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Easy communication between school and home that doesn’t involve social media

November, 2018

School home communication

Communication between school and home should be effortless. At secondary level, many students are glued to their smartphone, relying on instant messaging, social media and text to communicate, with email increasingly seen as “old school”.

Schools are trying to engage with these new mediums, using Facebook or Twitter or other communication Apps to get the message out. However, these tools raise issues such as increasing administrative burdens for group leaders and teachers as they act as moderator, tackle inappropriate online behaviour and wrestle with ever changing privacy settings.

Parents and students can also be overwhelmed with the array of social media that they need to engage with – a Facebook page for rugby, a Twitter feed for events and cancellations, a Google page for class news and an email for school newsletters. Multiply the number of children, potentially attending different schools, and your parents will be looking back fondly on the days when their fridge was covered in bits of paper (or maybe the schools are still sending paper home too!).

School-links is now proud to release the new Beep App that aims to provide a universal platform for school to parent/caregiver and school to student communication.

Beep app

Beep is an App that can be easily used by all school managers, teachers and activity leaders to share notices and newsletters, group message sports teams, clubs, departments and classes and receive parent absence notes. For staff it provides one uncomplicated safe communication hub. For parents and students, all school and extra-curricular notices are in one place.

Beep is also inclusive, combining flawlessly with our School-links software, ensuring texts are sent to those without a smartphone, especially in an emergency situation.

Learn more

Contact us today to get started

 

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

February, 2018

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

The Jurassic Park movie would have ended a lot differently if the park coordinators had come up with a more robust emergency plan in the event of the power going out.

Although school emergency communication strategies don’t really need to plan for ‘in the event of cloned dinosaurs escaping’, we recommend for New Zealand schools to have reliable communication methods in place for the following situations:

  • Epidemic outbreaks
  • Floods
  • Cyclones
  • Fires
  • Earthquakes
  • Snow storms
  • Lock downs
  • Power outages

A student management system alone is not sufficient for emergencies

During an emergency or other disruptive event, schools are not only responsible for the safety of students, but also for communicating with parents to inform them of the situation and give them peace of mind.

For a few of these situations, (like epidemic outbreaks), it is probable that you would still have easy access to the school building and therefore, the computers. In this case, a messaging system from your SMS would suffice.

However, what if there was a power cut or the WiFi went out? What if there was a fire, earthquake or lockdown and you couldn’t access the school office? Would you still be able to get a message out to all parents quickly and easily using your SMS?

Real emergencies need purpose-built emergency messaging

New Zealand schools are generally confident with their method of communication…until an actual emergency occurs, and they realise there’s serious areas that need improvement.

This is precisely what happened to Wiremu Elliot, Principal of Lytton High School in Gisborne.

“We’ve got this list of every student and their family phone numbers in KAMAR, but that would be a nightmare to call or text everyone individually,” says Wiremu. “We had all these emergency processes but had never actually had to do a real one, it’s always been drills. So when it actually happened, that really highlighted the need to find a better way of getting that more personal contact.”

There was also the concern of trying to communicate to parents without power or access to school computers.

“It’s easy to post a message on Facebook but in an emergency what if we don’t have access to a computer? What if we have to evacuate?” questions Wiremu, “We were looking for smarter ways to do this.”

You can read more about Lytton High School’s emergency communication transformation in their case study.

Wiremu raised some good points.

It is important for your school have an easy strategy to inform parents about a closure or emergency that doesn’t rely on power or onsite computer access. It is much simpler to send out a mass message rather than contact each family individually. You also need visibility of any parents who did not receive your message and try to contact them another way. All these necessities can be accomplished through the right technology and processes being put in place.

How do you know if your communication channels are a bit ‘prehistoric’? Ask yourself the following.

Five questions to ask about your school communication strategy

  1. Do we have access to up-to-date family contact details?
  2. Can we access this information off-site?
  3. Do we have the ability to send emergency messages without access to power or school WiFi?
  4. Does our methodology allow us to send out a message to all parents instantly?
  5. Can we confirm that parents received the message?

If you answer no to any of the above questions, it may be time to evaluate your emergency communication plan.

The School-links Emergency Alert App is a reliable, easy to use and fast way to communicate parents during an emergency from your smart phone. Over 500 New Zealand schools and Early Childhood Centres are able to use School-links Emergency Alert system when they need to get a message through to parents urgently and reliably.

Watch the video below or visit the Emergency Alerts page for more information.

