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Tips for texting your students

favicon If you’re a high school teacher, you know about the importance of communicating with your students outside of class time.

Maybe you want to send out a reminder about the homework. Or maybe you forgot to say something important in class. Or perhaps you want to check in with a student.

Some teachers set up class websites or use Edmodo for this purpose. Others rely on Facebook or Twitter. And many teachers still email their students. The problem with all of these methods is that there is no sure way to know that your students have read your message.

That’s why texting remains the best way to communicate with your students. Cell phone ownership is nearly universal, and most students have unlimited texting plans. Plus, in my experience, students do not mind receiving texts from their teachers. You can be fairly sure that your message will read its destination.

Nevertheless, it is important to follow some basic tips before deciding to text your students:

1. Make sure it’s OK with your school and your students.
Some schools don’t allow contact — particularly if it’s teacher-initiated — between students and teachers outside school hours. So it’s best to check with your administration first. Once you get the go-ahead there, it’s also very important to ask your students (and perhaps their parents) for permission to text them. You should also make clear that it’s not mandatory to be on the texting list (though it’s the best way to stay in touch).

2. Use Google Voice as your contact management system.
There are many ways to keep track of all your students and their phone numbers, but the easiest and fastest way is by using Google Voice. You add contacts and organize them into groups. Plus, your Google Voice number gives you some separation and privacy between your work and home lives.

3. Use SmashText as your group texting service.
Google Voice lets you text five people at a time, so in order to text all of your students at once, you’ll need to use a group texting service. My favorite is SmashText, an excellent and free program by Matthew Despain. It syncs with your Google contacts and groups and lets you text whole classes (or even all of your students) all at once.

SmashText has many great features. For example, you can text an entire class at once or choose specific students within a class. This is great when you want to send different texts to different students (e.g., absent students, students who didn’t complete homework). Even better, the program allows you to include a student’s name in an otherwise generic message. After all, people prefer a personalized message over a generic one.

The only limitation to SmashText is that it is currently available only on PC.

4. Teach your students about the different types of texts you’ll send — and what you expect from each type.
This is the most important tip. Sometimes, you just want to send out information and don’t want a response back. But other times, you might want your students to reply. Say that you want to make sure that a student feels confident about the next steps of an essay. So you write a personal text, ask a question, and get nothing back. Then what? Try again? Forget about it? Or is there a better way?

I’ve found that the more I am clear with students about the way I communicate (and what I expect from them), the better my students reciprocate. Here are my three types of texts:

  • Alerts. These will tell you some important information. Read them carefully. You don’t need to respond, but you can if you like.
  • Personal message. These will include your name. I encourage a response, but if you don’t want to respond, that’s fine.
  • Personal message with question. These will include your name and a question. I expect a response back as soon as possible.

I know this level of specificity sounds a bit over-the-top, but I’ve learned that unless I’m really clear, students will either over- or under-respond. (Another option is to include NNTR, no need to respond, or PR, please respond.)

5. Text sparingly.
Truth be told, I got a little carried away last year. SmashText was so great, and my students appreciated my texts so much, that I began to text too often. This was bad because it created a dependent dynamic; for example, students didn’t need to pay attention to the homework because they’d likely receive a reminder at night. It’s important to limit texting only to emergency alerts and one-on-one communication. Other non-pertinent information — like homework or daily class activities — is best left for a class website.

If you follow those tips, you’ll have success with texting your students, and they’ll feel supported and appreciative of your communication.

Do you agree with these tips? What other suggestions do you have? favicon

Please share your brilliant insights!