7 ways to connect with parents via texting

3/18/2013 12:00:00 AM
An abridged version of this article was originally posted in SmartBlog on Education.

Building the home-school connection is important for all school staff, but few realize the power of the tool in their pocket. Even if they don’t have internet access, most parents have access to cell phones. However, in many cases, most simply use their phone as a calling and texting device. It’s time to change that! There is so much more you can do with free and easy to use resources that will help you coordinate and connect with parents in powerful and exciting ways.  

1) LocaModa
LocaModa enables you to connect with parents using the same technology that is viewed by thousands at large-scale events such as concerts, gallery openings, fundraisers, inauguration events, and political conventions. LocaModa allows you to set up your board so you can reach out to parents and their responses are published real time to screens anywhere on any screen via texting or Twitter hashtags.  Go here to learn about getting a free school account.

LocaModa can serve as an innovative resource to connect with parents. Consider using a LocaModa board for "Shout Outs" to share praises and capture success in your school. Just embed the board in your online space, and as you find things to shout out or celebrate text or Tweet them in to your board.  

Invite teachers, students, and school administrators to do the same. Use LocaModa to dream and drive change by asking parents questions like, “If I could change one thing at my child’s school it would be...” or “A new class that would be most beneficial to add to my child’s school would be...” or “One policy I would update at my child’s school would be...” or “One way I could contribute to making my child’s school a better place would be..” This open-ended brainstorming questions could lead to some real transformation and the power of anonymity helps increase confidence of those who might be uncomfortable about responding publicly.

2)  Remind101
Services like Remind101 provide a safe, one-way, mass text messaging system created specifically for use in Education. It keeps your phone number, and the phone number's of your subscribers completely private, stores all of your sent messages, and it's completely free to use. Once the school's parent coordinator signs up and creates a parent list, parents are able to sign up with one text or email. Because of the convenience of sending messages directly to phones, Remind101 is a perfect tool for announcements and reminders such as school holidays, school events, photo days, fundraising events, testing days, and more.

High school social studies teacher Nikki Schubert is using Remind 101 for her classes. She is able to send out reminders to students about changes in lessons, due dates, and homework assignments. She is also using it to send out information about cool websites and things on tv that are related to class.  With five preps it's an excellent way for her to keep students informed and to help keep them up to date on our classroom activities.  It really works well for students who are absent and need to know what's coming up. She is also using it with student council members in basically the same way and with her play cast. Her hope is to expand it to parents next year and include them in the transfer of information and communication process.

Remind101 has bridged the gap between techno-phobic teachers and their students at Jordan-Elbridge High School.. Tenth grade English and ed tech teacher Katie Regan introduced Remind101 last year to a few teachers who were frustrated with the amount of communicating they were doing with parents individually and with students not remembering homework or due dates. These teachers claimed to be “dinosaurs” in technology integration and these are the ones she targeted first.  As soon as they saw the effectiveness of the site and how easy it was to use, they began to take more risks and try other technology tools. Now, the majority of the teachers in her building are using Remind101. Not only are they now communicating quickly and easily with all their parents and students, but they are beginning to see the value in using technology to engage their students.  

3) Classpager
Connect with parents and engage students with polls, exit tickets, event reminders, and more using ClassPager.  Classpager allows parents and students to use their own devices (phones, tablets, laptops, or other computers) to respond to questions or surveys that the teachers designs with simple text messaging.  Questions can be both open response and multiple choice.

Amar Vedi, an algebra and statistics teacher at Vance High School in North Carolina uses ClassPager to assign homework, send out reminders, share links to educational videos, and answer questions. In many cases this is sent not only to the students, but to the parents as well to keep them apprised of what is taking place in his classroom. As a result, Vedi has noticed that it's been a great tool for improving his communication with individual students and parents. He explains that because of this easy collaboration between students, parents, and himself, there has been a marked improvement in classroom culture and student achievement.

4) Twitter Anyone (in the US) can receive Tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter. This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real-time. For example, let’s say you want to get Tweets from New York City Schools (@NYCSchools). Just text ‘follow NYCSchools’ to 40404.