How an attendance management system can help reduce truancy rates

February, 2018

Following on from our last article on how parent engagement can help with reducing truancy rates at your school, having a Ministry of Education approved attendance management or early notification system can aid in this as well.

Early Notification (EN) is the use of text and/or email messages to notify parents that their child is inexplicably absent from school.

Parents have the opportunity to reply and notify the school of the reason for the absence (e.g. sickness) or that they aren’t aware of the absence, which could highlight a safety or truancy issue.

Wanganui City College is one school that has opted to use EN over traditional attendance management methods. Deputy Principal Doug Ewing says,

“The number one benefit to using School-links EN is the immediacy and the convenience of contacting parents for attendance matters. Rather than calling parents when a child is absent, secretarial staff send a text to parents about the situation. Email is a bit beyond where our parents are at as they’re mostly connected to texting on their cell phones – so texting is the most effective way to get a hold of them.”

Here are nine ways EN makes life easier for the school community:

Benefits of Early Notification for parents and caregivers

  • Fast notification of absences (which could potentially be a child safety issue).
  • Parents and caregivers can respond quickly and cost effectively.
  • It’s less embarrassing for parents or caregivers to respond to a text than a phone call if they have forgotten to notify the school of their child’s absence or/if the reason is personal.
  • Texting is more convenient for those who are unavailable to respond to personal calls during work or study hours.
  • Feedback from School-links’ customers, says that texts are the preferred method of school communication for most parents and caregivers.

Benefits of Early Notification for schools

  • Less time spent by the Attendance Officer in contacting caregivers of absent students.
  • Less expensive than calling mobile phones.
  • Responses go directly into the Student Management System and are easily viewed by the Attendance Officer, making them efficient to process (service offered by some EN providers).
  • Responses are saved in the Student Notes (service offered by some Student Management Systems).

To learn more about EN, download our white paper – The Role of Early Notification in Effective Attendance Management.

Having a Ministry of Education approved EN system can also potentially save your school money. Work out your potential savings with our handy calculator.

 

Reduce truancy rates by connecting with parents

January, 2018

Reduce truancy rates by connecting with parents

The issue of truancy for New Zealand schools reared its head again at the end of 2017, with attendance rates falling even further than previous years. The Ministry of Education reported the number of students regularly attending school fell from nearly 70 percent in Term 2, 2015 to 67 percent in the same period last year. Only 55 percent of Maori students were regularly showing up and 57 percent of Pacific students.

Increasing parent engagement and involvement at school and the wider school community is one way to help reduce truancy rates. Tai Tokerau/Northland Principal’s Association President, Pat Newman mentioned in this Radio NZ article that, “If you haven’t necessarily had a successful education when you were a pupil, then perhaps you don’t see it as important when you are a parent.”

This highlights that some parents may feel alienated, distrustful or disconnected with the school community. This should be of concern to schools, that parents who are involved in school life are more likely to be supportive of their child’s education and have better relationships with teachers.

Could your school put in more effort to include parents?

The key influencing predictor to parent support of their child’s learning is not parent or child behaviour or attitudes, but the school’s behaviour and attitude. When parents feel that the school is actively involving them, they generally respond by becoming more active in their child’s education.

Does your school have the right attitude to involving parents? Does it have an accommodating organisational structure? Are you using effective communication methodologies with your parents?

It is the school’s role to help parents feel welcome and to find a place in the school network where they feel valued and will make a positive impact.

However, even though some parents want to play a part in their child’s school life, they may not know how to contribute.

Check out this infographic for ideas on how parents can be involved in school life.

There are many different roles for parents to become involved that they may not be aware of. This is where strong communication between schools and families is essential.

Clear, effective communication between the school and parents will help to inform them of opportunities to contribute to the school and feel like the school really wants them to be a part of their community.

If cost and time consumption of regular communication to parents is a barrier, there are many technological alternatives to traditionally expensive letters, phone calls and paper notices.

Instant messaging apps, SMS integrated email and mass text messaging systems are popular, low cost communication options that schools across New Zealand are utilising to keep parents in the loop about school involvement opportunities.

Making parents feel more connected and involved with the school community can have a positive impact on their child’s education and relationship with the school, which is one way to help improve truancy rates in New Zealand.

