[Educator Network] Building Community with the Right Communication
[Educator Network] Building Community with the Right Communication
Sometimes, between email, texting, phone calls, Zoom calls, and everything in between—it can feel like we take communication for granted. However, clear and regular communication is one of the most important ingredients to creating and maintaining a relationship of any kind, including when it comes to nurturing school community. Communication is key when building trust, demonstrating transparency, and establishing a culture of respect. But how do school communities establish the strong foundations of authentic communication that are essential to building community engagement? It starts with four key ideas:
Shared Vision: Communities and school systems must first work closely together to shape a common vision for student success and make sure that everyone—from teachers to parents to community leaders—have a role to play in that vision.
Intentional Culture & Diversity: To build trust—especially in communities that have experienced divestment—schools must address bias, understand the unique context and resources of specific communities, and encourage the sharing of diverse perspectives.
Authentic Collaboration: Schools need to share data and resources that can help families and community organizations better support student learning outside of school.
Full Circle Communication: Sharing information regularly and transparently is critical, but it’s not enough. Schools must create meaningful opportunities for all voices to be heard—and families and communities need to know how their feedback was incorporated into decision-making.
When the foundations for this communication are in place, using a variety of methods to open the channels gives the community ample opportunities to engage in the process. The critical piece is about making a plan and providing a variety. Consider who the audience is and how each form will best suit the message and those impacted. Take a look at a few suggestions on methods of communication effective for driving community engagement:
Even in an age when text-messaging is so popular, email is still a primary communication tool for daily life. It is fast and easy, and it allows for relatively quick exchanges that involve multiple people, and allows plenty of room for detail and description. Email is a good catch-all that can support many types of messages—group or one-on-one, announcements, reminders, and agendas.
Still, its important to remember a few important tips. Sending too many emails too frequently can eventually deter your readers from opening them up. Keep your messages straightforward and be careful to avoid controversy or contention. If you see a message string headed that way, take the conversation offline before it gains momentum. If your topic requires substantial feedback, save it for your next in-person gathering, phone call, casual conversation or create a survey. Be sure to always double-check which contacts you are sending to or CCing before you click send! For large groups consider blind copying (BCC:) to keeps participants emails private and avoid the “reply all” catastrophes that can fill up a mailbox.
Newsletters have long been a popular way to communicate with parents. These days, groups can send home hard copies with students, post a downloadable document or publish it directly on a website, or deliver via email. Your newsletter is a good medium for messages you want parents to be able to refer to easily—details about school activities, a calendar for upcoming events, and the like—and content you want to deliver in a fun way, like event photos. The key is to have a consistent outline of information you can follow with each edition. N
ewsletters are also a good place for longer-form pieces like profiles of students and updates on how your fundraising money is spent. How you publish your newsletter can determine the kinds of content you include. For example, if you have a large and active group with a lot of information to share, an e-newsletter will let you do it more quickly and easily than a printed version. On the other hand, if you don’t have email addresses for most parents or you know that many families don’t have access to a computer, paper copies will work best.
As in other areas of life, texting within parent groups has quickly become a prevalent (and sometimes preferred) means of communication. You can get a free Google phone number to keep your personal number private. These days, texting works a lot like email, at least in terms of how you might use it for your parent group, with the added bonus that it’s viewed as more immediate (and less old-fashioned) than email. But like email, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the number of text messages received and overlook messages that could be important.
With parents, save texting for messages that are brief, need to be received quickly, and do not require lengthy replies. Think about timing. A quick reminder to parents about crazy sock day is an ideal use, but it is less ideal if the message is sent so late the night that it becomes a morning struggle.
Facebook, Instagram, and other social channels have become quick and current ways for parent groups to communicate. Social media get your messages in front of parents while they’re already browsing for other updates. Keep your social media messages informative, light, and focused on building your community: event and meeting reminders, inspirational quotes, and photos of events, for example.
Social media posts are most effective when they are part of an overall plan. Set up a schedule that includes a mix of content, then adjust the frequency as needed. Keep in mind that social media can be a struggle. Before you post, be sure to create a plan, keep it light, and monitor comments, shares, and reactions. This is not where you vent, nor should it connect to anyplace that you might, such as your person social accounts. It’s better to err on the side of caution always, and review your school or district social media policy and privacy rules before you set up any new accounts.
With the past year driving us to a virtual world, identification of student needs and progress could be documented on a secure, shared electronic drive where responsibilities for meeting such needs would be assigned to the relevant roles (e.g., reading specialist, social worker, etc.). There are a number of conversations about camera on-camera off, you should have yours on to make the connections, your student or the caregiver should have a choice. However, this is my rule and not yours.
Family-based needs could also be included in such a tool. Using video conferences to connect families with the appropriate services can provide a safe and secure avenue to link up. Having the ability to create a virtual team approach reduces the burden on any one educator and allow teachers to do what they do best: teach.
While certain methods are effective for specific types of messages, keep in mind that different parents will be more likely to see messages in different places. There’s no magic formula for what will work best—the key is not to rely too much on one way of reaching people. Think about how various types of communication can work together. In the words of motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”
Sharing information regularly, on a schedule and with a plan will create an expected structure that will increase engagement and provide a foundation for strengthening your community. To hear more about building a community and concrete examples in communication, check out our OnDemand webinar Impacting School Culture: Creating a Positive Community.