A Missouri teacher tells us how technology helps teachers and students communicate with parents and family.
Recently I took a survey of the 29 students in my class to find out how many of their parents had access to the Internet at home or at work. Since we live in a rural district outside St. Louis, Missouri, I was astonished to find that there were 13 positive responses. Every day, more students tell me they are getting computers at home soon.
With this in mind, I have created a classroom Web page to connect school and home. Accordingly, one of the first things I do every year is have parents and students sign an Internet usage permission form. I also have them sign an Internet publishing permission form. I never use last names or identifying photos. In addition, all the children in my class have a page of their own and the opportunity to submit items for posting. Both students and parents are thrilled to see the students' classwork online, so having individual Web pages is a very effective motivator for the children.
In addition, our class Web page has a guestbook. This is a great medium for parent and family feedback and support. For example, one little girl's grandfather visited our site from out of state and signed our guestbook a few months ago. He told his granddaughter how much he enjoyed our page, especially the story she wrote. He even mentioned the title of her story and she was thrilled! When she updated her page later, she sent him a note. She mentioned that she was studying biomes of the world and was having some difficulty finding information on the taiga. The grandfather wrote back and gave her a couple of Web sites to try for her taiga research. They also exchanged online valentines.
Not long ago, this same little girl brought in her dad's e-mail address. Her first e-mail letter to him included the message that she loved him more than her heart. What awesome examples of parent and family communication! In this case, the family is involved and supportive of the child during the school hours, even though they may be miles or even states away!
I also communicate to parents regularly through a service called Schoolnotes. I have linked our page to Schoolnotes.com, a site which allows teachers to create pages that are tailor-made for parent-teacher communication. It even has a setup that allows parents to be notified when I update information. I have created several Schoolnotes pages for my class: a newsletter, a weekly spelling list, and information and updates on various units we are working on. My last one included a link to a valentine for each of my students. They click on their names and are rewarded with a musical valentine, which they can view at home or at school. Imagine how their eyes light up when they hear our class theme song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in their online valentines!
"It doesn't take long to write a short, positive comment to students and their families via e-mail, and it is truly appreciated."
Of course the quickest way to communicate with some families is through e-mail. When I find a new site that I think parents or students will enjoy, I will send a class e-mail message to everyone with access. I can also individualize messages. For example, one of my students loves to write stories. I sent him and his mother a site that had all kinds of creative writing ideas for him to try. Another student was home with chicken pox, so I sent him an online get well card. He and his parents replied with an e-card that had a picture of my favorite flower: a sunflower! It doesn't take long to write a short, positive comment to students and their families via e-mail, and it is truly appreciated.
I receive many positive comments from parents about our page. Teachers in my district are beginning to see the value of the Internet as a communication tool. I'm proud to say that quite a few teachers have even started their own class Web pages. For those students without Internet access, printed copies of online newsletters and communications can be made and sent home. Technology is a powerful educational tool, and it can open the lines of communication between school and home. Once teachers harness that power and use it to their advantage, the sky is the limit.