The Single Most Important (and Underrated) App for Educators

I’m not gonna lie, I absolutely love my smartphone!  I’m really not sure how I taught (or drove, cooked meals, woke up, took pictures, or passed time in the doctor’s office) without it!  On the rare occasion I leave my phone at home, I feel like I’m missing an article of clothing!  I’m even guilty of experiencing those odd, phantom vibrations when I think my phone is ringing in my pocket, even when it’s not there!

I have several “important” apps: Tweetcaster, Facebook, Dropbox, and Google Drive to name a few.  I couldn’t see myself surviving the week without Alarm Clock, Google Maps, and Email.  The Chat, Calendar and Camera apps round out my list of “Must Haves.”

But there’s an app on my smartphone that doesn’t get much use.  This app is available for iPhone and Android devices, as well as Windows Phones, Blackberries, and others.  It’s free, and comes pre-installed on every phone sold today.  This app could be the single most important tool for educators, but it is rarely used.  If we really want to transform education today, I believe teachers and administrators must use this app daily.

The Phone App

That’s right.  The Phone App is the single most important (and underrated) app for educators today.  There’s even an offline version of this app on most teachers’ desks.  The app allows one to enter a series of numbers on a keypad, press send, and within a few seconds a conversation can  begin.

How can educators use this app?

What if the practice in your school was to always call parents before using any other means of communication?  We could see real improvement in the area of parent/teacher communication.  I believe we can literally transform our schools if we can shift our primary mode of school/home communication from emails to phone calls.

Positive Communication

If teachers knew their first communication with a parent would be via telephone, they might be more inclined to make it a positive one.  Todd Whitaker talks about making “positive parent phone calls” in his book, Dealing with Difficult Parents. As a principal he realized that very few teachers were making positive communications with parents.  The only contact teachers were making with parents was negative.  Teachers made a school wide effort to make at least one positive phone call each week.  Making positive phone calls helped improve student behavior and strengthened the school-to-home relationships.  How would you feel if your child’s teacher called one evening just to say how polite and respectful your student was?  There might be extra dessert at our house that night!

When Tone is Important

Any time a teacher or administrator communicates with a parent about a negative situation, tone becomes one of the most important pieces of the conversation.Conveying tone in an email is difficult, if not impossible.  In my opinion, a phone call (or even better, a face to face conversation) is the only way to communicate bad news to parents.

Email is an excuse

Email is an excuse; a cop out.  I’ve heard it over and over, “I don’t have time to call all these parents!”  I think we may be kidding ourselves here.  In my opinion, we don’t have time not to call them.  The extra minute or two it takes to make a phone call will be worth the effort!  Making the phone call shows parents we really do care about the student’s improvement.

Why don’t we use our Phone App?

Let’s just be honest, we can’t stand conflict!  We don’t want to deal with it.  And hiding behind an email allows us to eliminate (or more likely, prolong) the conflict.  But what I have found is, even though it may be difficult to make that phone call, once the conversation begins, the parent is supportive, cordial, and appreciative of me for taking the time to call.  And more often than not, they aren’t surprised, because they see the same issues at home!

It doesn’t always happen like that, though.  There are times when parents aren’t so happy to hear from us.  But I’d rather have that difficult conversation on the phone, than give them time to put together a reply to an email!

Making the call

Making phone calls to parents is definitely stressful.  There’s a fear of the unknown as we sit there hoping to reach their voicemail!  But there are some things we can do to make the call easier for us:

  • Use a script.  I always use the same script when I make a parent phone call.  I would encourage new teachers, or those who are nervous about making calls, to literally write out a script.  It should say something like, “Hi, my name is ________________. I’m (student’s name)’s (whatever you are).  I’m sorry to bother you at (home, work, the bar) but I wanted to talk to you about your (son/daughter).  Do you have a minute?”  Then I would make a few notes about what I wanted to discuss.  Make sure to end the conversation by telling the parent how much you appreciate their time.
  • Practice. I’ve always thought it would be helpful to have a few hours in a staff development where teachers could practice making parent phone calls.  Experienced teachers and those more comfortable making phone calls could model and offer suggestions to new teachers.
  • Make Email the Exception. Make it a priority to call instead of email whenever possible.  Repetition will make future calls easier.

