Can technology in the classroom enhance parents-teacher communication? LetsShare!

You’ve undoubtedly noticed it: parents’ participation in children’s daily school routines is an issue close to my heart! While searching for easy ways to improve dialog—and cooperation—between parents and teachers, I recently got to know Heather Noreen and her app “LetsShare” (thanks, social networks!). How has this globetrotting businesswoman decided to use technology in the classroom to better parent-teacher communication?

Heather has made the same observation in at least 5 countries (France, Spain, Belgium, U.S. and Canada): parents would love to be transformed into a little mouse so as to see what their children do in class everyday. And yet, as I’ve said in one of my articles, barriers to communication can be found on both sides.

Heather decided to take on one part of the problem: the practical side of communicationHer belief can be summed up in a few words: make communicating easier, and it’ll lessen general hesitation to reach out; mentalities will change, and children will be the ones to gain the most. So, in 2014, she threw herself into the creation of an app for tablets and smartphones that would meet the needs of teachers and parents.

Parents and teachers share the same needs when it comes to communication

Parent's and teacher's needs in terms of comm

copyright: Isabelle Finger

As I write this, 3 preschools and elementary schools are already using the app LetsShare for a pilot program. The app offers a multitude of functions for schools to use depending on their needs:

  • Gather practical, and some times legally required, information regarding kids’ well-being and health (e.g. naptime, quantity or number of bottles…)
  • Send a daily report of activities, with, of course, photos
  • Keep together all information and photos pertaining to a project in a specific folder
  • Allow parents and teachers to exchange information.

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy, the mother of a 5-year-old child. Amy has been using the app for around 5 months.

Isabelle: Hi, Amy. Can you please tell us how the app LetsShare has improved communication between you and your child’s teacher?

Amy: In terms of logistics, we could only communicate by email before. The teacher couldn’t always read e-mails in the morning, so sometimes she’d get the information too late. Now, I know for sure that the teacher will find out in time if my child slept well or if he has a stomachache that day.

In terms of information concerning the kids’ activities, we were really lucky even before using the app that the teacher sent an email every night with a summary of the day. But it took her a lot of time, and, in the end, only a handful of parents read these emails. Now, I think about 50% of the class’s parents use the app, and the teacher saves a ton of time.

Isabelle: Does the teacher have less time with the kids because of spending time documenting daily activities?

Amy: No, each child learns to take photos. So the teacher doesn’t always have her eyes glued on her tablet. Usually, the kids decide what they want to photograph. They feel more actively involved in their activities, and they have to learn to share the tablet!

IsabelleHas using this app changed the way you communicate with your child?

Amy: Yes! Just having the photos and a bit of explanatory text along with it allows me to better understand and put into context what my child tells me. I can then ask more questions. He’s always proud to show me his photos, and he’s often the one who will want to show me something on the app. It allows us to have precious, intimate moments.


If I wanted to share this app with you today, it’s not because of technical details or specific features. I just really loved Heather’s practical approach and her goal to change mindsets by introducing new methods and habits. Often, we complain that technology dehumanizes communication. So, of course, if we’re happy to look at photos of a field trip to the zoo while our child sleeps and then never talk about it again, or if teachers think that, since all the details are online, there’s no longer a need to meet parents, then Heather’s app is just beating a dead horse.

But if, as I imagine it will do, communication will be strengthened, it’s because the app gives children an active role, as Amy states it so well. It’s the kids who will remind their parents that there is a beautiful photo of their cardboard medieval castle on the site; it’s the kids who will show teachers that while at home, they managed to come up with 10 words that rhyme with “happiness,” along with a photo of the list as proof. Numerous teachers have already taken up a similar effort by creating blogs with their classes or Twitter counts, and the feedback has largely been positive because of the enthusiasm that grows out of children’s pride in their creations.

If you are a teacher in a school and want to participate in the pilot phase of the first version of the app, or if you want to receive updates on Heather’s adventure, send an e-mail to

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation from LetsShare for writing this article.

Learning the emotional vocabulary

The first step towards being able to regulate negative feelings and emotions is to understand the emotional vocabulary. The early school years are a precious time in a child’s life to start acquiring this knowledge. Teachers can use this period to provide them with tools to avoid falling prey to their own negative emotions, as well as tools to savour their positive emotions.

