Some parents are great at keeping track of their child’s education…some, not not so much. It’s not that they don’t care, but it’s that they’re either very busy, or don’t know how to get involved.
I haven’t worked at a wide variety of schools, but my limited range falls within similar demographic boundaries. They’re usually Title I schools with a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced (price) lunches. They need extra support, and so do their families.
We all know that students with involved parents perform better in school. Some parents are on campus every morning to drop off their kids and I speak with them all the time. It’s great! So what does it take for other parents to be more involved? Communication. And it doesn’t even have to be two-way. Some parents really do keep an eye on what their children are working on, even if they don’t show any signs of involvement. But this is rare, as there are usually hints that they know what’s going on: Permission slips that come back the next day signed, homework that’s always done, kids always in school uniform, etc.
So what works for me? What gets me the most bang for my buck? Spoiler alert: It’s Class Dojo. More on that a bit. So how did I end up using this solution for the past five+ years?
At a previous elementary school, we produced weekly newsletters to send home. I was one of the few teachers who did this. They took a lot of time, but looked pretty and had useful information for the week. But it wasted a lot of paper…and time. Less than half of the newsletters were delivered. They either never made it into the backpack, or just stayed in there or the folder that goes home. And of the half that I didn’t see thrown away or left in the backpack/folder, about half of that ever solicited any evidence of parents looking at them. Teachers often put little reward messages in newsletters to increase involvement. So we know who reads them. Comparing notes with my colleagues, about ten percent of families actually look at these newsletters. That’s ninety percent wasted paper.
My partner teacher covers Language Arts, so she just prints her newsletter on the back of that week’s Reading Log form. On a few good weeks, ninety percent of my homeroom students would return this Reading Log with parent signatures on them. Generally, though it was less than a seventy-five percent parent involvement rate. And that’s homework!
For the past several years, I’ve posted my weekly news on my teacher blog. I’m pretty sure less than a quarter of my class parents read it on a regular basis, but it’s always there for them. When I get texts or other messages asking about something, I just reply with the link to my site. This actually works, as I get fewer and fewer questions that are already answered on my blog. I even have parents message me that they checked the blog, but couldn’t find the answer. That’s impressive!
Here is where quality communication takes place: feedback. Just like in the classroom, it shouldn’t be just me talking all the time. The audience needs to interact. And I need measurable data.
- Email – I have it, and all parents either have my email address, or can easily figure it out. But it’s tedious to manage the mailing list and I never know if they actually read my email. Many parents don’t even have an email address on record. In this past school year, I’ve received email from about seven parents…out of fifty students.
- Voice Communication – I have a Google Voice number I use because it supports voice and texts. I rarely use this…mostly because it’s a personal account and the app is on my personal phone. I strongly advise against using a personal device for parent communication. I’m not a lawyer, but this sounds like a bad idea. The school uses Blackboard, and recommends Remind. Both are genuinely handy, but they’re a shared resource at the school. My kids go to my school and I’ve unsubscribed from all Blackboard and Remind notifications because I’m constantly flooded by way too messages about stuff that has nothing to do with me or my children.
- Class Dojo – This always comes out on top for me. I’ve written about it before. Remember those stealth parents from earlier in this post? They’ve got their eyes and ears on what’s going on, but don’t communicate back. With Dojo, I can see when they receive the messages I send out. With a little more engagement, parents will “Like” pictures I post to the Class Story section. Even more engagement leads to parents replying to pictures. And I always reply back to close the engagement loop. Parents also learn that they can get quick responses from me through Dojo. I also occasionally Dojo out messages with links to my website to encourage parents to keep up with class news. Because this is my preferred method, I frequently circle around to re-try parents who haven’t signed up. I email them again, even look for updated email contact info. And I send home Dojo printed invitations. I eventually end up with around ninety percent of the families signed up.
Though I never get 100% engagement with families, I get pretty close to it. At least that greatly reduces the number of students who need an engaged adult in their life. I make the extra effort for those ten percent to fill that gap by giving them frequent nudges to take stuff home, praise their efforts, and check on their general well-being.