Vignette #5 – Eager to tap into new communication technology yet overwhelmed by the possibilities and their implications for use, a group of teachers gathers to explore, share, and evaluate what might work best for their school population in their quest to make learning expectations more visible to parents.
When the opportunity to join a technology review committee comes up at a faculty meeting, sophomore math teacher Kelly Flannagan jumps at the chance to join colleagues in a discussion of how their school can utilize technology to best communicate with parents. She has heard of programs like “Remind 101”* (that allows teachers to send text messages to students and parents without needing to disclose phone numbers) and “Dash4Teachers”* (program for tracking student behavior) and wonders what her colleagues think about implementing this kind of technology for increased connections between school and home. When the group of ten teachers gathers together, there is a flood of interest, ideas, and concerns. A veteran and skilled facilitator, the school guidance counselor offers to lead, and encourages the members to start by writing down a few notes on the following: 1) thoughts on how the current technology (parent portal) used by the whole school is working for their students and families 2) technology that teachers are individually implementing to connect with parents and how it is working 3) technology that they are curious about and would like to explore as a means of communicating with families. The ten minutes of thinking and writing are the first moments of quiet that the teachers have had all day. Kelly relishes this opportunity to slow down and consider the tools that ultimately aspire to make things easier, and give teachers like her more time to think.
The conversation to follow is lively, informative, and productive. As a new initiative in their urban school of 1,000 + kids, the parent portal aims to create 24/7 access to attendance, grades, and progress reports for parents. With hopes of increasing the use of the portals for other pieces of information, the newly formed technology committee is invited to be part of the conversation that evaluates how well the portals have been received by teachers and parents. The group agrees that gathering information about what percentage of parents are accessing the portals is key. They also review things like how the portals are introduced to families and what measures are taken to ensure that all families have access to technology at home, at libraries, or at the school in order to take advantage of the program. While some teachers share that they notice increased parental involvement and action taken after the progress reports/grades are shared through the portal, other teachers confess to not being certain of how many families are accessing the information. All seem to agree that transparency about student progress/grades/attendance is helpful for families, but insist that this can only be one part of a larger effort to connect with families.
Kelly is intrigued and inspired by the next part of the meeting, where teachers talk about what technologies they are using in addition to the portals. One teacher shares her success using a class website and blog, but admits that most of the activity on her website is that of her students, not their parents. Another teacher takes the group through a short tutorial on using “Celly”** as a way to connect with students/parents via cell phone – again, with the privacy of not needing to share numbers. While the teachers in the group agree that it feels compelling to tap into the quick and popular technology that is governing much of their students’ lives (like twitter feeds and texting), they also discuss the importance of examining their school population and issues of access and equity. A helpful reminder about bias and assumptions leads the group to an action item that feels relevant and necessary – figuring out a way to query all families and find out what kind of technology they currently access and what feels helpful and manageable. In her quest to discover more, Kerry considers how important it is to think about how to introduce and implement possible new systems of communication. She notes that long-term success is largely dependent on the school’s ability to reach out to parents, make the technology accessible to them, and teach them how to use it. Her point is taken, and the group spends time discussing how the implementation of new technology is a key factor in its success. The group concludes with a review of plans to evaluate what is working well, and an agenda for trying out new forms of communicating with parents. There is agreement among the teachers that while exciting new ideas for connecting through technology offer a promise of improved methods for keeping in touch with their burgeoning population, it is just one of many important ways that teachers can communicate their expectations around learning and behavior with the families of their students.
- In “A Teacher’s Guide to Communicating With Parents,” Ben Stern offers up some of the latest technologies as methods of creating regular and transparent communication with parents. In addition to finding ways to bring parent “presenters” into the classroom through Skype Chats, he also recommends the following technologies to assist with regular communication: Remind 101, Twitter, and Dash4Teachers.
- In “A Beginning List of The Best Resources on Using Technology to Help Engage Parents,” Larry Ferlazzo has compiled a valuable collection of posts, conference presentations, research articles, and web tools that teachers of all levels may find helpful as they explore using technology for communication with families.
- “Celly” Can Facilitate Parent/Teacher Communication – This step by step tutorial on how to use “Celly” (a way to set up a parent cell so you can communicate with parents without sharing cell phone numbers) can also be found on Larry Ferlazzo’s site above.