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Engaging Students’ Parents in a Collaborative Digital Place

When parents support positive learning environments at home and are engaged in their child’s academic endeavors, students experience higher achievement and better educational outcomes. (1)



Open House, I am making my rounds, making sure all of our tech is working. After passing several empty classrooms, I catch a couple of my colleagues in mid-conversation.

“The crowd looks a bit thin this year.” said a social studies teacher holding a stack of blank, self-sticking name badges with “Hello, my name is…” printed in red letters across the top.

His associate from the Mathematics department said, “There are several empty classrooms in this hallway. I wonder where everyone could be?”

Has the traditional concept of parents’ night, or open house, become an exercise whose best, well-intentioned days, passed us by? As school personnel, are we not communicating, informing, and welcoming enough for today’s families? Maybe we have been inviting parental involvement when we should be fostering parental engagement.

  • Parents - What are the barriers keeping you from engaging with your child's teacher or school?
  • Teachers - What forms of support are you seeking from your students' parents?
  • Students - What would be the impact of knowing your caregivers and teachers were working together on your behalf?

In a recent interview for ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, Karen Mapp, author and Harvard educator says school-family partnerships can move past what she calls “random acts of parent involvement” by building family engagement initiatives on foundations of student learning and development.

Suggesting nearly all parent involvement programs are too passive, Mapp says there are three things parents should know about their child’s school and school-related experiences. (2)
  1. Parents are the child’s first teacher. Parents need to know they are an essential aspect of their children’s development.
  2. Parents possess a deeper knowledge about their children. Educators are better able to differentiate and individualize instruction when armed with the background information parents can provide.
  3. Parents need to know they have access and support from their child’s teacher and school. Parents should have a direct line to the feedback that helps support their child’s learning and development.
It would seem face-to-face interactions would produce the greatest results in a school-family engagement initiative. However, we all know time and resources are finite. How do people interact and stay engaged in a modern, digitally connected world? Like many schools, we have a school Facebook page and a school handle and hashtag on Twitter. We have Snapchat filters and Pinterest boards.

What about the sometimes maligned classroom LMS? Could this digital space hold the key to moving the school-family initiative from involvement to engagement? For instance, communication, or the lack of communication, is seen as a key barrier to increasing school-parent engagement. Studies reveal the frequency and quality of school-initiated communication with parents are rare. In 2012, nearly sixty percent of public school parents reported never having received a phone call home from their child’s school during the previous year. (3)

Researcher and educator, Matthew Kraft says, “Digital technology must be an integral and purposeful part of schools’ communication infrastructures. Nearly every adult has a mobile phone.” (4)

Teachers can use platforms, such as Schoology, to communicate feedback on student progress, share course content and parent resources, establish social networks for parents, and engage parents in classroom discussions and experiences. Schoology provides a mutually convenient digital place where parents, teachers, and students can establish partnerships with the aim of optimizing learning and development in schools. (Full disclosure time, I Schoology Ambassador and a contributor to Schoology Exchange.)

Rather unique in LMS circles, all of Schoology’s communication features offer both one-way notifications, as well as, two-way communication between schools and families. Additionally, Schoology’s conversation pieces can be enhanced with embedded web content and interactive elements such as polls, comments, and discussion threads. At our school, we support parent communication by using Schoology to post school-wide announcements, post updates, and resources to specific graduating classes, and exchange direct messages between teachers and parents.

Parents, like Melinda N., have expressed appreciation for the communication and depth of information Schoology provides to families, “I like how I can observe, and sometimes, participate in my daughter’s classroom experiences. I can monitor and support her progress. Messaging the teacher is a single click from the course materials. Easy, helpful, and convenient.”

As we have learned, inconsistent practices in posting updates and information limit the communication effectiveness of the LMS. Like many schools, we started with an opt-in approach to enrolling parents in Schoology. Moving from involvement to engagement proved to be challenging for many families, some with the greatest need, was not included in communication loops. Schools and teachers should regularly collect contact information and communication preferences from families.

Such information has allowed us to expand and diversify our communication practices. This year, we activated Schoology accounts for all of our parents. These accounts are linked to their child’s Schoology account. Parents can view their child’s progress, participate virtually in classroom experiences, and maintain a direct line of communication with the teacher and school. Also, each student’s Schoology account is associated with their advisory teachers and their guidance counselor. As you would guess, this creates a mutually beneficial support network within Schoology, with the student at the center.

As Karen Mapp says, involvement tends to be passive, falling short of real effectiveness. With digital places like Schoology, we can positively influence students, as Matthew Kraft says, “by engaging parents as partners in the education process.” The research on the benefits of parent engagement and school achievement are indisputable. Our infrastructure is in place, now it’s a matter of creating the expectations and dedicating the time necessary for teachers and parents to collaboratively advance student learning for all.

References and Resources


Houtenville, A. J., & Conway, K. S. (2008). Parental Effort, school resources, and student achievement, Journal of Human Resources, 43 (2), 437-453.

Thiers, N. (2017). Unlocking Families’ Potential: A Conversation with Karen L. Mapp. ASCD Educational Leadership, 75 (1), 40-44.

Noel, A., Stark, P., Redford, J., Zuckerberg, A. (2016). Parent and Family Involvement in Education, From the National Household Education Surveys of 2012. Washington D. C.: National Center for Education Statistics.

Kraft, M. A. (2017). Engaging Parents Through Better Communication Systems. ASCD, Educational Leadership. 75 (1) 58-62.

Pierce, D. "5 Keys to Forging Strong Parent Engagement.Getting Smart. 23 Dec. 2016.

O'Brien, A. "What Do Parents Want From Schools". Edutopia. 13 Oct. 2017

photo credit: Ars Electronica Deep Space 8K for families via photopin (license)

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