Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Effective communications

I believe this issue is of such importance that we decided to survey the entire school community to find out what they currently felt about communications with Canford, the research findings from which formed the basis of a new communications strategy.

We are living in a fast paced age where technology is developing frighteningly quickly alongside increasingly hectic family lifestyles.  In the past, parents generally expected to hand over responsibility of their child’s education to the chosen school, with little involvement aside from attendance at the occasional sports match and the annual Speech Day and receipt of a school report each term.   Darkening the door of the Headmaster’s study was generally only as the result of their child having committed a misdemeanour!
These days parents want to be much more engaged in their child’s school life, whether they are boarding or day pupils.  I believe this is a real positive, and at Canford we very much promote the triangle of home, school and pupil as a connected effort.  However, as a result of this change parents inevitably want access to a lot more information more frequently from the school, and the advent of smartphones and tablets has enabled direct communication with staff and children on almost a 24/7 basis.   What we found from our research was that, unsurprisingly, many parents have increasingly hectic lifestyles, and therefore want to harness the power of online communications channels as far as possible to access general information, leaving the more traditional face to face and telephone communications for very urgent matters.    Finding out what parents require in terms of information, and tailoring communication methods accordingly, should be a fundamental part of any school’s communications effort.    Indeed one example which emerged is the view that the lengthy ‘old style’ end of term academic report appears to have less relevance and bite than the more up to date, pithy and frequent academic assessment. 

Schools have also moved on in terms of the breadth of the education they offer, and with that have come new challenges for staff who often, particularly in a boarding school, now wear numerous hats such as pupil tutor/ sports coach/ head of department/ weekend trips co-ordinator and much more.   With the extended range of options inside and outside the classroom, communication internally with pupils and staff as well as externally with parents needs to be quick, effective and efficient.  A challenge for schools in light of these changes is the issue of communication overload.  What are ‘reasonable expectations’ in terms of what parents receive from a school and what can reasonably be expected of staff who are under much pressure to deliver quality teaching, learning and pastoral care?   These are key questions which each school must answer when planning its communications.

In such a busy environment, it is indeed easy to be under the illusion that one has communicated effectively when in fact the message is not clear at all to everyone who needs to know it.  As George Bernard Shaw famously quoted:  “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Shaw may not be living in our frenzied 21st century age, but his words are as relevant to school communications today as they ever were to the wider world.

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