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Ecommunication 4 schools 2 parents

Ecommunication 4 schools 2 parents

Communication to parents critical to success of children

Communication between schools and families is essential for building trusting relationships that foster parental involvement. Parental involvement in schools and social institutes is necessary for youngsters to develop successfully and to make decisions that will have positive outcomes for their futures. This study will examine the role of new ICT communications technologies in improving parental involvement in schools and social institutes  and uncovers barriers that prevent usage of technology to promote communication. As society becomes increasingly dependent on technology, schools are investing more time and money in technological means of communication . Access to computer and Internet technologies is increasing all over Europe In  work places and schools both educators and parents  are provided with access to electronic  communication (Rogers & Wright, 2007). It is proven that regular communication from school to parents is critical to the success of children .It is well established that building home-school partnerships is a powerful avenue for increasing the satisfaction of parents and the community with schooling and for improving schools. Parents' involvement in their child's education is a key factor in the child's scholastic success. Parental participation ranges from paying little or no attention to overt hovering. As the teacher, he must help manage the parental participation so that students are accountable for their own learning. At lower level parents are more active in school participation.

Once reaching secondary (secondary) school, students gain a new level of independence and this is sometimes where a breakdown in parental involvement can result. For example, with younger children, parents are required to collect their child and drop them off at school - which means teachers and parents have frequent interaction and communication. In comparison, secondary school students make their own way to school and generally discuss less about their activities with parents. (Harris,A., Goodall,J. ,2007)  As children move from the elementary school grades into secondary school, communication patterns between schools, families, and students change. The students’ schedules become more fragmented with many more teachers and subjects, there are added extra-curricular opportunities, and the curriculum grows increasingly complex. Innovative technologies such as cell phones, e-mail, and websites could provide schools with new tools for reaching secondary school parents and keeping them informed about their children.  But schools are not using them often.(Rogers & Wright, 2007).

Communicating frequently is essential, but the teacher doesn’t have to meet with parents every month or even contact them at home. Instead, he can be in touch by  sending parents a weekly or monthly class newsletter that highlights the activities and events going on in the  classroom or sending an e-mail with necessary information when it’s needed.  He can also send home reports if one of the  students does something outstanding. He can use a social network, e-mail, put in on a (secured) website, etc. (Harington, 2008). Additionally, as the discourse between homes and schools increases, understanding improves, suggestions are shared, and positive attitudes are more easily maintained.  For instance, in 1984 in Western Europe only 8.2% of the households surveyed had computers, while in 2003, 61.87% of the households had computers and 54.7% had Internet access.  In 2008 in the Netherlands 84% of the families with children between 2 and 21 years had at least one computer with fast internet.  The most of the families are multimedia families nowadays.  (www.mijnkindonline.nl). A recent survey of 4,000 adults in 20 cities in the USA conducted by Opinion Research Corp. and America Online showed that 41 percent of Americans check e-mail first thing in the morning—and a whopping 61 percent say they check their personal  e-mail while at work. (http://www.ecampusnews.com)

Also schools were very active on the internet. Almost alll the elementary and secondary  schools were utilizing e-mail communication in 2008 and nearly 100 % of the schools  had computers with Internet access but most of them used it for internal communication and learning purposes. Teachers and administrators could make use of this technology to reach out to families and keep them informed of school activities and volunteer opportunities, but this is not very common at this moment, although almost no research about the topic exists. While the traditional backpack method for parent communication still has its place for some school-based information, such as lunch menus, pizza nights, and field trip notices, we clearly need to shift more time and resources—including staffing—toward electronic communications. In this day and age, it is very hard to justify the time and money that many schools are still pouring into their print newsletters for parents and staff. (Carr, 2006)