If you want to change the culture of your school, classroom, or principal’s office, make your Phone App your most important app!




Why Daily Classroom Meetings are Important

Special thanks to fifth grade teachers Jodi Mills, Ashlee Smith, Jennifer Dye, and Shirlee Ward for contributing to this article.

Every morning as I walk the fifth grade hallway, I see the same basic pattern: students put their backpacks away and gather their supplies for the day, teachers take attendance, organize their own supplies, and visit with students about last night’s sporting events, tv shows, homework, etc.  After the commotion subsides, everyone moves to a central location for their daily “Class Meeting.”  While this may seem trivial at first, I believe it could be the most important part of the day for these students.

I asked some of the Timberview Fifth Grade Teachers to answer a few questions about class meetings.  Here are their responses:

The Purpose of the Class Meeting 

  • Builds trust and team unity
  • Gives students time to share what they think could improve our school/classroom
  • Builds relationships, both student to student and teacher to student
  • It’s a great time to get to know each other.
  • It’s a quick check of how kids are feeling and what issues might be going on that might affect learning.
  • Gives students a time to be heard; to voice celebrations, concerns, and compliments.
  • Offers an opportunity to clarify issues and problems, and offer solutions
  • Reminders about expectations/changes to the daily schedule
  • Sets the tone for the day.

What Happens in a Fifth Grade Class Meeting?

  • “I always have students share something short at the beginning – How are you feeling on a scale of 1-10? Give a compliment to someone on our team.  Then  we check the ‘Class Meeting Box’ which is basically a parking lot for concerns.  After that we talk about what our day will look like, answer questions, and discuss important topics for the day.”

What is the Role of the Teacher in these Meetings?

  • The teacher guides students in appropriate discussion.  Students learn to share in positive ways and look for solutions, instead of just complaining.  The teacher listens to the students and tries to incorporate the suggestions and ideas into the classroom.

Outcomes of Classroom Meetings:

  • Real improvement of processes such as restroom time, dismissal procedures, and classroom rapport.
  • Students feel more ownership of their classroom and school because they see how they can make a difference.
  • Helps students deal with “Real Situations.”  A teacher shared with me a time they helped a student deal with the loss of a family pet by allowing other students to share their experiences.

Other Information Our Teachers Want You to Know about Classroom Meetings:

  • The meetings seem time consuming, but they are proactive, and save A LOT of time in the long run!
  • It might be even harder to find time to do this at the middle/high grade level, but might be even more important to their learning!
  • “I’m so happy we do this.  Kids and I love that time together, and our class is ‘kinder’ because of it.

Students deserve to have a voice when it comes to their learning.  Daily classroom meetings allow them to be heard!  In my opinion, that’s time well spent!



Spotlight on Timberview: TMS Student Council

This is the second “Spotlight on Timberview” guest blog.  This week’s blog was written by TMS Student Payton C. and describes the school’s Student Council Program.  Thanks to Payton for taking the time to write this fantastic post, and to STUCO sponsors Melissa Gresham and Katie Shropshire for their commitment to these students!

TMS Student Council, by Payton C.

Our student council includes about 65 fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.  These students all went through an application process to be a part of this organization.  Timberview Student Council is a group of dedicated kids who are always willing to help.  The Student Council values each student’s different interests, and they have 5 committees to fit those interests: D.A.S.H (Drugs, Alcohol, Safety, and Health), Community Service, Pride and Patriotism, Energy and Environment, and Teacher Appreciation. Along with making an impact in their school, TMS StuCo is also about team building, and the students meet as a group at least once a month.  This meeting is a great place for kids to have fun, be heard, and learn how to work with others.

Middle Level District 3 Retreat – Photo by Carrie Jackson

By working together, they have already completed many projects in their school and community such as handing out teacher gifts, hosting the Middle Level District 3 Retreat, informing students of bike & helmet safety, and much more! They are currently working on Operation Christmas Child and the Veteran’s Day Breakfast coming up this Friday, November 9th.  Each student in this group leads by example and strives to be a good role model for other students and schools.  They are the voice of Timberview and do an excellent job of representing their peers.