An Inquiry into Communication in Schools

Summer relaxation mode is beginning to set in and reflection on the past school year spiral.  The things that brought joy.  The mountains surmounted.  The things you wish you could have a “do over.”  The things you want to aspire to this year.  Communicating effectively with each and every student and staff member and parent and community partner and colleague is a tall order but something I hope others will respond to with ideas.

Establishing a presence in the halls, in the traffic circle, on the playground and at school events communicates a sense that you care about the people in the school community.  Kids will most often readily respond to a smile or an inquiry.  When our school playground was condemned, kids wanted to discuss it on the playground.  There were a plethora of questions:  What were the unsafe parts?  Who decides what is unsafe?  When was it coming down?  Questions were followed with lots of ideas, suggestions and future plans for the new playground. More ideas followed about other things we could do on the school grounds while we were waiting.  I learned a lot during those conversations.

Some adults that are reluctant to make an appointment will have a conversation, ask a question or be encouraged to offer their ideas in a casual context.  This is also the time when they are most open about what they appreciate in the school, in the teachers and in me as a principal.  One parent shared that they could tell I really loved working with kids and appreciated that I made such an effort to get to know the students.   The Parent Advisory Committees (PAC) and parenting sessions can be an effective form of communication with parents but much of that depends on the perception of the role of the principal at the school and who shows up to participate.  I have found it very helpful to work collaboratively with the PAC executive.

The big teapot that I bought for my daughter and decided to keep in my office was a good choice.  Sitting around the big round table with students, staff, parents and colleagues often brought an ease to difficult conversations or sometimes a sense of calm to hectic days.  The poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo inspired the blog post, Perhaps the World Starts Here, and another way to help students to self calm and then move on to problem solving.  It also inspire the Tea with the Principal on the first Friday of the month at 9:15 am for parents wanting to ask questions or discuss issues in education.  Sometimes the group was too large to sit around the table, or people wanted to walk and talk as we toured the school.  Sometimes one or two people would show up with a burning question and delighted to have a cuppa.  School Based Team meetings and Health and Safety Meetings take on a new tone with a cup of tea.   I hadn’t really made the connection to Servant Leadership, coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, until my chief engineer told me that no other principal had ever made her a cup of tea and gave me a heartfelt thank you.  Nanny Keenan and my mother would just call it “Good Manners”.  Next year, I’m hoping to incorporate focus groups that work to problem solve around specific issues.

In all of the schools I have worked in, I make a concerted effort to direct people to the school website for information.  The Twitter feed brings kids with media release to the website to check out recent pictures of them involved in activities at the school.  Some parents will follow the school twitter feed to see pictures and read parenting articles or check out enrichment opportunities in the community.  Hopefully that also helps people to discover library links, information posted on the school calendar and current school news items.

The high cost of paper, photocopying costs and the fact that school newsletters rarely made it to me before events when my children were in school, make hardcopy newsletters my least favourite form of communication.  In my parent community, 99% of families have passed on multiple emails addresses to the school.  As a result, information items can be emailed directly to families.  The issue for some people with busy lives to read all of the email coming into their inboxes.  Although a hardcopy is available in the office, it is rarely picked up.  A few of my colleagues send weekly newsletters or APP reminders so that families come to expect them.  Next year I’m going to send out shorter items on a regular schedule so hopefully they will be anticipated and looked for.

Sometimes I think the problem with staff communication is overkill:

  • Daily reminders by the sign in
  • weekly updates via email
  • hardcopy of weekly updates for reference on the clipboard by the sign in
  • forwarded messages that are pertinent
  • forwarded information that has gone to parents
  • Monthly Staff Meetings, Monthly School Advisory Committee Meetings, Health and Safety Meetings, School Based Team Meetings, Inquiry Meetings …
  • School News on the website
  • Twitter feed on the website
  • Hallway conversations before, during and after school

This year I’m going to add one thing raised at my British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Short Course II at The University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus this July.  Stop. Take the time to get know your staff by meeting with each person individually.  It is my second year in the school and I’m hoping people will identify that I really do want to be helpful  I’m thinking the two questions will be:

  • How can I help you to do your job?
  • How can I support you with your professional learning?

