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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Digitally Illiterate Parents

Parent communication hits my self-improvement goal list every year. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of family-school connections. Having taught in Montessori elementary schools, I know first-hand the wonderful things parents can bring to a small community school. Moving to a public middle school, then high school, then back to middle school, I know how difficult it is to get parents involved in secondary public schools. Or...more accurately, I know how easy it is to dismiss them.


Certainly it's gotten better over the years, but I am still a long way from the true partnership in education that I envision. I send the bi-weekly emails and updates as needed, I call parents when there is a concern, I send home assessment information, and occasionally (and not nearly as often as I'd like) I send the "positive email home." Even so, I recognize that these are merely tokens that do little to build authentic relationships. It could be so much better!

This year I decided to be more proactive in reaching my parents during state testing. I held two parent nights, one in person and the other through Google Hangouts. This was my first step to building these connections that I know are so important. The in-person night was a great success, and I know the parents left feeling more comfortable, connected, and informed. We became allies for the students.

Unfortunately, the Google Hangouts was not quite the success I was hoping it to be. To prepare my parents for this event, I had sent them a list of instructions, including a couple of YouTube links, showing how to use Google Hangouts. Six parents registered for it, but I was only able to connect with two. I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology? 

What I pictured - Notice all the participants - all the engagement through the chat window.
What it was more like.

Though I only connected with two parents, the great conversations and transformations in relationships, left me encouraged to try harder. This is not something to give up on!

I have been fortunate to witness amazing high-poverty schools who engage parents through English language and literacy classes. These schools know how important this connection is and they actively work to break down barriers to communication and culture.

Educators often talk about technology in terms of literacy, communication, and culture. Is a technologically illiterate parent much different from a parent who speaks little English? Parents are emailed, newsletters are posted on websites, student projects are digital, and grades can only be accessed digitally. Do you see the similarities?

As schools embrace technology, are they creating a divide between parents and children? Are we destroying the home-school connection or are we enhancing it? I think we are doing both. Certainly there are parents like me, who love and embrace technology, who can engage more fully through digital communication. But what about the others? How do we meet their needs, to ensure they are not left behind?

Sure, we could return to paper, but I don't think that is the answer. I think solutions will be similar to those schools that beat the odds, those high-performing high-poverty schools. Schools that are proactive and successful in building relationships will hold technology courses for parents. Digital summits will become the norms in these schools. Parents will teach parents, and kids will teach teachers.

Do you know of anyone building partnerships through technology? Schools that are teaching parents? Share their stories with us!


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