Evolving Parent Communcation

When I began teaching in 2004, my main forms of parent communication were:

  • the occasional class (paper) newsletter
  • chatting to parents at the classroom door
  • signs on the classroom window with reminders
  • reports and parent teacher interviews
  • communication books for some students
  • phone calls or notes home if issues arose

While some things have stayed the same, many things have changed. I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of parents who visit the classroom every day. Moving from the junior school to an older grade also means parents are around less.

Since I started teaching, advances in technology and online communication have changed the way people interact and access information. It has been important to keep up with this, not only with what I’m doing with my students, but with how I’m interacting with parents too.

I now don’t worry about putting signs on the classroom window. I doubt they’d be read. I don’t see as many parents on a regular basis to pass on messages. Paper newsletters were time consuming for me to make and often got lost or buried at the bottom of a child’s bag.

As always, an ongoing stream of two-way information is important. I have found the more parents are kept informed and involved in their child’s learning, the more successful and smooth the child’s education is.

Every fortnight I email parents a class newsletter.

I wrote about this in 2010 but the main points of my system are:

  • I collect parent email addresses via a Google Doc form. I invite families to complete this at the end of the previous school year. I also use this form to collect more information about the child’s strengths, weaknesses, interests etc.
  • There are always a couple of parents without email addresses (I’m finding this is becoming less frequent). I print paper copies for these families.
  • I put email addresses in the BCC field of my emails to preserve parents’ privacy.
  • Kelly Jordan and I have surveyed our parents a couple of times and found they really enjoy this method of communication.
  • I invite parents to contact me via email if it is easier for them. Many embrace this option.

Our class blog provides information and a window into our classroom.

  • The 4KM and 4KJ blog is updated 2-4 times a week. Parents are encourage to subscribe and comment.
  • The blog houses a lot of information about what is happening in our classroom, including a regularly updated Google Calendar on the left sidebar. This calendar also helps the students to get organised.

I’ve found the class blog combined with parent emails means there is always a channel of information available for parents.

Of course some face-to-face contact always needs to be prioritised. For example, last week we held a successful Family Blogging Afternoon where students could teach a special person in their life about blogging and global collaboration. This is part of our Family Blogging Month celebrations.

As the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development points out “Family participation in learning is one of the most accurate predictors of a child’s success in school and beyond.” While this message has remained constant over the years, the way participation is taking is place continues to evolve.

I’d love to find new ways to continue to make parent communication easy and effective for all parties. What ideas do you have?

How do you communicate with parents?

How have your approaches to communicating with parents changed over the years?

Top 10 Email Tips

Email is something many people have been using for 10-15 years now. I remember first getting an email address in 1999 although the way I use email has changed dramatically since then.

I would never have thought of checking my emails over breakfast in 1999 yet now my breakfast email session is ingrained into my daily routine.

When I started teaching in 2004, I would never have thought about emailing parents. Now a day rarely goes by where I don’t have some sort of email correspondence with parents and I send out an e-newsletter fortnightly (I wrote more a post about emailing parents here).

It’s safe to say, email is a big part of my professional and everyday life.

While the first email was apparently sent in 1971, it didn’t start to become more widespread until the late 1990s. The popular webmail provider, Hotmail, was launched in 1996, while Yahoo Mail was released a year later in 1997. Interestingly, Gmail wasn’t launched until 2004 and didn’t come out of beta (trial) until 2007!

Even though email is far from new and is a form of technology most people are now “using”, I often wonder how well it is being used.

People not checking or replying to their emails is an absolute pet peeve of mine. I am quite amazed that email has been around for so long now yet in many businesses and organisations, it seems to be optional whether it is used or not. I wonder, for the first 10 to 15 years that phones were around, did people sometimes decide not to answer them?

Many people complain about getting “so many emails” and they just seem to throw their hands in the air and not know what to do about it.

I kept track of how many emails I was receiving for a few days and was extremely surprised to find I am receiving well over 100 emails each day! I knew it was a lot but because I have clear organisational strategies, email isn’t a frustration to me as it is to many.

It seems to me that there is very little information given in workplaces or schools about how to use email efficiently. I wonder if many students who are provided with an email address are given any management advice. The tips below may help fuel a discussion with your class or make your life easier.

