This year we’ve been improving communication with home as well as responding to the unique communication demands of a pandemic. How you communicate with the community will be context-dependent, and I wouldn’t argue any of these ideas should just be taken up uncritically, but these strategies have helped us improve how we connect with parents this year.
- Call and Email Tracker
As an all through school, our reception receives a real variety of calls and messages. We felt, to keep up with these and get the right staff to respond, we needed a different approach to just an email from reception to staff, which can get lost or need to be passed on. In the past, some messages were getting lost and a few were left without a response because they were passed on to more than one member of staff. At least some parents felt we didn’t respond quickly.
I made a shared spreadsheet which can securely act as a kind of virtual noticeboard. Reception staff add details of calls or emails and who needs to respond. Staff check it daily, respond to messages and update the tracker to say they have responded. Heads of year or department can check the kinds of messages coming in to their areas and if there’s anything that needs clarifying on a larger scale. Staff also use this to refer on messages where someone else needs to respond or deal with the issue (for example, a tutor passing a message to a head of year).
Our aim has been to respond to all calls or emails within forty-eight hours, which has been largely successful.
I imagine this seems like a cumbersome or unnecessary burden to some but it has worked for us to share, respond and track messages to and from parents.
2. Video Letters
Our use of video expanded drastically from March. We made video lessons and assemblies for students. We also made video guides for students to use when accessing Teams or submitting work. One thing that came later was a video for every letter we send out. These videos act as quick one or two minute summaries of the letters (and at some point could replace certain letters). Parents have been incredibly positive about these and they reflect an area where the pandemic has perhaps taught us to act differently in a way we will sustain into more normal times. In serving a community with varying levels of literacy, these letters have really helped.
3. Surveying Parent Views
We plan to survey parents’ views a couple of times a year. This has been encouraging as we’ve seen the strategies mentioned above bring about improved feelings about communication in a relatively short space of time.
These surveys also throw up specific and niche issues we would otherwise not have been aware of (e.g. comments about mask wearing and distancing in the morning entrance to school).
4. Use of Email
Getting staff to use email more regularly to communicate with parents felt like a bit of a Pandora’s Box because once you start, there’s no telling what impact on workload and stress it might have. But when we consulted with staff, they were wholly positive about using email, feeling it would be quicker than trying to get several different parents on the phone. An email about missed remote learning or homework can be sent to multiple parents at once (BCC) and save lots of time. We haven’t shared staff emails with parents but we have encouraged the use of email as one way we can communicate with parents.
Leaders emails have gone on the website with a letter to parents about who they should contact depending on the message or question. So far so good but it’s something we’ll need to monitor.
We surveyed parents before the pandemic and in November and their feelings about communication have dramatically improved. This may be, in part, because there’s a feeling of goodwill created by the pandemic and I think parents largely support how we have responded to the year’s unique situations, but it will also be down to the impact of some of these strategies.