To Tech or Not to Tech? Technology's Role in Parent-Teacher Communication

Silicon Valley has turned its eye towards education as a new and growing niche for tech startups. In the past year, investors bid nearly $1.87 billion on education-tech companies, up 55% from the year before. The market is now rife with fledgling ed tech businesses, and investors are more enthusiastic than ever to get in on the trend. More recently, apps for parent-teacher communication have taken front stage: take Remind, a free messaging service for teachers to send reminders and classroom news to students and parents. ClassDojo, a competitor of Remind now used in 1 out of 3 U.S. schools, is a gamified tool for teachers to provide positive reinforcement for student behavior; the most recent release now allows teachers to send text, voice, and photo messages to parents. This PT-messaging trend follows conclusive research that frequent teacher-family communication directly and positively impacts student engagement in the classroom.

The hype falls at a highly relevant time for us at TYO. In preparation for the start of our Core Child program for 4-5 year olds, our teachers are engaged in building strong relationships with the children and their parents. But, there is one key difference: the basis of our teacher-to-parent communication is in-person, one-on-one meetings.

In late January, our Core teachers visited the homes of new and returning students. The home visits not only offer valuable insight – through conversation and observation – on the child’s home environment, behavior, and specific needs, but they are also crucial in establishing trust between teachers and the child and family. The home visits are followed by a call from teachers inviting families to visit our center, both to tour the classrooms and learn more about our alternative education approach. Last week, those invitations yielded a 98% parent turnout.

Core teacher Mahmoud meets with a student and her mother at TYO's Nablus center.

During last week’s parent- teacher meetings, Reem whose son ‘Omar’ will be entering his third session in TYO’s Core program, shared the following story. We couldn’t have better expressed the power of meaningful, in-person parent-teacher contact.

When we registered Omar, my oldest, at TYO, he was extremely aggressive. He was only 5 yet always got into fights in the street. I never understood him, and to be honest that damaged our relationship. Every time he came home beaten up, I saw him as the aggressor. It reached a point where I wouldn't allow him outside because I worried about his safety and others'. 

When Omar joined TYO, Ahmad [Omar’s teacher] scheduled many school and home visits. Ahmad knew us well, so I felt like I could open up about my concerns. One day I finally brought up Omar’s violent behavior; Ahmad told me he had observed the same, and it was such a relief. Ahmad invited me to observe Omar in class, and I remember feeling like I was watching a different child – the way Omar talked calmly with other children and adults, the way he respected boundaries. Ahmad later explained his techniques and encouraged me to use those at home. The way he talked about Omar made me feel comfortable, empowered as a mom. I learned how to talk to Omar, how to validate his anger without feeding it. I learned to engage in more positive ways; at home I displayed anything he brought back – whether school work or flowers or a drawing – to show him how important he is.

The experience changed everything. Now I don’t worry about leaving Omar with his sisters or letting him go out to play. It goes two ways – I trust him more and he trusts me.

Stories like Reem’s lead us to reflect on the buzz about tech solutions for parent-teacher communication, specifically what role technology can and should play in that relationship. At TYO, we use a tool similar to Remind – via a web-to-SMS platform, we send parents alerts about important dates, events, and cancellations.

However, we believe that parent-teacher communication can go much further than sharing reminders and updates on a child’s performance in class; as Reem’s story tells us, communication between teachers and parents is also an opportunity for two adults in a child’s life to share insight, and importantly strategies, related to the child’s emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development. It’s one of our best opportunities to smoothly bridge learning at school, and learning at home.

- Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager