School Leaders: Tips for Improving Communication
Like any other business or organization, good communication is key to a school’s success. With so many involved in a school’s community — staff, leaders, parents, students — and a busier-than-ever world, getting creative with communication is not only good practice, but imperative. Here are some use-right-now ideas for school communication that works.
Enhance your school website and utilize social media
School websites have quickly become indispensable hubs for school information and communication. ThoughtCo notes that school websites provide a virtual first impression for the community and incoming families, serving as a central source of information. ThoughtCo also points out that they can “effectively communicate the school’s vision and mission, the qualities, and the offerings to each of these stakeholders. In effect, the school website presents the personality of the school.” With so many free or affordable website-building platforms (Wix, Google Sites, BigDrop, Weebly, SquareSpace), constructing a beautiful and up-to-date website will show off your school’s overall feel and offerings. Additionally, it’s now popular practice for schools to be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Parents, teachers, and students can follow the school to see photos, announcements, and information woven into their daily content.
Pro Tips: Designate one or two people to be webmaster in order to keep the website orderly and up-to-date. Create a system for staff and students to share new photos, announcements, or information for publication online. Your school website should represent your school’s look and feel, so take the time to brand it well. Need help? Apps like Fiverr can provide logo design and creative help at very low cost. When it comes to social media, school accounts should not follow parents or students back to maintain privacy and avoid complications.
Focus on honesty and transparency
Purely top-down school leadership can sometimes lead to a feeling of us vs. them. When a school staff feels removed from decisions or in the dark about issues affecting the school, morale and trust suffer. Walter Brown, an assistant principal in the New York City Department of Education says that, “Trust in an organization is crucial for it to grow and flourish. Members of a community can only grow and learn in a safe environment. Transparency happens by communicating a clear message to all staff that explains why a change is happening. This will help staff feel safe and assuage anxiety.” The converse can quickly devolve a school community into distrust. “When school leaders ‘cherry pick’ information to disseminate, the recipients fill in the blanks with their own version of reality, which can result in wild fantasy,” Brown says. View your staff as thought and design partners, rather than employees executing your sole vision. In doing so, you’ll be more supported as a leader and your staff will be more invested. This idea also extends to sharing information with students and parents, and giving all stakeholders a voice in decisions.
Pro Tips: Create a distributed leadership team to help disseminate information and make decisions. Get out of your office frequently to talk to staff in their classrooms or the lounge, rather than from behind a desk. Create systems for sharing information and receiving feedback on decisions and policies.
Read more on Leadership Office Communication
Ditch the emails and start a weekly blog
Instead of a newsletter or message solely from the principal, or an onslaught of hundreds of one-off emails throughout the week, create a collaborative blog or newsletter that lets everyone — from teachers and administrators to counselors and school aides — share news, shout-outs, photos, and information. Contributors can send an email to the editor or fill out an easy form to share their contributions to the weekly blast. Newsletters can be outward-facing to the school community or inward-facing among staff, and serve as an easy way to give teachers, students, and parents a voice — as well as a true window into what’s happening throughout the school community! Shout-outs are a purposeful and personal way to recognize the good work happening by staff and students. Make your community members feel seen and heard by sharing the awesome things they do.
Use modern tech solutions for parental communication
Letters sent home simply aren’t the best way to reach busy parents anymore, but family engagement remains a crucial ingredient to student success. According to the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, “Parent involvement in education is crucial. No matter their income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school.” Recent data from the Speak Up Research Project showed that parents want “convenient methods of communication and prefer to have information pushed to them via email or texts, rather than having to search for it on social media and websites.” Luckily, there are plenty of apps that make modern communication a snap.
Pro Tips: Here are some apps make it easy to communicate with parents right to their phones: Remind, Skedula/Pupil Path, Bloomz, SimplyCircle, ClassDojo, SeeSaw, and BrightWheel. Permission Click is a particularly cool tool that lets parents sign field trip permission slips right from their phone — and it’s free!
Read more on parental communication: The 6 Phases of a Difficult Conversation: A Strategy Guide for Teachers
Replace unnecessary staff meetings with remote chat tools
Face-to-face meetings take time and aren’t always necessary — think about how many times you’ve sat in a meeting and thought, “This could have been an email.” With so many tools available for virtual meetings and discussions, school staff members can stay actively in touch without having to sync their impossibly busy schedules to sit in the same room. Group chats, virtual meetings, and project managers make in-school collaboration possible.
Pro Tips: There are many apps that make it easy to virtually communicate with staff and colleagues throughout the busy school week. Here are some great ones: Google Hangouts, Slack, Twitter Chat, Facebook Group, Today’s Meet.
Read more on collaboration tools: Cut Down On Meetings: 4 Useful Collaboration Tools for Teachers and Administrators
Include school counselors
While counselors may need to maintain confidentiality regarding their sessions with students, they can share useful information with the school and parents to ensure students are well supported. Counselors should be an integral part of the disciplinary and restorative processes within a school, and can inform staff about behavioral triggers, oversee mediations, suggest de-escalation methods, and support teachers in the classroom through professional development. Counselors can be transparent about common issues they’re seeing with students and how teachers and school staff can help. Child’s Work Child’s Play notes that counselors should “always remember to include teachers within a discussion when the outcome will affect their classroom. If you don’t want to be viewed as an outsider in their classroom, don’t act like one.” Good communication between counselors, leaders, teachers, and school staff ensures the best possible outcomes for students.
Pro Tips: Include counselors in Common Planning Time, parental communications, and staff meetings. Counselors should also play an active role in professional development sessions and should contribute to staff newsletters with information to support the social-emotional needs of students.
Make time for authentic in-person gatherings
Many modern companies meet each morning or each week for a group “huddle.” While teachers typically have a schedule full of meetings, few of them allow for open discussion. School staff members routinely find themselves compartmentalized into departments or grade teams. Set aside even 15 minutes a day or per week for a group huddle that allows staff to come together to share what they’re working on, solicit advice, ask questions, and collaborate outside of their typical teams.
Pro Tips: Create a schedule and protocol for huddle meetings that prevents them from becoming complaint-focused. Encourage the sharing of ideas and solutions, rather than merely problems and complaints. Create a rotation of meeting leaders so everyone on staff gets a chance to lead. Keep meetings short and productive so that members believe they are a solid use of time. And hey, providing coffee doesn’t hurt either.
Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also cofounder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation, and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.