Virtual Parents in the Classroom

19 10 2012

Have you ever had someone watch you teach?  I mean stand there with a clip-board and observe your every move?  What if these observers were the parents of your students? Would that make you feel uncomfortable, or would you welcome them as eager participants in the learning process?

This year, I decided to invite the parents of my students to become “virtual flies-on-my-walls”.  I wondered what it would be like to involve the parents on a daily basis.

Realistically, we all have jobs (and lives), and the craziness of the everyday would prohibit such a thing. However, through social media, I have ventured into the unknown… inviting parents to share in our daily learning experiences.  And the result has been amazing!!

As a frequent user of Twitter, I highly value the instant connectivity that it provides.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could share this with our parents?  our kids?

Here’s how the journey began:

Long before my students even entered our classroom in September, I created a classroom Twitter handle… and started tweeting.  I posted pictures of the classroom before and after it had been set up.  In the early days of school I started to share the learning that was happening.  After a few weeks, there was a rich record of the things that we were doing on a daily basis in the form of our Twitter stream.  It was then that I invited parents to join us.  I invited them to become a virtual fly-on-the-walls of our classroom through Twitter.  By ‘following’ our classroom Twitter account, they could see what their kids were learning at the moment they were learning it.  We shared things like books we had read, math problems we had tackled, tools we were using and skills we were learning.  In our classroom, we established the role of  “Media Relations” and this student would tweet our learning for the day.

What did the parents think?  I would love to tell you that they are all avidly “following” our every move… but that would not be true.  However, I am celebrating that I now have more than 50% of my students’ parents following us on Twitter.  But the highlight of this experience so far has been the new partnerships that have formed between myself and my parent community.  As some parents joined Twitter, they sent me notes celebrating the fact that they had “ventured into the Twitterverse” for the first time in their lives. One had a moment of panic when they were ‘spammed’ for the first time.  Recently, one parent tweeted to us while were on a field trip, and another proudly commented on her son’s work…. but we are learning together.  All of us.  Students, parents and especially me.

Having virtual flies-on-the-walls has allowed us to all partner together to support our children with their learning.  We have ‘connected’ the dots between home and school… by being connected through social media.  We are joining our children in becoming risk-takers… all of us trying something new (and a little bit scary) for the first time together.  And for the most part, we are all loving it!

(For the parents who are not yet ‘following’ our Twitter stream, I occasionally print our activities so that they can stay abreast of our learning).

I am always amazed by my students… but this year, it is the parents who are amazing me the most.




8 responses

22 10 2012
Dorothy Hartman

Hi. I am about to set up a Twitter account for the parents in my class. I was wondering what security settings you use. Thanks in advance. Dorothy Hartman


22 10 2012
Lisa Donohue

Hi there,
While my Twitter account remains public, I have done a few things to make it as secure as possible.
1.  I ask the parents to write their twitter handle in their child’s agenda – this way I know that the only people following are my parents.  I block any other followers.
2.  The class twitter handle does not follow anyone.  That way the kids will not encounter anything inappropriate in the twitter feed.
3.  The twitter handle is not connected to the school, location or me in any way.
4.  I never post pictures of kids, or names or even locations (when we are on a field trip).
Hope that helps
.. good luck and let me know how it goes.

28 02 2013

What do you mean that “The twitter handle is not connected to the school, location or me in any way.” Don’t you have to have control of the posts and an email to set up the twitter account?

Also, is there a template you can share that you send to parents regarding the setup?

3 03 2013
Lisa Donohue

Hi “CorruptCanadian”,
First, interesting name choice. 😉
Second, what I mean that the Twitter Account is “not connected to me, or the school location in any way”, I mean that it does not carry my name or the name of the school. For example, if the school were called: Hilltop P.S, the twitter handle could be something like @Gr4HighClimbers. This way there is no way to identify which school the students attend. I thought this would make it more secure in the event that we were posting things about a field trip or school event. Also, yes, it is connected to my Board email… although this is not shared publically through the Twitter account.
Finally, I did have a template that I sent home for parents. If you follow me on Twitter @Lisa_Donohue DM me an email address and I’ll try to forward it to you.
Hope that helps,

30 04 2013

I love the idea. I would like to know more about things you do specifically. Would this work at highschool? In excited about it.

30 04 2013
Lisa Donohue

Thanks for your comment. I’ve tried to make the twitter stream as ‘pollution free’ as possible… therefore the class Twitter account does not follow anyone and the only followers are the parents (I block any other followers). For the most part, our tweets are about our learning… books we have read, an experiment we have tried, a math problem we attenpted to solve etc. That way the conversations extend from school to home without barriers. When I’ve asked for parent input, they need to tweet us with an @ message in order to reach us. I teach Grade 3, so when I would like parental support from home, I usually tweet something like: “You can help!!! We are learning about urban and rural communities. Talk about the different buildings you see around town.” or “You can help! We have forgotten how to add three digits with regrouping.. can you practise at home?”. I’ve asked for parental input on things like “would you rather have a test before the weekend or after”.. parents appreciate being involved on a day to day basis. Would this work in a high school? I’m not sure why it wouldn’t. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

30 04 2013

Will this work at highschool.? I need a couple of detailed examples of lessons or exercises you used that directly involved parents. This sounds incredible.

30 04 2013
Lisa Donohue

I hope you were able to read the other comment I post in response to your questions. Good luck and thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog.

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