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Using Technology To Connect With Parents

From a new app to good old-fashioned email, here’s how some expert teachers are partnering with parents.

Found in: Advice & Support; Parents; Technology Tools

Parents appreciate and support teachers who make consistent, meaningful communication a priority. One of the biggest complaints parents have about school is feeling disconnected and uninformed about what is happening in their children’s classrooms. Fortunately, technology gives educators multiple opportunities for reaching even the busiest of parents. From a new app to good old-fashioned email, here’s how some expert teachers partner with parents.

There’s an App for That

There’s probably no more reliable way to get essential information to parents than through their cell phones, and the Remind app can make this process more efficient. The app is free for educators and once downloaded onto their Smart phones, it provides teachers a secure way to text short reminders to families all at once. Personal information is kept private, and neither students nor parents can reply directly to your text. If parents have questions, they can follow-up with the teacher via email.

Getting families signed up to receive your text messages via Remind is easy. When you register, you enter your classes and are given a unique code for each class. You then send that code to families and they use it to sign up to receive your texts. There is no cost and the process is extremely user friendly. As soon as I had access to my class lists for the coming school year, I sent out course codes to nearly 60 families. Within a week, I had 43 families registered.

Seventh-grade science teacher, Maura Hartway, uses Remind “to keep parents informed on assessments, projects, and any changes to the routine.” This year she plans to to text short “conversation points” intended to get parents and kids talking about what’s happening in science class, something she did last year via email.

I'm using the app to get to know my students before the school year begins. I sent a text asking parents to email me one or two sentences about their children’s interests. (I am making personalized bookmarks to hand out on the first day of classes, and I want to include a phrase or comment that relates specifically to each student.) Parents are already emailing me with great information about their kids.

Invite Feedback

Another way to invite parents to participate in classroom culture is to ask for their feedback. Last November, as the first quarter came to a close, I sent the following email to the families of my students. Using our online gradebook and communication server allowed me to send the following survey via email to all families at the same time:

Hello Parents and Families,
As the first quarter comes to an end, I would like to ask you to give me some feedback on how I am doing in two areas.

If you would rate me on a scale of 1 - 10 in these two areas and provide some feedback or comments, I will take them into consideration as second quarter begins. My goal is to be the best teacher I can be, so your input is very important to me.

1. Scoring and entering work in a timely manner, 1 - 10. (1 = poor, 10 = Excellent)
2. Communicating with families, 1 - 10 (1 = poor, 10 = Excellent)

Please rate me in each category. What can I do better? Do your kids feel they are learning and being challenged in my classes? I welcome your comments.

Thank you,
Chad Donohue

I had roughly 80 percent participation in the survey and received a lot of positive feedback in response to my willingness to hear parents’ honest opinions. In addition, parents became more comfortable approaching me about school-related issues.

Use Your Online Classroom Tools

Sixth-grade teacher Dorothy Schroeder keeps parents informed by frontloading her online grade book with the next five or six upcoming assignments and sending a hard copy home with students before the work is even assigned. “This allows parents to have constructive, proactive conversations with their kids about time management and academics,” Schroeder says.

She also explained how frontloading prevents the problem of parents not finding out about missing assignments until after grades are entered online, which can be several days to a week after the work is turned in.

Go Visual

Schroeder also establishes a Facebook user page for each of her classes where she posts pictures of projects and activities, letting parents see inside her classroom. By hosting the page, she is able to keep the page secure and available only to the families of her students. Her Facebook highlights last year included pictures of the sixth grade “Hour of the Honorables” celebration, an evening event where families come to campus to see tributes students have created in honor of notable people in history.

Schroeder says one of the benefits of setting up a Facebook user page is that parents can participate by sending in their own pictures, and she can decide whether to add them to the page. For one notable event, Schroeder “missed getting a photo of one child [onto the page] this year,” she says. “When the parents noticed, they sent me a photo of their child at the event to post.” 

Engage them Through Video

Another way I engage families is through the use of short videos. I am able to create, edit, and send short videos (2 - 3 minutes) to families for a variety of reasons. Over the summer, for example, I send several videos sharing funny stories, classroom procedures, and a school supply list. Students start the process of getting to know me before school starts, which helps reduce the amount of time spent breaking the ice and forming connections. My videos are either comical or educational - and sometimes both.

It takes time and effort, but making parent communication a priority pays off. It has transformed my own practice and made a difference for families, as is evidenced by this special message I received from a parent of one of my seventh graders last year:

We feel that you truly care for your students and want them all to excel. Your communication with parents and students is probably the best I have experienced of any of her past instructors. I personally enjoy the passion that you have for teaching and for life. We are excited that you are one of the main characters in this chapter of Anna's story.

Chad Donohue is a middle school teacher, blogger, and adjunct professor living in Snohomish, Washington. Chad writes passionately about issues pertaining to educators, students, and families. He has been teaching since 1993.


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