One of the main barriers to learning is low parental engagement, with high work loads it’s often very difficult for busy class teachers to routinely connect with homes. With this in mind, I embarked upon a project to improve how our school involve parents in the everyday classroom experience. This post is a reflection upon the outcomes of it as well as the future. I sought the views of teachers, parents and students in an effort to identify the genuine impact of the project and whether we are tackling the problem.
Our teachers and pupils needed something fresh to get them all on board and so I trialled Class Dojo, which I had used the year before just for my class. After seeing a positive impact on a classroom scale, I was confident that by training others it could become a vital tool for engaging parents and improving behaviour. Now this isn’t a blog to sell a product, it is to outline the positive outcomes that can adapted through any means (not just this app) and pitfalls to bear in mind that I came across throughout the project:
// VLE aspect
Previously, our school had a list of documents and information that were required to be uploaded to the VLE each week. This app allows us to uphold this promise (and more!) Teachers can upload real time pictures, much like with a class twitter in which I previously invested my time at a previous school. Documents can be pinged home very easily. The interface is easy to use. Many teachers and TAs can access all classes.
Pitfalls: a) We can’t have a year group page so we have to copy and paste posts across to individual classes. b) I was also worried that some teachers would invest more time into it than others, which might cause issues as we have siblings in the year group.
In reality: a) There’s a School Story option which I need to explore further….Because we were trialling this as a year group, we have focussed solely on our class stories, branching out recently to my children teaching other classes and year groups how to use the student story. b) Due to it being such an easy system, it’s used by teachers and TAs alike at least daily, but issues were raised in feedback from parents.
Feedback from teacher feedback Google Form:
This is a useful tool for catching children being good. It has a positive ‘ding’ that can be heard from the device used and/or the big screen. There’s nothing like that noise for children to become even more visibly active in their learning. It is also less disruptive allowing the teacher to teach, rather than creating a big song and dance every time you catch someone being good (although there is obviously still the place for this!) The points the children earn are reset to zero each week so they start the week afresh ready to aim to beat their best score. This focus and awareness of their own behaviour has made a distinct difference with the majority of the children.
Pitfalls: I worried that expectations would be lowered if the basics such as being on task were being ‘rewarded’ with points.
In reality: all it is doing is giving points to things you’d verbally praise anyway. It helps the children who struggle with the basics as the conversation occurs around these standard expectations more frequently. Catching the children who always do the right thing and recognising the behaviour that we expect rather than giving a platform for those who misbehave was also highlighted as important by Paul Dix at Primary Rocks this month.
Obviously all the aforementioned has an impact on the children, but another aspect of it that we love is their Student Story. Children HAVE to upload something they’re proud of each day to their personal story. This helps them think about what is quality and what is not their best. Their parents talk about their learning with them at home and they know there’s an audience to whatever they choose.
Pitfalls: Children won’t be proud of any of their efforts that day and it’ll have a negative impact.
In reality: If they realise that they aren’t proud of anything, which is very rare, they write a short little reflection and aim for the next day. I’ve had it twice and both times I’ve sat with them and had that conversation, looked through their learning and discussed aims together.
The communication from parents has been the absolute key to behaviour changes. Most of all because the parents we need to speak to most are inevitably the hardest to get hold of. This goes straight to their pocket and they are far more connected with how their child is behaving on a day-to-day basis and not just being contacted when something amazing or something bad occurs. Lots of children have a target number of points to achieve in the day and the parents then only give them their walking home from school sweets/visit to the park if they’ve achieved this. This solidarity between home and school is imperative for children who struggle. For those who are just generally excellent, their parents get to see this reflected in their child’s report and know that they aren’t being forgotten for the sake of *those* children who require so much of a teacher’s time.
Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:
- “It’s allowed parents to monitor and celebrate their child’s learning/achievements”
- “I find Class Dojo a very useful way to keep up to date with my child’s school day which then encourages conversation about his day when he gets home. As a working parent i also really appreciate the ability to contact the class teacher if I have any concerns or wish to pass on anything happening at home.”
