And in a few days all will be silent. The phone won’t ring. The inbox will be conspicuously empty. When the last bell rings on the last day of school it seems like the door to the school shuts and so does how the school (or district for that matter) goes on vacation. Rightfully so. It's been a long school year and everyone needs a break.
Relationships go a long way in the educational environment especially to help students to continue to be successful. And building those relationships as any Public Relations person will tell you takes constant work. The summer time is a great time for teachers and leaders to keep the relationship building going, without being invasive or overdoing it.
Here are some tips to keep the lines of communications open over the summer while formulating a new plan for next school year.
Review Last Year’s Communications-When things settle down it's a good idea to go back and look at all your various communications from the previous school year. Pull reports on phone calls and emails. How many were listened to? How many emails were opened? This can give you a good idea on if there is engagement with messaging or message fatigue. This is also a good time of year to do a short email survey to parents to check for things like message frequency (too much or too little), preferred method of delivery, and other ways they’d like to be communicated with like social media.
Just like we’d do as teachers, evaluating our year, looking at how you communicate with parents (and the community) and how you can improve is a great first step.
Avoid Phone Calls In The Summer-It may seem tempting to record a message and blast it out to everyone. However, some families schedules are different in the summer and it can be hard to get them to listen to messages on the answering machine. Others won’t even want to be bothered by their phone ringing in the first place. (It is one of the least desirable ways parents want to be communicated with after all. Only 42% find it effective in a survey from SchoolMessenger.) Use your other forms of direct communication like email and/or text messages instead.
Review Websites and Apps-There is no doubt keeping a website up-to-date is a challenge. Many schools and districts don’t have a dedicated webmaster and so the job falls to someone else with other duties. Summer is a great opportunity review what your digital footprint looks like. Updating images, removing stale content and getting things like calendars and Back-To-School information ready to go. Look at analytics. Where are visitors going? Can you make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.
Research shows us that the “summer slide” is somewhat accurate. Hattie ranks the Summer Vacation Effect at an effect size of -0.02. (Remember 0.40 is expected student growth in a school year.) So just by being out for 8-12 weeks in the summer can cause students to loose some of their gains.
Keeping learning and engagement with learning going over the summer is not only critical to relationship building, it’s important to keep kids moving forward. How can you use all your methods of communication to give gentle reminders that learning never stops, even in the summer? And what if we could use our methods of communication to encourage learning while making those methods sticky so they are useful during the school year?
Here are some ideas.
Leveraging Reading and Literacy-Nearly every school sends home a reading list. Either selected books they’d like students to read or ideas on topics, all with the goal of keeping kids excited about reading. We can use our various communication channels to keep that encouragement up, rather than relying on a piece of paper.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is my elementary principal friend Amber Teamann. During the school year she would fire up Facebook Live and read bedtime stories every so often to her students. It was short, only about 15-20 mins but imagine as a kid having your principal read to you. Facebook Live is just the easiest and fastest way to get it out. It’s recorded so parents can play it any time and it models good reading for students as well.
You could take the same concept and invite students to record short book trailers or book reviews to be posted to the school social media pages and/or website. Or, going on step further, do a live weekly review with a few students of the books they are reading. Think of it like Reading Rainbow but local! Remember, you can do all this from a mobile device. No special equipment needed.
If you don’t have time to do videos a bi-weekly email with events at the local library, quotes from students on the books they are reading or librarian recommendations can go a long way to continue to encourage students to read over the summer.
Getting Ready For Next School Year- As we’ve seen with the research (and no doubt experienced ourselves) many students experience setbacks in their learning over the summer. Not because they want to or are trying too. It’s just how kids are. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As we’ve seen there can be some simple things you can do to keep the learning going but also use those critical forms of communication.
Building on the idea of a bi-weekly email that focuses on literacy and reading you could expand it out to provide items like grade specific activities. For example one week you could focus in on math skills (perhaps the skills the majority of students are weakest in) and the next some fun local history students can learn about with their parents. These activities should be fun and easy to do at home.
For your Science, STEM and STEAM students there are loads of activities and experiments that are easy to do with stuff found around the house (like this list of 20 STEM Bucket List activities). Or the summer time could be a great time for kids to experiment with coding. Scratch is a great place to start. Grasshopper and Swift Playgrounds are all mobile that are really engaging too. (Common Sense Media has an extensive list.)
For those kids who just want to get out an explore and keep moving, work with your Physical Education teachers to provide for suggestions on exercise routines, yoga and other ways kids can stay active. You can also work with your Health Education teachers to round up healthy eating advice or meals that are perfect for summer.
The point of any of these activities is two-fold. The first is to help build those relationships with parents. Just because it’s summer and students are out of school doesn’t mean that learning has to end. (Sometimes it can be more fun in the summer.) And the second is to think about the ways we use communications in our schools and districts. How can we make it sticky? How can we be innovative in our communications practices while still being able to pass along critical information? Ultimately, how can be all be better communicators during the school year?