Category Archives for "Expert Insights"

How’s your “boilerplate” working out for you?

By Rob Pocock | Expert Insights , The Encourager

1st in a series of 8 Basic Tools for Effective Communication . . . Topic: The Boiler Plate

Remember to PATTB!*

*Pay Attention to the Basics

I enjoyed reading the posts about Jamie Volmer on the SCN homepage.  While I agree with Volmer’s conclusion (epiphany?) that we can’t run schools like a business, I would suggest there are some things school communicators can learn from business.

Summer’s a great time to refresh and renew.  So let me suggest how you can reinvigorate your communications by adopting eight basic tools widely used in business for effective communications.  Today we’ll tackle boilerplate information.

When I first visit a school, I like to ask those I meet to describe it.  I’m always amazed at the variety of answers.  And it quickly lets me know how effective the communication director is at that school.  The best schools know how to describe themselves in one consistent voice.

How would your colleagues describe your school?

Go ask three individuals right now.  I’ll wait.

Back already?  How was it?  Did you hear an accurate, holistic description from all three?  Or did the answers you heard remind you of the parable of the blind men and the elephant?

As the school’s chief communication officer, it’s your responsibility to make it easy for your colleagues to promote your school’s strengths and unique qualities.  That’s why the first basic tool you need to create or simply reinvigorate is what business communicators call a boilerplate.

A boilerplate is a succinct description of your school or district.  It’s only a few sentences long making it even the more difficult to write!  Once written, the boilerplate is used at the end of every single press release.  Think of it as being the words you would like everyone to use when asked to describe your school.  Just for fun, visit the online press room at Apple.com and read the paragraph at the end of every single press release.  I’m particularly impressed by their “confidence” (some might say arrogance!?!).  In their boilerplate paragraph Apple claims to be the “best.”  To “lead” the digital revolution.  To have “reinvented” the mobile phone market.  And I’m amazed to learn that Apple is “defining the future.”  Is your school’s boilerplate as compelling?

 

No quick fix . . . but there is a fix

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights , Your Marketing (How you connect)

[This value-packed gem was originally posted in 2012.]

Schools and businesses share the goal of developing human potential, but educators are often exasperated by “business thinking.”

The way to produce more high school graduates who are college-ready is to hold teachers’ feet to the fire and run schools more like a business, business leaders say. It’s not that easy, educators say.

No national speaker frames this debate better than Jamie Vollmer.

Vollmer is a super cool businessman. (No kidding. He ran the ice cream company once voted best in America by People Magazine.) Vollmer was a founding member and executive director of Iowa Business and Education Roundtable, which sought to improve schools by injecting business practices – until an English teacher pointed out why a manufacturing approach is the wrong model . . .

Vollmer still believes schools need to change, but not because of sub-par teaching. It’s our system of education that’s obsolete, he said. It was designed for an industrial America that no longer exists.

When I interviewed Vollmer in 2012, he chuckled as he recalled that many of the buddies he graduated from high school with in the 1960s never aspired to college, even though they would have been considered “college material” today.

“They didn’t need college,” Vollmer said. Seventy-seven percent of jobs required no post-secondary academic training.

“That economy’s gone,” Vollmer said. “Today, only 13 percent of jobs that pay a decent wage are unskilled labor. And, if you listen to what’s being told to us, soon it’ll be just 6 percent. Clearly, the nation cannot afford a dropout rate. This economy has almost no place for them.”

Sorry, there’s no quick fix for changing schools

“It’s impossible to impact student achievement without changing the culture of a community, and that’s why it’s so darn hard,” Vollmer said. “Focusing on things like instruction, assessment, and the school calendar, in and of themselves, won’t get at the root of the problem.”

He says he’s witnessed educators’ valiant efforts to improve everything in a school district’s domain. In the end, the only thing that ultimately changes is the nameplate on the superintendent’s office.

“As long as a community’s response to change is, ‘That’s not the way we do it here,’ making progress doesn’t have a prayer,” Vollmer said.

