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220803 Parent Teacher Communication

Enabling Parent-Teacher Communication With Smallpdf's eSign Tool

by Jen

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

A look at how e-signing can enable parent-teacher communication in the remote classroom.

Sometimes it can be difficult to get parents’ signatures the traditional way. Kids just stuff permission slips and the like into their backpacks, not to be seen again until spring cleaning. But when the pandemic hit, that difficulty increased and expanded. Even though most schools are back to normal, many have kept some form of remote or hybrid classrooms alive. And even if your school is back to its traditional, in-person classroom, you may stand to gain a lot from some of the lessons we’ve learned in that time.

Do Parents Still Need To Sign Documents?


Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels.

Absolutely. In the traditional school environment, permission slips and consent forms may have been limited to students going on field trips or watching a school performance, but the remote setup has changed not only what documents need signing, but how they are signed. Most likely, parents’ signatures will always be a necessity.

What Types of Documents Do Parents Still Need To Sign in the Remote Environment?


Paper slips might be a thing of the past, but teachers and schools still need signatures and approvals from parents to function and enable a productive and informed learning environment for their students.

Here are just a few of the types of documents parents might need to complete and sign in remote and hybrid learning environments:

  • Enrollment or registration forms
  • Start-of-year forms to share information with the school or teacher about the student
  • Consent forms and permission slips
  • Signing off on homework
  • Report cards or progress reports from the teacher
  • News updates or circulars from the school

What's the Difference Between Digital & Electronic Signatures?


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.

Even though both digital and electronic signatures are valid, digital signatures come with an extra layer of security, which ensures that the signed electronic document is, in fact, authentic. On the other hand, an electronic, or e-signature, is merely placed on the document by the signee without any special authentication attached. It basically amounts to the same validity as placing a wet signature on a paper document.

While digital signatures can be authenticated, both digital and electronic signatures are legally binding in most parts of the world, depending on the document and its importance. Schools and teachers are encouraged to check local document laws and organizational requirements relating to document management and e-signing compliance before they implement any e-signing tools.

Important Document Signing Security Features

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Signing paper documents can get the job done when it comes to school documentation. The issue with paper is that it’s prone to being misplaced, sometimes even intentionally (think of a bad report card). No teacher wants to chase after students who’ve lost documents to the black hole in their backpack or a particularly misbehaved dog.

However, since the dawn of the remote classroom, digital documents and electronic signatures have replaced a lot of paper documents. Even if this is a much easier way of managing documents and signing, digital documents and electronic signatures come with a new set of requirements to meet a certain level of privacy and security.

Here's an overview of some important security features that e-signing tools should have.

SSL/TLS Encryption & HTTPS


SSL/TLS encryption is an important security feature to look out for when using a website. This is especially the case when it comes to online tools that schools and teachers might be uploading sensitive documentation to.

When anyone accesses a website, it's important to check whether the connection is secure or not. Users can verify the status of the connection by checking the URL prefix, which will either be “http” or “https.” The latter, with the “s” at the end, denotes a secure connection and should be complemented by a small padlock symbol, or information icon, attached to the browser's search bar.

A web page with a URL prefix of “https” is using secure data transfer protocols, either SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) Encryption. These protocols encrypt the data sent to this website, so that nobody else is able to see or access it.

Digital Seal


A digital seal is a piece of data or information that is either attached to a document or a particular piece of data, like a signature, for example. It's important for people using e-signing tools, especially in an environment like a school, to make sure that the signatures produced using a specific e-signing tool carry a timestamp, or digital seal, for security purposes. This offers an added layer of security if a signature or document ever needs to be authenticated or verified. Any changes made to a document after such a seal has been placed renders the seal broken and the signature can’t be verified. That means that no one can edit a document you signed without removing the seal and thus invalidating your signature.

