Report cards, interims, and parent-teacher conferences were once the mainstays of teacher to parent communications. An occasional newsletter or notice home or phone call was used to highlight or bring attention to something special. Schools have moved away from paper and use a variety of online methods to replace notices and newsletters. Yet, fundraisers and some formal documents can still require paper. Emails, texts, school-based apps, parent portals, and learning management systems (e.g., Google Classroom, Moodle, and Seesaw) now play a significant role in our professional responsibility to “communicate effectively and in a timely manner with parents/guardians” (British Columbia Teachers’ Council 4).
Even with the multiple methods of communications available to schools and teachers, effective communications can still be challenging. Language and cultural barriers, technological savvy or lack thereof, and information overload can make good communications challenging despite all the tools available to us.
When we reflect on how Jesus communicated, we see that context and relationships played an important role. Jesus’s communication was rooted in the oral traditions of the day. And Jesus’s communication was always effective and timely. For example, the rich young man who wanted to earn his salvation was sent away sad because Jesus knew the precise words that would challenge his heart, and in speaking those words, he also challenged his own disciples.
As teachers today with so many methods of communication available to us, we must remember to consider the relationships that we need to foster with parents and the context of what is being communicated. These principles should be applied to the three broad categories of school communications: those with the whole school community, the classroom community, and the individual families.
Whole School Community
Technology has greatly improved whole school communications. There are many efficient and effective ways to communicate with your entire school community. Shared calendars, weekly summaries or posts, school-based apps, and social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter) or Facebook all help to disseminate information to your entire school community. With the plethora of options available for mass communications, it is important that schools use some strategic planning when communicating to the whole school. Parents are bombarded with electronic communications. Effective whole school communication practices need to keep in mind that parents should not be overwhelmed with multiple emails or notifications during a week. Having a web-based calendar of events is effective because the calendar link does not change, and it can be updated and maintained easily. Larger schools may need to consider different calendars for lower versus higher grades so that the calendar does not appear crowded and become difficult to read on a screen. From a web-based calendar it is easy to create a short weekly summary that is usually sent on either a Friday or Monday to give parents a snapshot of the week ahead.
Use of social media platforms for whole school communications is beneficial if much of the community is engaging with the school’s chosen platform. However, parents can easily choose not to be part of a school’s social media. As a result, schools must consider the parent engagement level of social media tools and evaluate if communication goals are being met. Social media platforms are frequently used to communicate emergency situations like lockdowns. Given the fear and anxiety that real lockdown situations create, emergency social media messaging can have both positive and negative effects on your school’s community (for one example, see Claxton).
Parent portals and school-based apps have some advantages compared to using social media sites for emergency situations. Since both portals and apps rely on messages being sent directly to a parent’s phone—rather than being widely broadcast on social media—schools have better control over the messaging. Direct text messaging platforms are another option and are becoming the standard messaging protocol for many schools. Checking our phones is habitual. In 2014, it was reported that “the average Canadian smartphone owner admits to checking their device six times per hour” (Bogart). High schools have found texting to be effective for reporting truancy. Some school-based apps and text messaging platforms also allow for tracking metrics to gauge the message penetration and response rates. Direct-to-smartphone apps, portals, and texts are likely to become more popular as the next generation of parents’ smartphone usage becomes more entrenched.
How classroom communications are carried out rests primarily with the classroom teacher. Schools may designate which learning management system (LMS) is adopted, but ultimately, teachers will determine the extent to which the LMS communication tools are used to foster good relationships and communications within the classroom community. Most systems do require parent participation via email or a specific app. As a result, just like social media platforms, not all parents may choose to be part of a classroom community managed by the teacher. Despite this, teachers’ use of the LMS to keep parents informed about field trips, homework, deadlines, hot lunch reminders, learning samples, and—most importantly—celebrating success helps to foster greater communication between the school, parent, and child.
An LMS allows the teacher to make short and effective daily communications to parents. For the primary grades, simple posts like, “Talk to your child about our walk today” help to create meaningful conversations at home. Homework expectations and reminders for intermediate grades help to foster accountability and responsibility for students. At the high school level, most LMS tools allow parents to keep track of assignments and tests online. This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print or digital edition of Christian Educators Journal.
Bogart, Nicole. “Canadians Check Their Smartphones Every Ten Minutes.” Global News, 4 February 2014. globalnews.ca/news/1127676/canadians-check-their-smartphones-every-10-minutes-poll/.
British Columbia Teachers’ Council. Professional Standards for BC Educators. 19 June 2019. www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/kindergarten-to-grade-12/teach/teacher-regulation/standards-for-educators/edu_standards.pdf.
Claxton, Matthew. “Lockdown at Langley Schools Sparked by Online Threats of ‘Slaughter.’” Aldergrove Star, 5 May 2023. www.aldergrovestar.com/news/lockdown-over-at-two-langley-schools-2268980.
Dan enjoys camping, occasional cooking, and church life. His curiosity and inquisitiveness are equivalent to that of a thirteen-year-old.