In the last few years, I have tried different ways of getting in touch with parents. I have tried traditional means, using things such as calendars, weekly newsletters and messages in student agendas. Although these ways of communicating are efficient at getting news home, it is time consuming and uses a lot of paper. Anyone who knows me knows that I cringe at the thought of printed off copies of paper to send home. If these copies make it home (and don’t stay hidden in the black hole that is most students’ desks) they are most likely going to end up remaining unread, quickly glanced at and ignored or cluttering a refrigerator and being buried under a pile of other papers of the same type from all of the family’s kids.
I like sharing what we are doing in the classroom. I like sharing student work, photos of students in action and videos to help students with their studies at home. I like sharing articles and documentation to help parents with their tutoring duties. I have tried a few ways of doing this. Here are a few, including advantages and downfalls.
A few years ago I had an email list for my class. I asked parents for their email addresses at the beginning of the school year and started sending reminders, weekly news and personal messages concerning specific students to their parents.
– Everyone has an email account. It is accessible and simple for most parents who may not necessarily be comfortable with technology.
– You can attach documents such as photos, videos and links to websites.
– It is hard to keep track of whether or not emails are being seen by recipients. Emails can go unread for a while and they can be deleted without being read.
– Once an email has been read, it will be deleted or lost in a slew of other emails, making it harder to retrieve information or documents that might be pertinent in the future.
– It is one directional. If parents have questions about an email, you may have to repeat your response to several parents.
Wanting to keep all of my information for my class in one place, I started my own website. I got a simple to remember domain name (www.misschantal.ca). I gave my web address to my students’ families at the beginning of the school year. I had sections for weekly news, homework, interesting articles and website links to help students with their classwork.
– Information is centralized.
– Information is easily accessible.
– There is no way of knowing if parents have visited the website.
– Setting up a website and updating it is time consuming.
– The class website doesn’t facilitate two-way communication.
– The entire world has access to the class website. This means that it is important to have written consent to post photos of students and their work on the website to share with families.
For those of you who don’t know Class Dojo, it is an awesome classroom management tool. It provides immediate real-time feedback to parents about their children’s behavior. Parents can log on to their accounts (or connect through the free app) and be notified of each positive and/or negative behavior their child demonstrates in class. There is also a messaging section where teachers can broadcast a message to the entire classroom community and where teachers can chat privately with a particular parent.
– You can share photos.
– You can see who has seen which messages. Their is a “read” message under messages that have been seen. Whole class broadcasts also include lists of parents who have seen the message.
– There is a classroom management component that is interesting.
– You cannot attach files and documents to share.
– It does not provide the sense of community.
With Facebook you can create a closed group. This means that as the administrator, you have control over the content of the Facebook group that you create and only members that you accept into the group have access posted content.
At the beginning of the year, I gave parents the name of my class’ Facebook group. Parents then find the group by doing a search or by using a link that you provide to them and they ask to join the group.
– You can post photos, videos, documents, links, articles to share with the members of the group.
– You can post little comments and last minute reminders to the group’s page and parents can receive automatic notification that something has been posted to the group’s page.
– Parents can answer each other’s questions, saving time for you.
– Parents can share neat information with you and each other.
– Information is centralized.
– You don’t need to answer the same question 5 times. If parents have questions, you answer them once on the page for everyone to see.
– It creates a sense of community. All parents and students are in it together with the teachers.
– You can have more than one teacher participate in a class Facebook group.
– You can track which messages are seen and read by each parent in your group.
-Technology weary parents may not like the Facebook option. It has happened that parents from my class did not have Facebook accounts. (In this case I usually suggested to create an account and have offered to help them with it if they needed it.)
– You need to obtain consent from parents to share student work and photos of students on the group’s page, since although in a class group only parents have direct access to images, they can be saved and shared from the group.
– It is important not to communicate using private messages in Facebook because it gives parents access to your personal account.
I have found that a combination of three types of communication is ideal: student agendas, Class Dojo and Facebook.
In my classroom, I use student agendas for writing homework (it teaches planning skills to students). Also, with the agenda, my less-techie colleagues can continue to communicate with students’ parents.
Class Dojo is the classroom management tool that I use and adore. I also like that I can chat privately with a parent through Class Dojo and track communication.
Facebook is my favorite tool for whole group communication. It saves time, creates a sense of community and allows me to privately share all types of attachments and information.
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