The role of the principal has changed dramatically on so many fronts in such a short period of time. While there is now an obvious need for 21st century principals who are instructional leaders, visionaries, and of course efficient managers, perhaps one of the most understated and critical responsibilities of all principals is the need to remain one step ahead of the curve with regard to communication. In a world that has become transformed by social media, the lines of “traditional” communication have been completely blurred and, in some respects, simply overwhelming. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a seemingly neverending list of other social media outlets, the question of how to best reach all members of the school community is a difficult one to answer. Awhile back, @DavidHochheiser commented on one of my posts that administrators must meet parents and community members where they are as opposed to insisting that they come to us. A fantastic point that is spot on. But where is that place?
At DFHS, our staff has remained committed to differentiating all aspects of our instructional program. This not only includes the ways in which we address the diverse needs of our students, but also how we communicate and share information with all members of our school community. In addition to the more traditional forms of communication (emails, Naviance, Parent Portal, etc.), our school relies heavily on Facebook to share school news and to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. In addition, we are always on the lookout for new out-of-the-box ways to share what we do and, when possible, “brand” our school (@JCottin).
Given that, I wasn’t surprised when @careim2 and @ScottPatrillo approached me with the idea of developing a high school mobile app for smartphones (iOS & Android) after having read about how @NMHS_Principal had been using one at his school. After exploring several companies, soliciting the feedback of our students, and partnering with our PTSA who ultimately agreed to fund the mobile app, we determined that TheAppDevelopers (www.theappdevelopers.com) offered a platform that perfectly suited our needs. The process was quick, the tech team was extraordinarily responsive and efficient, and our app was available for download in the App Store (“Dobbs Ferry HS”) only a few weeks after we signed our agreement.
Though the DFHS Mobile App is still new, we are already seeing many benefits on a variety of fronts. Here are a few that top the list…
Connecting to the School Community: While we knew that a mobile app would be an excellent way to get information out to our school community, we never imagined the actual reach that the app would have in such a short period of time. When we made the switch from Twitter to Facebook as the primary vehicle for day-to-day communication, we quickly realized that the majority of our school community (particularly parents) were Facebook users and that “likes” were much easier to come by than “follows.” That was a year and a half ago, and we have since amassed over 570 “likes” and have “reached” as many as 1,000+ people with some of our posts. Not bad for a school of 450 students. With the mobile app, however, the numbers have been staggering and the reception has been overwhelming with very little publicity. Within the first week, we had nearly 400 downloads and the number had increased to over 1,100 after the first month. Yes, you read that right. The first month. In addition, we estimate that approximately 80% of our students have downloaded the app as well as many parents and other members of our school community. In that respect, the app has helped us to further unify our community as all members are able to keep up with current school news and events in a quick and easy way.
Push Notifications: Sending out a “push note” is very much like a tweet but differs in that it is 200 characters in length and, much more importantly, is sent to directly to anyone who downloads the app and clicks “ok” to accept push notifications. This last point is key and we have made sure to emphasize the importance of having users accept the “push notes” so that they are able to receive important messages from the school. This is especially critical for emergency situations and issues relating to safety and security since we can quickly communicate information to students, parents, and our school community in immediate fashion. In that sense, the app has added an additional level to our overall security plan for the building.
Daily Updates: Like most high schools, our day starts off with the pledge of allegiance followed by morning announcements over the loudspeaker. For a progressive “tech heavy” school, we are as traditional as they come in this respect. Picture the movie Grease and the students sitting in their classrooms as the announcements drone on and on. Some listen, many tune out, and parents are usually unaware of what is being shared. Announcements can include meeting times for extra-curricular clubs, sports meetings, deadlines, and any other “day-to-day” types of information that students might need. As a staff, we have talked about different ways to approach this and always seem to hit a dead end for one reason or another. With the app, however, we may have found our answer. Each day, the morning announcements are now posted in the “Updates” tab so that all students and parents can remain current with regard to what is happening in the school. In addition, the announcements are always posted before the end of the school day to ensure that parents can check and speak with their children when they get home from school.
School-Wide Information: In addition to the capabilities and features noted above, the app in its simplest form can be best viewed as a mini-portal that provides quick and easy smartphone access to all of the information that can be found on our high school webpage. This includes all documents relating to academics, the IB Program, athletics, and the operations of the school. In addition, the app provides easy access to school and district calendars as well all school and social media links, including the HS Facebook page, Twitter, The Digital Eagle (online newspaper), the Parent Portal, Naviance, and the Principal’s Blog. In that respect, all members of the school community have the high school right at their fingertips at all hours of the day.
Absence Line: A handy and practical feature of our app is an absence tab that allows parents to record a message that is sent directly to our attendance office. This not only eliminates the need for parents to locate the direct phone number of the attendance secretary, but also makes it easier on the administrative side as all messages are sent via an email link to one place. This also helps from an organizational perspective since all email messages are dated, time-stamped, and can be saved for any amount of time.
Endless Possibilities: Perhaps the most exciting aspect of our new mobile app is the realization that we are just touching the surface. Our plan is to further put the app in the hands of our students so that we can better take advantage of its interactive capabilities. As an example, the “Participate” feature can allow students to “check in” at events via a QR Code in order to amass spirit points for their respective grade levels. Students can also use the app to sell advertising space to local businesses, to submit photos from various events (which can then be posted on Facebook), and to sell tickets and other school merchandise. All information on the app is secure and is sent directly to the lead administrator. @ScottPatrillo is also piloting a media journalism elective for students who are interested in exploring the additional possibilities of the mobile app and to find new and exciting ways for it to build community and togetherness within our school.
Check out our mobile app by visiting the App Store and searching “Dobbs Ferry HS.” It’s free!
The world is changing faster than we can imagine. My two year old has no problem navigating through my tablet and finding his games. Really improved his speech and vocabulary. I’m going to download your app now.
Also MIT has a free app inventor program I have been tinkering with. Easy when you do the tutorial.