Communications Solutions: Top Trend #1

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Possip Reporter and Tennessee AP teacher, Savannah Staley, and Possip CEO & Founder and former math teacher, Shani Dowell , discuss solutions for communications.

Most organizations with 500 to 5,000 people have someone whose full-time job is communications. That’s not the case for most schools. And yet for school administrators, communication is always top of mind. As a school administrator, you are the connector between families, students, teachers, and district leaders. Communication is also a top feedback trend from parents every year. This is likely why as principals and administrators move about your day, you likely hear your phone, computer, or a PA system dinging, buzzing, and ringing. You run into parents, team members and students with questions, top of mind ideas, and urgent needs. When you finally have a moment to breathe and sit, you often face a daunting number of emails, text messages, and replies. As you navigate so many competing commitments, we want to help! 

Here are a few tried and true tips and tools for communicating – and saving you some time – for the 2022-2023 school year. 

1. Create a Communications Plan:

Create a communication plan at the beginning of the school year to help you, your team, and your families and students. You can use something as easy as a Google Doc or something more like a project management tool such as ClickUp or Trello to organize your communication strategy. As you’ll see in the Google Doc example, having a way to assign owners, tasks, and responsibilities for the different forms of communication helps! It gives you as time back as you don’t feel like you have to own it all, and it gives everyone clear roles and expectations.

2. Enlist Your Team:

We hinted at this above, but one person doesn’t need to own all forms of communication. Enlist others – Grade Team Leaders, Assistant Principals, Family and Community Engagement Specialists, Teachers.  Let each person knows what’s expected of them.  Maybe you have  expectations specific to their department, maybe you’d like to encourage them to take on some school wide responsibilities. In high schools it is probably helpful to make sure your Extracurricular teachers, coaches, and counselors are clear on expectations. We find that parents often have a lot of questions about extracurricular activities, athletics, graduation or special events, and classes and transcripts. Making sure each of these areas know and have communications expectations can help! We know it’s overwhelming for one person to own all the communication. So you can use something like a school survey or a Possip pulse check to quickly bring in information you want to include in your routine communication.  

3. Routine! Establish a Doable Cadence and Timeline for Outbound Communications:

Outbound communication to families can include emails, social media posts, direct phone calls, messages, etc. As a former educator, I learned the importance of setting doable (and realistic) expectations for myself that families could rely on, while simultaneously not overpromising updates I didn’t have capacity for. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. If you have grade level teams, divide up family check-ins! Each teacher can be
    responsible for a specific student group they reach out to on a regular basis.
    Those groups may rotate throughout the quarter or school year.
  2. Create a social media calendar and use prebuilt templates to post content. 
  3. Set up automated email reminders to families regarding important information
    such as grades, emergency drills, curriculum changes, etc.
  4. Schedule a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter families can depend on. 
  5. Schedule reminder emails about key dates and events like Back to School Night,
    Test Week, Report Card conferences, etc.
  6. Use Possip as a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly check-in tool for families and
    follow up accordingly. 

4. Don’t Let the How Get in the Way of What – Your Communication Tools:

There are many communication tools at your disposal. From a paper newsletter to robocalls an email to apps. From our pulse check surveys we know that parents love multiple methods of communication – with texting and emailing at the top of the list. While there are many helpful tools to choose from, sometimes simplicity can also be best! So do spend some time exploring tools.  Have a few folks on your team explore the tools (and enlist parents).   Then, take the time to understand these tools before implementing them school-wide. Decide if email, texting, and paper might serve your needs – or if you want or need an app.  Parents do express frustration about having to download multiple apps, so consider how they can integrate with their existing methods of communication as well.  If you do choose to use a system that requires downloading an app, spend time with teachers and families answering any questions and helping them learn how to use the tools effectively. Consider hosting tutorials, or creating a “Request Help” form for users.

5. Schedule It – and Monitor It: 

When you can, look for opportunities to get something on an automated system that you monitor – instead of requiring more work from teachers and administrators.  For example, Possip routinely goes out to enlist parent and staff feedback.  You can also schedule reminders and key dates at the beginning of the year – like a reminder about report card conferences along with a prompt for any questions parents or teachers might have. Similarly, a lot of email platforms allow for scheduled emails. Look for opportunities to schedule and put on a cadence what you can.Write an Emergency Communication Plan: If for some reason teachers can’t reach senior admin, who should they contact? Write an emergency communication plan and distribute it to your staff. This will help teachers – and you – feel more at ease.

6. Communicate – and Reinforce Through Your Communications – Your Values:

If your values are empathy and integrity, communicate and lead with such. Think about your own personal values as well as the values of your school community. Consider infusing these values into your communication strategy, as well as tone and messaging. Do you want families to be proud of your school? Highlight things they should be proud of. Do you want a joyful school community? Share and celebrate the joy in the newsletter. Is academic rigor important to you? Give parents tips and ideas for supporting academic rigor and achievement at home. This will build trust within your relationships. Here are a few questions you might consider:

1. What do I want people to feel once they have digested my message?
2. What is the purpose of this communication? If applicable, is my ask clear?
3. What is my own personal why for what I’m communicating?
4. Is my communication in alignment with my personal values?
5. How would someone else describe the tone of my communication?

7. Plans and Templates:

We know we already mentioned this – but it is so important we want to reinforce it. Have some pre-made templates for newsletters (here’s a template) and pre-written communications for some frequently occurring events such as:

  1. Lockdown
  2. Safety drill
  3. COVID Outbreak
  4. Lice Outbreak
  5. Teacher Transitions or Changes
  6. Celebration events! (it’s important to create these too so you can celebrate
    what’s going well!)

8. Communicate With a Pulse on Your Community:

We are currently living in a world where tragedies have unfortunately become normalized in our newsfeeds. As a school leader, it’s tempting to react to everything, but it’s not always necessary. By keeping a pulse on your community – through carlines, Possip pulse checks, conversations with parents and teachers – you can get a sense for what does need communication – and what doesn’t.

It is clear from Pulse Checks that there are a few times where parents want immediate communications:

9. Lockdowns or Drills:

Students often text parents – sometimes before you can even get to it. So as much as possible make sure you have communications on urgent matters prepared ahead of time so you can send the communication quickly. As soon as one student has heard it can end up on social media – and the news. As much as possible you want to get in front of that. When possible – for drills – give parents advanced notice. Especially in elementary school it can be quite alarming for a parent to hear a lockdown drill or intruder drill be described to them by their child. If possible it’s helpful to give parents a heads up – especially as many parents came up in a time where the only drills that happened were fire drills.

10. Fights or other threats to safety:

While you may not need to send home a communication for every fight, you can assume that parents will hear about and have concerns about a pattern of fighting on campus – or a fight where a lot of students were involved. Be prepared to communicate proactively about that.

11. Vaping, Drug Use, Etc:

Again, this may not need immediate communication, but if your school is struggling on topics like these, our pulse checks show us that parents will eventually want to hear from you about them. They’ll want to know what your policy is, what your plans are, and how they can help or support your efforts. It’s also important to know how local and world events affect parents, staff and students alike. That will help you communicate proactively and with your values in mind.

Above all else, as you are creating your communication plans, BE YOU!  You have a vision for your school, you have a personality. Infuse that in your communication plans and your communication notes!

This article was originally posted in a series exploring top feedback themes from 2021/22. Check out the other Top Trends in that series here! 👇🏻