This week during #ecetechchat we discussed different tech tools that can be used to help create and sustain parent engagement in your early childhood program. I think there are a number of great tech tools (many listed below) that are available today to help teachers easily connect and engage with their parents on a regular basis. And as we discussed during the chat, engaging with parents and building those relationships is vital to creating a strong, connected class community because it allows for a whole new level of home-school collaboration.
One of the key points I took away from the chat was the power of tech tools to help teachers engage parents in starting a cycle of engagement that facilitates learning at home and can then replenish the classroom community with new energy. Basically, by engaging parents, you are providing them with new ideas and activities for discussion with their children at home. Parents are then able to engage with their children about what they are learning at school and talk about new topics and ideas, which children can then bring back into the classroom, completing the cycle.
To get that cycle started, it’s important to check in and survey the parents in your classroom to learn about their existing tech knowledge and comfort. Something emphasized in the chat was to provide multiple venues for engagement (e.g., phone, email, social media) and to meet parents where they already engage. So if all of your parents are on Facebook and that site is allowed at your school, look into creating a private group for your class that you can update with pictures and notes about your classroom activities throughout the day. @Matt_Gomez shared a great piece about using Facebook with his Kindergarten class.
For parent engagement to be sustainable, especially through technology, we agreed that there needs to be support from the administration so they can model appropriate engagement and endorse the use of specific tools or websites. Unfortunately, many schools have blocked social media sites and other online spaces that make sharing easy. One way to work with that issue is to talk to your administration about creating an Acceptable Use Policy as @cybraryman1 suggested and think about what type of specific Social Media Policy you want or need for your classroom. With young children, you cannot be too protective of their privacy, so think carefully about what permissions you set on any social media sites you use and before you create a social community for your class, build a social (personal) learning network for yourself so you become comfortable with the tools and online spaces.
That said, social media and other tech tools will likely be foreign to some/many administrators, colleagues, and parents so you may experience some push-back from trying to introduce something new. Take calculated risks and if you believe the tool will help foster meaningful engagement, ask your administrator if you can at least have a trial run. Some parents might just be afraid of the technology, which is why teacher-parent tech nights can be a great way to build strong relationships with your parents while also helping them learn some new skills. During #ecetechchat we also discussed this idea as a way to help bridge the digital divide and help parents learn and use technology that they may not have access to at home. Another idea is to invite volunteers from a local college or organization to come teach the children, parents, and/or other teachers about new tech tools they can use to engage with one another.
Ultimately, the teacher-parent relationships are the most important piece and technology remains just one tool to facilitate the development and support of those relationships. So, make your engagement proactive instead of reactive and contact parents in as many ways as possible, as often as possible, to share child photographs (worth 10,000 words when it’s your child), videos, notes, work, and more with parents!
Here are some of the tech tools we discussed to engage with parents. If you have more ideas, please add them to our shared #ecetechchat Google Doc!
Tech Tools for Parent Engagement
- School Website – post updates about your class
- Class Blog – post about classroom activities and pictures/videos
- Social Media
- YouTube – upload videos of children in the classroom
- Voicethread – digital slide show tool, allows parents to comment
- Podcasts – of children working, classroom activities, etc
- Music Playlists – send playlists home of songs you listen to in class
- Digital Photographs – posted on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, child portfolio, etc
PhotosCaps & Skitch – let you caption your photos and quickly share and save them
- Evernote – create individual child portfolios to share with parents
- Skype – video chat with parents
- Symbaloo – share mixes with sites for children to play/practice skills
- Tungle.me – schedule meetings with parents
- Digital storytelling tools (e.g., Storybird) parents can view or make at home
- Text Message
- Phone Calls
Another great post on parent engagement: http://esl-library.com/blog/2011/08/09/tips-for-engaging-parents/
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