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Technology can bolster home-school connection

New York Teacher

Families are crucial partners in helping your students succeed. The way you engage them may look a little different this year — but taking advantage of digital tools and technology may actually strengthen the home-school connection.

“Parents are becoming more computer-literate and learning how to navigate plat-forms like ClassDojo and Goo-gle Classroom,” says Jamala Roper, a 5th-grade literacy teacher at PS 179 in the Mott Haven area of the Bronx.

You may not be able to invite families to visit your classroom this year. But because students and their families are becoming more accustomed to virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, you still have the opportunity to meet with families face to face if you wish.

Roper, who teaches students in person, even hosted a “virtual classroom tour” via Zoom in which she walked around her classroom to give families a sense of the room’s layout and atmosphere.

If your students’ work has gone digital, keep in mind that families have a level of access to it they may not have had in the past.

“My communication with parents about schoolwork has actually improved, because they can go into the Google Classroom and see it right there on the stream,” says Tiffany Helmy, a 3rd-grade teacher to remote students at PS 748 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

During virtual parent-teacher conferences, Roper shared her screen with families to display student work.

“It kept the conversation focused, and we used a count-down clock on the screen to keep the meeting structured and efficient,” she says. “Our virtual parent-teacher conferences actually ran smoother than we’re used to in the ‘real world.’”

If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to set expectations and boundaries around your preferences and timeline for engaging with families. With so many digital tools at your disposal, you’ll want to make sure you’re funneling families to the one that works best for you. If you find that parents are leaving comments in your Google Classroom, for instance, but you’d rather receive messages through an app you’ve set up, let them know! Think about how you’d prefer families to contact you with questions or concerns and give them 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.”

Apps like ClassDojo and Remind, which have been popular with teachers for years, continue to be valuable whether you and your students are in your school building or learning remotely.

Remind allows you to set up separate rosters for different classes so you can text all the students and their families in a particular class at once. 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.

ClassDojo allows teachers to send messages about students’ behavior and academic 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 be used to share photos and translate messages.

This school year is challenging for everyone. Your efforts to inform and engage families can go a long way toward helping them feel sup-ported and confident in a difficult time.