Low-Tech Communication Tools

By Chuck Longfellow

Communication between school and home is essential to student achievement. Technology can ease this process by providing timely information about the things parents want and need to know about, including academics, special events, crisis management, and even policy or procedural changes.
Unfortunately, communication technologies often are relegated to the back burner in strategic plans. While we rush to implement flashy or expensive solutions, we sometimes bypass less glamorous communication technologies.

The telephone is a good example. It is still one of the best communication tools available. Nearly every home in the country has a cell phone, landline, or both. However, too many schools are operating with the same system they’ve had in place since the 1980s. They have a phone in the main office, another line for the principal, and one for the school nurse. The remaining professionals in the building are expected to share the phone in the faculty lounge.

Some schools don’t have voice mail, so incoming calls to teachers are logged on pink, “While You Were Out” slips and placed in teachers’ mail slots. But busy teachers rarely have time to stop by their mailbox during the day or empty it in the afternoon, so messages can go unnoticed for hours, even days.

With only a few phones available, and no chance for a private conversation about a student’s progress, teachers call parents from home at night. Using their own cell phones might be an option, if they aren’t in a building with poor cell reception. Also, many schools have banned student use of cell phones and expect teachers to model that policy.

Optimally, every classroom should have a phone with voice mail at the teacher’s desk. The location is important because our teachers need to be able to access their grade books, attendance sheets, discipline stats, assessment data, and other important information. The phone should have an indicator light for voice mails. Phones can be set not to ring during certain hours and to restrict outgoing long distance if necessary.

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