Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Connecting Through Communication

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw

When we want to visit with friends and family, we usually grab our phone and call or send a message. But what about when we need to communicate with students, colleagues, parents, community, and other educators? As educators, we have the need to connect with so many different groups.  We must find the best way to do this with each group and unfortunately, not all groups use the same type of communication tools! We have so many choices today--text, imessage, email, google chats, hangouts, twitter, facebook, messenger, etc. These are all great tools but they are only useful if you can reach your targeted audience. Below, I am highlighting some of the tools I am currently using for communication and how I use them. Hopefully, you will find at least one of these to be useful also!


Slack is probably one of my most favorite “new” tools. Slack is a messaging app for teams. What I like most about Slack is the ability to organize the team conversations into open channels. Channels can be created for topics, teams, or anything that you want to discuss. Private channels and direct messaging are also available. Our district has recently begun to use the free version of Slack and it is amazing the dialogue and channels that have been created. Users can use slack as an ios app, chrome app, or website. I find this tool most useful to collaborate and discuss upcoming issues and topics with staff in our district. We also use it to share our blog posts and school twitter feed. For more information, visit https://slack.com/


Bloomz is a new tool that we have recently begun using with our elementary staff. It is a great tool to connect with parents. Bloomz lets our teachers share information and photos. Our teachers used Bloomz to schedule Parent Teacher Conferences. This service let teachers send invites to parents for conferences and parents could sign up for the time slot that best fit their schedule. Bloomz also connects parents and classrooms with reminders and class calendars. We are using this service school wide so not only are parents a member of a specific class but the elementary community.  At this time, Bloomz is in beta, and we are using this service at no cost. Our teachers love the features of posts, announcements, private communication, and sign ups for events and volunteers.  For more information, visit http://bloomz.net/.


Many of you have heard of voxer but if you haven’t, this is a great tool to connect and collaborate with others. Voxer is a “walkie-talkie” app for smartphones (however, you can log in on a computer also) that lets you send voice messages. You are not limited to voice, you can also send text, images, links, and videos. I use voxer to connect with different Professional Learning Groups that are a vital part of my own professional growth. Any time I have a specific question or need help with something, I choose one of my voxer groups and send it out. Almost immediately I will get a response to help me solve my issue. Even though I have used voxer mainly to connect with others outside of my district, it is a great tool for our staff to use when we are attending a conference. We always use it for NETA & ISTE to communicate with the group of attendees. By creating a voxer group, we can find each other, share information we learned, or just plan where we are meeting. Voxer is a must for your group at this year’s NETA conference! For more information on voxer, visit http://voxer.com/.


One of the hardest groups to communicate with is our students! We all know that they don’t check their email! Students have figured out what works best for them to communicate with each other--social media! They communicate through messages, tweets, and snaps. It becomes a little trickier when I need to communicate with a group of our students. I put it on twitter, facebook, and instagram, but I am not assured it will reach each one of them. One tool that has helped with communicating to a group of students is Remind. Remind lets me send messages to students without having their cell phone numbers or giving them my number. I use remind to send out quick notifications and reminders and know it is safe. Many schools are beginning to use a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Canvas or Schoology and it has also made communication easier between student and teacher. However, if you really want to reach a wide group of students, tell your story on twitter, instagram or snapchat! For more information on remind visit https://www.remind.com/.


twitter.pngFor our district, Facebook and Twitter are still our best tools to reach our community and parents. Many parents are already using these social media tools so it only makes sense to use a platform they are familiar with. Parents love photos and both of these tools allow you to convey your message with photos or text. Messages placed in photos seem to reach more parents and these image updates are being shared more frequently. I have found tools like canva (https://www.canva.com/)  make it very easy to place a message into an image and post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It is also very important to use your school hashtag and promote the hashtag in a variety of ways. 
no school snow day.jpg

There are so many ways to communicate today and it is a moving target. What works today may not be here tomorrow. Even though I use all of the services I listed above, I still connect through other tools such as instagram, google, and basic email. I am learning to communicate through snapchat because that is what our teens prefer.  This past week of High School FBLA chapter attended their State Convention. Through snapchat stories, I had the opportunity to follow along with their day's activities and successes. It was awesome and I finally GOT IT--now I understand why snapchat is popular among our teens! 

I am not debating the importance of face-to-face communication nor am I saying these should replace physical voice communication, however; I know that we have to go to where the audience is.  As educators, we have to find what works the best to communicate with our parents, colleagues, students, community, and professional learning network. We also need to realize that we need to be flexible and change as the mode changes.

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