Ideas for districts and schools to connect with their communities during COVID-19
Educators have had to change the way they lead, teach, communicate, connect with students, staff, and the overall school community. During this unprecedented time, it is more important than ever to communicate clearly and consistently across each classroom, school, and district and to streamline the information that is going to teachers and to families. Today on our YouTube channel, one of our executives-in-residence and former superintendent Randy Speck offers some thoughts about the importance of clarity in communications – especially during a crisis – and how it can help strengthen a school's vision in the long term.
Superintendents and principals across the country have implemented new communications plans that aim to ensure their community has consistent and clear information, and we have seen a number of ideas worth sharing. Here are nine ways educators and leaders can model clarity in their communications right now.
- Be clear with staff about expectations
Superintendents and principals should regularly share their expectations for every staff member – regardless of COVID-19. In this current situation, that could look like a weekly email from the superintendent that each principal forwards, or it could look like regular Zoom meetings for school teams. Google, Evernote, and Slack all have ways to keep in touch. We recommend picking as few apps as possible, though, to minimize confusion and duplication of messages.
- Be clear with families about expectations
Families are balancing a number of complexities at home, and they need quick and clear guidance. As a leader, create an expectation for how your school and your educators will communicate with families and how those communications can be streamlined so parents do not hear from all of their child's teachers at the same time. Develop a template for communications and create expectations for how often and what information families will receive. For example, a child's homeroom teacher could share out an agenda for the week with guidance about how much time a child should spend on each subject or assignment, and they could note their "specials" teachers will follow up midweek with additional projects. Teachers may want to share the success criteria they set with students so families know what a completed and well-done assignment looks like. Sharing some guidelines may provide some peace of mind for families as they take on schooling at home.
- Create a dedicated website that details learning objectives
Just like students, parents want more than just "busy work" for their kids. As a district or school, develop a central location where parents can download and access their child's lesson plans or materials, and consider adding some brief information about the "why" behind each project. You could also develop a central point of contact – whether that is someone in the district office or a generic email – to answer all parent questions.
- Create a common calendar for office hours
Students and families may be assisted through an email, phone call, or Zoom meeting. Determine a rotating schedule for when specific teachers or the principal will have office hours and the opportunity to "see" their teacher, and provide educators with the space and support to talk with students 1:1. School leaders need to have office hours for staff, as well, and leaders should be actively joining remote professional learning communities and checking in with staff members individually.
- Stay on track with professional learning
Just as we ask students to engage in a new kind of learning, we should support teachers to do the same. There are a number of short, free resources – including some from NIET – that help educators to transition their teaching strategies into a virtual environment. Districts should be thoughtful about how they are scaffolding those opportunities into the ongoing transition plan and, as much as possible, take advantage of opportunities that will equip educators both for the immediate weeks as well as long term.
- Use your teacher leaders
Many schools may have teachers who serve in hybrid roles, like a master or mentor teacher, an instructional coach, or other roles. These teachers are best positioned to support their peers in this transition – if they are given clear roles with the support to act on them. For example, some teacher leaders may start piloting new virtual approaches to your professional learning communities, and others may virtually "observe" other teachers' classes and offer feedback and guidance on what to do. That can help the principal and district leaders have the ability to support more of the day-to-day crises.
- Write personal messages to staff members
Relationships have never been more important. Regularly personalize and check in daily with a few of your educators – whether those are your district team and principals, or whether those are your classroom teachers and larger faculty. A note from the leader to say "thank you" speaks volumes.
- Be present and available by hosting virtual meetings
Families' questions vary at every moment: How will school meals be served under the latest quarantine order? How will my child turn their homework in? Will they receive grades and a final report card? Some superintendents have used this as a moment to host virtual town hall meetings via a streaming service like Zoom or YouTube. Participants can submit questions and be active in the discussion, and the conversation can be available later for those who miss.
- Use digital platforms to tell your school's story and build in those "fun" moments
For schools, especially seniors, the fear of the unknown is coupled with a sadness of losing the traditional moments. However, leaders who remain positive during a time of crisis cast a vision of calmness for the organization that will last beyond this current season. We've seen schools in Louisiana create virtual talent shows, where students can upload their "audition video" for a live Zoom performance in May. PE teachers are designing virtual field day activities, and drama teachers are inviting students to submit their own one-man play. A principal in North Carolina asked all of his seniors to share a short video about their parting advice and final words, which the school will compile for graduation. Coming up with creative ways to meet those rituals and communicating a positive message during a time of uncertainty and fear speaks volumes, and these are the kinds of communications that the community will remember for years to come.