You hear it all the time: Kids are often more tech-savvy than their teachers. And these days, it’s not uncommon for their parents to be just as comfortable using new communications technologies. That’s why, if you want to stay connected with your extended classroom family, it’s no longer enough to just offer parent portals on the student information system or to autodial households with announcements.
“Sending stuff home with the kids is sneakernet,” says Doug Johnson, the director of technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Independent District in Burnsville, Minnesota. He says most of his students’ parents prefer to be contacted by text.
All of your communication routes need to be digitally savvy, confirms Sharon Davison, a kindergarten teacher with Chittenden South Supervisory Union in Williston, Vermont. “At the heart of my work as a teacher, I need to continually offer parents hope and offer them endless opportunities to connect with the learning their child is engaged in,” she says.
As an educator who is also a parent, Johnson understands that angle. When he’s on the parenting side of the equation, he finds himself asking, “What do teachers want from me and my child?” Many adults in your district are conditioned to having messages pushed out to them instead of searching for what they want to know.
The easy answer? Social media, of course.
Get your message across
Here are a few classroom-tested approaches to keep you connected to your kids’ parents:
Get their attention. Davison begins by offering parents training sessions so they are up to speed on the digital tools she’s incorporating throughout the year, including Twitter and Kidblog. Using her Smart board, she covers the practical applications as well as how and why she will use these tools, and then she gives the adults a chance for hands-on playtime. She’s currently exploring how video can help and plans to ask a parent to use their iPad or iPhone to record the session, which she will post to YouTube.
In this same vein, Davison holds frequent “celebrations of learning” events throughout the year where parents are invited to drop in between 7:15 and 8:30 a.m. Grandma or Grandpa can’t come? Parents are encouraged to use their smart devices to walk through the classroom with students and FaceTime their absent supporters.
Set up a class blog or five. Keep the topics narrow, and launch as many as you need to cover classroom news, supplemental lesson materials and general adult communication about classroom goals. Consider updating daily for the first four weeks of a semester to get parents used to looking at the site with their children. And definitely email/text/smoke signal the URLs as often as necessary.
Use hashtags to provide quick updates. Establish Twitter hashtags so students can share quick snippets of what they’re learning during the day with their families. This is the fun step, but it works most effectively if you connect parents to the tools and set up a class blog first.
Go nuts with the tools
Now that you have the basics in place, it’s time to add depth. The number of tools available is staggering, which means you can use a different one for each need if you want.
Here are a few of the most common social media tools and how you can use them to meet your parent communication needs:
Instagram. Share quick pics of classroom events.
Google Forms. Create online parent consent forms for a variety of activities.
Skype. Set up an easy video conference for a face-to-face conversation with parents and/or students. As a bonus, the public nature of this tool means it provide lots of opportunities for digital citizenship lessons.
Kidblog. On this paid blogging platform, individual students as young as kindergartners can run their own individual blogs. Have them start on the simple side with writing titles and adding pictures from Doodle Buddy. Parents receive an email to the link and can comment online.
Audio memos. This podcasting app can be used to capture students reading orally so you can email the recording to their family members and vice versa. It was the perfect answer when one of Davison’s students wanted to sit in a different spot but was too shy to speak up in class. She sent her teacher a podcast with the request and explanation.
Remind. This service uses a short code to send alerts to students and/or parents. It’s a bit like autodialing: You install phone numbers for your class into the program, and bingo! You’re sending text reminders to groups of constituents.
Check your learning management system to see what social network components may be in place there as well. Johnson tags itslearning and Moodle, for example.
In the end, these digital tools enrich learning and offer opportunities for students, parents and teachers to hold reflective conversations in and outside the classroom.