As educators and professionals in a very demanding role we are all aware that we have a responsibility to keep the communication loop open and feedback is an important part of our work. We must communicate with colleagues, leaders, our students and their families, as well as the broader community. This is all on top of the core business we have of supporting the learning and exploration of concepts outlined in the governing curriculum to rank students against a continuum of learning outcomes and communicate this information with the stakeholders who require this information.
I have some routines and tools available to me that I employ to help me manage these forms of communication and assist me in making communication more efficient, effective and timely. Below I will explore these in sections, but you could employ any of these to any group or community.
Email delegation – For very busy administrators Gmail has an embedded tool to allow an authorised assistant to have delegated access to your incoming emails, they are able to access, respond and filter them on your behalf. This is a solution for a trusted assistant and for one who understands the processes and organisations of the leader.
Email filters – This is to automatically organise emails when they come into your inbox. Filters can be organised by sender, subject and even by key terms. They can send automatic replies, organise messages into folders and add tags to enable ease of access for when the time comes to read and respond to your messages.
Time allocation – We all know that administrators, principals and leadership are very busy people who need to prioritise their energy and efforts every day to ensure they keep abreast of all areas of responsibility. Time allocation and a set workflow should be a crucial part of every day for principals and leaders to ensure they are able to address any important emails in the most efficient way, and maintain communication with their staff. The more you keep this as a part of you routine the less of an arduous task it will become.
Communication with colleagues
This is not always the easiest to maintain; and the larger the organisation the harder is can be to have personal contact with all staff on an individual basis. Teachers, by the very nature of their work are over-worked and have very little time to spare, although we are all very aware that communication is a crucial part of the job. This is where we can leverage technology. As I have suggested above emails are a great way to keep in touch. An email asking a how a colleague is managing a particular project, or personal congratulations on the success of something you have done, from the head of the organisation can go a long way to improve the perception of value and worth for a colleague. In addition to sending an email to the staff who you don’t get to meet with in a face-to-face situation, it is always appreciated by staff who are willing to send information to you and the successes they are achieving a simple reply of only a few encouraging words goes a long way for morale and appreciation.
Communication may also come in the form of a bulletin board, weekly or daily notices for all staff, but this is more of a general communication format. Have you ever thought of having a video call such as Google hangouts or Skype, or even a phone call with a staff member just to “check in” and have a chat to keep the communication avenues open. Some staff may prefer an email, and others may be happy not to discuss anything with the principal, but it is a great thing for everyone to have the opportunity if it arises. This is also a great way for colleagues to communicate between themselves. It is important that the leader makes a point of being aware of the preferred communication avenue. Another great tool that can be used for meetings or planning can be Google documents the flexibility of this communication tool is highly suitable for this purpose.
Communication with Students and their families
We all know how one of the core businesses as educators is to communicate with students and their caregivers about their skills, progress and understanding. In most schools world wide the bi-annual academic report is the most formal information that passes from schools to caregivers. We know that it is just not enough and without adding more to the workload to the teacher. This is where tools such as email lists can be used to send generic messages to particular people. Teachers can send individual messages to parents for more specific messages. If these are individual emails with some similar content Gmail has a great tool called ‘Canned responses‘ which automatically populate the content of the email and you are able to make individual edits before sending the message. This is a great way to report progress to students and parents in an ongoing manner.
If you wish to report a greater set of data that you may have collected about individual students you can use tools such as a merge document. A great Google add-on is Autocrat which can automate this process to email recipients immediately as a PDF attachment. I have found this to be a great tool when parents request “our of reporting cycle” data on their child. Also to communicate directly to the students about their progress and achievements throughout an investigation.
Communication with the broader community (and the world)
There are numerous platforms that schools are beginning to use to communicate with the broader community about the events and achievements in the school. These are increasingly social media platforms such as Fecbook, Twitter, Google+; under the theory pretence “We will put the information where the community already gather”. The problem is that although there are great intentions with these platforms unless there is a number of people willing to gather and curate this information and distribute it in a timely manner, the information is often lost in the streams of post’s and status updates. A great tool that could help ease the ongoing need to add information regularly throughout the day and evening to reach the target audience is Buffer this allow you to pre-populate your updates and schedule them to be posted at the most appropriate times.
I acknowledge that all of the suggestions I have made in this post are my ideas and are recommended through my own personal experiences. I have specifically included some Google tools as I am yet to find any other tools available to schools totally for free across the world for ever that achieve the same level of collaboration and communication.
What is your favourite communication tool? I would love to hear about your communication experiences.