Image: 'autoroute à emails...' http://www.flickr.com/photos/29647247@N00/60963915
Image: ‘autoroute à emails…’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/29647247@N00/60963915

Here are my top ten tips for making email a seamless and useful part of your life rather than a constant hassle

1. Three choices – delete, file, respond: If you deal with each email once, you will save a lot of time. When you read a email, delete it if it is not useful or the correspondances if over, file it in a folder if you need to keep the email for reference or respond straight away if the email needs a response that will take only a few minutes. The only time I leave emails in my inbox is if they need a response that will take more investigation or longer than five minutes to compose.

2. Create folders: In order to complete the first step well, you need to have folders. I use Outlook which also allows you to create sub folders. Eg. I have a folder called “school” and sub-folders such as “parents”, “excursions” and “PD”. I prefer this sub-folder method so I don’t have scores of folders to wade through.

3. Check daily: Many experts say it is best to choose set times during the day to check emails in batches (eg. at lunchtime and at 4pm). This is a good idea if you find you are being distracted by email, however I prefer to have Outlook open all the time and I just check it whenever I have a few minutes. Regardless, it is a good idea to come up with a routine to make sure your emails are being attended to regularly.

4. Use a subject line and paragraphs: Make your emails easy to read. A subject line lets the reader know what the email is about and paragraph breaks make emails so much easier to read.

5. Keep your mailbox size down: Some web-based email programs like Gmail have a very large storage limit, however many work emails. like Edumail, have a set storage limit (although Edumail was recently increased). This means you need to empty your sent folder and deleted folder regularly. If you don’t, your inbox will become full and you won’t be able to receive any more emails. Even if you’ve put emails in folders, they still count towards your storage limit. When emails come with attachments like photos or documents,  I usually save the attachment and delete the email immediately.

6. Think before sending: This probably doesn’t need too much explaining. When you send out an email, it is permanent. You need to make sure you’re not writing something that could be taken the wrong way or be considered controversial. If you’re not sure, leave the email to reread later or ask a friend to read over it for you. Err on the side of caution!

7. Get to know your email program and save time: While some email programs have more features than others, it is a good idea to take the time to play around and learn how to use the features available to you. A little time spent learning can save you a lot of time in the future. Some example of time-saving features include distribution lists which let you create a group of people you email regularly all at once (eg. a school team or parent group). Email filtering is a feature that lets you automatically process emails into certain folders or into a certain priority order. Some programs, like Outlook, also let you drag and drop emails into your calendar.

8. Don’t open suspicious attachments: Everyone should know not to open email attachments from people you don’t know as they could contain viruses or other unwanted programs.

9. Use a signature: Create an email signature with functional links to help people get to know you and your digital footprints. My signature links to my blogs, Diigo and Twitter accounts.

10. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t need: I used to be guilty of getting too many email from newsletters, “deals of the day”, blog feeds etc that were wasting a lot of my time and not proving to be overly useful. Last year, I did a cull of these sorts of emails and now enjoy a less cluttered inbox. You will find an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of most automatically generated emails.

What are your email tips?

Emailing Parents

For the last three years, my class blog has been a great way to communicate with parents. The blog acts as a window into our class and the parents can stay up to date with our activities and achievements.

This year, I’ve introduced a parent email newsletter which has been well received.

At the start of the year I asked all of the parents for their email address. Out of 21 students, I currently one have one parent without email.

I entered these addresses into my Outlook contacts and created an email distribution list.

Every fortnight I write an e-newsletter to parents. It includes information on our current learning focusses, upcoming events, reminders etc.

*Tip* If you are emailing a group of parents, put the distribution list or email addresses in the BCC field. This means recipients will not be able to see the other email addresses on the list and the privacy of your parents is protected.

This year I also use email frequently to contact parents individually.

I have had a couple of students who would have had a communication book in the past but the parents and I find email an easier solution.

Parents also email me about absences, medication and general queries.

Contacting parents via email seems like such a simple concept but one that, in my school circle, is not widely used.

It is important to note that email contact does not replace all face to face interaction, but with most parents working and busy, it allows for frequent, ongoing communication.

The benefits I’ve found are the instant access, reliability (no lost notes), privacy (personal notes not read by students) and ease of use. It’s sad to say that I can type up a note in about half the time it takes me to handwrite it!

