Some days you can't even find time for lunch—how are you supposed to find time to communicate with parents?
#sorrynotsorry, though…it's a must. Especially since establishing positive school-home relationships can be a boon to students, teachers, and parents alike.
Which, uh, doesn't make time any less of an issue. So what to do?
We're not in the '90s anymore.
Email is a more popular and effective way for teachers and parents to communicate, so gather up all those parental email addresses at the beginning of the year and toss 'em in your address book.
While you're at it, create all the separate groups and lists you'll need for the year (Period 4, Homeroom, British Literature, Pre-Calculus, Grade 9, Quidditch Team). If you prep all these lists in advance, you'll only need to hit one button when it's time to notify the parents of your AP Bio students about the upcoming field trip to the hyena holding facility.
Once the addresses are in and the lists are configured, you can tally up the hours of time you've saved yourself from making phone calls, leaving messages, getting the call back when you're in the middle of watching Sherlock, and repeating the process ad nauseam for every single parent.
Another couple years and you'll be snapchatting parents about their kids' performance in class. (You think we're kidding.) For now, appreciate the glory of email and start planning your student-specific hashtags.
There's an App for That
Oh look, we went there after all. Only we're not going to suggest Snapchat. Maybe.
So yes, 21st-century superstars, email is not your only digital option these days. Each app or program below will allow you to stay connected to parents via quick posts and updates with a minimal daily time commitment.
After all, we all know that keeping parents in the loop on the front end saves time later since you've dodged the barrage of questions about what's been going on. And another plus: if parents feel connected to your classroom, they're more likely to offer to help out and to advocate for you, your class, and your school in the community.
Okay, enough of why it's a good idea. Onto the apps:
- Remind (formerly Remind 101) is compatible for both iOS and Android. It's free to download, and it allows you to text parents and students while keeping everyone's phone numbers private. You can create lists for different classes and populations, attach files, send one-way announcements, or start chats. So much, right?
- Class Dojo, like Remind, is free to download, but instead of simply being a tool for keeping in touch, it's geared more toward classroom management, particularly for the early years (K-5 or so, we'd say). It lets you send photos, announcements, and the like, but it's mainly for generating information about classroom behavior to improve the overall class atmosphere and encourage students to be positive and productive members of the class.
- Keep it simple. Use Twitter to send reminders, announcements, and updates to parents and students alike. With a limit of 140 characters, your messages shouldn't take too much time to compose (aside from the inevitable time suck of editing your 170-character message). P.S. Follow @Shmoop.
- Create a class Facebook page where you can keep parents posted on your day-to-day activities with quick status updates, pictures, and videos. If you want to keep it simple, adjust your settings so that comments are restricted. That way you won't find yourself in the position of having to check, recheck, and respond to comments all day long.
And of course, if you have time to go one step further than Facebook, you can always create a class blog or website using Blogger, Wordpress, Weebly, or other platforms.
How did teachers even do it pre-Y2K?
A Quick Qualifier
Since communicating via email, text, chat, and all those other whatnots doesn't involve body language or vocal intonation, you have to be very careful to hit the right tone. Read (and then re-read) your e-communications before you send them to make sure you're using clear, concise language free of snark, sarcasm, or jokes that won't make the recipient crack a smile.
Also, double check that you're sending the communication to the right person and no one else. It's never fun to send a message intended for one parent to an entire list.
So many difficulties—and, uh, risks—involved in all these fancy communication styles. So is it worth it? We might as well ask the question…
Why Go New School When Old School Still Works?
You know we're mainly asking it to play devil's advocate.
Because, well, actually, we've got to say that most of the new school methods are quicker, easier, and more efficient (not to mention cheaper in terms of paper, ink, postage, and phone bills). Sure, checking your P's and Q's works a little differently this way, but you're smart. You get used to it.
Of course, we're not going to force you. Not everyone is ready to take the plunge, and we all have to go with what works best for us. Right? Right. So here are a few tried and true methods of communicating with parents that still might appeal, even in this digital age.
- Positive postcards. Once a week, send out one or two (or more) postcards noting something positive a student has done or achieved in class. You can even create a template for these postcards, give them a catchy name, and pre-stamp and address them at the beginning of the year to make sure you hit each student's parents at least once.
To that end, be sure to keep track of whom you send to each week. Wouldn't want to double up on Bobby and skip Billy's house accidentally. Worried about what to say? Don't be. Since it's a postcard, the message will necessarily be short, so it shouldn't take too long to dash off.
- Class newsletter.Create a newsletter template that will allow you to fill in sections quickly once or twice a month to keep parents informed. Printing and postage could get expensive on these, so if you're not averse to creating the newsletter online, consider using MailChimp, Constant Contact, or a similar program.
Or just keep it to one sheet, fire up the photocopier, and send it home with students (with your fingers crossed that it will make it out of their backpacks and into their parents' hands).
- Phone Calls. Some people still love a good phone call. Sure, they may take more time than email—because you often have to leave messages or call back, and also because you can't hit multiple parents with one call. Still, if the phone is your (or your students' parents) preferred method of communication, you can still be efficient about it.
Set a regular weekly time when you will make calls home and stick with it. If you make 5-10 calls each week, you'll be able to hit all of your students' parents in a reasonable time frame. Or, in the case of teachers who see over 100 students per day, you'll be able to make phone contact at least once a semester. Some conversations will be short, and some will be long, but they should average out so that by setting aside just an hour per week for this task, you'll be able to get them all in.
- OpenLetters. Some people send updates to friends and family around the holidays each year in the form of an open letter, and you can do the same thing to keep parents up to date on the goings-on in your class. The open letter is just that: a letter explaining what's happening and offering highlights of the month, quarter, or semester in review. By using an open letter format, you can free yourself from the templates and text boxes of newsletters and just jet out the good stuff.
Whatever method you choose for your communications with parents, the key is to establish a routine and stick with it. Starting early in the year and setting aside specific time each week to communicate will keep you from feeling overwhelmed later on.
And—the big benefit—establishing clear communication with parents prior to conference time tends to make conferences much easier to organize and much less stressful for everyone. If that's not a goal worth fighting for, we don't know what is.
While we can't communicate with those parents for you, we can take some of the other shtuff off of your plate with our endless supply of lesson plans, virtual classroom tools, and teaching guides! Check out our Teacher Subscription!