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America has an urgent need to cultivate a strong workforce of innovators in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, but too few students receive the academic support and many lack opportunity to study STEM in school. Why should we care? In the next five years it’s expected that STEM job openings will grow twice as fast as other jobs in the United States, however Department of Education figures show that only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in a STEM career. The figures for minority students are particularly low.
But a solution may be right in our students’ hands. A study commissioned by the Verizon Foundation found that more than one out of three middle school students report they are using smartphones and tablets to help with their homework. Not only that, students reported that using mobile devices at school makes them want to learn more about STEM subjects than students who don’t. As a teacher, this is music to my ears. Another study by Harris Interactive reinforced these findings. Incredibly, nine out of ten students reported that mobile devices make learning more fun.
Early intervention appears to be the key. While I believe that there is no age that is too early to introduce STEM based lessons, dynamic programs using technology aimed at middle and high school students are a way to maintain students’ interest in STEM as they progress to graduation. Last year I was the co-advisor for a team of middle school students who participated in a national contest to design a smartphone app. The students who participated in this challenge learned valuable skills, not only related to STEM, but to all aspects of learning. We had rich discussions on the topic of community challenges and concerns, and how technology and science could help alleviate them. The team decided to design the Chow Checker app, which would identify ingredients in food products to help people with food allergies. At the end of the process the students left with a greater awareness of the issues that children with food allergies face on a daily basis. Out of hundreds of teams from around the country, my students were one of the winning teams.
Our team was a diverse group of learners, each with their own level of comfort and understanding of technology. A key feature of this process was that at the start not every student who participated considered themselves a “techie” however, by the end all of them learned that STEM education was not beyond their reach, and that there were elements of STEM that they all could be experts at. I know that they will remember this process, and most of them will continue to hone their app building skills for their future.
As adults, we use mobile devices to manage our work and social lives, and we know that the current generation of kids will integrate these technologies in ways we can only imagine. So why shouldn’t we encourage kids to integrate these devices into their school lives in a fun and challenging way? I encourage students to submit their idea to the second annual Verizon Innovative App Challenge, which is open until December 3rd. They might be inspired to invent the next great innovation.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “And where were the parents?” or “What’s going on with parents these days?” You may have even said this yourself a few times.
We may not always understand parents, but we never doubt that the majority of them want what’s best for their child. And even when parents are difficult, we know how important it is to maintain positive relationships with them.
Since challenging parents are never going to completely go away, we’d like to share a few tips—courtesy of educational leadership experts Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore—to help you better navigate these relationships.
Connecting with Parents: 5 Tips for Principals
Call parents—all of them
You’ve already hosted back-to-school night, but extending a personal invitation to any major school event is a great way to connect with parents.
Round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to back-to-school night. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.
Dare to give parents your number
At an event where you have a large audience of parents, encourage them to call you in both the office and at home if they need to. We agree, giving out your home phone number sounds a little unorthodox, perhaps even foolish, but here’s Whitaker and Fiore’s rationale:
This approach makes everyone in that auditorium feel that someone cares about them and their child. Years later parents would tell me that they always remembered that. The other benefit was that teachers began doing the same thing.
Irrational parents will always find a way to get your home phone number and will call you regardless. It may come as a surprise, but Whitaker and Fiore explain that they are consistently approached by parents who say, “I was going to call you at home. I know you said we could, but I figured you get so many calls that I decided that I did not want to ever bother you at night.”
Personal phone calls go a long way. Try randomly calling one or two families every week—or touch base with a parent who has expressed concern over a situation in the school a week or two later to ask how things are going.
Reaching out to the community
Education and educators take a consistent beating from the media. It’s discouraging, but one way you can help change this is by contacting local television, public radio and blogs with pieces of good news about your school. If they ignore you, be vigilant and see if you can find contacts through parents.
Use technology to connect more efficiently
Most schools have a monthly edition of the school newsletter. These usually include a column in which the principal shares his/her musings, updates and reminders. This is nice, but it lacks a personal touch for a variety of reasons:
As an alternative to the newsletter, try creating two or three minute podcasts, audio recordings that parents receive every Friday in their email box. These podcasts can be conversational: In addition to the usual updates and reminders you might find in a newsletter, feature short interviews with student athletes, coaches, thespian students and teachers. Once you’re done, simply embed the recording onto your Facebook page, website or school blog and email a link to the parents who have requested to receive notifications.
