E-mail & Websites Connect Educators & Parents
In the late 1980s, a week would pass before Katy ISD chemistry teacher Virginia Bening would know
the cause of a missing student’s extended absence. Until just recently, if she needed to contact a
parent about an issue, she would have to battle 200 teachers for one of only four outgoing phone
lines, crouch in the hallway on her cell phone or spend her evenings on the phone. She had to rely
on the school secretary for messages and monitor her campus mailbox for notes.
Now, Bening sits down to lunch at her computer, and with the click of the mouse, she directly
communicates with her students and their parents through e-mail.
Bening’s e-mail contact with Mayde Creek High School parents ranges from providing test grades to
sending a recipe to a parent who wanted to replicate a lab ice cream project with
a day-care group.
“E-mail is just fabulous for daily
communication with parents,” says Bening, an ATPE member since 1991. “I’ve seen a big improvement in
student performance and discipline when students know you can e-mail their parents.”
The instant contact of e-mail has also strengthened Bening’s relationships with her high school
chemistry students. If a student is sick, he e-mails her and explains why he can’t turn in his lab
“When they e-mail, you know they are committed, and it lets you know what’s going on in their
lives,” Bening says. “If you find out that grandma has passed, it allows you to be much more
Technology has increased the ease, speed and convenience of many aspects of life, including
education, and according to Bening and many educators, e-mail is the preferred and easiest method of
communication between school and home.
Linking teachers and parents
The convenience of e-mail also increases parental contact at the
elementary level. Before e-mail,
elementary teachers often relied
on weekly class newsletters to send information home. E-mail provides an easier and more direct way
to keep parents informed, says Ann Pruitt, a third-grade teacher at Great Oaks Elementary in Round
Pruitt sends her students’ parents
e-mails about new words and concepts the class has learned, reminders about permission slips to dig
out of backpacks and pictures of class parties and activities. Parents enjoy forwarding and printing
the photos, she says, and this allows even the parents of the best-behaved students, who usually do
not receive as many reports from the teacher, to have regular and positive communication with her.
Before e-mail, Pruitt says she occasionally felt uncomfortable calling her elementary students’
parents at work. Now, she doesn’t worry about causing unwanted interruptions. Her students’ parents
enjoy the increased communication via e-mail as much as she does, she says.
“Now they feel like they can tell me the little things, like, ‘My son isn’t feeling well today, so
you might want to watch him,’” says Pruitt, a 14-year education veteran and ATPE member since 1997.
“E-mail has cut down on the phone calls and notes and really improved communication. I can give
immediate feedback, and parents don’t have to wait until the end of the day for a response. I’m
immediately able to say, ‘Hey, your child had a great day.’”
Closing the gap
with middle school
E-mail is especially helpful during the jump from elementary school to middle school, according to
Max Fischer, who teaches seventh-grade social studies in Wooster, Ohio.
Fischer is the author of nine educator resource books and is a contributing columnist for Education
World. He wrote the article, “Most
Direct Route to Parents Is an E-line.”
“When transitioning from relatively intimate neighborhood elementary schools to larger middle
schools, parents are often in a lurch as to how to initiate and maintain close contact with teachers
with whom they haven’t had an opportunity to establish a history,” Fischer says. “E-mail has
personalized the face of school for a significant number of my parents.”
When a student knows that home and school are on the same page, he will be less likely to slack off
academically, Fischer says. In the past, communicating student performance to parents involved
filling out progress reports and then relying on the students to deliver them to parents.
E-mail provides more direct, secure and efficient contact, says Fischer. Information about a
student’s behavior or progress might be deleted from an answering machine by a child, but parents
will get the messages when they are sent to their secure e-mail accounts.
“Let’s face it, if a 13- or 14-year-old can work the system to his benefit, he usually will,”
Fischer says. “E-mail to a parent’s secured account eliminates the middleman.”
