Consistent communication between teachers, students, and parents is essential in order to maximize learning. In the Age of Technology in which we now live, the traditional hard-copy classroom newsletter, by itself, doesn't cut it anymore. Like it or not, technology is a part of students' and parents' lives. A perfect example of this is found in the prevalence of cell phones. I work at the middle school level, and nearly every student has a cell phone. Students often forget their pencils, textbooks, and homework, but forget their cell phone? Never. I've long held the philosophy that educators must utilize technology like cell phones for educational purposes, because students and their parents are already using the technology. Don't fight it, leverage it. Well, here's a cool tool that will help teachers leverage cell phones - Remind101.
Remind101 is a free service that allows teachers to use text messaging to communicate with students and their parents. It is a simple yet powerful tool, and I can't think of an easier way to put digital reminders about important classroom information into the hands (literally) of students and parents.
Here's how it works...
Once a teacher signs up for a free account, he/she can create different "classes" (groups of students/parents). Teachers at the middle and high school school level can create a different class for each period of the day, as well as a separate class for parents. This enables the teacher to send class-specific messages to students (e.g. "Don't forget -- your project is due Friday) or messages to parents (e.g. "Parent conferences are October 17-19"). Since cell phones are not as common at the lower grades, elementary teachers may choose to set up a class solely for parents. Teachers can currently create up to 10 classes.
Once classes are set up, students and parents can "sign up" to receive notifications by sending a text message with the teacher's class code (e.g. text @code to 555-555-5555). Sign-up can also be done through email. If you're concerned about students seeing your personal cell phone number, don't worry. Teachers are assigned a unique Remind101 phone number that students/parents use when they sign up -- they will never see your number, and you'll never see theirs. Pretty slick!
Once students/parents are signed up, the teacher simply has to go to www.remind101.com, sign in, choose a class, and type in the desired message. Messages can even be scheduled to be sent at a later day or time. Can't get to your computer to send a message? No problem. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can download and use the free Remind101 app. For more information, here's the service's FAQ page.
Students and their parents are already using cell phones to text. Let's make some of those texts educational.
Think back to your first year of teaching. For some, it was just a few years ago. For others, it may seem a distant memory (and some of you may still be in your first year). Regardless of how long you've been teaching, think back to the beginning. Did you have an experienced teacher mentor you through your first year or two? Whether it was informal or in a program such as BTSA, did you have someone come alongside you and share lessons, help you with your classroom management, show you the ins and outs of your new school? I did. Mrs. Kawase was her name, and I was incredibly blessed to work with her as she took me under her wing and showed me what it takes to be a great teacher. She listened when I had questions, freely shared her resources, and more than anything, was a friendly face during a very overwhelming year.
I've asked the same question to teachers recently at presentations I've given -- "Did you have a mentor?" Unfortunately, very few teachers have said they had someone to mentor them at the beginning of their careers. After thinking about it, I asked myself, "Why not?" Is it because there weren't any teachers qualified to give a first-year teacher guidance? I find that hard to believe. Whatever the reason, it isn't right.
What about now? How many of you currently have someone you would call an educational mentor? I do. His name is Tony Vincent (www.learninginhand.com). Some of you may be familiar with his work. A former 5th grade teacher, he is now an independent consultant who works with teachers and students all over the world to help them tap into the power of educational technology. Spend some time on my website and you'll find his name on many of the pages, as he has been instrumental in helping me infuse emerging technologies like blogs, podcasts and iPod flash cards into my teaching. Tony has been an incredible resource to me, and although it's not an official title, I consider him to be my educational technology mentor.
Here's the point I want to make -- I've never met Tony. I have never been in the same room with him. As far as I know, we've never been in the same state at the same time. He lives in Arizona, while I live in California. With the exception of one Skype call, I've never even spoken with him. All of our communication has been in the form of text (email, Twitter, etc.). Yet because of his influence, because he has freely and graciously shared his ideas, expertise, and resources through his website, I am a better teacher than I was a few years ago. All because he was willing to share.
Are you sharing? Are you a mentor? Are you paying it forward? We all have something to share, whether we're in our second or third year of teaching or our second or third decade. It may be big or it may be small, but with millions of teachers in the world, someone may be online right now looking for what you have. So share, through a blog, a wiki, a website, Twitter, or simply a conversation in the staff room. Do not underestimate your influence.
A few years ago, I received an email from a teacher in another state. After seeing some social studies flowchart notes I had posted on my website (http://www.mrcoley.com/flowcharts_examples.htm), she sent me a short message. Below is an excerpt from the email, shared with her permission.
"I thought you should know that today you managed to indirectly touch the lives of 18 students here in Alabama...Last night I stumbled across your website and noticed your social studies flowchart notes for your lesson on Columbus. Coincidentally this just happens to be the lesson we are on in social studies. So, I thought I'd give it a shot with my kids. TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY that my students ENJOYED social studies. Today was the first day my students comprehended ANYTHING having to do with social studies...I just thought you would want to know that you made a difference in the lives of 18 children today, even though we are almost a continent away."
Do not underestimate your influence.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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