I’m not sure if this is a classroom organization tip, per say, but I think that you have to be organized in order to have good communication and communicating helps aid in having an organized classroom…so now that I’ve sufficiently justified myself (and written an insanely long run-on sentence), let’s talk about how to communicate with parents and students.
I need to take a moment here to brag on myself – I was a pretty good communicator as a teacher. I don’t think I was necessarily all that good at the actual teaching part of being a teacher, but I feel like I was at least pretty good at communicating with parents. Many of the parents commented to me that they really appreciated how I kept everything and everyone up to date. And I’m not saying all this to try to be all “Oh I’m so great”. Because trust me, I wasn’t then (when I was teaching) and I’m not now. I’m saying all that to point out two things: one, parents really want you to communicate with them and two, apparently many teachers are not very good about doing so (just based on what the parents of my students indicated to me).
So here are a few things that I did (and one that I didn’t but I want to talk about anyway) that really helped with teacher/parent/student communication.
First is to have a website. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and there are several free options that don’t require you to have a lot of tech skills. It just needs to be updated and relevant. Many school systems provide (and sometimes require) a certain program or form. The school district I’m in now uses SchoolPointe and the one where I previously taught used Frontpages (I think…I’m drawing a bit of a blank right now). If you aren’t sure, ask around. If they don’t have a specified format, you could use something like Wikispaces. I’ve even known some people who do blogs instead of traditional websites.
The main thing I used my website for was to post assignments. Although I did post some announcements and things, I felt like people probably didn’t check my website daily so it might not be a good idea to post time sensitive stuff there and only there. So my website was basically available for students to go to find out homework assignments if they were absent, or if they just forgot the assignment by the time they got home. I updated each classes’ page at the end of each day. I would write the homework assignment, and if that happened to be a worksheet I would scan it in as a pdf. and upload it to my site. That way a student could print off the worksheet at home if they needed to. I also would upload PowerPoints that went along with a particular lesson so they could go through them again at home. If you use some sort of SmartBoard you could upload your notes from the SmartBoard, too.
The next important communication tool is email. I feel like everyone knows this, but just in case I’m going to talk about it anyway. Email is a very fast and efficient way to communicate with parents! At the beginning of the year I had parents fill out an information sheet and provide me with their email address. I then set up groups for each class section I taught. That way, when my A2 Algebra class had a test coming up, I could send out a mass email to my A2 email group telling the parents when the test was, what it covered, when I was holding review sessions, etc. Entering all the emails and setting up the groups was incredibly time consuming on the front end, but once it was set up it was so easy to send out a quick email and reach all the parents in a matter of minutes.
Email is also good for contacting individual parents about their specific child; whether it’s about grades, make up work, absences, behavior, or just a positive encouragement email.
The third thing, and probably my (and the parents’) favorite tool, is text messaging. Don’t worry, you don’t have to give out your phone number or use up your data…there is a way to send text messages right from your email! The parents love this! Since nearly everyone these days has their phones with them at all times and uses texting, sending a text message is almost guaranteed to get to someone faster than an email (unless they also get email on their phone).
All you need to have is the phone number (with area code) and service provider (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) for everyone that you want to send a message to. I just had a little form that I sent home at the beginning of the year and had the parents and students fill out if they wanted to receive texts from me. Then you enter the phone numbers as email addresses in your email. The email addresses will vary based on the service provider (i.e. an AT&T number will look like email@example.com while a Verizon number would be firstname.lastname@example.org). You can go here to find the extensions for tons of service providers.
Just like with setting up my email groups, this was time consuming up front but once it was done I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I just created groups in my email for each class; then when I needed to send out an announcement I could type up a short email about whatever (reminding them about an upcoming test, etc.) and send it out to all those phone numbers.
It was wonderful! The parents loved it because they could get instant information and reminders without having to check my website. Some of the students loved it because it reminded them to study or turn in assignments. Others hated it because their parents would get the text and then bug them about studying (which obviously was the point…hee hee). Of course, if I needed to give out lots of info I had to use email because texts can only be so long, but for a short “don’t forget about your test Tuesday” message, this was perfect. Also, if someone texted me back, it just went to my inbox as an email so I then could reply back to them. So easy.
Finally, something that I haven’t used but that I know many people are using now is Twitter. The teacher sets up a Twitter account and gives their name to the students and parents who can then follow them. The teacher tweets assignments and updates, and everyone who follows him/her can see them. Again, I haven’t done this (in fact, I only just joined Twitter myself this week, and only to follow some people from our district who post info there) so I can’t speak from experience, but it might be something to look in to as another method of communication.
Honorable mention: keep your grades updated! I assume most everyone does online grading now, and while that’s not a direct method of communication, the parents and students want to see feedback as soon as they can. So try to stay on top of grading and put those grades in as quickly as you can. Make sure everyone is on the same page so you can ward off problems ahead of time!
Ok, I’m going to zip it now. I didn’t mean to write quite such a long post without any fun pictures or anything, it just sort of spilled out. I’m really, really big on having good communication so I guess I had a lot to say. It is so important to keep parents and students informed. And fortunately thanks to modern technology, it is so quick and easy to make that happen. It also helps everyone to know what is going on rather than being left in the dark.
Now you share – what methods of communication do you use? What have you found works best for your students and parents?