12 ways digital tools power parent engagement

Father and daughter sitting on a couch in their home looking at a laptop

Advancements in digital learning and education technology create opportunities for deeper learning for both students and teachers–ultimately increasing student achievement, when done right. But, the ability for technology to boost outcomes is just one of many reasons that teachers and leaders implement digital tools. Teachers and leaders recognize the positive impact of parent engagement on student achievement, so many schools and districts leverage technology to power better and more meaningful parent/family engagement. There’s an increasing awareness and recognition of the limitations of traditional parent-teacher conferences and volunteer opportunities, particularly for traditionally marginalized student populations. Digital tools address the need for parent engagement more deeply and more meaningfully in the following ways.

Paving New Paths to Parent Involvement

  1. Websites, emails, e-newsletters, apps and other digital media allow parents to see what their students are doing, what the classroom activities are and where learning is focused. This can help extend learning beyond the classroom and give parents ideas on at home activities.
  2. Technology allows schools and teachers to more easily communicate about the “usual school events” like parent nights, fundraisers, science fairs, etc. Apps like Remind are great for this and lots of parents have appreciated being more connected.
  3. Tools like Google Hangout, Skype and FaceTime have allowed for parents to become more and more available for in class activities despite being unable to physically be there. With many parents working, traveling for work or with other children at home it can be hard to be physically in the classroom.
  4. Community is key in schools and digital technology and tools have made it easier for parents to feel involved even if they’re not physically on campus. Working parents can sometimes feel left out if you’re not able to volunteer regularly, but with Facebook groups, email chains and digital newsletters they’re able to stay more informed and organized during a time that works best for their family.
  5. Technology can also eliminate common barriers between schools and families. A lot of young parents can often be intimidated by things like formal conferences, or can’t get time off work to attend so a lot of teachers have found that the ability to text parents has changed a lot in terms of engagement.

Redefining Connection in the Digital Era

  1. In the first weeks of school, some teachers/schools are engaging with parents via email and online survey to figure out the best way to communicate and to give parents helpful advice on the best way for them to be involved with their students learning inside and outside of the classroom.
  2. Simple texts or notes to parents to say how their student is doing can be far more powerful than a traditional progress report, especially in the early years. In building parent/teacher trust and rapport, a quick email or text goes a long way. Class behavior apps like ClassDojo make this even more simplified!

Driving Student Outcomes with New and Better Data

  1. Parents like to know how their student is performing. It’s exciting to think that parents are able to see (with connections to data) where their student is excelling and also struggling. Soon parent teacher conferences will be more data driven than subjective which will be a powerful shift for parents, teachers and students.
  2. While parent teacher conferences are valuable, it’s likely that parents aren’t or soon won’t have to wait until those conferences to know how their student is doing. This will allow for faster intervention and supports to help students get caught up before it’s “too late”.
  3. Digital learning has created the availability of more meaningful assessments, which produces more and better feedback, and information about progress.

Giving Students Tools To Show What They Know

  1. Digital portfolios create a place for teachers and students to store work (in the cloud) making it accessible anytime and anywhere, making it easy for students to show what they know. These portfolios can make it easy for students to access all of their college readiness work, resumes, informational interviews, essays for college and scholarship applications, college test prep, vision statements and more. Imagine being able to pull up what a student has done throughout their entire academic career to see their change and growth. Digital portfolios also allow for real time feedback from teachers, parents and peers.
  2. Parents as learners are better understanding the ways that their students might be consuming/taking in information. Previously, parents typically would impose how they learned in school on classroom teachers, but as they’re doing more digital learning themselves, it can shift their perspectives.

Digital Engagement Tips for Teachers

Digital tools doesn’t mean engagement will happen on its own. Like any relationship it still needs effort and nurturing to start and continue to grow parent’s engagement with you, your classroom and the your school. Here’s a few tips:

  • Listen to parents. Find opportunities for parents to come to the school and participate in authentic assessments, review student work (parent night toolkit) and even have parents create a panel to provide feedback to students. Parent nights can even include helping parents build a learning plan to use at home that supports classroom learning and their student’s individual needs.
  • Involve parents in coursework.Find ways to get parents involved in homework. This can be through learning plans mentioned above, sending home parent/child home activities or even simply assigning a “Who am I” project for students to take home and interview their families for.
  • Teach parents about digital learning. During back to school nights, via emails, digital newsletters and your website, talk with parents about your school’s approach to digital personalized learning. How are students benefiting, how much time per day are they spending on screens, how does digital allow students to work at their own pace and meet competencies, what will homework look like and overall WHY digital. This will help combat frustrations and confusion about change. The way students are learning now a days is much different than it ever has been before which can be scary for parents.
  • Remember that not all parents are fluent English speakers. There are tools for parents and teachers to help  make it easier to grow and sustain engagement even across a language barrier and make it easier for both parties.
  • Set expectations with your school staff so you can also set them with parents. This is especially important in the middle and high school grades when students have multiple classes and multiple teachers. If you’re all using different apps and tools to engage with families and all have different expectations for students it can quickly get overwhelming. Imagine having 2 children each with 6 different teachers who have 6 different ways to access information. This can create deep frustration that is hard to overcome.
  • Don’t assume all students have experience with technology, especially in rural or low income areas. Not all families have access to broadband or devices so not all students are familiar with how devices operate, how to email, how to fill out a google form etc. Check in with your students and their families often to make sure they’re not falling behind or feeling frustrated.

Parent Engagement Discussion Guide for EdLeaders

Here are a few questions to guide your next meeting with your team and measure parent engagement opportunities for your school.

  • How are parents involved in their child’s education? Are they coming in regularly and participating in genuine parent-teacher conversations for and with their kids that help drive and encourage student-centered learning?
  • Do they understand how their children are being assessed? Can parents read and understand the reporting system and/or assessment system?
  • Are parents getting phone calls from educators?
  • Are parents being given the opportunity to mentor their own kids and/or other kids in the school?
  • Is their genuine collaboration and communication occurring between home and school?
  • What school work and/or projects might create genuine and authentic parent and student collaboration?
  • What opportunities and/or ways can you promote and invite parent participation at assemblies, at other student gatherings and at parent nights?
  • How are parents invited to our school to participate and provide genuine feedback at project nights and/or student exhibitions of learning?
  • How does what is on the wall/in the office/in the classroom invite and welcome and/or inhibit parent involvement?
  • To what degree is parent involvement a priority and what would it look like if that was indeed the priority? What does it mean to the school staff to have parents involved? Is it a hassle or a genuine partnership?

**Adapted from 8 Ways Educators Help Parents Promote Powerful Learning, part of the Smart Parent series created by Getting Smart,
Digital tools and technology can help create new opportunities to better engagement families–inside and outside of the traditional school day. Engaged parents contribute to engagement students and improved student outcomes. In the “A New Wave of Evidence” report from Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, researchers conclude, “when schools, families and communities work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school.” Justine Fischer, California State PTA President explains “decades of research have confirmed that students whose parents are active participants in their learning have significantly better school and life outcomes.”


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