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Avoid the embarrassment of a mass email blunder

Posted by on 10 March 2015

young business woman stressed at work2

 

A couple of weeks ago, Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, was left red faced after hundreds of students received incorrect acceptance letters. 800 prospective students received an email congratulating them on their enrolment offer to a very select program. This was followed up several hours later with a retraction email and apology stating that actually, students had not been accepted, sending hundreds of students to voice their outrage on social media.

This is not the first time this has happened in the last couple of years, two other major American Universities mistakenly sent incorrect acceptance letters and financial aid instructions to large groups of unqualified students.

Ensuring that emails are not sent to the wrong groups of students can greatly affect whether your message is received and interpreted properly. Carnegie Mellon’s mistake definitely got the message through to students, but it was unfortunately aimed at the wrong people.

New Zealand schools wouldn’t necessarily suffer as dramatically as the above examples, but it is still important to avoid mass email mistakes. Emails to specific, targeted groups of students can streamline communication processes around events, cancellations and other important information and is a useful tool for administrators. The lists are usually correct when they are first created, but as time goes on and students move in and out of different groups, it can become difficult to tell if you have the most up to date information, putting you at risk of information being received by the wrong students or applicable students missing out.

However, there are two contributors to this maintenance - the school and the parents. If the lists are correct, but the contact information for the parents is wrong, the message is never going to reach its intended destination.

To make it easier for administrators, we have put together some tips to ensure that the message is getting through to the right people:

  • Send regular reminders to parents to update their contact information with the school. The start of a new school term is always a good time to do this as newsletters aren’t too full with vital information and general housekeeping is expected.
  • Send regular reminders to coaches, tutors and group leaders to check their student lists and ensure they are up to date. Again, this can be a start of the term activity where you can encourage group leaders to get into the habit of running a quick check of their lists.
  • Miscommunication can also be an issue, so creating clear and concise messages can help to avoid this. State the important information at the start of a message with any actions required afterwards to help effectively communicate to parents what is going on and what they need to do.

Hopefully, the systems that you have in place will avoid a large scale embarrassment like that faced by Carnegie Mellon University, but taking extra steps to avoid smaller mix ups and miscommunications is also important. Remember that school communications is a two-way relationship so try to build a culture of the school and parents regularly updating information to ensure your messages get to the right people.

For more information on how to ensure a message gets through to parents, check out these helpful guides with tips, checklists and templates.

 

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The risk of having incorrect parent contact information

Posted by Andrew Balfour on 19 February 2015 - Tags

Table flipThere have been a few instances in the news lately where the importance for maintaining up to date contact information for parents has been highlighted. In these cases, schools have tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with parents when their child has failed to turn up to school.

Most schools have a system in place to instantly contact parents when a child is absent or an important message needs to be sent home. However, this is completely irrelevant if the parent doesn’t receive this message because of old and incorrect contact information.

We’ve put together three key tips which you, as a school, can implement to help ensure that parent contact details are kept up to date.

Regular reminders
Instead of relying on parents to remember a message they received when they first arrived at your school, send them regular reminders to update their contact information. The beginning of a new term is a good time to do this as everyone is fresh and because this only occurs four times a year, it isn’t seen as a nuisance. Including a note in regular newsletters can also be a friendly, non-invasive way to remind parents to update their information.

Maintaining member lists
The member lists that you keep for teams, groups and classes are a good way to easily contact specific groups of students and their parents. Keeping these as up to date as possible will help to ensure the right people are receiving the right message. When children leave or join teams, groups or classes, update them in your member lists. This way you can ensure that you have done everything you can at your end to get the message through to the parents.

Building early relationships
A child arriving at your school for the first time is a great opportunity to get parents accustomed to updating their contact information. If they understand the importance of keeping contact details up to date from the start, the chances of them continuing this throughout their relationship with your school are much higher.

Avoiding communication breakdown is so important between schools and their parents. Ensuring you have done everything possible to keep parent information up to date can help to alleviate future issues from arising.

 

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Our October Tech Tip

Posted by Andrew Balfour on 28 October 2014 - Tags , ,

EN Student Report 

For schools actively managing students with attendance issues and using School-links for their Early Notification we offer a very useful tool. When it’s time to look at the communications with caregivers regarding the student’s attendance many of the Student Management Systems (SMS) don’t provide the information you need. 

Using our ‘EN Student Report’ under ‘Absences’ you can get a printable report of every instance of an EN message to the Caregiver(s) for the selected timeframe. It will show you the student’s name, the date and time of the initial transmission, the recipient’s name and phone number/email address, any replies and the date and time of the reply.

Not only can patterns be readily discerned, e.g. absent every Thursday, but the times of messages and replies are available.

Here’s how it works:

Login to your School-links portal page and click on the ‘Absences’ menu item.

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From the ‘Absences’ menu select ‘EN Student Report’:

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You are presented with a search screen. Put in the student’s name. Partial searches will work, e.g. ‘sam’ will find ‘Samuel’ and ‘Samantha’. You may need to experiment a little with the name a spelling to get the correct student, we can only store what the SMS sends us in the EN batch, it could be the preferred name or the legal name, depending on your SMS settings.

Note: to include batches sent on the day of the search you need to change the Search ‘Date To’ to tomorrow’s date.

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The result:

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You can see the batch number, when it was sent, student’s name, caregiver’s name (Sent to), phone number/email address, and any reply.

You can then use the Print function in your Internet browser to print it off. Or highlight, copy and paste into a document.