His book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, is a primer for subtle but effective ways to build the community support for schools that will make real and lasting change possible.

Expectations multiply but school calendars can’t keep up

It’s time communities get a wake-up call, Vollmer says. Expectations of schools have multiplied, but the school day and school calendar haven’t expanded.

As the median age in America climbs, the percentage of households in a community with school-aged children shrinks. Vollmer counts himself among the Baby Boomers who, based on his own experiences, held an antiquated view of what school is like.

Reaching those people requires pulling together a cadre of school staff (teachers to bus drivers) to “map” places in the community where people congregate. Schools then need to strategically send volunteers to these places with well-crafted talking points.

“Do-it-for-the-kids” won’t move everyone.

“Self-interest doesn’t always beat altruism, but that’s the way to bet,” Vollmer said. “Do-it-for-the-kids won’t move everyone. They have to see the connection between their quality of life and the quality of their local schools.”

In a perfect world, community members would flock to school to get school information, but that’s not how it happens, Vollmer said.

Board meetings are sparsely attended. The only way to attract a crowd is to propose a tax increase, threaten to eliminate a popular program or service or feed people for free. And school leaders cannot rely on traditional media to get their message out because of the “if it bleeds, it leads” nature of the commercial press.

Instead, Vollmer says school communicators must begin by creating a team of allies who will help them identify positive things already happening in schools. They need to talk about those things in the community.

Touting the streak of days a district has safely transported students to school, the number of insulin injections the school nurse gives weekly, or the combined weight of vegetables served annually in cafeterias may not seem like headline news, but it builds community trust ­– a prerequisite for change.

Jamie Vollmer

He offers school advocates the following quick-start tips, 5 S’s to begin building public trust:

• Shift your attention to the positive.

•  Stop badmouthing schools and colleagues in public. (How often are we our own worst enemies?)

• Share something positive within your network of family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

• Start now.

• Sustain the effort.  (Where school communicators can really kick it in!)

“If everybody in the district did just those five things, the ripple effect would be felt across the community,” Vollmer said. “That’s the way you counteract negativity and begin to forge inroads that can result in real change.”

 

Tough questions. Painful answers.

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

[Good info to know originally posted in 2012.]

When I read that 30 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have sent or received nude or nearly nude pictures over the Internet, I was shocked and suspicious.

More than 70 percent of teens are smarter than that – aren’t they?

So, I asked my 19-year-old daughter Sierra, whether she had any firsthand knowledge in middle or high school of the practice colloquially known as “sexting.”

It’s a criminal offense to transmit a sexually explicit photo of a child less than 18 years old, even if the child took the picture him or herself. The receiver can be prosecuted if he asked for the photo, even if he or she deleted it without forwarding it.

Yup. Sierra recalled that during her junior year she was working with a male student on a group project when he received a text-messaged photo of a female classmate on his smartphone that left little to the imagination.

Sierra said the guy was ticked off. He said he’d received a similar “sext” the night before, and so had one of his buddies. The girl had sent them herself. They barely knew her. They were so ticked that they had cornered the girl’s boyfriend in the commons before school.

His response? A shrug as he sighed, “I wish she’d stop doing that.”

Serious stuff

I haven’t met a teenager yet who didn’t enjoy attention for how they look. Impulsiveness and sexual exploration are part of teen territory. The fact that teens today are tethered by choice to computers (their cell phones) with cameras creates a perfect storm for sexting. Youthful indiscretions are easily transmitted and archived. To make matters worse, it’s next to impossible to erase images once they’re zipped onto the information highway.

Sexting is a criminal act if the person in the picture isn't at least 18.

Sexting can be criminally prosecuted if the person in the picture isn’t at least 18 years old.

I assume that peer pressure curtailed the incident my daughter witnessed. (The boy wouldn’t tell the teacher because his cell phone should have been tucked away during class.) Sierra has seen the sexting girl often enough since graduation to conclude that she was never sent to jail.

