Effective Practices : Telecommunications
School Operations Section 6
1. What person or group at your school is responsible for the purchase and ongoing maintenance of your telephone communications system? What are the primary tasks associated with these responsibilities?
2. Does your school utilize a telephone system that offers voice mail and other recorded announcements? In what ways does the voice mail system serve your school? What difficulties have you experienced with the voice mail system?
3. Do you have any special purpose lines set up (absence reporting, athletic office announcements, homework, etc.)?
4. When someone calls the school is he initially greeted by a live operator or by a recording? How did your school come to this decision, and has it been effective for you?
5. Does your school use teleconferencing as a means of conducting meetings with offsite participants? Describe how and when it has been used, and comment on its effectiveness.
6. Describe your school’s philosophy with regard to telecommunication.
7. What about your school’s use of telecommunication has been particularly effective?
8. If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s use of telecommunication, what would it be and why?
What person or group at your school is responsible for the purchase and ongoing maintenance of your telephone communications system? What are the primary tasks associated with these responsibilities?
The purchase or lease of new telecommunications equipment is a capital expense, and as such requires the approval of the Budget and Finance Committee or the Board of Trustees in most Waldorf schools. The specific system is generally selected by the administrative staff. Often times it is the business manager or facilities/operations manager who serves as the contact with the telephone company with reference to the purchase of the equipment. Typically it is the office manager or a member of the business office staff that coordinates the ongoing maintenance for the system. Typical maintenance issues include the assigning of extensions to faculty and staff members, primarily at the beginning and end of the school year, and changes or additions to the recorded greetings. She will also coordinate any service calls if needed and order additional handsets for new phone locations.
Does your school utilize a telephone system that offers voice mail and other recorded announcements? In what ways does the voice mail system serve your school? What difficulties have you experienced with the voice mail system?
Waldorf schools place a high value on human contact, and for this reason the question of how and when to use voice mail is a hot topic in our schools. Some schools believe strongly that all telephone contacts should be on a person to person basis. A few of these have declined to purchase telephone systems with voice mail capability, choosing to invest their capital funds elsewhere. Other schools recognize that many of the calls to the school are for teachers and others who cannot come immediately to the phone, and believe that callers prefer to leave a detailed message directly with the intended recipient. These schools enjoy voice mail systems with a wide range of capabilities.
Some schools have very limited voice mail systems, with far more employees than voice mail extensions. In these cases the voice mailboxes are typically reserved for office personnel, the library, and the school store. This system limitation means that a receptionist must always be available to take messages for faculty members and others without a voice mail box.
Many schools have voice mail systems that allow for a large number of voice mailboxes to be established, and one is assigned to each member of the faculty and staff. Schools report that most people appreciate the ability to receive their own messages directly. However, there are always a few cases where teachers are not good about picking up their messages and returning calls. Schools have addressed this difficulty in several ways:
- One school has a display board in the faculty lounge that shows the status of every extension. Anyone with messages in their voice mail box will see a flashing light, a convenient visual reminder to check voice mail.
- Another school has their system set so that any message that is not picked up after three days rolls over to the receptionist’s phone so that she can follow up with the teacher.
- A third school recognizes that some teachers do not want to pick up messages at school and want to receive all calls at home in the evening. These schools insist that these teachers leave a detailed message on their voice mail recording that provides the telephone number at which the teacher wishes to receive calls and messages.
Do you have any special purpose lines set up (absence reporting, athletic office announcements, homework, etc.)?
The use of special purpose lines is very limited in our schools, often times because school phone systems do not have the flexibility to support them. In schools with more flexible telephone systems a variety of special purpose extensions are in use. These include:
- Absence lines where parents can leave a message about a child’s absence from school,
- Sports lines where the athletic staff can record a message each day about game and practice times and locations,
- Event lines that provide recorded information about upcoming events at the school. These lines typically have a recording that gives the time and location of each event taking place at the school that week.
When someone calls the school is he initially greeted by a live operator or by a recording? How did your school come to this decision, and has it been effective for you?