For decades I dwelled in a school district that was cemented firmly in outdated teaching methods. Sure, we got new technology -- a mobile laptop cart here, a few new desktop computers there -- but the pedagogy remained the same. I probably don't have to tell you that the philosophy was to get kids to pass high stakes tests at all costs.
So, each year brought more workbooks, more ill-conceived online reading and math tutorials and a steady stream of district-wide test scores that were, at best, pedestrian.
I rode this ride to mediocrity yearly, until I realized that I had to make change, regardless of the path my district took. Enter results-only learning, and the miraculous transformation it brought. Meanwhile, my school district forged ahead, no change in sight.
I recently worked with some true leaders at a school in Coppell, Texas. These are people who are ready to make major change. From superintendent to building principal to classroom teacher, they are embracing results-only learning -- tossing out archaic traditional methods, in favor of a progressive, student-centered, digitally-enhanced classroom.
They are even altering the way they evaluate learning -- discarding traditional points and letter grades, in favor of narrative feedback. The courage these educators have, leaving behind what most schools in America can't escape -- the chains of workbooks, worksheets and, yes, even grades -- is unparalleled.
So, this is where it begins -- in the great state of Texas. Educators in one school will pilot results-only learning. They will begin a wave of change that might eventually turn into a tsunami.
All it took was real leaders and courage. Well done, Coppell!
Cross posted at www.resultsonlylearning.com
Don't miss ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, now available in the ASCD store, Barnes & Noble and atAmazon.com and Mark's new book, The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom
As an early adopter of transformative technologies, I have been watching the mobile app space carefully to see how it can benefit all facets of education. By being a thought leader in the use of digital technology in schools, I was approached by a bold start-up in Boston called Beeonics, which wanted to talk to me about their breakthrough technology. I had them come down and meet with several student leaders and me this past spring where I shared my vision of having a mobile app for New Milford HS, which could also be shared with other schools. This work, has rapidly resulted in, I am very excited to say, a native mobile app for the NMHS community.
My vision is for every high school around the country to have its own native mobile app. For a high school, having its own native mobile application is a tremendously valuable asset as a tool to communicate more rapidly and efficiently within its community and as a means to help administrators, teachers, coaches, students, and parents to organize more productively all school activities. Here at New Milford High School we have been at the forefront of adopting social media and the latest technologies to improve the way we run our educational and extra-curricular programs. Understanding how mobile devices can be used to benefit all the constituents of our community is a staple of our long-standing commitment to bring technology to the use of our community.
Using Beeonics technology, we have been able to quickly create a state-of-the-art native mobile application with a rich set of features. Our application can be managed very easily by our staff through a website with a user-friendly graphical interface. We envision every school benefiting from having their own native mobile application. Therefore, we want every school to benefit from our work. Thanks to Beeonics technology, any school can take our mobile application as a template and almost instantly create their own native mobile application, customized to their school. We will continue to add to our application while making these additions and improvements available to any school, public or private, so please check back often.
Where we stand today is that the New Milford High School native mobile application is now in use by the students, faculty, staff, and parents at New Milford High School on iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices (smart phones and tablets). All the constituents of the NMHS community are both intrigued and excited by its capabilities. The new school-year version of the application will be available during the first week of September.
I am sure at least some of you, maybe even many of you, are dubious that creating the app itself was easy, let alone easy-to-manage. However, I assure you any school can do it. Remember when doing a web site was hard 20 years ago? Today, a non-engineer can go to SquareSpace, GoDaddy, Wordpress, and many others and make a good web site in a few days, sometimes even hours. This is the Beeonics vision, but for mobile apps (which is a much harder problem with different operating systems, different versions within operating systems, and devices of markedly different size and dimension). Let me tell you what we did.
The mobile application was developed directly from the input of a group of students, teachers, and administrators. The process was quick and efficient. Modifications and improvements were rapidly implemented. The mobile application comes with a user-friendly website, which staff and administrators can use to easily share content and notifications with their students in real time. A group of students, teachers, and administrators tried the mobile application during the last four weeks of the previous school year. We collected further feedback and ideas for additional functionality, which were used over the summer to fine tune the application and associated website in the new school-year version. We made the changes and, voilà!, we have a richly-featured mobile app.
