First Contact – in Star Trek, this is a crucial moment for the human race – devastated by the WWIII, earth is in a state where it’s survival is uncertain and First Contact is important. Chaos and disorder are plaguing the inhabitants left on earth. The unlikely hero wants no part of his future. To make matters worse, the Borg are now trying to stop the contact and destroy human civilization — First Contact is vitally important!
Schools can seem like chaotic places where, sometimes, it hard to keep up with all the things that ARE going on. Combine with this that change, which use to be held at the doors and allowed in by the Keeper of Change as they determined, is now taking place rapidly with all kinds of implications for educators. No longer is the change being determined solely by traditional hierarchy of learning but, instead, teachers are venturing out and exploring, becoming more engaged as change agents, willing to examine, question and critique, and ultimately make changes more and more focused on “What’s best for the students”! This might not be seen in all schools or classrooms but there is a growing movement of teachers using such various tools within their classrooms. Some of these tools help connect teachers with other teachers and some are helping teachers, and schools, connect with students and parents.
But there’s SO MUCH!!
It’s true, there are so many new apps and different ways to connect and communicate that it can be overwhelming. This doesn’t have to be the case. In my last post, I discussed five different ways for teachers to leverage twitter. When it comes to school-wide leveraging of tools, the purpose use to be to “Get Information Out” but this is changing. No longer is just to get information out to parents and public but it’s also important to get feedback and interact with parents and students in order to develop a culture of growth.
This requires schools to seek ways to not only send but receive – not something that schools have traditionally been open to doing. In order to do this, schools can examine their current processes for communication and look at adding a few different ideas in order to begin the conversation.
There many ways to provide students/parents/community opportunity to develop relationships with the school. Below are a few tools that can be used in different ways to helps schools begin to bridge the communication divide – making School Contact one of growth and development where trust and respect are developed.
Google Forms –
One of the great ways to get feedback is to for the school to use Google Forms to develop a feedback form. This allows the school to create different feedback opportunities for students and parents. This form can be created to obtain feedback for almost anything and can be included in a variety of different options for parents. By creating a QR Code using any of a number of free generators, the school can include the code in a number of different places such as newsletter, emails, posters, tweets and on a website page. Although sharing the link in emails and through SM can work, including a QR Code allows for a convenient way to add a link.
Each of these has strengths that schools can use to create discussion and offer opportunity for dialogue.
- A FBPage can offer a great way to get all kinds of information out to the parents. It can also be a place where including a QR Code or link to a survey or form will get a great deal of exposure. The strength is that many parents have FB and will link to it through their accounts.
- A website can offer another option for a static place for sending out information to students/parents/community. Again, there are ways to include such things as polls, surveys and other ways of interaction that allow for feedback.
- A Blog can provide a great way for the school to communicate to the community and, if integrated with a more comprehensive school-wide approach , can provide opportunities for students/parents/community to provide feedback and develop a school-wide approach where a culture of respect, trust and learning are the core components. This list gives many examples of classrooms using blogging.
- Twitter, as I mentioned, can provide a great way for schools/classes to connect with others. It’s a great way to get information to the public and demonstrate/teach
digitalcitizenship to students. There are many different ways to do this, from having different staff tweet out the learning going on during the day or having ‘student tweeters’ who use the school/class account to post learning/events from their perspective, it allows people to know what is going on. It also provides a means for feedback from others and connections with people outside of the school.
- Google+ is another option that could provide an opportunity for a greater discussion with students/parents/community. Although I do not know anyone school using Google+ (if you do, please let me know as I would be very interested in it!) I do know that it is a very useful form of sharing and dialogue. I’ve used it for university classes and the #saskedchat Google+ community is a recent endeavour to expand and include more people in our chats and to expand our chats beyond just one night. Because of the built-in polls and forms options, I believe this would be a great forum for schools that are interested in building relationships with students/parents/community
- Augmented Information – I really like Thinglink for being able to organize information for people using an image. Thinglink gives the user a variety of options including linking to video, audio, visual, text, forms, etc. By including such an image on the website or FB page, schools can organize information in one place for students/parents/community and, by changing the links, change the information while still keeping the image. Thus a school image could be used to link to school policies, handbooks, timetables all through the click of a button using one familiar image. Through the integration of QR Codes, schools could use these codes in various places along with the familiar image building on the school culture.
Open Houses/Interest Evenings/Sharing Saturdays
Although there are many digital options that allow for greater contact with parents/community, meeting face-to-face is still a powerful way to build relationships, which are the core of all that happens in schools. Having a school-wide plan for bringing parents into the schools and interacting with them is important.
