Teacher Spotlight: How TalkingPoints Facilitates Family Engagement and Student Success During Distance Learning

Meet Jennifer

Jennifer McGraner is a junior high English Learner teacher in Pickerington School District in Pickerington, Ohio. Pickerington Schools is a diverse district with over 500 ELs speaking more than 57 different languages. In her 13th year of teaching, Jennifer works with English Learner students and is responsible for screening new students for EL services, facilitating students’ learning of social and academic English language development, advocating for the needs of EL students and their families, connecting families and students with school information, supporting colleagues with strategies to help students be successful with learning academic content, and much more. She is passionate about technology integration and loves how it increases motivation and engagement for EL students. In 2019, she had the opportunity to present at the International Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conference in Atlanta, Georgia on using digital tools to support ELs in academic content areas.

The Problem: Reaching All Families

The heart of Jennifer’s teaching philosophy is building relationships, and her students and their families are her favorite part of her job. She loves learning about her students’ cultures, languages, and families, and empowering her students to know that their stories matter and that she can learn from them too. While she finds teaching ELs extremely rewarding, she also acknowledges its challenges as well.

A large challenge that Jennifer and her colleagues experience is communicating with families who only speak Spanish or other languages, like Nepali. Her school had tried a couple of different services and apps, but they were not finding the success they had hoped for. The phone translation service the district used involved calling a translation company and having a three-way call with an interpreter. However, sometimes an interpreter could not be found right away and teachers had to wait on hold. Jennifer also tried another communication app to increase contact with her students’ families, but it did not translate into all the languages that she needed, and it was also not very easy for parents to use, so she was not very successful getting families to sign up for it.

Compounding the Problem: COVID-19 and Remote Learning

The transition to remote learning felt like it happened overnight for teachers across the country. With the constantly-changing situation unfolding, many students and families were confused about when students would be returning to school and what school would look like in the meantime. How would teachers deliver instruction? What were the expectations for students? How and where could families access resources that the school normally provided in-person?

The first three weeks were filled with a lot of uncertainty. Then, teachers got the announcement that students and staff would not be returning to school, but doing distance learning – for the remainder of the school year.

The Solution: TalkingPoints

Prior to the school closures, Jennifer had been using the free version of TalkingPoints for two years, mainly to communicate about student behavior and general announcements. But after the closures, she used TalkingPoints to communicate much more frequently to keep families updated with the ever-changing situation.

After the governor’s announcement that teachers and students were not going back to school this school year, Jennifer sent out a message using TalkingPoints to all of her families with a meeting time for students and parents where she could share information and answer any questions.

Throughout this time of distance learning, Jennifer has used TalkingPoints to message families about how to pick up free resources like school lunches for the week, reminders about where to find instruction, and asking if they needed any help with what students were learning. Often, families would check TalkingPoints when they got home from work and reach out to her asking to set up meetings to clarify how they could help their child with their schoolwork.

“TalkingPoints has been a lifeline. It has increased communication – I’m able to send video communication to families and I can include links to documents. The functions and the updates have been really imperative during this time,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer has also seen a big change in the way her students are engaging with schoolwork during this time. She’s found that some of her students love being able to do their work on their own time, without being rushed, and they can reach out to their teacher when they need help. She shared that some of her more quiet students would often shut down in class, but through using TalkingPoints during remote learning, they were checking in with her daily, doing more work than ever before.

Before distance learning, Jennifer had a student whose family she had never met. When she started sending the family messages, the parent was extremely appreciative and would often thank Jennifer, share updates on her children, and communicate that she was following up on schoolwork with her kids as well.

The increased communication with parents has helped increase accountability for students to get their work done, and families feel more empowered to support their child at home, and reach out to their teacher whenever they need.

“[Thanks to TalkingPoints], going forward, I will stay 100% connected to families.”

Want to Learn More?

TalkingPoints’ easy-to-use platform, interactive features, and precise translation in over 100 languages can provide game-changing solutions for bridging the home-school gap for teachers, school districts, and families. Learn more about our services here, and contact us at hello@talkingpts.org to learn more about how TalkingPoints can increase family engagement, improve home-school connections, enhance relationships between teachers and families, and support academic and social-emotional growth for every student.

For updates and news on what we’re up to, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and check out our blog for free resources on remote learning and family engagement, and see how other teachers are using TalkingPoints to make a difference in their students’ learning.