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Keep it current, though: An out-of-date Web site is almost worse than no site at all.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.
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.