Document Privacy & Security Regulations & Standards


Wherever they are in the world, it's important that any website or software schools or classrooms use to manage and e-sign documents comply with some level of international or localized security standards. Important standards to look out for are:

  • ISO/IEC 27001
  • GDPR compliance
  • CCPA compliance

ISO/IEC 27001, which was introduced in 2013, is the globally accepted ISO standard for the application of an information safety management system. When a software provider is accredited for this standard, it means that they have an excellent security system in place. You can be sure that they ensure it is always operational, undergo regular internal and external audits, and continually take measures to improve the security of this system.

How One School Used eSign for Signing Homework & Report Cards


Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels.

At Smallpdf, we're always interested in how our tools are used and what problems can be solved using our software. As we researched document management challenges faced by schools in the US, we encountered one school that implemented our eSign tool to get parents of remote students to sign off on completed homework and to acknowledge receipt of report cards.

Signing & Preparing Documents for Signing


When requesting a signature in the education environment, it's usually the school or teacher that will request a signature from a parent or guardian.

Homework: In this case, the teachers were proactive about producing a single quick form that would list the homework required for that day. They’d upload it to Smallpdf's eSign tool to place their own signature and then simply request signatures from each of the parents. Additionally, this tool allowed teachers to track activity on the document, see who had signed, who was still left to sign, and receive the completed document straight to their inbox for safekeeping.

Report cards: Teachers simply uploaded the digital report card, places their signature, then requests parent signatures, showing them where to sign on the report card. A link to the document was shared directly to the parent's email from the tool. Teachers commented that they enjoyed the functionality of being able to send each parent a special note to go along with the link to open the document for signing, and that all parties would receive a link to the final signed document straight to their inbox. The whole process ensured that the information was kept private between teachers, students, and parents, while enabling the teachers to add a personal touch.

Creating E-Signatures & Initials


With the eSign tool from Smallpdf, teachers enjoy the freedom to create their own signature, either by drawing it using their trackpad or mouse, taking a picture of their signature drawn on paper with their device, or uploading an existing digital signature as an image. They can even create their initials this way, which were then stored alongside the signature in the eSign tool for quick and easy signing and initialing.

Once the signature or initials are prepared, teachers have the flexibility to place these elements anywhere on the document, with the additional option to resize or change the color of the signature or initials as needed.

Adding Text To a Document for Signing


A huge plus of a quality e-signing tool is the ability to add elements to the document other than signatures. Mostly, this boils down to being able to add text to an otherwise non-editable PDF, which is particularly useful when one needs to add places, dates, or extra details prior to signing. In the case of Smallpdf's eSign tool, the text feature also comes with resizing options and a color palette to choose from.

Requesting Signatures From Parents


It can be really tough trying to explain to someone over email where they should place their signature on a document, which is why it's so much easier to show them instead. When teachers requested a signature using the eSign tool, they found the functionality of showing signees exactly where to sign and/or initial the document very useful.

Using Smallpdf's eSign tool, teachers are able to request up to 100 signatures at a time, removing any question about where to sign, saving time, hassle, frustration, and limiting potential errors.

Sharing & Saving the Final Signed PDF


All parties involved receive the final document via email once the last requested signature is placed. The document owner can also share the document afterwards (either with the document signees as an added safety measure or with administrative staff to keep the document on record) via email, link, or WhatsApp. The document can also be downloaded to a computer or electronic device, or directly exported to Dropbox and Google Drive.

Is This the Future of Parent-Teacher Communication?


Probably. Though it may have taken a global pandemic to force a shift to digital communication between teachers, schools, and parents, it’s likely that even in a post-COVID world, the way we communicate and manage documents will forever be changed. Even though many classrooms have already been fully reinstated today, digital document management and e-signing tools, especially as a means for teachers and schools to communicate with parents, are here to stay. We’ve not met a teacher as of yet who reminisces about the good old piece of paper their reliable students diligently passed on to their enthused parents, who then swiftly signed it to be delivered promptly the next school day.

If your school is looking for a world-class PDF e-signing tool, why not register for a free trial of Smallpdf for Teams? This special version of Smallpdf lets you try out the eSign tool and many other premium PDF tools to help your school go totally digital.

Jennifer Rees
UX Writer