I knew going into teaching that having a Google Voice number would be useful for staying in touch with parents and students. Nearing the end of my second year in the classroom, I don’t know what I would do without it. In this post, I’ll show you how I use Google Voice as a Parent Relationship Management system and I’ll highlight an even more powerful parent content tool that alumni in New Orleans are building.
Google Voice is a free service that gives you a single phone number that works independent of whatever phone you have. It can direct calls to your cell, a land line, or a work line. It lets you dial numbers by clicking on a contact from within a web browser. It integrates phone numbers with your Google contacts. It can even handle texts and recording and transcribing voicemail messages. Here are the key features that make it invaluable for me.
Dialing From the Web
When you describe this–click on phone numbers and your phone rings and connects–it doesn’t sound that awesome. Then you have a disruptive student who’s escalated his or her attention-seeking behavior past your consequences for lost points or individual conferencing. There’s little that will redirect classroom attention faster than pulling up Google Voice on your projector, searching for a parent contact, clicking “call,” and then hearing the cell in your pocket ring as it connects you directly to their work phone. (Click the image to embiggen.)
A Local Number
This might not seem important at a time when remembering phone numbers isn’t critical and when the friends’ numbers stored in your cell have area codes from all over the country. But remember that anyone who calls you from a land line will be much more likely to do so if they can make a local, rather than long-distance, call. Also, it’s nice street cred to have a local area code. Since I’m from Atlanta, my direct cell number begins with 404, but I’ve been in Washington, DC, for six years, so I feel more at home with a 202 area code. Google Voice lets you pick the area code and gives you a choice of numbers.
A Professional Number
Wait, why would you want another phone number when you already have one? As a teacher, this is useful because you now have a highly portable “professional” number in addition to your personal cell number. I give the phone’s 404 number to friends and family, but am liberal with sharing my 202 Google Voice number with students, colleagues, parents, and, well, anyone I’m willing to email (it’s in my signature). Moreover, you can create groups of contacts with separate rules about how calls get handled. Calls from colleagues might go straight to your cell. Parent calls might go to your classroom phone, but then get directed to a special parent voicemail if you’re unavailable. Calls from unknown numbers might require the caller to announce his or her name before connecting (very useful if crafty middle schoolers decide to prank call late on a Friday night).
Automatic Call Logging
Being able to place a call with the click of a mouse becomes even more useful if you have several calls to make all in a row, as it saves dialing or time spent scrolling through contacts. But what really makes calling 10 parents more difficult is logging the date and substance of each call. Let’s face it–if you’re making lots of calls, its very easy to just skipping the logging, even if you know it’s a good idea or your administration requires it. But Google Voice logs time, date, phone number (and contact), and duration, for every call placed, received, or missed. It even lets you add notes to individual call logs. This means that if I can’t member the last time I called a parent, I can just scan through my placed call logs and see it was two weeks ago. (Click the image to embiggen.)
Dash: A Tool for Next-Generation Parent Engagement
Google Voice is great for teachers, but it isn’t designed for teachers. Dash is a smartphone application under development that “organizes and tracks parent-teacher communication, helping teachers make frequent and well-informed calls.” Three entrepreneurial corps members designed a system that would streamline managing all this parental engagement information and flew it to a Startup Weekend in New York. The idea took second place and the team regrouped in New Orleans to begin beta testing.
You can learn about Dash and help get the venture off the ground by making a donation on their Start Some Good page. Here’s their promo vid: