In schools across the country, the time before Thanksgiving break often involves discussing what students are thankful for, thereby building stronger student-staff relationships. For many, creating that positive rapport with students comes naturally. One would think engaging with families would be just as easy too, but in fact it can be quite challenging at times. The difficulty occurs in setting up that initial interaction and continuing communication. Many parents may wish to establish a rapport with school staff, however there may be barriers that stand in their way such as language difficulties and scheduling conflicts.
For many school counselors and teachers, methods for connecting with families are revolutionizing with the growing use of technology. While the use of email, websites, blogs and phone calls have been used for the past decade and continue to be highly useful resources, practitioners have begun to shift towards more accessible technological devices―mobile phones.
Why are mobile phones an appropriate technological device for connecting with families?
Mobile phone ownership has become more accessible and widespread due to its decreasing price, feasibility, and convenience. As a result, mobile phone use has reduced dependence on other technologies, such as computers, laptops, and landlines (Rainie & Zickuhr, 2015). On average, mobile phone use is more universal among people of high incomes and fluent English speakers (Bender et. al., 2014). Yet, many people have access to mobile phones, including individuals with limited access to resources, such as those experiencing homelessness and displacement (Harpin et. al., 2016; Post et. al., 2013).
According to a study conducted last year by the PEW Research center, 92% of the 3,000 surveyed adults owned a mobile phone. Within that population, 67% owned a smartphone (Rainie & Zickuhr, 2015). Similar trends in mobile phone use were also discovered in a 2013 Northwestern University study which found that 71% of surveyed parents of young children had used smartphones on a regular basis (Northwestern University, 2013).
One major social change attributed to mobile phone technology is the new popularity of text messaging as a preferred form of communication. Widespread access to mobile phones has enabled a greater percentage of the population to access text messages as a way to stay in contact with others. Free short message service technology provides smartphone and some mobile phone users with the ability to exchange with people all over the world in seconds at no cost, making text messaging both convenient and affordable.
What does this mean for school staff when engaging families?
As classrooms and schools become more linguistically, economically, and digitally diverse, text messaging technology has sparked new interests and avenues for better communication. In fact, these approaches have been found effective in sending reminders and disseminating information. For example, studies have found that text messaging in the form of reminders can be useful in reaching families who are typically harder to reach due to work schedules and difficulties with communication due to language barriers and social stigma (John Hopkins Medicine, 2015; Kharbanda et al., 2009). Another advantage of using mobile technology for connecting with families is that it can help encourage positive digital behaviors by giving more people opportunities and confidence to contribute and participate collaboratively (ISTE, 2015).