Sunday, September 13, 2009

Using Technology for Effective Communication

Recently there has been a lot of discussion around the need for teachers to continue their learning. This means being aware of current practices and participating in appropriate in-service (or other) training. It also means staying informed about new technologies that can be used as learning tools. I don’t think there are many teachers who would disagree (??). This week we’ve made some changes to our class website, and the way we communicate with families, that also make use of new technologies.

As a teacher, I find communicating effectively with parents to be one of the most difficult parts of the job. In many families, both parents work full time and are not home during school hours. Families live busy lives and finding time to have the conversations that are needed can be difficult. Throughout the year, I’ve battled through leaving messages on answering machines and sending notes home for parents to call me at school. I know this is the way it’s always been done... but it doesn’t work. I’ve tried using email where it’s available, but the reality is that most of my parents don’t check their email often enough for this to be effective. It’s for these reasons that I have decided to trial these changes:

Twitter Feed:
Twitter is a great tool for quick communication, but it’s not something that enough parents access to make it a worthwhile tool on it’s own. For this reason, I have decided to try using Twitter in conjunction with our class blog. I’ve added a Twitter Feed to the sidebar on our class blog. This gives me an ‘easy update’ option that I can use from my mobile phone, and that all parents can access. The problem here, is that parents don’t access the website regularly enough to get all updates in time. I hope, that in time, this will become something that parents check more often.

Mobile Phone:
Recently, we have had a lot of class commitments that have happened after normal school hours. The only way to manage this in a safe way, has been to make my mobile phone number available to parents. This has made life so much easier for me (and families) as far as communication goes. I have had some phone calls that were not related to the after hours events, but to me, this is a good thing. I’d rather get a phone call to clear up any confusion than have students worrying until the next school day. Other teachers have expressed concern that I won’t be able to ‘switch off’ from the job or that I may be opening myself up to abusive calls. I refuse to get worried about things that ‘might’ (or might not) happen, and as far as ‘switching off’.. I’m more than capable of NOT answering a call that comes in.

This is the one that has people flustered, and I find this a little strange. Speaking with my students, I have found out that 24 our of my 29 families have a parent that uses facebook. 20 of these check their facebook at least once a day. I decided that I would use this make communication more effective. I’ve created a facebook account that is purely for communicating with parents. It is not accessed by students, it is not used to play facebook games, or to join ‘mob wars’ or for ANYTHING except for communication. It really is the modern day version of an email account. The bonus over email, is that it is accessed MUCH more regularly. This has already proven very successful.

In a conversation the other day, I heard an idea shot down because it was said “we’ve never done that here”, and how many times have we all heard “we’ve ALWAYS done it like this” ? These are dangerous words. If we followed these rules, where would we be?


suzanne31381 said...

I love your ideas. I appreciate your sharing them and helping me learn.

I teach middle school in a mixed socio-economic area. Our parents, like at most schools, vary from polite and patient to extremely demanding and rude. It's part of the job to communicate and help them feel empowered and included. There are times when this is easy and times when it is nigh impossible, as you know. So I've been thinking about appropriate response times parents can or should expect from us.

I have a classroom announcements blog feed and all the usual contact avenues, but no Twitter or Facebook for school use yet. I strive to answer emails within a couple hours but usually I get to it sooner--maybe even within a few minutes if I'm not in class. I will answer a text within seconds if possible. I could answer a FB query within minutes. Conversely, it could take days for me to answer an actual phone call. The really anxious ones figure out quickly how to reach me. Most of my parents email and they seem to be able to check it 24 hours a day, from what I can tell by the weird time stamps and quick responses I get. I love having a record of the conversation that technology like emails and texts provide. And I always have my laptop, my desktop, or my cell phone near me so I am very available if you use modern technology to engage me.

(Guilty confession: Since I rarely answer the class landline or check my official school voicemail, I have no idea how many people are trying to reach me that way. I haven't answered that phone for years. I know, it's sacrilege and my boss will eventually put 2 and 2 together. Baaad teacher, Baaad! However, if I answer the landline I'll just have to hang up on the telemarketing recording or the like. If it's an actual human, I have to say, "I'm in the middle of teaching students, so I'll have to call you back." or "I'm not near my desk, so let me check into that and get back to you." etc. etc. That doesn't make them happy I picked up. Add the fact that the germy, clunky, antique class phone is across the room, away from 99% of our activities and yeah, it's stuck on the wall in the school at night. So logistical convenience wins and I stubbornly, secretly avoid that handset like the plague. Since it probably has plague on it. LOL And hey, if it's an emergency, the office pages me. It all works out.)

Be assured I am informative, cooperative, helpful and gracious about everything else but that landline. Really, I am not this sarcastic to my parents, I promise!

This year I gave out my new Google Voice number. I've encouraged them to consider the school phone their last resort and that the GV will give them a much better result, as it is forwarded to my mobile 24-7 (yet this spares me passing out my actual personal mobile number). Parents do not use the GV yet. They haven't caught on. I can't wait until they do; given all the options I have for receiving and responding to their messages.

I do politely inform all the parents up front that I'm much faster at answering emails or texts than any form of phone call - even GV - and since I'm the geeky teacher in charge of the technology classes, they seem to accept it.

Anyway, I see that you have good boundaries and don't always pick up when the phone rings. I suspect you take family time and don't answer all the FB postings, etc. during dinner or sleeping hours. I'm just wondering: have your parents come to expect even more instant responses from you now that your classroom is on Twitter, FB, etc.? Do you comply?

Thanks for the post!

Suzanne @2020nexus

Room 12 said...

Hi Jarrod

I really like what you are saying here - I strongly believe teachers need to remain current but can often do this by self lead PD... The challenge there is how does one monitor that? I must say that my last 12 months of PD has been self driven and supported by online learning communities...

Now, how does one become a contributor to this site? 8-)

Wm Chamberlain said...

I just can't get that in to Facebook. I realize there is a lot of potential, but I am not sure I want to invest in "one more thing". Wish parents actually cared about their children's education....

Jarrod Lamshed said...

@ Suzanne

Thanks for your comments. I'm not just talking about finding ways to respond when parents initiate contact. I'm trying to use these methods to initiate contact myself. I find communication much more effective when I can have regular contact about day to day stuff, not wait until there is a problem.

@ Wm Chamberlain
I find Facebook the easiet of these to manage. I very rarely log into my account. I post messages using Tweetdeck, and I have set incoming messages to come direct to my email. Weather or not I see the benifits of Facebook for myself personally, the fact is that a HUGE amount of people use it, and that makes it a valuable (and easy) communication tool for me professionally. I want to be clear that I'm not suggesting that my families don't care about their kids education. The purpose of these new implementations is to try and combat the poor communication that comes with the over scheduled lives that we all live.

dragonsinger57 said...

Fantastic - I'm all for communicating outside of the classroom. I've had parents email me, contact me via their kids Edmodo account, and even phone on my cell phone.

My senior teacher was a little worried about the last - it doesn't worry me - it's not like parents phone to chat or anything (in the latter case her child hadn't arrived home by 5pm and she needed to contact another child's parent).

And the number of conversations I've had with parents at the end of my driveway (I live close to school) are numerous.

I like the idea of having a facebook & twitter account just for school/class. Will think about that as part of management for next year (and will run it past the boss first as well).

John Strange said...

Facebook is just capturing parents in this country it seems to me. But if they use it then it would be an excellent choice. Most people who have Facebook accounts use it regularly (that does NOT include me. I find Twitter and my iPhone phone to be much better.)

Interesting. Thanks for sharing!