Many parents see the school community as distant. They think the only appropriate time to communicate with teachers is twice a year during parent teacher conferences. A recent study by Gallup found that only 1 in 5 parents are fully engaged with their child’s school, experiencing a strong sense of pride while serving as the school's advocates with friends and neighbors. This means 80% of parents are either indifferent to or actively disengaged from their kids’ school.
With a smartphone glued to 90% of the parent population’s hands, how is it that schools still depend on old methods such as sending notes home, newsletters and emails to communicate with parents? Parents have told me that they can’t always depend on their kids to deliver a note that was sent home in their take-home folder. They share that they sometimes can’t even get them to answer the age-old question, “What happened at school today?” There’s a clear disconnect between the way teachers are communicating and the way most of the world is getting its information.
When I started teaching 19 years ago, I used to create weekly classroom newsletters to send home with the students. These newsletters evolved into weekly blog posts. As a trailblazer in classroom technology, it seems like I’ve tried every form of communication out there: emails, texting, blogging, a YouTube channel, even Facebook. But along with grading, lesson-planning and everything else a teacher is asked to balance, it all got to be too much.
I wanted the communication process to be easy and streamlined for my parents and me. Finally I asked my parents, “What’s the best way for me to communicate with you?” Essentially, all of them said “email” or “texting,” implying that their smartphone is their lifeline to the outside world. That’s when my hunt for the perfect communication app began.
There’s an app for that, but which one?
Just as social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat take you into the lives of friends, celebrities and idols, I wanted to find the perfect app to give parents a glimpse of their child’s life at school. I started with a quick Google search to find the top parent-teacher communication apps on the market. As you can imagine, that search was a bit overwhelming. I used my personal Facebook page to ask fellow teachers what communication apps they use, and I got dozens of responses, which included app suggestions and a lot of questions. To narrow my scope of what exactly I wanted in a communication app, I created a list of non-negotiables. The right app would:
- Allow me to share photos, links, and messages.
- Allow parents to respond to messages.
- Allow me to message/share with a few select or all parents.
- Allow me to schedule events and notify parents of the events.
- Sync scheduled events to my Google Classroom calendar.
- Allow me to schedule parent/teacher conferences.
- Share volunteer and wish list opportunities.
- Work on web-based and smartphone platforms.
- Cost nothing for parents and teachers.
- Have a variety of comprehensive supports for teachers.
The enormous list of potential apps slimmed down to seven free communication apps that would potentially fit the bill: Remind, Class Messenger, Livingtree, SimplyCircle, Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Bloomz. I signed up for accounts, started playing with each app’s interface, devoured the support/ help resources I found on their websites, and contacted the app developers.
As an avid teacher/blogger, I created a working spreadsheet to break down the features of each app, including security and privacy, coordination tools, community-building tools, and more. My goal was to create a resource to help teachers who were also searching for communication apps. After I posted the spreadsheet on my blog, comments immediately started rolling in. Teachers offered their recommendations, shared their personal stories of success, and thanked me for all the time and effort I put into my research.
At the start of the 2015 school year, I found that Bloomz fit all the criteria I was looking for, and decided to implement it in my classroom.
Bloomz functionality is similar to that of Facebook, which most parents were comfortable with. As the year went on, I used the app to share daily photos and videos of the students, schedule conferences, find volunteers for class events, and message parents throughout the day.
In my search for the communication app that was right for me, I was able to help dozens of other teachers find the app that works for their classroom and help close the gap in our school-parent communication.
Jessica Meacham is a first-grade teacher in the Southern Door County School District in Wisconsin. Subscribe to her blog.
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