At Sunset Elementary, T.E.A.M. Time means parent-teacher collaboration
Every few weeks, parents from across the city make their way to Sunset Elementary and squeeze into their children’s desks to better understand what’s happening in the classrooms.
The meetings are the brainchild of principal Jill Hafey and her leadership team at Sunset. Called T.E.A.M. Time, the short meetings during the school day opens the door for more transparency in classrooms for parents of young students and their teachers.
“We want them to know what their kids are learning, so that they can take every opportunity when they’re not with us to build on the outside,” Hafey said. “And then just to understand our world, so that they can better support their students at home, and to ask good questions to keep us on our toes.”
Each grade has a separate block for parents to come in — usually when their children are at an elective like P.E. or music. They’re asked to stay just 30 minutes, but that time can be extended for 45 if they want to stay longer or ask more questions. Teachers cover various topics that parents have the most questions about, such as, “Why are teachers teaching math a certain way?” or, “Why do students have independent time before they can ask questions on an assignment?”
Instead of just being told what their students are doing, parents are shown what they’re doing, she said.
Hafey said that she was surprised by the turnout at the first T.E.A.M. Time, which stands for Teachers and parents Engaging together Around what Matters most. One that day, 173 parents of children kindergarten through 5th grade were in and out of the building for those time slots. In years past, meetings were in the evening to accommodate work schedules, but those meetings were often poorly attended. Hafey isn’t putting that fault on the parents though, she said, since evenings are busy and many parents don’t have access to child care in the evenings.
The solution? Provide resources for parents so that they have every opportunity to come to T.E.A.M. meetings, Hafey said. Sunset Elementary provides child care for children who are not yet students, and there are translators available for families that speak Spanish. Both of those resources allowed more parents to be included in meetings, and even though parents have not used the taxi service, Sunset also provides rides to and from the meetings if needed.
“My heart was super happy after the first hour because I knew at that point, if I could get my older kids’ parents involved, it was going to be great. The younger parents usually come in because they’re new at this and they want to gain everything that they can,” Hafey said. “As the day progressed, I was so excited, and wished that I would have thought of something sooner to get them in because most of these are working parents. It’s not like they are all stay-at-home parents. They’re parents that came in with their work stuff and immediately left. I asked them, was that a good use of your time? And they said yes.”
Hafey is hoping more parents come for the next two meetings, which are next semester. She added that it has become almost a competition among the grades to see who can get the most parents to come. At the first meeting, first grade took gold in that regard.
One of the biggest obstacles, Hafey said, was the unknown surrounding the idea of T.E.A.M. when it was created. If it turned out to not be useful or if it were to cause problems, it was back to the chalkboard on how to get parents more involved. One hesitation came from when those meetings are; oftentimes teachers use their students’ elective times for class planning and other duties. Hafey said that teachers were more than happy to give up those times if it meant being able to better communicate with parents.
“If it’s not useful, how do you rethink it?” she said. “(We were) thinking about what the parents have always said, ‘I wish I had this to talk about. I wish I knew why they did math that way.’ And then my teachers are saying, ‘Man, if only the parents knew.’ We’ve got these two-lane highways that are going different directions, but they all want the same thing. How do I let them cross paths in just the right moment, to best support our kids?”
Next semester’s meetings will be on Jan. 24 and March 7.
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