Being a private school teacher, I often get, “oh, you probably have to deal with difficult parents.” And my response is usually: Honestly, I am very fortunate to have such involved, interested parents to team with. Building the trust of parents at the beginning of the year can be critical. In my experience, parents just want to know that their child is going to be in a class where the teacher genuinely cares about their son/daughter as an individual. Being at a private school, personalizing the learning experience is particularly important.
When I began flipping my AP Calculus AB classes, I honestly had very few questions from parents. I think it was a combination of the fact that: 1. parents are a bit more hands-off with juniors/seniors and 2. the students previous math class had been challenging enough for them to, at times, feel lost on some homework assignments. When I flipped AP Calculus AB, I found students so excited to be able to do the problem solving in the classroom. This message went home to parents, students were doing an excellent job with the class format, and honestly things went really smoothly — from year 1.
I cannot say the same about the first month of Honors Algebra 2, even though by the end of the year, things were absolutely awesome. But it took 1-2 months to turn things around, and a lot of time and effort on my part at the beginning of the year. From this experience, I learned a lot about the importance of communication and building relationships.
It all starts with back-to-school night. Most teachers kind of dread back-to-school night: it’s a fast-paced, hectic night, so early in the year you’ve barely had a chance to figure out your students’ names. Throughout the years, though, I’ve learned this night is where the relationship building begins. Back-to-school night is an opportunity for me to share my passion for what I do. I have the chance to talk face-to-face with parents – to outline my expectations and talk about how I am going to help their son/daughter grow – academically and personally. I am a very structured teacher, and this is probably the first thing parents will notice about me as I begin talking. That, and my excitement. I adore teaching and I truly love math – and I hope that these things shine through. While those things are easy for parents to see, explaining the flipped classroom in the extremely brief amount of time we have together is nothing short of a challenge. And this is where I went wrong the first year I flipped Honors Algebra 2. I gave an overview of the model, but parents left confused.
One of the most eye-opening things that year was having a phone conference with the parents of a student who was struggling and very anti “the flip.” At one point in our conversation, the parents actually said, “I just didn’t understand what you were saying at back-to-school night. There was so much information being given out, I just couldn’t process it all.” Our conversation started with frustration on their part (because their son was unhappy) and ended with them thanking me and saying they were going to have a conversation with their son — to help him understand my expectations, as his teacher, and their expectations, as his parents. That transformed everything. The student started taking responsibility for his learning, earned A’s and high B’s all year, and genuinely ended up loving the class. Honestly – the student even selected me to be his advisor after that, and though I’m not his teacher anymore, he stops in my classroom at least twice a week to just say hi.
So what did I do differently this year? I knew that I needed to efficiently explain what my flipped classroom was all about and the motivation behind reversing the traditional classroom dynamic. And it had to be an engaging presentation, because those parents I had conferences with the year prior had been right — back-to-school night is information overload, after a long day of work. And so I made a video! Genius, right? I used VideoScribe to create an engaging presentation that really addressed my motivation for flipping the classroom, explained what classwork and homework would look like, described how I hold students accountable for doing their work, and I closed by emphasizing what the flipped classroom means to me. After the video, I went through my expectations, my class webpage and calendar, and then I had time for questions at the end. Clear communication is key, and for me, making this video made a huge difference!
A #FlipClass Welcome – My Back-to-School Night Video