Building the home-school connection is important for all school staff, but few realize the power of the tool in their pocket. Even if they don’t have Internet access, most parents have access to cell phones. However, in many cases, most simply use their phone as a calling and texting device. It’s time to change that! There is so much more you can do with free and easy-to-use resources that will help you coordinate and connect with parents in powerful and exciting ways.
1. Mass texting
Services like Remind101 provide a safe, one-way, mass text messaging system created specifically for use in education. It keeps your phone number, and the phone numbers of your subscribers private, stores all of your sent messages, and it’s free to use. Once the school’s parent coordinator signs up and creates a parent list, parents are able to sign up with one text or e-mail. Because of the convenience of sending messages directly to phones, Remind101 is a perfect tool for announcements and reminders such as school holidays, school events, photo days, fundraising events, testing days and more.
Places like New York City public schools are using Mobile Commons, another mass texting service to keep families informed with text messages in English or Spanish throughout the school year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the program as a crucial step in “doing more to make sure parents have the information they need to help their children succeed — even when they are on the go.”
Connect with parents and engage students with polls, exit tickets, event reminders and more using ClassPager. ClassPager allows parents and students to use their own devices (phones, tablets, laptops or other computers) to respond to questions or surveys that the teachers designs with simple text messaging. Questions can be both open response and multiple choice.
Amar Vedi, an algebra and statistics teacher at Vance High School in North Carolina, uses ClassPager to assign homework, send out reminders, share links to educational videos and answer questions. In many cases, this is sent not only to the students, but to the parents as well to keep them apprised of what is taking place in his classroom.
Anyone (in the U.S.) can receive tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter. This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real time. For example, let’s say you want to get tweets from New York City Schools (@NYCSchools). Just text ‘follow NYCSchools’ to 40404.
It doesn’t have to stop with following your school district. Schools, principals and even teachers can set up Twitter accounts to keep parents connected to the latest information. Locke Elementary School in Chicago uses it to great effect.
Poll Everywhere provides a terrific way to capture the thoughts, ideas and opinions of parents. Simply set up a multiple choice or free response poll, text parents the code, and have them text their answers like they do on shows such as “American Idol.”
Principal Eric Sheninger of New Milford High School in New Jersey suggests using Poll Everywhere during back-to-school nights. He says it’s a great way to elicit feedback during budget presentations or to secure real-time input on school initiatives.
Laura Spencer, an instructional technology coordinator for a K-8 school district in San Diego suggests quizzing students on topics taught in school with a twist. She also sends the messages to parents. She explains that students enjoy comparing their responses to their parents’, and this gives parents a deeper insight into what is happening during the school day.
Maine school board member Lisa Cooley suggests using Poll Everywhere to provide data about parent opinion to inform school board decisions. For example, ask how they felt about a recent school event, a new facility, the holiday homework, or a new curriculum.
So, what do you think? Could some of these resources be help build home-school connections where you work? Which ideas do you think will be successful or have you experienced as being successful? Are there challenges or concerns that are getting in the way of you implementing some of these ideas? If so, what are they?
Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997 and is the author of “Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning” and The Innovative Educator blog.