Knocking Down the Walls

How many lines of communication do you have with students’ homes?  Are the walls of your classroom transparent?  Or do they even exist?  In public education, there seems to be a lot of diversity when assessing effective communication from one class to the next.  Perhaps this stems from the wide range of prior experiences from when teachers were in school.  When I was in school, the primary means of communication was a letter or report card that I took home in my backpack.  Many times my mother went an entire 9 weeks without hearing much feedback about what was happening in class.  Occasionally she would run into a teacher at the grocery store.  I wasn’t a student that had behavior problems or grade problems, so perhaps that’s why my mother didn’t complain.  I think, though, that I went to school in a different age where the primary and most effective means of communicating to homes was to send a letter or phone call.

The internet has taken communication to a new level!  The following means of communicating did not exist when I went to school:

  • Email
  • Text Message (@Celly or Remind101)
  • Web-based grade reporting
  • Edmodo
  • Web-based learning management systems
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs)

What does effective communication look like?  How many attempts should be made to communicate important information with homes?  These are serious questions that should be considered by all educators.  I worry that we still have buildings full of educators that believe that one attempt to communicate with homes is enough and effective.  In today’s age, we should bombard homes with important information.  There are so many effective, easy, and quick ways to communicate and reach people, why use just one?  We live in a society where people have hundreds of “friends” they can communicate with in a matter of minutes.  Why is there such poor communication between homes and classrooms?

First, I think part of the problem is this antiquated attitude towards communicating with homes.  Second is the inexperience or lack of knowledge by parents on the available lines of communication to classrooms.  Last, there seems to be a huge inconsistency by educators on how to effectively communicate with homes.

On my team, we’ve got 52 parents signed up for Livegrades, our web-based grade reporting/communication system.  That means, at best, 52 homes are actively viewing homework assignments, receiving messages from teachers, accessing discipline reports, and keeping up with their child’s grades.  Let’s say we have 30 teachers in our middle school.  At best, 30 teachers are effectively communicating with homes using a variety of communication tools.  Which scenario is more likely?
I have 95 students right now, so 43 homes are unaccounted for on Livegrades.  The only other method of communication that remains for those homes not on Livegrades is a phone call.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good ole 20th century phone call.  However, most teachers and homes are more likely to send a message via email or Livegrades than they are to pick up the phone and hold a conversation.  If you want to know important information such as how your child is behaving in a particular class, his/her relationship with a particular student, or why he/she received a poor grade on a particular assignment, it becomes easier and more convenient for a teacher to send a quick message home rather than a phone call.  I also know several teachers who wouldn’t dare call home and speak to a parent about an issue.  For better or worse, it’s a fact that more open communication will occur when alternative methods of communication exist and are actively used.

What handicaps teachers effectively using 21st century communication tools?  Teachers that are not effectively using 21st century communication tools.  How is a parent to know which teachers use which tools and which tools to learn and become comfortable using? Every teacher communicates information in a different way, and some teachers communicate only the bare minimum.

“When my child is absent, how can they find out what they missed?”  Is this a common concern in your school?  It is in mine.  On my team here at Blennerhassett Middle, we post the HW daily in all of our classrooms.  We also send the HW as a message via Livegrades.  My students have additional means of communication because I’ve broadcast my Twitter handle to all of my students.  Occasionally my students will message me in Edmodo and ask questions there.  I often communicate to students and parents using @Celly.  Celly has become my favorite means of communication and I couldn’t imagine teaching without it.  It allows a safe environment to exchange text messages between myself, students, and parents.  There are other effective means of communication in place in schools today.  With all of these available methods of communication in place and used actively, I wonder how that would transform classrooms?


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