More parent group leaders are using messaging apps to stay in touch with each other and with their school communities. Apps like Facebook Messenger, Remind, and GroupMe haven’t replaced group emails and flyers, but they have become another way for groups to communicate with parents.

Why messaging apps? In schools where some families don’t have Internet access, most parents can still get text messages and use apps on their mobile phones. (Plus, as text messaging has become more mainstream with parents receiving messages from school administrators, baseball coaches, and dance instructors, email can sometimes seem old-fashioned and less immediate.) We’ve heard from leaders who use these messaging apps for officer discussions and communicating with parents.

Officer Discussions

Members of our closed PTO and PTA Leaders Facebook group report using a private Facebook group for their own officers to conduct board business. This allows the officers to share ideas and photos taken while shopping and for others to see and comment on them. If you create a private Facebook group, remind people joining the group to sign up to receive notifications so it’s easier to find messages when others post.

Officers at the Indian Hollow Elementary School PTO in Winchester, Va., use Messenger because it is easily accessed both by officers with Facebook accounts and by one board member who does not use Facebook. Texts sent through Messenger are frequent when the PTO is planning an upcoming event, notes treasurer Dawn Custer. “It takes away time having to sit through a long meeting or waiting weeks for an answer,” she says. (Messenger used to be part of Facebook but is now a standalone app.)

If everyone in the group has a Gmail address, Google Hangouts can be used for messaging and video chats. Up to 10 people can join a video chat, making this a useful tool if a committee chair wants to show members auction donations without toting them to a meeting, for example. You can also share photos and website links, which can come in handy when making decisions about event decorations or activities.

Several leaders have said their groups use an app called BAND, which has a group calendar feature that simplifies planning. The app includes group texting and group chat. Users might start a group chat to brainstorm ideas for teacher appreciation. Then the teacher appreciation committee can finalize plans and use BAND to share a file with the details.

Although it’s known as a workplace communication tool, some parent group boards have begun using Slack to stay in touch. Users set up a separate channel for each project or topic they’ll discuss and can share and comment on files.

Voxer can be used to send group text or voice messages. Say you want to remind committee members of your meeting time, but you don’t want to take the time to text or email? Record a voice message and send it out.

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Communicating With Parents

Messaging apps don’t replace hard copy flyers for getting the word out for one key reason: Parents have to actively sign up to receive messages, so in most cases messages go to only a portion of school parents. However, many teachers have adopted messaging apps for their own communications with parents. In these cases, the parent group may have greater success.

Discussions in our Facebook group show that the most popular choices for messaging apps are Remind and GroupMe.

The Vermilion (Ohio) Elementary PTO decided to try the Remind app for parent messages because the school’s kindergarten teachers were already using it to send classroom reminders. Parents sign up to receive messages that the PTO sends through Remind as text messages, emails, or both, or by accessing the app on their phone.

The Vermilion PTO used Remind to coordinate donations for a teacher salad bar during parent-teacher conferences. Rather than looking back through multiple emails or text exchanges, leaders could view all responses to their Remind message in one place.

“It’s an easy way to keep everyone on the same page,” says vice president Kristen Broeckel, who adds that leaders use the app to remind people of the volunteer time slots or food donations they signed up to bring. “It has allowed us to get a lot more volunteers involved because it allows them to interact with us at any time of the day without them thinking that they are bothering us or disappointing us.”

With the GroupMe app, you can create different groups to receive messages for each event, like carnival and teacher appreciation week. It’s simple to add new people or create new groups so you send information only to those it applies to, a leader reports in our Facebook group.

Other Text Messaging Providers

While most leaders mentioned using Remind or GroupMe, there are many options for text messaging services. Other providers mentioned by leaders include:

Member Planet
PT Avenue
School Apptitude
School Messenger
Simply Circle

Text Messaging App Tips

If you’re looking into a messaging service, consider the different options users have for notifications and any fees they might incur. Many apps allow users to choose between reading messages within the app or receiving them as text messages on their mobile phones, which could incur fees from their mobile service provider. Some apps allow users to opt into receiving the messages by email, too.

To get more parents signed up, send home a flyer with instructions and regularly mention the text messaging service in your communications as a good way to stay in the loop with what’s going on at school.

Unless you can be sure messages sent through an app will reach all school parents, also announce events through other channels, such as flyers, emails, or newsletters. Text messages work well for day-of reminders about meeting or restaurant fundraiser events, or night-before messages reminding parents about a crazy hair day or an early dismissal time.

Additional communication resources:

9 Free Apps Parent Group Leaders Love

6 Digital Tools Your PTO Needs

Email Communication Tips