We lead busy lives as administrators, with items getting added daily to our already busy to-do lists. How do we keep up? Why not use the power of technology to communicate with all stakeholders in an efficient, consistent manner? That is not to say that phone or face-to-face conversation should be replaced, nor should the letter home or the programs that give students a tangible certificate. However, immediate feedback is something that we teach our staff at Governor Livingston High School to employ in their classrooms, so let’s develop ways for school leaders to do the same in our buildings.
Here are five different actions that you can introduce in your building right now to increase communication with your parents, students, and staff.
Every Thursday we meet as an administrative team to review upcoming events for the next two weeks and populate this information into a Google Doc, which we share every Friday to parents by email. Included in this document are useful materials that in the past would have been mailed home, including PSAT information, ACT registration forms, and flyers regarding night events.
This idea was born from developing ways to combat the avoidance behaviors of students who like the walk the halls; however, the positive benefits have been far more than we could have imagined. First, the written hall pass is time-consuming and requires the teacher to stop instruction to write down the necessary information and collect it upon a student’s return to class. Instead, Electronic Hall Passes (EHP) require students to complete a Google Form before leaving class that they access through link in a teacher’s Google Classroom or a QR code posted in the classroom. All students have district-issued iPads, so they are required to leave this iPad in the classroom while they are in the hallway. When they return, they sign back in on the same device. All sign-ins are then able to be viewed on the corresponding Google Sheet by necessary staff.
Staff have loved this change, and as administrators, we have noticed that EHP has helped curtail the number of students in our hallways. In addition, it has increased security in our building, as we now know which students are in the hall at any given time. If an issue occurs, we know who to speak with; if a student does not arrive in their next class, we know what their last destination was and can more easily find them in guidance or with the nurse.
For the next three integrations of technology, all you need is Google and some add-ons. Let me talk about my favorite add-on this year: Form Mule. What Form Mule allows you to do is set data entry points on a Google Sheet, and when specific information is typed in specific cells, an email is generated, which mail merges all of the information you want it to.
Positive Office Referrals
I learned about positive office referrals while speaking with my Assistant Principal of the Year partners. I brought it back to my school, and we love what it has become. Every staff member has been provided with a link to a Google Form that asks for the student’s name, email address, parent’s email address, and a direct quote (that will be used in the email) regarding the positive referral. We approve each submission in Form Mule on a weekly basis, which, once accepted, automatically sends emails that congratulate each student on positive actions.
Results: The response has been amazing! Students immediately write back, or seek out the administrators and teachers to thank them for the referral.
Although there are fancy systems that track discipline for students, we do this internally using Google Forms, Google Sheets, and Form Mule. Staff members submit discipline referral forms, which populate to a Google Sheet. As appropriate discipline is assigned, discipline-specific emails (for lunch detention, office detention, administrative detention, etc.) are sent to the student, parent, counselor, and bcc’d to the staff member that submitted the referral.
Result: As communication is more immediate, discipline can be more timely, since parents are aware of the date of consequence with advance notice.
Though our parents have access to individualized reports about their student’s attendance and receive texts and email updates when their child is not present in class or is tardy, our district still must communicate these issues to parents, especially when students reach their attendance threshold, which could result in loss of credit. In the past, we sent letters, but what often happened is that by the time the letter made it home and parents had an opportunity to respond, absences and tardies had accumulated even more. Calling every single parent as their student reached thresholds required too much time, so this year, using Google Sheets and Form Mule, we developed a more timely and just-as-detailed approach to communicating with parents and students. When a student reaches a specified attendance threshold, an automatic email is sent to parents and any additional staff members that should be aware of a student’s attendance, including child study team members and counselors.
Results: In the past, the first set of attendance letters that were sent did not yield much communication with the school. This year, the first set of email letters—25 in total—yielded 21 parent responses, which included scanned letters, further questions, or simple acknowledgment.
Using technology to improve the way we communicate with our stakeholders has given us back some of the time that in the past has been spent on these important minutiae. Learning these technology hacks will save time and are worth your investment as a school leader.
How are you leveraging technology to improve communication with students, staff, and parents?
Tara Oliveira is an assistant principal at Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, NJ. She is the 2018 New Jersey Assistant Principal of the Year.