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Parent Communication – What’s Working? How Can We Improve?

Email-Failed-DeliveryIn an effort that represents ISTE Teacher Standard 3 (Model digital age work and learning; 3c: Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats) my district utilizes Blackboard Connect: K-12 ConnectED’s automated phone system to communicate with parents and guardians via phone and text.  In our district, this allows administrators and trained office staff to send out messages to specific student groups in an immediate and what is often a time-saving way.  

Pros

Important messages that can’t wait are delivered to the contacts that need them in a quicker manner than ever possible before. Vital information no longer languishes away deep in backpacks in the form of a 1/2 printed note.  Safety messages can be delivered far more quickly than simply sending notes home with students at the end of the school day. 

Cons

In our district, teachers are not allowed to use the messaging system.  Instead, they must filter requests through the office staff and/or building administrators.  As a result, many teachers simply print notes and messages, or send them via email to those parents who have email addresses on file.  Another issue that is becoming more prevalent is the fact that people are using phones differently now.  Many younger parents no longer check voicemail, but rather they see a missed call and simply return a call to the same number.  Unfortunately the ConnectED system registers that all calls originated from the school office.  As a result, when a school-wide message calls out we immediately see a two hour spike of phone calls to the office from people who are simply returning phone calls — they’ve completely bypassed the “time-saving” information in their voice mailbox and the office staff are pulled from any productive work while they repeatedly answer identical parent questions.  The system seems impossibly difficult to signup for — I wonder if we are reaching all of the parents that we think we’re reaching?  (Signing up in 5 easy page-long steps)

Ways to Improve

Are there ways to improve communication?  Currently phone messages that are texted out cannot be responded to.  Is there a way to allow for that level of communication?  Would a school Twitter feed assist or enhance the ConnectED system?  Are we reaching ELL families? Low-income families with less electronic access?  The instructions are ridiculously difficult — could we provide a parent training night, where staff can assist families with signing up for these resources?

2 Comments

  1. This is not the only system that has a sign-up process that lacks in simplicity. I feel like we are in the early days of effective user-friendly meaningful communication systems. School districts are stuck hanging in the balance of- do we send the information to families or do we have them come get the information? Robocalls and robotexts initiate the communication, but as your post highlights, they fall flat for continued communication when parents have questions.

  2. I agree that most school information systems are impossibly difficult to navigate. We experience the same issue with our online gradebook. Parents who are used to more user-friendly interfaces balk, and parents who are not comfortable with technology in general become easily frustrated. I like your idea of offering parent nights; however, you may need to offer more than one in order to accommodate all schedules.

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