As a sixth-grader, my elementary principal asked me to give up my after-lunch recess to “cover” the school office so his secretary could join teachers in the lounge for lunch.
Back then, I thought: I’m glad the principal realizes I’m mature enough to handle whatever comes up.
Now, I think, the principal must have been crazy to imagine I was mature enough to command the hub of school communications for 30 minutes a day.
The only instructions I remember getting were:
- Knock on door of the teachers lounge if I saw any blood
- Inform any visitors that the principal and secretary would return to the office at 1 p.m.
Mostly I took phone messages for teachers on pink memo pads, sliding each sheet into individual mail slots that teachers would stop by the office to check after escorting students to buses at dismissal.
Expectations for school communications have changed – radically.
First off, educators in today’s security-conscious world would never leave a young student in charge of the office, even for 3 minutes.
Parents expect direct communication channels with school administrators and teachers. Notes passed through a sixth-grader to be read later don’t cut it.
Thanks to social media, everybody expects an appropriate and timely response.
Fortunately, quicker and more effective school communication between teachers, students and parents are now possible through tools called student information systems, which organize the flow of electronic communications.
Meet Dave, an education technology expert
I tapped Dave Tchozewski, technology director at Jenison Public Schools in Michigan, to explain the importance of student information systems and other communication technologies that have become important tools for managing schools.
Dave is one of 22 K-12 educators that the Discovery Educator Network (Discovery, as in Discovery Channel) identifies as a technology in education “guru.” He’s attended five Discovery Summer Institutes where he joined more than 125 other technology using educators for a weeklong immersive experience.
Dave has led Jenison’s tech department for six years, after 22 years of teaching high school math.
Student information and alert systems
More than 20 management systems are in use in Michigan schools. Jenison has been using PowerSchool, the most popular, for students in grades pre-K-12 since 2003.
When used by teachers, parents and students, student information systems improve school culture and climate by:
- Facilitating interaction
- Raising the level of involvement
- Monitoring learning performances
- Allowing for data-based decision making
The hope is that easier communication and more data will add up to higher student achievement.
Use of these technologies should result in “no surprises,” Dave said, because students and parents have the ability to “take a sneak peak into each teacher’s grade book” to monitor assignments and grades daily, weekly or monthly.
“A parent should open the printed report card that’s delivered with the mail and say, ‘I knew all this 1 ½ weeks ago,’ “ Dave said.
But it doesn’t always happen that way. About 25 percent of Jenison High School parents (about 300 people) haven’t opened a Power School account.
It’s not that they don’t care about how their kids are doing in school. Most say they just don’t have an email address, which is necessary to create an account.
Most – but not all – parents create an account with an ancillary alert notification system that can make phone calls and send text messages, as well as send emails.
Alert systems bring the welcome “stay in bed, it’s a snow day” messages and the reminders of parent/teacher conferences and music performances, but some also have a surveys feature which can provide schools with valuable feedback.
School communicators can help
His initial response surprised me.
“Mass mailings on paper is still the best way to communicate with a wide audience,” he said.
Postage is expensive, but a copy of the school district’s newsletter should be mailed to any parent who hasn’t said they’d prefer to receive it by email. And direct mail is the best choice for reaching residents of the district who don’t have school-aged children at home.
Dave’s other tips include:
- Publicize parent events for newcomers, and for students transitioning to middle school and high school during which parents will hear how the student information and alert notification systems will benefit them. Help parents open an account.
- Routinely distribute information about what characteristics make for a good digital citizen. Parents share the responsibility of keeping kids safe online when they’re not at school. You can’t take a “one and done” approach.
- Handouts combining text with pictures, or short video tutorials, are great for showing how to use a computer step by step. Answer technology use questions by clipping a short screen flow video to an email message. For frequently asked questions, create a video tutorial and upload it. Then you can send out the link when that question arises. (Screencast tutorial)
- Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are where a lot of people get their information. Be there.
- Need to develop your own digital technology skills, or help others ride the wave? The following are links to FREE instruction developed for an education setting, but anyone can take them. Teachers (http://www.21things4teachers.net/)
Tech tutorials are for students, parents and teachers
Jenison Public Schools has a spot in iTunes University where they upload instructional resources, a growing number of which teachers have created as parts of lessons. Dave has uploaded lessons himself, including several on how to use Google learning apps.
(Some school filters block access to youtube.com, so iTunes U is a better place to store tutorials to assure school-day access to the information, Dave said.)
There are a lot of cool new learning technologies, Dave said. He considers it his job to introduce teachers to only those that offer the most educational value.
“Finding the time to learn the new stuff is our biggest problem,” Dave said. “Contrary to what you might think, it’s actually the veteran teachers who seem to get most excited about the tech stuff. They recognize good resources.”