10 Strategies to Help Parents with Distance Learning

How to Beat the “Back To School Blues”

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @monicagmehta and Co-authored by Ariana Pokatilova, EmotionalMUSE Volunteer

“MOMMYSCHOOL,” by Deb Liu, released a cartoon entitled ‘Back To School Blues.’ The humorous graphic proclaimed fire and brimstone and doom for the 2020–2021 school year. When I saw this cartoon, I was struck by how much I related to every single one of the 10 bulleted items, based on our own family’s first week back to school.

This past week was essentially a series of timers set about 20 minutes apart to keep our three kids on track…three kids in three different schools with three entirely different schedules, despite being in the same district. Snack breaks and lunch breaks did not line up even once, which meant the adults in the house were “short order cooks” all day every day. As I frantically attempted to work with any amount of focus in my 15 minute windows of distraction-free time, I found myself looking up to “shhhh!!” the one child who was on break while the other two were on zoom calls. That’s right — even when they had breaks, there could be no loud boisterous play, out of respect for their siblings still in school. A collective sigh was heaved each day at approximately 3:30pm.

Reading Deb Liu’s ‘Back to School Blues,’ I find comfort in the knowledge that our family is not alone. If the plane is about to go down in flames, at least we are all in this together. But why is that comforting? I suppose it is the hope that comes from knowing that others are experiencing the same obstacles and challenges; somehow, somebody will come up with solutions to these challenges. As founder of the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning, with a mission of developing the emotional intelligence of generations of students, I felt compelled to offer whatever advice I could to the parents who are attempting to thrive…or at least survive!…during this unprecedented school year.

1. “Orientation: Attended orientation with sixteen 8 year-olds, half didn’t know how to mute, one was upside down. Chaos ensued.”

I think we can all agree that it is not the most natural thing to have children set up on all day video conferences that rival the schedule of the busiest tech execs.

One way to help mitigate the unfamiliarity of this situation is to teach children the basics of video conferencing, beyond simply showing them how to join a video call. If your child’s teacher doesn’t already have something similar, share this graphic with them to help create a set of virtual community guidelines. It is also helpful to have a discussion with your children about what steps to take when their call is not working. Teach them to self advocate!

2. “Textbook Pickup: Freshmen book pickup cancelled due to the insufficient staff. Still TBD on the updated calendar. School starts Monday.”

It is eerie how similar our experiences were — our schools had to delay materials pickup multiple times, and many students did not have their textbook pick up until after the school year had started. The schools tried to recruit more parent volunteers, but without adequate childcare, most parents with younger kids are not free to leave their homes. My teen found a partial workaround for this problem — there are many sites out there that offer both free and rental versions of textbooks in digital, PDF format. To make this easier for younger children, print out the pages they actually need so they can take notes and annotate as they would in a print textbook.

3. “Class Assignments: Middle school class assignments were delayed until just before the first day of class due to technical issues.”

I guess this is one of those “it is what it is” things in life. Hopefully it’s true what they say — tough situations build strong people. One thing is for sure…we’ll come out of this pandemic with more grit and resilience than we could have learned through any purely educational methods.

4. “Lunch Roulette: Found all three kids have different lunch times. Will need to be a short order cook to feed them.”

Ugh. I feel your pain, Deb Liu! This was my life the first few days of school. However, I wised up (eventually) and remembered that we used to pack lunch in the morning before school, and my kids had lunch whenever it fell in their school schedule — without me trying to give them company, or serve them hot, fresh food. Save the nice meals for dinnertime and go back to pre-packed foods that are prepared ahead of time! If you find yourself wanting to make fresh lunches, prepare everyone’s lunch at the same time as you prepare the first child’s lunch. The other children are likely to be along within the hour, and most foods can sit out that long without spoiling.

For those feeling especially ambitious, one bonus idea I had is to set up a lunch ‘playdate’ schedule, with virtual calls set up for each child to socialize during their lunch break. For some of my kids, this works great…for others, they just want a break from video calls even more than they want to socialize with their friends at lunch.

5. “School Days: Kids are expected to be on zoom for 5 to 6 hours a day, but each day is staggered so the schedule is different per day of the week, per kid. Send help.”

