Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2019
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Parent communication and resource-sharing tool keeps families engaged

Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The familiar interface will help parents get on board quickly, and the site's well-designed for productivity.

Cons: As with any social media tool, keeping up with parent comments can overwhelm, and some users may not respect the guidelines.

Bottom Line: With a mindful onboarding process, Heard has great potential to be a go-to tool for parent involvement and community building.

Get creative with parent communication using Heard. Begin on (or before) the first day of school by sending out a picture and brief bio of yourself and asking parents and students to introduce themselves. This will help you learn students' names and calm first-day jitters. Once the year's underway, send out a daily photo or video to keep parents engaged in what the class is learning, or provide some brief instructions to help with homework time. In addition to the day-to-day communication of assignments, weekly newsletters, or general housekeeping messages, consider a whole-class (or even schoolwide) book study with discussions among teachers, students, and parents. No time for a book? Try an article or inspirational quote of the week from the site's Voices section for reflection among members. 

Celebrate the diversity of your students and their families by asking them to share family photos of traditions and customs. Encourage parents to build relationships among themselves in order to create a stronger class community. Then when it's time to ask for help with donations, event planning, or guest speakers, you'll have a network of people who are ready to mobilize within their own parent groups to pitch in. Just be sure to incorporate some of the basics of digital citizenship by setting ground rules for respectful communication, inclusion, and community sharing guidelines.

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Heard is a multifaceted communication platform where teachers and parents can engage, share resources, plan events, and more. Members can sign up via an email invite and join groups by finding their school or schools (parents can manage multiple organizations from one account). The layout is similar to other social media platforms such as Edmodo, Schoology, and Facebook. Teachers and parents share information, communicate with groups, or privately message individuals. Language options allow parents to read messages in one of 11 choices, thereby increasing engagement in schools with diverse populations. There's also a calendar feature for at-a-glance views of upcoming events. Parents can communicate without the teacher's involvement via Groups and can donate material items from teachers' Amazon or Donors Choose wish lists. Parents can opt in to (or out of) email notifications so that they receive reminders even when they're not using the app. 

Teachers should expect that some well-intentioned members may spread incorrect information and that some users, regardless of the ground rules you set, may create conflict. Be prepared to moderate such disagreements if necessary. Also, teachers should take care not to share information that the administration might not want disseminated -- or that it's planning to share itself -- in order to avoid communication mix-ups.

Parent engagement in a kid's education is essential for student success. Unfortunately, parents and teachers are often at a loss for the best way to communicate and cooperate to foster student well-being. Balancing everyday responsibilities, students at multiple schools, and the seemingly endless calendar of events, it can be hard for parents and teachers to stay in touch. Heard provides a platform that reaches across organizations to facilitate that process. Whether the goal is social and emotional learning, student organization, staying on top of school events, support for students who are struggling, or bridging a language barrier, this tool can help adults on both sides to meet each kid's unique needs. 

However, parents and teachers who provide too much support may prevent students from learning natural consequences in terms of missing deadlines, failing to complete assignments, or forgetting to turn in forms, thereby delaying development of habits and skills that will serve them throughout their education and career. While tools like Heard can work to level the playing field for many families by providing transparency, it's good to remember that while it's important to provide students with age-appropriate supports, it's equally important to remove them once students are capable of managing on their own. Onboarding in the form of a short course on how best to support students -- as well as how to engage positively in these types of communities -- would be a nice offering on the site.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

A parent's level of engagement will differ depending on time and preferences, but most parents will appreciate having opportunities to stay informed and get involved.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Teachers can take advantage of keeping parents informed and reaching out to those whose kids need support or encouragement, but too much parent involvement might create habitually dependent students.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

With multiple language options and the ability to share information in many different formats, it's easy for any parent with a device to work Heard into a daily routine.

Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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