A+ Advice for Parents

Many Apps Now Help Teachers Engage Busy Parents

Q: My third-grade granddaughter lives with me. At parents' night, her teacher asked everyone to send her a text in order to go on a reminder list to receive class information. I felt uncomfortable signing up, due to privacy issues. Is this the new way educators communicate with families?

A: It's not the only way, but many teachers are using technology to reach parents. The service your granddaughter's teacher mentioned sounds like a free app called Remind. It allows teachers to send one-way messages via SMS, thereby delivering notifications to everyone involved with the class.

Ask your granddaughter's teacher about the app she plans to use. If it is Remind, that app's terms of service say that personal contact information is never seen by teachers or the school. If it's a different tool or app, make sure it has a similar privacy policy before signing up.

Dionne Hansen, a Seattle mom of two elementary-age kids, appreciates the Remind service.

"It's convenient to get a text from the teacher reminding me of something, rather than wade through my son's backpack for a paper he might have tossed," she says.

Jill Warner, a Nokesville, Virginia, middle-school science teacher, sends texts to parents and students about assignments, when reports are due and to alert them about upcoming tests.

"Eighth-graders don't want to talk with their parents about school, so this little app gets the information home," she explains.

Tech-savvy teachers use other tools, too. Edmodo is a learning network app that allows teachers to send assignments to students and to accept completed assignments digitally. It also allows teachers to create interactive quizzes and share content such as videos. Students can talk to their whole classroom as part of a group, or one-on-one with teachers, but not directly to each other. Parents can follow what their children are working on and receive broadcast messages from the teacher.

While many schools still block Facebook, which was "once considered inappropriate for classroom use, Facebook and Twitter are becoming commonplace in schools," says Michael Sharnoff, associate online editor at eSchool News. "Teachers use Twitter to engage students on lessons and assignments, and parents follow teacher accounts to stay connected."

Sharnoff says that more and more teachers are creating classroom Facebook pages to discuss and keep up with assignments and projects and to post content, including images and video, without length restrictions.

With the decrease in funding for school field trips, teachers turn to Skype for virtual field trips and "meetings" with interesting people around the globe.

Buzzmob, a mobile app launched in California schools in 2013, connects administrators, teachers and parents with the ability to chat, share tips and photos, and send out vital information in real time. Sharnoff says that the app's "GPS-aware function syncs with your current location and connects you with people around you."

So, say you're picking up your son, and his class is doing a project outside. The GPS function lets you know the minute you set foot on campus. This is particularly useful in case of an emergency.

While these apps facilitate communication with parents, they aren't a substitute for getting to know your child's teacher. Establish a personal relationship so that when it's time for a one-on-one conversation about your child, you'll have a strong foundation to work from.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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