Monday, April 6, 2020

4 Communication Tips For #RemoteLearning Educators

This is the third in a series of posts I am doing while many of us are facing an unprecedented time of isolation. The first was about reducing stress and anxiety and the second about building community, even at a distance. If you have an idea for something you want me to talk about, academic or not, let me know on Twitter, @web20classroom

This is an incredibly difficult time. Most educators are being thrust into the world of remote teaching with little to no preparation or guidance. All are doing the best they can navigating these waters and attempting to provide learning in a meaningful and effective way. 

It doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. 

With many educators teaching remotely it can be a challenge to keep lines of communication open with students and parents. While digital tools have brought us closer together than in any age in history this time can still feel isolating and communications disjointed and random because we simply do not know how to do well. 

The parents I talk to (myself included) are extremely frustrated at the nature of communication during this crisis. Some educators and districts are doing an exemplary job (and they should be applauded). However, many parents believe communication is haphazard at best and it leaves them confused and frustrated. 

Here are 4 easy things for Educators and Leaders to remember when communicating in this age of Remote Learning. 

Pick A Channel And Use It-We have lots of technology at our disposal. From simple emails and LMS notifications to phone calls and video chats there are a plethora of channels to use to communicate with students. It's important that the messages get to the most recipients in the fastest way possible. Even when we were in the classroom it was a challenge for parents and students to know where information was coming from because it was coming from so many places. Now that we are in this unique situation of forced remote learning it's important that the communications coming from the teacher, school and district are in expected places. 

Teachers need to be on the same page when it comes to communications. This is where Leadership really need to take charge. School Administrators need to pick a channel (email, social media, etc) and decide that is what everyone is going to do. Because of the nature of the work that is happening it may mean that a multichannel approach is used (such as an email and social media post like my daughters first grade teacher is doing), however it doesn't mean that the messaging has to be in one place for one teacher and another for others. In my own situation my daughters have to check no less that 5 places for all the information and in the end, something will be missed. 

Clear and Consistent Messaging-Piggybacking off a single-channel approach it's important to have clear and consistent messaging. When no one is on the same page, messages are coming in using a variety of methods and those messages contradict each other it only frustrates students and parents. Educators and leaders have to ensure that the messages they are sending work together with each other. 

One example I've had direct experience with is a colleague explained to me their grade levels and departments have set up a group chat and shared document to share what they are having their students do each week. They also have invited their elective teachers to be apart of the planning. These virtual PLC meetings are open ended but it allows them to all be on the same page with what they are telling their parents and students and the messages that ultimately go out are clear with expectations and everyone knows when to expect them. 

Regular Cadence-Not only is the channel and the clarity of the messaging important, the cadence is as well. The greatest pain point for parents and students with communications is the inconsistency in when communications should be expected. The longer the wait, the more information has to be packed in and it's easy to miss something. Sending a daily or weekly note can be a great way to not only stay in touch but remind everyone what's happening or what's expected. 

Even if there is nothing new, these notes can serve as a reminder that while the situation isn't normal, we are all still connected an in this together. They can be little opportunities to continue to build community. 

Set Aside Time For Non-Learning Communications-If there is one thing I have been saying from the start of all this forced remote teaching is has been we have to put mental health first. Being in forced isolation when each student's (and teacher's) world has been turned upside down can be very hard on our mental stability. That is why it's important to set aside times for non-learning and non-administrative communications. 

As I laid out in my Building Community Even At A Distance post, not everything we do during this time can or should be "business as normal" because it isn't. Kids and adults alike need chances to laugh and talk and share together. Try to set aside time, on video if you can, to get everyone together just to share and reflect together. Tell stories, make jokes, but no work talk. No expectations for topics, no forced requirements to even be there. Just open office hours for sharing. 

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