It would be no surprise to most educators that research identifies family involvement in schooling as a key predictor of a student’s success.
Clear, continuing, two-way communication is imperative.
But what is the best way to approach home-school communication in our rapidly changing world?
Family life is evolving with many parents working full time and juggling various commitments. Teachers may see parents at the classroom door less than they used to, and opportunities for interaction are more limited.
With these changes, also comes exciting new opportunities. The good news is, in our technology-rich world, our approach to parent communication can be stronger than ever!
Let’s take a look at some options and see what’s happening in some schools and classrooms around the world. There might be some fresh ideas you could try in 2018! Or, you might have other ideas or examples which I’d love you to share in a comment.
1) Class blog
This is a no brainer coming from me. You know I’m a huge fan of blogs for many reasons.
One of the main reasons I started a class blog ten years ago was to connect with families. Year after year, parents mentioned that they loved being about to peek into our classroom through the blog.
Many parents found our blog to be a useful conversation starter at home too. They could ask their child questions based on what they’d seen on the blog when their child had strangely ‘forgotten’ everything that had happened at school!
The interaction through a class blog doesn’t have to be one-way either. I’ve written a guide to involving parents in blogs where I recommend you educate and encourage families to get involved in the blog in a way that’s clear, easily accessible, dynamic, and ongoing.
This might mean teaching parents about commenting (comments bring your blog alive and can scaffold learning so you really want comments!). It might also mean inviting parents to participate in things like a Family Blogging Afternoon, Family Blogging Month, posts for parents, and more.
A class blog is an excellent way to keep parents informed about what’s happening in the classroom while showcasing and scaffolding student work. All this can be underpinned by a rich dialogue about learning in the comment section.
Here are three examples of class blogs that communicate well with parents:
- Mrs Yollis’ 3rd Grade Class in California, USA. This has always been one of my very favourite blogs. The way parents are invited to get involved in commenting is inspiring! Linda came up with the idea of Family Blogging Month which has been replicated in many classrooms around the world.
- Room Three @ Auroa Primary School in New Zealand. Myles Webb does an amazing job of using multimedia and other tools to share what’s happening at school. What parent wouldn’t want to keep up to date with this class blog?
- Team Two Eagles in Canada. Becky Versteeg seamlessly weaves calendars and announcements with recounts and showcases of student work. This blog is really well maintained which makes it particularly useful to families.
2) School blogs
A school blog and a class blog can really complement each other to create a whole school culture that values strong lines of communication.
Most schools now have a school website that is often fairly static in nature. It might have information about school policies, staff, contact details and so on. Schools are not static spaces, however, and our online environments can reflect that too … with a blog!
Let’s take a look at just two examples:
Paul Luke in South Australia set up this fabulous example of a school hub that is updated regularly.
The About Page provides an excellent insight into the purpose and process of the blog,
We are always looking to improve the way we communicate with families and friends.
At Craigburn Connections, you’ll hear directly from school staff, students and our parent community on topics including classroom activities, school programs and events, thought leadership in the field of education, and sharing in the wonderful learning from our students.
Paul also offers an open invitation for others to comment on the blog, and explains how the blog replaces the traditional fortnightly school newsletter with more instantaneous and accessible updates.
This blog was set up for a Catholic Primary school in Melbourne, Australia, by Frank Cotela.
It is unique in that it is student run. The blog is updated regularly with interesting and varied stories from around the school community. This doesn’t happen by chance, however. St Charles has an excellent system going where the blog is lead by a Student Action Team and organised by a roster.
The students publish an exciting range of ‘Blog Shows‘ such as:
- Around the Yard
- Junior Chef
- Lego Club
- 10 Questions, and more!
This is an incredible program that provides huge benefits to students while offering an excellent platform for parent communication.
3) Radio or Podcasting
A simple yet powerful medium, radio or podcasting is a great way to speak directly to parents at a time and place that’s convenient to them.
There has been a spike in the popularity of school radio shows or podcasts, as it offers an effective channel for parent communication as well as offering many advantages to students.
A student-led production offers children the chance to use many traditional and new literacy skills. This includes everything from the standard reading, writing, speaking and listening, to 21st century skills like using digital tools, researching and filtering information, and digital citizenship. The production of a radio show also requires many ‘soft skills’ such as project management, collaboration, and problem solving.
Here are some examples of what’s happening at schools around the world:
- Westwood Radio – This is an extremely professional example from Ian Rockey in the UK. Their school received a grant which allowed them to collaborate with a radio consultant.
- Chickering Report – These 4th and 5th grade students report on what’s happening at their US school, sometimes through blog posts, other times through podcasts like this one where students interviewed their PE teacher.
- Encore – These grade 5/6 students from Geelong (Australia) publish a podcast most weeks using Spreaker which they embed in their blog.
- Berwick Lodge – This primary school in Melbourne has been collaborating with a local community radio station for 15 years to create their own radio show. This is an amazing production!
As you can see, a school radio or podcast can be a fairly professional project that involves collaborating with a radio station or broadcasting experts. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be as simple as publishing an audio recording in a blog post.
I’m sure this is a communication tool parents would enjoy, especially if they can listen on-the-go!
4) Television or Video
Video has always had such rich potential to engage, inspire, and educate. It’s now easier than ever to create video. This is something some schools are taking advantage of to communicate with parents while helping their students develop traditional literacies, 21st century literacies, and many ‘soft skills’.
Here are just two examples from my state of Victoria in Australia:
This television show is incredibly catchy and gives families a real insight into what’s happening around the school yard. Rob Kelly does some truly incredible work with the students at Berwick Lodge Primary School.