E-mail messages provide the added convenience of built-in date and time stamps, says Jeff Skelton,
the web-master and campus technology coordinator for Downing Middle School in Lewisville ISD.
are easy to refer to and serve as a less threatening record of teacher-parent communications than
traditional notes sent home or phone calls.
“It’s not, ‘The teacher is calling,’” Skelton says. “E-mail is a more relaxed form of
E-mail tips and etiquette
Although Bening loves the ease
of e-communications with her high school students and parents, she says there are a few delicate
situations that should never be addressed in e-mail. Severe discipline problems or situations in
which high school seniors are failing to meet graduation requirements deserve meetings, not e-mails.
For other matters, she offers suggestions to follow when communicating via e-mail.
“Never send an e-mail to a parent when you are angry,” Bening says. “I always try to have some sort
of face-to-face meeting with the parent before I use e-mail because positive comments can always be
misconstrued as negative.
“You have to know who you are talking to; otherwise, you just don’t know if it is a super-strict
parent or super-lenient parent. This is a mistake I see a lot of first-year teachers make. They just
jump on e-mail. You can’t do that. Your first contact needs to be face-to-face.”
E-mail communication with parents should be handled professionally and clearly, Fischer says. All
comments that could be misconstrued should be left out.
with parents, whether in person, via phone or
electronically, we need
to maintain proper decorum,” Fischer says. “That’s not to say we
can’t inject humor where appropriate. However, we must judge each parental request for contact on
its own merits. In my
experience, most parents contacting me via e-mail want specific information, not lame attempts at
humor. Nor do they expect poor grammar, spelling or too much verbosity in our responses.”
Class websites bring lessons home
E-mail isn’t the only e-communications tool bringing parents closer to the classroom. Some teachers
go a step farther and create a class website, where they share students’ work with parents and
Before spring break each year, Pruitt asks her third-grade class to collect cups of soil from their
travel destinations. They bring the dirt back to school to sort, categorize and analyze. The
students graph their results in Microsoft Excel. Then Pruitt uploads the work to the class website
with the help of the school webmaster.
“I had one little boy who had gone to grandma’s and collected soil,” Pruitt says. “His grandma got
to see the final project on the Web.”
Pruitt’s class website also features student projects such as living museum speeches with photos of
each child in full costume and Microsoft Paint online digital book reports.
Don’t lose the human touch
While e-mail and websites have solved many of the problems of phone tag and lost notes home, one
important aspect of education will remain unchanged in the future, Fischer says.
“Technology cannot take the place of a genuine
human being,” Fischer says. “A caring teacher knows the best method to reach parents and what to
in order to effect positive achievement among his students.”
Educator email guidelines
Max Fischer, author of the Education World article, “Most Direct
Route to Parents Is an E-line,” shares his guidelines for educator e-mail
- Collect parent and
student e-mail addresses during the first week of school and at open
- Create a classroom
address book in your e-mail program.
- Keep in mind e-mail is
- Pay attention to
spelling, grammar and tone. “E-mail can be a double-edged sword,” Fischer
says. “On the one hand, a teacher has the opportunity to carefully craft
what he needs to say to satisfy a parent’s concern. On the other, once it
has been received by the parent, it is indelibly left in black and white,
a permanent memorial to a teacher’s professionalism, or lack thereof.”
- Make templates that
answer common questions to save time.
- Reply to e-mail quickly.
- Avoid using emoticons
such as the smiley face.
- Resist the urge to
forward chain letters and jokes to parents.
- Print out copies of
e-mails for families who do not have access to the Internet.
Class website tips
To maintain an easy-to-use website for your campus or classroom, try these tips from Jeff
Skelton, Lewisville ISD Downing Middle School webmaster and campus technology coordinator:
- Avoid using intense colors, hard-to-read fonts and excessive graphics. “Having a lot of flash and
bang is great, but if the website doesn’t communicate your message, it’s just not going to be
used,” Skelton says.
- Ask for parent permission before uploading photos of students on any website.
- Don’t list students’ last names. “You never know who’s looking at it,” Skelton says.
- Update content regularly.
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