Do you find it hard to keep close communication with the families of your students? Are families involved in seeking you out? Do parents complain about you not being in contact with them often or soon enough? Are you tired of coming to work early or staying late to make phone calls? Are you replying to e-mails or returning/making phone calls during your plan, or worse, during instructional time?
Perhaps you feel none of this applies to you, because maybe the families of the children in your class seem not to be interested or simply do not have time to actively engage for a variety of reasons. Even if this is the case, as professional educators, it is our responsibility to reach out and communicate with families.
Pennsylvania has adopted Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as the vision for effective instruction. There is a rubric in which each teacher is evaluated annually in four different domains. In Domain 4 – Professional Responsibilities: Component 4c: Communicating with Families, there are three elements: teachers are to provide information about instructional programs, about individual students, and engage families in the instructional program.
There are four levels of performance in which a teacher can fall into upon being observed. They are unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished. I feel that as educators we can only be the best if we strive for the best. So, for the purposes of this post, I will only focus on what it takes to be a distinguished educator in this area. Below is what teachers need to do in order to earn a distinguished level of performance when communicating with families. The first row is the standard, the second row outlines the critical attributes, and the 3rd column includes some examples of what teachers can do. Keep in mind that a distinguished level includes all the qualities of a proficient level.
So what do I do to make this component easier for me?
I use Class Dojo.
Class Dojo is an internet and app based way to communicate with families about behavior, academics, and classroom and school happenings. It allows teachers and families to share photos, videos, group messages, individual messages before, during, and after the school day. It is a quick and efficient way for teachers and families to communicate.
5 Reasons I Like and Use Class Dojo
1) It’s Free – As teachers we seem to dig into our pockets more than we’d like to and maybe even more than we should. Most teachers spend their own money on decorations, posters, personal use office supplies such as EXPO dry-erase markers as opposed to school provided dead-erase markers that die after one use. Many teachers even provide their students with supplies such as pencils, pencil cases, crayons, markers, binders, notebooks, scissors, etc. all out of necessity and out of the kindness of their hearts. But the fact that Class Dojo is free made me jump for joy!
2) Family Engagement – This is by far the main reason why I use Class Dojo. I never really struggled with communicating with families. Well, maybe I did. I bit the bullet, and I came early and stayed late almost everyday my first 4-5 years of teaching to make phone calls, or to send and reply to e-mails. I called during my plan, and my least favorite of all, I called during instructional time. But nevertheless, my families heard from me. I sent letters home over the summer (read my post about “How to Build Strong and Real Relationships with Your Students and Their Families” by clicking here). I e-mailed parents, sent hand-written letters , wrote notes in planners, typed whole class letters and had students take them home for parents to sign, had students write letters to families, invited parents into the classroom, stayed after school for family involvement activities, and went to my many of my students’ events outside of school. Even doing all of this, I have never had 100% of the families in my class be actively involved. It was my hope that Class Dojo would help with that. To a certain extent it has because I am able to communicate with families quicker and more frequently. But that is only with the families that have signed up for Class Dojo. I have 24 students in my homeroom and half of the families are connected. I will look at the bright side of this. Last year, I had less families connected! 🙂 Another positive is that I do not have to call, e-mail, or write letters to 24 families all the time. I only have to do that for 12! (Plus 15 in my second class. Eight of the families are connected.) It is very convenient to type up reminders for families in addition to letters that have been sent home. Sometimes I take a picture of a letter that is to go home, and send it to the families on the Dojo so no one can say they never saw the paper. I informed parents that I changed seats, and the mother of one of my students asked were there problems. I said no, I promised the kids I would change them over a week ago, and they were starting to bug me about not doing it. She laughed. The rapports I have with the families on the Dojo are amazing!
3) PBIS – Many schools across the nation have adopted a Positive Behavior Intervention Support program also known as PBIS. My school is one of the schools that has done so. The Watson Institute (the organization that is assisting my school in effectively implementing our PBIS program) defines PBIS as being “based on proactive principles with the goal of teaching desired behaviors, reinforcing and recognizing students who are able to model the desired behaviors, and providing systems to support students who struggle with compliance or may present with more challenging behaviors. PBIS is more than a ‘behavior plan”. When implemented with consistency, this approach not only improves and sustains social and emotional well-being of students; it also improves and sustains academic achievement.”
I think the word consistency is key here. I find it often difficult to keep track of students behaviors day in and day out. This is especially true when many of the students in one class exhibit off-task behaviors. Yes, my school is located in a poverty stricken neighborhood that is filled with a high population of special education students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and is extremely transient. All of this contributes to the kinds of behaviors we see each and every day. Just the other day, there was a student screaming bloody murder in the hall 15 minutes after the start of school. Sad to say, but this is sometimes normal. This is why the PBIS program is so important to our building. And monitoring behavior is one thing that Class Dojo allows teachers to do.
