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Keep the home-school bond alive all year

New York Teacher

Now that the school year is well underway, take some time to think about the ways you’ll keep your students’ families informed and engaged throughout the year.

Consider and communicate your expectations. Would you like your students’ caregivers to sign reading logs every night? Are there projects you’d like to assign for which students might need help from their families? Just as you probably strive to set clear guidelines for your students in class, think about how you’ll communicate information with their families as well.

If you haven’t yet, it’s appropriate to set expectations and boundaries around your preferences and timeline for engaging with families. Will you send newsletters home and, if so, how often? Will you send important notices via printed materials or electronically? Think about how you’d prefer families to contact you with questions or concerns — via email, by calling the school or through an app you’ve set up — and give families a sense of when they’ll hear back from you. As long as your guidelines are reasonable, it’s OK to be explicit about them. For example, you can tell families, “I will respond to your note within 24 hours.”

Use your Parent Engagement time wisely. As part of the contract negotiated by the UFT and the DOE, you should have a block of time built into your workday — 40 minutes per week, which may be configured differently depending on your school — for engaging with parents and families. (If you feel like this time isn’t available to you, speak to your chapter leader.) Some teachers use this time to make phone calls, meet with parents individually or work on home-school newsletters. Others have invited parents into their classrooms for workshops and learning opportunities.

Use technology to stay in touch. It’s not advisable to communicate with families using your personal phone number or personal email address. Fortunately, there are a variety of technical tricks and apps you can use for your school-related communication.

If you use Gmail, it’s easy to set up an alternate email address related to your classroom that will funnel emails to your inbox. This can be especially helpful for educators in co-teaching partnerships, so you both have access to the parent emails.

The free app Remind allows you to set up separate rosters for different classes so you can text all your students and their families from a particular class at the same time. If you choose to activate two-way communication, families can send messages back to you. You can schedule announcements in advance and share photos and other files. You can even have your message translated into different languages.

Another free app that’s popular with teachers is ClassDojo, which allows teachers to send messages about students’ behavior and learning progress directly to families. If you choose to use ClassDojo as a behavior management tool by adding or subtracting “Dojo points,” the app will send real-time updates to families. Like Remind, ClassDojo can also be used to share photos and translate messages.

If you want students and their families to access information about your class online, you can use sites like Google Classroom, Shutterfly’s Classroom Share and Weebly for Education to build private classroom websites.

Their families are crucial partners in helping your students succeed. A little extra effort can go a long way when it comes to engaging families throughout the year.