Changing the Conversation with Parents

Is it time to reconsider parents’ role in teaching and learning in

your space? Parent and family involvement in education can now be

so much more than a phone call, open house, or parent-teacher conference.

In her new book, Hacking Early Learning, Principal of the Year Jessica Cabeen

shares some practical strategies for engaging parents in daily teaching and

learning, using 21-century technology.

See how you can bring parents along for the entire journey in every school




Having your first (or second, or third) child enter the K–12 system

can be a milestone in many ways for families . . . and for teachers

and leaders. Setting the tone for when and how you communicate

and build a mutual relationship goes a long way toward establishing

trust with the stakeholders you will be serving on the journey.

Authentic family engagement is more than a parent night, more

than Dads and Donuts, and if you do it well, it will start well before

students enter the classroom, and leave a lasting memory well after

they leave your school.

How we welcome and end every day with students can also be a

great starting point in building relationships with families. In what

ways are you intentionally taking time to show care, concern, and

empathy for the students in your class? How often are you checking

Click image to look inside

in with families after a difficult time? When do you recognize that

student who just seems to be doing the right thing every time you

turn around? How do you celebrate every child during the school

year—and make sure that the family hears about it as well?

If you have an opportunity to live where you lead, you have the

bonus of engaging with future, current, and previous families in

your community every day. This is a chance for parents to see that

you are more than a principal, and for you to see how much they

love being parents. Building relationships with families can occur

on Saturdays at the swimming pool during a swim meet, Sundays

at church, or at the library when you check out new books after

school and see former students studying.


Find the right platform(s). Families these days

receive information in more ways than ever before.

As educators, we must work to find the right fit

for each family, to make sure they are receiving

information in a timely manner. Our school community

recognized early on that parents were

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process for positive communication.

engaging more with their phones than the school

folder. Armed with that information, we created a

blog that links directly to our Facebook page. That

way, families can see an intro to a subject and click

to go right out to the blog for further information.

We also post pictures of the school day, host

Facebook Live events, and push out reminders on

this social platform. I used Twitter … so

parents can see inside their child’s day. YouTube

has been a great vehicle for pushing out monthly

your stakeholders so that you are choosing

the right tools to reach families, and recognize that

there may be more than one right answer.

Jessica Cabeen, Minnesota Principal of the Year, author of Hacking Early Learning

Make sure to teach the tool, and then use it!

Teachers use tools like Seesaw, Remind, Facebook,

and Twitter to communicate with their families.

Before posting, they spend time at back-to-school

conferences, demonstrating the tool and helping

families get signed up and logged in. We want to

make communication between home and school

easy, accessible, and supportive for families. I have

even seen teachers highlight the tool during subsequent

parent nights and conferences. But once

families are signed up, use the tool to communicate

early and often. The more you post, the more families

practice using it, and the stronger the bridge

between home and school will become.

What are some communication tools you

can use to communicate? Jot them down—

and then start to figure out how you’ll pull

them into your daily, weekly, and monthly


Reach out the old-fashioned way. One expectation

to maintain is that families receive positive communication

about their child within the first month of

school. Starting the second week of school, armed

with addressed postcards and classroom lists, I sit

in classrooms and look for the good in everyone.

Once I have observed a class, I take the time to

write three to five postcards to specific students

engaged in learning and positive social behaviors,

and/or contributing to class in a specific manner. I

use the class list to keep track of who I sent

cards to, and then move to the next room.

This process takes almost a full thirty days,

but is incredibly worth it! Parents and students are

proud to receive mail from the principal, and it helps

me shift the defined role of what a principal is “supposed”

to do to what our vision of school leadership

is. Plus I get to contribute to the success of our

learners every day!

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process

for positive communication. Make your way into at

least one class, observe, and decide how

you’re going to give the students—and their

families—positive reinforcement.

This excerpt from Hacking Early Learning is shared with permission

from Times 10 Publications.