Indeed, Sierra – probably like most teens – was unaware that a minor can be criminally prosecuted in most states for sexually explicit pictures they snap of themselves. Laws are relaxing in a few states, but it’s felony child pornography in the eyes of most.

What it is

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children defines sexting as the practice of young people sending sexually explicit messages of themselves or others to their peers electronically.

“Sexting” is a recent phenomenon. There’s no consistent definition of sexting in research

Sexting, defined.

The word “sexting” is derived from the words “sex” and “text,” as in a text message.or law. Generally, sexting isn’t “criminal” if both sender and receiver are 18 years of age or older.

(I also asked my 23-year-old son Justin whether sexting is common among his peers. “Mom, that’s kids stuff,” he scoffed. “We don’t need pictures. If we want sex we can just go get it!” (Yikes! Just what a mom wants to hear.)

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the most common sexting scenarios are:

•  Two romantic partners exchanging sexually explicit images

•  Forwarding sexually explicit photos outside an intimate relationship

•  Exchanges of sexually explicit images between people who aren’t in a relationship, but at least one of them desires romance.

 

Sexting between 12- to 17-year-olds

Sierra’s story got me wondering what would have happened if a member of the school’s staff had seen the student receive the sext – or had caught wind of the subsequent confrontation in the commons with the sender’s boyfriend.

“Did you ask for this?” should always be the first question raised, according to

Stephanie Tuttle

Attorney Stephanie Tuttle

Stephanie Tuttle, a lawyer in Grand Rapids, Mich., who speaks to groups of students and parents about the criminal implications of sexting.

“That answer informs the next steps to take,” Tuttle said. “If there’s a reason to believe the picture was taken or sent to coerce, bully, or harass, the school needs to involve the authorities immediately.

“If those elements aren’t present, and the student says the photos arrived without encouragement,” Stephanie said, “he or she should be instructed to send a strongly worded reply warning that this can never happen again and save a copy of that message. Then they need to block the sender.”

But, if the student asked for the pictures, school officials may choose to address the situation with the student and his or her parents. Serious cases, however, should be referred to authorities immediately, Tuttle said.

Why Stephanie cares

Stephanie says her own teenage children and their friends don’t admit to knowing anyone who sexts, but she continues to warn them. She has spread that same message in a dozen Southwest Michigan schools in 2012.

Here’s what she says to students:

• Never take sexually explicit photos. Stop now if you are.

• Never forward a sexually explicit photo.

• Never Tweet or upload any photo to Facebook that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

• Parents are legally responsible for what’s on electronic devices in their household.

• Deleting a sexually explicit photo isn’t enough. Have your computer wiped. Buy a new SIM card for the phone.

• Acquiring a used computer or cell phone? Follow the advice in the previous step.

Stephanie’s commitment to prevention grew out of representing a male client in his early 20s. A police investigation found he’d asked for nude photos of a girl who was not quite 18, and he reciprocated with photos of himself. They never had a dating relationship.

The photos were deleted without being forwarded, but that didn’t matter when police obtained a warrant to seize his MacBook, then used forensic software to recover the deleted images. He faced felonies for taking, distributing, and possessing sexually explicit pictures, as well as for using a computer to commit a crime.

“We were able to get a reduced sentence of six months in jail, but the course of my client’s life has been dramatically altered,” Stephanie said. “Michigan law requires him to register as a sex offender for 15 years. This restricts where he can live, the kind of work he can do, even who he can date.”

The client wanted to be a teacher. Now he’s barred from schools and contact with children less than 17 years old.

Sexting

A teen’s youthful indiscretion can be nearly impossible to delete from the Internet.

Shortly after her client was sentenced, Stephanie got a call about a 16-year-old girl who had sexted a 17-year-old boy, who had set his smartphone to forward messages to his school email. The high school resource officer, who monitors the mail, got an eyeful.

“I want my legal practice to grow,” Stephanie said, “but not because of sexting.”

Too many who are landing on the sex offenders registry are children, not child molesters, Stephanie said. She hopes Michigan follows Ohio’s lead and considers reducing sexting between minors from a felony to a misdemeanor.