Traditional methods of communication such as face-to-face meetings have been found to be effective, however, these methods require time that  both working parents and teachers lack. Educators are often very good at mass communications via newsletters,  letters, and handbooks for their students, but don’t use it for connecting to parents. Mass communications are also not effective in shaping or changing attitudes of parents. In order to change attitudes, educators must become effective at interpersonal communication with a target audience.. Research  (Rogers & Wright, 2007)  report usage of traditional modes of communication such as newsletters and telephone calls to be 75%  opposed to newer technologies such as websites and e-mail which are both less than 15%. Technology has been heralded as a tool that can provide new avenues for communication, but studies show that parents and teachers are not embracing them in communicating with each other. Little research has been done to evaluate the role of emerging technologies in enhancing communication practices between  schools and parents. It would be also necessary to investigate the difficulties and dangers that are accompanied with these tools.  Recent research (Rogers & Wright, 2007) shows that  educators and parents are not taking full advantage of the convenience and  quickness of communicating through electronic means such as e-mail and websites. This could be due to a number of factors, including lack of technological equipment and necessary software and lack of knowledge of how to use equipment.

Three areas of communication (Rogers & Wright, 2007).

Parental involvement encompasses three areas: direct contact with teachers, parental actions at school, and parental actions at home. In 1988, Epstein developed a framework for creating parent-school partnerships and described five types of parental involvement that lead to successful partnerships: obligations of parents, obligations of schools, involvement at school, involvement at home, and involvement in decision making. In 1992, Epstein introduced a sixth type of involvement, collaboration with community organizations. Together these six types of parental involvement are thought to develop successful family-school-community partnerships.

Type 1, basic obligations of parents, includes the obligation of parents and families to provide safe, healthy home environments. The school can aid parents by providing workshops, presentations, and general information about health and safety issues. (Epstein, 1988, 1992). E-mail offers an easy, convenient way of informing parents when and where workshops will take place. Bernstein (1998) reported that administrators  who use e-mail to communicate with parents find it an easy, cost-efficient, quick method of communication.

Type 2, obligations of schools, asks the schools to communicate regularly with  parents and keep them informed about school programs and their children’s progress in school (Epstein, 1988, 1992). Schools can communicate with parents in a myriad of ways including traditional venues such as newsletters, notes, and telephone calls (Epstein, 1992). In today’s technological society, these traditional forms of teacher communications can be supplemented electronically with e-mails and website information.  Furger (2006) calls for schools to enhance parental involvement through increased communication by providing teachers with e-mail addresses, developing or enhancing school websites, delivering school newsletters electronically, allowing parents access to student data online, and distributing laptops to families in need.

Type 3, involvement at school, requires the schools to be proactive by inviting parents to participate in school activities and provide ample volunteer opportunities (Epstein, 1988, 1992). Giving parents the information they need about opportunities to volunteer is one way to increase family involvement . Also here can technology improve communication and can give more chances to invite parents to involve in the school activities.

Schools can support type 4, involvement at home, by providing parents the information needed to assist their children with homework and other assignments (Epstein, 1988, 1992). Innovative technologies may assist schools by providing a means of disseminating information to parents. Electronic communication formats such as websites give families access to homework information and require little time or effort to access . A learning environment can provide online tests, background information about courses, internet links, …and additional information for the parents how to help their children. Not only one-way communication is provided. A discussion board, chat (IM) or integrated e-mail can help parents to contact easily the teachers of the school to ask online for help.

Type 5, involvement in decision making, means giving parents the tools they need to become active members of the government of the school.  Schools can organize online surveys or discussion boards to interrogate parents about important issues concerning schools and parents. So, even when parents don’t have time to come to school meetings, they have the opportunity to have participation in the decision making process.

Type 6 involvement, collaboration with community organizations, intends for schools to help families make links with businesses and organizations that can be of assistance in the future of their children (Epstein, 1992).  When there is  a specific problem with their child, schools can use internet web pages, e-mail or other  e-communication tools to help parents finding the precise and accurate assistance they need. 

