10 Ways to Ensure Parents Won’t Need to Ask ‘What Did You Do at School Today?’

I think parents don’t like it, or, at the very least, get annoyed when they ask their children, “what did you do at school today?” and the answer is “nothing.” (I actually know this to be true, not from statistics or action research, but because I am a mom and this is usually what my kids answer when I ask and I get annoyed).
This school year in my own classroom, I will make sure my parents are well informed, receive consistent information about what’s happening in class and know how to get in touch with me. I will make sure they know my door is always open and I value their feedback as well as their involvement for making our school a better place. This is not a new goal, I strive to do this every year, just like every good teacher.
The new goal this year is that I want my parents to be thrilled by the communication that comes from our classroom. I want them to be excited to see it, want to talk about it and feel inspired by it to get involved. We are already 12 years into the 21st century… I want my school parents to be connected to our class in a way that reflects the century we are in! No more newsletters, emails or website updates! We are going to use the power of digital media to excite, involve and make our school parents feel proud to be a part of the school! And I want to do it in a way that capitalizes on using all types of media, but does NOT take up countless hours of prep or after school time (which means handing most of the creation power over to the students- always a good thing)!
Here are 10 ideas I have gathered this summer to kick parent communication up to the next level so that never again will they have to ask, “What’d you do at school today?” and hear the annoying, “nothing.” Instead, parents will have already experienced the wonderful things that have been happening in their child’s world and dinner table discussions will turn into celebrations and extensions of the learning happening at school.

1. Livestream School Events and School Meetings

I follow @Joe_Mazza, elementary principal from Philadelphia, creator and moderator of #ptchat and advocate for effective parent communication and involvement.  He’s a risk taker and positive leader for change and integrating technology. His school streams PTO meetings and special events online so that parents who can’t physically be at school at that time can still participate or contribute to the conversations and decisions being made.  BRILLIANT AND SIMPLE!! Why wouldn’t we be doing that at every school? It’s free with tools like Ustream or even use a Google hangout and stream it live to Youtube.  Digitally “opening up the doors” to the family members in this way will only make them feel more welcome and involved when they actually can make it to school.

2. Set Up a Youtube Channel For Your Class or School

So many of our devices upload directly YouTube, it’s a logical connection to make it easy for teachers to share videos. Teachers don’t have extra time to be fooling around trying to find ways to upload videos and share them out. Youtube allows you to create your own “channel” and customize to fit your school needs, allowing you choose what videos to feature, to group related videos into playlists, and even allowing you to customize the layout of the page.

Have the students produce a weekly newscast and post it on the channel. Have a sports update that keeps tabs on the school’s different teams and post it to the channel.  Showcase different projects or events that are happening in each grade because often times parents from the younger grades aren’t aware of what the older grades are up to, and it helps to know what they can look forward to.

3.  Make a Class Instagram Account

This very popular social media site, Instagram, communicates with images, instead of status updates or 140 character updates. Make “instagrammer” one of the classroom jobs. Assign one specific device to the instagram account and let one or two students post a few pictures each day to the stream. An ongoing feed like that will keep parents clued in and is so easy to integrate into the workflow of the classroom.

4. MentorMob Playlists for Parents

MentorMob.com is a tool  that make it’s so easy to compile information into a clean and simple step by step guide on just about anything. It could easily be used by teachers to send parents playlists on anything from recommendations on helping students with homework to information on how to help their children foster their passions outside of the classroom.  It’s so easy to use, students could take turns creating playlists on topics they learned about in class that could then be sent on to the parents.

5. Set Up an Audioboo Radio Station For the Class

Audioboo is a mobile app that lets you make up to 3 minute recordings for free. The best part about the app is you can embed a radio station “player” into your website or blog and each recording, or “boo” is fed instantly into your custom radio station, NO uploading required. Have the students sum up the week’s work via podcast and then parents can tune into the radio station or even follow on iTunes and get caught up with class events- and no extra work for the teacher!

6. iMovie Trailers about events coming up in class or at school

iMovie trailers almost make themselves- after picking a theme, filling in the template with some quick video shots and then can be quickly edited on just one iPad. The end result is a 2 minute introduction that leaves the audience feeling as if they experienced something dramatic and amazing. What a cool way to get parents wanting more, just like real movie trailers do for the films they promote. Here’s an example of one trailer we made for our science project last year that took twenty minutes to create, but left everyone who watched wanting to watch it again and wanting to know more about our physics project.

