Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series: Create Solid School:Home Relationships This Year

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we looked at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. Today I give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

Solid relationships are built upon strong communications. Whether it’s with a spouse, family member or friend, the ability to communicate well can make or break any relationship. The same is true for our school systems. Students, teachers, staff, parents and the community all need to feel that they have the best information possible and that each is an engaged member of the school community.

An effective School:Home Communications Plan is multifaceted and complex. Ensuring that all stakeholders receive the best, most complete information, on a “channel” that meets their needs can be a challenge. However, no matter the plan, there is always room for improvement.

Here are three ways to improve any communications plan to enhance relationships and build engagement with all.

Be A Storyteller
How many times do we turn on the news and hear another negative story about schools? It seems like almost on a daily basis there is an exposé about failing schools, or how lack of funding is hurting how students learn. For those of us on the inside of schools, it can seem as if no good news is ever told. The reality is that there are amazing things happening in schools everyday. From the small stories that are personal within one particular classroom, to those that can have an impact across communities, these are the stories that need (and deserve) to be told.

There is no question the information that matters to parents and guardians is the critical information related to grades and academics. However, there is something to be said to learn of those great stories that lie just below the surface in every school. The classroom that read the most books in a period or the school that donated food to a local food bank for the Holidays or the student that created Braille Machine out of Legos because his school couldn’t afford it. There are students, teachers, volunteers and community members who are doing amazing things in and for schools every day. Start a blog and tell their stories. Use your weekly email or special section on your website to highlight what’s great about your school or district.

Diversify Through Social Media
Social media is an almost constant part of our daily lives. From checking our likes on Facebook to posting pictures of our amazing meal on Instagram, almost 3/4 of all Americans use social media on a daily basis. We see hashtags on our sports teams’ jerseys and on our favorite television programs.

Schools and districts are also embracing social media as another channel to engage stakeholders. Twitter provides a quick, 140-character way to get the word out. Facebook can engage with more than just parents and guardians. However, if you are limiting yourself to just those 2 channels you are missing out on additional ways to engage with your community.

Even though Twitter and Facebook are now seen as the “traditional” social media channels, it is time to diversify and engage in other spaces. Twitter and Facebook offer both ease of use and quick deployment of message, however, are they the best choices for delivering a multifaceted message?

Take Pinterest for example. The number of Pinterest users continues to grow day after day. Pinterest is a very visual medium and appeals to a great number of people because of that. For school communications, this could be used to share blog posts with images, links to curriculum resources or boards to help parents be more involved in school. The possibilities are really endless and you can engage with the same audience for a different purpose.

Other Social Media And Communication Tools To Investigate:

  • Instagram-Easily share images of the great things happening everyday in schools.
  • Snapchat-Not every image or video deserves permanency. Most are good in the moment and can be replaced the next day. Share using the My Story feature what students are learning or even use it to share with the community the professional development that is happening. 
  • Periscope-Live broadcast meetings or other events for parents/community members who can’t attend. 
  • SchoolMessenger App-This is an easy way to foster simple 2-way communications between teachers and parents. No cellphone needed. Simply sign up, create a class and invite others to join. 
Remember, these are not the only ways to communicate that information, but another way to meet people where they are.

Avoid Message Fatigue
We are bombarded with a tremendous amount of information daily. Each of us has developed our own filters to deal with all the data; letting in the information that matters, and letting go of the information that doesn’t.

As the Father of a Third Grader, I can attest to the barrage of information I get daily. Papers in a daily folder, emails from the school and district, phone calls from the school and district, notifications from the teacher via text message, most of it repeated information three or more times. I once had someone tell me you have to communicate information nine times, nine different ways to ensure that the message gets across. The reality is, who has time for that? When it comes to school communications, sending that many messages, that many different ways, can lead to “Message Fatigue”.

To avoid “Message Fatigue”, begin by taking stock of what messages are sent and how. This needs to be done not only at the classroom and school level, but across the district as well. Some questions to ask:

  • Is there information at the district level that is also duplicated at the school level? The Classroom level?
  • Can information sharing be streamlined so it is coming from one channel? How can the best information come from the best channel?
  • Is there a way to share information with the school community less often, but still ensure that it is timely?
  • What choice are you giving to parents and the community to receive the information when and where they want? 

Next, we need to survey stakeholders to find the preferred communications channels. A recent survey done by Pew Internet of parents of school-aged children found that many parents preferred digital channels to receive information from schools because of the immediacy of the information. While a daily or semi-daily phone call is traditional, is it the way parents and guardians in your school or district want to be contacted? What other, more real time, digital means can you use to get parents and guardians the information they want (and need) in the most appropriate way for them?

Lastly, review reports often. Take a look at all the reports available to determine the effectiveness of your communications. In your phone log, are the calls being partially listened to? That can be a sign of message fatigue. Take a look at your email log. Are they being open and read or just glanced at? In your overall message log, do you have a good variety of communications that matches what your stakeholders want? These reports can provide a treasure-trove of information that can help you stay up-to-date on avoiding message fatigue.

A strong School:Home Communications Plan not only helps to communicate information to the community in a timely manner, it also helps build relationships, establish connections and create a culture that all stakeholders want to be a part of. By being a storyteller, diversifying your use of social media and avoiding message fatigue you can take your school’s home communications to the next level!

Want to learn more? Download my whitepaper with more information. 

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