When Schools communicate with Parents

Next to our health, communication is the greatest gift that we have. Some may say that at certain times in our lives, it becomes equally as important.

Good communication is based upon the continual acts of ‘giving and receiving.’ This effective two-way process is all about listening and speaking, with the weight of emphasis on the listening!

It comes as no surprise that when schools are communicating well, parents know what's going on and the more they are ready to support the school’s mission.

Teachers highlight two main issues at the heart of poor communications when it comes to schools getting information out to parents.

Firstly, our communications can be un-coordinated and infrequent, often as a result of higher priorities taking precedence in the working lives of teachers.

Secondly, we may use a website that is not user friendly from an administrative perspective, difficult to update or reliant on a third party operating it for us.

As time moves on, we can become immune to the negative impact these factors have on parents, who come to see communications as sporadic and offered through unreliable and out-of-date sources. The inevitable outcome is that the website becomes a less relevant reference point for parents. One mother of a pupil, claimed "nothing ever seemed to change so I just stopped going to it." Another just commented "it’s too much hassle for me to go out of my way to view my son’s school website."

From the school-end there can be good reason for this desensitization, as higher priorities take precedence in the busy life of a teacher especially when communicating channels are difficult to use or placing material on it adds to an already increased workload.

Despite all the hard work on the part of the school, there is always a danger that parents might perceive that it doesn’t value communications as it should. The result of the failure to update and deliver timely information means that people begin to wonder where they should look to receive it.

That next step on their part, is to contact the school, which in turn adds more pressure on an already busy receptionist/secretary to directly respond to phone calls and queries. Here, the caller will receive answers promptly (or so they might think!).

But because the secretary is not aware of all the activities going on in the school, he/she has to get in touch with the department/teacher/leader to whom the query relates and return with a response that is satisfactory for the caller.

The amount of disturbance can escalate with unforeseen time wastage all around. Surely there must be a better way to issue directives, information or messages that are consistent, reliable and immediate thus reducing the amount of time lost in dealing with contact calls and questions about common school activities and events.

Communication that is frequent, meaningful, consistent and reliable speaks for itself as being respectful to the receivers. It builds a trust because the school is saying ‘we will give you all the information you need, keep you in the loop as it happens and make it accessible for you.’

That might be letters from the principal, documents on education, policies or simply a notification to alert parents to important events that are forthcoming. This approach is essential in avoiding misunderstandings at a later date. Everything is there ‘in black and white.’

When it comes to community-communications, we have to begin with the end in mind. Having some guiding principles as to how we best reach out to parents particularly, will strengthen partnerships and networks.

What you are actually doing here is in some sense making education everyone’s business by sharing knowledge and information that parents currently do not or may not know. We cannot take it for granted that information is known by parents, simply because as teachers or pupils we happen to know or have access to it!

We cannot expect people to know about newsletters or documents, events or activities, closures or postponements, delays, trips, costs, calendars etc if the school doesn’t have a quick and easy way of presenting such information.

It is true to say that many problems, in and out of schools, can be directly traced to the effectiveness of its communications – whether information was communicated or not, what was communicated, how it was communicated, and who communicated it.

In revising a school’s communication strategy (which no doubt changes over time) we should be taking account of how people interact today. With over 90% of the under-50 population now using a smart phone, it makes good sense to consider using the Edtap apps as a way of reaching larger or specific parent and community audiences.

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