The point system on Class Dojo allows us to keep track of specific behaviors students exhibit. My partner teacher and I added our schools PBIS expectations and rules to Class Dojo. We allotted specific points for each expectation and rule. Students earn and lose points as necessary based on the exhibited behaviors. Additionally, we can write notes detailing the students’ behavior, the intervention taken, and the rationale behind it. Very useful for a PBIS Tier 1 Intervention. We also have clip charts in our rooms such as the one at right. (We are required to use a full class behavior monitoring system. I mention this because there are some teachers that are opposed to Class Dojo and clip charts for various reasons. As with everything, they have pros and cons. Another conversation for perhaps a future post). But depending on where a students’ name is throughout the day determines how many points they earn for the day (Students names are able to move up and down the chart throughout the day).
At the end of the report period, any student that has earned 500 points on Class Dojo earns a free lunch or treat with me and partner teacher. Not everyone earns 500 points, but everyone earns points, and those points are allowed to be spent. My partner teacher has created a classroom store with a variety of items that students can purchase with their points. Students can buy school supplies, snacks, lip gloss/chap stick, posters, homework passes, extra-gym passes, sit in the teachers’ seat for a day, and many other choices. Every student is able to purchase something, even our worse behaved students! (I am happy to say that we do not have many between our two classes this year.)
Another thing I do in my room is each time the whole class earns 1000-1500 points, I allow them to earn 20-30 minutes of free-time (games, whole class video, computers, reading, paper projects, desk-cleaning, reading, talking to me, etc). I am extremely unlikely to allow my students to have any downtime, so I had to sort of force myself to come up with a plan to allow the kids to be kids and to interact with them in this setting and not focus on standards, assessments, homework, and academics all the time. I cringed writing that sentence. Preparing them for testing stresses me out. I want them all to grow. But we all need breaks to help us grow.
While I do not particularly like point system (again, another conversation for another post), the kids and the families do, so I stick with it. It also helps students that need recognition, get recognition. I tend to give more points than I take away which helps me meet many of the goals of the PBIS program. I focus on the desired behaviors and let students know when I notice it.
4) Activities – In addition to Class Dojo being a free app, there are a variety of free activities that are provided to teachers to use in their classrooms. Anyone that is anyone should be aware of the buzzword for 2016, “Growth Mindset.” (Although it is a buzzword, it is based on solid evidence and psychology). At the beginning of the school year, my partner teacher and I used the Growth Mindset videos and shared those with our students in hopes of helping them to understand what it is, but also to help them perhaps develop this particular mindset regarding their learning in and out of school. In addition to this, we posted the videos to our classroom stories so that families were able to view them later. The week before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I received a notification from Class Dojo informing me of an available activity to use with my students that would allow me to help my students understand Dr. King’s struggles to push the Civil Rights Movement forward and how he persevered. Talk about one less thing to plan for! Typically you will find a video that will last no longer than 10 minutes and a follow-up activity that can deal with social and emotional learning or creativity as of now.
5) Collaboration – My partner teacher and I collaborate regarding behavior and fun activities now more than ever! I tend to want to stay to myself, but Class Dojo has inspired me to be more open to working hand-in-hand with my partner teacher more often. We have a plan that the students know we will follow in both classes, and all students are aware of the plan because we implemented it together. Other than the subjects we teach and our own personal teaching style, the rules are consistent across the two classrooms. That felt great to say! Other teachers in our building have joined our school community on Class Dojo, and I feel that other teachers will join soon as they learn more about it.
Class Dojo is easy and simple to use, and allows more opportunities to communicate with the families of my students more frequently. The downside is not all of the families have connected or will connect to the Dojo. This is to be expected. Class Dojo is not the cure to family involvement, but it can assist in getting more families involved. It can also help you earn a distinguished level on your teacher evaluation for family involvement.
If you are interested in learning more about Class Dojo and the benefits for your classroom or school, CLICK HERE.
As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s find different ways to make sure all of our students get recognized for positive reasons. If you already use Class Dojo, what are some things you like about it? What are some things you dislike about it? If you decide to give it a try, come back here and let us know your thoughts. I am always looking forward to hearing from you!
Until then, Happy Teaching!
Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher
This post is purely written for you; my readers. I was not approached by Class Dojo to write this nor am I receiving anything for writing this. This is my personal and honest opinion about a program that I use to help manage my classroom. I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and will share it with others.
As a final note, some of you may be wondering about privacy laws when it comes to Class Dojo. Tamara Russell, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher I follow, has a well written post about why she fell out of love with Class Dojo. I have read it about 3 times now. Everything she says makes sense and holds truth. Maybe one day I will change my mind about using Class Dojo, but it serves the purpose I need it for. Her reason has everything to do with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). You can read her post here by clickink on this sentence. You can also find out how Class Dojo maintain’s FERPA’s compliance here.