5 Ways for Rural Schools to Get the Most out of a Districtwide Communications Platform
By Stephanie Hinds
Our rural school district operates from a single campus, but that doesn’t make school-home communications any easier. With 1,500 students across grades K-12, we were previously using a blend of different tools to sync up our teachers, students, and families. The selection included a host of other apps that teachers would discover on their own and begin implementing.
We were also using newsletters, our website and One Call Now for sending automated messages out to the community. Some parents complained that we were bombarding them with too many messages while others had no idea where to go to find the information that they needed.
Knowing that we needed a secure platform to work with, and one that would also support social media platforms, we searched the market before choosing one of the better-known platforms, ParentSquare. That was back in the Spring of 2019. We also added the StudentSquare platform to facilitate messaging and information sharing between students and teachers, coaches, and other staff members.
As with any new technology implementation, our goal was to get the most value and benefit from our new school-home communication platform. Here are five ways we made that happen:
Establish protocols before you start using the platform
For example, you probably don’t want to bombard recipients with messages over the weekend unless it’s an emergency. It’s also probably not a great idea to distribute communications after 8 p.m. These are some of the little things that you may not consider at first, but they should be discussed and decided on as a team. We try to honor the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. rule to avoid inundating them at a time that would be interfering with their family time.
Put your students first
We want our students to truly feel challenged while they’re here and we want them to have the support structure that they need to be successful. Nothing will ever replace the classroom teacher and the specific, integral feedback that they give every one of our students, but our communications platform gives those teachers another tool to help facilitate a child’s growth, and that’s what we’re all about.
Use the platform to monitor attendance
Our attendance stats have been outstanding, according to a recent study of chronic student absenteeism from the year or two leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic until now. There were some slight variations, but we’re really proud of the fact that overall, our attendance was very good. The communications platform played a key role in making that happen because when a student is ill, parents use the platform to communicate that information to us. Then, we can communicate right back with them and begin that conversation and assess what we need to do for them (e.g., get homework ready, conduct a visit, etc.).
Give the recipients choices
With our platform, parents and guardians can select exactly how and when they want to receive communications. This is important at a time when everyone is busy and constantly bombarded with digital messaging on their phones, devices, and computers. Notification preferences include text, email, or app communications. Parents and guardians may also choose to get a daily digest with all of their news delivered in the evening, instead of getting multiple notifications throughout the day. Emergency alerts, of course, are always delivered immediately.
Think beyond teachers and administrators
We’re using our school-home communication platform throughout our rural district in many different capacities. For example, it’s become our primary way of alerting parents to transportation concerns. If a bus is running late or if there’s inclement weather on the way, we use the platform to convey all that information to parents and guardians.
Research your choices before you buy
We did not pick our platform on a whim. We did a lot of research and talked to other districts that were using the one we picked. Having a supportive technology partner in your corner is important when you run into problems, because there are always problems. With this one, everything went smoothly, even smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.
About the author
Stephanie Hinds is Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Brookville Local Schools in Brookville, Ohio.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.