Parent Communication Tech

Parent Communication Tech

When I received my teacher evaluation last year, one area that I didn’t score as high as anticipated was in the area of parent communication, which sort of confused me.  I had BCCed my AP each time I sent out an email to parents, which was fairly frequent.  There was the sort of mini-newsletter each week discussing the things we were covering that week, there were the notifications about positive behavior I was seeing in some students, as well as the communiques about any inappropriate behavior that needed to be addressed.  But through the midsts of all of that, there was rarely any actual phone calls home.

I don’t like parents having my phone number;  I don’t like having to decide weather or not to answer a phone call late at night after I’ve hung up my teacher hat for the day; I don’t like the idea of having back and forth conversations via text about matters that should probably be discussed in person; I just don’t like communicating through that medium.  I gave out my phone number my 1st year and didn’t have many problems but did hear some horror stories from my peers so I decided to keep my cell phone private this past year, for the most part anyway.  One of the one parents that did get my number ended up texting me two weeks after school was out, asking if I was free.  I responded that I was on vacation but that she could email me and I would get back to her when I got back.  She didn’t email :/

I began to see that there were times that I really needed to call because I wasn’t getting much response via email so I began to call from the school phones.  I rarely got through and the parents couldn’t call back and reach me directly so that was sort of a dud.  I wouldn’t be able to call them at a more convenient time like 7PM since I’d be gone from school by then.

I did remember that back in college one of my friends had an app where you could disguise your phone number so an alternate phone number would show up on the persons caller ID (ie. I could call the parent from my cell but their caller ID would show my school’s office number).  But apparently the app was pulled and the only app that could do something close would be one that I would have to pay by the minute.  I also experimented with blocking my number from showing up on their caller ID but who’s going to answer a blocked number, plus they wouldn’t be able to call me back.  Ugh, nothing was really working.

So this summer I began looking for an app that could solve these problems, and I happened upon a couple gems!

Remind101 helped solve my ‘want to text but not give away my phone number’ issue.  Parents send a text with a code that you give them to subscribe to your class texts.  Then, either from the website or app, I can choose to send a mass text to everyone who is subscribed to my class, ideally to remind them of something.  They cannot text back, which at first I was kind of bummed about.  I thought they would be able to and it would show up in sort of an inbox on Remind101, but if you get notifications on your phone, then it would be as if they were texting you right back to your phone, and I know a big thing they’re going for is safety as far as teacher-student or teacher-parent relationships.  I think it would be a good application to be able send a reminder text for individual parents, such as ‘Don’t forget, today’s the last day to turn in permission slips!’ for parents who did not turn them by the deadline. Hope it remains free and I’m excited to try it this year.

Google Voice was another tool I came across.  It’s actually an older Google application (that I’m hoping doesn’t get phased out by Google Hangouts or something like that) but has some awesome applications for the classroom.  I plan on using it as a voice-mailbox.  I was able to create a Google Voice phone number that had my local area code and I can call parents from a computer or the app, and the Google Voice phone number will appear on their caller ID.

Here’s the beautiful part- I can set it up to automatically go to voicemail if someone calls that number, or if I want to have office hours, to forward all the calls to my cell phone.  For example, if they call my Google Voice phone number from 5 – 7 PM, it will ask their name, my phone will ring, ask me if I want to accept the call, and will put them through.  If they call outside of those hours, it goes straight to voicemail AND Google Voice will transcribe the voicemail for you as well, creating a database of all your parent communication via telephone as well as a transcript of any voicemails.

Texts can come through Google Voice as well but I may not advertise that to my parents and just present it as my voice-mailbox.  If they text, I can decide weather or not I want the Google Voice app to notify me of the text or just wait until I open up Google Voice again (to avoid the dilemma of weather or not to engage the conversation in that moment).

I’m excited to see how these can improve my communication.  I also plan on using a Facebook Page and Instagram as well.  Both of those will be firsts for me this year, but that will be another post.

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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  • Well, Thom, based on how articulately you present yourself, I’m shocked that you would have received a low score in the area of communication.
    I thought the same thing about Google Voice; it seems they’re changing things at such a rapid pace that I hope they don’t do away with it altogether.
    I have heard of Remind 101, but haven’t used it (yet). I’m looking forward to reading your follow-up posts about how you use these apps in your classroom and how useful you feel they are to teachers.
    Amy Marie

    • Thanks for the kind words Amy Marie! To be fair to my AP, there were particular circumstances this past year where it probably would have made so much more sense to call than to keep trying to email. She’s very fair and was a huge encouragement to me last year. I’ll keep you up to date on how the apps go!

  • Hey Thom,

    Thanks for being so honest on your teacher evaluation & appreciation you writing about us. We too, think communication in education is a real problem and there are so many small safety nuances that we hope to fix.

    We’re always open to feedback so reach out and yes, it will remain free. Eventually we’ll add paid plans for schools.

    -Brett, CEO Remind101

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