Communicate 2.1.2 – Communication Guidelines
Communication between teachers, students, parents, and administrations is key to effective learning, but only if it is effective. Quality communication is informative while not being overwhelming, inviting while being substantial, routine while not seeming obligatory, and timely without seeming panicked. A few communication guidelines before the class will help teachers plan out their interactions and responses and streamline the numerous tools used. When creating these guidelines, teachers should account for the following: an outline for a welcoming email, a strategy for when to use personal notes versus mass communication, a plan for engaging and maintaining relationships with each stakeholder, and a list of tools to use. Finally, when creating these guidelines, teachers should adhere to school policies and FERPA.
The welcome email is the teacher’s first impression and most families’ first detailed introduction to the course, so it needs to contain information about the course as well as invite parents and students to an ongoing conversation. A warm welcome supplemented by a link to a voice message on the course announcement page is a good place to start. Ending the email with your contact information (phone number, email address, and “office” hours) will let families know how and when to contact you with questions and concerns. Since some families prefer phone conversations over email, or vice versa, another suggestion is to include a link to a Google Form for parents and students regarding their preferred contact method, available hours, and available technology at home. Google will then make a spreadsheet with this information, which you can extend into a contact log throughout the course.
The email should also provide a brief overview of the course’s topics and readings but list specific due dates, synchronous meetings, and required materials so families can prepare. Your course might also be the family’s first experience with online classes and your school’s particular Learning Management System (LMS), so this email must also address how an online class works. Parents should be reminded of their rights and school policies, and a teacher can provide a link with answers to common questions. Students will need to know how to work the LMS, so also give some directions on how to use and navigate your course page. Instruct students in how to access their individual account, and point out where parents can find the lessons and current grade reports. The email should also include information about the Course Schedule and Syllabus. A list of tools and resources available on the LMS might be overwhelming for parents and students, so a creative scavenger hunt where students take screen shots of where to find information on the LMS might be a good introduction to the course. This fun activity will relieve anxiety parents and students might have about an online course, and also lets students know to expect some fun and self-guided learning.
Next, communication guidelines should address when and how to send personal notes and mass communication. Weekly news/announcements, test/assignment reminders, and general words of encouragement should be emailed, whereas inquires about student progress should be a personal note or phone call. Mass communication should always be inviting, informative, and sent out routinely—students and families will come to expect your messages. Personal notes should be used when addressing concerns with administration, individual families, or students. Your plan might also contain a few templates for both mass messages and personal notes to save time later. Please look for some examples in my upcoming posts.
A communication plan should also lay out a strategy for maintaining relationships with all stakeholders. The instructor should have a good idea of when and how to write personal notes, and a simple spreadsheet—like that generated by the Google Form—might be a good place to start. Here’s a template you could use.
Finally, due to the numerous methods of communication, a communication plan should lay out which tools the teacher should use and when. For example, both Dial My Calls and Remind perform the same function, so go ahead and choose now if you will rely on voicemail messages through Dial My Calls or text messages through Remind. By making those decisions now, you will keep communication consistent.
By establishing some guidelines before the course begins, your communication is more likely to be helpful, inviting, and consistent. Since the welcome email is one of the most influential parts, please see my example below as a template. Click the picture for a link to the file.