, I print it out and send the paper home that day.
Here's an example of a Daily Activities email from early in the year –
Here are today's activities:
Language – Daily 5
- We began by reading a fun book called I Like Me!, stopping periodically to "Check for Understanding." This is an important reading strategy we use every time we read.
- Time to review our Read to Self I-Chart, then our first rotation. We built our stamina to nine minutes today!
- I Am Special is our new poem of the week. We focused on the word YOU. It's an essential word to learn since the students will see it everywhere.
- Another round of Daily 5. The children enjoyed their new books in their reading suitcases.
- Journal time – Everyone watched as Mrs. Prentice wrote, "I went to a football game." The students "gave it a go" by drawing and writing about their weekend adventures.
Handwriting – We worked on writing the frog jump letters today using our chalkboards.
Recess – It was quite nice in the shade.
- Calendar Notebooks
- It's the 10th Day of School! We "bundled" our tenth straw and "uncovered" the last number on the top row of our 100 board.
- Next, we made a class graph of how many letters are in our names. The shortest name has two letters and the longest name has nine letters! You might ask your child to tell you how many letters are in their name?
Rest – We enjoyed listening to another chapter of Dr. Doolittle. He's off to Africa!
- We read the story Chrysanthemum. She has thirteen letters in her name! Next, everyone wrote their name in glue and pinto beans. These will go up on the bulletin board. Come by and take a look.
One advantage of sending daily emails is having an account of what was done each day. This comes in handy the following year when making lesson plans. I often "cut and paste" last year's emails into this year's emails to save time. Another positive about these emails is that many parents have first languages other than English; written messages give them time to study and translate the words.
Here's another example email from much later in the year –
Here are today's activities:
Language – Daily 5
- We began by reading the book Clara Caterpillar. The class had a lively discussion about the author's purpose. Clara, the plain butterfly, actually saved the life of all the other beautiful butterflies by distracting the hungry crow. The students decided that it is more important to be brave, happy and clever that just beautiful.
- Today we had two rotations before lunch with journal sharing in-between. Because the stories the children write are so long, it takes us longer to share now. What a joy it is to listen to the children read what they write.
- Many children are beginning to read with expression. What a treat!
We had our third rotation of Daily 5.
Recess – It was very windy today.
- Calendar Notebooks
- We worked on our measuring skills again today. Everyone drew an outline of their shoe and measured it three different ways – with paper clips, cubes and one more item of choice. Who knew measuring could be such fun!
- We completed our insect research by matching the facts we uncovered with the sources we used. All of this will be posted on the bulletin board in the hallway in our finished display.
- Exciting news! We have real, live, painted lady caterpillars, ten of them. We'll be watching them change into butterflies during the next few weeks. We drew a picture and wrote about them in our science journals. Ask your kindergartner to tell you about them.
There are days when I'm absent from school or have a meeting that lasts until dark. Usually, I'll send the write-up for both days the following afternoon. Besides the Daily Activities emails, I send a Weekly Announcement email on Mondays. The purpose of this email is to announce field trips, book order return dates and other housekeeping details. This email practically writes itself with the "business" of the classroom.
If these daily emails seem too large a task, think about sending them just two or three days each week. However, I think you might find that you actually enjoy the process. Just the act of writing daily emails helps me reflect on the students and my instruction. I get many responses from parents full of happy thoughts and support. Another benefit is that I often receive any extra supplies I request.
Yet my main goal for daily emails is always about building relationships with families while strengthening connections between home and school. Remember that each parent has childhood memories of school. Some may have wonderful recollections, but some are not so pleasant. I want to do my part to make new lasting memories for parents in which school is a place that always cares for their child. It's a place where families can feel a sense of belonging. It's a community where "We can accomplish more together than we can alone."