What schools can do to prevent sexting

Educators don’t want to think about sexting as the new relationship currency any more than parents, but Stephanie says adults must accept that teens today are very sophisticated. Smartphones make accessing information and communicating it so easy that their use by people of all ages should be expected to increase — fast.

I know I can’t imagine living without my iPhone. Teens can’t, either.

“This is an opportunity to teach kids how to operate in the real world,” Stephanie said. “Give them information to make good choices. Don’t shelter them from ever having to make a choice.”

Schools can help prevent sexting by providing students and parents with information about criminal penalties at the beginning of each academic year, Stephanie said. This is essential if the school has a one-to-one computer program, she said.

Receipt of this information should be acknowledged with dated signatures, just like the written “acceptable use of technology” policies and agreements that are staples in most school welcome packets, she said.

Want to get a fuller understanding of sexting? Read this article.

Feature photo illustration by Pooja Brahmi. Photo of Stephanie Tuttle by Kym Reinstadler. Other photos from Google Images and credited and linked when possible.

 

 

Three memorable takeaways from NSPRA 2015

By Guest Author | Expert Insights

They’re do-able and won’t break your budget.

Ron KoehlerLet’s go!

When SCN asked me for a few beneficial takeaways from NSPRA 2015 in Nashville, I jumped at the chance. As a former past president of both NSPRA and MSPRA, my heart is with you and every in-the-trenches school communicator. I appreciate the positive contribution you make in your school district.

The first two are from the presentation made by Brian Woodland of the Peel District Board of Education in Mississauga, Ontario.

#1 — your logo conveys more than your district brand

It conveys emotion, or lack thereof.

The Peel Board of Education serves more than 100,000 students in a wide swath of bedroom communities outside of Toronto.  They compete with publicly funded private schools and charter schools.  And their target is students and the young adults who are their parents.

What does their logo convey? In a word – FUN!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 6.45.33 PMThey want families to feel as this is a place where learning is enjoyable.  So they change their logo with the seasons, even put a pirate hat on their logo for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

I realize that there’s not much I can do with this immediately except to remember that we don’t need to be so doggone stuffy about everything.

Public schools are already perceived as a huge bureaucracy and we shouldn’t reinforce that with an image that says “we’re ancient, we’ve been here since the beginning of time and we’ll be here long after you’re gone. If you come here you’ll do it our way or not at all.”

#2 Another takeaway from Brian

I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but it’s still essential.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 6.43.51 PMPR professionals need to be intentional about reinforcing their professionalism and experience in conversations and planning with others in their organization.

All opinions are not equal.  Nobody in the curriculum department would accept our opinions on how to teach math and we shouldn’t blindly accept their opinion on communications and marketing.

Brian also reminded us the public relations professional is the keeper of the vision with the Superintendent and should use district communication strategies to reinforce district goals – sometimes as a reminder to other professionals within their own district.

#3 From keynote speaker and author of “Influencer”

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 6.37.53 PMFinally, the keynote speaker Joseph Grenny, author of “Influencer,” reminded us that communications professionals are expected to do more than sway public opinion – we change behavior.

Do you like bacon and eggs for breakfast?  So do millions of Americans.  But these weren’t even breakfast favorites until Edward Bernays took on the pork producers association as a major client.

Before that, pork products were not a staple at the breakfast table. That’s behavioral change, and it’s an outcome of excellent public relations.

Bernays, known as the father of public relations, died 20 years ago in Cambridge, Mass. He began his career as a press agent but distinguished himself from others in the profession by using sociology and the skills of his uncle, psychologist Sigmond Freud, to create behavioral change on behalf of his clients.

So, there are my takeaways.

Hope you found them helpful!

An unusual word of caution preceded one of my first experiences with school surveys

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

“Don’t mention the Coast Guard.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 8.28.57 PMThat’s the parent-teacher conference tip a high school sophomore whispered to me years ago, as she and her mother departed from their conference with a history teacher, and I rushed in to take their place at the table.

