Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate!

One of the toughest issues facing my school (and district for that matter) is parent communication. Yesterday in a meeting after school our leadership team discussed ways to have more parents involved in what we are doing. Meaning, we offer nights several times a year were parents and students are invited in to discuss gangs, drugs, achievement, relationships, lots of different issues that parents might have questions about and that the school and guests can provide answers or resources to. So we have done a few of these meetings this year with very low turn out. When we have open houses we generally have very low turn out. Even sporting events and music concerts are poorly attended. We are currently examining how we get this information out to parents. What are we doing and how we could do it better.

Teachers face those same issues in their classroom. Disseminating information home can be tough. However, educators have come up with some very creative ways to increase parent communication, thereby, hopefully increasing involvement.

The topic for #edchat this week was: What methods or techniques do we use to increase parent communication? There were tons of great ideas share, both of successes and failures. Here is just a little of what was said:

  • Problem with number of parents suffering from their own bad school experiences. Have to get them to trust school.
  • If parent's are not notified that their child is having a problem, they are not being provided an opportunity to correct things.
  • Highest hurdle is gaining the trust of the parents... No one who doesn't trust you wants to communicate with you.
  • Some things we deal with here - no phone hooked up, kids aren't reliable to take paper home, and they have no internet connection.
  • Use Edmodo & allow parents to join w/ code. Can participate in discussions & keep up w/ all class activities. 
  • Some teachers think, "Why do I do these newsletters/website updates? People don't read them." If ONE parent gets informed, it's a win!
  • I see kids do smart things so many times each day. I need to make opportunities to share these successes more often with parents.
  • Connecting the parent to the school is the school's responsibility, not the parent's.
  • Be flexible and use a variety of ways to contact parents. One way doesn't work for everyone, we must differentiate how we connect.

I encourage you to read the archive of the conversation so really get a grasp for what people were saying.

Here are a few of my thoughts...

First things first. Parental communication is vital to the school community.

In this day and age it is unreasonable for a school to not have a website. And these websites need to be living beings, updated regularly with new information and changes. And now that Google has given us the ability to subscribe to a page even if it does not have an RSS feed there really isn't a reason that schools should not be using that as a major portal of communication for their community. Many (including myself) would argue that teachers need to have their own home on the web. Whether it is provided by the district or not. There are so many great, free, and easy services to use, I find it difficult to find a reason why not to do it.

One of the more interesting suggestions last night was Facebook fan pages for schools. Many said that they provided one more place to get that information out and I tend to agree it is a great idea. Instead of teachers using personal pages the school could have their own presence on Facebook and each teacher, if they wanted, could also have a place there that is separate from their personal space. This might help to allow districts to open up this resource that is often blocked and use it for an education purpose. And why not have a Fan page. Facebook, for a few days was the most visited place on the web in February. Many, many people have them. Tap in to the students, parents, alumni and the community to get your message out and build support for your school.

Twitter is another resource that could be used. I am a big advocate of this. Since the messages have to be 140 characters or less they have to be concise and to the point. Parents and the community can choose to follow and get instantly updated via text message or subscribe to the RSS feed and get updates in a reader. Again, it's yet another way to get the information out.

The point of all this is using as many of the available resources to get your message out. Are you having a parent meeting? One of the things I suggested yesterday at my meeting would be to Ustream. Easy and free. Set up your webcam, account and broadcast. The sessions could be recorded and played anytime afterwards for those that could not attend. Does your school have a blog? Another quick and easy way to get the information out. How about email lists? What about text message blasts? Automated phone calls? Or a simple phone call home from the teacher. There are so many ways.

And that is the point. Schools and teachers need to use all available channels to get that information out there. While the note pinned to the kids shirt worked in the past we have moved on. Simply sending home a packet once a week or even daily just does not cut it. We have to use the web, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, all  need to be used together to spread information.

Anthony Robins once said, "To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Everyone gets their information different ways. Teachers and schools need to begin to understand that and consider how they are getting the information out if if there is a way to improve. 


  1. Great blog, I gave been advocating this at my school fir a couple of years now. The issue, our tech support is afraid if granting access as the fear is it will be inappropriately used. Apparently we are not all proffessionals.

  2. I was sorry to have missed this edchat, but I appreciate you summing it up so well here! This year we added a Fan page on Facebook and a Twitter feed. It has done amazing things for our school community. Parents get important information faster and can collaborate and talk to other parents on the fan page. It has built up our community and helped us to better connect to families.

  3. this is our plan.. to educate our community, and help them from conservatism to enthusiasm.

    we are unveiling it just today - for the 4th qr...

    one adult one student from each building, girded with a flip video...

    weekly add something here:

    this is where it shows up:

    the tumblr will be added to all school sites and our district site, already added to facebook here:
    just today.

    wish us luck..
    join us...

  4. I just read your blog post and thought the same I thought this week when I "voyuered" #edchat. I just wish this the norm, or if my school would just take a step closer.

    I think many times in my community parents do not see teachers as part of a team but as the enemy. Teachers in my school have been pretty much banded from facebook (luckily Jefferson county hasn't discovered twitter yet, ha!). Parents are on facebook looking for ways to get teachers in trouble, not looking for ways to connect with them. How much better would it be if there was a "fan page." It would be amazing to use this technology for the positive. I do not think that schools realize community is no longer face-to-face, but digital. No one comes to the PTA meetings, but you better believe they show up on the message boards. Move that meeting to there, where the "community" is spending their time.

    You have great points here and I plan to pass them on. I hope it makes a difference. Thank you for such great insight!