- “I think this is a brilliant tool and one that [my son] and I discuss on pretty much a daily basis. I can easily log in from work and can get a true indication of the type of day he’s had and how well he has engaged with the class and his learning.”
- “It seems that some teachers award more Dojos than others, understandably, but some kind of common criteria would be useful as it is creating unnecessary competition/conflict between our siblings. Other than that, fabulous!!”
The ability to directly message parents and vice versa has been incredible for keeping on top of minutae – ‘Bob has had a rough night’s sleep, he might need a bit of TLC this morning’, ‘Fred’s rabbit died – just so you’re aware’ which makes my life easier to be pre-warned and allows the parents to rest easy! On the other hand, pre-warning parents about incidents at school that might affect their child after school helps them prepare to provide child with best/most appropriate welcome and routine for home.
Pitfalls: a) Others were concerned that this direct link to parents would have a negative impact on our well-being and work load. When I sent out the letters, parents were informed that the expectation was for us to be active during working hours and not during evenings, weekends or holidays.
In reality: not one teacher that uses it doesn’t log on and check outside of these hours. Why? Because it is easier for our workload to send quick messages such as: ‘remember it’s non-uniform day tomorrow’ message; upload a picture of our spelling focus words for children to bump into outside of school; or send a more detailed message to an individual parent from our sofa with dinner rather than making numerous phone calls after 6 at school which is fairly normal. They think it helps with their workload despite it technically being an addition because its overall impact is incredible.
Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:
- “We love it! At first there was some inconsistency between classes for the number of Dojos being awarded. My daughter’s teacher in year one would often not give any out for a few days and my youngest couldn’t understand when my eldest would get lots but it has improved now, I guess the teachers needed time to get used to it.
I hope the school keeps this system”
- “When teachers embrace the concept it is very useful and a welcome insight into the children’s day. However when the two year groups engagement differs vastly the resulting low self esteem from the child who apparently did not achieve any motivational points is very upsetting and the whole system can lose its impact (and tbh I stopped looking). Admittedly Dojo merely records the evidence it is given but the comparisons were there nonetheless.
(I can also appreciate that the demands on a teachers’ time are vast and this system takes effort? )
The ability to message the teacher from an app however is a great time saver.”
From the feedback received from parents, I realised that teachers awarding the behaviour points differently had an impact on home life where siblings were involved. I believe that no matter the system, some teachers will give out more stickers/stamps/merits etc than others. Also, classes will require different uses and respond differently. I feel this will need to be addressed both with children through developing their growth mindset and having personal targets and not comparing with their siblings at home and also with parents to help them not focus on this negatively with the children at home and not compare them. This would be the next stage of the project.
Again, all the aforementioned have a direct impact on teachers, but the best thing for me is the positivity. What a fantastic way of forcing oneself to notice the good! Constantly aiming to catch children doing the right thing has made me a much more positive whirlwind in the classroom: it’s contagious and develops a real cycle of positivity amongst the majority. It hasn’t meant that my expectations have lowered, far from it. I’m also still firm, but fair. That doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the monsters!
Having seen the impact of this app on the teachers, children and parents, it is now being rolled out across the school and policies are being developed for this approach. Further INSETS will be provided for me to share basics, but also celebrate other teachers’ ideas with how to use it. More staff support will be inputted, especially when it comes to new parents with many a question.
Pitfalls: I’m hoping we can still upload pictures of the children’s smiling faces and not just their learning, which is one possible aspect to be banned. I’m hoping teachers will be given the autonomy of when and how they use it and a didactic list of ‘must do’s’ isn’t imposed. Why? Because there’s nothing like a list of rules to stump creativity and to nurture rule-breakers…
// Biggest win of the project?
*That* teacher who always says no to new ideas, is negative about change and HATES technology is now the biggest fan and I’ve even delegated the role of supporting KS1 to her. Happy days.