I had waited in line for an hour for my turn to speak with this teacher, in a line which snaked around the room with other impatient parents, most of them accompanied by their yawning students.

I’d met with each of my daughter’s five other teachers in the amount of time I’d been awaiting an audience with her history teacher. I was eager to finish. I’d left my daughter at home to care for her younger siblings, and had promised her duty-free time to review for a math test the following day.

Nobody wants a history teacher who isn’t a good storyteller, but this particular teacher was affable to the extreme. I was ready to add him to my Christmas card list the first time I met him.

He was especially chatty about his favorite subject, the U.S. Coast Guard. My daughter had briefed me that some classmates would often try to lure him into Coast Guard tangents, their egos elated if he would take the bait.

As I left the high school that night, I stopped at a table with a tray of cookies, where parents were asked to fill out a paper-and-pencil survey about their experience at parent-teacher conferences.

Huddling around the table was a dad – a neighbor – who didn’t answer any of the ranking questions asked. Instead, he scrawled, “Mostly fine. Curses to the Coast Guard!”

I’ve often imagined the bewildered school secretary, tasked with processing data from those forms, wondering how to interpret and tabulate that perplexing response.

As for the hurried me, I grabbed a cookie and survey and headed for my car. The cookie was consumed on the drive home. I intended to complete my survey from home and return it to school – really, I did.

But in reality, I discovered the survey under a floor mat when I cleaned out my car the following spring.

The advantage of school surveys

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 8.32.52 PMFeedback from customers and stakeholders is valuable information because it reveals perceptions, defines your current reality, and identifies potential issues.

School leaders can use the data collected to target communications and improve procedures.

Surveys can be used to take a pulse on building-specific issues, like “How did parent-teacher conferences go?” They’re also handy for capturing impressions of advisory committees, employee groups, and booster organizations.

Surveys are especially valuable for gathering intelligence on district-wide concerns, such as attitudes about impending capital improvement projects or identifying the least controversial areas for budget cuts.

If results of a survey will be used for strategic planning that requires community investment, it’s best to hire an independent researcher to conduct a scientific study. This type of research is crafted to balance demographics of respondents and prevent bias.

But school leaders can effectively survey targeted audiences themselves by following a few pointers, and using some great free or low-cost online tools that were not yet available when my daughter was in high school.

First, some tips for writing surveys:

  • Define and rank objectives. What must you know? What would be useful to know? What would be nice to know?
  • Keep it concise. The shorter the survey, the higher the response rate.
  • Use clear language that’s positive in tone.
  • Don’t force people into “yes” or “no” answers. Add “not applicable,” “undecided” and “I don’t know.”
  • Vary question types. Multiple-choice questions should have an “other” option because all options could never be listed. Use ordinal questions that require a ranking of options to reveal priorities. Ratio questions get at “how often?” or “how much?” Questions requiring respondents to scale levels of agreement or satisfaction work only if the intervals are approximately equal. Ask open-ended questions if you’re gathering opinions or stories.
  • Test-drive your survey with six or more people and study their responses. Are you asking any questions that are too difficult, confusing, or not getting at what you need to know? Nix any questions if the answer is obvious.
  • Include a comments section.
  • Make it easy for people to respond.
  • Publicize the survey with a due date. The larger the scope of the survey, the longer you’ll have to keep the survey open. One week is enough for a limited survey, but allow one month for a statewide survey.
  • Offering an incentive (like a cookie) improves response rate. However, offering something too valuable could bias the survey if people take the survey only to obtain the incentive.

Cool tools for writing surveys, collecting and analyzing responses

SurveyMonkey  Here’s an online tool with which almost everybody is familiar. You can do surveys with up to 10 questions and 100 responses for free.

Google Forms — Fully functional and you can do as many surveys and responses as necessary absolutely free.

QuestionProEasy to use and free, unless you need advanced features.

SurveyGizmo — An advanced tool that’s still pretty easy to use.

Zoomerang — Now part of SurveyMonkey.

