By Jeffrey L. Mitchell
What do you hold sacred about your children’s education?
Of course, it varies from parent to parent. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in highest regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the
essential features of a quality education.
The previous two articles in this series have focused on care and connection and mission.
This third article concerns communication.
You cannot underestimate the role and influence of communication in all its forms. Varied and complex communication, in oral, written and nonverbal forms are a hallmark of humanity.
Communication can hardly be distinguished from our very essence.
Thus, it is no surprise that great communication is valued in all contexts, including schools. But recognizing good communication is always easier than implementing it, especially in large organizations with many constituents. Here are some thoughts about best practice communication in schools.
Clear, Structured, Responsive & Timely
These are the ABC’s of organizational communication. If these are not solid, a school will be backpedaling and putting out fires all the time.
To start, communication should be unambiguous and timely.
For example, having the good fortune to work with communication and marketing specialists at Currey Ingram, I have learned the importance of staying hyper-consistent with all of our communications.
Thus, all of our regular digital and print communications to parents are regimented. They happen on the same day and at the same time. After a while, that communication becomes part of our parents’ daily, weekly, monthly or annual routine.
We also have definitive guidelines and expectations about the timeliness and quality of our responses to parent inquiries. Emails and phone calls are responded to within a certain time frame and in a professional manner.
A school can differentiate itself regarding communication practices when it starts doing the unexpected. Like being proactive.
It is very powerful when teachers and administrators simply reach out to parents to just “touch base,” give a heads-up on a minor issue, or simply to share something positive that occurred during the school day.
I make it a habit of calling all on new parents after a few weeks of school to simply “check in” and ask how it is going so far. Some of our teachers reach out to the parents of the students in their classes just before school starts to introduce themselves and answer any initial questions they may have.
Currey Ingram is using software (i.e., Seesaw) that allows us to share the work and news of the day very easily with parents.
Taking a proactive approach leads to greater satisfaction among parents in the present, and it also builds rapport for any more difficult
communication that might need to occur down the road.
A school can effectively leverage communication by how it incorporates feedback. John Hattie’s Visible Learning research is interesting and powerful. Hattie analyzed tens of thousands of studies on student achievement to determine what factors have the greatest influence.
Of the 138 influences on student achievement (variables) that Hattie ultimately unearthed, feedback (in various forms) was among the most important. For example, when teachers seek and are open to feedback from students, achievement is enhanced. Relatedly, when teachers
receive systematic and thoughtful feedback (e.g., in person, video, audio, written or oral) about their teaching — ideally from peers, supervisors and even themselves — achievement soars.
Finally, thoughtful and thorough feedback to students from teachers is also effective.
At Currey Ingram, detailed and multi-layered feedback is a compulsory aspect of our educational model. A highlight is that every student has an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) and that Plan is truly the communication centerpiece for our students’ educational experience.
The ILP is a living document that changes as students establish new academic and social goals, make academic progress, or as we insert updated testing scores. As the communication centerpiece, the ILP drives other communication experiences, such as our four times per year
parent-teacher conferences. Each conference is an hour and might best be described as let’s really and truly understand the cognitive and social emotional dimensions of your child.
I welcome your feedback about this article and school communication. Or, if you have any questions Currey Ingram more generally, please feel free contact me.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee.