How an App Helped Me Build a Classroom Community
A 1st-grade teacher shares her secret to keeping parents connected to their students’ learning.
By Laura Briggs
At Back-to-School Night this year, a parent from my class last year came up to say thank you several times to me. I asked why she was thanking me. With a great big smile, she pointed to her phone and said “Bloomz.” She wasn’t the only parent with positive things to say, either. I had sent a survey to parents in Bloomz at the end of last year to get their feedback and they all responded that using the app helped them feel more connected to school and school activities and that it helped improve communication between home and school. One parent commented, “I downloaded all of the pictures for later and I was able to be at school with our son through the app and share his days.”
I teach first grade at an elementary school in Ashburn, VA. Early last year I was teaching full-day kindergarten, and I kept running into challenges where papers would not make it home or would get left in backpacks. I learned about Bloomz from a colleague while at the ISTE Conference in 2015, and I’ve been using it ever since.
Bloomz provides an easy way for me to communicate with parents, and also lets them communicate privately with me. They all have at least one connected device – whether a phone, computer or tablet, and using my own phone during school allows me to share photos or video, resources, and personal messages with all of my parents. I can send school flyers and announcements, as well as schedule school and classroom events using the calendar. I am completely paperless with my communication, while still keeping parents happy and knowledgeable about what is happening in our class. This additional communication has helped me build a classroom community where parents are engaged and interested in seeing the activities in which their child is participating at school.
Speaking Their Language
One of the features that has made communicating with parents much easier is the language translation feature. Last year, I had 14 different languages in my classroom and as you can imagine, that created some issues in my communication with parents. With the language translation feature, parents were able to choose their preferred language and my posts were translated automatically so they could understand me.
This made parents who did not speak English feel comfortable responding and participating in their child’s education—often for the first time. Using Bloomz even encouraged some parents to learn how to read and write in English. At the beginning of the year, several parents wrote to me in their native languages, but by the end of the year, they were communicating in English and participating more in the app as the year progressed.
Keeping Parents Connected
My students are enthusiastic about Bloomz, too. They use Center Time to upload their work and projects into their Bloomz timelines, which gives me more instructional time. Students can work with a variety of apps for curriculum concepts and then take snapshots of their screens or create short videos to add to their individual student timelines.
As parents see my comments on items, they are kept up-to-date on how their child is doing and can know which skills to continue practicing at home. I am also able to use the work submitted in the student timelines as assessments. And when it comes time to talk with parents face-to-face, I use Bloomz to manage sign-ups for parent-teacher conferences, where I can show examples of each child’s performance using that student’s timeline.
Back at Back-to-School Night, as we got to the Bloomz part of my presentation, I gave a short explanation about how the app works and how I would be using it throughout the year. I asked the parent who had been thanking me if she could come up and say a few words about how the app helped her last year. She told the other parents that everyone needed to have it so they would not miss all of the helpful and fun items that I’d be sending. The 25 parents in the room all immediately pulled out their phones and downloaded the app right away.
By the end of the night, I had all but three parents signed up, and many spouses joined as well. This night really showed me how eager parents are to be involved in their children’s learning, and how willing they are to help create a classroom community.
Laura Briggs is a 1st -grade teacher at Cedar Lane Elementary in Ashburn, VA. You can reach her at Laura.Briggs@lcps.org or follow her on twitter at @LauraBTRT