Using Technology to Stay in Your Communications
Growing up, most of my friends and relations constantly referred to me as an “old soul.” I was and still am a firm believer in books that come on paper, hand-written letters and cards, music performed on actual instruments, and face-to-face visits over phone calls or text. However, when it comes to the classroom, being an old-soul no longer works quite as well as it used to. In my quest to make parent-teacher communication efficient while still meeting the needs of my families, I have come to heavily rely on technology. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use technology to ensure parents and guardians are always included in the classroom.
I have discussed different methods of using email in previous posts, but it is definitely one of my most frequently used communication platforms. According to my yearly surveys, it is consistently the most used and most checked communication tool by parents. On average, most parents check their email at least once a day, if not more. Conversely, I often find that hand-written and typed announcements and letters stay in backpacks and on sign-in pages for days, if not weeks.
I typically catch up on my email correspondence during my students’ rest times. After I tuck every child in and send them off to sleep, I quietly look over each student, one-at-a-time, and use them as a visual reminder of any email that needs to be sent. As I see Jake sleeping, I might be reminded that he doesn’t have any more back-up clothes in his cubby, and so I quickly send off an email reminder to his parents.
I also send a weekly letter to all parents at the beginning of each week with 3-4 updates and reminders. This list includes upcoming events and dates, general and gentle reminders about policies such as pick-up times, and even local community activities that their children might be interested in. I do want to note that when doing this I always double check to make sure I BCC the entire class email list. This way the email addresses of all my parents stay confidential and hidden from the other families receiving the email.
2. Weekly Letters
In addition to the updates and reminders in my weekly email, I also attach a PDF of a weekly letter. Each teacher has their own style on how to do weekly or monthly newsletters for their classroom. Some like to include one thing that each child did, others like to focus on the group as a whole. My personal motto is to use what works for you time-wise and to be consistent. A teacher with 20 students may not have the time or space to write out a summary for each child. However a teacher of 4-10 students may find more personalized stories to be a more engaging style for parents. My parents tend to like the letters between 1-2 pages long, so I compromise by writing about the group as a whole and the overall favorite activities of the week, and then I break down what each small group did--I have preschool and kindergarten. I also include any special moments or visitors. I finish each letter with lots of pictures, and this is the time I work to include a picture or two of each student.
3. Class Dojo
This has become both mine and my parents’ new favorite app. Class Dojo allows me to fill in holes that occur in the weekly letters. If you are unfamiliar, this app is available both online and on your phone. Through the app, I can quickly and easily post updates on each child’s day, including written and visual reports. The app helps teachers pinpoint specific positive areas of a child’s day or areas that “need work.” The app includes “listening,” being “on task,” and “staying positive,” but you can also create your own skills and areas. Additionally, you can write “stories” about what the child did or post photos. There is also a class story area for anything that includes the whole class, such as group photos or announcements. I can use this app from my phone and post to it while I’m moving about the classroom or use the computer version when I’m working at my desk.
4. Survey Monkey
A couple times a year, I send out informal surveys to check that the classroom and teachers are meeting the needs of our families. Usually these surveys check in on the best way to contact parents, preferred language, classroom transparency, etc. I also want to make sure that parents know what their child does throughout the day. Survey Monkey is great at creating online surveys that parents can fill out in less than 5 minutes. By using this site, I am more likely to get a response to my surveys than if I sent out a hard copy, and the site analyzes the responses for me .
5. Honorable Mentions
There are a few other online apps and sites I use to help create creative and streamlined content for parent-teacher communications.
Google Drive and Google Docs – Whenever I have a file that is too large to send out to parents via email, such as the class movies and plays that the children create, I post it to my work-only Google Drive and send out a view only link to parents. I also use Google Docs to create editable forms that parents can add to, such as contact forms where they can share contact information for play-dates and get-togethers.
Shutterfly Classroom Share Site – Before I used ClassDojo I used Shutterfly’s Classroom Share Site to create a personalized web site. I can create a daily or weekly journal article, post photos, create an events calendar and more
A note on privacy:
One thing I am very specific and cautious about is privacy. Anytime I use technology, I want to ensure that it protects the privacy of the students and families I am serving. What I love about all of these apps is that I can make sure that privacy settings are enacted so that only the families I want to see the photo or stories are the ones seeing them.
When looking at communication methods for my classroom, I always want to make sure that they are private, free, and easy to use. Additionally, I try to keep it streamlined to one or two methods if possible. For instance, as mentioned, when I found Class Dojo I dropped Shutterfly, because ClassDojo best fit the particular needs of my class this year. As a result, I primarily rely on email and ClassDojo for my technological communication. Anything else is only used rarely for special circumstances. That way my parents do not have to check 3+ platforms to see if they have a picture, update, or message about their child. As teachers we serve families from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds. Therefore it is important that we make our tools as accessible as possible, especially if we want our communication to be a two-way street.