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A look at Quebec and Belgium: Back to school and school-family communication

What better time to start a new collaboration than at the beginning of a new school year. After the difficult times linked to the pandemic, we hope with all our heart to live a year rich in projects, exchanges and human relationships! In this context, digital technology can, and must, continue to play a role in our schools. But which one?  

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This article was co-authored with Laurent Di Pasquale as part of a partnership with eduLAB.

What better time to start a new collaboration than at the beginning of a new school year. After the difficult times linked to the pandemic, we hope with all our heart to live a year rich in projects, exchanges and human relationships! In this context, digital technology can, and must, continue to play a role in our schools. But which one?  

After an initial reflection among ourselves, it became clear that communication between the school, the teachers, the students, but also the parents is an axis that has gained in importance over the last two years. The digital means of communication have made it possible to maintain the link between the school and the families when face-to-face meetings were forbidden. What if we maintained this habit to maximize exchanges with parents?

Here is a look at how school-family communications are experienced in Belgium, France and Quebec. Is back to school different on both sides of the ocean?

1. In Belgium: before and after COVID-19?

The pandemic represents a watershed in the ways schools and teachers communicate with students. Many schools have taken the digital plunge as a result of this forced opportunity. The launch of the Office 365 platform in many schools, the use of the Google Education Suite in others, the deployment of a Moodle platform: there was no shortage of alternatives for schools that needed to continue learning in this time of crisis.

In this momentum of progress, one would have thought that communication with parents would logically follow positively. But here's the thing: we tend to forget them (too much) in the school dynamic (at least in Belgium!).

For students, however, support systems have progressed in order to facilitate their use of digital tools and their learning. Let's take the example of the superb open access guide by our Belgian colleague Tommy Berben, Teams - The practical guide for students.

Many educational psychologists address the subject of communication between school and parents, sometimes directly, sometimes in a transversal way. If we had to name only one in Belgium, it would be Bruno Humbeeck. The latter had the opportunity to appear in an article in RIRE (CTREQ), on the Quebec side of the Atlantic, on this same subject: School-Family Relationship: Opting for Co-Education and even in a École branchée column on the family: Coeducation, a school-family link to weave

If we had to formulate a wish for this school year, it would be that a deep reflection be structurally engaged on the way to involve parents in education in Belgium, so that this is not the sole initiative of teachers, or at best of schools. However effective the tools may be, however rich the initiatives, it is a clear educational policy that will facilitate their appropriation by teachers in order to better communicate with parents.

2. What about our French neighbors?

The reflex to communicate with the parents of the students is not yet well integrated in Belgian schools (and this, despite the two years we have just spent)... Could we find inspiration elsewhere? What if it came from France? There might be some ideas to look for on the other side of the border!  

The French government is providing parents and education professionals with a common platform, filled with tips and resources to foster this communication, the Parents' kit (education.gouv.fr).

We find in particular this nice infographicThis website is made with Genially, which synthesizes the different resources on the topic we are dealing with. The intention is there, and the content too. 

In 2021, Nathan Editions conducted a survey which revealed that the definition of parent-teacher collaboration among key stakeholders is not the same on each side. Nonetheless, a consensus emerged: "We need to find ways to do things together. 

From the Réseau Canopé, I can only advise you to read these articles, which will extend the reflection on the importance of the parent-school relationship:

What about these two French parents of kindergarten children who have created the Klassroom application to promote contact between school and family? What is special about this application? It instantly translates the message from the teacher or the school to parents who speak another language. What a great way to overcome the language barrier while developing simple and effective communication! Read the article published in Le Parisien on this subject. 

Also consult this article from École branchée which presents the concrete actions implemented to strengthen the school-family link in France, including the Klassroom application. Also note that in Belgium, the application Konecto also allows communication between school and home.

3. Meanwhile, in Quebec...

Quebec seems to be the most advanced in terms of communication between schools and families. 

As of 2004, a university study had highlighted that even modest use of e-mail between teachers and parents "can foster a privileged collaboration between school and family. 

The researchers stated that this type of communication is important, "especially when we know that parental involvement in the child's school life has a very significant impact on his or her motivation and success. They concluded by stating that information and communication technologies "can help bring not only the school and the family closer together, but also the parent and the child within the family.

However, it must be admitted that, until March 2020, exchanges between parents and teachers, as well as communications from school administrations, were still largely done through paper and handwritten notes in the children's agenda. Some school service centers had begun a paperless shift, but it took the pandemic for communications to truly go digital... and more importantly, to intensify.

With distance education, communication with parents was no longer an option. Parents literally became the eyes of the teachers at home. Maintaining effective communication between school and home was undoubtedly a major success factor during this period. This article by our colleague Stéphanie Dionne of École branchée, offers a wealth of tips for maintaining the school-family relationship.

