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Tech integration becomes routine in rural districts

Teachers blog, tweet to communicate with public

Published: Friday, April 29, 2016 12:24 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, April 29, 2016 12:43 p.m. CST
Caption
(Mike Mendenhall/Daily News)
Prairie City-Monroe High School Principal Scott Bridges points to a school flat-screen TV that posts announcements such as weather, menus, calendar items and birthdays.

MONROE — At the beginning of the school year, PCM High School Principal Scott Bridges set a goal for himself. He wanted to communicate better with students, parents and the PCM community.

The Mustang administrator has incorporated Google Classroom, Twitter and “The Bridges Blog” into his daily routine. Google tools streamline efficiency and communication within the school and social media tools create quick communication with the public.

“It’s highly organized and they can access it right away,” Bridges said.

Advanced tech is no longer exclusive to urban districts but is now common place in smaller, rural school systems. Beyond issuing students a laptop through 1 to 1 programs, administrators and teachers are using cloud-based programs, mobile apps and social media in and outside the classroom to communicate with students, their parents and the communities they serve.

Over the past two school years, PCM has implemented Google Classroom, Google Drive and other online-based products to streamline efficiency and communication between students. It’s a big undertaking for a smaller 2A school, but Bridges said it has been worth the set up.

Google Classroom allows Bridges to upload every document, district policy and procedure a teacher might need throughout the school year, making access easier. The program makes the administrator’s daily schedules accessible and sends email alerts to teachers of changes. For students, assignments and classroom materials are uploaded. If they have a new assignment, Google Classroom will alert students via email or a smartphone notification.

And for parents, a system such as the Infinite Campus smartphone app — which allows parents to get live updates on their student’s attendance, lunch accounts, grades and missing assignments at their fingertips — has nearly made report cards obsolete, Bridges said.

On the “Bridges Blog” and the principal’s Twitter feed, the PCM principal will post about parent/teacher conferences, important school events as well as narratives. The blog and PCM’s Twitter feed are all embedded in the school’s desktop and mobile websites.

Bridges prefers to blog and tweet about student achievements, students of the month and photos of school building life. This is also the case for the real-time information scrolling on the high school’s hallway TV monitors, installed in fall 2015.

The flat-screen TVs have nearly replaced traditional intercom announcements, but they include more. Athletic team schedules and stats, the daily lunch menu, weather and even student birthdays are displayed throughout the day. Some technology adds efficiency for administrators while others, like the monitors, adds duties.

“That’s what newspapers do, but I think parents like to see things coming from the building too,” he said. “When it comes in terms of a blog or Twitter account, that’s more work. But that’s OK, because it’s important that I’m communicating with the community. It’s not necessarily about things that they have to know. I’m trying to do things they will enjoy.”

A few miles north in Colfax, students at Colfax-Mingo Jr/Sr High School are also getting positive school news via hallway flat-screens, Twitter and other electronic mediums.

District superintendent Tracy Hook said he posts pertinent information for students but, for the Tigerhawk administrator, the public screen is for sharing the “good news” of C-M.

“Recently, we posted about our state speech constants, during football season we had football scores going up there. Just a variety of things,” Hook said. “And, of course, student of the month.”

Hook uses the blogging website WordPress to distribute thookcolfax-mingo.org, a blog meant to communicate C-M successes. The superintendent also does not hesitate to post photographs and news of the greater Colfax and Mingo-area communities — as long as it’s positive.

“The primary purpose, when we talk about communication, is getting out the good word about our school district — the positive things always,” Hook said. “I will never post a negative thing about another school district or our district because that’s not what our purpose is. Our purpose is to build character, to celebrate the great things that staff and kids do.”

C-M teachers and coaches use social media to give a snapshot of their classroom. Language arts teacher and head track coach Matt Barkalow uses the Twitter handle @CoachBarkalow. His tweets encourage Tigerhawk athletes and keep parents up-to-date on the latest high school reading assignment.

Barkalow’s April 15 tweet reads “Could have heard a pin drop when we read the conclusion of ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ by James Hurst in class today.”

Barkalow also uses group chats to update his athletes on practice, camp, game and meet information. He said tech allows teachers to communicate in a medium to which today’s students are accustomed, but it’s important not to get too personal.

“It certainly meets the students on their terms when and where they want to communicate. Of course, setting professional boundaries is critical,” he said. “Responsible educators do not email, text or tweet anything which they wouldn’t say publicly to parents and students.” 

But that doesn’t mean school staff can’t be lighthearted. In one of his recent blog posts titled “The best part of the day is lunch,” Hook took a selfie with some C-M elementary students getting ready for some grub. Hook said it’s a way to humanize a superintendent who is otherwise an authority figure.

“I try to hit all the buildings with my blog. I go down to the elementary school and those kids know,” Hook said. “Today, they were like ‘Mr. Hook, can I be on your blog.’ So we took a selfie. They recognize. They want to celebrate as well.”

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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