Talking About Communicating

It’s not always easy to coordinate the efforts of teenage leaders who are among the most active students in their school, are often involved in multiple extracurricular activities, sometimes have jobs, and are always busy being kids. 

At Eureka High School in Missouri, we have an active National Honor Society (NHS) chapter of 160 members with several events taking place each week. Our feeder elementary and middle schools are always looking for dependable older students to help with happenings, as is the larger Eureka community. We are constantly exploring the newest and best ways for the advisers, officers, and members to keep abreast of all the service projects and scheduling for them—dates and times of events, which officers are responsible, and who has signed up to work the event. Good communication is the key to success.

Eureka NHS has tried a lot of different ways to communicate. In years past, the officers and advisers used Facebook to communicate with membership. There were two problems with this: A lot of students no longer used Facebook, and there was always the ethical concern of teachers using social media to communicate with students. We also had officers try using a Twitter account and Remind to help spread announcements of events. The membership preferred Remind over Twitter, as a lot of students did not have Twitter, and those who did had no desire to mix their social lives with school activities. The officers and advisers used school-based email as their primary means of communicating outside of school meetings. When our school district switched to Google, a lot of our dilemmas were solved. Google Classroom provided the hierarchical and two-way communications that the officers and membership needed. Students receive announcements on their phones from classes and from extracurricular activities, so the membership did not have “another thing” to check, and everything was associated with a school-based account.

Because I needed to reflect on how Eureka NHS communicates, I recently posted a question in the NHS/NJHS Adviser Online Community to get a better idea about how various chapters and councils communicate. The good news is that most of us are using the same or similar means of networking with our student leaders and members of our chapters and councils. Regardless of which type of communication tool you choose, check your district and building policies to know the parameters before you start researching.

Remind

Remind was the most widely used communication tool in my poll. The Remind website (www.remind.com) boasts that it is used in more than 70 percent of schools across America. Anyone can sign up to use Remind, as a teacher or student, and district plans are available. It allows for real-time or scheduled communications with a group or just a single person. These messages go to a phone, and no one has access to individual phone numbers. You can send attachments and see who has not opened a message. We use it as an officer-to-membership means of communication and more of a last-minute blast. Other schools use it as their primary means of exchanging thoughts and ideas.

“Our school uses Remind.com for much of our communication. It is very simple to use,” says Susan Culwell from North-Linn High School in Troy Mills, IA, via the online community. “The teacher, coach, adviser, or group leader sets up the group on the Remind site as the owner of the group. When they do that, they get a code that they then pass on to the students in the group. The owner of the group does not have to give out their [personal] phone number or email address, and they do not see the phone numbers or email addresses of the students.”

The only problem Culwell has had is that some of the students in her groups have not signed up, so they do not get the communications. “This is the first year I have used this, and my plan for the future is to give the new inductees the Remind code at the induction ceremony and make sure they sign up right away. Hopefully, this will eliminate the problem,” she says.

Google Classroom

A lot of advisers who responded to my online poll said they were from Google schools. Google Classroom (www.classroom.google.com) is often a district-offered service, along with Google email. Teachers can set up “classrooms” and offer students a class code to join; student officers can be assigned to the role of “teachers” for communication purposes. A strong advantage of using Classroom is that all communications are hierarchical, searchable, and can be linked to calendars and other Google forms and documents. This is the primary communications platform that we use at Eureka High School. The officers create most of the posts, and everything is run through school-based email.

“We use Google Classroom as our home base. This way we can upload documents and forms to one place; all of our minutes are saved there. We also have a spreadsheet that keeps track of each student’s community service hours. Everything is live and in real time,” says Kristina Vuong, formerly of Lyman High School in Longwood, FL, via the online community. “I also think Classroom is a great place for announcements. The students see a pop-up as soon as they log into their email accounts.” 

“We communicate through Google Classroom with the officers being teachers,” says Marie Principe, NHS adviser at East Bridgewater Junior/Senior School in East Bridgewater, MA. “My officers also tweet out notices. I used to email and use Remind, but the kids are checking Google Classroom for all their classes, so I have found it to work out much better!”

Sandy Munton, intervention and enrichment instructor at Hancock Middle School in St. Louis, MO, adds, “In our school district, all students have Google accounts. We simply set up an NJHS Classroom and invite our officers to be ‘teachers.’ We can then share meeting agendas and notes. We can also create Google Forms to use as sign-up sheets and to get input electronically from all members.”

