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There was a time, not so long ago, that having a web site for your music program was considered cutting edge communication technology.  Today though, over forty years after the birth of the Internet and in this age of instant information, having a simple, static web site just don’t seem to be adequate any more.  The growth of text messaging and sites like Twitter, Facebook, and others have changed the way we communicate.  At the same time our increased usage of smart phones and other mobile devices means that people are beginning to expect more from us than a simple static HTML web page.  To really get our message out we have to be willing to get a little more social.

 

This article originally appeared in NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine in February of 2012.  It is being reprinted here in it's unedited form by the original author and with the permission of NAfME.

 

New online services and Internet technologies have changed more than just the interaction between teacher and student.  They have also begun to change the way we communicate teacher to teacher thanks to the growth in popularity of online forums and music oriented professional learning networks.   For tech savvy teachers getting the answer to a difficult classroom question or finding great ideas to add to your next program is now only a few mouse clicks away.

 

The complicated part in all of this is knowing how to navigate this immense (and constantly growing) landscape of tools and services to help you communicate more easily while not also bogging you down with even more busy work.  To help sort out this communication minefield we interviewed several noted music educators from across the country to find out what works well and what doesn’t to help you get your message out to the masses.

 

Current Communication Technologies

 

Today the most often used method of communicating from teacher to student is still the organization’s web site and email address.  Kristin Turcovski, music teacher in Mercersburg, PA, uses her web site as the primary means of communication between herself and her students.  She finds that simply having all of the information available in this electronic form saves a lot of time and frustration with many of the more repetitive tasks of running her ensembles.  Turcovski says that “It’s helpful to be able to get reminders out in a way that students and parents can quickly and conveniently access them.  Deadlines are met more efficiently and more forms are returned with the use of our website and the email lists.”  She also uses the web site as a promotional tool.  “It’s nice to be able to put “brags” and photos on our web site of the achievements of the group as well as to send encouraging notes after competition trips when I don’t necessarily get to speak to all of the students on different buses.”

 

Allison Friedman, general music and choral teacher at South Salem Elementary School in Port Washington, NY uses her web site for many of the same reasons and fills it with many other types of useful information.  “My school website offers a lot of information for both parents and students.  Aside from sharing audio/video clips of what goes on in the classroom, I have all the important dates for the year shared, my basic curriculum (goals, etc) for each grade level, my full schedule, bio, chorus practice tracks, and most recently a special beginner instrumental practice site.”  

 

New Communication Methods

 

As human beings we prefer to communicate with each other in the format that is most convenient to use.  Before the World Wide Web that format was the telephone call or a printed note sent home in a student’s backpack.  While we still use the phone and paper notes this very basic method of classroom communication is now being augmented with social networking tools.

 

Twitter LogoParents and students are becoming more and more comfortable with the almost ubiquitous use of portable devices together with services like text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook.  If our goal is to communicate with our constituents effectively and they are checking social networking accounts on a regular basis then we also need to be on those social networks.  Convenience and speed always win out over other less efficient methods and the instant communication of these newer technologies makes other methods seem slow.  How many times have you sent a text message because it is easier and quicker than making a phone call or sending an email?

 

Using social networks to get your message out to people has both benefits and drawbacks however.  When we type out a printed note and send it home we often fill it with lots of extra information because our brains have a subconscious need to fill the empty space with text.  When a parent reads a long letter the tendency is often to skim it to find only the most important points.  In contrast, sending information via text message, Facebook post, or Twitter forces you to be very specific because you are limited in the number of characters you can use.  When people see a short, concise message they are more likely to make use of and remember it.

 

On the down side of social messaging lie two major concerns.  First, always check with your building principal and/or your technology director to see if the use of a social or other web based services is permitted and find out any rules that might be in place to govern their use.  Most schools are beginning to embrace these new forms of communication but some districts continue to ban their use entirely.  The second down side to using social outlets is that not everyone uses them.  While some parents and students might favor Twitter, others will favor Facebook or some other social site.  At the same time fewer and fewer students use email on a regular basis and are relying on text messaging for most day to day communication needs.  In other words, while a good communications plan will include multiple channels in order to reach as many people as possible you will still probably wind up having to send home a printed note from time to time.

 

Communicating with your students and their families has never been easier and yet it has also never been more complicated.  While neither of our interviewed teachers make extensive use of these new social outlets both see their growing importance and are slowly adding them into the mix as it seems appropriate.  In the end each teacher will need to find out what works best for their clients and balance that with what makes the most sense to use in their own program.

 

Communicating With Multimedia

 

No discussion of communication methods and trends would be complete without bringing up the use of video and photo sharing and their growing importance both as educational and promotional tools for our programs.  Sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, TeacherTube, Shutterly, Picasa, and others offer free and easy ways for you to communicate visually with your students and parents by sharing performance videos, trip photos, and educational videos for use as a part of your curriculum.  As an example Friedman uses Vimeo to post videos of rehearsals and performances along with a blogging service called Tumblr too allow students to post reactions and constructive criticisms.  She also finds that using these services is great for her own self reflection on the direction of her program.  

 

Teacher To Teacher Communications

 

Just as Twitter and Facebook have changed the way we communicate with each other on a personal level other services are changing the face of professional communications between teachers.  The continued growth in popularity of online forums and professional learning networks has made it incredibly easy for us as educators to not only ask questions of our peers but also to share our own knowledge with others in our profession.