I wanted a mobile app for the community of stakeholders at NMHS for many reasons. First, for the students, the application helps them organize their schedule, activities, and homework, and provides them with real-time updates on classes, activities, and athletics. Specifically, for students, the app enables them to:
The students are excited because they can have all this information and all these capabilities always available and immediately accessible on their phones, rain or shine, in or out of school.
With respect to teachers and coaches, they are now able to:
This functionality helps us run the internal functions of the school more effectively, more efficiently, more easily, and with a fun factor we have not had before. The app also allows the constituency outside of the school, the parents, guardians, and other stakeholders to:
The parents are excited because they can have the peace of mind that they are always up-to-date and informed of the activities of their children and notified of any time-sensitive information. Last, but by no means least, I would be remiss if I did not address how this benefits me and the administration of NMHS.
We use the mobile application to:
What I love the most about our native mobile application, in addition to the obvious positive impact that it has throughout our community, is that I can reach all my constituents instantly and reliably, on the one device which is the most personal and which is (unless they leave it at home like I have a few times before!) always with them.
I am really excited about the mobile app and even more excited that all of you can take advantage of the work done by my students, staff, teachers, coaches, parents, and myself to bring the same capabilities we have today to your school quickly. To that end, I have asked Beeonics to offer our app to other schools for only $1.49 per user per academic year as a favor to me and because we helped Beeonics debug their software (the Beeonics app is normally $2.99 per user per academic year). The company has graciously agreed. This offer stands through the end of 2013. Please go to http://www.beeonics.com to register and use the keyword "Eric".
I have spent most of the previous month talking about my new ASCD Arias book, The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom.
In spite of the excitement swirling around the new book I am still inundated with correspondence from readers of my first book, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom. Although I attempt to respond to all emails and tweets, I decided it's time to have an open chat about results-only learning, and what better way to do it than on Twitter, using the #RoleTalk hashtag?
Monday August 12th, 7-8 PM EST
Please join me for a thought-provoking chat with some remarkable, smart educators, as we discuss Role Reversal and student-centered learning on Twitter. Mark your calendar for Monday, August 12, 7-8 PM EST, and add the #RoleTalk stream to your Twitter, HootSuite or TweetDeck feed. We'll discuss the following and more:
This promises to be an amazing chat with hundreds of intelligent teachers sharing their opinions on student-centered digital learning, assessment, feedback, project-based learning and much, much more. See you on Twitter #RoleTalk at 7 PM EST on Monday, August 12th.
I just finished reading Michael Fullan's, Stratosphere. In this book, he outlines how: "the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all" (p. 3). Fullan's book resonates with a driving question I have grappled with in my own work. How do we create meaningful change throughout our system to truly innovate teaching and learning?
Fullan's argument is something to consider as we work to make our schools and systems more responsive to the students we serve. In some ways, Fullan's book treads familiar ground. In his earlier writing, Fullan has correctly warned that technology as the solution can be the "wrong driver" for school reform if it is not paired with "smart pedagogy."
In Stratsophere, Fullan issues a similar warning. I agree with him. We should not mistake the tools for actual student learning. Using upgraded technology will not automatically transform pedagogy.
Fullan is critical of those who have ventured before him to articulate 21st Century learning frameworks. After reviewing several of these efforts, he concludes:
No matter how you cut it, we are not making progress on this agenda. By and large the goals are too vague, having glitzy attraction. When we start down the pathway to specificity, the focus is on standards and assessment (which does help with clarity), but the crucial third pillar -- pedagogy, or fostering actual learning -- is neglected. And aside from its use in assessment schemes, which is a contribution, technology plays little role in, surely the main point of all this highfalutin fanfare. (p. 36)
Prensky to whom Fullan pays tribute also critiques the Framework for the 21st Century precisely because identifying the outcomes students will need is the easy part; changing our pedagogy and engaging students in relevant learning is the hard part.
While I agree with Fullan and Prensky that we can't simply identify outcomes and not transform teaching and learning, I don't think the frameworks themselves are to blame for not tackling the tough hill. The frameworks are just that -- an outline of skills and compentencies students will need for future success.
From this starting point, we, as educators, need to define and articulate what these outcomes look like, how we help students develop these habits of mind and skills, and how we can determine whether students have mastered these competencies.
