Parent conferences are very important. I don’t think any teacher/parent finds them useless. There may be the occasional unnecessary conference but for the most part we find them all helpful, enlightening and I wish they would happen a lot more often (that’s for a different post). However, there are some nuts and bolts that have to be considered when running/organizing a parent conference. The main points are the following:
- How to get the word out?
- How will parents book the appointment?
- Where will the individual meetings take place?
The first and last of those our school does very well. It was the booking appointments that was the problem. Lucky for us there is www.schoolbookings.net. They provide an online booking system that is designed for parent teacher conferences. The service is awesome, the people are friendly and professional and best of all, it works really well. Intrigued? Want some more info, the click on past the break to see all the goodness that made this year’s parent teacher conference at my school a lot better.
Before our system consisted of parents walking around to our rooms, signing up on a sheet outside of our door and then going back to those rooms for the conference. It worked OK, but what we found happening is that parents had no idea what time teachers were available so it became a bit of a nightmare of walking around, figuring out who was available when and whether they had enough time to meet with all of those teachers. The old system worked but it was not efficient or parent friendly. This is why we started looking for an online booking system.
I know, I know school’s shouldn’t be about the bottom line but we all know that budgets and spending money is very important. Gotta keep the lights on and the water flowing. I also wanted to talk about this first because I looked at a lot of booking systems but School Bookings had the best price structure that makes sense for schools. Let me explain.
Most booking systems had two types of models. They would charge by how many appointments would be book or by how many people (teachers in the case) needed to use it to organize meetings. The cost for a few people (per year) was OK (about $10/person) but when you start expanding it to an entire school, well the cost gets out of hand. Let’s take a look at School Bookings cost structure and tell me if it’s not better.
My school is K-12 and right now we are just piloting it in our middle school with about 450 students. This allows us to create as many events as we want, add as many teachers as we want and have powerful administrative controls for an entire year. We have almost 40 teachers so it works out to about $5/teacher/year. That’s not too bad. If we wanted to add the high school we are only adding $100 to our total price.
Using it – parent perspective
Simplicity – that is what is needed and that is what School Bookings delivers. When the school makes the event (getting to that later) they will receive a code. Parents will input that 5 digit code into their home page.
Once that is done it will take them to a page that gives them the name of the school, the date(s) of the conference and ask for some very simple information.
- Parent name
- Email (this is necessary)
- How many children they have in that school (you can have up to 9)
- The names of those children
Check out the image below.
The next step is to select the subjects and teachers you want to meet with. School Bookings offer other ways to customize this, but we felt the easiest way was to organize all the teachers by departments. This makes it pretty hard for a parent to accidentally book an appointment with the wrong teacher. In fact we had almost 2000 bookings and there was only 2 mistakes (which the school was able to correct). Pretty good, so take a look to see how easy and simple it is to use.
Nice. When they’ve selected all the teachers they want to see (again the school can control how many appointments can be made), they click the green Go button and they’re off the scheduling the actual appointments. If there is a box, then they are available. If there is no box, they are not available. If they are fully booked it will say that as well.
This system will not allow parents to:
- Double bookings (two teacher appointments at the same time)
- They cannot accidentally overbook (two appointments on two different days
The system will warn parents of the following:
- Not scheduling a booking for a teacher
- Having appointments that are too close together
Simple and well though out no? Then they click the green Go button to move onto to the next page.
The last page is a confirmation page and lots of great info is here.
It gives the parent this information:
- A summary of the appointments they made
- Letting the parents know that the an email has been set with this information
- An ability to cancel, update personal information, add another student, add another booking or print off their bookings
- It also gives them information on how to access their bookings again if they need to make a change or cancellation
For parents making changes to the system is as easy as going back to the website and inputting the school event code. If it’s the same computer and browser it will remember the booking, if not they will have to input their information again and it will retrieve their bookings. Very easy, very simple and most of all very effective.
At our school we had over 350 parents sign up and make almost 1900 appointments with only 2 mistakes (2 teachers have the same last name), and there have been more than a few compliments on how well and simple the system was. It was a success.
Using it – Teacher perspective
It’s easy and simple for parents that is a huge plus but what about the teachers? They have to be happy with it too. In truth, there is not too much for the teacher to do. The administrator sets up the event, so the teacher can see who is coming, when and start preparing for it.
So here is what our teachers had to do
First they log in.
Then they click their name from a list of teachers.
Then they see who is coming and even set their own breaks (again the admin can control that).
So in other words, there is not much for a teacher to do except prepare for their conferences.
They do have the ability to make a booking but they cannot change bookings. That last one is important. Parents can change/cancel their own bookings, the administrator can change/cancel any bookings but teacher cannot change/cancel any bookings. So no crazy shenanigans.
Using it – Admin perspective
When I say admin, I mean the person who will be the administrator to set up the events and manage it leading up to the conference. In this case, I was that person, but it is so easy to do that anyone, teacher, administrator, someone from the parent organization it doesn’t really matter just as long as you can trust them.
The first thing that needs to be done is adding the teachers. For me it took about 30 minutes to add all 36 teachers. Check out the picture below to see what I’m talking about.
What’s nice here is that you can add multiple subjects for one teacher and you can add in some details (email, room number, important information of upcoming events associated with that teacher). It is really handy.
Now we need to create an event. Select Event from the right hand navigation bar and this will appear. Simple no? You can change the description, the email parents receive, how many booking a parent can make, how long each meeting will be and more!
You see there are also advanced settings as well for even more control of the event.
Tons of options. You can allow multiple/group bookings, how the timetable will be displayed. The choices here aren’t ridiculous but give you real flexibility when creating an event for parents. Could this be used for professional development? You betcha!
I can go on, but I’m closing in on 1500 words and think that you get the idea. I really like this system and our parents, teachers and administration all found it easy and effective. You don’t need to be a tech whiz to set up or manage it and their customer service is nothing short of incredible. Here is what I have to say about 350 parents and nearly 1900 bookings and only 1 tiny problem that was due to a parent error. Those numbers are hard to argue agains. If parent/teacher conferences are a bit of hassle (for signing up that is) you owe it to yourself to check out schoolbookings.net.