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Good school year communication plan critical

By From page A2 | August 07, 2014

It doesn’t hurt each year to take a fresh look at our communication strategies.

Research tells us that parents and the public care about safety, order, the mastery of skills and the ability of our students to compete in a global marketplace. Getting ready for the new school year isn’t just about buying clothes and supplies on the part of the parents and making sure the classrooms are clean and ready for the students on the part of school leaders. A successful school year requires a good communication plan that works for the school, parents, students and the community.

Chatting with some parents over the weekend at the Solano County Fair board dinner in Vallejo, they put good home and school communication as solid indicators for a successful school year. All had stories to share about no communication, missed communication, poor teachers, and not-so-user-friendly administrators. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that the parents also gave high grades to many teachers, administrators and other school staff that their children had or now have.

One of the biggest challenges for today’s school leaders is to find effective communication strategies to meet the needs of all of their constituents. Author Joyce Epstein once wrote that there are three spheres of influence in which students learn and grow: the family, the school and the community. “Good communication is critical to the way the community looks at what we do in our schools. Perception is everything.” Epstein wrote.

Many of our schools and businesses, as well, could do a better job of communicating with their customers, hence better customer satisfaction. And yes, make no mistake about it; students and parents are our customers.

But communication is a two-way street; parents also need a plan each year to communicate with the school and with their own children. Some parents have shared horror stories with me over the years about communication or the lack of communication with the schools. But having served as a principal for many years, I could share any number of stories about the lack of parent communication plans as well.

Good communication is an ongoing process; that’s why it’s important for all parties to keep frequent communication going between school and home all year long.

Several years ago, the Southwest Educational Laboratory offered some communication strategies that are still worth noting.

  • Assess how parents are made to feel when they come to school or go into the classroom.
  • Develop a meet-and-greet program. Bring back the old community Welcome Wagon for parents and students new to the school.
  • Set up a specific place for parents to meet and work. It need not be elaborate. Access to a coffeepot, a lending library, social service information pamphlets and parent volunteers willing to share their wisdom and expertise.
  • Conduct training that focuses on communication and partnering skills for parents and staff, with the main emphasis on the student.

These pointers that deal with community communication are not new but are also worth repeating.

  • Be accessible to the media and invite newspapers to visit school sites and call reporters about timelines and updates.
  • Keep everyone in the know and don’t be afraid to share disturbing truths.
  • Develop and keep an updated website for the school and community. Most districts do this. Many parents tell me they would love a central countywide website for all districts to post and share. What a great idea.
  • Make it a practice to thank and recognize community partnerships and volunteers. Schools used to do this every year.
  • Get the word out as soon as possible when there is a death in the education family.
  • Encourage educators to join service organizations and attend community events. One superintendent once told me that I shouldn’t be off campus for Rotary meetings. Years later, I became president of the Cordelia club.

Good communication takes hard work and, of course, we can’t control everything. But we can work together to build a reputation for good communication with truthfulness, transparency and reliability. That sense of goodwill based on reputation can go a long way when things are not going well.

Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County board of education. Reach her by email at [email protected]

Mayrene Bates

Mayrene Bates is a trustee with the Solano County Board of Education.

Discussion | 1 comment

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  • mrsallnutAugust 07, 2014 - 6:56 pm

    Well said, Ms. Bates! We recently found ourselves needing to communicate with our district over a personal matter and I was gratified to get such a positive response. Too often, we close ourselves off because we've believed those "horror stories" and failed to reach out. And for those on the receiving end, often all a family needs is to have their concerns validated and acknowledged. The world isn't a perfect place, but by listening to each other we can come darn close.

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