Today, I would like to share the contents of an e-learning course by Gail Joseph, “Positive Behavior Support for Young Children,” available on the edX platform, on the topic of how we can help kids to better control their negative emotions – or, more precisely, the resulting reactions – and to better appreciate their positive emotions. How is one to make that happen? This online course gives wonderful, actionable advice on how one can accomplish this task. I am sharing it with you today because this advice can also be applied at home.


recognize emotions

credit: Daniel, License

Let us begin with an observation: children who demonstrate inappropriate behaviors (violence towards others or oneself, crying bouts, tantrums) have a smaller vocabulary of emotions that is also more focused on negative emotions. This means that, these children, for instance, do not know the difference between being “angry” and being “frustrated”. It also means that they have not heard words describing positive emotions very often.

It has been proved that the ability to identify one’s own emotions, and thus, to name them, is a first and unavoidable step in developing one’s capacity to manage the actions that result from emotions. Therefore, a deficiency in emotional vocabulary has two consequences:

  • Being familiar with different terms authorizes one to develop diversified responses (for example, if a child identifies all negative feelings with the term “anger,” they will always react in the same way, by stomping their feet or hitting their classmates. However, if they can recognize the difference between anger and frustration, they can adopt another behavior for when they are frustrated that differs from their response to being angry).
  • If the majority of their vocabulary consists of words that are associated with negative emotions, their negative emotions will be reinforced (try it yourself: if you are feeling good and someone tells you that you look tired or stressed, do you still feel as good?).

To compensate for these gaps, it is therefore necessary to help a child to develop an emotional vocabulary. To do this, you can employ following methods, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • Direct teaching: Choose a specific term and discuss it with your children, give them examples of situations in which this feeling may surface, show them pictures of people experiencing this emotion, ask them to mimic this expression with their faces.
  • Using games, books, movies, audiobooks…: There are dozens of books for children on the subject of emotions. You can also create a wheel of emotions and ask the children to choose the emotion that corresponds to what they are reading. And, on a slightly different note, a Disney-Pixar movie that talks about emotions will be coming to theaters this summer: “Inside Out.” I haven’t seen it, but according to the movie trailer, it could be a valid pretext for talking about emotions with your children.
  • Using a board of emotions: Each person has a clothespin with their name on it, and they place their clothespin on the emotion they are feeling in that moment. However, this method requires that you use the information received and attribute importance to the emotions that were felt. If you do not, you run the risk that this turns into an empty routine that lacks meaning. On the other hand, the advantage of this method is that it demonstrates to the children that emotions change and are fluid and that they are not necessarily “imprisoned” when they feel anger.
  • Learning in the moment: Using terminology to describe concrete situations that happen in everyday life. This method is the most efficient, as it is most similar to the way in which children naturally learn their vocabulary. Therefore, it is important to talk about our emotions in front of our children (Okay, it is definitely a lot easier to say – or to write – than do!)
Recognize emotions

Use images to help children to recognize emotions. Source: Positive Behavior Support for Young Children (edX course)

In parallel, children must learn to identify their own emotions when they encounter them in their lives, should it be in their home or someone else’s (after all, we are not the ones teaching them their vocabulary at school!). This also requires that we train our little bright-eyed children to be little detectives, de-coding emotions by using the following indicators:

  • Facial expressions (did you know that the two parts of your face that change the most depending on your emotions are your mouth and your eyebrows?)
  • Body language
  • The tone of your voice
  • The situations in which we find ourselves
Expressive power of eyebrowes

Mouth and eyebrows are the best indicators of the face for emotions

All of these indicators can be developed with the help of games: have them guess what emotion someone is feeling by looking at pictures of faces, by listening to recordings of people’s voices…

Slowly but surely, the children will become more familiar with the concept of emotions, they themselves will be able to understand the physiological indicators of different emotions and therefore be able to develop strategies to “defuse” difficult situations (for example: deep breathing – breathing in through the nose and out from the mouth).

If we believe in Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences, the capacity to know one’s own emotions (or “intrapersonal intelligence”) is not only a way to canalize children’s inappropriate behaviors, it is also an important strength that can help one to be successful, both academically and in their future professional lives.

Do you think that your child’s kindergarten class uses these methods often enough? Which games or exercises resonated with you the most?

What if we changed the way we looked at dyslexia?

Too often, our definitions of dyslexia underline the limitations of this situation. What if, before listing the inconvenient aspects of dyslexia, we began by appreciating it for its’ commendable qualities?

