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Blogs rolling: Teachers, parents onboard with Web logs

Jacqueline Thomas, a teacher at Crescent Harbor Elementary School, blogs on her classroom computer last week. Teachers across the district are beginning to use blogs to increase parental involvement.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Jacqueline Thomas, a teacher at Crescent Harbor Elementary School, blogs on her classroom computer last week. Teachers across the district are beginning to use blogs to increase parental involvement.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Thomas gushed to parents that her students made it through the first 100 days of class and that they would soon study the letter “X.” Similar updates were made all year without a single phone call or newsletter.

Teachers like Thomas are the latest group of bloggers drawing local audiences online.

Teacher-made blogs are beginning to surface across Oak Harbor in elementary, middle and high school levels. About 16 have appeared so far, and Bre Urness-Straight predicts the role of blogs in schools is likely to grow.

“It’s encouraged as one of many tools,” said Urness-Straight, the district’s technology integration coordinator. “We try to find what the best tool is for their learning program.”

Many of the blogs, which are an online publishing forum, broadcast weekly activities and in-class photos. Readers then borrow snippets to use as conversation starters with their children and post comments.

“A huge part is getting parents on board,” Thomas said. “The blog helps them understand what’s going on and helps them feel involved.”

She added that “some people think all you do in kindergarten is play but they see the blog and see it is really structured.”

Her blog, aptly named “Ms. Thomas’ class blog,” was launched last summer and soon picked up a faithful following. She averages about 200 readers a day.

Thomas updates weekly from her computer at Crescent Harbor Elementary School, usually in 20 minutes or less. It’s her first time blogging but Thomas said that in today’s digital culture, she’s a native.

“I go on the Web to find everything, such as how to cook eggs. That’s the culture we have,” she said.

Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in the classroom, in part, because of the district’s T3 program. For teachers who volunteer, the three-part program helps them integrate technology into their instructional practices.

Teachers can use digital projectors, Netbooks, and have training on WordPress — a blog platform — among others.

For staff, and students at each grade-level, there are also guidelines for online behavior, Urness-Straight said. Teachers, for example, can’t kvetch about their day in blogs or discuss their personal lives.

“It needs to be professional,” Urness-Straight said.

For Thomas, the blog is a way to give updates and keep parents connected. She said that some of her students’ parents are on deployment with the Navy and can check in from long distances. Thomas also received a phone call from a couple in California, who regularly watch for class photos of their grandchild.

She found from a survey that a majority of the parents in her class have Internet access and, for those who don’t, she will still send out a newsletter. However, the blog, which can update everyone at once, is saving her both time and paper.

“It saves me 200 copies a week,” she said.

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