Schools are split on the best way to handle this issue. Half of the schools studied greet callers with a short recorded announcement. The announcement uses a brief script that allows the caller to get to the needed extension or the mail box directory at any time. These schools have found that the use of a live operator does not add any value to many of the calls that come into the school, and that answering each call was not a good use of the receptionist’s time. Those people who want a personal touch and to chat can request to be transferred to the receptionist, as this is one of the first options mentioned in most recorded greetings. These schools have reported that as a result of transitioning to a recorded greeting their school receptionists have been able to pick up additional duties in the office.
Some schools have as their goal the ability to have a live operator answer every call, but most find that they are not able to guarantee this at all times. This decision is typically made with an emphasis on customer service, but does call into play the question of the skill set needed by the person who answers the phone. These schools would like the receptionist to be able to answer basic questions about the school, and to properly direct the caller to the best person to handle the question or concern.
Does your school use teleconferencing as a means of conducting meetings with offsite participants? Describe how and when it has been used, and comment on its effectiveness.
Most schools do not use teleconference on any sort of a regular basis. Occasionally this approach is used to connect a few people at the school with parents or other professionals (attorneys, insurance agents, etc.) who cannot attend a meeting at the school. These teleconferences are usually on business matters, and are not used on pedagogical issues.
Describe your school’s philosophy with regard to telecommunication.
Telecommunications is one part of the school’s electronic communication system. It should be designed to easily provide information or get the caller directly to the person he wishes to reach.
We want to make it easy for the caller to get the information he desires or to contact the person he wishes to reach. We work hard to avoid the endless loop scenario of some voice mail systems.
We work to use terminology in our recordings that the caller might be familiar with. For example, we ask callers with a question about our curriculum or pedagogy to “press one” rather than asking him if he wishes to speak to the college chair.
We want to be warm and friendly when people call, and ensure that every call receives the best personal attention possible.
Although our campus is spread out and we have many separate buildings, we have worked to make telephone service available in the school locations where it is needed most. For example a phone was added to the 8th grade teacher’s classroom in recognition of the many telephone calls she receives and makes in reference to her students and their transitions to other high schools.
With regard to our telecommunications systems we want to “Keep it simple, stupid.” We have a simple system and getting a system with more elaborate features is not where we should be investing our resources right now. Telephone systems should be simple, low cost and reliable.
We want to automate only to the point where it does not affect customer service. We never want someone in voice-mail jail.
We want to use technology to help the caller get to the right person, not to replace all human contact.
What about your school’s use of telecommunication has been particularly effective?
The school has an outside service that will make calls to two telephone numbers for each family in special circumstances. This service has been particularly helpful in announcing snow closures and reminding parents about early closures due to holidays.
The equipment is a tool, but the approach goes beyond the equipment. We need to respond back to inquiries in a timely manner. There is a real consciousness in the school about returning calls, at least to acknowledge the call even if an answer is not readily available.
The school has purchased four cell phones. One is assigned to the administrator, one to the athletic director, and the other two are available for use on field trips and similar ventures that take personnel or students off campus. We do not assume that everyone has a cell phone and that it can be used for school business.
On a related note, cell phones may not be used by students during the school day on campus. Teachers may use them in the teacher’s lounge or other private space.
It’s simple and low cost.
We work to have a live operator whenever possible, and use this person to ensure that messages get to the right person in a timely way.
If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s use of telecommunication, what would it be and why?
We have talked about adding the ability to do a broadcast message to parents in the case of an emergency or unexpected school closure.
Some members of our faculty prefer not to have messages left for them at school. We need to change their voice mail greetings so that callers are instructed not to leave messages, and to give alternate contact information such as email address, cell or home phone numbers. There is still a real difference of opinion in the school as to whether a voice mail system would be a helpful improvement.
The school is installing a T1 line, a high speed conduit that allows faster internet speed. We will not have to dial a full phone number to get to another phone in the school. We will be able to implement a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) that allows unlimited phone lines coming in and to set up multiple voice mail boxes beyond the 20 we currently have. At that time we will have voice mail for each person at the school and have special purpose mailboxes as well.
One area in which we have just begun to throw around ideas is how we could use the telephone and the internet in the case of a pandemic (e.g. bird flu) which would keep our students at home. We are thinking about ways in which technology might allow us to provide instruction in periods when students would not be able to come to school for some time. Could teachers conduct a class online, and then use the voice mail system to leave homework assignments?