Approximately 5% of students today show signs of dyslexia. To these people, this means that they experience a lasting and severe learning disability relating to the acquisition and the automation of reading. Even when these people are considered to be of “normal” intelligence and attend “normal” schools, they are plagued by sensory and neurological problems in stimulating socio-cultural environments.

In the past fifteen years, efforts have been put in place to detect learning disabilities, though these efforts are not yet perfect. Most notably in the United States, the 1990 Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) implemented the framework for individuals with special needs, entitling each student with a disability an educational plan to fit their individual needs. Each district is responsible for a comprehensive evaluation, and meeting an individualized education plan (IEP). Though there is significant criticism surrounding IDEA, these plans can help to support the student, and tools for supporting parents and educators exist.


Well-known people with dyslexia, Copyright: Isabelle Finger

However, what is shocking when reading about dyslexia from different sources is the dominance of information on its restrictive qualities, both in an educational and social context. Without reducing the importance of either of these aspects, nor the difficulties encountered by the concerned children and their parents, is it not possible to have a more positive perspective on what dyslexia is? Can we accept that, at times, it can be a limitation to some activities, but also a strength to others?

This perspective is taken by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide in their book, “The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain (2012). They believe that a dyslexic brain is not one that functions worse than others, but a brain that works differently. They underline the capacities that a dyslexic brain can, more often than not, master better than a non-dyslexic brain, which are summarized through the acronym below, “MIND.”

Dyslexic Advantage

Dyslexic Advantage, by B.L Eide and F.F. Eide

  • Material, or spatial, reasoning: The capacity to reason based on 3D, physical or material characteristics.
  • Interconnected reasoning: Capacity to understand connections between subjects that are typically considered unrelated.
  • Narrative reasoning: The capacity to create stories by linking unrelated elements, the use of stories to remember multiple pieces of information.
  • Dynamic reasoning: Capacity to link elements of the past to project into the future.

In their desire to change the ways in which dyslexia is perceived (as a limitation), the two authors provide multiple examples of dyslexic people who understood how to use their unique brains, and moved ahead to experience great success in their respective domains. Interestingly, we learned that Leonardo Da Vinci and Einstein had dyslexic brains (other famous people with dyslexia are listed here). This perspective caught my attention because it perfectly illustrates the message my blog endeavours to convey: in each child lies their own hidden potential. The role of education is not to stigmatize and put individuals into boxes, but contrarily, to make this hidden potential shine. To do this, we have to adjust our methods, welcome each child’s differences as means of enrichment rather than something to be tolerated, and finally, be able to look at each child authentically, with a trusting and caring gaze.

Why should children sleep to learn?

We have heard it time and time again: “Children must sleep well in order to work well in school.”

This is basic common knowledge, validated a million times, to be sure… But WHY? Does sleeping actually help us to learn better?

This question has been bouncing around my head for a long time now. True to my utilitarian nature, I like to understand the methods I apply and I have noticed that these methods work much better when applied out of conviction rather than habit. It also helps that I love to sleep…:)

According to neuroscience, sleep plays a crucial role in learning on three different levels:

  • It allows for a generally overall better functioning of the brain
  • It reinforces the committing of information to memory
  • It fosters the understanding of new information

Credit: Raoul A., License

While we go through our daily routines, our brain cells produce toxic proteins. When we sleep calmly, these cells shrink, leaving more room between cells. Sleeping thus allows us to clean our brains so that they can be fresh and susceptible to new information in the morning. The brain would not be able to undertake this cleaning process concurrently with all of the tasks we aspire to complete during our waking hours. It would require too large of a dose of energy for these two tasks to take place at the same time. If you are interested in this specific topic, watch this Ted Talk about the cleaning process of the brain:


The second process touches on how our memory works. When we start practicing an activity that is new to us, our brain creates new connections between neurons. These connections are fragile at the beginning. While you are sleeping, the brain consolidates and reinforces these connections by “playing through” what we have learned during the day, which helps to commit newly learned tasks to long-term memory.

Finally, sleep allows the brain’s overall functioning to vary. When we consciously try to learn new things, our brains work in a very focused way by engaging the frontal cortex. When new connections are created in this part of the brain, our learning processes benefit. But our brains have the capacity to create more connections when it can use more areas of the brasin. While we sleep, our brain stops being focused and operates in a more diffused way. This allows different parts of the brain to better communicate amongst themselves. We therefore better perceive logical links between what we are seeking to learn and other concepts, or we establish analogies that relate to other topics. Our understanding therefore becomes more profound and more personalized.