Trick: Call the listed Caregiver’s phone number prior to your meeting to confirm that it is in fact a current number for them. Some people may have changed their number without telling you, or simply deny it’s their number even though it is.

If you need help with this please call us on 0800 333 480 or email helpdesk@school-links.co.nz.

 

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Our new parent interview system

Posted by Andrew Balfour on 21 October 2014 - Tags , ,

After our recent partnership with Parent Interviews, we are pleased to advise the release of the following new features.

KAMAR Sync

KAMAR Sync allows Parent Interviews to receive automatic daily updates from your school. Every time a teacher is added or changed in KAMAR, a teacher will automatically be created in Parent Interviews for them. Teachers in Parent Interviews can also be updated with their details from KAMAR, including their email address and KAMAR password.

Text Message Reminders

Schools can enable text message reminders for parents. Parents can enter their mobile phone number as they book interviews, and they’ll receive a reminder text message on the day of their interviews.

Multiple Events

Parent Interviews has no restrictions on the number of events running at one time, useful if your school splits parent teacher interviews by year group or junior/senior school students. Events can have as many dates as your school needs.

To find out more about the new Parent Interviews system, click here

 

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Selecting an Early Notification (EN) Provider

Posted by on 6 May 2014

There are only three approved EN providers in New Zealand and they all conform to the protocol established by the Ministry of Education in 2006.

This protocol sets out the rules of engagement between your Student Management system and the EN Provider. Despite this, not all EN providers are the same or offer the same services and features.

These are things to look for when choosing an Early Notification provider:

  • Complete integration with your Student Management System. Messages go out and replies are received in, allowing efficient management of unexplained absences
  • The ability to readily set and edit your outgoing message wording
  • The ability to view EN batches (sent messages and replies) outside of the Student Management System via an Internet connection, allowing school management to track progress remotely without needing access to the Student Management System
  • The ability to view archived batched going back more than two weeks
  • The ability to search and report on notification responses relating to a specific student
  • Training specific to the Student Management System and the education sector
  • Support that is knowledgeable of the different Student Management Systems and how their Attendance Management systems work
  • Both ongoing costs and the ease and expense of support. Does the EN provider have a 0800 support phone number? Do they provide EN training? At what cost?

 

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Avoid being flooded with calls during a natural disaster

Posted by Andrew Balfour on 7 March 2014 - Tags , ,

Beckenham School flood

Beckenham School was closed on Wednesday, 5th March, due to heavy flooding

Christchurch schools have yet again been reminded of the importance of having a communication plan in place for emergencies and natural disasters. Last Wednesday many Christchurch children awoke to see their neighbourhood flooded as a result of excess rain in the region. Upon seeing their street turned into a river many had just one hopeful question for mum and dad - will school be closed?!

Cantabrian schools staff were given the task of notifying parents of whether the school was closed or not in a timely, efficient manner. This would have been impossible to achieve without a dependable communication plan to put into action and as a result their phone systems would have also been flooded – with parents ringing to find out about school closures.

Make sure your communication plan has the following features:

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 have to be somewhere with access to the internet.

The ability to send one mass message

An 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 having to ring each parent, will save a lot of time and resources.

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.

Parents know 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 ring 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.

  

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Growing parent engagement

Posted by Andrew Balfour on 18 December 2013 - Tags , ,

Over the last few years, technology has given us the ability and tools to communicate with each other more easily and in a multitude of different ways. This has allowed schools to go from having a paper newsletter that gets delivered once a week via the bottom of a school bag (more or less crumpled), to regular emails and text messages.

However this shift in communication is also driving increased demand from parents who want to find out more about, not only what is happening at the school, but also how their child is doing in the classroom. While this may take a bit more precious time of the teachers and staff, providing parents with this information can create a strong and effective partnership between all parties.

To help make this process easier and more efficient, the school needs to create a strategy to help build a stronger relationship between parents and teachers to leverage the combined power of the two which will lead to greater and more positive outcomes for students.

Here are some tips that your school can utilise to improve communications with parents.

Set your goals

Create a conversation to let everyone know what the goals will be for the classroom. Do you want better student attendance? Do you want active and evident parent engagement with homework or class projects their child is involved in? Whatever your goals are, keep them in mind when designing your plan.

Demand high expectations

Research has shown that parental expectations are one of the strongest predictors of student achievement. Your parent engagement plan should set clear, consistent, achievable and high expectations for student performance in class and with the school.

Bringing parents into this will help shift some of the burden and will enable them to reinforce your expectations in the home.

Find out the best way to communicate

It’s a good idea to ask parents what communication methods are best for them – ideally at the start of the year but also at regular intervals during the year. Do not assume that parents are all the same. Find out the best method that works for them.

While email may be great for some parents and is a very cost effective way of communicating, you can also try texting, or other online options like Twitter and Facebook. Some traditional options, like notes and calls home, can be time intensive, but still work for some parents.

Notice and measure what’s happening

Pay attention to your results. Are your communications getting parents engaged? Are unexplained absences reducing? Are parent/teacher attendance rates increasing? Are there fewer complaints about unknown cancelled sports practices or school closures? Are permission slips being returned? Do students arrive prepared for class? What methods are providing the most response from parents and students? You can adapt your plan to make the best use of your time. If most parents respond best to email, then you can save yourself some calls home, and so on.

Don’t let communications and parent engagement be just a checklist; turn it into a strategy for achieving your larger school and classroom goals. Open up the lines of communications with parents, and set them up to be more involved with their children and get them to talk with their kids each day about their school day. Leverage the power of the home as well as the school to get the most out of your students.

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