Communicating with Students' Homes: What's the Best Approach for Teachers?
We live in amazing times. Smartphones that are basically handheld computers and ubiquitous wireless technology have revolutionized how we interact as a society. If we choose, we can be in contact with each other around the clock.
For school communities, this fundamental shift has also led to a change in expectations regarding how often — and in how much depth — we communicate. More and more, we are tied to our email addresses, text messages and social media.
This all spills over into how teachers and administrators communicate with students and their families. If you choose, you can communicate every facet of your class — homework, projects, up-to-the minute grades, test scores, etc. — to your students’ homes instantaneously. But is this what’s best for children? These tips will help you find the right answer:
Adapt to your school culture
Before you begin to decide on your approach to using these communication technologies in your class, be sure to ask your supervisor and mentor about your district’s policies and cultural expectations. Some districts expect a high level of electronic communication, while others rely on more traditional practices.
It’s also good to know what your colleagues do. As a newer teacher, it’s best to start your work inside the current school culture and then adjust your practice over time.
Avoid offering inches and losing yards
Free technology like Edmodo and ThinkWave will let you enter grades and communicate them instantaneously to students and their parents. On its face, this looks like a great use of technology and a solid way to build your reputation with parents as a quick and responsive teacher. Yet there can be a downside.
What happens when the week grows busy and you don’t get your grades in right away? What about when you need more time to complete your assessments and your class has to wait for feedback? Don’t be surprised if parents and students begin to ask for the results of their work or your email starts to grow busier.
It’s great to make the best of this technology, but quick feedback can be a double-edged sword.
Release responsibility to students
As a classroom teacher, I would often say my job was to make myself more and more irrelevant to the children. My strategy was that over time, I would release more and more knowledge and skills to my students so that by the end of the year, I had passed along all that my coursework and curriculum called for.
This same ethic applies to making students responsible for their work. You can inadvertently remove all responsibility — writing down assignments, tracking projects, managing documents — by employing all of this technology. Be sure to leave some expectations in the hands of your students. A great way to accomplish this is to speak to them about what should be made available to them, and what should be their responsibility. Finding the proper balance will lead to strong growth on their part.
Don’t freeze them out
On that same note, technology makes it tempting to bypass your students and communicate only with their parents. While communicating directly with home ensures that all of your bases are covered, it doesn’t help your students prepare for the day when they no longer have a caring teacher and involved parents working with them.
As a general rule, all communication with home via email should be cc’d to the student, except for confidential information. They need to be involved in this process, or they will never be able to do it independently.
Consider requiring self-advocacy
I suggest this idea only to tenured and deeply experienced, confident teachers: You might consider not communicating with parents at all. Yes, this is risky, but with the proper attitude, communication strategies and explanations, you can help your students truly own their work in your classroom.
Now, of course, this applies only to children who are a bit older and have the capacity to accept increased responsibility, and you must have strong support from your administration. Still, this is definitely an idea worth exploring.
Don’t take communication lightly
Never have you had the ability to connect so fluidly and easily to the homes of your students. With a few keystrokes you can let everyone know what’s happening in class, exactly what their responsibilities are and what they have to do to succeed.
Just because you have this ability doesn’t mean that you should enter into it lightly. Be sure to think deeply about how best to communicate with your students and their parents.