LimeSurvey — Open source program that requires technical skills to implement.

FluidSurveys — Intuitive online survey tool with excellent analytics.

SoGoSurvey — It’s not free, but it is feature rich. It will chart and graph results.

Constant Contact — An excellent, low-cost tool.

Getting your survey out

A cookie-laden table at parent-teacher conferences is a good way to distribute a survey about parent-teacher conferences, but offering multiple ways to respond is better.

Post surveys on your school’s website and include the link to it in newsletters and social media posts.

Improve response rates by optimizing the survey to display correctly on mobile devices. You may be surprised how much feedback you’ll get from parents on smartphones while they‘re stopped at traffic lights on their drive home from your event.

 

19 tech tools recommended by in-the-trenches communicators

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 7.30.05 PMIdentifying best practices and new trends are reasons enough to network with others in your field.

Networking generates ideas for  fresh new ways of doing things, which can result in a competitive edge, as well as a more vibrant and valuable social circle.

Because of the nice response to the recent summer reading suggestions sent in by a dozen school communicators, I’ve circled back again and asked a few more experts to share their favorite tech tool.

It’s my hope their A-List offerings will enhance your productivity and create more free time for you.

Sara DeVries

Sara DeVries

Sara DeVries: Basecamp makes it easy for people in different roles with different responsibilities to communicate and work together, which is why Sara, public relations director at Herrick District Library in Holland, Mich. uses it to organize projects that include several people and require multiple tasks. She said she considers Basecamp indispensable because it’s a place to share files, have discussions, collaborate on documents, assign tasks, and check due dates. A 60-day free trial period is available. After that, Basecamp will cost you at least $20 a month. More information is available at basecamp.com.

Basecamp stores everything securely and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere. helps me manage all the timelines and tasks for different PR projects we are working on, including assigning tasks to colleagues and approving their drafts.

Karen McPhee:  The, education policy adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, says a powerful search engine is a communications leader’s best ally. “This might seem like a ‘duh’,” Karen said, “but understanding where and how to find reliable information quickly is essential.” Google is Karen’s favorite search engine because she knows how it responds and how deeply she’s need to dig into the search results to discover what she needs.

Karen McPhee

Karen McPhee

McPhee  also recommends that school communicators try a “read it to me” news service like Umano. This app gives you an audio versions of the day’s top print news stories and articles from leading print sources. plus articles that have been recommended by listeners. It also offers a selection of audiobooks. Karen says having news read to her in short spurts while she’s transitioning from one activity to another helps her keep up with what’s happening in the world.

“A world view is the hallmark of a communications leader in any industry,” Karen said.

Tom Gould

Tom Gould

Tom Gould: As director of Howell Public Schools in Michigan, Tom has occasion to write in different styles. But when he’s writing a press release, his aim to write in perfect Associated Press style so print media outlets don’t have to clean-up his copy. Tom says he runs AP StyleGuard, a plug-in for Microsoft Word, in the background as he writes. If breaks an AP style rule (like spelling out February instead of using out the Feb. abbreviation), the app flags it and asks whether he’d like to change that to AP style. AP StyleGuard costs $39 per year.

Although it’s more of service than an app, Tom also recommends using Help a Reporter Out, also known as HARO. Reporters enter queries looking for sources with expertise in certain areas. He answers queries in which he can recommend an excellent source. This is how a Howell Public Schools gym teacher was quoted in a recent Parents Magazine article.

Dave Tchozewski

Dave Tchozewski

Dave Tchozewski: The primary software on Jenison (Mich.) Public Schools’ technology director’s  “Must Have” list are  Google Apps for Education. This absolutely free suite of software (email, calendar, docs, sheets, slides, and more) are how Dave said he gets work done.  These productivity tools work on any computer, any tablet and any smartphone. The most important part of the package may be Google Drive, a file storage and synchronization service created and managed by Google. It allows users to store documents in the cloud, share files, and edit documents with collaborators. Users do have to access Google Apps for Education through the domain of a registered educational institution.