Fullan's discussion of the "new pedagogy" aimed at higher-order thinking is helpful in this regard. He draws upon some of the most powerful voices calling for a fundamental rethinking about how we organize schools to make them more meaningful for students' learning. Citing the work of Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and Jonah Lehrer, he concludes that to "maximize learning", the integration technology and pedagogy must be:
Putting these pieces together will require us to make changes within our systems to ensure that all students develop their fullest capacities to meet the challenges ahead. As in previous books, Fullan proposes a systems approach to change that "helps us achieve [the vision], learning while we go."
It is not the work of isolated individuals working on bits and pieces, adding tools to our existing models that will ensure our students soar into the "stratosphere." It is the intentional effort of people throughout the system focusing on the essentials, building capacity, and leading the way.
New Smartboard tip and trick worth giving a shot this coming school year in your classroom. The Extreme Collaboration add-on has the potential of revolutionizing the way we use the Smartboard with our students and in classes that have mobile devices. Take a look at this tutorial to get an idea of what is possible with the Extreme Collaboration tool.
As the school year comes to an end at New Milford High School, I can’t help but begin to think about sustaining the many changes that have taken place over the past few years as well as identifying other areas where change is needed. My school is a shell of what it once was when one looks at how far we have come in terms of effectively integrating technology, re-envisioning learning spaces, and providing a foundation for a more relevant and meaningful learning experience for all of our students.
Below is just a quick list of some of the many changes that have been successfully initiated and sustained over the past three years:
Together we have the power to improve all of our schools and mold them in ways to maximize the potential of our students, teachers, and administrators. It is time to realize that social media, technology, and the change process are not the enemy. Once you get past this, you will quickly discover your own niche as a change agent and it is here that you can receive support and guidance to make any initiative successful. When moving to initiate sustainable change that will cultivate innovation acquire necessary resources, provide support (training, feedback, advice), empower educators through a certain level of autonomy, communicate effectively, and implement a shared decision-making practice.
In collaboration with my staff and the support of District leadership, my efforts have laid the foundation for an innovative teaching and learning culture that focuses on preparing all students for success. We have learned to give up control, view failure as not always a bad thing as long as we learn from our mistakes, to be flexible, provide adequate support, and take calculated risks if we are to truly innovate. To this end, teachers and students are now routinely utilizing social media and other various Web 2.0 tools on a routine basis to enhance and promote essential skill sets such as communication, collaboration, media literacy, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, global awareness, and technological proficiency. It is not uncommon now for classes to be Skyping with students in other countries, using Twitter as a learning tool, constructing QR codes for artwork, blogging, or creating multimedia projects using a variety of interactive web tools that are blocked in many schools across the country.
One of our most successful initiatives has been the establishment of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program mentioned briefly above where we are harnessing the power of student-owned devices to increase engagement. Instead of viewing student-owned technology as a hindrance, it is now wholeheartedly embraced as a mobile learning tool. Teachers have the students text in their answers on their cell phones using web programs such as Poll Everywhere, conduct research on the Internet, take notes using Evernote, or organize their assignments. Students can also opt to bring their personal computing devices (laptops, tablets, iPod Touches) to use in school and class.
What might separate us from other schools where change has not taken hold is that we, as a school community, have decided to forge ahead no matter what mandates are thrown at us at the state and federal levels. We needed to take a hard look at, and seize upon numerous areas of opportunity, to create a better school for our students that focused on the whole child using their interests and passions as catalysts for learning. The change process never sleeps. During the summer months my administrative team and I will continue to work with all stakeholders to forge ahead by doing what we have done for the last three years and looking for solutions to problems instead of excuses. This might be the single most important element of a successful change initiative. That and being digitally resilient.
What do you plan to change this next year and why?
You are invited to attend our newest Summer Institute being held at the fabulous Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas in July. Follow the link at the bottom of this message to see the beautiful Summer Institute Brochure we created using Weebly!
If you have decided to take your classroom, school or district into the 21st century, this is the institute for you! The 21st Century Schools Summer Institute has been carefully designed to provide you with the knowledge, tools and skills to create an environment and a curriculum which meets the needs of the today's students.
The Common Core State Standards require teachers to incorporate collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking into their lessons, and you will learn how to design curriculum and instruction that not only meets, but actually goes beyond, the CCSS, incorporating critical 21st century skills and literacies.
