As far as expectations go, technology has conditioned the modern user to expect answers faster than ever before. Movie times, restaurant menus, and playoff schedules are only a Google away. When it comes to what’s happening at school, can we say the same thing yet? Why not?
The mission to connect your school
One of our goals is to set up a school-wide system that keeps your network informed and connected. The first thing we want to do is identify the players in your community and several best practices for getting everyone up and running.
Identify The Players
In most K-12 institutions, we have students, teachers, staff, parents, and admins. In higher-ed, parents are normally replaced by a larger and more diverse set of faculty and staff. These groups will communicate within their own population and across groups - student to teacher, teacher to parent, parent to admin, and so forth.
This is why we want to assign roles to users in our messaging system. For example, in Chalkup, we have student, teacher/staff, parent, and administrator accounts that allows certain users access to student accounts for monitoring and support, when needed.
The goal here is to loosely group users and optimize their experience for the way they are most likely to communicate.
In Chalkup, our admin accounts are designed to support school-wide messaging and analytics review, while our student accounts work best for exchanging ideas in a classroom thread, connecting with a teacher, or messaging a peer for homework help.
In defining these roles, we suggest asking your current messaging provider or IT professional about the process of mapping roles. Ideally, your provider will be able to handle the initial data import/mapping that needs to take place. You’ll hand over the names of everyone in your school and/or all related course enrollments, and your provider will get all of your digital ducks in a row. We do this for our customers when we setup an integration with the Student Information System (SIS) and sync everyone in their network and what courses to associate with teachers and students. We’ve found this arrangement to be the most efficient for schools that want to set up a system swiftly.
Avoid a Separate Platform for Each Need If You Can
No matter how you design your school-wide messaging/communication system, everyone will need a homebase. Whether this is a school homepage, blog, or the "Recent Activity" feed like we have in Chalkup, this is your first opportunity to establish a central location for all information about what’s happening at school. This strategy is geared towards building a single, streamlined system for communication.
When information is spread across several platforms - perhaps the school website, a news blog, and a separate platform for announcements about school closings and events - we’re increasing the likelihood that new information will be missed.
By conditioning users to go to the same location again and again for information, we establish a system for sharing news and increase the likelihood that everyone in your network will know what’s going on. (There will always be someone who misses the memo. But let’s keep that number low.)
If you need to use multiple platforms to cover all the types of communication that are vital to your network, ask yourself how you might be able to integrate these platforms.
If you use a separate text-messaging service for emergencies, can you create a log in your online portal that lists all emergency messages pushed out, perhaps with additional details on why the communication was sent? If everyone has access to the school's main SIS portal, can it include a link in the interface that takes users to your learning management system (LMS) or school website? These ideas can at least bring your separate platforms closer together.
Find a Place for Everything
As you get your school up and running, take time to account for the different types of exchanges that are being streamlined into your system. We want everything to have a home.
We recommend mapping the different types of communication that you’ll need to house in your school-wide LMS or messaging system. Your list should work from classrooms up, covering student-to-student communication, class collaboration, teacher-to-class communication, up through school-wide messaging from an administrative voice.
Once you’ve mapped your communication needs and found a place for these exchanges within your new system, we suggest sending a school-wide message that reinforces where news will be stored moving forward. Use this first message to set expectations for your new messaging tool. It’s an opportunity to kick-off your new system while showing everyone around.
If you’re implementing a whole new tool for this purpose, training time and teacher professional development should be part of your plan.
Don’t Neglect Positive Information Practices
Yes, we need a way to communicate schedules, events, contact information, new policies, or even updates during an emergency. Your communication system should handle all of these needs. But it should also make space for communication that bonds your network and shares good news.
We like to recommend a bi-weekly messages - or perhaps a newsletter - that can be disseminated and storied through your communication tools. Highlight people in your school community who are doing amazing things, celebrate school-wide victories, and remind your community that you’re on the same team.
Ask About Security and Privacy
We get a lot of questions about security and privacy in a school-wide messaging tool. We can tell you about what’s worked for us and what’s been requested by schools using Chalkup.
Here’s the big stuff. We tell folks to look for these markers of privacy and security when you’re shopping around:
System uses https for all communication and encrypt inbound/outbound traffic using 128-bit TLS/SSL.
Data is backed up daily.
Updates are automatically available.
Uses a stable, secure, cloud-based platform for data centers.
Uses the industry standard OAuth2 protocol.
When you select a communication system that fits your school needs, accounts for all the players in your network, and reliably puts information in the same place, you position your school to run more efficiently.
This system could be a school-wide LMS, class collaboration platform, a messaging tool, or an institutional website. Whatever your solution, we hope that your set-up links everyone in your buzzing ecosystem and builds a community of learners, teachers, supporters, and administrators who know how to get reliable information fast about what’s happening at school.
If you're interested in reading more about building a connected school, be sure to download our totally free ebook. It's an in-depth guide that helps you create a strategy for success.