Educational institutions are using a mix of emails, apps, websites, apps and paper notices to communicate with parents. At times it feels overwhelming and it’s hard to keep up at home and school.
So why aren’t more schools using SMS – a proven fast and reliable way to communicate particularly in urgent cases – for parent teacher communication?
The challenge: Communication between school and parents
It is to their detriment that the education sector is still heavily reliant on traditional methods. Unfortunately, especially in times of emergency, these channels are not the best way to keep parents engaged and to reach them quickly.
One parent complained of her school trying to call her at work as her children had not arrived at after-school care on time. Because they used a private number and she was in a meeting, she did not pick up. If they had sent SMS alerts, a single glance at her mobile phone would be enough to know it was from the school and potentially an urgent issue.
Many parents nowadays fail to answer their phones. In fact, millennials are leading the trend of not using phones for voice calls. 63% find texting less disruptive than voice calling and 53% generally prefer to send SMS than call. As these are the parents of the future, schools will need to adapt to their ways of communicating.
The survey also found that 19% millennials admitted they never check voicemail. Listening to a message requires on average no less than seven taps, and all attention must be focused on the action. It’s no small wonder that most won’t be able to listen to a message during a busy work day.
Why school communication apps aren’t the answer
Many schools are investing in apps that often don’t deliver what they promise. When schools build specific communication apps, the process can be quite expensive and most will use it, above all others tools, for all notices. The problem most parents find is that they are often non-intuitive, have clunky interfaces and poor user faces. Another challenge is that notifications are often so prolific that most parents will switch off using them.
Our school uses an app, which means we have to go and LOOK for any notices. Until I installed the actual app, I had to log into their website to read anything. My problem with it as a communication platform is that it’s yet another app I have to install. And if I don’t have it installed there are absolutely no real-time messages.Rick Measham, School parent
The statistics confirm our dwindling love affair with apps. More than half of consumers don’t download any apps in a month. We tend to use the same 7 to 10 apps constantly, very quickly deleting those we don’t like (21 percent of users abandon an app after just one use).
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6 practical school SMS use cases
Here’s some ideas on how you can start using school texts and SMS reminders to drive more effective communications and increase parent involvement:
1. Parent teacher interviews
Every term, parent/teacher interviews must run like clockwork. With only 10-15 minutes per child over several hours, no-shows – and especially late arrivals – can really throw out everyone’s schedule.
Integrate SMS into your scheduling system so you can make full use of automated reminders. Schedule them to go 1 day or a few days before so that parents ensure they are on time and attend.
2. Event or holiday reminders
Classroom management and schedules are important to keep. Between fundraisers, sports events, themed days, Book Week, holidays and many other events, the school year calendar is always busy.
Help keep parents on top of the school term with bulk SMS. Alerts can be programmed to the entire student population or can target specific classes for an upcoming event. Parents will thank you for any assistance you can provide in helping them stay on top of their child’s activities!
3. Absentee students
Absentees can create lots of challenges for parents, teachers and students too. Take care of the problem by using SMS to automatically notify parents when students are absent without notice.
[The school] sends me a message if [my daughter] is not at school which, for the parent of a challenging child, is gold. You can then do whatever you need to – whether that’s look for the child, try to call them, or text them. You can’t always answer the phone. You might be driving, in a meeting or something similar. A text message gives you the information immediately and you know exactly what it’s about. You can then make a judgement call whether it is something required to act on urgently, or if it can wait for later.Andrew Bester, School parent
4. Proactive alerts
Send bulk SMS messages to notify parents of information such as system outages or phone lines not working. In the case of practice emergency drills, send alerts to notify parents, especially those living locally, that this is purely a drill.
Our school uses SMS for wider notices, such as when phones or email are down: this is helpful.Julian Smith, School parent
5. Emergency communications
Send emergency notifications to thousands of parents with just a click of the mouse. In the case of school lockdowns, all parents can be notified immediately and informed of emergency procedures.
The school has sent SMS to warn of a nearby bushfire to the school and once of a school lockdown regarding a stranger in the grounds. I like SMS more as I never pay enough attention to the app. I have too many apps and often don’t notice that there is a notification, so SMS is better.Brooke McGlashan, School parent
6. Easy, one-tap payments
Many schools are still using cash to pay for excursions or special days. This creates work for teachers or parent volunteers to process payments and organise, if necessary, cash change.
SMS can be used to authorise these and other payments. Parents register once with their credit card details, and thereafter simply click ‘P’ in response to a text with the details of the amount due and the type of payment. Include a short trackable link to the school or other website for more information if necessary.
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Final thoughts, further reading
As busy parents continue to struggle with the volume of communication from their children’s school, it can be difficult to pinpoint the urgent or important messages.
Consider using SMS to improve communications now. Find out how text messaging can help you and your school. If you’re still unsure, make sure to check out: