August 23, 2018

The aim of today’s post is to give you tips and ideas on how using technology in the classroom can take the frustration out of communication.

When I was in school, my teachers communicated with my parents in the queue at Checkers, or by giving me a letter to pass on to my parents. Those were the days. Today we live in a connected world; everybody is communicating with everybody all the time. Every year the pressure to create better communication channels between teachers and parents increase, especially in primary schools. When I was a student sending a letter home was the only option. Today technology makes it possible to communicate more efficiently, but it also opens the door to myriad new problems. The trick is to find the communication tools that suits your needs the best while giving up the least of your privacy and wasting as little of your precious time as possible. Something else that lots of teachers forget to consider is that you want to use a communication tool that also protects the privacy of your learners and their parents.

Ask yourself these questions before you choose a communication tool:

  • What is the school’s policy on direct communication with parents?
  • Do you just want to send notifications to parents?
  • Do you want parents to respond to messages?
  • Do you want parents to be able to communicate with each other or only with you?
  • Are you planning to post photos of what is happening in your class? (remember to check the school’s policies before you post any photos)

Once you have a clear picture in your head of what you are going to use it for, investigate the different options. I had a look at some of the most common communication tools on your behalf

Whatsapp groups

Whatsapp has taken over as the most widely used app for communication, so it should be no surprise that it is the go-to app for teachers. Personally, I think Whatsapp groups was designed by the devil himself, and I refuse to be part of any group that consists of more than 15 people. While Whatsapp groups are probably the best tool for sending messages quickly and getting responses back, they are ripe for abuse and cause lots of irritation. Of all the options Whatsapp groups are the best option if it is essential that parents can communicate with each other. It is also the most intrusive option.

Whatsapp broadcasting lists

Broadcasting still makes use of the Whatsapp App. But Broadcasting Lists are slightly better than Groups. For a start, all the parents don’t have access to each others phone numbers, and there is no off-topic chatting. It does still mean that all the parents have access to your phone number and can contact you at any time of the day. Another problem is that you have no central place to find all the replies, which could make it difficult to keep track of replies.
If you are only going to use it once in a blue moon and you are happy for parents to have access to your phone number, Broadcasting could be your solution.

If you would like to try Whatsapp Broadcasting, here are some easy instructions.

Class Dojo is actually more of a Classroom Management Tool than a way of communicating with parents. But it does have a feature that allows you to send messages to all the parents that have signed up. Class Dojo makes it reasonably easy for parents to sign up using a code, but unless all the parents buy in it won’t be very efficient. It does have the advantage that there are no off-topic conversation.

If you are planning to go all in and provide parents with a constant stream of information of what is happening in the class, Class Dojo might be for you. Class Dojo has a myriad of other features that could also be useful especially for primary school teachers. Before you decide to use Class Dojo as a behaviour management tool, you might want to read through these articles.

Let’s discuss Class Dojo for a moment.

Class Dojo poses data protection concerns for parents.

Remind is an app that was designed for teachers to communicate with learners and their parents. Once it is set up, it is super easy to send messages out. Setting up is also a breeze since you do not have to type all the numbers or email addresses in, you just provide learners with a code that they email/SMS to the class and they are signed up. Remind is custom made for one way communication and there is no way for parents to reply to the notification that they have received.
Remind does not require parents/students to download a separate app, they will receive the message via email/SMS. No phone or email addresses are exchanged.

While you can create a Remind account for free, it does seem that there will be a cost involved if you are considering school-wide roll-out.

Of all the tools on this list Remind was designed for this purpose, and give you the most advantages while being minimally intrusive.

Click here for some more information about Remind.

D6 is being used widely in South African schools. I have to admit that I delete the app almost as soon as I downloaded it. While D6 makes it easy to keep parents in the loop with what is happening at school, it can very quickly get annoying.
D6 gets most of its income from advertising, but there is still a set-up fee and a small monthly cost involved. I have a feeling with D6 you have to go big or go home. Unless everybody in the school buys in and use it, it will not be very effective.
D6 is only an option for a school-wide rollout.

Email groups

If you are like me, and emails are your prefered way of communicating, then email groups might be the solution for you. It is a bit of a pain to set up since you have to collect everybody’s email addresses and add them to the email group, once it is set up it is easy to use. Just remember always to use BCC. There is nothing that looks so unprofessional as somebody that give out a whole mailing lists emails.

Why anybody would create a class Facebook group is an open question, but you will be surprised how many there are. It might be very convenient to post pictures of what the learners have done today and remind parents of the cake sale tomorrow while adding a picture of your supper. But it ultimately blurs the lines between work and play entirely. Facebook is first and foremost social media, if you are going to start using it for work, then you can not really complain if your professional and personal lives begin to mix.

The only advantage I can see to a Facebook group is that parents join the group from their side, there is no need for you to type a whole list of numbers and they do not need to check another app.
Facebook groups also raise quite a few security concerns. As a parent, I will not be happy if my child’s teacher put any information about what is going on in class on Facebook and then I am not even talking about posting photos. Yes, it should be a closed group, but even that does not guarantee that nobody would share it outside the group. Once something is on Facebook, there is no way to manage or control how it is used.

Slack is a relatively new app, that is making lots of gains in the business world. I wrote a blog post last year about using Slack as a way to communicate with your colleagues or students but it is also a good option when it comes to communicating with parents.

Slack in schools

Slack attempts to take the concept of Whatsapp groups and make it more organised and easier to manage. It allows you to have threads on different topics within an organisation; once you have joined the organisation, you can decide which threads you want to join. While it seems to be quite a nifty tool, it requires you to download a new app and when I tried Slack people kept on forgetting to check Slack. But Slack might be one to keep an eye on for the future.
If you have some parents that are already using Slack for work it might be successful. Otherwise, you might just end up sending out messages that nobody ever reads.

Like most things in life, there is no silver bullet. What works for me is not necessarily going to work for you. However, it is important that you spend some time before you start a parent group to decide what you want to use it for, how often you want to use it, what you are willing to allow and what not. And don’t forget to check with your principal before you start using it.

Do you have a direct communication channel with your parents? What communication tools do you use? Have you picked up any tips that you can share with us?

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