The four university accredited workshops which comprise the Summer Institute are:
1. Media Literacy - an in-depth Investigation
2. Greening the Classroom and the Curriculum
3. Designing the 21st Century Classroom
4. Innovation and Entrepreneurship for K-14
We hope you are able to attend all the workshops, but just in case you cannot, each workshop is designed as a stand-alone professional development.
In addition to the highest quality and truly 21st century professional development you will enjoy (and learn from) the spectacular San Antonio Riverwalk and the many historical, cultural and entertainment opportunities at hand.
We appreciate the work you do, and want to treat you as the special professionals you are, so at the workshop we will be providing complimentary:
* Continental Breakfast
* Mid-morning Snack Break
* Lunch, and
* Mid-afternoon Snack Breaks!
We understand that well-fed educators are Happy Learners!
If you are unable to attend, these professional development opportunities are available as online courses (also university accredited), or we can bring them to your school or district! We travel anywhere in the world!
Finally, we would appreciate your helping us to get the word out by forwarding this to all your friends, colleagues, groups and connections on LinkedIn! Thank you!
Anne Shaw, Director
21st Century Schools
Key Words: Project-Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction, Student-Centered, Media Literacy, Ecoliteracy, Financial Literacy, Problem-Solving, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Real World Curriculum, Global Collaborative Classrooms, Web 2.0 Tools, Design Thinking, Thinking Tools, Interdisciplinary, Student Motivation, Curriculum Design, Lesson Planning, Designing Down, Self-Directed Students, Physical Environment, Emotional Environment, Academic Environment, High Expectations, CCSS
When it comes to the use of technology in education, I often say that it is not a generational gap, but a learning gap that prevents our older generations from accepting new technology tools for learning. I think I may have to amend my position. There are a few things about mobile devices that point to a generational gap that may be preventing by some an acceptance of these devices as tools for learning. I am a true believer that we consider an item as technology if it was invented in our lifetime. Therefore, I consider a cellphone technology, but my car in some form or another has always been with me since the 60’s and to me that is my car and not technology.
My younger daughter has had her own cellphone since Grammar school and full access to the Internet at home all of her life. She was Social Media involved as a toddler with Penguin World. She has always had a laptop, iPad and an iPod. We are fortunate enough and grateful to have afforded her those tools. She is now headed off to college with these experiences and tools in place. I often learn from her simply by observing how she uses things to learn.
This weekend we were spending time at the beach house that is pretty much cut off from the world. My daughter was working on a final paper and asked if she could download a book she needed from Amazon. I gave her permission and watched her download it to her Smartphone as she continued working on her laptop. In consideration of my own ailments and frailties, I asked if she would not better be able to read the book if it were on her laptop instead of her smartphone?
“No, this will be just fine,” was the answer.
That is when I got it. I would struggle with reading a book from a Smartphone, but not so much a teen’s problem. Teens are reading text on their phones 24/7. They watch full-length movies and TV shows on their Smartphones. They do not need to make adjustments from previous habits. I had to adjust from Desktop use to laptop use as an adult. That is not a problem for kids who are multi-users when it comes to the devices of technology.
The other big stumbling point when it comes to the acceptance of mobile devices used as tools for learning is the fact that the older generation perceives a cellphone as a phone, as the name would imply. Actually, the smartphone is a complex computer with phone capabilities in addition to thousands of other applications. Again, the youthful generation just uses the technology for communication, curation, entertainment, research, and photography without the oohs and aahs, while the older generation just marvels at all the bells and whistles of the new technology vicariously, through the experiences of others, often younger. While the older generation tries to figure out how to grant permission, while maintaining control over this new-fangled technology, the youth is employing it everywhere and all of the time, except in some cases in school. Adults are delusional to think that they have the power to control this technology.
If schools need to control Smartphone use, let them figure out ways to incorporate them interactively into lessons. Teaching kids responsible use is the best form of control. It is lifelong skill. Mobile devices provide a gateway to more relevant content than could ever be placed in a textbook. Why are we not preparing our kids with the skills to access, assess and utilize that content? Will they not need these skills in the technology-driven world in which they will live? They come to us trusting that we will be preparing them with what they need to thrive in their world in the future, but many of our educators are not even in the world of today. I have said this before. If we are going to educate our children for what they will need, we must educate our educators first. Technology is changing things too fast for us all to keep up without a little help from others. There is so much to know, that we have reached a point where many of us do not know what it is that we do not know. Whether this roadblock to technology use in education is a learning thing or a generational thing, collaboration may be the map to the way out. Educators need to connect and collaborate in all of the methods we have available to us in order to learn and share.
