Ms. Deanna Sainten’s background
Ms. Deanna Sainten is a sixth-grade teacher at Marshall Pomeroy Elementary School in Milpitas, California. She won the Milpitas Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year award in 2012. She has twice won the Milpitas Post newspaper Teacher of the Year award.
Q: Hi Deanna! Can you introduce your school?
Marshall Pomeroy Elementary is a very innovative school and whenever there is an opportunity to improve learning opportunities for students we tend to jump on it right away. Our school and many teachers jumped at the opportunity to use Sangha to communicate with parents.
Q: What information were you sharing with parents and how were you sharing it?
I was sharing information using newsletters, phone calls, emails and the class Weebly website (school info on Schoolloop website). My newsletters had any and everything in them—academic updates and due dates, school events, letters on academic standards, projects we were working on, and notifications for many events that happen during the year, such as science camps, promotions, field trips and summer camps.
I was also making phone calls and writing emails for parents to provide them with academic and behavior check-ins focused on strengths or areas of improvement.
“Our communication tools were ineffective. For parents there are so many deadlines it’s hard for them to remember.”
Q: What was frustrating about this process?
The frustrating piece was spending hours writing newsletters, printing and copying and still knowing that the newsletter wasn’t reaching all of the parents. I would even go to parents’ homes to talk with parents whom I thought I wasn’t reaching. But even the parents I did reach would forget to open their folders, couldn’t find the emails or wouldn’t check the website before an important event or task was due.
It’s not a blame game, but our communication tools were ineffective. For parents there are so many deadlines it’s hard for them to remember. It’s even harder if they have multiple kids as every teacher has different deadlines. For example, science camp deadline for my class was on Tuesday and for another class it was on Thursday. Missed parent deadlines make it even harder for teachers as we have deadlines too.
“Instead, Sangha was easy. It took me 20 minutes to learn how to use it. The app is very helpful and time-saving by eliminating the need to send paper and managing all the paperwork that comes back from parents.”
Q: How was your transition to Sangha and can you share some tips?
The concern that most teachers would have—and the one I had before I sat with it--is this one more thing which will take up a lot of my time?
Instead, Sangha was easy. It took me 20 minutes before I thought I got a hang for it. The app is very helpful and time-saving by eliminating the need to send paper and managing all the paperwork that comes back from parents. Here you have a calendar and you add an event, reminder or deadline and it automatically goes out to parents phones and reminds them multiple times with push notification alerts. It makes it hard for parents to forget.
It didn’t take me much time to add information into Sangha. As an early adopter (we were the first school in March 2014), there were a few kinks but they were all fixed very quickly.
I also asked parents for help in copying information from our existing website. My Room Parent added the information into Sangha from her home when it was convenient for her.
“What used to take four weeks to get everyone on a schedule took only one day to get 85% of the parents signed up.”
Q: What is the one Sangha feature that you like most?
I love the Parent Teacher Conferences feature. This year 85% of my class signed up for a conference date and time in just one day. That’s never happened before. What’s great about Sangha is that it helps manage interactions with offline parents as well. Rather than printing schedules to send to all the parents, I printed just 5 copies for offline parents. Sangha also lets me reserve meeting slots on behalf of offline parents and that was great.
One of the best things about the Parent Teacher Conference feature is that once a time slot is taken it’s taken, no one else can take a reserved slot. With paper scheduling, we would ask the parents for three time options and there used to be a lot of back and forth.
What used to take four weeks to get everyone on a schedule took only one day to get 85% of the parents signed up and another five days for those who still weren’t on the app. No wonder teachers normally start setting up conferences in September for conferences in November.
“When parents open the Sangha calendar on their phones they see what’s coming up for today, the whole week and month.”
Q: Which feature do you use the most?
One of the main things is I don’t want to miss important reminders and would like to view not just a week but a month at a glance. I want to give parents the same courtesy. I add a lot of Quick Reminders. When parents open the Sangha calendar on their phones they see what’s coming up for today, the whole week and month.
With Quick Reminders, it’s hard for parents to miss a deadline. They receive a notification at 6 pm the day before reminding them to check if the homework is done; a 7 am morning reminder asking if the homework is in the backpack; a notification that free dress day is on Friday, and a class report is due next Wednesday.
Q: How has the feedback been from parents?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. My parents say, “I don’t receive paper anymore. I can work all day long and still be involved.”
I have four parents who are teachers in other schools and they are the ones who use the parent-teacher messaging feature the most. They’ve commented about how easy it is to manage their kids’ schedules across classes and how easy it is to signup for parent conferences, volunteering and material donation requests. They’ve asked me how they can introduce Sangha in their classes and school.
"Just because everybody gets newsletters you think it's equitable, it’s really not. Not if all families are not getting the information. It’s not fair to have some families have more information than the others."
Q: Do you have any suggestions for fellow teachers?
It’s worth the time to sit and look at the advantages that come from Sangha and look for ways to make it work fast for your classroom. Times are changing so we have to change the ways we are communicating and reaching families. Just because everybody gets newsletters you think it's equitable, it’s really not. Not if all families are not getting the information. It’s not fair to have some families have more information than the others. The mobile parent app brings it to parents, reminds them and lets them get involved.
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