As much as I push myself to conquer the digital divide and integrate as much technology as possible into my teaching, there's still a trace of good old-fashioned girl left inside me. I prefer bound books to
eReaders, I'd rather shop in a brick and mortar store than order online, and I am an avid admirer of the handwritten letter.
It's my love of letter writing that prompts me to do "pen pals" with my students every year. There's no more authentic of an audience to write for than a real live child. Three years ago, my classroom assistant hooked us up with pen pals in Anchorage, Alaska where her niece was teaching. Room 202 has had pen pals from Chinook Elementary School ever since.
Over the years, our correspondence has grown to include video chats and ornament exchanges. Last year, we received beautiful homemade snowflake ornaments from Anchorage at Christmas time. The kids kept saying, "Cool, snowflakes from Alaska!"So this year, I wanted to send ornaments with a Philly flavor to our Alaskan pen pals.
I put the challenge out to the parents in my weekly blog update, and the ideas poured in. We finally decided on a Liberty Bell ornament - the perfect combination of Philadelphia and Christmas. Then, a parent scoured the internet until she found an affordable wooden Liberty Bell we could paint.
Another parent really wanted to help so I put her in charge of finding a box to wrap the ornaments in. She came up with envelopes that the students could decorate to look like the Betsy Ross flag. This mom cut all the stripes and the fields of stars ahead of time, and had everything ready for the kids to assemble in class. When our pen pals receive their ornaments, the backs of the envelopes will read "Let Freedom Ring from Philadelphia to Anchorage".
Today, seven parents joined us in class to paint the bells and assemble the flags on the envelopes. It was a lovely morning. We played Christmas music on the radio as the children and the parents worked and socialized. When the projects were complete, the kids asked if the parents could join us in one of their favorite games called Four Corners. The parents willingly obliged. I had so much fun watching the adults sneak from corner to corner of the classroom with the kids trying to avoid being called out.
Inviting parents into the classroom is nothing new for me. I believe strongly in the importance of parent-teacher collaboration. I try to plan a curriculum-related event that includes parents at least once every other month. What was different about this activity was involving parents from the planning stage. I've always assumed I should have everything planned FOR the parents when I invited them in, but I was wrong.
The parents came up with suggestions for ornaments that I never would have thought of on my own, and they WANTED to be involved. The whole thing was a bit of a role reversal for me. I'm your classic type-A, take-charge teacher-type, but I have to admit, I didn't mind the change of pace. I am already thinking of how we can work TOGETHER on a project for Valentine's Day. The hamster in my head is running a mile a minute on his little wheel. I can't wait to see what my students' parents come up with when I tell them I want the kids to make valentines for local shut-ins.