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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Boost Parental Involvement

Here are five ways to improve communication with parents.
By Roberta Furger

This how-to article accompanies the feature "Parents Are an Education Secret Weapon Just Waiting to Be Discovered."

Information is a critical first step to increasing parental involvement, and technology provides schools with fast and reliable ways to get important information out to parents -- whether it's a student's grade on the latest test or news about an upcoming parent meeting. Here are five technology-based strategies for getting -- and staying -- connected:

Give Every Teacher and Administrator an Email Address

Email can be the most efficient and effective way of handling routine matters, such as questions between parents and teachers or scheduling an in-person meeting. Many schools routinely provide all staff with a school district email address. Make sure teachers have easy access to a computer to check email at school -- and remote access so they can do so at home, too.

A word of caution: Parents who routinely use email for work may expect unrealistically speedy responses from teachers. Avoid parental frustration by clarifying up front that most teachers will be unable to answer email during the regular school day. In most cases, a 24-hour response time is reasonable.

Develop (or Enhance) Class and School Web Pages

School Web sites are the most efficient way to give parents a peek inside the happenings of a classroom or school. Pictures of school activities, plus calendars, e-newsletters, examples of student work, and week-by-week listings of course assignments and due dates, are just a few of the ways teachers or principals are using the Internet to share important classroom and school information with parents.

Keep it current, though: An out-of-date Web site is almost worse than no site at all. Assign someone with the time and skills necessary to keep it current and interesting.

Distribute E-Newsletters

Most students aren't reliable couriers. Class and school newsletters or fliers about upcoming events wind up crumpled at the bottom of backpacks or crammed into pockets. E-newsletters skip the middleman and send the information directly to parents' email accounts. They're quick, cheap, and reliable. Not every family will have access to email, so continue to provide the hard-copy option for those who need it.

Provide Online Access to Student Data

From attendance reports to grade books to information about what lunchtime fare a student purchases from the cafeteria, schools are making more student-specific data available to parents via password-protected Web sites. This anytime, anywhere access gives parents up-to-date information on academic performance and behavior, and alerts parents to problems before they reach a crisis point.

Distribute Laptops for Students and Families

Laptop programs don't just help students; they help families. In many cases, school-distributed laptops are a student's and a family's first -- and only -- computer. School-sponsored computer classes for parents can ensure that the whole family can take full advantage of the new tool. Students can use it for school, and their parents can employ it to stay informed about school events, through email or the school Web site.

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

These are great ideas, but the majority of the parents of the students I taught last year didn't have computers.

kim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't even have a laptop how can I expect my families to have one. Need donations here in Madrid Spain be it books or luxury items like laptops.

Karin Glazier's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought the article was a great read, thank you! I would like to add one more thought--get students involved in their classroom websites. Another way to get parents involved is to get their children involved in school/classroom happenings beyond just "doing homework". Having students "own" portions of the website--to update information, images, message boards, start blog threads, etc.--provides them a sense of pride and ownership into a key communication tool for all parents to utilize. Students are able to contribute to the classroom's web presence and help to create a robust communication and informational tool for all to benefit from. In addition, they learn about Web technologies beyond just looking at the classroom site--they can use admin tools to update it and learn how websites are managed and built (and their value overall). Then, they can go home and tell their parents about what they did on the site and before you know it, more parents are aware of the site and referencing it more often.

Lisa Nielsen's picture

Thank you for these smart suggestions. To respond to the commentor's concerned about home laptops, there are many out of the box ways to remedy this.

1-See if you can set up an internet cafe before or after school that is open to students and families. This can be done in a computer lab, any classroom where a laptop cart can be brought, or the library if it has computers.
2-Establish places in the community that students and their families can go to access the internet.
3-Use texting rather than computers. Many of these same things can be done using a cell phone. For ideas you can read Five Ways Innovative Educators Can Use Texting As a Professional Tool (http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2009/12/five-ways-innovative-e...)

Julia Pflaum's picture

This article is a good start for teachers to consider when reaching out to parents. As many of the previous commenters noted, not all families have easy access to computers at home. Notification systems are a great way for parents to stay up-to-date on the latest school news and events. Keep in mind, though, that not all rapid notification systems are the same. Careful consideration of each available product is important to determine the most important and necessary features. When evaluating school communication services, there are a few things to consider:

* Automated language translation
* Ability to distinguish a true emergency from routine notification
* Capacity of sending messages
* Survey and polling capabilities
* Parent portal for setting call preferences and seeing past messages

With over 3,600 accounts throughout all 50 states, AlertNow is one the leading rapid communication systems serving K-12 school across the country. Schools using AlertNow are able to send voice, e-mail or text messages at a rate of more than 2.5 million per hour to telephones, mobile phones, PDAs or any Internet-enabled device. AlertNow messages allow administrators and educators to contact parents immediately with accurate, time-sensitive information. To learn more about AlertNow and how you can get the system in your child's school, AlertNow.

Mark McDonald's picture
Mark McDonald
www.kikutext.com

The technology gap in our communities is a reality that schools must address. A school can't entirely digitize the communication process if there is still a sizable percentage without access. At the same time, a school can't with hold the modernization process either.

The most successful schools that I've seen take an "every angle" approach. They communicate to parents through traditional paper notices, the telephone, e-mail, regular newsletters, blogs, transparent online student information systems, even safe text messaging.

This was an excellent post; thanks so much for sharing!

Mark McDonald's picture
Mark McDonald
www.kikutext.com

I entirely agree with your text messaging comment. You'd be surprised how many people use text messaging over the internet. Our service provides text messaging for teachers absolutely free. We're an app built by a group of public school teachers. Check us out at www.kikutext.com.

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