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Using Tech to Meet Parents Where They Are

Some of the many ways to connect with families.

At Kent we provide many opportunities for parents and families to stay informed and involved in their child’s education.  Nothing is better than face to face communication but many times this is not possible so I believe it is important to provide a variety of ways that parents and families can both receive information and engage in dialogue with the school using technology.

As I have described in the post “Parent Communication: TO vs WITH”, schools need to use technology to not only provide information TO parents but to also engage in conversations WITH parents around student learning.  Social media, in which parents can leave comments and questions, can be a great tool for this.

Below is a list of the many ways that we use technology at Kent School to try to engage and involve parents by meeting them where they are.  Following the list is a screencast of the many ways that parents can use our blog as a starting point to access the many ways to stay (or become more) informed and/or engaged.

PARENT INFORMATION AND DIALOGUE

  • Parent Info For Kent Elementary Facebook Page - many parents are already on Facebook so we need to ‘meet’ them there. For my belief on why “Your School Needs a Facebook Page” click here.
  • Good Things At Kent Blog – this is our school blog in which we share all the events and day-to-day occurrences at Kent School.  For the past 3 years we have done a “10 Good Things To Talk About” each Friday (thank you to Yrsa Jensen, SD36 for the idea) and this year we have moved this to a blog format so parents can access this through their mobile devices and also provide feedback through comments.
  • Email – the majority of our parents receive email of any information but many still like to receive the paper version too.  Parents can opt out of receiving paper format here.  Teachers also use email to keep parents informed of student learning.
  • Twitter – our school is on Twitter (@kentelemschool) and the same info that is on Facebook is on Twitter but it is just another way to receive the info or engage in dialogue with the school.  Some of our teachers are also now on Twitter. NOTE:  When something is posted on the blog, it automatically goes to our Facebook Page which is automatically linked to our Twitter account (so there is not much more work in having the same information available through a variety of means).
  • Text Messages (SMS) – our school provides the option for families to stay informed of important events via text messaging (Remind101).  This is not a way to engage in dialogue but only a way for parents to receive info.
  • School Website – a teacher and his students run the school website.  It is used for coding and problem-solving with the kids and as a way for teachers to showcase student projects and provide info on what is happening in their classes.  NOTE: The Fraser-Cascade School District is moving to a more user-friendly, standardized format for school websites/teacher blogs so stay tuned.
  • Library and Principal Blog – our teacher-librarian hosts her own blog here that describes all the learning that happens through our school library.  She also uses it as a way to promote community and family literacy.  I also encourage parents to subscribe and comment on my blogs around my philosophies of education.
  • Contact the principal – my cell phone is available for parents to use to contact me via calls or text messaging.  (Thanks to Chris Kennedy and Darcy Mullin for the encouragement). I am also available through email, my direct line, and Skype (for those parents who prefer “face to face” but are unable to come to the school.

OTHER USES OF TECHNOLOGY SHARED WITH FAMILIES

  • Student Blogs – our intermediate teachers use KidBlogs to encourage connected learning with their students.  Parents will be able to read and comment on their child’s blogs.
  • Animoto - each month, a video compilation of students is created, shown to the students, and sent to parents.  Click here for an example.  Students also create videos of field trips, etc using this program.
  • Flickr - photos of students and events are uploaded to Flickr and available to parents.
  • YouTube – messages and videos of students at Kent showcased here – often using a private link.
  • Google Docs – used for collaboration with students, staff, and parents
  • Google Calendar – school calendar is updated and posted.  My calendar is available online and posted outside my office.

Here is the screencast I posted on our school blog on how parents can access the aforementioned tools to stay involved and/or engaged with Kent School (sorry for the monotone but my wife kept signalling me to keep my voice low as we had 2 sleeping babies :-) )

Nothing is better than face-to-face communication so families are always encouraged to meet with their child’s teachers.  If this is not possible, or preferred, technology can be a great option for families to connect with their child’s school.  We are continuing to learn in this area so if you have any other recommendations or comments, please share them below.

