How do we improve? We ask questions. We read. We do what we can to learn more, and make changes based on what we've learned. If we want to help our children have a more successful experience in school, it's no different. We need to understand what they're doing, where they might be struggling, and what they're doing well. We might get a rough idea by reading their progress reports, or from the kids themselves, but ultimately, we need more.
Over the last few years, I've come to love that my children's teachers have increased their means of communicating with parents. Communication is no longer limited to the paper newsletter in the backpack, a website, and the occasional conference. That change has created a stronger partnership between myself and the school and teachers. In turn, it has changed how I support my children's teachers, the school, and learning from home -- no doubt enabling my children to have greater success, and enjoyment, in learning.
So, what communication tools do I wish all of my children's teachers used? And, as a school or teacher, how do you choose which tools to use? Personally, I love online and mobile tools, and there are many reasons for this.
First, it's instant. I can receive and respond to information anytime and anywhere. Also, I can see what's happening, as it’s happening. I don't need to rely on my children remembering to deliver or share information. And, my responses are more timely because I can use those spare minutes while waiting in the doctor's office, or sitting in the car rider line. (For those teachers questioning if their families are using technology, Project Tomorrow and SchoolWires conducted a study on "Connecting With the New Digital Parent," and shared the reassuring results in this webinar.)
The following is a sampling of online tools and apps (with links to examples) that I appreciate as a parent.
The blogs aren't real-time, but when students are maintaining them, they're a great tool for parents to see the learning happening in the classroom through our child's eyes.
The best part about these... they are real-time! I can see what's happening, as it's happening. And because it's real-time and two-way, I can be part of the conversation. Our school livestreams, tweets and posts to Facebook during events and field trips -- helping to include ALL families whether they're there in person, or not. These tools usually aren't about sharing information specific to one student, and that’s OK. They provide parents (and the community) a window into the learning happening in your classroom. We can then ask questions, hold a conversation, and build on those lessons at home.
Currently a one-way tool where I, as a parent, receive messages sent out by my child's teacher. The message is delivered through the app, SMS, and/or email. Our teachers, schools, and coaches use it to notify us of upcoming events, weather-related delays/cancellations, and to share news. In addition to text, you can also send pictures and audio recordings. It can show the learning as it's happening, which generates excitement, and a sense of pride and community for those not present. With audio, we can hear the tone in the teachers voice, how an instrument should sound when played properly, or how to say vocabulary words.
Remind is soon adding a chat feature. This is beautiful news. Not because we don't respect teacher's personal time (teachers can set "office hours" for when they're available to chat), but because the easier it is to reach out to a teacher, the more likely both a parent and a student will. As a parent of a middle school student, it is comforting to also know that Remind has built in a history of all conversations.
This too wasn't always a two-way tool. It's an app that focuses on the social-emotional aspect of the school day. How is my child behaving and treating others when they aren't with me? As a parent, I can see if my child is earning or losing "Dojo points." Parents can access their child’s account via the app or the website.
A few months ago, Class Dojo added a wonderful direct messaging feature that includes the option to send photos. The teacher has the ability to send messages as a "whole class broadcast," or to one individual. My second grader's teacher has shared links to websites used in class, photos of the kids using new technology, learning, having fun, and classroom updates. My little guy loves showing us at home what they were doing at school. In return, he asks to share resources we have found at home with his teacher through the app.
Parents want to know that their child is safe and in a caring environment. We also want to know what kind of learning is happening in the classroom, so that we can add support to that from home. Are these apps a necessity to communicate, share, or better relationships? No, but they do make it easier to connect. In a perfect world, we would have regular and frequent face-to-face opportunities. Since this isn't always possible, we can use technology to maintain (and sometimes begin) communications. These tools help to open those doors for more frequent and improved dialogue, stronger partnerships, and extended learning.
Gwen is a parent promoting true home-school partnerships through education, dialogue, and relationships. She serves as a PTO president, co-moderator of the weekly #PTchat (parent-teacher chat), and a founding organizer of #ParentCamp. She has both blogged and spoken about various family engagement topics.