TalkingPoints Talks with Ali Sutherland, EL Teacher
In the ten years Ali Sutherland has been teaching, she says she has recognized that the ideal relationship between a teacher and a student’s family is one that is built on trust.
“Communication should be open, clear, and frequent,” she shares. “So [families] know that this is a place they can come to ask anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s about their child needing a change of clothes for the day, or how to support learning over summer. Sometimes it’s alerting the teacher to something going on in their personal world.”
Trust is the foundation to a meaningful partnership that could transform the way classrooms and schools function in support of student success. And teachers across the country have been building relationships like these for years.
Night and day
Ali Sutherland is an English Language teacher in the Appoquinimink School District of Delaware. Many of her students’ families are marginalized by barriers like language, technology access, literacy, and poverty.
In previous years, Sutherland would communicate with families primarily through email, using the basic machine translation software available online to prepare versions for non-English speaking families.
She found TalkingPoints in March of 2020.
“It was night and day,” Sutherland stated. “When I started using TalkingPoints during Covid, right away my messages were blowing up, and I would think, ‘What if I didn’t have TalkingPoints? Where would these questions go?’
“The volume of communication was shocking.”
Beyond the school year
Not only did messages start coming in more frequently, she began building stronger, more meaningful connections with families. Some that have lasted beyond the school year.
“For instance, today I got on TalkingPoints and a parent whose child I taught last year, who is Greek, messaged me about opening an app for her son’s summer work. I can talk her through it, she’ll be done, and he can start using the app that he wouldn’t end up using if we couldn’t communicate.
“Otherwise, we would end up going back and forth through email, which is much more formal and many parents don’t even have. A good chunk of my families absolutely don’t use email, they aren’t literate, and email is intimidating.
“But when you send a TalkingPoints message, it’s on their phone, it’s easy to use.”
One day at a time
Ali Sutherland speaks to us about one of the students she taught in recent years whose mother she was able to communicate with daily. She reflects on the impact those positive interactions had in a difficult time.
“I had this one family who would move from one place to the next and suddenly they were homeless. Regardless of what they had or didn’t have, they always had a cell phone. And with TalkingPoints, I was always able to help them out with what they needed.
“It hit right during Covid. They were kind of panicky and the mom would message me three to four times a day. They were living in the back of a restaurant on cots during Covid. I would be able to message her, let her know that she’s being a good mom, that it’s going to be okay.
“I don’t think my specific teaching or use of TalkingPoints was the thing that made them exit the MLL (Multilingual Learner) program, but when they did I knew that it was a piece of it. And I hope that by being in such frequent touch with that family I helped them get through a difficult time.
“It was good to have something like that that didn’t require them to use something difficult, it was easy to understand. I tried to make it clear what services were available, that sort of thing. It just made it easier and so much more fluid to help them when they were in such a stressful situation.
“I think having that regular, frequent contact with someone at the school gave them an “in” where they could ask questions, be connected, and not feel like they were floundering even more.
“One day at a time. Let’s get this lesson done and then talk about some services.”
A whole network
We asked Ms. Sutherland to share what she wants families to know and what she wants to know from them when beginning to connect.
“They will be supported the entire year and no question is a dumb question, no text is a silly text. I will be there for them.”
“I want to know what they see as their biggest frustration or challenge. If I get that right off the bat, it will help me communicate with them. Being able to open up the communication so they can tell me anything they need to tell me is so important. And not just me, it’s that I am connected to a whole network of teachers so we can solve anything that comes up.
“I’m very thankful that there is such a thing as TalkingPoints.”
TalkingPoints is an education technology nonprofit that drives student success by removing critical barriers to equitable family-school partnerships, such as language, time, mindsets, and capacity. Ten of the country’s twenty largest school districts trust TalkingPoints to create a district culture where all families, no matter their background, can engage with their schools. Our simple, intuitive family engagement platform offers the highest-quality human- and AI-powered two-way translated communication available — in 150 languages and counting. Named by Common Sense Education as “the best overall family communication platform for teachers and schools”, TalkingPoints leads to higher test scores and lower absenteeism, as shown by rigorous causal research that meets the ESSA Tier 2 standard of evidence. To learn more, view our TED Talk or visit talkingpts.org.