Tackle the home-school engagement gap
Jennifer Ingram
August 13, 2019

Engaging parents can be tough. In a recent survey by ClassTag, 48% of primary teachers report that about a quarter of families are "hard to reach and engage." More than half of teachers say one of the biggest barriers in engaging parents is the "thinking that education is a teacher's job, not a teamwork between parents and teachers."

Bridging the gap between home and school is imperative to student success. The right communication tools are key to supporting that effort.

I’ve taught in rural Title 1 schools for over a decade and until two years ago, I used flyers and newsletters to communicate -- or try to -- with families. It was inefficient on both ends. The pieces took a great deal of time to create but often went unanswered and, likely, unread.

Though I was having trouble relaying my own classroom information, I found increased connections happening through Facebook. Parents were using what was familiar and accessible to them to communicate their needs. Through Facebook, I discovered that more than 50% of my students received free or reduced-price lunches and that everyone’s parent or guardian typically had a cell phone -- even if they did not have a computer at home. I realized I needed to change my communication process if I was going to engage parents and families effectively.

So, I turned to ClassTag, a free communication platform for schools. It offers translations in more than 50 languages and lets parents and teachers communicate through multiple channels -- in the app, online, email, text or on paper. Here's how I'm making it work with my students' families.

Make it easy on parents and guardians. I begin the year by sending out a paper flyer with a code to download ClassTag. Some don't immediately register so I have a code for them to use at back-to-school night. Parents can download the app on whatever device they have. Be sure that you are available to assist the onboarding process. This approach has ensured me 100% parent/guardian contact throughout the last two years.

Get students excited. My students can become “ClassTag famous” in our classroom. Every day I look for opportunities to feature a photo of a student doing an activity or work. Students go home looking forward to showing parents their picture. This has been a fun way for parents to engage with what their child is doing in school.

And it can encourage students too. One student was reluctant about reading. I sent his mother a private message, through the ClassTag app, with a picture of him and me reading a book. The student and his mother became excited to read the new story, and his attitude toward reading completely changed.

Create activities that bring students and families together. The more activities you create to engage students, the more engagement you will see from their parents and guardians -- even those who may be reluctant tech users.

I created a literature studies activity called “ClassTag Trivia.” I send a question home each night on ClassTag about the homework. The goal is to get students and families talking about the lesson. It never fails. Students arrive the next morning ready to answer the question and win a prize. This has been a big win among my students and their families.

Cash in for classroom supplies. As you engage parents on ClassTag, you accrue Coins, which you can redeem for educational resources in their reward center. I have used my Coins to purchase books, flexible seating furniture and a webcam to create virtual field trips.

 Jennifer Ingram is a certified Reading Specialist and third grade teacher for the St. Marys Area School District, holding a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She has more than a decade of teaching experience in various capacities within rural Title 1 schools in northwestern Pennsylvania.

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