Communicate 1.1.1 Definitions of Communication Quest




My communication timeline, please look:


The slides show my actual journey in communication.  After my graduation from college the phone rang, and it was a former roommate from college who was driving from Florida around Atlanta on the way to her family’s place in Highlands, NC.  I kept thinking about how her family was so affluent that she could afford a car phone.

Sometimes when I am in the car I think, “Well, look at me now!”  Most of the time I take calling from wherever I am, and texting and checking my email, for granted.  Occasionally, I stop and consider the wonder of what I can do that was not possible when I was growing up.

Now I can keep up with my parents who are 91 and 94.  I can check with my husband anytime I need to.  My daughters are just a swipe and touch away.  My grandkids prefer to text, but at least we stay in touch. This is on the personal side.  I do not Facebook and I do not Twitter.  In addition to my longstanding concern about their vulnerability to hackers, I just do not have time to do either.  My personal belief is that texting, emailing, Facebook and Twitter are in the long run dehumanizing.  I will continue to use technology to communicate, but I’ll do it thoughtfully and selectively.

Amazingly, I can take my classroom anywhere with me.  My students can communicate with me anytime, or leave a voicemail if need be.  Most of my students are on PDT and MDT, so they often call after my office hours.  If I am away from home, I am still accessible.

Students are going to increasingly use smart phones and pads in classrooms.  Students who are totally virtual can already access their LSM and live classes on devices.  Chats, IM’s, discussion boards, email, synchronous tools, Skype…all of these and more will expand horizons for students beyond the classroom, state and country.  The world will open even wider for our students because of the technology we have and the technology we have not even envisioned yet.

Communicate 1.1.2 Laws of Communication Quest



FERPA (which applies to schools that receive federal funding) has two major  purposes:  to protect the private educational information of students and to allow parents access to a child’s educational records..  Just the way HIPPA protects our private medical information, FERPA protects students’ personal education information.  It is a bit like this:  what happens in the school setting between students, teachers and administrators stays with these stakeholders.  In the early days of email and other digital communication tools, we were rather blase about how we communicated, thinking nothing about putting a student’s grades and notes of progress in an email and sending it on.  Then we started to realize that email is not all that protected in some situations.  A simple example is if a family shares an email account, and a sister or brother can read emails intended for the student or the student’s parents.

Student information that is personal according to FERPA:  don’t say it, don’t text it, don’t email it, and don’t talk even to another teacher who is not involved in the situation with a given student.  FERPA may look like another string of regulations that just hinder us from moving forward with our work, but these regulations protect critical constitutional rights of students and parents.

How far do these restrictions go?  Well, there is some doubt as to whether it is appropriate to put a student’s name in the subject line of a school-housed email.  I follow the policy that it is not worth taking a chance.  Can you leave a voicemail message on a family phone with personal info about a student.  I would wait and talk directly to the parent about the concerns.  There is no more posting of grades on a bulletin board, not even if by Social Security number.

For virtual teachers, some of these things we did in the past in ground schools just don’t exist in the same way.  Still, teachers always need to be mindful of what they write in emails.  If an email contains anything you have a second thought about, click on draft, let it sit awhile, reread, and decide if it is appropriate to send.

Copyright laws, like FERPA, are intended to protect the rights of individuals.  If you know an item is copyrighted and you want to use it, be careful about citing it correctly.  Teach your students that.  It is best to think that most things on the Internet are copyrighted.  Make sure you follow the restrictions.  If you can employ Fair Use, answer these question:

*Why are you using it?  Is it for educational or commercial reasons?

*What is the nature of the copyrighted work?

*What amount of the work are you using in reference to the work as a whole?

*Will your use of this have an effect on the financial value of the work?