Parkhill Primary School is lucky enough to have a ‘fully operational’ digital television news broadcasting studio at their school. This is such a great opportunity for students and the school community.
These two examples would clearly take a lot of work, but parents would certainly appreciate a much simpler student-created school report too. You can always start small!
Consider: If you put on a school production, parents come along because they want to see their child. This shows how powerful it could be to put students in the driving seat of some home-school communication. Maybe it’s an effective way to get parents on board and taking notice?
5) Email Newsletters (or Letters)
I began teaching in 2004 when office staff would spend hours every two weeks typing and photocopying a school newsletter. We’d then hand this out to the eldest student in each family and hope it made its way home!
I wrote a post back in 2010 about the switch I made from paper newsletters and notes to email. Eight years have passed and this approach still isn’t in every classroom but it could be.
Email allows our newsletters (or letters) to be:
- more personalised (eg. class news, or student information, instead of only whole school news)
- more instantaneous (why wait two weeks to hear about a sport’s report, learning goal, or event information?)
- more reliable (no need to worry about lost notes as long as parents are checking their email)
- more private (there may be some things you don’t want students reading)
- two way (parents can reply which they couldn’t really do with printed material)
Alice Keeler has written some excellent advice about emailing parents. This advice includes putting all parents in the BCC field (a must for privacy), reducing attachments, and using Google Forms.
If you’re looking for some more advanced ideas, Alice also has a Google Add-On and tutorial to easily send personalised emails to parents when you have a lot of students.
Want another idea? Matt Miller has written a tutorial on how to make a customised email newsletter for every child with Google Forms.
Email Service Provider? If I had a class full time this year I’d be tempted to use a professional email marketing service (like MailChimp) for my class newsletter. I feel like it would be a streamlined way to create attractive, personalised, and easy-to-read newsletters. Managing your subscriber lists is easy. Plus the data would be so handy as you really want to know if your email is landing in your parents’ inboxes and if they’re opening them. These sorts of programs are generally free for the first 1000 or 2000 subscribers. Hopefully you don’t have that many students! 🙂
6) Social Media
Social media is an excellent avenue to explore when considering how you can ‘meet parents where they’re at’. There is a lot of merit in using a platform that parents are already familiar with and are using regularly, rather than trying to come up with a new method that requires ongoing education and promotion.
Online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram can be a great way to bridge the gap between home and school.
Many teachers use social media well to connect with families. Of course, you’ll need to be mindful of your school, district, or state policies when beginning to communicate in this way. Another consideration is that most social media platforms have a 13+ age restriction. This means that unlike other publishing platforms (such as your blog), the teacher will need to be the one doing all the publishing for younger students.
Example: The Daily Shoot
Aviva now teaches pre-kindergarten and uses the concept to share images and videos about the day’s events through social media. The Daily Shoot page on her class blog which collates all the social media posts is well worth a look!
Here’s two examples of the sort of thing you might see on The Daily Shoot from Instagram and Twitter.
Talking about the things that we’re grateful for this holiday season. Really focusing on the true meaning of Christmas. pic.twitter.com/RECVng78Kb
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) December 22, 2017
There are many apps on the market that are popular for communication and can, therefore, be adapted for home-school communication. One of these is Voxer. I was fascinated when I read a blog post by Meredith Akers about it a few months back.
If you haven’t heard of Voxer, it is a messaging app for your phone (or browser) where you can send voice recordings walkie talkie style. There are other sending options too like text, photos, videos and location sharing.
Meredith explains how she sends voice messages of appreciation and praise to staff, students, and parents. She talks about the huge impact this strategy has had as the recipient can hear your sincerity. Talking is fast too which makes this a great option for busy teachers who are interested in offering personalised messages but are short on time.
And if your parents don’t have the app, you can just record your voice recording in Voxer and email it to them. Easy!
Be sure to check out Meredith’s post for more information and an example. I just love ideas that are simple to execute but are truly meaningful.
8) In Person
Are Parent-Teacher Conferences Becoming Obsolete? was an article published in The Atlantic in November, 2017. It understandably caused a bit of controversy amongst parents and educators. The article talks about how a Colorado school district began replacing in-person meetings with online data systems.
Most teachers and parents would agree that this is not the desired goal of using technology for home-school communication. We want technology to enhance our communication with families, not replace all human contact. There is so much power in speaking to someone face-to-face from time to time.
Sometimes everyone will benefit from a parent-teacher discussion about a student’s behaviour, learning, or other important issues. However, I don’t think we need a parent meeting every time a student has a new learning goal either. And we certainly don’t need ten different parents knocking on the classroom door to ask about the athletics carnival arrangements.
I think all teachers know what the right mix is here for online and offline communication.
There are now so many ways that you can communicate with parents and, of course, you might find having a few different methods works well. You might use one medium for more personalised communication: like to share information about individual student progress and behaviour. Another method could be set up for more general class and school news.
Here are four ideas that might make building partnerships with families easier for everyone:
- Whatever communication channels you’re using, it’s a good idea to make this really clear and explicit at the start of the year.
- Keep in mind that you want to ‘train’ parents to look out for the channels you set up. So, if you say you’ll be putting information on the blog or social media, stay consistent and do it or don’t expect that parents will keep checking.
- Don’t double handle by offering the analogue replica of the digital communication (unless there are access issues, of course).
- When setting up a communication plan, sometimes we also need to remember to listen and seek feedback to make sure some of our channels are truly two-way.
This is an exciting time for building strong relationships with families to help all of our students thrive. Relationships are built on communication. How will you communicate in 2018?
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What’s happening in your classroom or school? Please comment and tell us about the way you communicate with families!
Thank you to Teekatas Suwannakrua for the cute icons for my visual for this post!