With Remote Learning, Communication is the Key – For Everyone
Long-distance relationships are hard! And one of the biggest hurdles is communication. It’s difficult to be sure the tone, the importance, and the information all hit the perfect note. And now, as a school leader, you are faced with multitudes of long-distance relationships with those in your care: parents, students, faculty and staff.
As many schools move to remote learning in response to COVID-19, we want to offer a few suggestions on communication in this time of distance learning.
Communication with parents and guardians
- Keep parents/guardians updated in a timely and consistent manner. When information becomes available, and as decisions are made about the future, communicate. This might be stating the obvious, but it’s important to remember that this situation represents a big change in the way we live our lives. In these types of situations, people need clarity and structure – even if the news is bad. A clear, concise, and well-timed message from leadership is a small act of stability.
- Use a variety of platforms. You should put out consistent, timely communications across multiple channels to make sure your message is received. While district websites and social media sites can be handy tools, broadening communication branches during this time is important as well.
The U.S. Postal Service has been a steady factor throughout history. There are opportunities now to use them again. Think about scheduled mailings you have going out to parents/guardians or the community and find ways to insert information.
Find time to call a few parents/guardians each day to ask them about the experiences they are having and the experiences their students are having.
Call into radio stations, television stations, and newspapers with highlights of what the building and district are doing. Good, uplifting news is going to be important to the broader community. And the work that our teachers do every day, or the inventive ways they are connecting with their students, will bring joy and produce more creativity.
Communication with students
- Offer online meetings, if possible, for students to interact with you as a school leader. Think of ways you can increase your communication strategies. If you’re not already, start posting regularly on social media, or use YouTube to send out messages to support the school culture. Spotlight the work of teachers and students.
- Reinforce school culture. Each building has a vision and a mission. Even though students may not be in the physical building, they are still living in the same culture. Relay consistent messages about school culture and possible activities that can be done remotely to support school culture.
- Utilize the local mail service. Online delivery of assignments is the big idea, but it’s not necessarily the best approach for every student. Work with small groups of teachers (grade level or content area) to determine which activities would be most appropriate for groups of students. Printed packets should be differentiated based on the information and learning that is most needed by the student. Packets could be sent back and forth by mail or picked up at school with designated times by grade levels or content areas.
- Set up a support system for students. Ask faculty and staff to rotate days and times to set up a call center, an open online meeting, or a help desk to be available for support and questions for students.
Communication with faculty and staff
- Provide guidance and talking points to teachers about how to communicate with students and parents. This idea goes back to having a clear, cohesive, consistent communications strategy. During this time, it is very possible to say the wrong thing that could offend or confuse students or parents. It’s important that your school has a cohesive communications strategy that aims to help families rather than make things harder on them. Make sure your faculty and staff know the talking points, and everyone is putting out the same message.
- We suggest that administrators go to great lengths to be a part of virtual teaching sessions. Attend as many online teaching sessions as is feasible, explore the sites teachers recommend, and ask teachers to include you in their communications so that, as a leader, you are well-aware of the teaching and learning that is taking place, and you can better offer support.
- Monitor the activities of the online environment to see if information and resources are flowing properly between teachers and students. If you see issues of basic online activities not getting completed, offer feedback to teachers and add supports to help them adjust to the new online environment.
- Overcommunicate essential points, but not every point is essential. Find the focus, and stay true to it. Think of the key points you want to communicate to your faculty and staff, and stick to those. The setting may look different, but the school culture and priorities should remain the same.
- Find times to communicate one-on-one with each faculty/staff member. They need to know you are there. Reach out, touch base, listen, and chat. Conversations can be about learning, but they can (and should) also be about broader concerns or issues. It’s a time to be vulnerable and to be in communication with each other. Take the time to reach out and to support faculty and staff in ways outside of the learning setting.
Tips for school leaders in a remote learning environment
- Keep routines. If you have routines and rituals that you do, try to continue those as much as possible. Keep giving out awards, keep recognizing students. Find different ways to broadcast morning meetings. All of these routines are a foundation for your school culture, and they provide some much-needed normalcy. So keep doing them.
- Ask for help. This is unchartered territory. Seek out help. One way we are helping is by setting up open discussion sessions with our network of school leaders. You can use this time to lean on one another and talk through the issues at hand. Please let us know if you’d like to participate in a discussion session.
- Set goals for your own work. What tasks need to get done every day? Every week? This month? By the end of the year? By the beginning of next year? Think through those tasks and how they might look if school is out for the rest of the semester, or even into the 2020-2021 school year.
- Be positive. A lot of our own self-talk can overwhelm us, especially in tough times. Be positive with yourself and your actions. You are doing the best you can, and you are trying to provide normalcy in abnormal times. Reflect on the good things you do each day. Every day, you are helping your school, your faculty and staff, your students, and their parents/guardians.
We hope you can find some relevant points in these suggestions that will help you with communication over the coming weeks. We are also here to help. As always, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or guidance you may need, no matter how big or small the ask may be. We are committed to supporting you in this challenging time.
For more COVID-19 support and resources for school leaders, please visit our blog page devoted to this topic.
The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.