When all is said and done, an open door policy is the best way to nurture fluid conversation.  There are two challenges.  One is that I am often not in my office.  The second challenge is that starting and completing a task, or the time for sustained problem solving, with frequent interruptions.  How many people close there doors and focus on the task at hand during school hours?

When all is said and done, a lot of channels of communication have been established.  Yet, still the quest for more.  Does anyone have any feedback about a channel of communication that has made all the difference?  I’m looking forward to new ideas or tried and true ideas 🙂

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To Blog or Not to Blog

The perfect sunset.  The funny moment. The great jazz performance.  There are all kinds of reasons that people take to social media to “share”.  Tweets and blogs abound.

  

I started my first travel blog,  Hoodooquest.blogspot.com, on my first trip to China as a way of learning about this “new terrain of blogging” and to share my Chinese teaching adventure with family and friends.  My friend, Jan Wells, informed me she read it every morning with her coffee and the newspaper while I was in China.  Then I discovered that people I didn’t know, read it too.  This gave me the confidence to jump down the “rabbit hole” into the world of blogging.

I’ve always written a journal. I have volumes, starting with the pink Holly Hobby diary, on family, school, friendship, skiing, romance, food, travel, motherhood, injustices of life and grand celebrations.  They are highly personal and come with disclaimers that they should be destroyed and certainly not read when I die.  Yes, I have always had a flair for the dramatic.  Blogging can encompass a similar style of writing with strong voice and opinions.   However the public aspect of blogging requires an additional lens.  I am processing my own thinking, but very aware of engaging an audience.

My early blogs were specifically intended as teaching tools (T2fish.wordpress.com, tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com).  They had specific learning outcomes and a body of content to present.  They targeted Tecumseh students but the stats reflected the interest was beyond the school community.  My next evolution of blogs were very similar to newsletters.   They shared relevant information with a specific audience and I tweeted them for accessibility to a greater audience:  For the foodies – SeriousIdulgences.wordpress.com; For educators and community members interested in social justice for children-  cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com ; For PDK members in Vancouver – pdkvancouver.wordpress.com.  However I learned most about engaging an audience when I used Kidblog to introduce blogging to gifted students.  Those kids created amazing blogs about their passions and our conversations about audience inspired interesting thoughts about reaching a like minded community of learners to provide feedback and mentoring.  I’m just beginning to touch on the things they taught me.  It was at that time that I started to actively follow blogs and the twitter feeds of people who inspire me and make me think, such as Jordan Tinney, George Couros, Chris Kennedy, Steve Cardwell and Ruben Puentedura.

This input, suggested reads, my professional  inquiries, collaboration with colleagues and students have made Inquire2Empower (carriefroese.wordpress.com) my most interesting blog to date.  I started writing it as a way to build community with other literacy educators in British Columbia.  It has emerged to a place where I not only share information but also develop my thoughts on a variety of professional topics including literacy, leadership, thinking skills, educational technology, human rights …basically all of those issues that are near and dear to my heart.  The public nature of my blog, holds me accountable for taking the time to reflect on my learning and articulate my thoughts. Once it hit over 2,000 views, I realized people were interested and I had developed an online PLN.

Inquire2Empower is very much question driven, as suggested by the name.  During my first temporary contract as a teacher, I was doing a maternity leave.  My burning questions were why did I hate teaching reading when I loved to read?  How could I engage students in the lesson with contrived, didactic material?  It taught me early on in my career that the pursuit of the answer is what has the real power to make a difference my practice.  Blogging and tweeting brought to light the concept of Virtual PLCS (Casey Reason 2015).  Social media has very much facilitated the formation of a wider community of informal groups that have emerged into symbiotic relationships.   The world of blogs and twitter have provided a structure for me to reflect on my learning but also provided opportunities to participation in Ignite Nights in Vancouver and Coquitlam that personalized the online connections.   It also opened up risk taking ventures like “One Word Burger”.  It has provided amazing choices of speakers for professional learning and the people attending are eager to participate.  It also allows for the follow up and consideration of the ramifications after complex sessions, like Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.   It has opened up opportunities for me to personally present to interested audiences.  Multiple pathways of learning.  Isn’t that what makes the world of education so interesting? Yes, for me, the answer is “to blog”.