The Communication Conundrum

Have you ever heard about one of your parents saying something like this to her child: “wait, there’s a concert tomorrow night that you are required to attend?!  Why didn’t I know about that?”  As a school leader, there are few things that pain my heart more  than to know that I have parents in my school who didn’t get the message about an event taking place or an important project that their child has coming due soon (typically the next day).  I can just hear the frustration in her voice as she talks with her child.

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What bothers me about these situations is that typically my staff or myself really did attempt to communicate the necessary information, but for some reason, the message didn’t connect with the intended audience.  As a school leader or teacher, I’m sure that you can identify with the communication conundrum: finding ways to dispense important information that connects with the intended audience.  Simply getting the “word out” isn’t good enough if the audience doesn’t get the message!

In a recent meeting with my leadership team, we asked ourselves:  how can our school’s communication with parents be more effective?  While there are no easy answers, I want to share with you the ways that we currently seek to communicate and connect with our school’s parents, and then, I would like to solicit your feedback about the ways that you use to not simply get information out but to effectively connect with your parents.  In other words, I need your help!

        •  Annual school calendar – this one is pretty much a basic necessity for all schools.  However, all school events are not placed on this calendar (things like athletic events).  So, while a school calendar is helpful and necessary, it only hits major events (here’s my school’s calendar).  An idea that we plan to implement in the upcoming year is to publish our school’s Google calendar to our website so that if changes are made, they are instaneously reflected on the calendar.  Currently, my school uses Google calendar internally, but we will make one that is publicly accessible and contains all school events.
        • School website – our website (see here) is designed for prospective families rather than communicating information to current families. However, a professional  website is one of the most important entry points for any school.  Our school uses Clover Sites for the design and hosting of our site.  The Clover “Greenhouse” is where a site is edited, and it is by far one of the easiest website solutions I have ever encountered.  If your website needs a refresh, I highly encourage you to check out Clover.  You can found out more information about Clover here.
        • School blog – while my school’s website communicates with prospective families, the blog (called Patriot Central) is where I communicate important information for current families.  Until recently, I produced a monthly newsletter, but I have now moved to a blogging format.  On the blog, parents can use an email address to sign up so that they receive an email when the blog is updated.  Click to find out more about Weebly, our blog host.  Patriot Central is updated 2-4 times per month.
      • Email – my staff uses email extensively to communicate with parents.  However, this past year, we discovered that the school’s parents are sufffering from email overload, and because of that, some emails are being ignored.  This presents some real challenges for us because of how much information we send by email.  At VBA, emails are sent 2-4 time per week (possibly more), and every teacher is required to send at least one email per week.
      • Texting – my school has access to a product called SchoolCast (click for link), which allows the staff to send mass text messages to different groups in the school (think fourth grade, the basketball team, etc).  This is an effective way to communicate small bits of information, but very quickly, it can become too much – especially for parents who have multiple children who have a high level of involvement at school.
      • Social media – we currently use Twitter and Facebook, but there are many other channels of social media communication.  So far, I have not found Twitter to be effective at VBA.  Of course, Facebook is popular, but updates written on one’s business page only show up in the timeline of about 20% of those who have liked that businesses page.  While nearly all parents are on Facebook, the company does not allow this to be an effective means of communication unless the page owner opts to pay to “boost” the post.
      • Sending notes home – the old fashion way of communicating that my school has really moved away from.  However, maybe it’s time to consider getting back to this method?

That pretty much covers my school’s methods of communication, but we haven’t found my school’s communication to be as effective as we would like.  My staff is sending the information out, but it isn’t always connecting with parents.  (Above, I didn’t even mention the online grade book we use (Thinkwave), which provides another channel of communication).

At your school, what methods have you found to be most effective for not only getting important information to your parents, but actually connecting with them in a way that they hear what you are saying?  Can you help my school and potentially others get out of the communication conundrum?  Share your thoughts below.  

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Matt is the Assistant to the Editor here at the Focus Blog. He also serves as the Administrator at the Victory Baptist Academy of Weatherford, TX, as well as the President of the Texas Organization of Christian Schools. Matt and his wife, Kelly, have three children that keep them on their toes!