If you’re a classroom teacher, you have a very valuable resource that you might be neglecting. That resource is parents. You have a lot of parents who want to help, but the hours that they are available to help aren’t in sync with the hours that you’re available to help them help. It’s time to let the internet connect you two. Sort of an E-learningHarmony, if you will. To connect with parents, your class needs to be transparent. Parents don’t necessarily need every detail that’s going on in your classroom, but a few things will definitely help. The easiest way to kickstart this process is to have your own web site. That site needs these four essential items: 1. Grades 2. What’s going on in class 3. What homework is due and what is assigned, and 4. How to get help. These four things can be a big mystery for parents. They’re often a mystery for students, too, despite repeated attempts to enlighten them. So let’s bring in the parents to help.  This is for more than just parents, too. Tutors, family members, mentors, coaches . . . anyone who is there to help. Your site needs to be simple to follow and have easy access.

GRADES

This is the most difficult one. Your district likely has very specific guidelines on sharing grade information that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and you don’t want to run afoul of that. If your district has a grade portal for parents, be sure to include the link and login information regularly in your communications to parents. It might seem like a task for the front office or guidance, but parents having access to this will greatly improve the their interaction at home. Make it a priority that parents are informed on grade postings. If you email them regularly, you can include a link in your signature line. If your school does not have a grade portal, check with your principal to see if you can post grades in an online gradebook like Engrade. Keeping two gradebooks might seem tedious, but it will be the most important redundant work that you do. Have students and parents check the gradebook regularly. It’s too late at report card time. Let them right the direction of the ship before it gets too far off course. In addition, and importantly (and possibly MOREOVER), you must record grades in a timely manner. It doesn’t help the student or parent at all if you record a dozen grades the night before report cards are to be printed. The veil is being lifted on teacher grading practices and spot lights are shining where they have not been before. Some teachers come off looking very professional and others are struggling with this new-found parent access to gradebooks.

WHAT’S GOING ON IN CLASS

“Nothing.” That’s what a staggering amount of parents here when they ask their kids, “what’s going on in class?” Parents don’t need great details. They just need the essential buzzwords so that they can ask, “What can you tell me about polynomials?” or “What happened in Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet? I know that you read it in class today.” If students can spend time at night summarizing and highlighting what they did in each class that day, they will be moving up Bloom’s ladder right at home with their parents. That’s an effective review and almost as good as homework. You will bust this exercise wide open in Twitter with “hashtag parents” later on.

WHAT HOMEWORK IS DUE AND WHAT IS ASSIGNED

Transparency is the key here. Let parents see well in advance what’s coming up. Be sure to mention it again the day it is due. I always included a “Do Today, Due Tomorrow” section.

HOW TO GET HELP

Parents need some steps to follow to get help when they need help, and you need a ready list of interventions at your fingertips. You might be surprised if you explore your school the resources and people that are available to help. Compile those in a handy list for parents (and you) to refer to.

WEB SITES

It would be great if a school website allowed teachers to post their calendars, homework assignments, pacing guides, and expectations. It’s certainly handy for parents to have one hub to go to for all classes. Many schools still have 20th-century web sites, though. Teachers need regular and immediate access, and technology can be stingy with those keys.  Additionally, page editing on many school web sites requires a course in coding. That’s truly unfortunate with today’s technology in building, designing, styling, and editing web pages. LMS’s often are not the answer if calendars and syllabi are password protected. Passwords dramatically decreases parent participation. You need to make these items easily accessible. If you do have a school-wide or district-wide LMS, see if there are sections that can be made public without needing a password to access. It’s not necessary to keep EVERYTHING behind locked doors. We already have that problem with the brick and mortar schools. Why are we duplicating that barrier with our online construction? Weebly is a quick, free, and easy solution. Here’s a sample sitethat took me about 25 minutes to build. I’ve not added any course content to this site. It just just a place to connect with parents and to keep them informed on grades, what’s happening in class, assignments that are due, and how to get help. Of course, if you want to add course content, these are some initial steps that you can take to begin the process.

Social Media

Add some social media to your site. Create a Twitter account just for your classes. You can post the feed on your site, and parents can follow you on Twitter. Tweet out questions that parents can ask their kids at night about class. Use some regular hashtags and include those on your site. If you’re new at this and need an assist, email me, and I can create a copy of my sample Weebly site for you.  You can change the information to your own. Good luck and post links to your class site and tips in the comments section below.

