Monday, August 27, 2012

Communicating with Parents

I started off my career in education as a preschool Head Start teacher, and I strongly believe in the power of partnerships with parents. Head Start, which is a program for disadvantaged preschoolers, emphasizes that parents are their child's first teachers. I saw, first-hand, the many positive benefits of involving parents in the classroom or at school.  As a young teacher, I realized that we should be creating those opportunities to invite parent volunteers into our classroom to work with students, not just to do clerical types of tasks.  Involving parents as volunteers in the classroom effectively lowered the adult-to-student ratio and had the added benefit of building capacity in the parents to learn skills and strategies for working with their own children at home.

Many university education programs do not teach courses on how to work with or communicate with parents, and therefore, teachers do not always see the benefits of building that partnership.  New teachers are often overwhelmed with the responsibilities of learning the culture of the school, planning standards-based lessons in the different curricular areas, and dealing with classroom management.  They often do not realize the benefits of building strong parent partnerships even before school begins which can start with something as simple as a telephone call or a short note or email/text message to share something positive. When a positive relationship between home and school is fostered, the child is the ultimate beneficiary.

Last year, our school decided to invest in Edline to create a website which communicated more effectively with parents and the school community.  Our school website serves as an information system for site visitors and acts as an intermediary between the numerous stakeholders in the educational process. Our goals are: 1) introducing educational stakeholders to our school, 2) providing opportunities for local and global publication of student work, 3) acting as an intermediary to educational resources and community information, and 4) providing a rich source of locally relevant data. 

Although we continuously updated the website last school year, survey results indicated that  60% of our parents never logged on to Edline to get information about our school.  As a school, we realized that if we are to improve the percentage of parents accessing our website, we needed to give them a reason to get on, and after discussions, we decided that we would encourage teachers to create class webpages. To get to the class webpage, parents would have to access the school site first.

Some teachers had been using class webpages as a way to communicate with parents about upcoming activities or homework assignments, to share information about the curriculum or to post classroom photos. What we noticed was that there were fewer parent complaints from those classes with webpages.  So this year, we "highly encouraged" teachers to create class webpages or blogs.  Right now, about 90% of the teachers have class webpages, although several are still "under construction."  For the most part, I am impressed with the quality of the webpages; they are creative, attractive, and contains lots of valuable information for parents.  We're hoping that the investment up-front will lead to positive relationships and better communication with our parents.

It wasn't easy, and for many of our teachers, we were asking them to do something which was not in their comfort zone.  However, we are fortunate to have teachers who volunteered to help their colleagues get their webpages set up.  Once they got started, some teachers took off, and I am amazed at the individualization of each webpage.  We're sending out the parent activation codes this week, and I am hopeful that this year, our survey results will show an increase in the number of parents who are accessing our school website as a vehicle to get information.   

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