 

Forums are the oldest of these types of communication systems, and sites such as NAfME and others continue to be prominent places to post questions and get answers about almost any music education question that you might have.  NAfME has forums on their site dedicated to many of our major areas (band, choir, orchestra, jazz, general music, future teachers, and higher education) and has well over ten thousand individual posts filled with information and commentary on almost every question you might need information on.

 

A newer, more technology oriented resource for communicating with other teachers is the Music Educators Professional Learning Network.  This is a private, Facebook based social network that any teacher can join for free.  The members of MusicPLN host discussion groups on the same general topics as the NAfME forums but also have more specific groups for things like music technology, brass, and woodwinds.  

 

The sharing of information on music education topics almost never stops on Twitter.  Twitter works both ways, allowing people to send and receive information in a much more active, instant information format.  Consider signing up to follow the many different prominent Tweeting music educators by visiting http://mustech.net/go/metweeters and adding their names to your follow list then join in on the discussion.  At any given time a number of music educators are on Twitter talking about various music education topics, and you can home in on important information by doing a search for hash tags like #musiced.  If you are online in the evenings you can even get involved in the #musicedchat which focuses different topics each week.

 

One Social Tool To Rule Them All

 

One of the problems that these new technologies pose for us is that it adds yet another layer of stuff that we have to keep up to date and each one uses a different program or web URL to access it.  Luckily there are some tools you can use to stay on top of all of your different social and email communications that make balancing these many outlets a whole lot  easier.  

 

hootsuite-logo-200x200Hootsuite

(www.hootsuite.com)

 

Hootsuite is a web based service that allows you to manage and post to many different networks all from one convenient interface.  You can sign in to your Twitter, Facebook personal, Facebook Pages, LinkedIn, and many other networks all at once, allowing you to send and receive messages from one central location.  You can also send the same message to all of the networks at one time or schedule the message to be sent at a specific time and date in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

tweetdeck logo1Tweetdeck

(www.tweetdeck.com)

 

A stand alone desktop software program for Windows, Mac, and mobile devices that provides many of the same features as Hootsuite but does not provide access to as many networks.

 

 

CharmsOfficeCharms Office

(www.charmsoffice.com)

 

Charms is a web based organization tool that allows you to manage many different aspects of your music program including uniforms, music assignments, fundraisers, fees, etc. but it also has a very useful communications interface as well.  As an ensemble director you can use the system to quickly send emails to individual students or groups of students.  For example, with a couple of clicks you can send a message reminding all of the flutes of their sectional practice tomorrow morning and only the flutes will receive it.  That same message can also be send via text message to student or parent cell phones.  If you are going to be late coming back from a bus trip you can use your cell phone to quickly send out a mass email and text message to all of the parents of the group to inform them of the problem. Charms also has some very useful group planning tools, allowing you to set up calendars and have parents volunteer for events all on the same site.  






SIDEBAR:

Tips For Protecting Your Privacy As Well As That of Students and Parents

 

  • Always get parental consent before making use of online communications between yourself and your students.

  • Do not collect personal information from your students or parents other than that which is absolutely necessary.

  • When sending mass emails always use the Blind Carbon Copy line (BCC:) to input the addresses.  Using the TO: line allows everyone receiving the message to see everyone’s address.  Some people may not want their email address published in this way as it can encourage spamming.

  • If you choose to use a Facebook page or allow commenting on your group’s web site be certain to monitor it closely and quickly remove any materials that might be posted inappropriately.

  • Never “Friend” students from your personal Twitter or Facebook account.  Teachers need to keep a professional distance from their students even in this online environment.  Use a separate account for all professional communications.

  • Keep it professional.  It is very easy to allow yourself to post something that you would not normally say or do in real life.  Avoid using sarcasm.  Insist on mature conversations done with proper etiquette and respect even when on a social web site or through email.

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    SIDEBAR:  

    Recommended Web Site Creation Services

     

    Google Sites (sites.google.com)- A free web site service that may already be available to you if your district uses Google Apps for it’s email and document services.  Fairly easy to set up and has many different available templates.

     

    SquareSpace (squarespace.com)- A paid service with a monthly fee that has very professional page templates and lots of customization options.  A good choice for groups that want lots of flexibility and an easy way to expand their site’s content in the future.  Provides a free 14 day trial without needing to submit a credit card.

     

    iSchoolBand (ischoolband.com)-  Another paid service that specializes in creating instrumental music sites.  Different components allow you to set up a “backpack” area containing links to a metronome, sheet music, audio files, and other documents that your students might need access to.  It also provides fairly extensive group communication services, allowing users to be grouped by instrument, section, interest area, committee, etc.

     

    Shutterfly (goo.gl/loKlc)- Although Shutterfly is primarily a photo sharing web site they also provide free teacher web sites to be created that allow you to quickly share not only your photos but also blog posts and other information.  Also included is a feature to allow parents to sign up to volunteer for tasks and to create wish lists of materials.  The service even provides you with a forum for your organization and the ability to send announcements via email to all of your group’s members.

     

    This article originally appeared in NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine in February of 2012.  It is being reprinted here in it's unedited form by the original author and with the permission of NAfME.

     

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