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Adam Renfro
Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011. Creatives can follow Adam on Tumblr at http://adamrenfro.tumblr.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdamRenfro, and you can follow his Flipboard magazine Edu-Nation at http://flip.it/Apupn.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I am a graduate student in Dr. Setser’s Summer 1 class. I enjoyed reading your ideas on classroom websites. Recently our school has created a new website for our teachers to keep parents updated. Although, we do not include grades we have included a calendar and post weekly newsletters. In the future we hope to add more features. I have really never thought of adding homework or tweets but I think it is a great idea. I am looking forward to adding some of these features to my existing page on our school website.

  2. I think it is a fantastic idea for every teacher to have a website! Such a website would allow the parents to get to know the teacher better and certainly allow for more communication between teacher, parents and students. Speaking from a parent’s perspective, a teacher website would be a huge help. Knowing what is happening in the classroom is especially important so that parents can jumpstart conversations about school with their kids. I like the way this Weebly site has been set up, with a different page for each class. It is simple and easy to navigate, but still extremely informative. By the way, I am a student in Dr. Setser’s ECI 509 class and I have been enjoying reading the posts on this site.

  3. I’m also a student in Bryan Setser’s NCSU class. I really enjoyed this post! You have some great ideas here for teachers — I know that a lot of parents would appreciate an easy way to keep aware of what’s going on in their kids’ classes. And with many new website creation tools, making a simple site like this is really not hard at all. Some teachers may be intimidated by the thought of having to create HTML, but you really don’t need much technical knowledge to make sites like this. It would be great too if schools would offer some technology training to assist teachers in setting up sites like this.

  4. Having a class website is a great idea for teachers. Having the home connection between teacher and parent is very important. I have tried Weebly and found it to be very user friendly for beginners to create their own website. My county is also encouraging us to use Edmodo as well to connect parents. I would really enjoy using Twitter but my county has it blocked along with many other webistes that I feel could be beneficial in the classroom. WordPress, a great blogging tool, is just one example of a great site that is blocked. ECI 509 Dr. Setser

  5. No question technology has had an impact on teaching and education but how to use technology effectively in education remains a challenge. Finding the right instructional technology can be hard enough but figuring out how to use it is a whole different story. This is not to mention that teachers must utilize the specific technology to suit the specific subject being taught. Then there is the battle to find tools that are free. At the 2012 national NCTIES Instructional Technology Expo, Richard Byrne presented several demonstrations of useful and completely free tools for teachers. Edmodo offers a great portal for teachers, students, and parents but there also more advanced and interactive tools for the tech savy and novice users. http://www.freetech4teachers.com/

    Dale Chen
    NC State University
    ECI 509 – Dr. Bryan Setser

  6. I agree websites are a terrific way for parents to remain “in the know” about what is going on in their childs class. Unfortunately I have often seen this implemented badly. A website that looks like it is providing current information, but that has actually not been updated for recent activity is misleading to parents and leads parents to think their student is performing well when in fact they are well behind. Creating the web site is just the initial step, any thoughts on how to encourage the upkeep that a beneficial site would need? I am also a student in Dr Setser’s ECI 509 class.

  7. As a parent of an elementary student and a first year middle school student, who both use websites to post class happenings and grades, I love being connected to their school days. Unfortunately, our children are with their teachers and classmates the majority of their day, but with classroom websites and other connection tools as you mention we can stay informed and communicate with them about what is happening or upcoming. My favorite part of my children’s class page is checking on their assignments and grades. I agree with you that as educators we should be transparent and help the parents “see” what their children are learning and how they are earning their grades. I also agree that this means we have to stay on task and post information/grades as they occur and not wait until progress report time to post forty grades. Having my own class webpage as well as maintaining the school webpage, I have the opportunity and responsibility of keeping the students and community informed. Weekly updates are important to keep announcements and assignments current. We are encouraged to update our pages as we complete our weekly plans so we can post upcoming events and assignments. It’s nice to have a district website where everyone’s pages are uniform but it’s also good to know that there are alternatives that you mention for those who don’t. Fortunately, my district is going to School Wires for our webpage and we are currently using Gaggle for student safe email, blogging and social wall. Thanks for your ideas on how to stay connected!
    Melissa Harrelson
    NCSU
    ECI 509-Dr. Setser

  8. I really agree the transparency is important to parents- I teach kindergarten and have had numerous parents contact me because they are worried that when asked about what is happening in our classroom, children respond with “nothing” or “I don’t know.” One thing that inhibits my parent-teacher communication is time restraints…. I spend so much time planning, reflecting, and actually in the classroom, so the idea of creating a website is overwhelming! I’m glad that you pointed out parents don’t need to know every detail, they just want to hear some buzzwords that they can ask their child about. It’s also nice the know that a website can be built in as little as 25 minutes! I am really excited to take this information to my team so that we can begin to build websites for our classrooms next year!

    Brittany Seperack
    Dr. Setser’s ECI 509 course

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