For more episodes of the Hack Learning Podcast, hosted by Mark Barnes,

visit the archive at and subscribe to the show.

twitter chat gurus - Hack Learning Podcast

Hacking Live Chats With 4 Twitter Gurus

Want to learn something new, right now? Did you know that powerful information, opinions, and resources are a click away? Where is this wealth of knowledge? In a live Twitter chat.

If you know Twitter and understand the hashtag, you know how easy it is to search any #hashtag on Twitter. Or, if you see a tweet with a hashtag link, like the one pictured below, you can simply click that link and be taken to a Twitter stream, or page, with all tweets containing that hashtag.

The Twitter hashtag–created in seconds when you add the hashtag (pound/number sign) in front of a word or phrase–generates an ongoing conversation about the topic that is suggested by the hashtag. For example, #edchat is a chat that is about all things related to education, and #edtech is about all things related to education technology. Want to talk to like-minded people about Hillary Clinton? Check out #Hillz on Twitter.

Live Twitter Chats

Typically scheduled on a particular date and time, live Twitter chats bring like minded people together to engage in a chatroom-type discussion. This puts the chat and your tweets in real time, as opposed to “slow” Twitter chats, in which you can tweet to a hashtag topic, but others may not see your tweet until a later time; or they may never see it.

Live Twitter chats create the feeling that you’re actually in a room with everyone joining the conversation. This impacts teaching and learning in interesting and powerful ways.

Audible from Hack Learning

Grab a free audiobook now!

What live chat gurus say

Tom Whitby, known as @tomwhitby on Twitter, is one of the most experienced live chat tweeters in the history of the social network. Whitby co-founded Twitter’s oldest live chat, #edchat. In fact, #edchat set the bar for subsequent chats, as few people understood the potential of the hashtag before stumbling across the live education discussion, which takes place twice every Tuesday–morning and evening.

When we first started this, people used to call up and ask permission to use our format. –Tom Whitby, #edchat co-founder

Not only does #edchat reach hundreds of thousands of Twitter feeds around the world weekly, the chat now transcends Twitter. Whitby and co-moderator Nancy Blair continue the weekly #edchat discussions on #Edchat Radio, extending the conversation further and amplifying the many voices tweeting to the chat each week.

School leader and author Brad Currie, @bradmcurrie, co-moderates #satchat, currently one of the most popular weekly live Twitter chats. #Satchat often attracts more than 500 education stakeholders, discussing specific topics in a structured 6-question format, hosted by a guest expert each week. It’s not uncommon for the hour-long #satchat stream to contain more than 6,000 total tweets from attendees.

The power of hashtags and the power of Twitter has brought educators together online to discuss important issues related to leadership, related to innovation, related to school culture and how we can promote the success of students. –Brad Currie, co-founder #satchat.

How to make Twitter chats actionable

Teacher, bestselling author and co-founder of #sunchat Starr Sackstein, @mssackstein on Twitter, says that live chats often lead to private connections on Twitter that can blossom into professional relationships that help people build their networks both in and out of cyberspace.

#TMchat (thinking maps) creator Connie Hamilton amplifies Sackstein’s point about the power of live Twitter chats. In the podcast episode embedded above, Hamilton explains how one live Twitter chat ultimately influenced a pedagogical change at her school. When Hamilton and a tweeter moved their live #TMchat exchanges to email, they swapped ideas and resources about using Socratic circles–typically a high school activity–with elementary students.

We started a PLC (Professional Learning Community), brought all of her materials (shared on Twitter) together and early childhood teachers in my building are now exploring and implementing Socratic Seminar in first grade. — Connie Hamilton, #TMchat creator

So, if you want to learn something right now that you can use tomorrow to improve teaching and learning, join a live Twitter chat; forge a new relationship and put a new strategy into action.

We like to call this #HackLearning. Enjoy.

#hacklearning Twitter chat

Learn more about the contributors

Read Tom Whitby’s blog and his books

Grab links to Starr Sackstein’s and Connie Hamilton’s work, located on the Hack Learning Team page

Learn all about Brad Currie on his website and read his book, 140 Twitter Tips for Educators

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