Twitter

Twitter (www.twitter.com) allows the sending of short tweets (text-based messages) to followers. When I sought advice via the NHS/NJHS Adviser Online Community, three schools responded saying they use Twitter.

“My council has a Twitter and a Remind account that we use to communicate with members, parents, and the community. Meeting dates, events, and all sorts of information are disseminated through those two accounts,” says Jennifer Spiegel, English teacher and student government adviser from Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth, PA. “We have over 220 Twitter followers [who] also include our local community and business leaders, as well as district administration.”

Through Twitter, the school was able to connect with a revitalization group that is working in the city’s downtown area. “We met with the community leaders in that group and that resulted in some community service projects for us and for other clubs in our building,” Spiegel says. “In addition, we are followed by a reporter for our local newspaper who often uses the info he finds there to write articles about us. He wrote two articles (and the newspaper wrote two editorials as well) about things we have done in the last six months because they connected with us via Twitter.”

Instagram

Instagram (www.instagram.com) is generally used to share pictures and short videos with friends. Junior officers and LEAD juniors at Eureka High School (who attended the Chicago LEAD Conference hosted by National Student Council, NHS, and NJHS) asked if they could try using Twitter and Instagram accounts to communicate with the membership this year. We obtained a school email address to use on the accounts and decided that only the officers and LEAD juniors would have access to the account, with the advisers simply monitoring. We plan on evaluating its use and effectiveness at the end of this school year.

Email

Email was mentioned as an effective means of communication by two schools in the Adviser Online Community—besides my own. We use it as the primary means of adviser-to-officer communications. The biggest advantage is that it is a school-based means of communication that is searchable and hierarchical. The disadvantage is that kids often do not check their email, even if their school email is linked to a personal account. Nevertheless, we use it mainly because it is a school communications platform and avoids the awkwardness of teacher-to-student social media interaction.

Telegram

One school reported using the Telegram app (www.telegram.org), a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app with a focus on security and speed. “The officers, my co-adviser, and I use the Telegram app so we can communicate about small details. Telegram is set up using phone numbers, so one has to be invited into the group messages using a phone number. The app allows me to text all officers at once or just one officer,” says Natasha Schaefer, NHS adviser at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, CA. “The officers have their own Telegram group chat as well.”

Track It Forward

The Track It Forward app (www.trackitforward.com) is used by community charitable organizations to solicit volunteers. NHS adviser Kelly Dunigan from Tivy High School in Kerrville, TX, says, “I use Track It Forward to announce and remind students about volunteer opportunities. I also use it to track their service hours and service projects.”

Do What Works

No one in the Adviser Online Community who responded to my question said they used only one form of communication. Remind was the most commonly used method of getting the word out, and Google Classroom was a close second. Several advisers said that they, too, were always on the prowl for the best and most effective ways to communicate with their students. 

To choose which electronic platform to use, I would suggest first asking your membership for suggestions. Then, run these suggestions past the school’s administration to make sure that you are not going to run afoul of any policies or regulations regarding student-teacher electronic communication.

There is no singular best way to communicate, as each chapter and council is unique. Do what works best for you and your group. I suggest that you first review your district and building policies and guidelines for student communication. If at all possible, keep all the communications using a school-based log-in; this could provide a secure record of all conversations in case there is ever a need.

Regularly evaluate any program you use. I tell my NHS officers to keep an evaluation simple: What is working well? What needs improvement? Should this be stopped? For example, the officers wanted to try using Twitter and Instagram accounts this year. We will look at the number of posts to each account, the number of “likes,” the number of “retweets,” and so on to gauge membership interest. We will conduct a Google Classroom survey to ask the membership if they think the accounts are worth keeping. We’ll also query members to see what the leadership can do to make two-way dissemination better, and solicit any ideas anyone might have.

Let the officers handle most of the communication with the membership. The kids normally do not need much guidance or encouragement to do this. The basic rules that we tell the student leaders is that they should keep any electronic communication clean and professional; avoid stating opinions, just give the facts; and avoid using sarcasm. Of course, my co-adviser and I monitor all the electronic communications and give the officers feedback on a regular basis. Teaching students to be good communicators and good leaders is not that difficult; they just need good examples of both to follow. 


William McIlwee is an NHS adviser at Eureka High School in Missouri.