This blog was originally published on Teaching Channel on August 10th, 2021. It has been republished here with permission.
Every school year, teachers get a fresh start with a new group of students and their families. One of the best ways to get prepared for the new school year is to think about effective communication. Families are truly a part of the instructional team, and are often eager to be involved. This past year provided families the opportunity to have valuable insight to students’ learning, and it’s safe to say many want to continue!
There are many things to consider when planning for communication, which can feel overwhelming. The following categories offer a way to organize various aspects of communication to start successfully:
Refreshing communication begins with reflecting on the past year. What worked well? What was challenging? Reflecting provides a fresh perspective on what new ideas to try this upcoming year, and what practices to keep from last year. Compose a welcome message and share it with families before the school year starts if possible. There are multiple ways to share this message, including a welcome video that can be uploaded to different platforms. Be sure to share your story, why you decided to be a teacher, and your personal interests. This is an opportunity to show families your personality and allow them to get to know you. Consider what new strategies you plan on implementing or changes to the curriculum you can give “sneak peeks” to in your message to generate excitement and ease concerns. Allow families to respond to your message/video so you’re able to learn their story as well.
As the school year progresses, there are ways to keep communication ongoing and frequent while not feeling consumed by it. Establish office hours early in the year, and share hours across all platforms such as your Google Site, Google Classroom, Class Dojo, etc., so it’s consistently available. Set the precedent that you value instructional time, so messages will be checked and responded to during other available times of the day. If you have a co-teacher, share the responsibility of communication to alleviate the number of messages that need responding to. Take time to meet with your instructional team to decide how communicating with families can be delegated. When communication with instructional team members is consistent and organized, stronger relationships with students’ families will develop. Compose emails when your schedule allows, and use the schedule button to send them at appropriate times. A great time-saver is creating weekly newsletters with information about school events, academics, and other fun or necessary details that will help answer common questions many families ask. Weekly newsletters also make great class writing projects where students decide what information they want to share with their families. What’s the bonus? It reduces questions for you! Keep communication sustained, but take time for yourself to recharge!
Why wait until Back to School Night to meet families? If possible, set a time to meet with them (in person or virtually.) There’s no better way to start the year, and it’s the perfect time to take risks and try new things. Remember, students are not the only learners in your class. Hosting “family nights” offers many possibilities. Families can learn strategies for reading and math, participate in a teacher or parent panel discussion, share interests, cultures, etc. Gather data ahead of time through surveys (using a simple Google Form) to see what dates and times are best for families. Consider implementing video tutorials, virtual conferencing, and other technologies to communicate. Below is a list of some to consider:
- Sign-up Genius: Families sign up for conferences and see what time slots are taken while keeping names private.
- Class Dojo: Send private messages to families, post general announcements, set event dates and alerts, and have student work displayed in portfolios. Class Dojo also allows students and/or family members to record videos.
- Google Keep: A place to take notes and share with your co-teacher(s) to keep everyone updated.
- Canva: Create stunning presentations, newsletters, and more! With a school email, teachers have access to all Canva has to offer.
- PearDeck, Nearpod, Blooket, Kahoot: All are interactive ways to present information, play games, and have fun during family events, Back to School Night, etc.
- Flipgrid: In this platform students and families can communicate through videos. This is to have students (and their family members) introduce themselves to the class before the year starts.
- Screencastify: A Google add-on that allows you to record videos and record your screen.
Families are the best allies, and communication is the best way to keep connected. Get ready to refresh, recharge, and restart this year!
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