Heather: Hi there. I’m Heather Kaiser and I’d like to welcome you to the 3rd episode of How Does She Do It?
This week I am going to share how I have used technology to clear some things off my teacher desk, manage the scheduling of parent conferences and simplify planning for classroom parties. I am going to be sharing several websites and apps that have free and paid versions. Please know that these are tools I have personally used and found to be helpful. They help me work smarter rather than harder. There are probably others that could do the same job just as well or better, but these are the ones I have experience with which is why I am sharing them. I am not affiliated with nor do I receive any compensation from any of the companies behind the tools I am sharing. I don’t even expect to get any cool SWAG and you know that teachers love free SWAG!
So here it goes, episode 3 of How Does She Do It?
First lets talk about scheduling parent conferences. Gone are the days when teachers send a conference date and time with student report cards. Remember all the paper passing and phone calls that used to follow as you tried to accommodate the schedules of 25 parents? Email streamlined this and for me often resulted in more completed conferences but it was still tricky to make sure none of the conferences were scheduled for conflicting dates and times. Maybe some of you are better at scheduling than me. This never came easy for me. You’d think that keeping a date book would make it easy enough but I struggle. So, when I found the website YouCanBook.Me, I was hooked right away. The free version is all I have ever needed and I love how it shifts the responsibility of choosing a date and time for a conference from me to the parent. Once you create your free account, you can set your times and availability, create instructions for parents booking a conference, and customize the booking form. When I need to meet with parents, I simply login and update my settings. Then I copy my custom link and send it to the parents with a request that they go to the site and choose a date/time that is convenient for them to meet with me. I have sent the link in email, class dojo, and even a traditional letter for parents that prefer not to communicate digitally. After parents sign up, I receive an email notification and if the conference needs to be rescheduled, I can go to the site to view my bookings and make adjustments. The YouCanBook.me site will even sync to my Google calendar so that I will receive notifications when a conference is coming up. I’ve been really happy with how YouCanBook.me has automated my parent conferences. It seems like a win-win to me. Work smarter not harder right? Set the dates and times I am available and then let parents choose. First come - first serve. No double bookings. Plus, it’s FREE! If you want to try it for yourself there will be a link in my show notes.
Another great tool for automating parent sign ups used to be called Volunteer Spot but now I see that it redirects me to SignUp.com. Any time we are having a class or team party, I go straight to this tool. Again, the free level has always provided me with plenty of options. Parties like this usually mean that I am looking for parent volunteers. I may need actually parents to assist or just donations. Either way, this is my go to tool. Here’s why… I create the event and then start itemizing the types of things I need for the event. Then I can set the number for each item. So maybe I need 3 parents to help set up and 2 parents to assist during the event. I create each of those needs and assign the number then when parents get the link to sign up to volunteer, those choices are only available until all of the slots are filled. SignUp.com sends me notifications and if I don’t enough volunteers for a particular task or donation, it is obvious. There are even options for allowing unlimited volunteers for an item or task if you prefer. If you aren’t already using SignUp.com to share the burden of planning a class or team party, you should really consider moving this chore off your plate!
Today I want to close out with some apps that will help clear some space on your teacher desk. When I started teaching, there were a few tricks I could do with technology to reduce the clutter on my teacher desk but now, the possibilities are really endless. In fact, there have been years where I was able to get rid of my teacher desk altogether! I’ll save that for another conversation. As a young teacher, I recall evaluators emphasizing the need to call on every student. In order to make sure no one is left out and everyone has a turn before anyone is called on a second time, many of us kept a container of popsicle sticks on our desk. I bet some of you may even still have one. There are loads of apps and tech tools that make this an unnecessary item. One of my favorites is the Name Selector Pro. Yes I actually paid for the upgrade of this app, which means it must not be very expensive. But, it was worth it because I can create custom groups and categories which is great if you are picking from within a small group or if you teach more than one block of the same subject. If I have a small group of students (5 or less), I might just use the Pick a Finger app. This is fun for students because they each place one finger on my iPad or iPhone and then I tap the Pick a Finger button. The iPad glows randomly under their fingers like a roulette wheel and lands on one. This is an easy way to choose or eliminate a student. It works great if you are trying to decide who presents their project first or even the order that they will line up. You could even use it to assign class jobs. Just choose a job before pressing the Pick a Finger app. So ditch the container of sticks.
While you’re at it, check your desk to see if it is free of sticky notes. Admit it, teachers love sticky notes! I have a huge variety myself. But I did not know that Post-It makes an app for that. If you have sticky notes on your desk, you can turn them into digital sticky notes and maintain the power to sort, group, and edit them. I was amazed by this app when someone shared it at the National Association for Gifted Children convention this fall. Going to conferences is definitely a great way to learn new things! What a great bonus when you can immediately put the learning to use. This app is one of those instances. The main thing I learned the hard way is to make sure the Post-It notes are not touching each other when you take a picture of them. The app magically outlines each one in green and lets you choose which objects are sticky notes. You can drag them around, change their color, add text and draw on them. Truly amazing was my discovery that I could use the eraser tool to erase the handwriting if I wanted to. You can add a second set of sticky notes to an existing set too. So what are you waiting for? Capture those sticky notes on your desk digitally and then get them off your desk.
Do you keep a calendar or agenda on your desk? Could you replace that with a digital calendar like Google calendar? Personally, I still keep a traditional agenda but I use my Google calendar to help me remember appointments and events occurring at times that I would likely forget about without my digital assistant reminding me. I’ll probably elaborate more on that in the future.
Speaking of the future, that just about does it for this episode of the “How Does She Do It?” Podcast. I hope it left you not only with some new ideas but also a better understanding of How We do it and How you could do it too! Check out the podcast notes for helpful links to all the tools I shared today and the schedule of upcoming podcasts along with topics. You can also connect with me via comments and questions. Using speakpipe, you can even leave me a voice message. Who knows I might include your message in an upcoming Podcast. Oh and one last thing - you might want to consider subscribing to the feed so you will be notified when a new podcast comes out. Thanks for tuning in.