Agony Aunt: Blogging, parents, feedback...

Nic Ponsford

Nicole is the digital leader of @WomenEd, leader of @WomenEd_Tech and founder of @gendercharter. Previously, she was an award-winning AST in Media and New Technologies. Nicole is passionate about gender equality being the ‘new normal’.

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As we March (ahem) into the spring, it is time to find sunshiny shortcuts and time-saving strategies, dear IMS-reader. The questions this month have been based around improvement and engagement. Please send in questions for next month via [email protected] for next months piece.

As the regular Agony Aunt for IMS, teachers have written to me (thank you) asking how 2015 can be a better year - for you and your students. My role here is to help change the future, your future. You can see me as your own personal ‘Doc’ Emmett Brown, and this feature as the DeLorean. I have a wealth information and advice, practical and solution-focused shortcuts, based on my own ‘McFly’ years (both in the classroom and from the outside).

So. Here we go - let’s hit 88mph.

Nicola Hancock, Head of Computing/ICT: “Any ideas on showing progress/feedback for a practical subject in Key Stage 3?”

I know how this is a real headache for teachers. If you are not using Google Classroom already, Nicola, I would suggest you check this out first. Creating Drive folders for topics, quick copies of Google Documents for all of your students, checking who has completed their homework, what their progress is and give real-time feedback in a click - sounds like it would be right up your street. You do have to initially set things up manually and as long as you don’t get too distracted by the Chrome Store, you should be fine.

If you want something a little more exciting (in my eyes), try InfuseLearning. It is a free app that can be used on any device / platform. It enables you to push questions, prompts and quizzes out to any device, in any language.

For those of you that are a little more techy, you might want to check out Nearpod and Socrative. Both are easy to use, help you illustrate progress and encourage collaboration with your students. My advice, as usual, is to shop about. Have a quick try, watch the intro videos and see which you prefer. You need some ownership of these platforms, before you use them with the students, so a little bit of planning and research can save you time in the long run.

Primary Maths subject lead (anonymous): “How do I set up the ideal blog?”

With ease… is my quick response. There are a wealth of free, quick and simple ways out there. My suggestion is to consider what you want a blog for - what are your outcomes? If you want a class-blog for a one off project, then there are heaps of drag-and-drop ideas. If you want to create something that is for parents, you need to consider how they will access it and what you want to include.

My ‘fit-all’ solution is to have teacher-based blogs that are access via the school’s main website or VLE. It is appreciated more that technology can illustrate a range of things - which can suit teachers who wear more than one hat.

The quickest ones to get started with are:

  1. Wordpress - You can create a website with a blog page or just have it as a blog all for free.

  2. Weebly - Free drag and drop creator.

  3. Edublogs - Free and nearly 3 million users. You can see why.

All of these have tutorials and online support to guide you through them. My top tips are:

  1. Experiment by having a go with a few different designs / providers, creating a one-page blog on each. See which one you like most, as they will have a different feel and design. Choose the one you find the easiest to use (as you will be more inclined to upload more frequently) and the one which will suit your audience.

  2. Consider your audience. Make it as eye-catching and user-friendly as possible. By this, I mean embedded hyperlinks, titles / questions as headers and try to keep a blog post to one page. Also ensure if you are creating it to be read on a range of devices that it is mobile device-friendly too.

  3. Approval. Ensure that SLT know you are creating it and they can then help you market it, too.

  4. Timings. Consider how often you are going to update it. If the blog is aimed at parents to help with holiday app recommendations, try once every half-term (uploading and sharing before holidays), or if it is for your class, try once a week at a usual time and date so they can follow you.

Other than that - have fun! Blogs are a great resource for you and yours. Happy blogging!

Anonymous: “How can I engage more with parents?”

Due to my work with schools in this area, I get asked this a lot. My key suggestion is to see how you can get parents engaged, rather than involved. Look beyond Parents’ Evenings and ‘Positive Postcards’ and see how parents would rather be part of the dialogue around their children.

Focus Groups of parents asking them for their thoughts are a great way to start. It seems a simple suggestion to merely ‘ask them’ but sometimes going back to basics has a real impact. Questions to get your started might be:

  1. How would you like us to communicate with you and how often?

  2. What do you want us to tell you about?

  3. What do you want to tell us about?

  4. Are there any barriers to this?

  5. Do you have any solutions?

Using apps, creating frequent opportunities for longer (and more in depth) conversations and thinking outside the box can all help too. Consider what online tools are available and if they are relevant to your families. Apps like RemindClassDojo and Bambizo are all fantastic at helping parents have more immediate contact with you (and with not a lot of hassle, you’ll be pleased to hear). Consider having face-to-face meetings onsite for those hard to reach parents, and then a series of updates every two-three weeks to celebrate the positives. Also consider where and when you meet. Are you suggesting school site meetings at 3pm as they suit the parent or you?

Once you start querying your own systems and get feedback from your parents, you will engage better with parents - and build upon your students’ attainment.

Joanne James, MFL teacher: “How to balance having a career and kids? Got any practical advice on how to be more efficient with time / planning / marking?”

Haha, right. My real suggestion? Start saying no. NOW. I know that is extremely negative but hear me out. You cannot do everything. No one can. Even most superheroes are part of a team or have a sidekick. Therefore, work out what you can get away with, want you want to do well and take it from there. One step at a time.

As a parent myself, I know the difficulties of ‘juggling’ kids, career and, right at the end, my sanity. It is difficult and we all make mistakes - but we want to keep our head above water, right? Maybe even enjoy ourselves every now and again.

Firstly, you need to be honest with yourself. What is working - and what is not - when it comes to your time management? And if you are reading this whilst making dinner for the kids, tidying up, checking emails and doing toddler-wrangling, STOP. Looking at how to balance your time needs a clear head. So. Let’s back it up. Firstly arrange to have 10 minutes to yourself. Then be honest with yourself.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is important to me now?

  2. What is important to me this week?

  3. What is important next week?

Create routines for yourself and get your household involved. It won’t hurt any of them to help you more and it will give you one less thing to do. Give each member of your family an extra job. It might be that your youngest learns to put things in the laundry bin this week, your partner makes the lunches and you double up the internet shop to help Future You next week.

Make a list of what everyone needs to do - and cross it off when you have done it. This counts for work and school.

Look at your working hours at school. Consider how much time you need for planning and marking every half term - and factor in when you are going to do this - and then PROTECT this time. Look at your meeting time. Do you need to be part of all of these - and are they work-focused? How could they be?

This is where we come back to that word - “no”. “Can you just….?” No. You have an allotted amount of time on this specific day to discuss this particular focus. “Are you able to….?” No. Unless it makes things better for you and yours = No. No to useless meetings. No to weekends spent doing things you do not want to. YES to “If you can do this for me then I can…”. Yes to “Once I have done this, I can then do that”.

Does that makes sense, Joanna? The aim is to rearrange what you have going on. Cut off the dead wood and spend more time on the things you are really meant to be doing. Streamline yourself for a few weeks and see if it improves things. Be vocal about what you are doing too. Tell them at home and at school. “I am doing this, as I need to balance things better”. Then you can tell others if they are helping or hindering you.

Lastly, make sure you have time outside of work and school. There used to be more to you than that - and sometimes finding that part of you again can be the making of you (and your juggling act).

Get in touch with editor James Cain at [email protected] if you have questions for Nicole.

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