With a smartphone glued to 90 percent of the parent population’s hands, how is it that schools still depend on old methods such as sending notes home, newsletters, and emails to communicate with parents? A recent study by Gallup found only 1 in 5 parents are fully engaged with their child’s school, meaning 80 percent of parents are either indifferent to or actively disengaged from their kids’ school. It’s clear there is a disconnect between the way teachers are communicating and the way most of the world is getting its information.
As a trailblazer in classroom technology, it seems like I’ve tried every form of communication out there: printed newsletters, emails, texting, blogging, a YouTube channel, even Facebook. But along with grading, lesson-planning, and everything else a teacher is asked to balance, it all got to be too much.
I wanted the communication process to be easy and streamlined for my parents and me. Finally I asked my parents, “What’s the best way for me to communicate with you?” Essentially, all of them said “email” or “texting,” implying that their smartphone is their lifeline to the outside world. That’s when my hunt for the perfect communication app began.
There’s an app for that — but which one?
Just as social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat take you into the lives of friends, celebrities, and idols, I wanted to find the perfect app to give parents a glimpse of their child’s life at school. I started with a quick Google search to find the top parent-teacher communication apps in the market. As you can imagine, that search was a bit overwhelming. I used my personal Facebook page to ask fellow teachers what communication apps they were using, and I got dozens of responses. To narrow my scope of what exactly I wanted in a communication app, I created a list of non-negotiables. The right app would:
- Allow me to share photos, links, and messages.
- Allow parents to respond to messages.
- Allow me to message/share with a few select or all parents.
- Allow me to schedule events and notify parents of the events.
- Sync scheduled events to my Google Classroom calendar.
- Allow me to schedule parent/teacher conferences.
- Share volunteer and wish list opportunities.
- Work on web-based and smartphone platforms.
- Cost nothing for parents and teachers.
- Have a variety of comprehensive supports for teachers.
The enormous list of potential apps slimmed down to seven free communication apps that would potentially fit the bill: Remind, Class Messenger, Livingtree, SimplyCircle, Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Bloomz. I signed up for accounts, started playing with each app’s interface, devoured the support/ help resources I found on their websites, and contacted the app developers.
As an avid teacher/blogger, I created a working spreadsheet on Google Docs to break down the features of each app, including security and privacy, coordination tools, community-building tools, and more. My goal was to create a resource to help teachers who were also searching for communication apps. After I posted the spreadsheet on my blog, comments immediately started rolling in. Teachers offered their recommendations, shared their personal stories of success, and thanked me for all the time and effort I put into my research.
Next page: Finding an app that worked for me
At the start of the 2015 school year, I found Bloomz fit all the criteria I was looking for, and decided to implement it in my classroom. Parents were all extremely excited to download the app to see what their child does at school all day.
Bloomz functionality is similar to that of Facebook, which most parents were already comfortable with. As the year went on, I used the app to share daily photos and videos of the students, schedule conferences, find volunteers for class events, and message parents throughout the day. Parents are able to scroll through the app and see their student hard at work. Posting on Bloomz has become such a regular part of my day that students look forward to showing off their work—and parents get anxious when I don’t post something for the day.
“I love seeing updates during the day and pictures of activities,” said one parent in an end-of-year survey. “It’s so much easier than keeping track of papers and asking my child what they’re doing,” said another parent.
I remember one specific example where I ran out of paper towels in my classroom. I posted on the app, asking if any parents could send some with their child. Within one minute, (literally) I had responses from three parents—and plenty of paper towels the next school day. The app also comes in handy when communicating information to parents in an emergency situation if necessary.
Nineteen years ago when I started teaching, parent-teacher communication was nearly taboo. Today, the communication tool has turned into a time and sanity-saver, and I can’t imagine running my classroom without total parent involvement.
In my search for the communication app that was right for me, I was able to help dozens of other teachers find the app that works for their classroom — whichever that may be — and help close the gap in our school-parent communication. I’m so grateful that digital communication has successfully connected me to parents and vice-versa, creating a team-like environment where everyone’s goal is to ensure that each student has the best learning experience possible.
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