To learn more about effective parent-school communication and strategies to involve parents at school, download the white paper: Upholding a Child’s Education – The Three-Legged Stool Effect.

parent engagement white paper call to action banner

[VIDEO] School-links Emergency Alerts App

November, 2017

As School Principal or Office Manager, how do you notify parents, students and staff in the event of an emergency?

Imagine there has been an earthquake, a fire alarm, or a bomb scare and you have had to evacuate the school. No access to Internet. No access to a computer… No problem.

  • Log in to your School-links Emergency Alert app from your smartphone.
  • Select your school.
  • Type your message in 160 characters or less.
  • Select who to send it to, and press broadcast. In no time at all, parents are notified and you and your staff can concentrate on the students.

School-links Emergency app keeps you in control, whatever the emergency. Learn more about emergency alert solutions for your school here.

 

The calm during the storm: how communication tools can minimise disruption to your school community

August, 2017

Most of New Zealand has been battered by storms over the last few weeks, from ice and snow closing roads to rain causing flooding, slips and states of emergency being declared across multiple cities and regions.

Fortunately for schools, a lot of this disruption happened during the school holidays. However, forecasters predict that we will likely experience more wild weather this winter, and with the grounds already saturated, it won’t take much to unsettle things again.

Emergency communications checklistDownload the New Zealand school emergency communication check-list.

It is a timely reminder for New Zealand schools to review their communications plans around disruptive weather events, and how they can could impact their school community – such as forced closures or creating dangerous travel conditions. Trying to understand how the the school community reacted to any unscheduled school closures, weather warnings and emergencies is useful:

  • Did parents understand that texts and emails are also school channels of communication and did not clog the phonelines ringing in?
  • Was the school able to warn parents about hazards or road closures that could affect their travel time to school?
  • Did staff understand their responsibilities when flooding made it evident the school needed to close immediately?
  • Did the school have reliable technology and processes in place to quickly reassure parents and communicate actions to take?

If you answered no to any of these questions, may need to implement a system that allows you to communicate to your school community in a quick, efficient and cost-effective manner. School administrators need to be the calm during the storm and ease concerns of parents, students and staff by keeping them updated and informed.

To help encourage effortless communication no matter the situation your school is facing, make sure your plan has the following features:

1. Remote access

Having remote access to a contacts list database will allow staff to access contact details immediately, wherever they may be. The easiest way to do this is by having your database accessible online. This way you don’t need to send anyone in to the school to send out a message – you just need access to the internet.

2. The ability to send one mass message

The most efficient way to notify parents of your school’s closure is to send out one mass notification message to a whole database. Sending an e-mail or text message, rather than relying on website notifications or phone trees, will save a lot of time and resources.

3. Delivery reports

Delivery reports are confirmations that show when each parent receives the text or e-mail. This will notify school staff of any parent who hasn’t received the message and alert them to take action to contact them by another communication channel.

4. Parents have confidence the school will contact them

Constantly remind parents that in the event of a school closure, the school will notify them. If parents do not know that they will be contacted by you, many will attempt to call the school to find out what is happening, resulting in the school phone system being inundated with calls and extra stress put on administration staff.

Being prepared now will save you from having even more stress during an already disruptive situation in the future. Click here to learn more about Newlands School’s experience during the Wellington 2016 earthquake and flooding and how they were able to “stomp on the rumours” and confusion at the time by using effective communication tools.

Learn more about school emergency procedures and lessons New Zealand schools have learned, in the white paper ‘Kia Kaha! Staying in control and effectively responding to emergencies at school’.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android

July, 2017

The School-links Emergency Alerts App allows schools to quickly and easily contact parents, caregivers, students and staff in an emergency. This video shows you how to use the App.

 

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to use the Emergency Alerts app on your smartphone or tablet.

Use the Emergency Alerts App to send text messages to staff, caregivers and students in minutes. You will then receive real-time delivery reports to enable you to identify parents who may need to be contacted by phone or email.

If you are unable to enter the school building or if the school network has taken a hit, you can use any smart device on the mobile network.

Examples of use include:

  • school closures
  • natural disasters
  • alerting staff and students to a lockdown unobtrusively

Accessing the Emergency Alerts App

  1. Tap the ‘My Schools’ app icon on your smartphone or tablet.
  2. Tap your School-links account. Note: the first time you log in you will be asked for your username and password, but from then on you will just need your pin code.
  3. If you are linked to more than one school, you will see all the schools listed.
  4. Choose the appropriate school and select ‘Visit as ‘Master’ and your previous messages will display, if any.

