Educators have long understood that it’s important to approach students’ education holistically, both inside and outside of school. Anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows that what happens to children after the dismissal bell rings influences their behavior and performance in school.
Over the years, educators, parents and policymakers have implemented strategies, practices and programs to bridge the gap between home and school. In 1897, the Parent Teacher Association was established to foster communication and cooperation between parents and educators.
Recognizing that a child who doesn’t eat well at home can’t do his or her best in school, Congress established the National School Lunch Program in 1946. At a local level, schools host open-house days and parent-teacher conferences, send home flyers detailing school activities, and give parents periodic report cards about their children’s performance.
Although these methods have helped teachers and administrators make progress in improving the home–school connection, involving a majority of parents continues to be a challenge.
Digital media have the potential to accelerate that progress exponentially, however, because a large — and rapidly increasing — number of Americans use smartphones, tablets, notebook computers and other digital devices in their daily lives.
Although traditional methods to connect home and school remain important, as districts participating in the Consortium for School Net working’s Leading Edge School Districts Cadre are demonstrating, digital media can be leveraged effectively to further these connections. (The Cadre is a key element of CoSN’s Participatory Learning in Schools: Leadership & Policy initiative.)
The following resources and reminders can help districts make good use of digital media to strengthen the home–school connection.
Make Use of School District Websites
Many district websites are static, with primarily pro-forma information. Yet, for many parents, the website is a key point of contact. While educators and school administrators have set hours during the school day, a district’s website is available 24x7 to anyone who has an Internet connection.
For a website to be relevant and useful to parents, it should contain not only district-level information, but also rich, current content from the schools their children attend. Teachers need district support to help them make the best use of their school’s site on the district website.
Recognizing this fact, Wisconsin’s Oconomowoc Area School District conducted professional development sessions for educators on the use of Google Apps for Education to provide resources for maintaining the school site. Great examples of educator/classroom websites can be found on the Katy (Texas) Independent School District’s site as well.
A district website can offer learning resources for in-home use too. Indiana’s Westfield Washington Schools (WWS) established Summer R.O.C.K.S. (Reviewing Online Content and K–8 Standards), a year-round program through which students and parents can find assessments and websites targeted to curriculum standards. Administrators and teachers also monitor and respond to parent and student questions through the site’s chat function.
Increase Social Media Outreach
An increasing number of districts are using social media to communicate with parents because, for many, it’s the communication channel of choice. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a Facebook page and Twitter feed, as does Inver Grove Heights Community Schools (ISD 199) in Minnesota. WWS, meanwhile, uses Moodle to post assignments and chat with students and parents.
Other districts use podcasts and blogs to enable schools to connect with parents. One example is Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, which maintains a YouTube channel of video podcasts produced by the district and by individual schools.
Overall, these districts and others are having a positive experience leveraging social media to maximize the home–school connection.
Tap into Student Information Systems
Schools’ computer systems also can help to keep parents informed about how their children are doing in school. WWS, ISD 199 and Katy ISD all use their student management system to give password-protected parental access to grades, attendance and other student data.
Rather than issuing traditional report cards, Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina uses its student management system to provide parents with a real-time link to continuously updated information on students’ work and assignments.
CPS, meanwhile, uses the CPS Parent Portal, which gives parents a venue to proactively monitor attendance and grades. Information comes from teacher grade books and includes features that allow parents and students to exchange notes with teachers, access curricular resources and view assignment-level details.
Some districts use e-mail and text messages to enhance the home–school connection and to communicate important updates. ISD 199 and Pennsylvania’s State College Area School District, for example, allow parents to monitor their children’s development and output as they advance grade levels by giving parents access to students’ ePortfolios.
It Works Both Ways
Digital-media use allows school personnel to get information to parents and the community, but the same applications can be used to get information from parents and community members to educators.
Online surveys, which can be produced easily at no cost, also can help to ensure that school personnel receive timely input and feedback from parents and the community. The more informed school personnel are about parent and community perspectives, concerns, needs and opinions, the better prepared they are to proactively seize opportunities and address challenges.
Institutions that are committed to improving communication and cooperation between parents and schools have powerful resources at their disposal. Many are free, but using them to advantage may require new skills and a commitment to leveraging those resources effectively.