Yes. This. This is exhausting. Not only does each child’s day look different from their siblings’ day; each child also has a different bell schedule for each day on their own school schedule. This is difficult to manage for all of us, and creates the additional difficulty of children who are on “break” having to be quiet and solitary while the other children are still in school. One way to deal with this is to plan your younger children’s breaks a little bit ahead of time, ideally with their input. Write down various break activities your child could do during downtimes. For my own children, I ask them to use the restroom and drink water at every break as needed, then to either get a snack or do anything on the list of brainstormed activities. These include stretching breaks, puzzles, journaling, coloring, quick chats with friends, shooting some baskets, taking a short walk (for older kids), having a mindful moment, reading a book, etc. I also let my kids play in this virtual “playroom” I created, which they find simultaneously both fun and relaxing. (FYI the virtual playroom only works on computers; it is not yet optimized for mobile use.)

I’d also recommend creating a master schedule of all of your children’s log in times as well as codes. If possible, give your children “view” access and teach them how to check the master schedule. Include all additional schedule items, such as exercise, meal plans, and extracurriculars. As things change (updated zoom links, changes in schedule) you can then simply update this master spreadsheet, and your kids will always find the most updated schedule/links as they check back throughout the day.

I find it useful to include my own general schedule in this spreadsheet — that way my kids know if I am in meetings or appointments, on a walk with our puppy, etc.

6. “Communication Management: After reading through two dozen back-to-school emails from five schools and filling out online forms for two days, I am sure I missed at least three things. Just not sure which three.”

This is not my strong suit; I have come to dread my emails with a passion (can you dread something with a passion?? I think the answer is you can during a worldwide pandemic.). However, one hack I have started using seems to be working pretty well. I’ve created a separate folder for emails coming from school, since there is so much communication home these days. Any school email that comes across my inbox I dump in the folder to read in the evening, and I keep the email there even after I’ve read it. Once I am sure I have processed it, noted vital info, and done all tasks from the email, then I remove it from the folder.

7. “School IT Support: Juggled logins to Schoology, Infinite Campus, UpToUs, Google Classroom, Quickschools, Clever, and Konstella to figure out all of the action items. Probably forgot all of the usernames and passwords already.”

I think the solution to this one is obvious…it’s just frustratingly time consuming. Somehow, somewhere all of that information needs stored where it can be readily retrieved. I threw out my usual hesitation to write down passwords and created a login information tab in my master spreadsheet (the one the kids use to see their schedule each day and all the zoom links). The benefit of this is that the kids can see their own login information, and they now come to me far less for this specific need. If I end up getting hacked because we wrote everything down, I suppose I’ll be eating my words. Fingers crossed it all works out.

“8. Calendaring: Realized one of us will be a full-time executive assistant to manage the calendar for three kids or else everything will fall apart.”

This is just factually true, and it is no fun. I do have hope this will get better as things become more routine; but it does feel like half my day goes to this. There are two strategies that have helped me counteract this. One is, yet again, my master schedule. Having a really organized place to collect all information, and to update it as it changes, is a game changer. Every bit of new info that comes in has a spot either in that spreadsheet or on my Google calendar. Knowing where to record the constantly changing information as it comes in is half the battle.

The other two thirds of the battle (yes, we are all metaphorically putting in way more than 100% effort!!) is to not procrastinate. This is a huge ask when everyone is overwhelmed and working way too many jobs at once (paid and unpaid)…but aim for an empty email inbox each day if possible. The more you let the emails build up, the more reluctant you will become to address them.

9. WiFi: Our WiFi is melting down already with too many concurrent video connections. Next week will be WiFi-Mageddon.”

Oof. I have lost count of the number of things we have tried to do to create enough bandwidth for the kids to all be in school synchronously, for me to get my work done, and for my husband to be on all day long conference calls. We have called our Internet service provider, and that has occasionally helped, as sometimes the issue is on their end. You can also try resetting your router — sometimes if we do that enough, the WiFi magically begins working again.

