School communication is one of the hardest things to do well. When I do parental and staff satisfaction surveys, inevitably, effective school communication is usually one of the lowest scoring metrics. The importance of parent-teacher communication in schools can’t be overstated, and it’s clear that most institutions need to step back and create an effective school communication plan.
Unfortunately, the growth of social media has both helped school communication and made it vastly more complex. Is this information that should go out via text, in a handout to be taken home, placed on the website, or does it deserve a phone call? It is hard to figure out the best way to communicate in a way that ensures that important information is heard.
There is no magic solution to the Gordian knot of communication. However, if you’re looking to improve, here are 12 effective suggestions you can implement today.
It should be obvious that a school’s administration is on the same side as its teachers, but there can often be a disconnect between the two groups. It might be difficult for a teacher to put themselves in an admin’s shoes, and vice versa, as the two professions deal with very different parts of the organization.
To create a truly effective school communication plan, begin each academic year by ensuring that everyone participates in setting the school’s goals for the year. Whether it’s improving retention rates, driving up the math scores or increasing the involvement of parents, uniting around a set of shared goals gives your team direction and cohesion. If everyone understands the importance of these goals, there is now a common ground from which to communicate.
Working toward the same goal can also increase empathy. Knowing that everyone is on the same side can help cool tempers when an admin is too busy to help with something, or a teacher disagrees with a policy change. You’re both working hard to ensure these students receive a good education; you’re just coming at it from different directions.
The question of how to improve parent teacher communication is one that has vexed schools for a long time. You won’t find too many parents apathetic towards the whole “communication” thing. Parents and guardians want to know what their children are learning and how they’re performing. And with the internet in our pockets, they also want to be able to contact teachers and administrators at the drop of a hat. While making yourself available for instant communication isn’t always possible (or wise), making communication with parents central to your communication plan is imperative.
If you send newsletters to parents, do it at regular intervals. Same with social media or blog posts. Consistency and frequency are key because parents don’t want surprises. They want to know where to get their information and when they can expect it. And remember in this day of short attention spans, often you must repeat the message multiple times before it sticks.
A bunch of school communication apps have come on the market, and in theory they all make it easier to communicate with parents. Tools like ClassDojo, ClassTag, and Remind, all make it possible for parents to track what’s happening in their children’s classroom, but before you make everyone download an app, make sure to train parents (and teachers!) how to use it.
Once you go to the trouble training everyone to use a school communication app, stick with it! Parents will love you even more if your school standardizes on just one system. That way they won’t have to relearn a new system every year, or even worse, juggle different tools because every teacher uses something different!
Everyone uses email, voicemail, and IMs different. Some people expect responses instantaneously, while others will wait patiently for someone to get back to them.
Clearly communicate to both parents and teachers what the expected turnaround time is for communication. Helping parents understand that teachers will respond within 24 hours can prevent some angry calls to the principal and it also might give a gentle nudge to some of your teachers who are slow to respond.
Rather than treating parents like information receptacles, encourage collaboration and conversation. Go beyond the once-a-semester parent/teacher conference by holding multiple events that allow parents a closer look at what goes on in their child’s classroom. Many parent-teacher conferences are rushed and may not allow the opportunity for more relaxed conversations about the shared goal of educating the child.
A regularly conducted school satisfaction survey is another fantastic tool to help you understand what your parents are thinking and where they would like you to improve. This is a great tool if you are just beginning to figure out where there is a disconnect between your key groups, and the feedback is essential for any effective communication plan.
Educational institutions often act as local community centers. Partnering with local citizens, businesses, and non-profits can give students access to more resources and learning experiences. One key to a strong relationship between school and community is keeping everyone informed while making them feel heard.
Starting a principal’s blog is a relatively simple way of broadcasting the school’s goings-on to the community, and the community’s goings-on to the school. Same with social media, as both of these platforms are open to all, easily accessed, and easily disseminated.
To maximize social media’s potential, consider helping local community groups communicate to their constituencies by sharing their posts. Soon, these groups will reciprocate and start doing the same with your posts. The more you help each other, the smaller and more connected your world becomes.
An October hayride on the school’s front lawn or a chili cook-off in the cafeteria can draw families, friends, and neighbors. A culture night or book exchange can bring everyone together under one roof and promote togetherness. You could even offer to host a local real estate seminar or a chamber of commerce networking event. Not only are these great ways to improve engagement with the community, but they can also be easily turned into recruiting events for prospective students.
Educators use a lot of jargon when talking among themselves. While academic and technical terms have value, they can sometimes get in the way of effective communication with parents. As much as possible, use direct, plan language to explain to parents what is going on in your school. You may have an important point to make about “metacognition,” but it won’t matter if nobody knows what you’re talking about.
Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to email@example.com or call us at 317-361-5255.
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