School and classroom websites promote and maintain home-teacher communication by informing parents and community members of school and classroom activities . In addition, homework hotlines and online student management portals extend opportunities for families to stay linked to classroom requirements and resources. Electronic portfolios and learning environments  offer a unique and contemporary approach to help inform parents of children’s efforts, progress, and achievement over time. Electronic portfolios and learning environments can even contain digital artifacts that capture children’s voices in unique ways.  They offer also a storage advantage and can make children’s work portable and accessible. Typically, parents find it difficult to get information from their uncommunicative children about what happened during school . Instead, parents are seeking other methods like school websites and portals to obtain that information. These online communication mechanisms are more convenient for parents, as they do not have to interrupt their workday to phone a teacher or attend a meeting at school.  (Merkley, D., Schmidt, D., Dirksen, C., & Fulher, C. 2006).

Improving knowledge of each other

Communication most often breaks down between home and school when the student tells their parents only part of the story and the parents do not probe for the rest of it. Misunderstandings can arise and valuable time is lost whenever a parent has to contact the teacher for clarification. If the parent has a copy of the classroom expectations and evaluations, he can look at the document together while discussing the issues.  So sharing information by internet or learning environments can help parents and teachers  to be more convenient. Parents want to know who the teacher is, what’s he look like and what his background is. Online information can help parents knowing better the competences of the teacher.   Teachers can report progress to the parents on a more suitable way.

Traditional reports can be replaced with regular and up-to-date online reports which parents can access whenever and wherever they happen to be. Being able to access their child’s educational information as and when they wish has already been very successful in many schools with parents gaining greater understanding of day to day school life. Research undertaken by the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), entitled ‘Parental Involvement in Child’s Education 2007’, revealed that 44 per cent of parents expressed work commitments as the main barrier to greater involvement in their child’s education. For busy working parents and those whose work necessitates travel, online reporting could hold the key to ensuring that they are kept informed and up to date regarding their child’s progress.. (http://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/parents-online.htm)

Connecting with parents with WEB 2.0 : some examples.

E-mail.  Schools can create and send out a classroom newsletter to keep parents up to date by e-mail.  They can collect the e-mail addresses by the beginning of the school year or give parents the opportunity to sign in for the newsletter on the school website. Individual teachers can send e-mails when there are problems in the classroom or for giving parents good news about the learning process of their children.E-mails can be sent individually or in group. It is very easy to make groups of addresses in the most common e-mail programs.  Parents can read and respond to e-mails whenever they have time. An example :  In 2010 British parents can read each evening on their computer how son or daughter did it on school that day. In the online-report  the teacher tells the parent if  the child was considerable on school, if it behaved himself tidy and how it solved exercises and tasks carried out. 2010 is the deadline for all secondary schools within the country to have a learning platform in place and be in position to offer parental access to online reporting.  An each day report is the idea of the British education minister Jim Knight, who started up the project.  But, he warns, this replaces no school reports or parent evenings. He doesn’t want to charge teachers with extra work (Het Laatste Nieuws, 10/02/2008).

Website of blog. On the school website all information of the school can be showed : presentation of the school and the teachers, contact information, expectations,  school rules,  actions about health, physics,  bullying, how to use the internet at home, etc.  But also a calendar with useful information about school trips, parental evenings, a map with pictures of activities with learners, etc … Schools can organize an online questionnaire to ask parents about propositions concerning the school. Teachers can make podcasts so that parents and children can learn together at home. A school or class can make their own website on hired web space or can use free hosting web sites.  Some of them contain advertisement, but there are free sites on the internet. In Belgium there is http://www.classy.be (max 100 MB) An interesting and very cheap company who is offering a lot of web space is www.one.com   One of the easiest ways for parents to collaborate and post information is the free format offered in blogs. Free blogs can be made on several blogpages  f.e. http://wordpress.org  or    http://www.blogger.com/. Many schools have static websites. Some post new content semi-frequently. Schools must have a constant flow of new information. This can be done easily with out-of-the-box software that will require no technical expertise to publish information. These information posts are supplemented with RSS Feeds that allow parents and students to subscribe to any and relevant feeds which are conveniently served up in their RSS Reader of choice. There are lots of database oriented websites tools that are very easy to use, once they are installed : Joomla, Moodle, etc. Knowledge of making websites isn’t necessary anymore.

