Chapter 5, Part 4

This is a continuation of the fifth chapter in Techniques for Effective Technlogy Integration. You may want to start with Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Using the Tools You Already Have

Nearly every school district provides teachers with an email address; how often teachers check and respond to email varies widely. Some teachers are very good about making telephone calls and responding to messages while not necessarily answering emails as quickly. I am the opposite. I almost always respond to an email within the hour if I am not teaching, but I absolutely hate talking on the phone. However, I contend that we need to reach out to parents any way we can with both the tools they already use and tools that can facilitate more effective communication. Here are some things that you can do to optimize your phone and email contact with both students and parents.

A good rule of thumb is to never let your first communication with a parent be negative. In the first week or two of school, call home and introduce yourself to the parent or guardian. If you cannot get in touch via the phone, leave a message and send a follow-up email. I recommend a phone call initially because it is easier for you to get to know parents and for them to get to know you over the phone. Tone of voice does not come through over email. Furthermore, find something positive to say about each child. This should not be contrived or disingenuous. Really try to spend time getting to know the students as well as possible. This initial step hopefully will lay down a foundation upon which future communication and collaboration can occur.

Another way to get the most out of telephones is to use Google Voice. Google Voice (http://google.com/voice) is an outstanding service that recently became available to the public for free. When you sign up, you receive a phone number that you can direct to any of your phones at any time. Furthermore, it transcribes voicemail messages, can forward voicemails and texts to phones and email, and even let you embed the voicemails on a website.

There are several ways that this can be very useful for classroom communication. For example, if you have a Google Voice number, you can set it up as a hotline for students. This is not your personal cell phone number, so no rules of impropriety are being broken. Not every student has access to a computer at home, but almost all have access to at least a land-line phone or a cell phone. This can enable them to have access to help when they need it. I am not suggesting that you have your students call your at 1 in the morning. Google Voice has a nice “Do Not Disturb” feature that you can turn on in the settings. This will send all calls to voicemail. You are then able to respond as soon as you are able. Students are able to call when they are having trouble; parents can call when they have concerns. You can even have a button on the class website so people can call the hotline directly from the website. All of the messages are recorded and transcribed, so you can either read or listen to them. Then, you can respond as soon as you are able.

Email also has the potential to be a powerful tool because it is nearly ubiquitous. As smartphones are becoming more and more popular, people increasingly have access to their email at all times. Endeavor at the beginning of each year to get a list of email addresses for all parents and students. Every major email platform, from online email clients, such as Gmail and Hotmail, to popular desktop email clients, such as Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, allows for creating groups that you can send bulk emails to.

It is helpful to setup groups by period or subject so that you can send reminders to all of the students and parents in the class. For example, you can send a bulk email about a field trip to all of the parents or a reminder to all students and parents about the major assignment or project. The difference between this and a class website is that you are sending it; they do not need to take the extra step to go to the website to check it.

We should always look for innovative ways to improve communication skills. It would be remiss, though, to neglect some of the powerful tools we already have at our disposal.

1 comment to Chapter 5, Part 4

  • I love your idea of a teacher using Google Voice as a hotline. For me personally, I would simply leave this as a voicemail only line 99.99% of the time. Students could call 24 hours a day to ask questions, you could respond both by voice or by e-mail, and most importantly, you have a record of the call and the exact question, wording, and voice inflection that you can keep in the student’s file.

    Thanks for your site!
    Ryan Corcoran´s last blog post ..5 Google Tools #5 – Google Fusion Tables

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