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17 Responses to Using Tech to Meet Parents Where They Are

  1. Hello Chris
    Thanks for a great summary of tools we can use to connect with.
    Skype has been valuable in my Grade Two class, both in parent teacher conferences and in student writing conferences. I try to set an agenda with them beforehand so there are no surprises. I also set a time as with a normal appoinment to minimise inconvenience. Although its done in my own time in the evening, I feel that there is an atmosphere of respect, based on the invitation into the homes. Underpinning all this is my belief that the learning partnership is strengthened by parent participation.
    Parents seem more relaxed and know that I respect their ideas va Skype.
    Cheers
    Brette

  2. Darcy Mullin says:

    Chris, just when I think I am doing a great job of connecting with parents and the community I read this post and I realize there is so much more I can do. Thanks for continuing to push the envelope and push my thinking.

  3. Sheila Stewart says:

    It is great to read about all the ways you and your staff have reached out to parents to provide news and highlights, and also ways for them to offer feedback and comments! It must be appreciated!

    Thank you for sharing and taking the time to document all this here. I am sure it will encourage many others to consider the use of these additional methods of communication – to and with parents.

  4. Meeting people where they are at (fb etc) and always maintaining face to face communication as the preference. What a great balance!

  5. Martin Goldberg says:

    Chris, I am particularly impressed with the “Good Things at Kent Blog” as a way to share what is happening the school. Do you have any sense of how popular it is with parents and community members?

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  9. Outstanding! Thank you for sharing this information on the many ways you reach out to parents to help keep them informed! I’m going to use this as my guideline ;)

    To utilize all the methods that you do takes an incredible amount of collaboration, support and dedication. I truly admire that. I know that many schools in our Board (including mine) struggle with finding people, let alone staff, who can dedicate the time and energy to create and manage such things, like starting a facebook page or twitter account.

    We have a bare bones school website but it’s not interactive or comment friendly. A parent has recently stepped up to take on the management of a facebook page. And although all schools in the Board have been given twitter accounts, very few are active. I know. I follow all 54 schools in my Board.

    But we’re slowly getting there; breaking down the barriers that impede engagement and offering parents greater choice and opportunity to be informed, involved and engaged. And when I read posts like yours above and see this all in action…it only motivates me more knowing that IT IS possible…it can be done. Thank you.

  10. I think you made some great suggestion. One thing I tried to meet parents where they are is to figure out what they have with regards to technology. I noticed that a number of parents at my last school had smart phones. Our SharePoint public websites have a homework calendar, and you can turn on rss for these sites. As a trial run, I tried an experiment with my class, and found that a lot of my 11 and 12 year old students could subscribe to my homework page on a variety of devices (iPad, Android, Blackberry, – even an older Motorola phone).

    My thought was that if during a September parent night at our school, parents could subscribe to their kid’s homework, it would be a very convenient way to know what was their kids were doing in class, (whether they had homework to do, or not).

    I think your idea of getting the parents following the school on twitter and facebook is a great way to keep them informed. And, smart phone friendly too. Keep up the good work, Chris.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      James… you have thrown out the challenge to me on getting people to understand RSS… our school blog only has a few subscribers so emailing parents every time a new post comes up is still mandatory for me. In the new year I will be working to help more parents to understand the importance of subscribing to the blog so they can access it from so many more place.

      PS. That coffee meeting around what you were doing with tech was very inspiring and you need to be thanked! Thank you!

  11. Great post. I am also working hard at my school to connect with parents. We have several online ways to do this. They can all be accessed through our website at http://sms.rock-hill.k12.sc.us/
    We have a school facebook and twitter account. We also have a “good news” blog and student showcase website to give our parents a glimpse of what goes on at their child’s school. Finally, we use constant contact to send school wide emails.

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  15. Eve Ford says:

    Dear Chris- I have been following you on twitter. You inspire and you are a visionary. Thank you for being within the system and pushing for change regarding how to better serve students first and foremost. Will you look at my website to see what I do? If it appeals to you, I would love the opportunity to send you my current proposal for the fall. I am collaborating with Yolo County Office of Education in creating workshops and individual coaching for principals on how to create deeper trust and more effective communication with staff. I provide the same type of programs for educators and individual schools. Thanks for all you do! http://www.coachingforeducationalexcellence.com

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