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A Single Point of Contact for School Communications
By Matt Harris, TIE Columnist 17-Oct-19
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash. ___________________________________ Information is the life blood of schools. Be it information about teaching and learning, about financials, or about the stakeholders in the organization. For the most part, schools have effective systems for storing that information (though you have heard me speak of the need to unify our data systems). Where schools run into the greatest challenge with information is in its distribution. Let’s take a look at my mobile phone and you’ll see what I’m talking about. On my phone, I have eighteen apps for messaging, video conferencing, and peer-to-peer communications. I monitor four email addresses and three digital calendars actively. My children’s school uses two specialty apps and a learning management system for communications as well. And don’t forget my constant time on GSuite or Office 365, plus the various websites I visit for work and parental life. Many of these are used for school communications. Please note, I didn’t even get into social media. In short, this is inefficient and overwhelming… and I consider myself rather technically adept. The experiences of school staff, students, and parents are even more fraught. At most of the schools I have worked with, parents are expected to monitor at least five channels of communications for important school information. School staff have to deal with even more. Worst of all, students who are just learning how to self-manage and are eyeballs-deep in academic responsibilities are asked to keep track of multiple communication systems. The bright side is that the technology allows us to address this issue by cutting the noise and culling the excess to focus on single points of communications. Before we talk about the details, let’s talk about a key premise: internal vs. external audiences. In a school, we have two types of information consumers: those internal to our organizations and those who are external or are potential members of the organization. These groups should be treated differently. For external consumers, including potential families and employees, the goal of communications should be to serve as a window into the school. This means that information should be finely crafted and targeted. It should not be overly dynamic (crammed with daily news or event photos, for example) and it should be clearly branded. It should rest in one to two social channels and figure on the website. The answer to your question is “yes.” The school website and its social channels should be used to communicate with external consumers only. The website should not serve internal stakeholders, as it clouds the content and imposes another channel (or channels) for people to review. So, set up the garden that is your external web presence for those looking in from the outside and keep it watered (but don’t over-water it). For internal stakeholders, the information that schools need to disseminate is both dynamic and static. School news, calendars, and special messages constantly stream from various parts of the organization. Some of these messages are organization-wide while others come from classroom teachers. Static information—for example, forms, procedures, contact numbers, or school calendars—must also have a channel. All of this information is critical, but it is not all-encompassing for stakeholders. Most stakeholders in schools are similar to me in that they have numerous communication channels in their personal and professional lives. To best reach these people while not diluting the importance of school information, avoid multiple channels in favor of a single site with push notifications. This site, accessible through a password-protected website or communication service, should have a personalized feed for students, parents, and employees. The feed should only contain information relevant to each group. It should also have a repository of easily searchable static information. Imagine a Grade 10 math teacher that has a daughter in the preschool and a son in Grade 2. This teacher should see in her feed information intended for faculty, the math department, the secondary school, the preschool, Grade 2, her children’s classes, plus whole-school announcements. Nothing else. If she needs a field trip form or a leave request application, she can search the static repository for the appropriate documents. By creating a single point of communications, every member of the school knows to check their feed or the static repository before seeking information from a teacher or another parent. Critical information will come from one place only and they need not monitor Facebook, the website, email, WhatsApp, and the class outside of their feed. For new families entering the school, a single site will give them full access to all critical information. Schools are in a time of information and communication overload. By focusing on a single point of communication, schools can best serve their communities and reduce the stress that comes when people get ten emails, five notifications, and a series of WhatsApp chats before arriving home.
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