Sunday, 1 December 2013

Communicating Clearly

Most folks will agree that good communication is critical to the success of any collaborative effort. It should be no surprise that improved communication between home and school is a top priority for the ministry of education, schools and parents. With everyone in support of the idea, one would think it would be easy to achieve. However, while everyone can agree that improving home school communication is important, actually doing it continues to be a challenge.

Towards Better Communications is a report by MLA Jane Thornthwaite, attached to the BC Ed plan. The 18 page report identifies culture and practice as the two key areas critical to enhancing communication between home and school. It suggests that parents want to be more directly involved in decisions around their child's education but often just don't know how best go about establishing an effective working relationship. The challenge can be even greater for immigrant families. Cultural issues can also refer to how open and receptive a school is to parental involvement. Practice issues deal more with what and how a school school communicates with its parent community.

The website Edutopia recently also ran a blog about What Parents Want In School Communication. After polling over 40,000 parents Edutopia identified topics that parents most want to know about from schools as:
  • Updates on their child's progress or insight on how they improve
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year
  • Homework and grading policies
  • Curriculum descriptions and information on instructional programs
  • A calendar of events and meetings
  • Information on student safety (and quality of teaching, at the elementary level) and
  • Educational program changes and updates (elementary level)/curriculum updates and changes in instructional programs (secondary level).
The means by which parents prefer to communicate with schools are listed as:
  • E-mail from the district/school
  • Online parent portal
  • District/school e-newsletters
  • District/school website
  • Telephone/voice messaging system
At our monthly SUP-PAC meeting I shared some of this information with local PAC presidents. While they agreed with many of these ideas, they also added the quality of consistency to the list. PAC reps were able to point to many excellent practices conducted by individual teachers and schools but lamented the lack of consistent and persistent practice across the entire system, instead categorizing our district communications as hit and miss; excellent at times and non existent at others.

Improving communication is almost always cited as an organizational goal. Where it comes to communications between home and school enhanced communication almost always equates to improved performance, greater engagement and feelings of mutual understanding. While it seems we all eagerly want for such communication to occur, it remains an ongoing challenge to ensure that it does. Awareness of the issue is a start, but successful and consistent follow through will be the real achievement as we work to ensure that what really matters is clear and supported by all.

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