Quality communication is essential. When people are informed, they feel empowered and part of the process. When they don’t feel part of the communication loop, they may tune out or disengage. Strong communication systems can also save time in the long run by reducing questions and providing clear timelines and expectations, keeping everyone on the same page. Through the power of technology, more communication channels are available today than ever before. There are email, cell phones, social media, learning management systems, student information systems, parent portals, and the list goes on.
While each of these systems and tools provides significant benefits and can potentially save you time, they have also led to increased expectations and pressures on teachers and school staff. For instance, because students and parents now have access to online gradebooks, they may expect immediate access to grades, failing to account for the time it takes teachers to grade and provide feedback. Email and cell phones have made communication so convenient that parents often lose sight of workday hours and contact school staff at all times of the day (and night). The tips and suggestions in the following list can help you streamline communication and help you better manage the additional workload caused by increasing communication expectations.
If you set no boundaries, there will be no boundaries. Therefore, it is important to clearly share your communication expectations with students and parents at the beginning of a new term. This does not mean you are telling them you don’t want to communicate with them. Rather, it provides a common expectation of when and how communication will happen. This understanding can reduce frustration for everyone involved.
For instance, you may want to indicate your preferred form of communication (i.e., email, phone, etc.), and you might share a statement such as “I value your communication, and I will do my best to respond to your communication within 24 hours during school days. Communication received in the evenings, weekends, or days when school is out of session will be reviewed on the next school day. Thank you for your understanding.” Setting clear boundaries is kind to both you and your stakeholders since everyone has a clear expectation of when to expect a response. It reduces frustration from families who might expect an immediate response to their questions and helps you limit this correspondence to school hours.
The simpler your system, the easier it will be for everyone, including you. Therefore, choose a limited number of communication channels when developing your system, develop a consistent time to update these channels, and stay committed to your plan. Whenever possible, post everything in one, easy-to-access place. Of course, make sure students and parents are aware of your plan and routine. When students and parents are required to log in to multiple programs or check several places to get all the information, they may get confused or frustrated, and a simple system will allow you to check and post fewer places, saving you time and making it easier for you to keep track of communication.
Parents and students value consistency, which is an important part of keeping it simple. Consistency reduces frustrations and establishes realistic expectations. For instance, you might use your learning management system for all important communication. You might put homework and daily summaries on the internal calendar for parents and students to review. You could also use the integrated message board to post daily updates. Perhaps you decide to post weekly messages rather than one every day. If that is your choice, be sure to communicate that procedure so parents and students don’t expect something new each day.
Of course, begin as you intend to go. If you start posting daily and then reduce it to weekly, this may feel like a step backward and frustrate students and families who have gotten used to daily communication. Again, the key is to pick a manageable system and then stick to consistent use of it. You control what this will look like, so devise a system that will support students and families while also working efficiently for you.
This daily task often consumes valuable time at the beginning of a school day or class period. One way to reduce the time you spend managing this is to build it into your communication plan. If you post daily objectives, learning activities, and assignments online, students can manage their make-up work.
For instance, they might log into your learning management system, review the work they missed, note the due assignments, and access necessary documents and materials in one place. You will likely find that students will even check this at home, and some may even be caught up when they return. This is a win-win for everyone. Of course, the key is that everyone knows when and where they can access this information. You probably also want to share this process with parents, especially those with younger students, so they can support you in keeping students caught up.
We live in a video age, and most people appreciate this type of communication. It is fast and efficient and can reduce misunderstandings because viewers see your facial expressions and hear the tone of your voice. These messages do not need to be polished or time-consuming to create. A quick one-take recording can be captured and posted in just a few minutes. This short investment of time can pay dividends by saving you time later answering questions or clearing up points of confusion.
Most learning management platforms have integrated video capture systems, which can be fast and efficient to use. You can also use programs like Loom (tips) or Screencastify to capture video and then embed those clips into your online page. Videos can also be used for flipped lessons, which help students who are absent and parents who wish to help their children with unfamiliar content.
Another popular use of video is for a class newsletter. Rather than spending time developing a print document each week, you can quickly record a video message to families. The video also adds a personal touch that can help families feel more connected to you.
Consider having students participate in classroom newsletters. This can empower students, offload some of your work, and motivate parents to tune in to see their child on-screen. If you choose this approach, you might create the script as a class and have individual students generate the message or provide the message for students to read. You can decide what best meets your needs.
If you have students participate, be sure to involve everyone by developing a consistent rotation of student participants. You won’t want any students being left out.
If your learning management system or student information system has an integrated messaging system, consider using it. This will often automate distribution to all students and families without you needing to track down contact information and email addresses. Some systems even have preformatted reports or canned comments that you can send. These systems can also help keep your email inbox from becoming flooded.
Email is a blessing and a curse. It is an amazing communication system when used well, and can bury you in hours of review and response when it gets out of control. To help manage your inbox, consider what integrated filters and display formats are available. Some systems allow you to organize any unread message at the top for quick review and automatically separate incoming emails into priority mail, promotions, and social media messages. Turning these filters on can help you quickly scan pre-sorted messages.
You can also set up filters that automatically move certain messages to folders or tags for storage. For instance, maybe you get frequent email updates from a vendor, but you don’t often need to review those messages. You could create an inbox rule that sends any message with a specific title or from a specific sender to a designated folder. Then you can skim this folder once a week or on a pre-determined schedule. This process works well for automatic notifications you might receive from learning management submissions.
You can find more email tips and strategies in the AOA article Manage Your Communication: Emails and Notifications. These strategies and resources are designed to be shared with students as well.
These are generally lists of pre-composed comments that you can select or drag and drop into your communication channel. They are often integrated into report cards or online grading systems. By selecting pre-drafted comments, you don’t need to retype them every time you want to say the same thing. If you don’t have access to pre-made lists of canned comments, you can create your own on a Word or Google document and simply copy and paste from this list into your communication to save time.
Yes, this suggestion adds a task rather than subtracts one. However, spending the time to develop positive connections with students and families can create a communication environment that will save you time and stress later.
Everyone loves hearing about what their child is doing well, and this positive connection helps to develop a healthy relationship with students and families and an understanding that communication is not only engaged when something is wrong. These messages can lead to a greater sense of trust, reducing the number of questioning or angry emails you receive during the year. To keep this manageable, you might decide to send two or three student or family messages per week and keep track of them so you don’t repeat them before contacting all families.