In 2014, Chagrin Falls Schools in Ohio rolled out a 1-to-1 Chromebook initiative with the goal of transforming learning in the district. The initiative was highly successful. Students, teachers and administrators embraced the devices and the G Suite for Education.
Chagrin Falls Schools had become the first district in the nation in which every teacher obtained the Google Educator Level 1 certification by the end of 2016. Not long after, the district was selected as one of the original 12 Google Reference districts around the globe.
Students were creating and teachers were collaborating, and innovation was spreading. But behind the scenes, there was a growing issue that needed to be addressed.
Although a majority of parents approved of the move to an online model, a subset of parents said they felt more disconnected since the initiative began. They felt out of the loop without papers and folders spilling out of their children’s backpacks.
Our LMS, Google Classroom, was not as open to parents as we needed it to be. We were succeeding in changing the culture at school, but we were not doing as well at home.
This was particularly apparent with students in grades 3 through 8. A team of teachers and technology professionals met to find a way to help those parents who were struggling. Communication was key.
We decided to approach the problem from several angles. The broad approach began with sending an email newsletter to parents.
The semimonthly publication covered relevant information on modern-day parenting as it relates to technology, education and Generation Z. Some sample topics included cyberbullying, social media and digital citizenship.
The newsletter was our attempt to educate parents on how their children view the world. Additionally, the emails informed parents on how edtech companies were leveraging technology as a way to engage students in the classroom.
Parents needed to understand that technology and access to information online is a vital part of modern education to begin to close the connection gap. The district offered the newsletter to all parents, not just those who have children in the school system.
The newsletter worked well, but it lacked a personal connection. General information, not specific to any one child, can easily get lost in an inbox.
The solution? In spring 2018, several sixth-grade teachers had their students craft an email to their parents every few weeks. Students were provided a template as a starting point. They were instructed to write about what they were doing in various content areas. Students were encouraged to share artifacts of their work, such as a document, presentation or photo.
Even though these were simple emails, our parents enjoyed receiving personal communications from their children. These messages, which encouraged writing and critical thinking skills, helped to bridge the connection gap. This fall, we’ll scale the program to grades 5 through 8.
Bringing parents together to see the technology in action was the last piece of the puzzle. Chagrin Falls Schools is planning an edtech conference for parents this fall.
The event will include several 20-minute sessions covering tools such as Quizlet, Kahoot, Breakout Edu and Google Classroom. The goal of the event is to bridge the connection gap by giving parents the opportunity to experience education technology at the point of instruction.
Parents, especially those who are not tech savvy, can be overlooked. District leaders need to be cognizant of this when implementing large technology initiatives. They can avoid trouble by educating parents about Generation Z and using a variety of methods to help them stay connected.
Mike Daugherty is director of technology and information systems at Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio.