A lesson in effective communication

Flight delays.

Like many small set backs in life the attitude you take determines your experience.

In attempt to make hay while the sun shines, I sent out this light-hearted tweet.

As this conversation was taking place, Tripit was quickly sending push out notifications of gate changes and delays to the flight to my iPhone.

At no point did I ever feel lost. In fact I was spending time dropping in on #satchatoc and #educampakl while waiting for my flight.

Aside from extra professional learning time, my biggest takeaway from being delayed in Dallas is that in an era of instant, personalized communication the traditional models schools use to communicate with students and their families – newsletters and reports – are relics from another age.

In pre-email days school communication was mass produced, one size fits all, periodic and lengthy. All parents received the notice containing details of the Year 4 cross country date in the weekly school newsletter whether they had a child in Year 4 or not. The piece of paper containing the newsletter might make it home in time or languish in the bottom of the school bag until the day before, or after, the Year 4 cross country.

In the era of email we’ve gone to newsletters on a slightly smaller scale, year group or syndicate. Delivery has become more accurate and content more relevant. Yet this system has added to teacher workload without really giving parents what they want; timely, relevant and personalized updates about their child’s learning.

Unfortunately I’ve yet to find a way to balance the need for report comments to be timely and relevant for each child in the class while at the same time teaching a full course load and attempting to have a life.

Non-teachers can find it hard how time consuming writing reports are. To put things in perspective, my last batch of report comments was just shy of 12,000 words – the same length as my Honours dissertation. Despite my effort my comments were inherently flawed.

As I was giving my end of year reports a final proofread, I remember thinking how out of date many of the comments seemed. Goals reached, extra effort by the kids in the last few weeks of school went unacknowledged in their report. It was too late to change each child’s report then have the updated comments proofed and checked.

Information cycles in the real world have sped up considerably in the last few years. Guidebooks are out of date the moment they go to the printer, newspapers update their websites after the morning edition. Yet in schools our information cycles stare from another time.

Which is where the problem lies.

Like many teachers I operate in two eras of communication. I’m still creating the mass produced, lengthy, periodic, just in case communication from the industrial age while at the same time attempting to create responsive, timely, brief and personalized communications that are characteristic of the digital era.

I’m sure there will come a day when the time consuming process of creating industrial communication in schools will come to an end. However despite the technology already being here, communication systems for educators still aren’t up to scratch. I’ve yet to find a learning management system that does exactly what I need it to do.

The closest I’ve come is doctopus with the goobric extension which enables me to quickly push out content to kids using google apps for education. The students can share their content with others, I can give personalized feedback to each child yet still maintain an overview of where the class is at. It’s personalized to me as a teacher and to each of the kids.

However parents are the missing component from this ecosystem unless the child or I share with mum and dad. In the past I’ve subscribed parents to their child’s blog as a way for home to get automatic updates without adding to my workload.

And that’s the key, automation and mobility. Technology should make communication for teachers more timely and effective. It should not add to our workload through needless logins, cutting and pasting information between windows and terrible user interfaces.

However most learning management tools require teachers to do just that.

I often joke that any learning management system without an iOS app is dead to me.

Instead of turning somersaults to make bad information systems work we need to be more demanding in our technological needs. Not just for own sanity but for the experience of our students and their families.

In an era where an app on my phone can push out personalized, relevant announcements faster than the airport departure board, we need to rethink what effective communication looks like in schools.

And it shouldn’t involve anyone needing to login into a browser to look for their communication.

It should just be there just when we need it.

PostScript. The flight to Chicago was accompanied with a midair proposal that even had the cynic in 18F smiling. Despite all the advances in technology there is some communication best done in person.

Image by author

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3 thoughts on “A lesson in effective communication

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  1. Hi Stephanie, I really enjoyed this post! I’m a PST and have been thinking recently after my last prac how I might integrate technologies better into my future classroom, so that parents can be more involved. Food for thought!

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