Ron Koehler

Ron Koehler

Ron Koehler: The assistant superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District (Mich.) agrees with Dave Tchozewski about Google Apps. ”They’ve become so commonplace that a huge gap would exist if they were no longer available,” Ron said. However, in the interest of full disclosure, Ron believes it’s important that users, and would-be users, recognize and remember that Google collects and markets some personal information in exchange for the free use of their apps.

Stephanie Tuttle

Stephanie Tuttle

 Stephanie Tuttle: The app this Grand Rapids (Mich.) attorney wouldn’t want to live without is just for fun: Trivia Crack. It’s a platform for playing trivia games online with players worldwide. Stephanie’s go-to app for professional purposes is FastCase, an online law library database that allows her to conduct legal research in every jurisdiction in the United States, for both state law and federal questions. There are 12 different ways to search and results are populated in a Google-esque fashion with the the most relevant sources placed at the top of the results list. “I have often used this in situations where I’m negotiating a settlement out of the office, or having discussions with other attorneys outside of a courtroom setting,” Stephanie said. FastCase is affordable when compared to other legal research services. A free trial subscription is offered. It’s possible to subscribe month-to-month. An annual subscription to the premium service costs just under $1,000 per year.

School Communicator Gerri Allen

Gerri Allen

Gerri Allen:

This Detroit-area public relations consultant uses radio apps and news tracking services in an attempt to stay abreast of trending stories. “It’s always important to scan the environment for the next big thing that could impact the schools,” Gerri said. Fortunately, there are a lot of good apps in this category. National Public Radio has a good app for mobile devices. Stitcher provides a user-friendly interface for keeping up with favorite radio programs.

Gerri also recommends Dropbox  as a safe, low-cost way of sharing, syncing and storing files in the cloud. A free trial is available.

Kate Snyder

Kate Snyder

Kate Snyder: “Staying up-to-date on current affairs is the most critical part of my job,” says Kate, principal strategist at Piper & Gold Public Relations in Lansing, Mich. “My must-have apps are those that help me stay up-to-speed on local news,” Kate said. The ones she uses most are the  Michigan Radio app, which allows her to live-stream a Michigan NPR-affiliate on her mobile devices, and apps from MLivewhich allow her to tap into news by metropolitan areas.

Linda Wacyk

Linda Wacyk

Linda Wacyk: Communications director for the Michigan Association of School Administrators first used TweetDeck to monitor Twitter traffic in multiple hashtags at a professional conference. It made following conversations in real-time so much easier! Unfortunately, if you’re  not working on a desktop or laptop computer, you’re better off using HootSuite, a Twitter management tool which has mobile applications. The free version of HootSuite allows the user to manage up to five different social profiles.

Rob Pocock

Rob Pocock

Rob Pocock: Email is the most useful technology tool, the world around, says SCN this SCN contributor and former vice president of communications for Spectrum Health (Mich.). Rob says his favorite apps are the ones he uses socially to keep in touch with family and friends: Facebook, Instagram and FaceTime. His affection for visual media didn’t surprise me, since I know that Rob and his wife Cindy are new grandparents.

Kym Reinstadler

Kym Reinstadler

Kym Reinstadler: The cybersphere is glowing with great apps, but I’d be hard-pressed to name one more useful to me than Evernote. Years ago, my life was littered with scraps of paper on which I’d scrawl notes to myself of things I wanted to remember. For quick reference, I’d impale these notes on one of two spindles that sat on my desk. One spindle was for my personal life and the other was for my professional life. One day, two male colleagues seized my spindles and had a sword fight in the newsroom! That’s when it dawned on me that I was being dumb having my three kids’ Social Security numbers — and other important information that I’d hate to flutter away — on spindle that could be commandeered as a play toy.

Evernote is in infinitely better solution. The free version has all the features I need but there’s also a premium version.

I can take a digital note. I can group the notes into topical notebooks. I can instantly access those notes from my Evernote account from any device anywhere that I happen to be.

Evernote makes me look sharp, without a pointy spindle!

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