Suggesting parents follow your school district’s Twitter account can serve as a powerful way to keep parents informed of up to date information. For example, during the 2013 Nor’easter in New York, the @NYCSchools Twitter account provided up-to-date information on school closing and afterschool activities in both English and Spanish.
NYC Public Schools @NYCSchools
Schools are open today, but afterschool programs and PSAL games are cancelled. Please visit http://nyc.gov  for the latest info. Details

Gobierno de NYC ?@nycgob
Alcade: Las actividades después de clases y juegos PSAL están canceladas. Actividades y clases @NYCSchools el sábado estarán canceladas. Details

It doesn’t have to stop with following your school district. Schools, principals, and even teachers can set up Twitter accounts to keep parents connected to the latest information.  Check out how this worked at Locke Elementary School here http://youtu.be/GyQz48V6UmM

5) PollEverywhere
Poll Everywhere provides a terrific way to capture the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of parents. Simply set up a multiple choice or free response poll, text parents the code, and have them text in their answers like they do on shows like American Idol.

Poll Everywhere provides a quick and easy way to give parents a voice and a vote.  Principal Eric Sheninger of New Milford High School in New Jersey suggests using Poll Everywhere during back to school nights. He says it’s a great way to elicit feedback during budget presentations, or to secure real-time input on school initiatives. Laura Spencer, an instructional technology coordinator for a K-8 school district in San Diego suggests quizzing students on topics taught in school with a twist. She also sends the messages to parents. She explains that students enjoy comparing their responses to their parents and this gives parents a deeper insight into what is happening during the school day.Maine school board member Lisa Cooley suggests using Poll Everywhere to provide data about parent opinion to inform school board decisions. For example ask how they felt about a recent school event, a new facility, the holiday homework, or a new curriculum. Ever wonder how much homework kids are getting a night, how long parents spend helping their children with schoolwork, or how many hours students are sleeping each night? Massachusetts ed tech specialist Tracy Sockalosky suggests collecting such information by using Poll Everywhere to send out a poll and find out! Not only is this a great way to collect information, but it’s also a terrific discussion starter as well as a tool to determine areas of concern.

6) Cel.ly
School guidance counselor Willyn Webb says that Cel.ly has made a positive improvement for her school’s Parent Accountability Committee (PAC) which meets once per month.

Celly is a free, mobile social network that works via group texting.  It is instant, private, and secure. There is never an exchange of personal cell phone numbers, yet everyone is connected in the ways that work best depending on the need.  

Each cell is it's own mobile social network that works with any mobile phone or device. Members can join instantly with one text and exchange group messages, polls, reminders, and web alerts.  There is a record of all texts sent and received.  

Before Cel.ly she found it frustrating to provide a clear picture of what was happening in school during a once a month meeting. Her solution was to invite them all to join her PAC Cell. She did this at a meeting where she shared the Cel.ly number and Cell name.  It’s so easy to join.  They just took out their phones and in the first five minutes of the meeting it was in place.  

At first they just communicated about logistics.  For example, Webb used Cel.ly to set up a last minute Christmas potluck for their December meeting.  Today, Webb sends a daily message that might be to share progress regarding service learning projects, academic milestones, praises for students and staff, struggles, and needs for improvement.  The parents are welcome to respond, and if applicable, a powerful response might be re-sent to the group.   

During the few seconds it takes to send a single text parents truly become part of the day to day happenings at Delta Opportunity School. Parents have shared that this helps them do their job better, look more forward to meetings, and be able to truly advocate for their school.

As a result of Cel.ly the PAC is now communicating often and Webb says she feels great about keeping her PAC up-to-date and informed with the praises, growth, and challenges.

7) School district texting services
Is today a school holiday or snow day? When are parent-teacher conferences?  When is the deadline to register for high school entrance exams?  If your district offers a texting service, this is the type of information you can find in a snap.  

Places like New York City are using a texting service called Mobile Commons to keep public school families informed with text messages in English or Spanish throughout the school year by texting “nycschools” or “escuela” to 877877. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the program as a crucial step in “doing more to make sure parents have the information they need to help their children succeed – even when they are on the go.”

Not only is this a great way to share information with parents, but it is also their preferred method to receive information. According to the annual parent School Survey, receiving information through electronic communication is the first choice of parents across age-groups, boroughs, income-levels and ethnicity.

So, what do you think? Could some of these resources be helpful in building the home-school connection where you work? Which ideas do you think will be, or have you experienced as being, successful? Are there challenges or concerns that are getting in the way of you implementing some of these ideas? If so, what are they?

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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