We know that communicating with parents is a good thing when it comes to student growth and overall success. When parents feel welcome and engaged as part of their child’s educational journey, their support has countless benefits including higher grades and test scores, increased graduation rates, better school attendance, better self-esteem - the list goes on and on. But is all communication the same? Especially now?
Often communication with parents increases in direct correlation to negative things a student is going through. Repeated trips to the principal’s office warrant repeated phone calls, for example, but don’t do much to build relationships that prevent further transgressions. So how do we flip the switch so that more of our conversations with parents have a positive effect on student life? The answer? By making our communication with parents proactive instead of reactive.
What is reactive communication?
School or district communication is reactive when, as you may have guessed, a person is reacting to a situation. This may be communicating with parents about ongoing problems like truancy or unexpected issues like a fight between students during the lunch hour. Universally, educators had to react to the changing face of education almost overnight. There was nothing we could do but react.
However reactive communication tends to have bad results for a number of reasons. With no planning, communication with parents is often disjointed, one-sided, or even defensive. If communication happens after an unexpected troublesome event, the speaker may say things he or she would not have wanted to say and with little insight into the holistic situation of a student. This kind of communication often requires additional follow up if new details are later revealed or professionalism is called into question.
COVID-19 took everyone by surprise. It was extremely important to communicate with families, and that communication at times had to be rushed. Some educators were passing along information that later turned out to be false. At the time, reaction was important, it was important to disseminate as much information as quickly as possible to as many people as possible. The truth is that no one knew exactly what was going on in our first few days of distance learning.
Reactive communication tends to happen when emotions are high and stress levels may prevent parents and educators from seeing the best in one another. In order for relationships to grow between school and home, positive foundations must be built between all parties. That takes planning and intention.
What is proactive communication?
Proactive communication happens when educators identify problems and prevent them. It is when goals are set and communication builds towards those goals. Proactive conversations with parents are planned - with student data informing the conversation. This type of communication is intentional. It may include answering questions before they are asked, extending a welcome to parents with instructions on how to connect with a teacher. It may be offering unexpected praise for the small victories students accomplish everyday. Proactive communication helps ensure positivity, builds relationships, and delivers on objectives.
Being proactive will be even more important as school districts have become more accustomed to distance learning. Unfortunately, the era of COVID-19 will continue into the fall and distance learning may play a larger role in our students near term educational lives. We must be sure that communication channels with parents are established and active.
Proactive communication won't happen during emergencies when tensions are high. But educators can also be proactive in their reaction to unexpected emergencies. No one could have planned for schools to suddenly close around the country, but we could plan how we ask our teachers, administrators, and support staff to communicate updates about an ongoing issue. A proactive plan will also allow space for opinions to be expressed and questions to be asked. Proactive communication helps build trust- and eventually - support. When practiced best, they prevent tensions from becoming high in the first place.
Shifting to a proactive approach when communicating with parents takes time to establish in a school or district-wide. Lack of time, resources, and training can all make the change difficult. In addition, things like multiple student data sources as well as teachers using different communication tools makes administrative oversight nearly impossible. Nevertheless, stepping off the loop of reactive communication with parents can be done.
SchoolStatus gives educators a real-time picture of all data associated with their students including benchmarks, state assessments, grades, discipline, attendance, etc. From the same view, educators have tools to contact parents via text, email, or call while documenting the communication on the student record. No other parent communication technology provides tools for data analytics and parent communication from within a single system.