Sunday, March 17, 2013

3 innovative ways to connect with parents via talking on a cell phone

This piece was originally posted in SmartBlog on Education.

We all know we can use cell phone to make calls, but few realize all the innovative ways simple phone calling technology can help us in building the home-school connection.  If you know how to pick up a phone and dial, then it’s time to pick it up a notch and learn about some free and easy to use resources that will help you coordinate and connect with parents in powerful and exciting ways.  

1) iPadio
Wouldn’t it be great to have a weekly podcast for parents?  While the idea sounds good, when we think of podcasting it often seems confusing and hard to put together. Not so with a phonecasting service like iPadio. All you need to know how to do is dial a phone number and speak. Then boom! Your phonecast is instantly published and can be shared via your website, blog, email, or text.  

6th grade language arts and social studies teacher Josh Stumpenhorst creates phonecasts for his class in Naperville, IL. He uses phonecasts as a way to communicate to parents and students about what he is doing in his classroom. This window into his classroom provides students, their families, and other interested school community members with up to date information about what is being done in class.

Teachers can use iPadio to bridge the home-school connection by wearing a basic headset that comes with every cell phone and recording unit mini lessons with iPadio. This is a great way for students who were absent to catch up on what the class is doing, for students who need a lesson review, as well as for parents who are wondering, “What did my child learn in school today.” Teachers could even record several mini lessons in advance of a unit and let students flow through at their own pace.

Students could be brought in to help create Phonecasts that shared school news, upcoming events, students of the month, or celebrated student work and/or teacher successes.

2) Voki
Vokis provide a great way to stay connected with parents. With Voki you can share a message using an animated avatar that talks created using your own voice recorded right from your phone. You can design your avatar’s appearance, add voice, and can get an embed code to pop it into any web2.0 compatible site (Wikis, Blogs, Facebook, Websites) or even an old school powerpoint. The avatar moves and speaks based on what you say.

Since Vokis are easily embeddable school staff often use Voki to record introduction messages for their school websites. For example, special education teacher Kim Gill embedded a Voki to welcome students and parents to their home page. ( 

Primary school Principal Greg Miller recorded a personalized welcome message and embedded onto the school website which you can see here. Primary school enrichment teacher Jennifer Matthews has students create Vokis to show what they know. She places their Vokis onto the class page of her website and shares them with parents to give provide insight into what their children are learning in class.

Not only does Voki provide a fun way to share information with parents but you can also capture anyone’s message with a cell phone. This means once you set up the Voki up on any computer you can hand phone to a student, teacher, principal or yourself to capture a powerful words and ideas to share.

3) Google Voice

Contact is key. Our constituencies want us to be accessible, however, 24/7 access isn’t always possible, nor should it be. Chris Casal, the technology teacher & tech coordinator at PS 10 Brooklyn uses his Google Voice number on a daily basis to keep the parent-teacher line of communication open & accessible as well as serve as a point of contact available to all members of the school community.

Google Voice is a free service through Google. If you are a Google Apps school or just have a GMail account, you can get a GVoice phone number by visiting If you don’t have a GMail account you can create one for free at

This can be useful for connecting and coordinating with parents by acting as your personal secretary. Google Voice transcribes your messages, allowing you to skip messages from callers you don't want to hear from, and inviting you to eavesdrop as a message is being left for you. Record yourself! Just leave yourself a Google voicemail to capture a recording with important information for parents. That message can be emailed or texted to parents. With Google Voice you can easily share messages with your school administrator. Rather than explaining to your principal details about a message a concerned parent left, Google Voice lets you forward the audio message and transcript via email. Nothing is lost in translation.

If you’re looking for a way to stay connected and provide parents with a sense of unfettered access without your phone ringing off the hook, Google Voice may be just what you’re looking for.. It is a free, simple way to offer a single point of contact you can access  in various ways, often replying more quickly since you are not reliant on a single voicemail box or physical handset.

So, what do you think? Could some of these resources be helpful in building the home-school connection where you work? Which ideas do you think will be, or have you experienced as being, successful? Are there challenges or concerns that are getting in the way of you implementing some of these ideas? If so, what are they?

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