If this issue persists, internet connection is the area I would say is most worth spending a little extra money if you can afford it. Upgrading to a better router will generally help immensely. We have also purchased something called a MiFi — a personal internet hotspot that can be plugged anywhere, with its own monthly fee. This is amazing to have for our outdoor classroom, which we are doing four days a week (we are allowing some friends to come do school with our kids socially distanced in the backyard). That is, four days a week if the California wildfires are not devastating our air quality and trapping us indoors! (…while simultaneously making us so grateful to have an “indoors” to be trapped in, as our neighbors to the north, east, and south are all being evacuated).

One last suggestion for sparing your WiFi is to encourage yourself and your kids to take breaks from their devices when they are on school breaks. Encourage them to move their bodies and to engage their minds in different ways, such as reading, puzzles, chores and games.

10. “Assessment for School Year 2020: We are doomed.”

Well…here’s hoping my Dad is right. He is always telling us to be “wildly optimistic.” While every word of Liu’s cartoon depicts exactly how I felt last week, this week I am optimistic that the tips and strategies collected here can keep us aloft. It certainly won’t be a smooth flight, but with a confident pilot and the advice of our co-pilots, I believe we will get through this. Together.

Visit Monica’s site EmotionalMUSE.com for Social Emotional Learning curriculum you can use with your children. My first two units include a Piloting Your Plane emotional regulation curriculum for early elementary school children, and a Socializing During A Pandemic social skills unit for secondary school students. It is a rapidly growing site — follow me for updates when new units become available!

_________________*********************

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Creating a School Community

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

Over the last few weeks, I have been exploring ParentSquare and considering how it can be used to promote family engagement, foster better communication and facilitate collaboration between home and school.

Choosing something that will give students, teachers, parents, and administrators equal access to the vital information, resources, school news, and alerts, in addition to many of the other communications that are exchanged on a daily basis is an important task. There are multiple tools that can be used, but this often requires remembering where to find specific information or parent and teacher preferences for communication. Having one platform that provides all of this and more makes sense. With ParentSquare, all of this is possible and it brings with it the potential for using it in different ways that meet the needs of school and home, making it highly beneficial.

What it offers

There are many features of ParentSquare that facilitate more consistent and reliable information sharing and access to resources. Consider the tools and methods you are currently using and then compare with ParentSquare to see how much easier it is to engage families in the education of our students. Think about a typical day and the ways you communicate, the tasks that you do, the information that you exchange and how much time is spent in the process. ParentSquare helps to streamline all of the necessary communications.

Here are 10 of the best features that I think make ParentSquare really stand out and why I recommend that school administrators and teachers take time to explore the platform.

10 features that make ParentSquare a standout

  1. Ease of navigation within the platform: A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Available through the web or mobile devices, getting started and finding what you need is easy, without worry about a steep learning curve.
  2. Increases families engagement: Families choose their preferred methods of communication such as email, text, web portal, app notifications, voice calls, or mobile app. ParentSquare helps to create a closer home to school learning community full of ways to connect families.
  3. Facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school: Messages can be sent immediately, with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Easier to share relevant updates of all school-related activities and groups within one platform.
  4. Promotes better two-way communication with parents: Keep the conversation going with multiple options for communicating in less time. Communicate through direct messages, create polls, and post comments all in one platform.
  5. Easier to plan and RSVP for upcoming events: With ParentSquare, creating events and tracking RSVPs is much easier. ParentSquare even sends reminders for you.
  6. Involves families through photo and file sharing: Share photos and files with families quickly and with private and secure access within the platform.
  7. Creates more opportunities for family involvement: Schools can create wish lists, manage volunteer sign-ups and launch fundraising campaigns, all in one platform.
  8. Language Features: ParentSquare offers direct language translation in real-time for two-way communication. Language translation can be specific to the school or based on family preferences.

 

9. “Pushes” vital information to families when needed: Immediate access to information such as emergency alerts, grades, absences, lunch balances, upcoming events, volunteer requests, parent-teacher conferences and more. Parents do not need to search for information, everything is easy to find.

10. Analytics: With the reports, it’s easy to determine who received messages, how they obtained the information and how many people still need to be contacted. Access to the “Overall Snapshot” makes it easy to see how the information is being received and areas that need to be improved.

