The biggest glitch in communication is the assumption that it has occurred.
Throughout my 35 years in school administration, incomplete or misunderstood communication has always been close to the top of organizational challenges. Schools, colleges, businesses, and churches recognize the potential mix-ups and hard feelings that result from communication lapses. Workshops, seminars, courses, articles, and entire books have focused attention on this critical area.
I felt it would be appropriate to write concerning communication. This has turned out to be longer than I anticipated, so for the sake of concise communication, I have broken it into two consecutive posts.
It is no surprise that our recent parent survey revealed, among other things, concerns about communication involving teachers, office staff, administration, and the Board. This is an area which demands constant attention and effort to improve. Education works best when there is a collaborative program, especially between parents and teachers, and I am always looking for ways to facilitate open lines of communication and cooperation. Teachers who are aware of parents’ concerns will make proper and adequate adjustments for their students. Likewise, parents who understand teachers’ decisions and programs will be able to provide good support at home.
Our staff and I have already mulled over this issue and are looking for better and more consistent ways to communicate with families. When we conceived our present website, we anticipated at some point incorporating separate pages for each classroom teacher. Over the summer we will be setting those pages up and rolling them out to our teachers at our August in-service meetings. This will mean that each teacher will be able to share online information about everything which is going on in class, such as topics covered, projects, coming events, special instructions, helpful links, and attached documents. It is hoped that this move will provide a significant improvement in strengthening ties between parents and teachers.
How It’s Currently Done: In Person
In our Parent-Student Handbook, we devote an entire section to “How Westlake Communicates.” The two primary modes are in-person and electronic. Throughout the year we provide a number of opportunities for parents and teachers to engage in face-to-face exchanges, such as opening school Curriculum Night, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and arranged meetings. Our Board and the Parent Association have two open meetings each year to foster openness, and I host an Administrator’s Forum each winter. All of our regular meetings are already scheduled on our calendar, and I would urge every Westlake parent to take note and plan to attend each one.
How It’s Currently Done: Electronically
While we still send some information home on paper, we rely mostly on electronic media for day-to-day communication. We have worked hard to develop an informative and easily navigable website which is kept up to date. Www.westlakechristian.org contains our school calendar as well as our athletic calendar for the most up to date information. We make every effort to post any last minute changes on those calendars. The website will also be the link to our teachers’ pages as well. When those are ready for use, we will get that information out to our constituency.
We also rely heavily on email, not only to disseminate information, but to engage families in interactive communication so that parents can share comments and ask questions. At least once each week, families receive either an Academy News email, an Administrator Update, or both, designed to bring to our constituency the latest information concerning the school as a whole.
In earlier decades, parents and teachers communicated regularly through handwritten notes. That has been largely replaced by electronic mail, which has many advantages as well as some drawbacks. Please bear with me as I address this subject, which is likely the most widely and consistently used way of communicating here at Westlake.
On the positive side, email allows for very quick information exchange. It takes little effort, and it provides for a conversation trail to document communications. Emails can be as terse as necessary and do not usually convey any level of formality. In short, it is efficient.
However, consider that, because it is so terse and effortless, it is easy to convey emotional content which is not intended. For that reason, whenever communicators need to share a discussion which may be emotionally charged to some extent, email should be avoided, opting instead for a telephone or personal meeting.
One last thing about email: because it is so instantaneous, we must be patient to allow the recipient time to read and respond. This is especially true of teachers. I discourage teachers from reading and answering email during the school day because their attention should be focused on teaching and interacting with students at that time. Parents who need to give urgent messages to teachers or children should do so through the school office, but there should not be the expectation that teachers will respond to emails sent during the school day. The same is true of text messages.
Check back next week for more on this subject . . .