Most educators agree: Effective communication with parents is important (if not crucial) to helping students learn. But if you talk to any teacher, they'll admit that it can be challenging. Teachers may hesitate because they're swamped with grading papers and lesson planning, or because many of their communications have gone unanswered. Parents may be reluctant because of a language barrier or because they're working multiple jobs.
When I was teaching, though, I did find some simple tech tools like the ones below that helped improve communication. From keeping a blog to sending short updates, they'll help you strengthen school-family partnerships.
1. Make a custom website
While some tech-forward teachers are using more advanced web-development tools, Google Sites and Weebly are both options that are a breeze to use. Sites made with TeacherPages or large student-information systems like School Loop are functional and just fine, but if you really want to engage students and parents, try out these more up-to-date options. If you buy a custom domain name (often for less than $15.99 per year), you can even add a Google Translate widget to your site so that your English-language learners' parents can stay up to date as well.
2. Start a class blog
Instead of a static webpage, reel in students and parents with a blog. Two popular platforms, Wordpress (or Wordpress.com) and Blogger, have lots of options that will appeal to teachers, and basic blogs are completely free. It's important to update frequently with relevant, timely information on classwork and due dates. For a few years, I managed a class blog and called it simply "The Daily Post.” Each day's post was a copy of the daily agenda I'd written on my classroom's dry-erase board, so updating the blog was quick and easy. Many teachers I know find Edublogs a great option, too, not only for classroom updates but for student blogging projects as well.
3. Try Twitter to keep it simple
If "brevity is the soul of wit" (thanks, Shakespeare), it is also the zeitgeist of our time, for better and for worse. While Twitter isn't perfect for every situation, it can be an excellent tool for daily updates. What's best is that it's fast and simple enough for even the busiest of teachers to use. Updating on the fly from your smartphone is a cinch.
Keep things simple. Brief updates about classwork are best. You can also post an occasional message of praise for the class. Have fun with hashtags to build engagement. Here are some examples of tweets I posted for my classes:
- Long-weekend homework: essay revisions due next week. Also, read Ch. 5 - be prepared for Tuesday's review. #popquiz?
- Sophomores: No homework! Consider it a catch-up day. Everyone should be finished with Chapter 10 by tomorrow.
- 6th Period: Amazing work on today's Socratic seminar! Your intellect and ability to communicate amaze me! #mademyyear
Because of Twitter's privacy and safety issues, here are some best practices for teachers to follow:
- Due to privacy issues, this tool is best used by high school teachers.
- Create a separate Twitter account for your class; don't use your personal account.
- Advertise your feed's web address on handouts during back-to-school time.
- Remind students that joining Twitter is purely an option, not an expectation.
- It's easy to include links to resources used in class (Google docs, YouTube videos, Prezis, etc.).
- Don't Follow Anyone. This Twitter account is purely a broadcast channel for the teacher.
Using new technology to enable communication comes with its own risks and challenges. Common criticisms I heard from colleagues included fears that using tech tools to reach out might encourage obsessive emailers, or that the work will be a waste if no parents engage with the new channels. In my experience, the opposite was true on both counts; the more I used tech tools to communicate proactively with parents, the more likely they were to feel informed and therefore relax. They tended to contact me less out of concern or panic, which helped our communication become more positive and constructive. Keeping parents and students up to date is the best strategy, and these tools enable that best practice.
Do you have favorite tools you use to communicate with families? Log in to leave a comment.