It’s Finally Here!
I’m pleased to announce the Virtual Summer Camp for 2013, the 5th Anniversary of the original!
This year’s Virtual Summer Camp was created with Weebly, a web tool that lets the user create their own website from a variety of templates. In the past, I’ve used different web tools that included Blogger, LiveBinders, Scoop.it, and Learni.st, always looking for different ways to visualize the camp.
Access to all previous camps is included here as well as an array of brand new offerings. The offerings this year are broken into three areas: New Web 2.0 Apps, new Mobile Apps, and a Campfire section that is specific to professional development and global connectivity.
All of the Web 2.0 Apps and Mobile Apps are geared toward Multi-Mediating your professional practice, enhancing singular media content and looking for opportunities to invite multiple versions of content into the learning process.
I purposefully limited the offerings this year for two reasons...24 opportunities are still a lot to investigate AND you have access to previous years Summer Camps that open up multiple opportunities for further resources if you choose to explore them.
I encourage you to not only investigate the offerings in the Virtual Summer Camp but also to investigate Weebly as a Web 2.0 tool. It’s easy to create a website and the drag and drop interface is so easy to use. While it took me awhile to find the individual resources for the camp; it took a minimal amount of time to actually create the Weebly page to house them. This alone could be awesome for students as a demonstration of their learning, allowing them to show and share what they know in a free platform.
I wish you the best of summers! Teachers are amazing, especially in the wake of all the media attention around evaluations and value added measures. I know that you do what you do because you love kids and you value the system of instruction and preparation to move kids to a desired destination. You are rock stars and I am humbled by your efforts, regardless of the bureaucracy and political issues. You do what’s best for kids and I wholeheartedly support that! I hope that you find some useful resources in what I’ve put together for this year’s summer camp.
I look forward to conversing with you and enhancing the offerings as the summer heats up. Keep up the good work and know that you are valued, awesome, and integral to the growth of our country and citizens! You are amazing, and I’m so honored to share this Virtual Summer Camp with you!
Have a great Summer 2013!
Note: The new site is optimized for Mobile Devices too, so you can camp on the go!
Upgrade Your Curriculum now available in the ASCD store
School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
etire the school newsletter. Start a school blog
Many prefer to read news online
According to research published last year by Pew Research, a substantial percentage of leading newspaper readers get their news digitally. Currently, 55 percent of New York Times readers say they prefer to access news on a computer or mobile device, as do 48 percent of regular USA Today and 44 percent of Wall Street Journal readers. While this isn’t proof that nearly 50 percent of your readers prefer to access school news online, there’s a good chance that they do.
Blogs are current
By the time parents receive their monthly newsletter, much of the information is already outdated. Who wants to read about the “big game” or a service learning project three weeks after it happened? Blogs allow you to update readers as newsworthy events are taking place—not after. Another thing to keep in mind is that event information (dates, times, etc.) changes. Once a newsletter has been printed and shipped, there’s no going back. Blogs give you the flexibility to make changes whenever you want.
Blogs will save you money
Most blogging platforms are free. No more printing and shipping costs; no more envelope licking; no more label printing. If you are concerned about alienating parents who are less tech-savvy or prefer to read print, send home a survey and find out who your readers are and how they prefer to access school news.
Blogs provide a rich, multi-media experience
Unlike print, which is linear and static, blogs allow you to easily integrate video, audio, photos and text. Now you can show, not simply tell, parents what’s going on in school. You’ll be surprised at how capturing students “in the moment” and posting pictures and videos of them throughout the day will impact parent engagement.
There are dozens (probably more) of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Blogger, for example, is Google’s free blogging service. It only takes minutes to set up and you can customize the theme and color of your site. If you already have a Gmail account, there’s good news: You’ve got a Blogger account too. Simply sign into Gmail and select “Blogger” from the “more” menu. Other blogging platforms you might check out include WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.