Keeping connected in today’s classroom: Teachers utilizing digital tools to better communicate with parents

October 17, 2016 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

I can distinctly remember that yellow piece of paper with six little words, “Please call at your convenience. IMPORTANT.”

“Uh oh,” I thought.

Written on a pad from the “Desk of Mrs. Hinchey,” my fifth-grade teacher – poor Mrs. H wasted quite a few sheets of her personalized paper trying to get in touch with my parents. For almost two weeks, I was able to thwart all attempts at parent-teacher communication, until my shoulder shrugs and paper-wasting caught up with me at my school’s open house night. Much to my chagrin, Mrs. Hinchey just wanted to talk about an award I was going to be presented with (a super speller award in the form of an engraved Lucite ruler, to be exact) and wanted to be able to do so outside of the always hectic open house night.

That was nearly a generation ago, when “no news [usually meant] good news,” and parents relied on notes sent home, the occasional phone call, and periodic parent-teacher conferences to keep up-to-date with their child’s progress in school.

In today’s 21st Century classroom, times have certainly changed, and constant contact is not only welcomed, but expected by both teachers and parents alike.

According to a study conducted by the National Association of School Psychologists, a strong school-home connection plays a critical role in the academic success of a student. When parents and teachers keep communication lines open, there are significant benefits for the student, educator, and families themselves. Students demonstrate more positive attitudes toward school and learning, higher achievement and test scores, improved behavior, increased homework completion, greater participation in academic activities and improved school attendance. Educators also report greater job satisfaction and more positive associations with families.

Just as the expectations of parent-teacher communication have evolved over the years, so has the way in which we communicate. As the Millennial Generation comes of parenting-age and joins the ranks of the Generation X parents, teachers are increasingly turning to digital tools to connect with today’s technologically savvy parents.

Being social inside and out of the classroom

Over 90% of millennials are on social media, and according to a 2015 Pew Research study, Facebook is the social platform of choice for parents of school-aged children, with 75% of parents having accounts.

Emily Spooner-Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at Guilderland Elementary School in Guilderland, NY, uses Facebook to share student learning, tapping into the medium where her audience, parents, already reside.

“I’ve found going to where the parents are [on Facebook] is definitely the way to go,” Spooner-Smith said. Each school year, Spooner-Smith creates a private class group to connect with her students’ parents, and says Facebook has “not only made her job connecting with parents easier,” but the page has effectively replaced other forms of communication.

With Facebook’s mobile capabilities, Spooner-Smith is able to share photos, videos and class updates directly from her classroom.

“[With Facebook] I’m able to seamlessly connect with parents and it makes our daily learning visible. Parents are able to respond and interact immediately; it’s a great way to keep everyone involved,” she said.

Communicating via Facebook also allows the conversation to be two-sided. Long gone are notes and news getting lost in backpacks, or even in email inboxes.

She continued, “I love to see the positive feedback [digitally], and I think the group has helped to foster face-to-face feedback and conversations as well. I constantly hear from parents, both online and off, that they appreciate knowing what their child has been up to during the day.

Other ways to keep parents engaged? There’s an app for that…

At Westmere Elementary School, also in Guilderland, NY, first-grade teachers Tracy Martone and Sarah Richardson utilize mobile apps, allowing them to connect and collaborate with parents in a way that’s accessible to both parties.

They use a number of apps, like the aptly titled “Remind” app, which keeps parents in the loop by sending text messages about quick reminders such as to return a book or turn in a permission slip.

Seesaw, another app used by teachers in the Guilderland Central School District, is an online digital portfolio platform that allows children to share their learning through a picture, video or document, and parents are notified when their child posts something.

Seesaw’s digital portfolios help parents have full access to the work their child is doing in class, compiling a collection of work ranging from records of their reading to writing pieces they’ve published, to math exit tickets to see how their child understood daily lessons. Parents can comment and “like” their child’s posts, providing a connection between home and school within minutes of posting new entries.

“Students love seeing their parents’ feedback, and as you can imagine, the parents love being notified throughout the day that their child has new activity in the Seesaw journal,” said Martone.

Judah Eisenhandler, whose son Ian was in Martone’s class last year, found Seesaw to be a welcome tool for his family.

“It was really cool that I would get a message during the day with my son’s progress, showing me what he was working on at school in real-time,” he said.

Bridging the gap, Seesaw also helps to facilitate conversations about school at home.

Eisenhandler said, “Before I was able to keep up with my son’s day [with Seesaw], we’d have the classic exchange of ‘how was school?’, ‘it was fine, I did nothing,’ – which would get pretty boring after a while. So [with Seesaw], when I knew what he had been working on, at the dinner table we could have a constructive conversation, rather than just that canned response.”

The way we communicate has changed dramatically over the last five to 10 years. Teachers and parents, two ever-growing younger demographics, are beginning to reflect this change in their own school-home communication habits. As technologies and social platforms advance, they’re becoming more personal, and both sides are taking full advantage.

“I really like the fact that my son, who is normally a pretty shy kid and doesn’t say a lot about school unless I prompt him, is able to see me, seeing what he is doing,” Eisenhandler said. “He’s just opened up about his projects at school. It’s great for me to get that instant feedback from him as well as his teacher.”

Aubree Kammler is a millennial mom. She’s raising her son Everett with the help of her husband… and Google. 

Copyright © 2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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