In the dark ages of education, before the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Classroom, we teachers essentially had two modes of communication with parents: the telephone and newsletters. If you go back to the Stone Age, those newsletters were often copied on a mimeograph machine (admit it, some of you remember those days)! While acceptable, these forms of communication were lacking. They wasted reams of paper, were logistically difficult to update on a frequent basis, and took hours of our personal time. More importantly, they lacked the immediacy of the social media tools we have now.
As an educator who tries to make parent communication the cornerstone of my classroom, I have tried on every conceivable communication hat in an attempt to find the best way to allow the parents of my students to feel like viable, valued members of our classroom community short of having them literally sitting in my room 7 hours a day. I’ve written thousands of newsletters, made hundreds of phone calls, set up a Twitter account, and spent hours on time-consuming classroom blogs all the while crossing my fingers hoping that parents would read them.
Then, last year, I discovered what I consider the single best one-stop home/school communication tool I’ve ever used in 28 years as a teacher when I downloaded a free app called FreshGrade to my phone.
Meet My New Favorite App for Parent Communication
FreshGrade is an interactive, customizable app that creates private, individual student portfolios where teachers can post photos, voice recordings, videos, downloads, messages, and grades. Just about anything you want to share with parents (or with students) can be sent to them within seconds. Unlike accounts like Twitter that share the same immediacy, there are no character limits on FreshGrade. You can share as much or as little content as you like. Posts are arranged in timeline fashion, pushed out immediately, and parents receive an alert to the parent app they add to their devices. As a back up, or for those who do not have a smartphone, messages are also sent via e-mail to make parents aware of new content they can view online on any computer or notebook. Parents no longer have to dig through backpacks, sift through endless papers, or repeatedly check a website to see if its content has been updated.
What I love most about this user-friendly app is the immediacy with which my parents can get an inside glimpse into my classroom and their children’s lives in it in real time. Without being the least bit tech savvy, I can create a home-school connection that far surpasses anything I’ve ever done in the past. When students present oral presentations, I video them on my phone and immediately share them with parents. When I conference with children working in a cooperative group, I can video tape our interactions and share them with parents. If we’re working on a fantastic project or taking a field trip, I take pictures and post them to student portfolios, so parents can see their children in action. Each week I choose a classroom reporter who shares live reports from the classroom. Those pesky important notes that can often get lost in backpacks or misplaced at home? With a tap of an icon, I upload them quickly, easily and post them to student portfolios, so parents have them at the ready. I don’t have to worry about student privacy, pixelating faces in pictures, or leaving out names.
Another great feature of the app is that parents can immediately send private feedback and comments to me on their children’s portfolios. The app allows me to share content to a specific student’s portfolio or to all portfolios. I can create adorable slideshows highlighting individual student’s work and devise behavior management charts online to privately share with parents. The app also has a customizable grade book feature to allow me to set goals for students, create groups, and post grades and assessments all from my phone or laptop.
What I love best about FreshGrade is the rapport I have managed to create with my parents and how they, in turn, have responded. The comments I have gotten from them has been unprecedented. Over and over they have told me, “Thank you so much. I love this app. I feel like I’m right in the classroom with my child!” And that is about the best communication a teacher can get.
If you are interested in uploading the FreshGrade app, you can find it online or just search your smartphone’s app store for FreshGrade Teacher.
About the Author
Wendy Cushing has been teaching for 28 years in grades Pre-K-3. She currently teaches 3rd grade in Monroe, Connecticut. In addition to teaching, Wendy enjoys pinning teaching ideas she will never use, party planning, freelance writing, and hanging out with her over 300 lbs. worth of dogs. She is mom to two wonderful daughters, one living in NYC, and the other about to enter 7th grade.