We are running our parent-teacher interview appoints through an online service for the first time. Last year we used a Google spreadsheet for our bookings, but we had problems because of parents over-writing each other’s entries. The parents just found the process a bit difficult. This year we are using SchoolBookings.net to set up our appointments and I just thought I would post a summary of that process here to help myself out next year.
School Bookings is a 3rd party service which looks like it originated out of New Zealand. The service costs money, between $150 and $800 depending on the size of your school. Of course the larger your school, the more complicated setting up parent-teacher interviews will be, and hence more time-consuming for everyone involved. Customer service for this service is terrific. Every time I emailed with a question, I got a response back almost immediately with a solution to whatever issue I was having. Note: I’m not an employee of SchoolBookings.net, I just loved their system.
How it works
Here’s what the process looks like. You sign up with School Bookings and pay your fee. You can trial period their program a bit first if you want, but at some point you have to pay them, and I recommend doing this before you actually use it for an event. You have about a week to play with their system and test it out.
Once you’ve signed up for the service, you need to edit your event settings. If you need multiple events for some reason within a short amount of time, I emailed their customer support and they gave me multiple account codes, all tied to the same school. The events settings page looks like this:
Notice that you can break your event up into multiple time-slots and dates, which is useful if you have a conference lasting over a period of a few days. There are also some advanced settings which you can use if you want to use this type of booking system for a completely different purpose than parent-teacher interviews (for example: student-led conference, athletics bookings, whatever-you-name-it).
Now that you’ve set up your event, you need to add teachers. Note that from above you can see that you could use this system to book any resource, including rooms, mobile labs, whatever.
The "Add a New Teacher" form is fairly straight forward. You can either add multiple subjects per teacher, or you can as I’ve done below which is to indicate all of the subjects an individual teaches in one line. A very handy feature of this form is the ability to add a location which will eventually show up in the confirmation email the parents receive.
One problem you may encounter is that not every teacher has exactly the same schedule. Someone may be ill, or may have to leave early because of a course they are taking, etc… Happily the School Bookings team has thought of this and allows you to schedule "breaks" for teachers.
Now that you have set up the event, the next thing you have to do is share it with the parents. The parents will need an event code to be able to sign up for events through their website which looks like a combination of 5 letters and numbers. The solution we came up with was to embed the form for parent’s to fill in into a Google Site and then we were able to provide the sign information on the same page as the embedded form. On the left we provided a help video for signing up and a list of courses with the appropriate teacher.
Here’s the training video I created for our parents. You can see from this video that most of the time the process is pretty painless and easy for the parents.
There were a couple of problems with the way we did this. We embedded the sign-in page into another website which turned out to have problems in Internet Explorer when the parents had their security settings set very high. In this case we had a back-up plan. Any parents which found the form difficult were welcome to call into the school where our school receptionists had been trained to fill in the information into the bookings system for them. I think this handled most problems. Note that this particular problem is because of the way we set up the form, rather than the way the website works. We just thought it would be easier for the parents if the bookings form & the code to enter into the bookings form were on the same page. Maybe a future feature request would be bookings forms that changed depending on the URL entered (so that parents could skip the step of entering the information into the little box if they were provided with a special URL).
The advantages of such a system are enormous. We successfully booked over 150 parents through this system without any help from our front office staff which saved them hours and hours of work. They are already very busy with other tasks so anything we can do to make their lives a bit easier is good for the school in the long run. Feedback from parents has been mostly positive. Our previous system was cumbersome and often meant parents didn’t end up with the exact times they wanted. Now if a parent doesn’t have their appointment of choice, they will know it’s because they didn’t book early enough.
I highly recommend this particular system mostly because of their customer service, the cost is very good for such a system, and it just worked.