These valuable processes are as useful to adults as they are to children: we all need to sleep, and our learning processes can be negatively affected if we do not spend enough time between the sheets. For children, this need is further reinforced by the fact that they are growing, and that the things they are being asked to learn at school are much more important that the things that we as adults learn every day. They are also more likely to be confronted by new situations which require some adaptation of behaviour or learning process.

So, how many hours should children sleep per night? Different sources suggest between 10 and 11 hours of sleep for children from ages 6 to 12 and between 8 and 10 hours for adolescents, starting at 13 years old. But independent of these guidelines, a good way to know if your child has met their sleep quota is to see if they wake up by themselves in the morning. If the time they wake up is consistent, a child who has sleep enough should not have any trouble waking up in the morning.

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When parent participation in school is taken a step further

Traditionally, we tend to characterize public schools and private schools or charter schools as being exact opposites. We once believed that private and charter schools would introduce and test out more innovative pedagogical methods, whereas public schools would only employ classical learning techniques and focus on standardized testing methods. These characterizations are, at best, a caricature. A lot of public schools today also embrace new ways of learning, and the debate on opting out of standardized testing makes up a large part of my Tweeter feed! One small school in the heart of the Silicon Valley makes the point that public schools can also be innovative embedded parent participation into its pedagogy and daily life : The Christa McAuliffe School in Saratoga, California.

What makes this school so unique? Well, in this school, there are not only teachers, students and administrative staff, there are also parents… A lot of parents. Each family needs to participate in the classroom or in school activities for approximately 4 to 6 hours per week. During each class period, the teacher can count on 3 or 4 parents to be present in order to work closely with the kids. In this context, the teacher-student ratio of 24:1 isn’t really comparable with a similar number in other schools.

McAuliffe School, Parent participation

Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Saratoga: Where parent participation is taken a step further; photo credit: McAuliffe School webpage

The first time I heard about this school, I profoundly wondered, “What is the purpose of having parents in the classroom, and what value is added to the children’s educations? How does it work?I asked these questions to a mother whose children go to the McAuliffe School, and who is deeply involved in the day-to-day life of this institution.

As I mentioned earlier, the school’s mission is not only to achieve academic goals, but also to “develop the total child” – with the aim of addressing social, physical and emotional growth, on top of traditional academic topics. Students are encouraged to develop a willingness to be a life-long learner and to find their own subjects of interest, and these aspects are as important as mastering calculus or the so-called Oxford comma. To achieve this ambitious goal, the school relies on two pillars: a flexible curriculum that relies mostly on project-based-learning, and parental involvement. In this article, I’m not going to delve into the project-based learning aspect. This is already intensively used in several other schools and existing literature on this subject describes and explains it much better that I could (find one example here).


McAuliffe school's philosophy

McAuliffe school’s philosophy

Let’s discuss the role of the parents. Multiple studies validate the idea that the success of students is highly correlated to their parents’ level of participation. Usually, this means that parents show interest in what their kids do at school: they verify their children’s understanding of key concepts, discuss key topics, get to know their friends and their teachers, and from time to time, take part in an activity with their class.

The McAuliffe School takes the concept of parental participation a step further. They don’t just invite parents to come visit and look around, they train parents in a comprehensive way (30 hours spread over 6 weekends) on the topics of communication, conflict resolution, group dynamics, and so on. The school’s website also recommends readings to parents. After that training, the parents become completely immersed in what happens in the classroom. Typically, the teacher starts by speaking about the topic of the day for 10-15 minutes, and then the group work starts. Each group is composed of 4-6 students, and one parent is present to guide each group. The parent makes sure that social and communication rules are respected and that each individual finds their role and their place within the group.

You are probably going to ask me, “How can parents afford to spend so much time in the classroom?” Even though the school offers flexible models to the parents, such as working early morning classes, asking a relative to take over the hours they are due to work, etc., the mother I interviewed told me that this is almost a full time job for her. The vast majority of the parents enjoy this commitment and one of them has said that “it is amazing to be this close and see the innocence and intimacy that is possible here because of so much parental presence.”

However, I can’t help but think that this model would be hard to scale. Obviously, not everyone can afford to make this kind of financial and intellectual commitment; however, that doesn’t mean that one should use this constraint to invalidate the model itself. While many discussions on education tend to focus on curriculum, technology and pedagogy, I think this school can add a new dimension to existing debates: who could the different players in a child’s education be, and which role could each of them play?