A recent Pew Internet study on cell phone use in the United States revealed that in 2012, 85% of Americans used mobile phones to do much more than just make calls.
This increased home Internet access by way of mobile phones should encourage us to solicit data from our own school families on how they are choosing to communicate via mobile phone for personal day-to-day tasks and relationship building.
Soliciting feedback from families
Create a brief two-minute home-technology survey that allows parents to provide information about what device(s) they use for what purpose. School-family engagement teams can then take this information and embed communication opportunities based on where parents are most comfortable.
Exercise hard-copy and electronic survey options. There are plenty of online survey tools including Polleverywhere.com, Surveymonkey.com and Zoomerang.com. Once you have enough information about your school’s population of mobile phone users, it’s time to design your app in collaboration with a team of parents from your home and school association.
Choosing the right app-maker
Any customizable app is going to cost the school and/or home and school association money to build and host. Leaning on our partnership, we split costs right down the middle on the mobile app budget. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100-$3,000 based on your needs and ideas for app implementation.
Like everything else in education, there are no one-size-fits-all approaches that you can hang your hat on. The company we chose allowed us to customize the app after an initial skeleton home screen of offerings.
Knapp’s family engagement app
Here are some sample features that speak to school culture:
- Parents tab: Photo album, Twitter feed, Facebook page, e-mail addresses/phone numbers for home and school association, homeroom parent coordinator and volunteer coordinator
- Events tab: Google Calendar synced from the Family Engagement Wiki
- News tab: All past and present newsletters in e-book format (via snacktools)
- Students tab: KnappTV, Study Island, photo album, report bullying, club options/signup
- Contact Us tab: Call the office staff, principal, nurse, librarian, guidance counselor
- E-mail Teachers tab: E-mails for each grade level/department
- Report Bullying tab: Online Google Form that allows students and/or parents to report bullying outside school hours. Communications go directly to the principal and guidance counselor
- eBucket Filler tab: Recognize positive student and/or adult behavior. Communications come into the school office for immediate posting in our school’s “Recognition Hallway.”
- Volunteer tab: Parents and community members can become aware of volunteer opportunities and communicate directly with the volunteer coordinator from this tab.
I’ve built an app, now what?
Now that you have an app, you’ve tested it on multiple devices and made adjustments where necessary, it’s time to roll it out to your stakeholders.
- Choose a school event that brings a lot of people together like a back-to-school night or concert where you can ask everyone to take out their phones and download it all at once.
- Create flyers and/or business cards for parents to take home with all pertinent information on how to download the free app.
- Hang signs in the windows near where parents enter your school.
- Make it a point to bring up the app when you see parents with their cell phones. Model the features for the parents.
- Include updates in newsletters and download links in other communications like Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Add a webpage explaining the features of your app.
- Offer support in a parent technology night to help those who aren’t technologically savvy to develop a comfort level with using your app. Empower connected parents who can serve as technology trainers outside school hours.
It’s important that the increased access to mobile technologies does not change your organization’s core beliefs in terms of how it engages families and the community. A face-to-face approach must remain the default “home button” for home-school communications. Apps and social media tools have a great ability to amplify these face-to-face efforts, but must be seen as a complement to an overall menu of communication offerings provided by today’s connected schools.
*Knapp Elementary School uses eJucomm as its app provider. This post does not serve as an advertisement to encourage use of this company. There are many great options for today’s school and parent organizations.
Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) is a lead learner at Knapp Elementary School in suburban Philadelphia. He also is a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania, studying social media’s impact on home-school partnerships. Participate in a weekly #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) that he hosts Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern. He writes a blog aimed to share innovative family-engagement ideas for schools called eFACE Today.