7. Coach’s Eye Reflections

Coach’s Eye is a great app made by TechSmith, that allows coaches to tape what an athlete is doing, then take that tape and reverse it, put it in slow motion, focus in on certain areas and commentate over what is actually happening on the film. Well, during some hands on lessons, why not just video what the students are doing. Then, have a few of the students create some “coach reviews” of what they saw happening durning the lesson and share those commentaries with the parents. It’s an extremely cool app I discovered last year that has great applications for the classroom!

8. Timekiwi Timelines From Twitter Stream

Using Twitter in the classroom is a great idea, especially as more and more teachers join Twitter and use it for their own learning and connecting. In class each day, tweet a few reflections with your class. Maybe a few of your tech savy parents are on Twitter too and will follow your tweets. If not, feed your tweets into the timekiwi.com and let the site turn all your tweets into a beautiful looking timeline of the week or month. Embed your timeline and share all your tweets with your parent community, regardless if they know what a twitter handle or hashtag is or not!

9. Bee Clip or Glogster

Digital scrapbooks on BeeClip or posters on Glogster that allow the students to blend images and videos with different backgrounds, themes, stamps and graphics and then add text or audio to further annotate the happenings of the classroom sounds excellent! Who would ever need another newsletter when you or your students can easily produce beautiful products like these to share with parents.

10. Just Hand It Over…to the Students!

I imagine myself assigning two or three students the task of creating our “parent communication” for the week. They’ll know it’s up to them to let all our parents know what we have been doing, what we will be doing and what we’d love for them to join in and do with us! After that, it’ll be up to the students to tell our class story for the week! With the countless number of digital storytelling apps and web tools out there, I think they won’t have any problems! Plus, they’ll be able to produce things I never even dreamed of!
Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is a Media Specialist at The Madeleine School.

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Very well written & an apt article. Sharing it on our twitter & FaceBook Page .


Your tech savvy parents will be thrilled! But I do cringe when I hear people say "no more newsletters, emails or website updates." I teach in a semi-rural area and while I certainly have uber-connected cell-phone-toting families, I ALSO have kids without even basic cable in their homes. Certainly no computers, smartphones, or internet. In your zeal to embrace the future, are you leaving some families behind?

Emily Clare

Thanks for sharing!!!

Tim Ruijters

Hi Alison,
A year ago I became very enthousiastic about the wikiversity (http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Main_Page). This open learning platform is focused on sharing learning resources.
I think parents and school children should use this platform to shared their learning curves.
See also the following TED-talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJCZkYwuCBM.
What are your thoughts on this idea?


I agree with an earlier comment that you are leaving some families behind. I teach in a rural school and have same comment as above but I live in a suburban area which is where my own children attend. I have no interest in joining sites like Instagram, Facebook, Youtube channels, etc. so that I can stay updated with my kids' school activities. Print out a paper newsletter for me. It's the easiest.

Kate Chambers

Inspired me to get a school instagram. Thank you Alison!

Paul Smith

While they may reside in the 'old' bag of tricks, we'd be remiss to not mention systems like PowerSchool, Edmodo and Infinite Campus which provide a live feed of assignments, scores, grades, announcements and teacher comments. Search Twitter for "PowerSchool" and you'll begin to get a sense of parent and student engagement.

John e

Great exciting ideas. What do you do about the legal issues around posting students pictures?

Trevor Cox

I agree! "No more newsletters, emails or website updates!" Newsletters get lost on the way home, and are a relic of the day when you could reach both parents in the same home, and when we didn't worry about excessive paper use. These days many parents are swamped with so many emails that yours will likely not be read, and the information may be hard to find later when it is needed. As for the website, if it is mobile-optimized (and most school sites are not), then it can be a great resource for when parents need to find some specific information, but they're not likely checking it regularly just to see if there is some important news there.
We help schools are provide parents with a school-branded mobile & web app that ties together all online content in one place, building the brand and providing a more effective communication channel (http://www.appazur.com). Parents can opt-in to their choice of push notifications, email, or text messages, depending on what technology they have access to.

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