School Dazed: Communications 101

Remember middle school? Boy, I do.

School bus by Benrd Moehl,

I’m reliving those angst-filled years as the parent of a middle-school student. But the angst isn’t over my daughter; it’s over our school’s poor communications with parents. It drives me crazy.

Not long ago, our middle school hosted a parent information night. The purpose: to explain the school’s reorganization plan, which the administration worked on for over a year. It was an important meeting to keep parents informed.

The school held two info nights for parents: the first was for parents of incoming 6th graders (new students to the school); the second was for parents of current students. The first presentation was a disaster; the second one more successful. Only about 400 total parents showed up  — for a school with 1800 students.

What went wrong?

1) Vague communications. The administration’s lousy communications nearly derailed their plans. An email “blast” sent to parents prior to the meeting was vague about its purpose: “please come and hear about our school’s house system.” There’s no explanation of what a “house system” is. You need a compelling, persuasive reason to get busy moms and dads to spend their evenings at school. For example: join us for a presentation explaining how upcoming organizational changes at the school will affect your child.

2) Send detailed communications to parents in advance of the event. A no-brainer, right? Many parents — including me — received a detailed letter about the event AFTER it happened. The school could’ve used its automated “Alert Now” phone and email systems to emphasize the importance of the meeting.

3) Know your audience. One of the cardinal rules of public relations, after identifying your problem, is knowing your audience and tailoring your communication strategies accordingly. Another no-brainer. Yet during the first parent info night, the administrator did a poor job explaining the new school plan, used confusing visuals, and was surprised when parents were hostile because they didn’t understand the changes. By the time the second parent meeting was scheduled, the school had learned its lesson — an articulate administrator who’d been part of the reorganization process conducted the presentation and spent extra time addressing parent questions in a manner that respected their concerns.

4) Follow-up. The school didn’t follow-up with parents (though a copy of the reorganization plan was posted on the school website). They should’ve gone one step further and sent parents a letter stating where they could find a copy of the reorganization plan (online) and giving them a name and phone number of a school administrator to contact if they had additional questions.

If you’re a parent, what’s your experience with school-related communications? How can schools use technology more effectively to reach busy parents?


About debbiekane

I'm a marketing communications and features writer. As owner of Kane Communications, I work with clients who want to educate and engage customers through dynamic writing and social media. I'm fascinated with the connections we build with each other and how communication influences relationships and behavior.
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4 Responses to School Dazed: Communications 101

  1. Love it, Debbie! You are so on target!

  2. Katharine says:

    Obviously, you should run for school board. Or they should hire you to advise them.

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