We usually only get good updates to Classroom in January and September, so when Google announced a new update to Classroom last week, it came as a bit of a surprise.
One of the first questions parents asked when announced that we will start using an online learning management system (LMS) was whether they would have access to it. Unlike other LMS’s Google Classroom does not offer parents direct access to the platform, and with good reason.
While educating a child is a team effort between the parents and the teacher, I do not believe that parents need to know every single thing that happens in the class especially when it comes to high school children. Giving parents direct access to the LMS just encourage helicopter parents and take away not only a child’s responsibility and independence but also the opportunity for those very important conversations between a child and parents starting with, “So what did you do in school today?”
Having said that, there are also excellent reasons why teachers want parents to know what is happening in class. Parents might not need to know every single thing that happens in class, but it is essential that they are involved and aware of what is happening in their child’s life. It also increases transparency and enables parents and teachers to pick up on issues before they become major issues.
Google has acknowledged this by adding two features that involve parents. In 2016 they added a guardian summary feature that sends out a daily/weekly email to a guardian to inform them of everything that was posted in their child’s classes that week. And last week they added the ability to email a portfolio of a learner’s work to either the student or the guardians. While this new feature can be time-consuming, since it is not sending the emails automatically, it gives teachers more control over what parents receive.
To see how it works, click here.
What would you use this feature for?
This new feature can be used in (at least) two ways. When a student misses an assignment, you can quickly email the guardian, so that they are aware of it and can help their child complete the task. You can also email students directly to inform them that they have missed a due date.
At the moment a task will only be added to the email once it is past its due date, so you can not email parents at the start of the term to make them aware of coming assignments.
But this new feature also gives you the opportunity to showcase learner’s work. One of the principles of effective teaching is creating an authentic audience and no matter the age of a child, they love showing off their work to the important people in their life. I think if you as teacher is only ever going to email parents work when something is wrong, you will miss a golden opportunity.
Best practices when emailing parents
I have a confession to make. I have always used Classroom in a slightly sloppy way. As long as the work gets done, I haven’t really bothered whether students remember to “mark as done”. Once you start involving parents in your Classroom, both teachers and learners must be very consistent in how they use Classroom; you do not want an avalanche of emails from parents about assignments that are not complete when they are actually handed in already.
One of the downsides of the automated summary that Classroom can send is that it ends up spammy. Even if you choose the weekly option, you will find that parents will get so used to seeing a Classroom email in their Inbox that they delete it without reading. The new feature put you as teacher in control of how often parents get emailed. Keep in mind is that emailing guardians cannot be done in bulk, so it is fairly time-consuming. So set realistic expectations, for example, email parents twice a year to showcase learner’s work and about missing assignments as the need arise.
I want to end with a word of warning. The moment you involve parents, a number of factors outside the classroom comes into play. While I believe that we live in an age where both mother and father should have an equal role when it comes to raising their children and therefore would add both email addresses, there will be cases where that is not advisable, especially in split families and acrimonious divorces. Just be aware and sensitive to this when you email parents.