How to type an alert

  1. Tap the plus symbol in the top right corner.
  2. Type a message up to 160 characters.
  3. Include the school name or a recognised shortcode, preferably at the beginning of the message, so that parents have confidence about the source and can identify which child/school the message concerns.
  4. Note: in a critical emergency situation, you may not have time to review replies. We recommend that if you have characters available then add ‘Do Not Reply’ or similar.
  5. Click ‘Save’ to come back to the message later or click ‘Save and send’ to broadcast the message immediately.

How to send an alert

  1. First, select your target audience. You can select more than one. Tap again to de-select if you make a mistake. Note that you cannot drill down any further e.g. to year level – messages will simply be sent to everyone in this category.
  2. To send, tap ‘Broadcast Now’. You cannot stop the message after this point. If you do want to edit it before broadcasting, select the back arrow in the top left.
  3. Once you have tapped ‘broadcast’, you will see the message at the top of the list of messages. It will say ‘pending’. After a few moments, if you refresh your screen or go back to the Visit as Master screen and select ‘visit as master’ the message status will say ‘broadcast’.
  4. If you have saved a message previously, it will show up in this list as a draft. You can tap on the message to edit it or broadcast it.

How to access the delivery report

  1. To access a delivery report, log in as previously and tap on the message.
  2. You will see how many were delivered successfully, how many failed and any replies, if you requested a reply.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via our online support forum or free phone number.

How parent engagement can help with attendance management

July, 2017

How parent engagement can help with attendance management

The recent Ministry of Education report on student attendance rates, also highlighted that Maori and Pasifika students had the lowest attendance rates, with only just over 50 per cent, of these students regularly attending school.

While this is alarming, unfortunately this is not new information. Research into the subject shows that there are a number of factors that play a part in this, but one thing that schools can do to improve student attendance rates is to increase parent engagement with the school and encourage a more culturally inclusive school community.

Is your school putting in enough effort to include parents?

The key influencing predictor to parent support of their child’s learning is not parent or child behaviour or attitudes, but the school’s behaviour and attitude. When parents feel that the school is actively trying to involve them, they generally respond by becoming more involved in their child’s education. You can read one of our previous blogs to see how you can encourage parents to connect.

Unlock the parent potential

As always, communication is the key here. Communities are about relationships. Relationships are about communication. Help your students’ parents feel included and find their identity within their child’s school life through effective, regular communication.

To learn more about effective parent-school communication and strategies to involve parents at school, download the white paper.

Importance of parent engagement for schools

How to empower parents to help reduce truancy in New Zealand

July, 2017

How to empower parents to help reduce truancy in New Zealand

Is Early Notification absent at your school? Increase parent awareness of truancy by keeping them informed with easy communication apps.

A recent Ministry of Education report showed that student attendance rates were falling across New Zealand. 76,500 students were away from school each day in 2016. That equates to 10.2 per cent of students, up from 9.9 per cent in 2015.

Truancy costs schools significant time and resources

For schools that don’t have an early notification system in place and have to follow up on absent students manually, this rise in unexplained absences will also require an increase in time and money spent locating these absent students. For example, a school with a roll of 1000 students with a 10.2 per cent truancy rate can cost the school $20,400 per year in time spent following up and making phone calls. You can see for yourself what this could equate to for your school by using this calculator.

As well as potential significant cost savings to your school by having an early notification attendance management system, there are many other benefits such as student safety and providing a quicker and more convenient method for parents to be aware and respond.

Benefits of Early Notification for parents and caregivers

  • Fast notification of absence (which could potentially be a child safety issue).
  • Parents and caregivers can respond quickly and cost effectively.
  • It’s less embarrassing for them to respond to a text than a phone call if they had forgotten to notify the school of their child’s absence or the reason for the child’s absence is personal.
  • Texting is more convenient for those who are unavailable to respond to personal calls during work or study hours.
  • Feedback from our customers, says that texts are the preferred method of school communication for most parents and caregivers.

Benefits of Early Notification for Schools

  • Less time spent by the Attendance Officer in contacting caregivers of absent students.
  • Less expensive than calling mobile phones.
  • Responses go directly into the Student Management System and are easily viewed by the Attendance Officer, making them efficient to process (service offered by some EN providers).
  • Responses are saved in the Student Notes (service offered by some Student Management Systems).

Click here, to find out more about how an early notification system can help your school.

Want to learn more? Enquire now.

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