September 2016, Vol. 1

Platforms for safer teacher-student communication

Technology is becoming more and more of an integral part of our schools in a variety of ways and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. One of the elements of education that has shifted from old-fashioned to modern is how educators are communicating with their students, particularly outside of class.
 
Only a decade ago, if a student forgot their reading assignment for the night, they were left with only a couple alternatives—frantically search for a classmate with the assignment or go to school unprepared for class the following day. In this modern day and age, students can simply text, send a message through a variety of social media platforms, or contact their teacher through virtually endless other online mediums to get the assignment required.
 
This communication can be vastly beneficial for those who use it properly, but it also can be used in a number of iniquitous and inappropriate ways. State investigations into teacher-student relationships are at a record high, with 207 cases opened by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in the last 11 months. The ease with which ill-minded teachers can communicate with children is a major contributor to the rise of inappropriate conduct during recent years.
 
Companies like Remind101 recognized the correlation between the unrestrained communication between teachers and students and the increase in inappropriate relationship cases and developed technology they hope will reduce and limit those interactions.
 
Remind101’s app, “Remind: Fast, Efficient School Messaging,” allows teachers to send messages, announcements, and files to their students. Both district administrators and parents are allowed access to view these interactions, so there is a high level of accountability and transparency embedded in the app’s design.
 
Mary Ellen Conner, the director of personnel services at Dayton ISD, employs the use of the Remind app in her district with great success.
 
“The remind app works well because it has a way to log messages to and from teachers,” she said. “An administrator can have viewing rights to all of the classes on campus.”
 
Conner said her district enforces specific guidelines when using the app.
 
“All teachers are required to let an administrator have viewing rights to their Remind accounts,” she said. “If they have a social media page, they are required to have an administrator who has managerial rights to the social media account.”
 
Rules for use of social media practices are outlined in TASB HR Services' Model Employee Handbook (available to members in myTASB). Sample guidelines include limiting communications to matters within the scope of the teacher’s professional responsibilities, copying the student’s parents or guardians on all messages, and prohibiting employees from knowingly communicating with students through a personal social network page.
 
Another commonly-used group messaging platform is SchoolWay. With more than 580 districts in 42 states participating, the app is one of the fastest-growing communication tools nationwide. In addition to providing monitored teacher-student messaging, it also serves as an extension of the district homepage when alerting students and parents of school closures and other larger-scale events. Coaches can notify athletes of practice cancellations and other relevant information for events happening outside of school hours.
 
The key to facilitating effective teacher-student communication is monitoring and documenting the interactions between them. Requiring all teachers to use an approved group messaging platform like Remind or SchoolWay keeps communication on topic and to the point.
 
Technology is a privilege that can be used as an effective tool to promote appropriate and productive communication between educators and learners. Make sure your district is using it the right way by considering the provisions in the Model Employee Handbook and using safe, transparent messaging systems.