If there’s ever been a time when school-to-home communication needs to be strong, it’s now. With many schools moving to distance learning, parents are the key in supporting students with successful at-home learning. And we know that strong parent engagement drives improved student outcomes and performance (WestEd, Parent Involvement Project). But nowadays, family engagement looks a bit different. No more crumpled handouts in backpacks, and no more postings on the school bulletin board. With helpful digital tools available, messages can be streamlined to even do away with those emails that inevitably get lost in parents’ inboxes. Check out these four tools to support your communication with parents and guardians.
A two-way messaging tool to keep families and students connected. Parents can receive individual or group communication via app or SMS, and keep their number private. Teachers can send short announcements, reminders, attach pictures or files, and the messages can be translated into over 70 languages. You can set office hours (keeps you sane so parents don’t expect instant responses), receive read-receipts, and schedule messages to be sent. You can also group parents to receive the same messages (if they are working together on something, like fundraising or a class project). The tool is free to teachers, and the paid version offers additional functions such as sending longer messages, and school or district accounts with administrator oversight and community-wide communication options.
A messaging tool that automatically translates your message to parents into one of 100+ languages. Similar to Remind (above), using the web browser or mobile app, teachers can send messages directly to parents, which they can receive in their preferred language on their phone either with the free app, or via SMS (their data rates will apply). Your phone number stays private. They can also respond to you via their own language, which will translate to English. TalkingPoints is great for connecting especially with parents of English Language Learners, those with low English proficiency, or parents who prefer texts over email. It is most useful for shorter messages (reminders, quick updates), since you can attach files (though files are not translated) and it will tell you when your messages are read. Similar to Remind, you can also indicate to parents when your office hours are. But unlike Remind, you can’t group parents for targeted messaging. TalkingPoints is free for teachers.
A classroom management and student portfolio tool that includes parent communication functionality. Originally designed to track and manage student behavior, the tool has expanded to be a classroom communication tool between teachers, students, and parents. You can share updates for parents on what ClassDojo calls ClassStory, such as upcoming assignments, video announcements, your weekly newsletter, or pictures of student learning. Similar to Remind and TalkingPoints, ClassDojo provides translations into 30+ languages, read receipts, scheduling messages ahead, and “quiet time” to show when you will not be responding. Parents can’t respond with two-way communication, but they can add hearts to show appreciation. ClassDojo is free for teachers, with upgraded plans available for schools and districts.
If you use Google Classroom, it’s a no-brainer to set up communication with parents and caregivers (Google uses the term guardians). If your students have a G Suite account, you can invite guardians to receive email summaries about their child’s work and class announcements (just not grades). Though the upload process for parents’ emails is a little clunky (cut and paste), once guardians opt in to the invitation email, they can decide whether to receive daily or weekly updates. The downside is the emails parents get are pretty basic — just a chronological list of all items — and they are not translated into other languages. But, using this functionality gives guardians transparency into assignments and announcements posted in Google Classroom.
Don’t forget that successful communication with parents and caregivers includes choosing a method that is accessible to parents and one that they will use, in order to provide frequent, regular communication. Students are more likely to be responsible learners if they know their parents are connected to teachers!
Note: You may also find Common Sense Education’s reviews of these tools helpful.