Back to School: How Texting Transforms Distance Learning
As a parent, what got me through “homeschooling a four-year-old” (author’s note: hahahahaha) during the spring were our daily texts from my daughter’s public pre-K teacher, Mrs. B.
Mrs. B sent lesson prompts, photos of classmates, and “I miss you” messages. Even though my four-year-old doesn’t yet read, she always asked what Mrs. B had texted and lit up when I showed my phone to her and read the messages out loud.
As the school year is poised to open — in-person, entirely online, or in a hybrid system — effective communication is more important than ever. Texting provides advantages for school districts and teachers to make sure everyone is on the same page and no kids get left behind, no matter what the school year looks like. Here, why text is such a game changer when it comes to contemporary education — and how text will transform the way educators communicate.
Text Eliminates Uncertainty
During the pandemic, our family’s school district has delivered a weekly Sunday evening robocall. The call always seems to come during dinner, and the recording can be tough to parse through. In fact, our neighborhood text chat group is always active Sunday evenings trying to figure out what, exactly, our superintendent meant, since it’s not uncommon for the recording to cut out. The recorded loop is repeated multiple times, in different languages, leaving parents and caregivers to struggle finding the right point to begin the relevant message. Texting allows parents to choose their language and provides a potential avenue for parents to ask questions — giving administrators a clue into what may be missing from the messages they’re sharing.
Texting is Inclusive
It takes a village is cliche, but what the pandemic has taught many families that connections don’t need to live in the same house to be essential to family functioning. Grandparents have taught kids over FaceTime; babysitters have played with charges over screens so parents can work. Texting allows all people involved in a child’s life to be on the same page. Traditional phone communication designates one primary caregiver, which may not be practical when two caregivers are simultaneously trying to balance work and childcare. Having multiple caregivers receive text alerts from a child’s school ensures that the people who need it get the message.
Texting Provides an Avenue for Connection
Teachers want to know what’s going on with their students, especially in a time of so much uncertainty. Is a child absent from a virtual class due to a schedule mix up, dental appointment, or something more serious? Texting can provide a way for teachers and administrators to get a snapshot into their student’s lives. It’s also an easy way for caregivers to let teachers know important information that may affect a child. For example, a child worried about a grandparent’s illness or a child missing their home due to a recent move may need additional support that a teacher can provide if they know what’s going on.
Texting is How Older Kids Communicate — In School and Out
Twenty years ago, a college kid would know if class was cancelled only after they trekked across campus and saw a hastily scribbled note taped to the door. Kids today have it easy, with mass texting on college campuses. Texting is already how teens are used to getting critical information. Many teens and tweens carry cell phones, and text-based communication from school can prep them for the future. Text-based communication can also help teens practice being responsible for news related to their education. While their parents and guardians will also receive the alert, they’ll also be in the know.
Texting is Authentic
Truth: Robocalls feel robotic. But texts can provide human contact — even when kids are distance learning. Having a centralized texting system within a classroom that invites kids and parents to share photos and reactions from the day can make it feel like everyone isn’t going through learning alone. Teachers can set up prompts that invite spontaneous sharing: Showing off art projects, pets, and silly dance moves to each other. Because texting can feel informal and spontaneous, it can invite those moments of connection that happen regularly in-person. Texting provides a thread that connects the community, and implementing it can make distance learning feel personal. I know that in the deep depths of quarantine, those “I love how hard you are working” texts from Mrs. B to snapshots of my daughter working on her letters meant everything. I’m not even sure if Mrs. B was addressing me or my four-year-old but it didn’t matter.
In less than 160 characters, our day was turned around. Text allows educators to reach beyond the screen and connect — which makes all the difference.
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