George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

Using Technology to Connect With Parents

Schools around the country have implemented new strategies for communicating with families during distance learning.

September 11, 2020
FG Trade / iStock

As parents began a new normal of teaching their children during quarantine, they have also needed to balance working from home. During this time, schools have had to partner with parents in new ways to support remote instruction.

During the ongoing pandemic, communication with all stakeholders is essential for clarity, purpose, and direction. Most districts have chosen to center communication efforts on their websites. Long Beach Unified School District, for instance, gave YouTube addresses to parents. Some schools have made direct connections through parent-tree phone calls, ParentSquare or other apps, and social media. Having a reliable medium to post updated information helps parents stay informed and decreases the number of concerned calls to the district.

Partnering With Parents

As students across the country adapted to online learning, the onus was on parents to create supportive home learning environments. To help with this, some districts, like Warwick Valley Central School District, distributed parent guides. The Wake County Public School System issued suggested schedules for content learning.

Reacting to studies on the pitfalls of too much screen time, teachers began to relax bell-to-bell standards and supplement student-family activities. There have been many school-home blended connections, including #FlatTeacher (a project that encourages students to document their daily adventures), the Getty Museum Challenge, and indoor scavenger hunts.

The Value of Parent Connections

Some schools have rooms where periodic meetings with parents were held pre-pandemic; these spaces also sometimes served as social spaces for parents. With social distancing in place, parents no longer have that space to gather. Some schools have remembered that “quaranteaching” parents need this space—even if it’s virtual—more than ever.

In the Compton Unified School District, one school connected with parents by hosting Zoom socials: cooking demonstrations led by different parents, Zumba classes from one of the restructured schoolrooms, online bingo, etc. When students’ learning systems are used to connect parents, parents can become more familiar with the technology being used and connect with one another to share promising practices.

Providing Virtual Tech Support

To mitigate parental anxiety, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District hosted a series of screen casts for parents to learn how to navigate the tools that students need. Parents around the country have appreciated having Q&A days or specific video-chat meetings for parent tech questions. Many districts, such as Mill Valley Schools, have assigned this task to their technology departments, which outline common parent questions on districts’ websites.

To meet parents where they are, many districts have established school accounts on social media platforms. Highline Public Schools actively uses their Twitter feed, Harford County Public Schools actively uses their YouTube channel, Leon County Schools actively uses their Instagram account, and Albuquerque Public Schools actively uses their Facebook page to inform parents.

Along with social media, there are four tools every educator should be familiar with to create authentic accessible communication with parents.

Google Voice
Google Voice, attached to your personal mobile number, allows you to create an alternate phone number you might share with parents (to avoid using your personal cell phone number).
Pros: No need for multiple devices—all calls come to one cell number; option to answer or redirect to voicemail upon answering call; messages accessible via email; voice messages also translated to written emails; ability to text and call from a number other than your personal cell.
Cons: Connected to your private cell phone, and rings to that phone.

ClassDojo is a classroom management app with which you can also communicate students’ progress with their parents.
Pros: Enables parents to visualize progress; provides Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports online for students; embedded features to support remote learning (such as student portfolio submissions).
Cons: Parents must opt in.

Remind is an opt-in app that sends messages to subscribers. Parents sign up once and get reminders via text to their cell phones.
Pros: Can be used on a smartphone or a computer; can send and receive an unlimited number of messages.
Cons: Parents must opt in.

Your Learning Management System
Learning management systems, including Google Classroom and Seesaw, have tools to communicate students’ academic progress to parents.
Pros: Enable progress visualization for parents; cloud-based, so accessible from all devices.
Cons: Parents must opt in; the Seesaw Class App and the Family App are separate applications; Google Classroom gives academic classroom summaries only; one-way communication from teacher to parent.

Parent Feedback

Though many educators have shared research on what has worked best for them and their students’ parents, it’s important to keep in mind that every parent is different—and it’s important to continue to ask for and integrate feedback. Some school districts, like the Winston-Salem/Forsyth School District, have put out a survey to determine parental thoughts about remote learning.

Employing any or all of these promising practices will make communication more seamless for parents—which translates to greater support for students.

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