 

 

 

 

 

School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare

Find out how ParentSquare can make a difference in your school. I recommend that you schedule a demo to learn more about the features and possibilities with ParentSquare. Personally, I like to get started by exploring the website, learning about the team and the platform as much as I can before the demo. It is helpful to consider the different methods or tools you currently use for communicating and collaborating with students and families. Perhaps even make a list to compare. You will see how ParentSquare unifies so many time-consuming tasks and streamlines the exchange of forms and correspondence, into one tool that provides it all.

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Sign up for a demo today!

_

E

 

Promoting Family Engagement: 5 Ways to Foster Meaningful Connection

Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ParentSquare: Building a Community from School to Home

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own

 

In my previous post, I shared the background of ParentSquare, where the inspiration came from and provided a basic overview of what the platform offers. To learn more, I scheduled a demo with Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare, and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a parent, teacher, and administrator. I also had an opportunity to explore the platform on my own, delve more into each of the features, and compare it to the tools that I use in my own classroom as well as those used within my school.

ParentSquare offers unique features that make it stand out when compared with other similar home-to-school communication platforms currently used in schools. While other platforms offer similar benefits, one of the things I appreciate most about ParentSquare is understanding the vision that Anu has for the platform. She has a genuine passion for connecting families in the school community.

The Power of Technology

When I spoke with Anu, we first talked about technology and its benefits. When asked about the purpose of ParentSquare and what makes it different from similar tools, Anu said her goal is to provide teachers with “a system that takes care of everything, one that is automatic.” Because of the way ParentSquare is designed, teachers will find that there is not much of a learning curve at all and that it is very easy to navigate. She added, “The purpose is to simplify the technology enough so that everyone can use it because that’s the power in technology.”

Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” For students, parents, teachers, and administrators, this ease of use and accessibility are key.

When it comes to ParentSquare, Anu has a unique perspective. She can evaluate the benefits by using it as a parent, which gives her a more authentic experience with the platform. And she is in a position to make changes based on the feedback she receives and through her own experience in communicating with her children’s teachers.

What makes ParentSquare stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about ParentSquare is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. When looking at digital tools, especially those that offer as many features as ParentSquare, a common question is if there will there be a big learning curve. A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators, whether tech-savvy or new to technology, will be comfortable using ParentSquare.

With ParentSquare, you can streamline many of the tasks and communications that are a regular part of school, but that typically come in multiple formats. ParentSquare takes everything that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one platform that is easy to use and widely accessible. Schools can establish consistency in communication which will increase family engagement and provide all of the necessary resources in a safe digital environment.

Features that make a difference

  1. Smart Alerts and Notices: Send alerts for school closings, urgent notices, or quick reminders to parents. Alerts can be sent to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. Sending a recorded message or using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare is easy to do. Through the reports, you can verify the number of messages that have been received, even getting a prompt that provides the percentage of contacts being reached and the number needed to reach 100%.
  2. Classroom Communication: Posting a message takes little time and messages can be sent to parents, privately exchanged with teachers, or as part of a group chat. Parents choose their preferred method of contact and you simply create one message that is delivered to parents in the format and language they choose.
  3. School Business and Workflows: ParentSquare offers many resources such as:
  • Parent Conference Signups
  • Class “wish lists”
  • Volunteer requests
  • RSVPs for events
  • Permission forms
  • Calendar of events (can be synced with personal Google calendar)
  • File and photo sharing
  • Quick polls
  • Absence excuses

Exploring the features of ParentSquare

While exploring the demo site, I decided to look at features related to two areas:

  • Clerical tasks: taking attendance, creating permission forms, and contacting parents.
  • Daily classroom procedures: sending class announcements, posting reminders, and sharing class materials.

Personally, I have been using between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. And more importantly, it will help to foster the relationships that are the foundation of learning.

Here are just five of the many benefits of using ParentSquare in schools:

  1. Parent-Teacher Communication – With ParentSquare, it is easier to:
  • Provide updates on student progress
  • Be accessible for parent concerns
  • Arrange parent-teacher conferences
  • Verify when messages have been received and who you need to reach

2) Directory – Parental contact information is more accessible, taking less time to find and exchange emails or messages. You can search by student or parent name, email address or phone number.

