In this article, I'll explain how to make it easy for parents to see a school calendar on a mobile device (iPhone, Android device, Windows phone or tablet) and keep this calendar up-to-date. You will no longer need to print calendars on paper (yay, trees!) or have parents enter them manually. A public calendar allows you to add new events, update existing events, delete cancelled events, set reminders, provide helpful event details (such as instructions or locations of off-site events) and subscribers will see them instantly. It lets you share the same calendar online (at your school's website). And it does not limit you to a school schedule. You can follow the same approach to set up a calendar for any organization or activity, such as a sports team or a volunteering project.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let me first clarify the requirements and limitations.
If you (a school calendar administrator or creator) do not have a Google account, you can easily create one (it's free). A Google account gives you access to the Calendar features including ability to create public calendars. You may prefer to create a special Google account that would "own" the school calendar, so you can transfer it to someone else in case you no longer want to manage it (Google makes it really easy to switch between multiple accounts).
To get real time updates, Google calendar subscribers (parents) will also need Google accounts. As a subscriber, you do not need to actively use a personal Google calendar (if you prefer something else), but you will need it to sync the school calendar with your mobile device.
Calendar creation process
To set up a school calendar, follow these steps:
Create a public calendar
First, you create a public Google calendar for your school online. Here is a short video explaining how to do this (if you prefer a written tutorial, read Create & manage a public Google calendar):
Although you can change it later, try to give the calendar a meaningful name (or title). Keep in mind that a long name may not show completely on mobile devices, so place the most significant parts of the name in the beginning. Here are some examples of calendar names that I used, so you may want to follow a similar format:
If you want to allow other administrators to maintain the calendar (create and make changes to the events), set appropriate sharing permissions (read the Control what others can see help section).
Add events to the calendar
To make sure you add an event to the wright calendar, when you work with your school calendar, temporarily turn off all other calendars. Here are some tips.
When naming events, follow the same naming convention. To make it easier for subscribers identify which calendar an event belongs to, include a short name of the school in the name of event. Here are some examples of event names that I used for a California Montessori Project's school calendar (you can browse the calendar to see more examples and details):
- Minimum Day (CMP)
- School Break (CMP)
- School Holiday (CMP)
- School Closed (CMP)
- Last Day of School/Minimum Day (CMP)
As you may have noticed, I prefer to keep titles short and simple, but I also use the description field for additional information.
Include details that parents may find useful in the event description. You can use description for special instructions or any type of information you would normally provide in a letter or email invitation.
For off-site events, specify the address in the location field. The address will help parents find location on map and use navigation apps.
For some events, such as minimum days, it may make sense to set up reminders. Keep in mind that that parents may need time to travel, so give them enough time (I'd say, for a full-day event, a 12-hour advanced reminder would be fine, while for all other events, an hour would be enough). Use pop-ups for reminders.
For repeating or multi-day events (such as regular after school activities or school breaks), set up occurrence rules (do not duplicate events).
Instead of creating each event from scratch, use the Duplicate Event feature, which allows you to copy an existing event, and then update all relevant information. For example, when defining school holidays, set up an even for the Labor Day (I think it's the first holiday in a typical school year), make sure you use proper naming convention and define event details. Then duplicate it to make an entry for Veteran's Day (don't forget to adjust event information), and continue doing the same for other school holidays.
Advertise the calendar
Once you get the calendar up and running, you send its address (the URL of the calendar's ICS file) to the parents. At the time of writing, you could locate the calendar address by following this steps:
- Open your Google calendar page.
- Click the settings (gear) button in the top right corner, and select the Settings option from the pop-up menu.
- Under the Calendar Settings heading, click the Calendars tab link.
- Click the name of your public school calendar displayed in the My Calendars section.
- Scroll down to the Calendar Address section and click the iCal button (make sure you use the public iCal address and not the private one).
A window will pop up showing the calendar address that looks like this:
Make sure that the address ends with the .ics extension. This is the address of the calendar that you will need to share with parents.
Maintain the calendar
You can use the same calendar year over year and make changes to it at any time. All changes to the calendar will be automatically delivered to the subscribers. As a bonus, you can also add a Google calendar to your website.
To see calendar events on your mobile device, such as phone or tablet, do the following:
Subscribe to calendar
Parents subscribe to the calendar using the provided address of the iCal file. The steps are outlined in the Add someone else's Google calendar article (see the Add using a link section).
Sync calendar with phone
If you do not see the school calendar events reflected on your phone (or other mobile device's) calendar, you may need to make a couple of adjustments. First, follow the instructions outlined in the Sync Calendar with a phone or tablet article. Depending on the device configuration, it may not be enough, so follow your device maker's recommendations. For example, here are instructions for Windows and iPhone users. For an Android device, you many need to clear calendar data and resync the calendar (if you are not sure how to do this, search for: <your device name> +clear +calendar +data and <your device name> +sync +calendar).
I'm almost done, but before we part, one final though. In fact, this is the first question you need to address:
How many calendars do you want to keep?Do you want to maintain a single district calendar or multiple calendars? Do you need a separate calendars for primary, middle, and high schools? Do you want the calendar to include the information relevant to teachers and staff (such as training)? Depending on the size of your district, differences in school schedules, and other factors, you may choose one approach over another. As a parent, I'd like a single school calendar with information relevant to students only and a class calendar reflecting class-specific events, such as field trips, project deadlines, and due dates. I do not care when and where teachers and staff attend training, but I do care when the school is closed, but others may have other preferences.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have questions or want to leave feedback, please leave a comment.
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