Learning environments. A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice) or self-evaluation, communication trough discussion boards , uploading of content, return of students' work, peer assessment, administration of student groups,  collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces. Examples : Blackboard  Learning System (http://www.blackboard.com ), Smartschool  (Dutch learning environment system  www.smartschool.be), CollegeRuled. (http://collegeruled.com/) , Mijn school online  (Dutch learning environment system http://www.mijnschoolonline.be/), E-chalk (http://www.echalk.com/), Learnhub (http://learnhub.com/) ConnectYard    (http://www.connectyard.com ),  ePals  (www.epals.com), Saywire  (https://saywire.com)

Media Sharing. With these programs schools  can easily share pictures, movies, etc. Youtube (www.youtube.com), Google Video (http://video.google.com/),Flickr (www.flickr.com)

Social networks. It is possible to use social networks like Facebook,Twitter  or MSN to communicate with parents. It is possible to make groups in Facebook and share only information with the parents.  Parents  can communicate with each other of the class of their children. They can share pictures, important information, etc. Facebook is not so difficult to work with and a lot of parents already have a Facebook account. An interesting website to learn parents to use Facebook is http://facebookforparents.org/ Other spaces like Ning (www.ning.com) or Mixxt (www.mixxt.com ) give free or almost free web space to make forums, share wikis, design, events, pictures, etc. You can choose if the network is private or open to the whole world wide web. Interesting is also the system of the Yahoo groups.  http://groups.yahoo.com/

SMS- Skype. SMS (texting) is not an easy channel to communicate with parents but it can be useful for specific targets.  The firma Mergroup  (http://www.mergroup.be) has developed a communication system in Belgium where the school can send sms or e-mail to the parents when the child is not at school. So the parents immediately are knowing if their child is playing truant.   When there is an urgent message for parents, schools can send a collective sms to warn parents of an individual sms to contact to a specific parent. Skype can be an interesting alternative to contact parents and reduce telephone costs. www.skype.com


Not all teachers are common with ICT technology and don’t know how to use e-mail, learning environments, can make websites, blog pages, etc. So when a school wants to start e-communication with parents they must first invest in training of the staff and invest in a good computer equipment.  Teachers must also be trained in modern social communication networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Not all teachers will be convinced of the profits of online communication with parents. Teachers must have an open mind. There will be some teachers who really prefer not to share to many things with the outside world. They have their classroom and they want to do their own things… open communication with parents includes opening the doors of the classroom.  So this supposes the willingness of the teacher to share his information and methods with parents. It will be a long road to bring the educators in line with today's 'web 2.0' communications environment

Spreading online information by e-mail, websites, blogs, etc. demands a lot of time from the teacher. This work comes extra. Without digital communication the teacher only has to contact parents when there are problems or during school-parent meetings.  Now he must spend lots of evenings behind his computer  sharing information with parents, answering e-mails, making websites and blogs.  This has to be included in his working schedule and may not become extra work, otherwise it will only be a thing for super enthusiastic ICT minded people.  In a digital world, we  need to start providing more secretarial and administrative support to classroom teachers, and we need to build in more time during the school day for parent communication..

Parents must have a possession of a fast computer and access to the (fast) internet. They must have necessary programs (software) and the necessary knowledge to work with computer.  Schools must avoid to create a new poverty gap in the school society : people who have fast computer and knowledge and people who don’t have computer or computer knowledge.  Schools can help to bridge the digital gap. It would l be important to find ways to reach families without email access or find ways to provide them with cheap equipment. The government can help, like in Belgium the ministry did.  (http://www.quickonomie.be/nl/in_de_media/10dec2009-pctwee.jsp)

Many parents will be comfortable with technology and suitably ‘tech-savvy’ to deal with online reporting. However there will be those who are daunted and feel out of their depth at the prospect of using a computer says Paul Harrington (http://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/parents-online.htm). One way of educating and training parents could be via holding after-school lessons for parents where a teacher will explain use of the learning platform and demonstrate how parents can utilize online reporting to its full potential. For parents unable to attend after-school or evening training sessions there is scope for them to be trained online. Schools could potentially create an online workshop detailing step-by-step guidelines for parents; they can log on to and access the learning platform at any time suitable for them.  Their children can help them learning it at home.