One location for determining whether an item is copyrighted is the following:


How do we discourage our students from plagiarism and misuse of copyrighted material.  First, information should be in our syllabi.  Teachers should include this information in their introductory sessions at the beginning of new classes.  A cute and funny PPT or video could be used to capture the students’ attention.  Then the importance of following copyright laws could be stated,

How can teachers know if students are following the regulations?  I have had a rather phenomenal success even in French and Spanish by Googling a portion of the assignment.  Turnitin is a website to investigate, as is: should all encourage ourselves and our students to make use of  Creative Commons Licenses.  This resource provides a wealth of items that fall under less rigorous rules than the conventional copyright.  We must lead by example.

The owner of a copyright may create a derivative of the original and copyright it.  The owner of the copyright may not necessarily be the original creator.  Copyrights crated on or after January 1978 extend for the life of the creator plus seventy years.  Copyright laws are not always interpreted exactly the same way by jurists.  It is better to err on the side of the exclusion of an item if we are not sure.


Communicate 2.1.1 Identify Stakeholders Quest



Stakeholders are those who have a vested interest in an enterprise.  In a virtual school, the number and roles of stakeholders vary according to the structure of the virtual school. I have taught in the last few years in a situation which once included centers where students went for one to five days.  They had virtual instruction only on the days when they were at home.  Our stakeholders included the teachers in the centers and the directors of the centers.  Those people are no longer in our current structure.  This school is basically a for profit with brick and mortar schools and a purely virtual school.  Therefore, there are corporate entities who provide the baseline for the schools.  The brick and mortar schools sometimes use our virtual classes, particularly in World Language.  Then we have the principals of those schools and facilitators who are in the classroom during synchronous classes.  Each state, in which we have a charter school that is purely virtual, has a Head of School.  In addition to the HOS in the charter virtual environment, we have teachers, department chairs/coordinators, instructional coordinators, advisors, student services, a manager of e-learning and a director of e-learning.  Then we also, most importantly, have students.  We have parents, grandparents, and guardians.  We have specialists for IEP’s and 504’s.

The stakeholders, as we see, vary according to the structure of the school.  For students  and grow, it is imperative that the stakeholders have a common vision.  That vision must center around the students and their educational success.  Stakeholders must be available to one another and communicate and work together for the students to meet their goals.


Communicate 2.1.2 Communication Guidelines Quest


communication 2

 The welcome email should put the student and parent sat ease about the course.  It should include information about locating information specific to the course that is needed before the first synchronous meeting.  The date and time of this meeting should be included.  The teacher’s contact information and office hours are important.  Students should be guided to the syllabus, the checklist and logins for any supplements not housed in the content.  This email is followed up as soon as possible with a phone call.  The teacher can verify contact information and answer any questions the student and parents might have.

Personal notes are used for communications about student progress or other concerns the teacher has.  A mass emailing can be used to notify students of changes in the checklist, changes in live class sessions and other course information that needs to be disseminated to all of the students in a class.

The teacher should carefully consider which stakeholders need to be notified of issues in the course or with students.  The teacher needs to find out how the administration wants various stakeholders to be CC’d.  In cases where the teacher is concerned about how to respond, especially to parents, the most productive and safest approach is to send a “martyr” copy to a supervisor and get some feedback.

In all cases, the teacher must follow the guidelines of the administration regarding communication.  Email folders for specific groups or topics should be set up to file emails.  Stakeholders who need to check on communications in a teacher’s email need to have an easily identifiable system for searching.  I use the Seating Chart in D2L to log all non-email communications with students and their parents/guardians.  This is another place the administration can gather information, if needed.

Email housed in the course is a primary method of communication.  If sensitive issues are involved, a phone call is the first method to use.  If parents are unreachable, a message asking them to call is one choice.  Emailing and asking the parents to call is another.  All phone calls should be followed up by a brief email outlining the important information from the call.  A teacher needs to remember to always cover the bases.

Finally, whether in an email or phone call, the tone of the communication should always be appropriate.  If you a angry or stressed about an issue, give yourself time to ramp down.  Always let a questionable email sit for awhile.  Reread, think and be sure before you hit “send.”

