Inherent to the role of a classroom teacher is the need to act as a liaison among many groups of people: parents, administrators, students, other teachers, students from other classes, and community members. Strong, organized strategies are a must to pull off communication that often rivals corporate public relations campaigns. Email, as discussed in Chapter 3, is the communication mode of choice for many educators; however, paper-based communication forms remain a necessary component in a teacher’s communication arsenal. Teachers cannot assume that all stakeholders who make up a classroom community have the capabilities to communicate electronically, and many items, such as those giving parental permission, require handwritten sig- natures. Basic productivity tools to which most teachers have access can prevent the job from becoming a correspondence nightmare. The suggestions that follow may seem like obvious uses of computer technology, but will serve as basics on which to build a strong communication platform.
Student Contact Information
Keeping in touch with your students’ families is made easier by keeping up-to-date student records. Schools often provide teachers with printed lists of student infor- mation, but these pages represent a static form of keeping this information. If a fam- ily changes phone numbers or a parent gets a new job with different hours, a printed list can be modified only by hand, leaving a messy record-keeping system.
Creating a database record for each student in class allows for a neat, easy-to- update filing system. The fields in a database can be customized to allow for infor- mation specific to particular students and situations. A database for a class in which most students ride the school bus may need to include a field identifying the bus number in order to be complete, whereas a database on secondary students might include students’ after-school work numbers. Larger text fields can be used to add anecdotal comments. Databases not only provide for a convenient, consistent com- pilation of information about students, but that information can also be searched and sorted. If, for example, all of the students who have other siblings attending the same school need to be contacted, students with completed “sibling” fields can be sorted. Student information can be entered into a database by teachers, or the data may be available through the school’s central system. Having the database open on the com- puter screen, along with an example of a student record, as parents come in for a “Meet-the-Teacher” night at the beginning of the school year, can serve as an invita- tion for parents to fill in their own child’s data. Not only does this spread the work- load, but it also introduces parents to some of the many ways technology is being used in the classroom.
Whether it is a lengthy summary of a semester’s work or a brief response acknowl- edging a note received, writing letters to parents is a requirement of most teachers’ jobs at the K–12 level. With teachers having little time in the daily routine to sit and compose an intelligible letter, a word processor can prove invaluable. Letters can be generally typed faster than they can be handwritten, especially if a computer is avail- able in the classroom. Time can further be saved by beginning with a previously writ- ten letter as a template and modifying it to fit the current purpose. Most word processing programs include ready-made templates or wizards to assist with com- posing letters.
Letters that are sent home can be saved in case a parent does not receive it or there are questions regarding what was said. Spelling and grammar can be checked, formatting adjusted, and personal touches, such as a class or school logo, can be in- serted to design a professional-looking letter. Parents will appreciate the legibility of a typed letter and therefore may actually be more likely to respond to it. As with any typed letter, always be sure to sign it by hand; a letter with a typed signature implies that little care was taken to elevate it past the status of a mere form letter, lowering the letter’s importance in parents’ eyes to that of junk mail. Word processors can also be used to create thank-you notes and solicitations for help or information to other teachers, community members, and content experts.
The merge function greatly streamlines the process of sending out letters to mul- tiple families. It enables you to insert information automatically from another docu- ment, such as your student contacts database, into the letter, creating a letter customized with names and other information for each family in the time it takes to write one letter. The merge function can also be used to print address labels to fur- ther assist the process.
Keeping parents up to date on classroom and school occurrences is vital to the main- tenance of a strong parent–school network, and the job can easily be done by pub- lishing a weekly newsletter. Publishing a professional-looking newspaper-type document right on the classroom computer is possible with word processing or doc- ument layout software.
Depending on the ages and abilities of students, class reporters can actually write much of the text of the newsletter. This gives students an authentic writing purpose with a real audience, and the student participation guarantees a newsletter with the appeal of personality and variety. Many classrooms come up with a catchy title for their weekly publication and find or create relevant graphics with which to per- sonalize the final product. The basic layout can be saved as a template to be used week after week, minimizing time spent, to simplify what it takes to insert the new information each week.
Parent permission is frequently required for participation in anything from field trips to Internet usage. Creating, printing, and copying these types of releases to send home makes for consistent, professional-looking records of parent responses. Although most schools, or even districts, have standard forms for these purposes, occasions may arise for which there is no set form in place, such as requesting per- mission to take home a class pet, for example, or notifying families of an end-of- semester recital. Teachers should make sure any forms that are sent home are easy to understand and provide ample writing space for parents.