Two years ago, I used the Remind app to contact students. Last year, we tried out Class Messenger. Both apps had mixed results and the efficacy of the system kept sliding as the school year went on.
Some of the barriers included:
- Lack of #BYOD tools: Not many of my students have cellphones. Most of them have iPods that do not have data. They only receive the message when they get home and connect to their wireless router.
- Phone numbers change frequently: Due to the financial barriers that some parents in the community face, cellphone bills may not get paid in a timely manner. Cellphones can promptly be disconnected by service providers, but students do not inform me and do not attempt to reinstall the app or update to a new numbers. Months pass before I find out they’re not receiving messages or announcements.
- No phones: Some parents do not even have phones. They use Facebook Messenger to make calls at home.
- Difficult to replace phones: Broken phones are not easy to replace when you’re a student and don’t have money! We aren’t close to any stores either.
This year, I’ve resorted to using a Facebook page. Yes, I know, I know … Facebook is generally frowned upon by the educational community. It’s also blocked in most public schools, for obvious reasons. However, in a small town in the north, Facebook works like a phone book, a community board and radio station. I am not kidding when I say you can’t live without Facebook!
When I initially moved up north 5 years ago, I actually did not have a Facebook account. Eventually, I was forced to make an account to find out about community postings and get an idea of what was happening around town (i.e. snowstorms, blocked roads, store closures, trading, post office hours). I felt out of sync with the community until I finally signed on!
Our current school board’s policy is that teachers cannot add students as friends. This makes sense. However, it is acceptable for teachers to use Facebook as a means of communication to broadcast annoucements.
Last year, I made a private Facebook group for parents and students. It’s been extremely effective, this being our 2nd year using it. Parents really like being able to see what is happening. Having transparency as a teacher is very important, in a community where distrust of the school system* has a very strong emotional impact. I occasionally share photos that help give them an idea of what the classroom expectations are and how we have fun. I’ve even had an excited parent come to my classroom and ask, “Where’s the poster my son made? I saw it in your photos!”
However, I miss being able to schedule posts ahead of time; that was one of the best things about the Remind app! My students seem to read posts most frequently at night, but sometimes I am already in bed.
On the weekend, I finally tried doing some scheduled posts on HootSuite. The main interface is free, but posting into Facebook Groups requires a paid account. Guess I’ll make use of the 30-day free trial for now. It worked beautifully this morning and posted my message!
It’s great to have these tools. And tonight, I also discovered a Chrome extension too. Yay!
*Due to the history of residential schools in Canada, where children were removed from their homes and forced to go through “cultural cleansing”. The last residential school only closed in the 90s and many victims suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse.