The new school year is upon us, as districts across the country head back to school. As with every new school year, districts also welcome new parents, families, and other caregivers to their community, and district communities may grow in size. But how do you keep up strong communication among all your community stakeholders? How can you ensure you’re managing to reach all students’ families? This blog aims to suggest five ways to improve your school communication in the new school year.
Learn more about the importance of communication: Family involvement in the school community
Encourage honesty by modeling it
Build rapport with the educational community by communicating honestly and helping community stakeholders become district ambassadors. Although this may be difficult for administrators and other staff who often have sensitive information that is not to be shared, it is worth being as transparent as possible when communicating with other community members. It is imperative that if you cannot discuss something, for example, due to sensitive information, you communicate this clearly. Remember to give some sort of insight into why this is the case so that it does not come across like you are withholding information or purposefully creating a distance between your school and the community. Examples of ways to phrase this are: “I am not at liberty to discuss that due to a privacy concern for the students involved” or “That is a topic that is best discussed by someone who has more experience and information than I do, though I will help direct you to the appropriate channel”.
Additionally, don’t forget one of the very rules we teach our children and students: when you make a mistake, own that mistake. One of the fastest ways to erode a community relationship is to deny or avoid talking about something the other community members are more than aware of. You do not always need to focus on what went wrong or why, but rather demonstrate that you are addressing the things that need to change. The main focus here should be the next steps you are going to take. An example of this would be to announce to students’ families that “Last school year we tested a strategy that did not garner the desired results, and with which we will not be continuing. This year, we are addressing [the problem] by using [the new strategy]. We appreciate your continued support as we help your student reach their maximum potential”.
Use minimal platforms
As a caregiver, it is easy to get lost in all the apps, texts, emails, and other forms of communication school districts often use, especially when you are navigating multiple students in different grades and schools. For this reason, district leaders need to streamline their approach to communication and be concise with their choices of platforms. After all, the more concise your communication is, the more efficiently it is received and processed by the community stakeholders.
If you are going to use different communication platforms for different messaging purposes, ensure there’s a clear reason why each platform has been chosen for each purpose. This should be made clear to parents, caregivers, and families, who should know which platform to go to for which updates. For example, if a parent is looking for school supply updates for the new school year, should they check their emails, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram? Using too many platforms as a school district can confuse other school community members and make the process of finding updates about their child’s school a frustrating one. With time, this will lower engagement and hinder community relationship building.
An ideal strategy to ensure minimal platform usage is to employ a district communicator. Benefits to this include being able to increase communication outlet options in your district and having better control over the public narrative about your district. Ideally, and most commonly, the district communicator predominantly uses a social media account on behalf of the district, such as a Twitter or Instagram account.
District leaders need to streamline their approach to communication - the more concise communication is, the more efficiently it's processed by the community.
Ask your community how they'd prefer to be contacted
According to Blackboard (2016), 1 in 3 parents are dissatisfied with teacher-to-home communications, while 1 in 4 parents are dissatisfied with home communication from districts. The same study noted that 76% of parents chose email as their preferred method from teachers, and 74% chose email as their preferred method of communication from school districts. On the other hand, only 39% of parents chose texts as their preferred way of being contacted by teachers, and only 32% chose phone calls. However, the best way to find out which communication methods - and frequency - your school community prefers, is to simply ask them, as they could very well vary from the research by Blackboard.
Facilitate incoming communication
So you know how to effectively communicate to stakeholders outside of the school building, but what about if they want to get in touch with you? There are two great ways to help them do this. Firstly, should you have a district communicator, you could encourage parents, families, and caregivers to communicate with them via their associated social media page. However, this does alienate those who do not for whatever reason use social media.
Secondly, consider using an online platform that allows district stakeholders to feedback to their schools with a simple form. This is useful for busy district leaders or communicators who do not have the time or resources to redirect messages to the right audience - a good online school communication platform should do this for you! An added benefit to using an online platform for this is that community members will always know where to find it and will no longer have to search around for missing phone numbers, email addresses that send their emails to spam, and waiting around for office open hours.
Have a customer service mindset
When encouraging communication from your district, try and maintain a customer service mindset. This is a way of approaching customer service to put the customer's needs first and goes a step further to think above and beyond what can be done to improve the customer experience. In the case of education, customers here should of course be replaced with community stakeholders, but the essence of a customer service mindset remains the same. Here are some elements of a good customer service mindset:
- Product/service knowledge
It’s important that anyone who communicates with the educational community have these four elements because families need to be met with useful support, as school changes and requirements can be difficult to both navigate and keep up with. When a parent is upset, for example, try and see beyond the initial reaction to the feeling that is underneath: they are trying to take care of their child and do not have the information or skills needed to do so successfully without your support. This is one of the best ways to prevent problems from escalating and to start the new year off with strong relationships from the outset.
Watch this video from Ashley to learn more about a customer service mindset in education!