3) Paper-free – Easier to keep track of permission forms, absence excuses, and volunteer sign-ups. Exchange information faster and access the “paperwork” when you need to without having to print extra copies or keep folders full of documents.

4) Grade reporting – ParentSquare integrates with your grade book and notifications can be sent to keep parents informed about student grades.

5) Attendance Tasks – Keeping attendance records and gathering excuses for absences is much simpler using ParentSquare. Parents receive notices of absences and can respond with an excuse instantly within the app or on the web.

These are the first five areas that I thought of which likely take up a good portion of time for most educators each day. Using ParentSquare to facilitate these five tasks alone would make a big difference. In addition to being beneficial for time management, it would foster the creation of a supportive and engaged community of students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Sign up for your demo today!

d550ec98-2667-430e-af7b-f4c9c203d686.gif

ParentSquare: Opening Doors to Better Communication

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.30.54 AM

When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

d550ec98-2667-430e-af7b-f4c9c203d686

With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

screencapture-localhost-3000-schools-1-apps-1512408546362

There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.

 

 

Thanks Edmodo for teaching me about Instagram

Wrong again!  This is the next in the series of posts about how I was wrong about the value of Social Media.

Instagram

I really did not have any understanding about Instagram. I thought it was just another place for posting photos, although very vibrant ones, enhanced with filters and more. I had an account, one which I created at some point, but had not really used. I just didn’t understand it.

My account had a few photos, nothing too exciting, but it somehow was enough to get a few followers. I am not even sure how people found my account and I did not know anything about the settings, there was just no time investment on my part to learn about it.

I had not checked it in a long time and the one day I did, I noticed that several students were now following me. I couldn’t imagine why they would want to follow my account, especially since it was really quite boring. I actually did not even know my own user name. There were maybe 3 photos, and they were not too interesting or vibrant.  I also was surprised that they were able to follow me, but then again, I had not really checked into anything about it, especially the settings. So this made me curious to learn more about it, starting with the settings.

Well, after I changed my username…a few times, I still did not really have intentions to use it, as I already had several other accounts and did not have extra time to post on another site. But then one day, I was selected to carry the Edmodo EdTech baton.  I am an Edmodo Ambassador and I enjoy doing activities which share the uses of Edmodo, especially because it has brought about so many positive changes for my classroom and opened up tremendous learning opportunities for the students.  I did not know what “carrying the baton” meant.  But, it turned out that I had to post photos on Instagram throughout the day I carried the baton.

So this was my purpose for using Instagram and I admit that I had to ask the students exactly how to post things. I did not have a clue! But that is okay because as much as I enjoy learning new things and sharing the information with students, it is so much better to learn from them. There are so many benefits. One, because I can see them engaged at a different level and two, it gives them a different perspective in the classroom, one in which they are the leaders.  You can sense their excitement when they are the ones teaching about something they use and understand.

My use of Instagram was short, only for that Edmodo time period of one day, however, I do enjoy seeing the posts of others, the different filters, and truly appreciate the ability to share information and photos so quickly. I have since posted some photos, and sort of figured out the collages, but I prefer to see the posts of friends.  It is still not something that I use on a regular basis, but I admit, I was again wrong about the value of another social media platform.

I am trying to stay connected through Instagram. I do appreciate the opportunity to stay connected with  friends and family. But there is this whole other side to the use of Instagram which I really did not know. Instagram can also be used for educational purposes, not something that I had thought of aside from when I carried the Edmodo baton.  However, I am currently reading “Social Leadia” by Jennifer Casa-Todd @JCasaTodd and just read about some really fantastic, educational uses of Instagram for all levels of students, kindergarten through high school, and so I think I need to give it a try this year. I just need to think about the ways to use it that would be the most beneficial for students.

But before that, I need to remember what my user name is.

Next up…Snapchat…I have no idea how to use it. But, I am fascinated by #booksnaps thank you Tara Martin @TaraMartinEDU