George Lucas Educational Foundation Celebrating our 25th Anniversary!
PrintPrint
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Home-to-school communications – what's in your toolbox? What are you missing? Who are you missing? What could you add to improve your home-to-school communications and, in turn, strengthen relations and increase support?

Each school community is unique, with unique resources and needs. Not only is each school unique, but often, so is each year. With needs and available resources constantly changing, so must we. It's important that we reevaluate our needs and goals each year.

There are many options out there. The best tool is face-to-face. This is not about replacing that time-tested communication model. Unfortunately, for many reasons, face-to-face is not always possible, so we need to supplement and offer alternatives. What can you offer to maintain open lines of communication with everyone, regardless of their ability to speak in person?

Defining the Conversation

Before filling your toolbox, assess your needs, resources, and goals. Here are some questions to get you started:

What tools does your community have access to?

Do not assume this answer. Ask the question. Put out a short poll at the start of the year, such as during your open house or at Back to School Night. Income no longer dictates families' ability to access the Internet. More and more, with smartphones, tablets, and inexpensive laptops, people have some sort of access. A survey that Joe Mazza created for our school simply asked:

  • My child is in __ grade.
  • My child has regular access to a computer at home with Internet access to support academics. Yes - No
  • I have access to email. Yes - No (If you answered no, please provide your name and your child's, and we will provide hard copies of communications.)
  • I mostly access the Internet for school communications on my:
    • Home computer
    • Work computer
    • Mobile device
    • Other (please specify) _______

What is the purpose of the tool?

Do you want to engage parents in conversations? Or simply share information out?

How often will the information change?

For frequent changes, you don't want a tool that is cumbersome for editing content.

How is the information being received?

On a computer, cell phone, tablet? Check for compatibility.

Now to choose your tools . . .

One-Way Tools

  • Remind (formerly Remind 101): A one-way group texting service that doesn't require sharing phone numbers.
  • Mobile App: This tool provides access to information at the touch of a button. Read more on building a school app here.
  • Pinterest: A virtual bulletin board for sharing articles, pictures, and links to videos or websites. Here's an example of a middle school modeling its use.
  • eNewsletters: They can be read any time, anywhere. Consider these approaches:
    • Smore creates electronic flyers that let you insert pictures, videos, maps, links, surveys, and more. Flyers are easily shared through email or social media at the click of a button. The analytics provide you with the number of views, source of traffic, location of readers, links clicked, etc. Here's how one elementary school uses Smore.
    • FlipSnack is an e-magazine format. As this school eNewsletter shows, it's as easy as uploading a PDF to a website.
  • Photo hosting sites: Sites like Picasa or Phanfare are not communication tools per se, but pictures can tell a story, show learning, and start a dialogue.
  • QR codes: Quick Response codes offer many possibilities for use in the classroom and with parents. Here's a great post on ways to use QR codes at back to school night.

Two-Way Tools

  • Blogs: Staff can write them, but so can students of all ages. What better way for parents to see the learning through the students' eyes and contribute to the conversation? Read these tips to start blogging with students.
  • Google Drive: This tool simplifies collaborating on a document. All individuals given access to the document can view, edit and/or comment -- live. This is how we create our school newsletter content with parents and staff. We also use it for our daily announcements. Our docs are created in, read from, and then shared with parents.
  • Social media: This popular format enables you to share out the learning and good "stuff" that students and staff are doing; engage those outside of the school walls in conversations that are happening inside them; and spark conversations at home about learning. Parents can reference a specific lesson, not simply ask, "What did you learn in school today?"
    • Facebook is used by many parents, so you're going to where they often already are. You have the option to use it for an open group (like this middle school) or a closed group.
    • Twitter is another site that lets you easily share the learning that happens throughout the day, on field trips and at events or assemblies. Our school Twitter account is linked to our Facebook page, and the feed is placed on our website homepage (everyone can see our tweets even if they don't have Twitter). Schools can extend the conversation and host their own Twitterchat, like #TMSHawkChat. With not as many parents using Twitter, you may need to offer a training session or how-to guide that will encourage use and maximize conversations.
  • Live streaming: Parents can watch and participate in presentations with a class, read to students, watch assemblies, and participate virtually in PTO meetings using sites like Google+, Skype, AnyMeeting, and GoToMeeting. We even had a grandparent Skype in for Grandparents' Day.
  • Voxer: This push-to-talk messaging app allows for individual or group conversations, and sharing pictures and text messages -- without ever sharing phone numbers. This video demonstrates its use.

