As I am in a break between interviews I am realising that technology has radically redefined the parent teacher relationship and that if you work at it you have the ability to be in contact with all the parents in your class. There is not one parent that has sat down with me over the past few hours that I have not had some form of direct contact with, as well as indirect contact with through the classroom blog, over the past week.
That parent who works like a teacher (a new simile that I am trying to get into high rotation) was the parent that you previously never saw or saw on interview night twice a year and you had no relationship with him or her. Now through modern communication technology and social media there is no excuse not to have a relationship with a parent. I also believe that if there is not a teacher initiated relationship using some form of communication technology (and a phone call counts) then that teacher is neglecting their duty of care to the students with their class.
Almost all parents have at least 1 email.
Almost all parents have cell phones.
Most parents have computers…
…and those who do not can be contacted in other ways, such as a phone call or letter.
Blogs are a great way to share the goings on within a class and share with those overseas Whanau or the working parent, but they are a one way communication tool. Although you are breaking the home school barrier and keeping parents in the loop of what their child is doing at school, you as a teacher are not forming a physical bond with parents. No matter how many comments a parent makes it is not a true conversation, but just a place to encourage and celebrate achievements of the class and students.
A proactive teacher that I know went through all the pupil records the weekend before school began and added all the parents, mums and dads and step-mums and step-dads, to a group on her school email. She then typed a lovely message welcoming their child to her class, outlining a few events that would be happening over the first few weeks and stating that this would be the primary form of communication and that if they would rather not be on this list they just need to email back a way they would rather be contacted. Instantly there is a line of communication with the parents and that teacher.
I know that I am coming from a school where 99% of parents work or choose not to and there is computers in every home unless they choose not to and that what I am saying is not true in areas of lower socio economic status, but I have found the way to beat the computer issue and that is through the simple text message or SMS. What? Give parents my number? How could you do such a thing? Well I can and I have for the past 2 years and was tweeting with a teacher who has for the past 6 years. If a parent was to contact me at an inappropriate time I have the opportunity not to answer, but I also have the opportunity to answer and build a relationship. A text can be answered straight away or the next morning and I have not heard of a parent misusing the gift of a cell phone number, but only being appreciative of the gift.
According to Wikipedia 108% of New Zealanders (True as of 2008) have mobile phones and I would find it hard to believe that a parent in your class does not have one. Now take a smart phone and using the contacts feature you can add every name, number, address and email of all classroom parents. Then using a group text app like Group Text and you have the ability to contact one or all parents at the same time. On Monday morning I decided it would be nice to visit the newly refurbished local library but to hire a bus to get there costs around $100 for a 5km trip, so I sent a group text, buy lunch I had half the transport and by the next morning we had more than enough transport and the next morning we were there. No need for newsletters, just 4 texts and a RAMs form. The trip was a success and was shared on the class blog and it happened through good communication.
So am I going to play text with the parents in my class like a teenager? No, but it is a method that I will use to remind about swimming tomorrow or get helpers for a trip or remind about a forgotten lunch-box I will still continue to send regular emails of issues or celebration to all parents in my class. I will still blog three times at least every week and have the students individually blog their learning and creation. Most importantly I will take time each and every day to talk to parents after school and before school.
What I am saying is there are a plethora of communication tools out there that we need to use to build relationships with our parents and due to technological advances there is NO excuse for not being proactive forming positive relationship with the parents of the students that you teach.