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finding your parental communication groove: tools and meaningful practices for immersion educators

As an educator and immersion parent, there’s nothing I value more than the communication and open relationship that exists between our child’s teacher and our family. In our day of snazzy ed-tech apps, that relationship is often mediated and maintained through technology. And as almost any teacher will tell you, the number of options now available for communicating with parents is staggering. Where should educators begin?

evaluating communication tools

Educator Jessica Meacham shared in a recent eSchools News post, I wanted the communication process to be easy and streamlined for my parents and me. Finally I asked my parents, “What’s the best way for me to communicate with you?” Essentially, all of them said ‘email’ or ‘texting’, implying that their smartphone is their lifeline to the outside world.”

The market research Meacham conducted with her students’ families led her to review a wide variety of apps aimed at fostering communication between school and home. Her spreadsheet (embedded in the article linked above) is a great place to begin exploring new communication tools.

making communication meaningful, regardless of tool

Using Jessica’s list as a springboard, we’ve been thinking about how stellar immersion teachers communicate with families. What are the things that we see teachers doing in order to uphold the goals of their immersion programs, build and maintain rapport with families, and continue to foster a unified, collaborative culture?

Regardless of app or platform, here are some ways to keep communication meaningful and inviting:

1. spotlight language acquisition — Immersion programs exist to promote bilingualism and biliteracy. Why not share it? Share sound bytes of what students are saying, written examples, etc. with families to provide them with a “window” into the immersion classroom. In doing so, you continue to raise the status of the immersion language beyond the walls of the classroom.

2. don’t abandon the newsletter — The immersion model looks, feels, and sounds different from traditional models with which families are most familiar. Help them out by giving them a solid, dependable resource to seek each week. Share content learning objectives and linguistic areas of focus for the coming week, announce upcoming events, and provide families with program level information in digestible chunks. And, if you’re working in a two way immersion program, make sure that the newsletter goes home in BOTH the immersion language and English so that ALL parents have an equal and certain access to it.

3. provide explanations — Texting via an app things like, “Rough day today. 🙁” or using an app feature to assign negative points to a child with no explanation induces more questions and concern than clarity and confidence. When not couched in clarity, these types of communications can cause confusion with respect to what’s happening at school. If the specifics are too long for a text message, or if they’re about student discipline or classroom performance, discuss them face-to-face or over the phone so that parents know you’re their ally and that you’ve got ideas to help their child grow. In doing so, confidence in the teacher and the program’s capacity to meet the child’s needs can be taken to new heights.

4. never assume — We often assume that, because a majority of parents have smartphones, they feel confident using an app to communicate. Rather than assuming, consider holding a meeting to help families understand the app, its purpose, and the way you plan to use it in conjunction with other forms of communication. Be open, understanding and responsive if and when some parents desire a different mode.

As you reflect on this first quarter of the school year and refine any current communication plans, ask the following questions:

  • In what ways is my current communication plan serving the students well by forging a strong relationship with their families?  
  • How does my communication plan foster additional understanding of the dual language immersion model in the families of our students?
  • What might be some things that I should shift in order to increase the level of communication with some of my students’ families?
  • Is the app I’ve selected fostering a positive relationship between home and school?
  • Are there any tools or tricks with the app that I’ve not yet explored?
  • Would my students’ families and I benefit from additional opportunities to communicate? What might they look like?

Do you have a practice or application that you’ve found meaningful or effective in establishing solid relationships with your students’ families that we missed? Get in touch and let us know.

Filed under: professional development

About the Author

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Stephanie Irizarry holds undergraduate ​teacher certification in Spanish and Elementary Education, an M.Ed in Literacy Studies with emphasis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL),​ as well as an additional M.Ed. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Certification in Dual Language and Immersion Education from the University of Minnesota. Her broad teaching experiences in dual language immersion programs and​ in​ English learner contexts provide her with deep insight into the needs of new and existing dual language immersion programs.​ Co-author of the publication Lending Student Voice to Latino ELL Migrant Children's Perspectives on Learning (2013), she knows that students increasingly take ownership of their education when their voices are honored and expectations are held high. Stephanie is the proud mom of two boys and is thrilled that they'll know the joy of learning in high quality dual language immersion environments as they grow. She enjoys spending time with her husband and children, travel, latin dancing, and reading in Spanish.

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