If Family engagement is on your radar, you must have explored different communication channels on your quest to reach every Family. With so many different tools out there, there’s no blueprint that will work in every community. Every teacher creates their own system based on their goals and parents’ preferences. Which tools should make it into you “Family communication ninja toolkit”? Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of the most common communication channels.
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Ah, the good ol’ flyers. Our research showed that the majority of teachers (84%) still send paper handouts to parents. As this method of communication doesn’t rely on expensive technology, it’s a good solution for reaching low-income families. There are still some parents (and teachers!) who aren’t particularly tech-savvy or simply don’t check their email frequently.
The problem is, in addition to being time-consuming to create, paper flyers are neither quick or direct. Teachers have to rely on students to carry the message in their backpacks. When they hear nothing back, it’s difficult to determine what went wrong – did Family even get the note? Families and teachers are also increasingly concerned about the amount of paper that’s being used and would prefer a greener solution.
Best for: Communities with limited internet access.
Pros: Don’t rely on technology.
Cons: Not trackable, often remain in students’ backpacks and never reach the parents.
As Sarah Brown Wessling put it, email “instantly makes communication easier and more complicated.” Sending a quick message to parents is certainly convenient and far less disruptive than a phone call, and you can email all parents at once.
With our inboxes becoming more crowded every day, managing multiple threads can become a challenge. The instant nature of email communication has disadvantages, too. Hasty responses are sometimes misunderstood, and it’s impossible to take back what’s been written. Also, without additional tools, email itself doesn’t provide an easy way to keep all parents’ contact details up to date.
Best for: A familiar tool that doesn’t require signing up for additional applications.
Pros: Can be used for announcements and one-to-one communication.
Cons: “Reply all” threads can easily spiral out of control and become difficult and time-consuming to manage.
3. Phone calls
Teachers often pick up the phone after they haven’t had a response to their previous messages. Phone calls are personable, instantaneous and can clear up many doubts quickly, without going back and forth by email or text.
On the downside, teachers often attept to call parents only to find out that the line has been disconnected. Effective phone communication requires setting some ground rules, too. Although we rarely hear teachers complaining about too much Family involvement, they sometimes feel that parents don’t respect their time, calling late at night or on weekends.
Best for: Targeted follow-ups.
Pros: Teacher can connect with a Family instantly and discuss a problem in depth. A very personal and direct communication channel.
Cons: Many families change numbers often and don’t update the school. It’s difficult to set boundaries and make sure parents won’t call at inaproppriate times.
4. Teacher pages
Teacher websites have many attractive features: creating pages, uploading content such as photos and videos. However, they are not specifically designed to encourage Family engagement or enable 1-to-1 communication. They are known to be clunky and not intuitive to use – they are rarely mobile-friendly which means parents can’t easily access them on the go. As parents aren’t provided with any tools to engage and react, teachers don’t know who’s reading the updates.
Best for: Non-urgent, class-wide communication.
Pros: Approved and set up by the school, offer information about both classroom and school events.
Cons: Teacher pages aren’t mobile friendly, engagement isn’t trackable and parents aren’t encouraged to respond and react.
5. Scheduling apps
Scheduling apps such as signup.com can handle several tasks that teachers often struggle with: scheduling, volunteer sign-ups, and reminders. Scheduling tools help teachers make arrangements without frustrating ‘reply-all’ email chains or juggling complicated spreadsheets. However, many teachers who use them still combine the apps with emails and paper for announcements and one-to-one communication.
Best for: Conferences and volunteering.
Pros: A huge time saver when switching from email or flyers – designed for quick and effortless scheduling and sign-ups.
Cons: Have to be paired with other tools for 1-to-1 communication and newsletters.
6. Communication apps
Communication apps such as classdojo.com focus on messaging and photo sharing, sometimes including digital portfolios or behavior management functionality, too. While their communication functionality can be very effective, the biggest downside is that teachers usually have to pair them with a scheduling app in order to meet all their needs.
Best for: Mobile-friendly 1-to-1 and class-wide communication.
Pros: Streamline messaging, photo sharing and classroom management.
Cons: Families have to sign-up to receive messages. Communication apps often lack essection scheduling tools.
7. All-in-one apps
“All-in-one” communication apps combine the best of both scheduling and communication tools. They usually include conference scheduling, announcements, one-to-one messaging, sign-ups, reminders and contact directory, providing teachers with a complete communication toolkit. Finding an all-in-one app that’s right for you doesn’t always happen on the first try, but teachers who found a good match have never looked back. “ClassTag is transformational. I have never seen this level of Family engagement. A must have tool for every teacher!”, says Rebecca Karow, a kindergarten teacher who became an advocate for all-in-one classroom communication solutions.
Best for: All-in-one solution.
Pros: Can handle all aspects of communication with parents. Provide visibility into who’s engaging and reading the messages. Automate essential communications and send notifications to parents even before they join the app.
Cons: Communities with limited internet access need follow-ups through other channels.
8. Social media
Social media entice teachers with an opportunity to reach parents on a platform they already use. Although social media are not designed to fit specific needs of classroom communication, parents don’t need to sign up for any new tools and can be reached in an environment they are already familiar with. For teachers, it sometimes means maintaining multiple accounts – a professional and personal one. When using Facebook, you must use your personal profile to communicate, and not everyone is comfortable with this level of sharing. Before diving in and notifying the parents, check the social media policy of your district to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Best for: Reaching parents using tools they already use.
Pros: Many parents already have accounts. Social media networks are designed to boost engagement, interaction and build communities.
Cons: Some districts don’t allow using social media. Privacy is a concern as some parents might not want the information to be public.
So, which communication method is right for you? The truth is, most teachers combine up to three of these methods to successfully reach every Family. If you feel overwhelmed by using too many channels, there’s a good chance that your parents feel the same way. Is there one tool that can do it all? Probably not, but a smart application will help you build stong foundations. For instance, ClassTag automatically sends a weekly newsletter with an overview of upcoming events. Instead of preparing time-consuming flyers, you can use the time to pick up the phone and make sure you follow up with parents who haven’t been active for a while.
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