2. Ask Parents What Technology They Prefer
An important aspect of parent engagement is choosing technologies that work for parents. “One of our biggest challenges is that everyone communicates differently,” according to Tisha Harris with The Classical Academy, a charter school based in Colorado Springs, CO. “We’ll get buy-in from parents on a new technology, but everyone doesn’t want to communicate that way.” The solution, she said, is to come up with a variety of ways to reach out to parents. The Academy uses its web site effectively in that regard – because it’s an accepted, universal way to disseminate information. Emails to parents are short and readable, pointing them to the web site for more information. In addition, Harris said, The Academy is looking at possibly using smartphone apps to send specific notifications to parents in some cases.
“Great parent engagement is a partnership,” Harris emphasized. “We listen to parents about what is needed and how can we engage them better.” To that end, The Academy conducts a parent survey once a year that asks how parents want to receive messages from the school–and where they currently get their information–then tailors its communications based on responses.
The parent-teacher relationship is a partnership, Kukurudza agreed. “It’s really about an opportunity to extend learning through the parent. You have to work together.” Good engagement, she said, encourages parents to extend learning outside the classroom. “Ideally, you need a safe and secure place for parent engagement,” one that both students and parents are comfortable with, she said. “You want to be able to say, ‘See the cool problem-solving or creative learning we’re doing!’” Kukurudza said. “It would have been really useful if parents could have gotten that window into my classroom.”
3. Video Conferencing Engages Busy Parents
With the advent of free, easy-to-use conferencing apps like Google Hangouts and Adobe Connect, it’s helpful to train and encourage teachers to use those tools to meet with busy parents. By using video as well as voice, they can help teachers establish relationships in ways that mere phone calls can’t. Allison was a classroom teacher for several years in grades 9 through 12 before moving to managing an e-learning program. He said that if he were in the classroom now, video conferencing technologies would be on his list of ways to reach out to parents in order to “break down barriers and build some familiarity with my students and parents,” especially e-learners.
“Video conferencing is a fantastic tool for teachers,” agreed Kukurudza, “especially for parent-teacher conferences.” She cited instances when parents are working multiple jobs and have difficulty finding time to come to the school for a teacher conference. “The majority of my parents would have preferred [a video conference call] rather than coming into the school, just because of their schedules.” Kukurudza often held phone conversations with parents about topics such as report cards, but “a video conferencing tool would have been much better.” If the app is built into the LMS software for ease of use, even better, Kukurudza said, stressing that any communication tool needs to be easy for parents to use, and mobile-enabled.
Clearly, education technology offers a variety of ways to encourage communication with parents. When districts set aside professional development time to train teachers on new tools, and then encourage their use, teachers can maximize parental outreach efforts–and save time. As interest in engaging parents continues to grow, technology tools can play a big part in helping families become more involved in their children’s education.
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