Monday, February 28, 2011

Communication: An Educator’s Greatest Tool for Student Success

Communication is an essential part of our everyday lives. As educators, we understand that communication between school and home can be one of the most powerful tools that we use to ensure student success.
            Educators face the daily challenge of building a community of learners in their classrooms, even though these learners come from a variety of backgrounds. Effective home-school communication is one way that we can level the playing field for our students. By providing equal access to important information, we never have to worry about someone being left out.
            What are some ways that we can communicate between home and school? Our new digital era has provided wonderful tools such as wikis, blogs, Twitter, web pages, and email as ways to share information; however, does everyone have equal access to these forms of technology at home? In some areas, this may certainly be the case, but in others there may be a significant number of families who are out of the loop. This creates a communication gap that provides yet another hurdle to teachers who are trying to keep their students’ families informed.
            So how do we close the communication gap? First, we must know our students and their families. Through the use of surveys and interest inventories, we can find out a tremendous amount about the home life of our students and the access to technology they have. If your school collects email addresses from families at registration, then you can send out an email invitation to complete an online survey. There are many free online survey sites, but I have found Survey Monkey ( to be an easy site to use and share. Providing online and paper copies of the same survey insures that no one is left out of this information gathering process.
            Our next step in closing the communication gap is providing as much information as we can in as many formats as we can. Many teachers send home paper newsletters each week or month to keep their families informed of school happenings. How about posting that same information on a class wiki or blog? A weekly email blast with the newsletter attached and important information highlighted in the message is another great way to share what is going on in your classroom. I currently have a class wiki and a Teacher Web account (as our digital scrapbook). I also send home weekly newsletters and occasional email blasts to keep my families informed. It’s important to print out any emails you send to your entire class and send them to those families who do not have access. One way to manage this task is to give yourself (and any volunteers or student helpers) a visual guide to which students need paper copies. To do this, you can use a sticker on the folders or “mailboxes” that you use for sending home papers, to show which students need the paper copies.
            Don’t forget that communication goes two ways. Make sure your parents have several ways to contact you. Have you thought about generating a QR Code containing your contact information? You have probably seen these blocky-looking bar codes around. Apps are available for many smart phones which allow the user to scan the code and get the information. When you generate a QR code with contact information, many of the apps will even open up your contacts to allow you to save all of the information quickly. Include your contact phone number at school, your email address, the school’s mailing address, and your blog or web page. This would be a good thing to share at your open house or registration day. Of course, you’ll want to provide this information in regular text as well for those who are not equipped. An easy QR code generator can be found at, and a good basic QR code reader app is Red Laser, which is available for iPhone and Android.
            Lastly, communication is an ongoing process that will only get better as you use it more. You have to stay up-to-date with your district’s communication policies and allowable practices, but don’t be afraid to try out new forms of communication. I just found out about Eye Jot (, which is a free video email service. Using your webcam, you can produce a simple video message then send it out to your contacts. Everyone may not have email, but you may be able to produce a similar video and burn it to a DVD to send home with those who don’t. A similar tool, FotoBabble (, allows you to load a photo, or a series of photos, and add audio commentary. You can also tag images with “hotspots” that link to related web pages. Imagine having each child record a sentence or two about a class project, or even capturing a photo of a note passed in class with an audio message to Mom and Dad! Depending on your district’s policies, you may be able to achieve a similar result with text messaging. The non-technology equivalent would be to print a photo with a quick typed message underneath.
            Though it may add a little extra to our already-busy workload, effective communication is a great way for teachers, students, and their families to stay on the same page. It may even save you time in dealing with miscommunications or confused parents! The products below may save you more time in organizing your home-school communication.

John Blake, Ed.S.

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