Before Internet and cellphones, people only had landline phones as tools for instant communication. K-12 schools and their communities used these phones to form a Call Tree – an emergency communication system where one designated person triggers a pyramid-like cascade of phone calls. The way it works is, the designated person calls 2 people and these 2 people each call a new set of 2 individuals, who in turn call the next set, and so on until everyone in the community is notified.
Of course there are limitations to this system. The most important is that you would have to be home to accept the call or the pyramid will be broken. There were no cell phones you could carry with you anywhere or email you could send en masse.
Although technology has moved forward leaps and bounds from the awkward days of phone trees or call trees, the K-12 school system remains largely the same as it was decades ago. And with it are all the same issues that need to be addressed such as effective communication from the school to the rest of the community, especially the stakeholders.
Schools have the obligation to notify parents of emergencies and other situations involving their children. With varying solutions like mobile apps and platforms around, schools need to know which system is best for their school and how to use existing technologies to achieve effective mass communication.
Here are just some recommendations to keep in mind:
Designate Authorized Personnel to Trigger Home to School Communication
Identify school administrators or faculty who are authorized to use your school notification system. Varying information from official school channels would only cause confusion and unnecessary panic, especially in case of emergencies.
During inclement weather, for example, the school can use notifications systems to issue early school cancellations or delays to prevent students from getting stranded on the way to school. Only an authorized school official should be able to issue the notification to avoid confusion.
Make Sure the Information to be Disseminated is Accurate and Up to Date
School websites have to be updated regularly to keep the school community informed about the latest school activities. Get rid of stale content and instead add new and fresh photos to recent school events.
In addition, your school newsletter should be made accurate with verified information before printing or mass mailing. Even with a school paper’s tiny circulation, it should still follow basic journalistic principles of truthful and accurate reporting.
Prevent mistakes in sports and club-meeting announcement by double-checking the date, time, and place. Share consistent information on all official school channels to make sure people show up to these events.
Prepare the School Community for New School Notification Systems
Even before deciding on a vendor for any new school notification system, administrators need the buy-in of the community it will serve.
There should be proper training and demonstration before actual implementation so everyone who would be using the system would know how it could improve their school processes. Having said that, training should not be limited to school personnel. Parents and students who would also be interacting with the app or platform should also be provided with training so they can use the system consistently.
Notify Only the Persons Concerned
School notification systems are no longer exclusive for emergency situations. Multi-purpose notification systems can also notify parents of early dismissals, school activities, PTA Meetings, and more.
Notify only concerned or affected individuals by using targeted notification. This helps parents and students filter out information they need such as class field trips for certain grade levels only or PTA meetings for committee members.
Provide Means of Two-Way Communication
Mass notification from school to parents and students used to be one-sided. School officials give announcements while parents and students listen. They are not expected to give their input at all.
But communication is a two-way street. Parents need a means to reach faculty and administration if there are issues regarding their children. In this way, questions are answered and conflicts are resolved quicker.
Issues such as bullying, truancy, falling grades, and more can escalate with more serious and lasting consequence to students if not addressed immediately. This is why open communication between parents and teachers is critical for a student’s success.
Make Use of Text or Phone Calls During Power Outages
During weather disturbances like storms, blizzards, and tornados, power lines could be compromised, which means the Internet is also out. Schools should be able to make of use alternative communication like texts to alert their communities.
Parents and staff phone numbers should be available for offline communication in case of power outages. Have a list ready and designate authorized individuals to make the calls.
Do Not Overuse Your Notification System
School notification systems, especially those that are exclusively for emergencies, should not be used haphazardly. Multi-functional notification systems for school calendar activities should also be used wisely.
Constant push notifications could cause a form of alarm fatigue in parents or students receiving them. De-sensitized users of the system might ignore critical announcements due to the previous stream of unimportant notifications.
Utilize Social Media Sites
Encourage the school community to follow your schools’ official social media accounts. And if you don’t already have one, it’s imperative that you create some and designate someone as your school’s official social media manager.
Make sure any notification system your school uses is integrated with your school’s social media accounts. These days, students and parents are more likely to view news and important announcements in social media feeds rather than traditional media.
Evaluate Your Mass Communication System
In every process and every industry, it is important to keep assessing and innovating. During implementation of any new notification system, ask feedback from the users – from teachers to parents and students to see what works and what could be improved upon.