Communicating with parents

Communicating with parents is an important part of teaching. When students don’t complete homework, miss due dates or are not using class time effectively we will usually approach parents to inform them and discuss solutions. Often we do this after the problem has occurred. Implementing effective regular communication processes with parents may help avoid or minimise these problems.

The benefits of communicating regularly with parents are:

  • It allows for parents, students and teachers to be on the same page. Students will struggle with the, “I have no homework” statement when parents know what has been set for homework or when the next due date is coming up. Making expectations clear to parents is a way of avoiding potential future conflict between students, parents and teachers.
  • Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s classroom and appreciate the time and effort made to keep them informed.
  • Increased communication is more likely to see the teacher receive support from the parent if an issue arises with their child.

It is up to teachers to implement communication processes that are workable for both the teacher and the parents over the long term. Processes need to be sustainable and work simply and easily once in place.

Examples of traditional methods for communicating with parents include:

  • Notes home in diaries/communication books.
  • Formal letters
  • Phone calls
  • Face to face meetings

Examples of less common methods for communicating with parents include:

  • Emails (email groups)
  • Messaging (create parent group contacts on your phone)
  • Edmodo (teacher creates a class group and invites parents using a code)
  • Twitter (create a class hashtag)
  • Facebook (create a Group and invite parents to join)
  • Blog (use Edublogs to create a class blog)

My belief is that there is a place for all of the above forms of communication and depends entirely on the situation faced by the teacher. Having said that I cannot go past the second list for ease of of use to regularly (daily/weekly) communicate with parents (and students). Most teachers have used the methods on the first list to communicate with parents but these are time consuming and not as efficient for daily or weekly communication.

The four that I think are the most effective for constant regular communication are group emails, group txt messaging, Facebook and blogs.

1. Group email – Collecting everyones email may take some time and effort but once set up is an easy way to communicate important information quickly and easily. Attach images, documents and links.

2. Group txt messaging – Like emails, collecting phone numbers may take a little time and effort (although the school should have almost all parent mobile numbers). Set up a group contact for use at any time (our phones are always with us). This is a bonus as we often think of things we should have reminded students/parents when we are away from our work spaces or a computer.

3. Facebook – Setting up a Facebook Group that is open to all students/parents in your class or maybe a separate group for parents and students is an effective way to communicate. The benefit of Facebook is that most parents use it. Post information regularly about upcoming due dates, events, images, links and documents.

Below is a post and parent reply to my Facebook Group “PBAS HPE 7-10 Course Information”. This group is open to students and parents and currently has 28 members.

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4. Blogs – Set up a blog if you want to give parents a window into your classroom. This is a little more time consuming than Facebook/emails/messaging but can have a big impact on parents perception of you and what you do with their children at school.

Click on the image below to visit my Junior PE blog.

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With any form of communication that allows you to post information about children (blogs) or could considered intrusive by parents (sending txt messages, emails or Facebook Groups) it is important to send an explanation letter allowing parents to consider the pros and cons of the proposed system. They can then give their permission (or not) to be a part of the process. I still see great value in a Facebook or email group even without 100% participation by parents. Those that opt in will reap the benefits as will the teacher.

Professional Learning – Twitter & Blogs

Quite often when we think about professional learning/reading (T&D) we envisage reading from a book or sitting and listening to a speaker who for the most part is talking about something we often don’t want to hear about. My own professional learning is at times this sort of traditional T & D (and it still needs to be), however a large portion (95%) is made up of Twitter and blogs, the majority of my ongoing regular professional development is online. Online learning allows me to focus on what I want to learn about. It helps me filter the stuff that I don’t want to hear about and its regular and constant. It is not one day here and one day there through a year.

The following video featuring Will Richardson explains briefly at the start of the video the power of online learning which I guess is the message I’m trying to pass on to you through this post. He refers to its power using two examples of teenagers but at the end of the video also makes mention of the fact that if this learning is out there for students to access it is also out there for us to access. His discussion moves away from this topic in the middle section and discusses how poorly US education is going and the problems with ‘test prep’ compared with real learning – worth the watch.

“We have to see it for the networks and connections that are possible and each of us needs to be able to reexamine our own learning.” Will Richardson in reference to the online learning available to us.

Using Twitter and blogs as a source of professional reading requires you to consider the following:

1. Do I have time! – If you know you will not make time for professional reading/viewing/learning online then you might need to stop reading this post . Just before you do though can I just say that reading/viewing/listening about the latest educational issues/debates and being challenged by other teachers/educators views and philosophies on a regular basis is (I have found) one of the most powerful learning tools I have come across. Anything that makes you think more deeply about your profession has to be good.   So …….you need to make time each day, every second day, each week, whatever suits you and your current hectic lifestyle. Decide how long at the time you have to read – be flexible with this as sometimes you will be busier than others.

2. I don’t like using computers/social networks etc  As our careers evolve more and more of our learning will be online (good and bad). Lots of the tools that will benefit our students with learning will be found online. Online technologies will only continue to grow and we either choose to get on board or we can choose to ignore it. If we choose to ignore it who are we doing a diservice to? Remember you don’t have to do everything but you might do something.

2. Do I have to contribute if I create a Twitter account? No. You can just follow educators and access their resources, thoughts and ideas for free without anyone knowing you have done so. Of course contributing back can be rewarding also. At the risk of alienating everyone except Tanya and Dave if you have an iPad/tablet you can click the Twitter app and spend as little as 5-10 min flicking through tweets to see what educational resources and ideas people are putting out there. Of course you can also do this on your computer it is just not as convenient. If you connect to a blog post through Twitter but have no time to read it you can email the tweet to yourself and read it at a later date.

3. How do I find blogs? Finding blogs that interest you and that focus on the area you want to learn about is the key. I have started to collect some blogs as starting points for staff. Just go to the page tab titled ‘Teacher Blogs’  on this site and look through the list to see if you might connect with any of them. As time goes on I will try to build this list. Of course it is also very easy to Google ‘blogs about insert topic here’ to find blogs on topics you want to know more about.

4. Aren’t blogs just other peoples opinions with no foundation or research? Yes and no. Some blogs provide personal opinion based on their experience in classrooms, some provide resources and ideas that have worked for them, others go more deeply into issues and will cite current research to support their position on a topic. All are useful!

I hope this wasn’t to preachy, it was not my intention. My intention was to make you consider or think about what else is out there in terms of professional development. At the very least I hope that you check out some of the ‘Teacher Blogs’ listed on this site which might spark an interest in regularly going to the Web for a ‘hit’ of professional learning on a regular basis.