Several initiatives have been put in place, including this one: 

  • A Parent Questionnaire was created by Myra Auvergnat-Ringuette, 4th year elementary school teacher at Externat St-Jean-Berchmans, to validate their children's online learning experience with parents. She shares it with all the teachers who want it.
  • Planitou, a new Quebec communication platform between school and family, was also piloted in 2021 in selected schools and continues its development. Moreover, we note to make a follow-up on this project. 
  • Platforms such as Seesaw and Classdojo have also gained in popularity. They allow teachers to send daily feedback and learning traces to parents. 
  • Other tools for parents and students are presented in this article.

What we can see here is that the possibilities and tools have multiplied over the last two years. The subject has even entered the Quebec election campaign, as the party in power plans, if re-elected, to introduce a new approach to the issue, the implementation of a new platformcalled Clic École, to bring together all the information related to the school career of young people in an interface designed especially for parents.  

Finally, it is safe to assume that the good habits of communication between teachers and parents will continue now that students are back in school. This is no longer just a "good practice"; the new Professional skills framework for the teaching professionpublished by the Quebec Ministry of Education, contains a competency specifically named Collaborating with Family and Community Partners. It states, among other things, that teachers must : 

  • Build constructive relationships with family and community partners. 
  • Maintain quality communication with the family about the child's success and well-being. 
  • Communicate expectations to the family regarding desired classroom outcomes, attitudes and behaviors.
  • Implement appropriate ways to involve the family in the child's learning and in school and extracurricular activities.

Finally, once communication is well established between the school and the family, it is possible to move towards coeducation, a principle that is increasingly discussed and that goes beyond the simple exchange of factual information.

Once again, let us quote Bruno Humbeeckwho had published the article School-family relations: from confrontation to coeducation in 2006 : 

"Coeducation allows for the establishment of a partnership between the school and the family, in which communication is exclusively focused on the psychosocial evolution of the child/student. 

We could also say that "coeducation is the sharing between parents and schools of the responsibility and success of children".

Simple examples to apply in the classroom

Despite the challenges of school-family communication, there is no shortage of ideas (or digital tools) for strengthening relationships and maintaining collaboration. This can sometimes become dizzying as each person goes about it in their own way. The important thing is to communicate the chosen method and the modalities from the beginning of the school year.

Here are some concrete examples from activities in Laurent Di Pasquale's class. 

The notebook in Teams

If any of you are using Teams, and in particular the classroom notepad, you know that it offers the teacher the ability to set up the different "sections" for their students. What is sometimes overlooked is that this same notepad can also be shared through a URL that is directly linked to it. 

Why not take advantage of this feature to communicate with families, for example by posting test reports, grades, or any other comments that could help both the student and the parents? 

If this is the case, it is recommended to explain to parents in advance how to access it, or better yet, to ask students to take over the task! 

A screenshot from Laurent's Teams space

School connection

Microsoft is also keeping an eye on the "School Connection" tool, which will soon allow parents to save time in their exchanges with teachers. The tool is intended to be an effective way to involve them in their child's learning via Teams. 

The application will be available soon and will become an additional tool to foster school-family communication. If you wish to test it for your school, the trial version is already available and can be requested here : School Connection Preview Opportunity (office.com).

Here's a little video that says it all: School Connection for Parents and Guardians - YouTube

The use of Qwiqr

The site Qwiqr - Better Feedback allows the teacher to design personalized QR codes that send the student to a written, audio or video feedback (provided, for the latter, that a paid license is chosen). 

Qwiqr is used by Laurent in his classes to better identify and help students understand difficulties. By including parents in this use, they can also have much faster feedback and different advice and recommendations from the teacher to help them in the support of their child.

Teachers speak out

A call to all on Twitter collected a sampling of how teachers do school-family communication. 

How do they communicate with parents?

  • One video per week with ScreenFlow and Vimeo and a real-time newsletter with Google Classroom. 
  • The Seesaw application to share observations, classroom moments and production traces (in photos and videos).
  • A weekly email (usually on Friday) to summarize the week.
  • Teams, Mozaïk and TikTok were also mentioned.
  • Padlet and La digitale were also used extensively to communicate.

The impact of the pandemic

From their responses, it seems that the pandemic will have at least allowed for the implementation of new communication practices:

"Yes, the pandemic has changed the way I do things. I'm much more in touch with [parents]. The partnership is even more important." 

"Post pandemic, it has become essential to reassure parents about their children's EVOluation."

"I started during the pandemic and the parents were so appreciative that I continued."

"The exchanges are more regular, more fluid."

The advantage that teachers see in this

Some teachers also told us about the positive impact of establishing channels for two-way communication between school and home.

"To my students who have impressed me, but are usually in the background, I write to their parents to highlight good behaviors. They are my sidekicks."

"I would like us to join forces to move their child/my student forward."

"Parents are my allies in guiding and accompanying children."

In closing, we hope that you had as much fun as we did discovering the differences between European and Quebec practices.

See you soon for a new column Regards croisés entre la Belgique et le Québec!

This column is also published on the eduLAB website.

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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