To ensure the parents receive the email, I have made business card sized notes that say “I sent you an email today“.  I only hand these out when it is essential that the email is read. Most of the time it is not necessary but I have found it is handy to have some sitting on my desk.

Do you use email to communicate with parents?

What do you think about the idea?

Tech Tools for Teachers

Since the beginning of 2010, I have been  collaborating with a fellow teacher, Simon Collier on a free weekly e-mail for teachers.

With our 20th newsletter milestone approaching, this post is a reminder if you or someone you know has not yet signed up for the newsletters.

Each week our email newsletter features a useful online tool or website for teachers to use in their classroom.

The purpose of the email is to publicise and promote the use of ICT tools and web links to teachers who are not regularly sourcing the available information on the net.  This in turn, hopefully increasing the use of the wonderful education tools available online.

The newsletter is suitable for both primary and secondary teachers and provides practical examples of how the tool or website could be integrated into the classroom curriculum.

To access the previous newsletter, click here to visit the Tech Tools for Teachers page on my blog.

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CLICK HERE to sign up online

tech tools

What topic would you like us to write a Tech Tools for Teachers newsletter on?

Why Schools are Spooked by Social Media

I was pleased I was listening to ABC Radio Melbourne this morning when I heard the next segment was going to be about social media in schools.

While I braced myself for a flood of ill informed callers harping on the negatives of Facebook and the like I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Denis Masseni, a Monash university lecturer and a director of Sponsor-Ed was the guest on the topic. Denis has written a report called “Why Schools are spooked by social media”, which presents findings from a survey of 140 principals on the subject of social media.

Throughout the radio segment, Denis addressed many issues related to social media in schools and callers also provided interesting insights. The most compelling statement for me was when a caller said something like “hospitals and banks can no longer operate without computers but classrooms can.” This is so sad but true and really says it all to me about the change that is needed in schools.

I enjoyed the conversation that ensued and subsequently sought out Denis’s report.

This 34 page paper is well worth reading. It is a powerful document that illustrates how the commercial sector uses social media in many ways which could be imitated by schools. It also addresses the “blockers” that stop schools from utilising social media.


If you are having trouble accessing the embedded report, visit this link to download a copy.

Denis defines the term social media as accessing, sharing, commenting and collaborating online, and for the sake of the paper, as blogging, Twitter and email newsletters.

In summary, the premise of the report is “With over 9 million people in Australia accessing social media (46% of the population), including 43% of small businesses and over 70% of not for profits, why are schools under-represented in their use of this new communications device in connecting with their parent community?”

The following statement from the report rang very true with me, (evident by the fact that a large amount of parents at my recent parent-teacher interviews commented how much they enjoy our class blog and regular class e-newsletters).

“Simply delivering information in more contemporary mechanisms and allowing for two-way communications will lift parental involvement and promote engagement. Parents don’t connect in the school yard in the numbers they once did – the pace and pressure of modern life has seen to that”

Denis sums up the future of social media with this statement:

“The way forward is to find schools that are enthusiastic about extending social media to parents and support their activities technologically, strategically, tactically and philosophically. These schools will provide the benchmarking for those waiting for someone to go first. We need the early adopters.”

What do you think about Denis Masseni’s report?

Why are schools spooked by social media?

Weekly Email Newsletter for Teachers

COMING IN 2010

TECH TOOLS FOR TEACHERS

I am currently collaborating with a fellow teacher, Simon Collier on a new free weekly e-mail that we will distribute throughout the year. Each week the email will feature a useful online tool or website for teachers to use in their classroom. The purpose of this email is to publicise and promote the use of ICT tools and web links to teachers who are not regularly sourcing the available information on the net.  This in turn, hopefully increasing the use of the wonderful education tools available online. The email will be suitable for both primary and secondary teachers and we will provide practical examples of how the tool or website could be integrated into the classroom curriculum.

SUBSCRIBE

We are looking for interest in providing you with the opportunity to receive this free e-mail update each week. Please  follow the link below to the sign up form if you would like to be included on our distribution list and feel free to pass this information on to friends and colleagues.

I will also post information from our email on this blog. So if you already subscribe to this blog you might not want to sign up for the email!

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