"We are working diligently at King to improve our school culture, one that… welcomes parents as allies in efforts to ensure every child succeeds. With this goal in mind, effective communication…between teachers and parents becomes critical. TeleParent gives us the vehicle to systematically connect teachers to parents and students, regardless of their home language. TeleParent empowers teachers to communicate at all levels, including being able to provide positive feedback, key information, and concerns that need to be addressed. The system fundamentally eliminates excuses about not being able to communicate with parents and provides a relatively easy means of communicating with hundreds of students nightly, even when the home language is not English."
–Bob Rowe, Principal, King Middle School
As the 2007-08 school year began, Principal Bob Rowe was on a mission to make Martin Luther King ("King") Middle School the best middle school in California. During the summer, King, part of the Oceanside Unified School District in San Diego County, had undergone the normal application of fresh paint inside and out, the removal of various chewing gum remains, and other cleaning rituals. And while these changes were visible from the outside, the more important transformations were beginning to take shape inside each classroom.
Over the past several years, the school had witnessed a fundamental breakdown in communications between teachers, students, and parents, especially with regard to the completion of homework assignments. There was no structured system in place.
Between organized parent-teacher conferences, there were three other options for teachers to exchange information with parents: They could send a letter via the postal service that might take days to reach home; send an eMail message that might or might not be read, depending on whether there was a computer at home or access to a computer at work; or leave messages on answering machines at home or voice mail systems at work, followed by the unproductive sport of "phone tag."
These all-too-common scenarios were made more difficult owing to the diversity of the student population at King Middle School. More than one-third of the schools’ students were English-language learners, with parents speaking in their native languages at home. The process of calling, leaving messages, finally connecting, discussing the behavior modification needed, and then waiting for behavior changes to present themselves in the classroom was agonizingly slow and often completely ineffective.
"Our No. 1 goal for this school year was to develop systematic support structures to ensure all students succeed academically. We knew that … for this to be accomplished, we had to improve parent-teacher communications," said Rowe.
The staff knew that with informed parents, they would have improved students. Research has shown that increased parental involvement in the education of their children correlates with increased success. It also has been demonstrated that consistent reinforcement between the home and school is important to promote academic achievement.
The change that was suggested, an ultimately implemented, at King Middle School for enhanced school-to-home communications was two-fold: First, the school installed a telephone in every classroom, providing teachers will individual voice-mail capabilities. Second, and the more significant change, was the implementation of a new communications solution called TeleParent.
"Everything we did had to start and end with improved communication," said Rowe. "Parents needed to be informed about how their students were performing in the classroom in a useful and timely manner. [Students] needed to value the importance of homework and become responsible for completing it."
With that in mind, Rowe and his teachers decided to implement a "pyramid of intervention": a system "where we closely monitor each and every student and align appropriate support for [students] to meet their needs."
Installing the TeleParent system was central to King’s improved communication efforts. The system has enabled regular and timely communications between teachers, students, and their parents and also between administrators and teachers, creating a feeling of collaboration and supporting interventions with students before problems get out of hand.
Implementation: The beginning of change
With TeleParent in place, the parental connection process began. The solution offers general broadcasts, emergency notifications, and attendance and homework messages; it also allows for student-specific communications and provides multi-lingual platforms. Teachers at King Middle School now have the capability to communicate with parents of all ethnicities on a daily basis, providing information that pertains only to their child on topics such as classroom behavior, homework deficiencies, grade progress, overall achievement, and even positive feedback for exceptional effort and major accomplishments.
"We met some resistance from the students at first," said Rowe. "Before, they could fly below the radar of accountability–but with consistent communications coming from both the school and its teachers, coupled with parental involvement, we were putting forward a united front that said: ‘Students, you need to be responsible for your own behavior and schoolwork–and we mean now.’"
Now, the students understand their role at school–and parents are truly able to participate in the educational process.
"The middle school experience is different from the nurturing environment of elementary school," Rowe said. "Each student has multiple teachers, and each teacher has hundreds of students. The result is an assembly line of impersonal and sporadic communications efforts. … We wanted to change [that] and create personal connections. We didn’t want all of our communications to be about bad behavior or issues. We wanted to celebrate the good things happening at school, too. TeleParent allows us to do that."
The success of ‘Situational Student Messaging’
No two students are the same, and with TeleParent’s Situational Student Messaging (SSM) feature, neither are their messages. SSM allows teachers to send messages quickly and easily from any telephone or computer with an internet connection. With the system’s Automated Multilingual Messaging capabilities, teachers can draw from a library containing 700 professionally recorded messages that can be translated into more than 22 languages. When the teachers select messages, the system automatically sends the call in the corresponding home language. TeleParent uses the information provided in the district’s student information system (SIS) to send the messages–many of which have come at the suggestions of administrators and teachers currently using the system.
"This parental communications solution stood out [from] its competitors because it was both teacher and parent friendly," commented Rowe. "Further, it gave us immediate feedback the very next day."
Rowe gets a report each morning that details which parents have been called and why. He is working with the development team at TeleParent to create new messages that support his school’s focus on improved homework.
"We want parents to know that their child has failed to turn in the homework," Rowe said. "We also want [parents] to communicate to [their children] that because they didn’t turn in their homework, they must report to study hall the next day."
Knowing which students were delinquent on homework the very next day keeps them from falling further behind. The teachers can get them right back on track. This means teachers are spending more time teaching instead of disciplining. And for students, the benefits are tangible. Taking responsibility for their work and demonstrating a high level of proficiency means they can partake in a multitude of rewarding activities offered by the school–such as playing video games, watching movies, or participating in a number of extracurricular activities.
Results: Teachers and parents communicating; students excelling
More than 80 percent of the school’s teachers are using the software. Though TeleParent hasn’t replaced the personal telephone calls teachers need to make to discuss concerns in depth, it has helped with the more routine calls–and it gives teachers the opportunity to disseminate positive messages more frequently; messages they typically don’t have time to make.
The benefits are many and are growing for everyone.
"Teachers feel like they aren’t in the education process alone; they are a team," said Rowe. "Parents seem to feel more connected to what’s going on at school and in their child’s life. And students have come to accept that they have responsibilities and must do their part to succeed. It’s win-win-win situation."