- Open House – this type of evening allows parents, with their children, to visit the school and meet the teacher(s) and see what is at the school. Often it is held at the beginning of the school year and has a more formal itinerary where students/parents visit the classroom. The teacher may even have a short talk where they discuss different aspects of their classroom such as assessment and assignments.
- Interest Evening – these can be such things as book exchange/reading nights, tech nights, library nights – and are usually a way for schools to provide a more relaxed interaction with what was happening at the school. I’ve see where such things as Read Alongs have parents taking part and Readers Theatre have both students and parents having parts. Also, providing an opportunity for a book exchange – give 1/take 1 – allowed for students to expand their reading options and recycled books and allowed some students the opportunity to get a book they could take home! I’ve also seen where Tech Nights – run by students for the community – can be very, very effective. It gives students the opportunity to share their knowledge and be the “experts” and there are many people in a community that want to learn about such things as Facebook and Movie Making. Note, providing food is a great draw – promote healthy options like fruits and veggies and provide a place for students/teachers/parents/community to mingle that is “relaxed”. You may not have a foyer or the like but even getting a few ‘sofa’ that can be put in the hallways and some light decorating can really make an atmosphere change.
- Learning Saturday/Sunday – no, these are not the Breakfast Club type Saturdays –
But just like some of the evenings, Saturdays or Sundays afternoons can be great times for “Techspert Time” or evening clubs where parents can join. I’ve been involved where a WoodCraft Club met Sunday afternoons once a month – working on different projects – run by a community member with students and parents involved.
Although the above opportunities can provide some great options for connecting to parents, sometimes there is a need to get a message out to the community/parents.
- Email has become a standard for sharing and does serve as a reliable way to pass along information. In using email, remember that some parents will be reading these on mobile devices – try to keep the email message short and, instead of including all the information in the email, create a PDF which has bullet points for the important information. If there is a form that needs to be signed, it is nice to be able to provide the option for the parents to sign digitally using digital document signing or print off the form. I personally liked to use email to communicate to parents upcoming reminders like Student Led Conferences and newsletters with a short note in the email with a few highlights.
- Paper notes are still a great way to get information to parents. As an administrator, a positive hand written note to a staff member can help to build and develop trust and respect that is so necessary for growth for both people. This can be the same for students – not on an assignment but a note. For parents, it’s important to not overwhelm them with note after note. One way to do this is to create a form that will cover many different things that parents can sign once. An example – fieldtrips – where a parent would sign allowing the student to go on any fieldtrips for the year and then be provided information – electronically or via paper – of the information for each fieldtrip. Although notes can be very useful, I would suggest having parents decide which form of communication they want at the beginning of the year. However, a ‘Thank You’ to a parent can build and develop the trust relationship.
- Agendas are another great way to provide a consistent method of communication between home/school and be a great way for parents to work with their child on developing organizational skills. Although many students may use digital means to organize, helping younger students to work through different organizational techniques using an agenda is still a great way to help them. I still know a great many people who rely on both digital and paper versions of organization for different reasons. In Erik Fisher’s interview with Donald Miller they discuss the use of a paper agenda for planning – some interesting points coming from people who help others get organized!
Don’t Forget – Phone calls are So Important!
Too often, the only time a parent hears from someone at the school is when it’s about their child being in some sort of trouble. Too many parents have a view that the role of administration is to deal with discipline – “Be good, you don’t want to be sent to the principal’s office!” To build a culture of respect, trust, and growth principals need to work at changing this perception. Yes, dealing with discipline is one aspect of the position but it needs to be in the context of all the GREAT things happening at the school.
To change this, a majority of the communication coming from the school needs to be POSITIVE! Yes, there will be times to call parents about issues BUT that shouldn’t be the only communication that parents get from the school. Although the above communications can send a positive message, a phone call from someone at the school can be the most POWERFUL communication. I tried to make sure that I was making more positive calls than negative and, for some students, it was important to positively communicate with parents. This type of communication needs to be genuine as, just like students, parents can tell when you are not genuine and that will do more damage. I once worked at a school where we tracked student contacts – each student needed to have 3 positive contacts. As a teacher, if you wanted to had 2 negative contacts, that required 6 positive. It made you reflect and really focus on being positive with students.
Contact is Required
Schools no longer have the luxury to “wait” for contact. I recommend that all schools develop a Communication Plan that examines how communication to AND from parents will be developed and integrated into how the school develops and changes. This might begin with the school staff and then, as the culture develops, include students, parents, and community. Building and sustaining a dynamic culture of learning requires that it be built on a solid foundation. Schools need to access where they are and what they can reasonably do now and moving forward. The one thing they can’t continue to do is nothing. What are your experiences with building communication? How do you do this as a teacher? Administrator? Parent? I appreciate your feedback and comments. What have I missed? What would you add? What would you dismiss?