Thoughts on Making School Communications Better
I wanted to distill a bit of feedback I’ve collected from parents regarding school communications, and provide my insights as a communications strategist on how we might be able to make our communications work better for all involved.
This should not be consider a pointed critique of our current LPAS school administration - most of these things are ongoing challenges - but with the dramatic changes over the last two years in demographics, platforms and daily life - we should take a critical eye.
Why? Because I don’t think I’m off base when I say that communicating with parents is a challenge and will remain a challenge - through cross country I’ve seen just how hard it is to get a parent’s attention! (woof!) But also how much it improves a student’s experience and achievement to have an involved family.
This will require real work to do, but I think it’s incredibly worthwhile to family involvement and student achievement. Personally, I’m up to help however I can - community, accessibility and communication is the thing I’m here for!
- There’s just a lot of communication out there. Small, big, frequent, infrequent.
- We rely upon multiplate communication platforms, some decreed by JCPS, some chosen by the school or the teacher, and some chosen because “that’s where parents are”: SchoolCNXT, Infinite Campus (App), Infinite Campus (Email), some texts, Facebook, Printed Material (WOW Folders)
- When and where to expect these communications is not consistent.
- Some of the platforms (e.g. Facebook, apps) not everyone has access to, or does not want access to.
- Yes, parents will wait until the last moment to find the link to whatever it is. Can’t stop that, but we can help mitigate it!
- Consistency: Knowing when and maybe more importantly WHERE to expect important communications is key. We’re all overwhelmed by having so many communication outlets. As an example, I rely upon Noe Middle School’s “Weekly” email from Mr. Gribbins. It’s long, but it’s consistently delivered each week at the same time (so I know when to expect it), in my email (I know where to expect it) and named clearly (so I know what to search for when I need it) and has everything I need to know for that week. I’ve also tried this “weekly” approach with XC and it seems to work VERY well.
- Scannability: We’re inundated by communications from schools (and elsewhere) on the daily. Make sure that the priority, the sender and how to respond to the communication is clear. Specific to email: subject lines and “from” labels are a requirement. For example, I get emails from two schools and the district, and only through context clues can I determine who is sending it and why.
- Open Platforms: Facebook is convenient, but I know a lot of parents who are not on there, and professionally I can tell you preference for this platform is waning fast. Why? The demographics are changing. Younger parents are less likely to be on Facebook. Secondly - and because a platform it’s noisy at best and predatory at worst. In my opinion, it’s fine for non-critical updates or secondary notifications, but definitely not #1.
- Accessibility: We should choose platforms that all can access and that are the easiest to access and control. Email or text is #1, I think. Email is a timeline that parents control, so less likely it will be lost. Text is also great, but less functional. Beyond that - I think we under-use one of the most accessible tools we have - the LPAS website!
- Community Q&A: the support and conversations that platforms like Facebook allow us to have are very valuable as parents, but see the note about “Open Platforms”. We don’t really have a single source or an obvious path for this. Where can parents turn to for advice? Is this something the school (or the PTA) can facilitate in some way, aside from, say, a private Facebook group or Messenger group?
- Ask our families: If communications is a huge, ongoing challenge, we should be asking our families and our leaders what their struggles are, and adapting.
I’d love to see a consistent, weekly school-level emails. Yes it will take some time to edit and teachers will communicate with their classes how they choose - but this would be consistent. The WOW folders and the PTA newsletter we used to do was incredibly helpful. (PS - the PTA recently put together a school-wide Google Calendar and I am so happy for that.)
And while we’re talking about emails: clearly label emails with the school name, sender name and how to respond
I think using the website as “the main source” might be helpful. Everyone can access it, and if we consistently refer people to it, it will become a habit. (Note: The LPAS website URL is too long to easily remember - but I see that lpaslou.com is available, and it could be cheaply purchased and redirected to http://lincoln.jefferson.kyschools.us/ (I can help there!)
A School Inbox: I’ve had a number of parents ask me “who should I ask?” or “who can I contact?” about many things. I think having something - almost like “Customer Support” inbox would be helpful here. Have a question? Send it to that email - and it would be monitored and forwarded to the right person. Right now my default answer is “Email the Principal!”
Community Q&A: I think promoting consistently a single Q&A group to all families would be of a big benefit to the school and related groups. Perhaps that’s the school’s PTA Facebook Group? As much as I think that Facebook is imperfect and on the wane, it’s the best we have, and having one that is promoted by the school would be a clear path for parents.
Communication Survey: We should be doing a yearly communication survey. I know we know how to use SurveyMonkey and SignupGenius! Any more data than zero is useful, and even asking a question invests the community in the challenge. What devices do you use regularly? Are you on Facebook? Do you have email? What are your biggest challenges (school schedules? activities? knowing who to contact?)
There’s a lot above and a lot of moving parts in our community.
Ultimately, each school has control over it’s communication, so the major moves need to come from the administration. But there are large and involved groups within each school - namely the PTA, etc - that can also be delegated to help.
Have thoughts here? Interested in helping? You can email me, of course, but I would also recommend joining the LPAS PTA, or if you have school-specific questions about current communications, you can email your principal! :)