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Using Technology to Bridge the Home–School Gap

July 30, 2019

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of By Design Science grades 1-8

It’s no secret that parental engagement in student learning is a huge predictor of student success. Not only does an open line of communication help parents understand what their child is learning, but it also gives teachers access to information they need to better serve the child in question. Furthermore, says Gabriele Marcu, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, it also ensures consistent expectations in terms of behavior between the classroom and the home environment.

“It is really important for the school classroom team to collaborate with the parents, because every time the child goes home each day they could be getting conflicting messages about their behavior,” Marcu says. “The more consistency between home and school, the more likely that the child is able to make progress.”

Yet many parents often feel that they receive too little information, too late. Whether it’s a child with behavioral issues, a struggling reader, a student who can’t focus, or even one who needs a greater challenge, caregivers may not get this information until the end of a quarter or semester, at which point it’s almost too late. Beyond individual concerns, teachers also need reliable methods to communicate with parents about school events, field trips, and just general “happenings” in the classroom. Rather than bombarding parents with masses of information at the beginning or end of the month or semester, a constant stream of information keeps parents up to date, allows for more productive at-home conversations, and can nip problems in the bud before they arise.

Thankfully, modern technology has made this consistent communication stream not just a dream but a reality. Instant (or at least less delayed) forms of electronic communication, such as e-mail and texting, can get information into parents’ hands when it’s needed, rather than weeks later at a parent–teacher conference. And although texting is still seen by some as unprofessional, experts such as Curtiss Strietelmeier of EdTech magazine say it’s a viable option for that very reason: it breaks down the teacher–parent barrier and creates a more casual, open relationship.

“A lot of young parents become intimidated by formal conferences,” Strietelmeier says. “Many teachers have found that the ability to text parents has made communicating with them much easier. Simple and frequent texts to parents to explain students’ progress can be far more powerful than a traditional progress report.”

Mobile messaging is also a great way to inform or remind parents about upcoming school activities, such as science fairs or concerts. Apps such as Remind (formerly Remind101) eliminate the need for paper information sheets that the teacher can only hope will find their way into parents’ hands. The instant nature of these apps also allows teachers to communicate last-minute changes in location or time, whether due to rain, snow, or the basketball practice that everyone forgot was also happening in the gym at 6 p.m.

Strietelmeir offers several other ways that technology can strengthen connections between home and school, including using Skype or FaceTime to allow faraway or homebound parents to experience classroom events. The complete list can be found here.

In a world where social media and technology are often derided for the ways they divide and isolate us, it’s important to remember that they also have the power to help us connect. Classroom teachers can make good use of this fact to keep the school and home environments on the same (web)page.

What technology helps you connect with parents and caregivers?