Effective communication between educators and parents is important -- if not crucial -- for helping students learn. But, as any teacher will tell you, it can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Of course, every classroom is unique, and we all face different challenges: Some teachers suffer from inbox fatigue trying to keep up with a constant barrage of parent emails, while others struggle to get parents involved at all. But effective communication remains the goal in every case.
In my teaching, I always found that it paid to be proactive; any time I could streamline the parent-teacher-student communication chain, I spent less time responding to parent phone calls and emails, and students tended to perform better. Sure, it can be a bit more work up front, but when everyone's on board:
- Parents wonder less about what's going on at school. When everyone's in the loop, at-home conversations about schoolwork are more productive. Parents are empowered to work with teachers as allies to help their kids succeed.
- Teachers have more time and energy to focus on in-class learning. Believe it or not, the more you reach out to parents (and students) proactively as a group, the less time you’ll spend reacting to questions and concerns over email or by phone. When questions do arise, they'll likely be more informed and constructive.
- Students take more accountability for their own learning. With clear expectations and a supportive team of in-the-know parents and teachers, kids are more likely to perform and do their best work.
The most important thing is simply to keep everyone on the same page -- parents, students, and teachers. It's probably never been simpler, thanks to a bevy of great edtech options available today. Consider how you might utilize one or a number of new tools in combination with the parent-outreach strategies you're already using.
Here are a few ideas and tool recommendations to help kick off a positive parent-teacher dialogue:
1. Reach out with a messenger app like Remind.
If you aren't already using it, consider one of Remind's biggest benefits: the ability to send immediate, up-to-date information to anyone (that is, anyone with a text-message-capable mobile phone). Teachers can send messages and updates to an entire class (or a group of classes), and the app offers more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to interact, whether in groups or privately.
2. Start a dialogue around students' work with a portfolio tool like Seesaw.
Go beyond simple messaging and consider how you might start conversations with individual parents about their kids' classwork. Like a social feed of students' work, Seesaw offers a more personalized -- and often more meaningful -- way for teachers and parents to connect. What's more, parents can engage directly with all the great things their kids are doing in school.
Want a portfolio option with a built-in gradebook? Check out FreshGrade.
3. Keep parents updated with a standards-based gradebook like MasteryConnect.
Face it -- a lot of parent-teacher conversations tend to be about grades. Fortunately, an online gradebook can keep parents up to speed on their kids' progress in class. While it won't help you speed-grade that giant stack of essays you've been sitting on, MasteryConnect is a standards-focused grading platform with solid reporting tools. To kick off a constructive dialogue, consider how you'll contextualize students' progress in related messages to parents.
Looking for a standards-based grading alternative? Check out JumpRope.
4. Start a parent blog on a platform like Tackk.
Looking to engage parents and students on the web? Whether daily, weekly, or otherwise, post at a pace that's right for both you and your parent audience. Tackk's value comes in its versatility and options for creativity. Visually appealing and design-forward, your posts are bound to engage parents (and students!) in ongoing conversations about learning. Look into Tackk's privacy settings and find an option that works best for your class's needs.
Looking for a tried-and-true blogging option? Check out Edublogs.
5. Create a class website using Weebly.
Sure, messaging apps and mobile-friendly platforms are faster ways to reach most parents. But don't forget how useful a class webpage can be as a catchall for general class information. For years, Weebly has provided solid, free website options for teachers. It's never a bad idea to offer students and parents a one-stop shop for your class with links and other information that can be valuable year-round.
6. Feeling social? Go with Twitter.
If "brevity is the soul of wit" (thanks, Shakespeare), it's also the zeitgeist of our time, for better and for worse. On its own, Twitter probably isn't the best online parent-communication strategy, but it can still serve as a fast, simple tool for daily updates. The goal in using any social network for parent communication should be to boost involvement, engaging parents on the platforms they already use.
If you go this route, it's probably best to keep things simple with quick, one-way classwork, homework, and announcement posts. That said, some teachers have had success using Twitter more interactively with both students and parents. And while you're at it, what about using Instagram or Snapchat to connect with a parent audience? It could seem far-fetched, but these platforms could offer powerful new ways to connect with and engage parents. It's safe to say that a few pioneering teachers are probably already going this route with some success.
It should go without saying, of course, that you always want to keep your students' (and parents') privacy and safety in mind no matter what kind of online parent-outreach strategy you use. Never post anything to a public forum that contains anyone's personally identifiable information, and be cognizant of what "private" really means on various social platforms. As always, no matter what platform you're using, it's best to keep posts brief, informative, and professional.
Do you have other favorite tools for parent communication? Log in and let us know in the comments.