Rachelle Dene Poth, teacher and edtech consultant in Pennsylvania, highlights five ways and 11 tools you can close the home-to-school gap and build relationships with your students' families.
onnecting with families and the school community in real-time is an essential part of our work as educators, especially over this past year. We need to be intentional about keeping families informed about class events, student work, and school activities to provide a window into students' learning experiences and strengthen the connection between families and the school community.
We start by getting to know the families first: by inviting them into our classrooms, making ourselves available, and by being aware of each family's needs, communication preferences, and prior experiences in the educational community. Fortunately nowadays, we have the choice of many digital tools to foster the home-to-school connection by sharing the happenings in our classroom.
A strong and collaborative partnership between home and school will positively impact student performance. Below are a few communication channels and ideas that you can incorporate into your tool-set today!
Multimedia open house
One of the first methods I used to build connections with families was to make my open house presentation available in Buncee for those who couldn't attend in person. The presentation would begin with a video introduction and include links to websites and other information that's important to make accessible for students' families.
Click the photo for a template you can use to create your own open house!
Beyond open house or back-to-school nights, Buncee and other multimedia presentations can be helpful throughout the year. From creating a quick check-in or sharing an update to displaying student work, there are many possibilities.
Whether it's a daily recap or weekly class summary, blogs are a great way to inform families about upcoming events, assessments, and projects. A blog posted on a class website provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily events and learning activities and fosters a greater connection between school and home. Top tip: You can recruit the help of students to write these posts!
Online apps have made the connection between home and school instantaneous. We've found Bloomz, Remind, Klassly, and Seesaw extremely helpful and have left it up to each school to find their preference.
Regardless of the tool chosen, getting started takes little time. These offer a variety of features from basic apps for messaging and sharing of files and photos, to more robust apps that include attendance, conference signups, volunteer lists, and more. Using these tools, teachers and families can communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.
Voice and video networking
Throughout the school year, we offer many events for families including back-to-school nights, open houses, award ceremonies, concerts, and sports that don't always match family schedules. We want families to participate in all of school life, so we have incorporated online podcasting tools—like Synth with its video option—for everyone to experience these events when they can.
Educreations and Screencastify make it easy to record weekly announcements and share lessons with families, while Flipgrid enables our students to share learning, have families introduce themselves to one another, or even produce a class news show. The possibilities are endless; you should try one out! 😀
It's important to include families as part of learning journeys. One robust platform we use is Spaces, which enables students to access and share their work from wherever they are. These digital portfolios allow families to see students' work and their growth over time.
Ultimately, Spaces and apps like it promote real-time feedback and provides the opportunity to discuss progress between teachers, students, and their families when it matters the most.
The key to building the family-to-school partnership is making that initial connection. Having consistent, effective, and reliable digital tools to build on this connection helps us continue to collaborate with families and grow together. These solid, supportive relationships between school and home promote student achievement and enhance the sense of belonging within our community.
Getting started with a new tool is always a challenge, but the best advice I can offer is to choose an idea and just try it out! You can gather feedback from families about how it's working, and then take time to decide if it's a good fit for you and your specific classroom needs. If it works, great! If not, there are so many other tools for you to explore.
About our Guest Blogger
Rachelle Dene Poth is an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher, and currently teaches Spanish and STEAM at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Outside of her organization, she is a consultant and speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting.
Rachelle holds a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master's in Instructional Technology. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and has received several Presidential Gold Awards for volunteer service to education.
Rachelle is the author of six books and has a new book that will be available in Summer 2021, Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-Person and Digital Instruction. You can find her blogging for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, District Administration, NEO LMS, and the STEM Informer with Newsweek when she isn't writing books.