Many educators are hesitant to use social networking tools in the classroom, owing to safety concerns. They are afraid that privacy is damaged when they put notes or grades from students online.  This means that most of them are still not confident with Web 2.0 utilities.  Nowadays the new technology provides schools and teacher very safe internet applications where privacy and safety is provided. Nevertheless, teachers and parents must be aware of potential dangers in using internet tools when they are nonchalant with passwords.

Guidelines for schools (based on   http://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/10-rules-social-threats.htm)

  • Create clear security guidelines for teachers, students and parents. Creating clear rules for all participants will help everyone know exactly what is expected of them, and what the consequences are if these rules are broken.
  • Educate teachers, students and parents  on the importance of security and respect for privacy, using these guidelines. Notice them about the dangers of loosing privacy when they put too much personal information on the internet or on blogs or social networks, when they post pictures on media sites, etc.   Remark them to keep passwords always for save. About Facebook it is important for teachers to have a separate network for school purposes and a network for family and friends. Ensure them  not to make parents or students ‘friends’, except that they know what the consequences could be.
  • Stay informed. Teachers and IT managers in schools should ensure that they are up to speed with the latest technologies and platforms that are being used in and out of the classroom by their students. Advice on new technologies should be available from the security provider to help them stay on top of new trends. Set strict web filters and password systems, and monitor web and IM use.
  • Set the same stringent security controls to information leaving the school network as to information coming in to the network. This can help prevent unauthorized applications  from being used, and prevent a school’s IT network from unknowingly being used to distribute information (for example, in peer-to-peer network technology, or being used to distribute spam).
  • Train teachers, students and parents  to be aware of all exceptional data transfer or internet use. Install spamfilters, tell all participants not to download and install malware or to open suspicious mails.


Technology provides a increase of quick and frequent communication between teachers and parents, much more than can be accomplished through conventional means. Although a teacher may not be able to take a telephone call during class, they can often take just a moment to communicate through emails. Programs must be developed that fund computer ownership, Internet access, and technology training for everybody. Once parents have technology access and the skills to use it, educational systems are likely to see an increase in electronic communications and parental involvement. Rather than get frustrated by poor parent showings at the traditional events, especially at the secondary and high school levels, maybe we need to come up with some radically new approaches and find ways to use technology about e-communication effectively.


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  8. HARRIS, A., GOODALL, J. (2007) Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement. Do Parents Know They Matter? University of Warwick
  9. MERKLEY, D., SCHMIDT, D., DIRKSEN, C.,  FUHLER, C. (2006). Enhancing parent-teacher communication using technology: A reading improvement clinic example. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 6(1). Volume 6, Issue 1   (2006 )
  10. ROGERS, R.H., WRIGHT, H. (2007) .You’ve Got Mail: Using Technology to Communicate with Parents. Paper presented at the National Educational Computing Conference, June 25, 2007, Atlanta, Georgia Retrieved 20/12/2009 from http://ejite.isu.edu/Volume7/Rogers.pdf

©  Original publication : Gielen,G.(2010). E-communic@tion 4 Schools 2 Parents. Eden 2010 Annual Conference. Media Inspirations for Learning. 9-12 june 2010 Valencia. Book of abstracts,p74 (integral text  published on EDEN CD-ROM with all papers)  http://www.edenonline.org

[1] Contact Gielen Gerard Oude Luikerbaan 79  B-3500 Hasselt Belgium 0032 11 288270 gerard.gielen@khllim.be

Last changed by gerard gielen on 01/11/2010