A method of communication that can be used with students and with parents/guardians is the live class platform.  Often the teacher can get a better sense of what is happening with the parent.  This is a great tool for what we called parent/teacher conferences in the ground schools.  The student can be present, if that is desirable.  So the only part of face to face communication that is missing is that our bodies are not in the same place and we cannot shake hands.  So we find appropriate replacements for the physical warmth in our words and our voices.

Communicate 2.1.3 Ongoing Communication Quest



There is no teaching situation that depends more heavily on consistent, scheduled communication than the virtual classroom.  There is no body language and there are no facial expressions to give clues to teachers or to students.  If we want students and their parents to feel valued, supported and encouraged, we must do this deliberately through our communications.  We have already talked about netiquette and appropriate emails in other quests.  We know that a word texted, emailed or chatted lives on in infamy.

We need to look at the occasions that need communications.  When I input grades, the gradebook has a way I can email students from right there.  I send shout outs to the students who are doing well.  These can be very brief…just an acknowledgement of work well-done.  I also email students who are behind and ask if there is an issue and how I can help.

The NEWS in my courses is updated on a regular basis, even if there is nothing concerning content or schedules that needs addressing.  I use eye-catching animations to pique their interest.  I’ll send “cheerleader” emails en masse to give encouragement, especially near testing time or when grades are coming due.

One way I keep parents informed is by sending updates periodically .  These let the parents know some of what we are covering in content and live classes.  If the timing is such that parents need to be updated on grades, I write an all-purpose email and insert the grade of the individual student to whose parents the email is sent.  Preferably, I have some positive information in the email, rather than just sending a “here’s a bad grade” email.

Every couple of weeks I call parents whose students are not doing well in the course.  I also send the information to the advisor and the instructional coordinator.  Our school collects this information to be used in several ways.  Some of the states we serve require truancy reports.  This does not hinge simply on attendance versus non-attendance.  Part of attendance is based on work completed.  For these reasons we must keep very accurate records of our communications with parents about student work issues.  Emails are automatically saved and phone conversations are logged in the seating chart portion of D2L which can be populated so that communications are saved for each student.

This is a typical e-mail.  The appropriate grade would be put in for that student.

Dear Parent,

The end of October is a busy time for our French students.  Grading Period 1 ends and Grading Period 2 begins.  French students have been working diligently to take care of missed assignments and make improvements in their grades.  Your student’s current grade in the course is XXXX.

We have had an interesting subject to explore.  Historians are not quite sure how much of the Celtic celebration of Samhain the Celtic tribes brought across La Manche (the English Channel) when they sailed from Britain to France hundreds of years ago.  This is the ancient celebration in which Halloween has its roots.  We do know, however, that a Parisian restaurant introduced Halloween in 1982 to its customers.  With corporations like Disney, McDonald’s and Coca Cola jumping on the bandwagon and adding Halloween to their advertising images in France, this very American celebration has spread through France.  There are costumes, parties, jack ‘o lanterns and even trick or treating being increasingly enjoyed on October 31.

So, we have looked at a Halloween children’s book in French and next week will see French children actually celebrating.  Not all French citizens appreciate this item of pop culture crossing the Atlantic.  We’ll just have to wait and see if it sticks around.

As always, please monitor your child’s progress and encourage following the checklist and attending Live Classes.  Also, please remember that I am available to answer any questions and work with your child.  I am just a email or phone call away.  We can also schedule a Live session if that best meets your needs.

Happy end of October!

Whenever it is appropriate, I try to insert humor.

Communicate 3.1.2 News Quest


latest news

In my courses I use NEWS for a variety of purposes.  Each week I post a new item.  Sometimes these have recent content changes or additions.  At other times the post notifies students of a schedule change.  At the very least, I put in an item that encourages students to work according to their checklists and to come to live sessions.


news item