In the end, don't forget to spread the word and offer training on how to use the tools (for staff, parents, and students). Tools are useless if no one is using them.

Was this useful? (2)
Inspiring Student Engagement

Comments (13) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Karen Bell's picture

Another great tool to have in your communication tool box is Ving.

www.vingapp.com

Ving allows you to send video, text, audio, images, documents, and even surveys in a message to parents, teachers, students, and even administrations. Ving lets you have that face to face time with people while sitting in your classroom or at home.

You can also track when recipients have opened your message so you know which part of your message was most affective! Check it out today! It is a wonderful program you won't regret giving a try, and your first month is FREE !

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

We advocate using classroom blogs (http://www.eschoolview.com/UseaClassroomBlogtoEngageParents.aspx) and social media tools (http://www.eschoolview.com/SchoolsuseSocialMediatoEngageParents.aspx) as forms of real-time communication. Parents love to see their children at work. How often do we talk about how children are different at school than they are at home? We are fortunate to be part of an era where so many tools are available to us that offer the chance to connect the two!

As for training ... use the selected tool to post How Tos: have the class write a blog about how to blog; use Pinterest to pin step-by-step social media infographics, etc; share a directional video on vimeo or YouTube.

As Gwen states at the beginning ... take a pulse of what folks are using; listen to what tools your colleagues have found to be effective; understand the medium (one of my children's teachers used twitter for random homework assignments, offering posts 1-3 times a week where the fast-paced world of twitter gobbled those up); and use an age-appropriate tool if you want students to be involved. Lastly -- and most importantly -- figure out what works best for you and to what you are most apt to commit (you have to feed the machine).

Oh, and have FUN!!!

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Michelle - I think blogging is a WONDERFUL tool, and what better way for parents to learn about what is happening in school than to see the learning through the students lens.

Although I agree that using the tool to share best/suggested uses is great, I think that it might not be the best way to train beginners to use. If you don't know how to set up/get started blogging, pinning, tweeting and such - then it may be difficult to access the training.

And...yes, completely agree, finding tools that you can commit to and have fun with, is what will keep it living on .

(1)
Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

I realized (as he tweeted out a link to the 1st one of this school year) that I missed a fun tool that @tonysinanis uses so very well with his school...video. He sends out the most wonderful weekly videos that feature the students and share the great stuff happening in his school. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HEKhiXZ8fI&feature=youtu.be

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Hello Gwen

I really liked this article when I first read it back in August of 2014. The part about blogs really got me thinking. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago, that I actually did something with that thinking.

What I did was to create a blog where I write and the students write.

The blog is entitled Mock US Supreme Court Hearing and for this blog, I start off by providing the students with a fictional news story of a ten year old Sikh boy who was suspended from school for having brought a kirpan onto campus in violation of the school's no metal bladed kirpan rule.

I then tell the students that not only are we going to simulate a supreme court hearing on this issue, but that I want them to blog in re any one or more of the following suggestions.

1. Their thoughts as to how this case should be decided.
2. What their parents, friends, other family members, neighbors, etc have to say about this case
3. Any great digital still shots they have taken of themselves getting ready for this case
4. Any video clips they have taken of themselves getting ready for this case
5. What they will say (if assigned to the role of attorney for petitioner/respondent.
6. Any great articles they have found on line (and or pics/video clips) that somehow relate to this case.

So far, though only two weeks in, the blog has been a huge success. Somehow I have the feeling that much more is still to come.

Today, two of the kids asked me if I would make them administrators so that they could help "edit" some of the posts. To convince me that I should allow them to do this, they said they would not only encourage more students to write, but they would get me a recommendation from their english teachers.

Histerical, uh? But all good.

The arguments won me over and now I have a small team of "blog editors."

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings

The blog can be found at http://mockussc2016.blogspot.com

Thank you so much for having inspired me.

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Oh my, Peter...You are truly a gem of a teacher! I am always in awe of what you do with your students...this included. Teachers like you are proof, learning can be fun. As a parent, I'd take reading these posts over reviewing my child's unit test any day. Love seeing the learning (& perspectives) through a child's eye. These posts so far are incredible and I can't wait to read the others. The fact that you now have a small team of editors (that campaigned for the opportunity)...icing on the cake! Thank you for always sharing!

Danijela's picture

Dear Gwen, thenk you for wonderful suggestions and ideas- I used facebook so far , but it was not good enough

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.