Supporting Parents and Teachers To Use Interactive Communication Tools

1. Introduction

2. What you can do as a principal

3. What you can do with your school community

4. Impact on students

5. Some ideas and resources

6. What some principals say

7. What some parents say

8. What some researchers say

9. Some useful books on parent engagement

10. References

11. Acknowledgements

Acknowledgement
The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document. 
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19. 
First published July 2019
Cover image: © Pressureua | Dreamstime.com

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Supporting parents and teachers to use interactive communication tools

Introduction

Effective parent engagement in learning includes two-way communication, enhanced by technologies that help schools and families to interact through apps, email and social media. Used well, these technologies connect home and school and assist in demonstrating that learning is everywhere and helps learning be put into context to make more sense for children.

Online tools enable new ways of creating partnerships, however where possible, they should be used alongside more personal, face to face (relational) methods of communication, not to replace them. Closed social media groups allow teachers and parents to have conversations and, managed effectively, provide a safe environment to dialogue about learning – it is useful for more than just sharing information.

Technical or online literacy varies between families (and teachers) and some parents may not be engaged in school approaches that they neither understand, nor have access to. Specific information and learning sessions to build capacity may need to be considered for certain families to cater for this.

The most effective and inclusive interactive approach is the personal interaction that comes from being present and talking with people. Schools should also be careful of using technology just as efficiency tools.

For instance, by replacing receptionists with iPads, there is the chance of depersonalising the first interaction many parents have with their school. Whilst these tools are useful, building personal interaction into the process is beneficial for home-school partnership.

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What you can do as a principal

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Technology is central to the lives of students as it is to the lives of their teachers and parents. The use of technology to engage parents in dialongue and learning should be strategic in approach so as to understand any challenges. It is important to be up to date with security and privacy laws, while also being open to trialing new technologies.

Some options include:

• Using the school website as the centre of all school activity. It is beneficial to include information that is useful and relevant for current as well as future parents from their first point of interest in the school.
• Using social media to reach the broader community while taking care to moderate who has access, and being mindful that images are used only with appropriate permission of children and their parents.
• Using apps which are available for registered parents and teenagers only.
• Providing parents with information and opportunity for discussion before implementing new technologies. The decisions made around technology at school often impact the parent-child dynamics at home.

Underpinning this should be clear rules that protect children and parents from bullying or breaches of personal security and privacy.

Also, there needs to be an informed understanding of parents’ varying levels of technology skills and accessibility, including knowing how to reach families who, for a range of reasons, may not be able to use some of the technology tools.

What you can do with school community

Interactive tools work best if the needs of families are considered through consultation. Bear in mind your school community will include a variety of technological skill and interest. This can be an advantage but some children and families could be excluded if the communication tools are out of their reach or understanding.

Consider involving the whole school community by:

• Setting up a technology advice group to take advantage of higher level skills of staff/parents and/or students in your community.
• Thoroughly testing new technologies through the involvement of teachers and parents of various skill levels.
• Celebrating technology innovation in whatever form it takes - whether from teachers, parents or students.
• Using technology that is secure but accessible to families and teachers.
• Ensuring every communication has a purpose and an intentional outcome.
• Inviting conversation and ensuring any parent requests for feedback are responded to by the school.

Parents also need to understand what happens with the information/ feedback they provide, e.g. how it might impact their child’s learning.

• Having someone responsible for monitoring the content of electronic communication.
• Understanding the different ways parents and students use technology and meeting them where they are. Running workshops to support families (and teachers) with new technology.
• Setting up agreements and guidelines that outline how technology is to be used by staff, parents and students.

Whilst the use of online technology is one medium, the use of more traditional methods sit alongside these. More personal approaches to communicate and interact can be highly effective in building trusted relationships - a key foundation for parent engagement in student learning and wellbeing.

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IMPACT ON STUDENTS

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Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:

• Children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well. • Children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence.
• Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university.
• Children can be less likely to miss days at school.

Extract from the Parent Fact Sheet, ACT Government, Education Directorate - available at:
https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/686550/52741-DET-Parental-Engagement-A4-Factsheet-4pp_FA2_ACC.pdf

Researchers highlight that the family and effective parenting are central to children’s mental health. Parenting practices and the quality of the parentchild relationship have implications for children’s development in the early years as well as their academic achievement, social competence and behaviour at school. Understanding the range of changes a child is likely to encounter as they transition from early childhood education and care into school, can enhance parental confidence and in turn, also enhance children’s confidence.
(Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo & Cavanagh, 2011).

SOME IDEAS AND RESOURCES

Following are a number of links to information regarding on-line communication – an area of immense, on-going change.

The paper, Using an online social media space to engage parents in student learning in the early-years: enablers and impediments, by Willis and Exley (2018), is available at: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/121643/

The article, Schools are using social networking to involve parents, by Fleming (2012), is available at:
http://www.teachhub.com/schools-are-using-social-networking-involve-parents

The article, Parent communication: using social media – this information comes from attention grabbing skills for involving parents in their children’s learning, by Baskwill (2013), and is available at:
https://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/stenhouse/classroom-communication-social-media-tips.shtml

Australian Government - Learning Potential

Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring ways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).

Progressing parental engagement fact sheet - supporting parents to get engaged with the school community.

