I used to think the internet was the worst thing to happen to schools.
Cyberbullying. Fake primary sources. Misinformation. The death of the card catalog. Texting under the desk. I failed to see how it added anything positive for teachers and school leaders, not to mention students. I’ll take some good old-fashioned note-passing any day!
Websites selling dubious classroom materials intensified my internal internet combustion. When I started reading all the concerned posts about ChatGPT in schools, I got it. And when my 12-year-old tried to pass off an essay written by ChatGPT as his own, I double got it.
I’ve now spent a fair amount of time using ChatGPT, and it’s different.
ChatGPT can revolutionize our lives as educators.
A gift to overworked teachers
I talked to Mary Howard, a New York State Master Teacher of Science and the author of “Artificial Intelligence To Streamline Your Teacher Life: The ChatGPT Guide for Educators.” She told me that ChatGPT “is the best timesaver imaginable. I use it daily for a great variety of tasks.”
I was curious how a science teacher might use an artificial intelligence helper. She spelled out these four uses:
- Generating grading rubrics.
- Generating content-based reading passages and then altering the reading level to differentiate instruction.
- Generating real-life, relevant examples to use during lessons based on science content.
- Assisting in organizing data sets and generating data tables.
It’s not that Mary couldn’t do these tasks on her own. It’s that ChatGPT does them in mere seconds, returning literal hours to her day.
Managing parent communications
Consistent and positive communication with home adults is non-negotiable. It’s an integral facet of supporting students to succeed. Sending translatable school communications like weekly class updates keeps families informed. Informed parents support what’s happening in the classroom. Following up with a text or call is the difference between a student who comes to school and one who doesn’t.
Research shows that strong home-school communication leads to improved academic and behavioral outcomes. In an era of chronic absenteeism, it becomes all the more urgent. Especially when there’s a clear relationship between dropping out and becoming incarcerated.
ChatGPT can help reduce the burden of school-home communications.
“I like to refer to ChatGPT as a thesaurus on steroids,” Mary told me. “Rarely would I use it to replace independent thought. However, sometimes it simply comes up with the words when I cannot. It’s immensely helpful in finding the right way to say something by removing any emotion from communications with parents, allowing me to maintain a necessary and helpful neutral tone.”
Being aware of the importance of parent communication doesn’t mean it’s easy. Imagine the time you save not agonizing over how to respond to a problematic parent email. Instead, type out: “Write a response to this email like you are a teacher, saying no in a polite, firm, friendly and positive way.”
Two seconds later, you have your response. Sure, you might have to edit a little. But what might have taken half an hour or more now takes a few minutes. Plus, ChatGPT is in dialogue with you. If you don’t like the first response you get, ask for another version using further instruction.
It’s the most responsive, fastest-learning student you’ll ever have!
Streamlining administrators’ lives
District and building leaders also have a significant amount of communicating to do. Here are some communication tasks ChatGPT can help with:
- Creating school board presentations.
- Composing updates for families.
- Doing teacher outreach and engagement write-ups with suggestions for improvement.
For these three tasks, the leader has to feed essential information to ChatGPT. But once fed, it will spit back fully formed responses in a heartbeat. All that’s left to do is some refining and personalization.
Aiding non-communication tasks
ChatGPT, with proper input, can create your building schedule for you. It can give you as many variations as you need in seconds.
Let’s say you want to run a special, weeklong mini-mester. Scheduling those is always a hassle. Let’s say you need help developing a run-of-show for a big school event. Or you’d like help organizing a career day or finding resources for a professional development session.
ChatGPT is your new, free personal assistant who will never, ever call in sick.
Helping district professionals
Rebecca Bultsma, a school communications officer in Alberta recently posted a Twitter thread of ChatGPT tips for school communications professionals. She’s finding numerous ways to both save time and communicate better, thanks to ChatGPT. She wrote that she told ChatGPT to:
- Act as a school communications director. Create crisis response messaging for parents, staff, students, and media to address a school bus accident.
- Help me understand different points of view on <topic> from a parent’s perspective.
- Analyze this content for our brand’s style, voice, and tone. Then, rewrite a new paragraph in the same style, voice, and tone: [paste your text here].
It’s easy to see the difference this kind of tool could make for admin at the building and district level, as well as for teachers.
Will it kill teaching and learning as we know it?
The calculator did not ruin students’ ability to engage in mathematical thinking. It took care of the busywork to make more room for real problem-solving. ChatGPT could be the same. In a way, it’s not so different from a flipped classroom model. Do the practice at home. Do the thinking, collaborating, demonstrating and applying in class.
Yes, ChatGPT can write an essay on symbolism in “MacBeth.” But that’s not what teaching is. Teaching is facilitating discussion and critical thinking. It’s helping students learn to apply their knowledge. We want students to be able to think critically, reason and make sense of the world they’re living in. And to grow into thoughtful, well-reasoned, empathic citizens of our global society. ChatGPT opens the door to centering authentic student work in the classroom and fostering those skills.
Teacher Mary Howard agrees: “In an ironic sense, the existence of AI may result in education coming full circle. Direct interpersonal exchange and enhanced questioning strategies will become a greater part of learning. And that is immensely beneficial.”
Along the way, it’ll reduce the burden on stressed and overworked educators. And that is for the good!
Kara Stern, Ph.D., is head of education solutions at The SchoolStatus Group. The SchoolStatus Group provides a comprehensive suite of data and communication solutions that enhance educator effectiveness, automate workflows, support professional development and improve student outcomes by facilitating meaningful engagement between teachers, districts and families. A former teacher, middle-school principal and head of school, she holds a doctorate in teaching and learning from New York University.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.