The above fact sheet, published by the ACT Government, aims to assist schools to support parents to get engaged with the school community by providing examples of ways to enhance parentschool communication and school community participation. It is available at: 

https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/807443/150897-Supporting-parents-to-get-engaged-with-the-school-community_2.pdf


The importance of relational leadership.
This video https://vimeo.com/133005237 is about the relational leadership initiative run by the Indigenous Education unit in North Queensland. Making the community the content and getting the community to play a bigger role in our children’s education and future. The Living Knowledge Place is also supported in this initiative and is also available online at: livingknowledgeplace.com.au 

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What some Principals say

The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

Many schools now have comprehensive communication procedures and this is typified in the following extended commentary from a principal.

“Yes every staff member here provides their email so it’s strong communication with email especially because a lot of parents are working these days so it’s difficult often for them to be here. We also have a blog. Every level has a blog and a great amount of communication is placed onto the blog. Also images and videos of the children learning so that the parents are actually not missing out on any of those important moments.

We’ve had digital technology forums too where the parent can learn about the ways that we are trying to communicate … and then you have your one or two and it would only be two who don’t have a digital platform that they can go to so we have to also provide the hard copies for them. So it’s difficult so that’s when we now have to look at things like introducing Care Monkey or Skoolbag or whatever other communication tools we can. Our website has been updated to enable parents to engage with that better, but they’re the essential things that we keep on trying to find ways to engage parents.

We’ve put a lot of investment into digital means of communication every family has got a mobile phone, a smartphone and the other thing is we have to ensure that we’ve got whatever the technology that we use enables us to translate into Arabic - every communication goes out in English and Arabic.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Victoria).

“A lot of our teachers also use Class Dojo – that’s sort of like a communication type program where children can communicate with each other but also with the teacher and so forth and parents can ask questions or the teacher can indicate if there is a concern or something like that. So that seems to work well rather than just a flood of emails everywhere. We’ve got a school app that has been sort of tailor made for us – so integrated to our data base so parents find that they are able to engage through that a lot more effectively. So everything from watching videos that our students create through to marking your child absent today because they are sick – those sorts of things and lots of resources and information that they can access.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Queensland).

“So instead of writing a report this is what we’ve done in year 1, they just create, every fortnight, just create a 90 second video blog if you like of what’s been happening in that group and it is really, it’s a great insight into what’s happening.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Queensland).

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WHAT SOME PARENTS SAY

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The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

Communications are good in terms of emails backwards and forwards from the teachers and from the school as a whole. We also use a connective App as well, so I think most parents would feel pretty informed and would feel like they were being invited to communicate and attend things.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Brisbane).

“We’re quite a technologically reliant school so they have a laptop program from quite early on and so the school was trialing a few different methods of electronic communication, one of them was ‘TiqBiz’ which is a program I think which has alerts, their latest one is one called ‘Central’ where students, parents and teachers all have access to a site, work can be uploaded on to it to try and give you sort of an idea about your child’s portfolio. It’s a communication tool so that messages can be sent between parents and teachers and also students and other information regarding the school curriculum and things like that gets loaded up on to it.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria).

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WHAT SOME RESEARCHERS SAY

The following four quotes are taken from Willis and Exley, (2018).

“Continual, complex and rapid societal change in the digital age has also positively impacted the lives of parents, altering the possibilities of how, when and if parents, schools and teachers connect about student learning. The widespread use of digital technologies as teaching tools in schools attests to their benefits for teaching and student learning. The adoption of new technologies for communicating quickly, conveniently and variously with parents also signals their potential for strengthening connections across settings such as home and school”

“It’s (Seesaw’s) also engaging for the children which helps and I think the fact that the parents are going to see it straight away, that makes a difference, so really across the board in every subject that I tried it, the fact that they knew the parents were going to see it, the children wanted to do it and they wanted to do their best work.”
(Quote of Yr. 2 teacher).

“Her recognition of the immediacy of social media and potential for close scrutiny by parents impacted her online practice. She exercised her agency by adopting a cautious, considered approach toward what she posted.”
(Quote of prep teacher).

“(Goodall) noted that despite the promise of digital technologies as a means to engage parents and teachers, impediments to working across home and school settings included parents’ inability to access the tools required or an absence of requisite language or technological skills to benefit greatly from the information produced by schools”

The paper, Using an online social media space to engage parents in student learning in the early-years: enablers and impediments, by Linda-Dianne Willis and Beryl Exley, is available at:
https://eprints.qut.edu.au/121643/1/Willis%20%26%20Exley%20Digital%20Education%20Review%202018.pdf

“Giving parents access to more information about the school day online helps them to ask more specific questions, rather than simply ‘how was school today’, which often helps to facilitate more productive conversations. Schools can consider how to use a range of digital channels to provide information to parents that goes beyond simply ‘reporting’ but prompts a conversation between children and parents about their learning.”
(Grant, 2010)

Taken from: Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies - a Futurelab handbook is available at:
https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/FUTL13/FUTL13.pdf

Some useful books on parent engagement

Please click here to peruse a list of useful books on parent engagement

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References 

Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Grant, L. (2010). Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies - a Futurelab handbook.

Willis, L-D. & Exley, B. (2018). Using an online social media space to engage parents in student learning in the early years: enablers and impediments. Digital Education Review, N33, June.

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Acknowledgements

Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.