Starting a school year online: Communication

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, education professionals are beginning to look ahead to the 2020-2021 school year and what staff, students, and families need to know about the upcoming school year. As you respond and adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19, your ability to adapt to needs is what will set your school apart from those who don’t strategically plan.


Many schools are considering moving to an online or blended learning model for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. We’ve compiled a list of strategic planning steps to help you be more precise in communication around your online or hybrid launch in the upcoming school year!

 

In this blog post, we remind you that:

  • These steps do not represent a comprehensive online learning plan. Instead, they are elements that we believe you should consider in the current context.

  • The focus here is on communication - delivering it and managing it—rather than learning or assessment techniques. (That’s coming in a different post.)

  • Every school/district context is different. Not all schools or districts have all the resources—physical, digital, or human—listed below. These are just a starting place to spark ideas and conversation.

 

Keep all stakeholders at the top of your mind

In its simplest form, a stakeholder communications plan outlines who you need to communicate with, about what, how you’re going to do it, and how often. As communication with stakeholders is not always easy in times of managing crisis and responding to quickly changing conditions, it is essential, even in a rudimentary way, to help those receive the information they need. For those who are creating the communication content, you also must assign responsibility for oversight of those items. Education professionals must be invested in, if not passionate about, such orderliness.


Here’s why. Systematizing communication allows all stakeholders to feel ready to take on the challenges of online or blended learning as contrasted with their experience with the kinds of human presence you would find in a brick and mortar school. Creating this sense of systemization breeds familiarity and predictability, and sets the stage for learning.


1. Know your audience

Communication Between Stakeholders
Communication Between Stakeholders

No matter what system you design and which formats you select to create connections between stakeholders, you should relate to them the need for a sense of common connection around support. This will help limit the impact of the frustration bound to arise when the technology is new or fails. You should definitely plan for differentiation within your strategic plan as your stakeholders will not all have the same level of ability or access during this uncertain time.


2. Choose an LMS platform, a set of apps, and/or a set of apps

In addition to classwork, assessments, collaboration, and feedback, avenues for general communication needs to be organized so that everyone can keep track of what’s happening and what’s expected. You’ll need an easy way to connect with staff to let them know what they should be working on, to ensure they can access the material, and to give them a way to ask questions. In addition, you should set up a set of tools that staff use to communicate with students and their families. LMSs and Apps are a great way to make that happen.


There are a lot of great tech tools out there. Before you start signing up for all of them, however, take stock of which tech tools you’d like to use and investigate what they are capable of. Using fewer tools with more users per tool creates less stress for everyone! Making the LMS, Apps, and Resources consistent across your school building or district can allow teachers, students, and parents to feel connected to the wider school community as well as provide clarity to get things done effectively.


Check out our search tool below to find the best LMS, App, or Resource for you!


LMSs

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a communication infrastructure where lessons and activities are uploaded to the LMS, which makes them easily accessible for remote learners. Most used by K12 entities are web-based, so that students can use them from most devices. If you choose to use a Learning Management System, many of these allow you to message students directly within the online classroom and for students to have written discussions on the message boards.

Standalone Apps

These apps allow people to interact with one another outside of the context of a virtual learning environment. Examples of this include text messaging and email communication directed at parents or staff.

Resources

If you choose not to use an LMS or standalone apps, we have also cultivated a set of websites that have ideas for remote learning that don’t require an LMS or Standalone App.



3. Plan a daily & weekly communication plan

As you have probably already started using a variety of modes of communication with stakeholders in Spring 2020 , use your new knowledge to help you decide which modalities work best for each different context of the population you serve. Below are some thoughts about what you should be communicating about on a daily or weekly basis as well as how to prioritize which digital routes of communication for your staff, students, and families.


Check out the table below to help you ideate!


Create a plan to support towards outcomes

Set up a single source of truth (SSOT) for your community for all of your information. This could be a website, an email from leadership, or other options. Include updates to your SSOT in your weekly communications, and any questions you get about the information included there. Inevitably, someone will ask a question about something that is not included in your SSOT - so, update the info there and direct the asker to it! Explain to the audience that the reason to avoid putting content in an email, text or social media post is that you want to ensure that the information is always up-to-date. You might have one SSOT for families and a separate one for employees.


4. Train those who need training

Staff, students, and families are being asked to learn and use digital tools at the same time. That’s a heavy load for them. Be prepared by scheduling timelines and creating avenues for support so that making the tech work isn’t the top priority in their lives - stakeholders are people, too!


Use both synchronous and asynchronous options for support and training as the year starts to ensure that all stakeholders have access and can perform at an appropriate level. Share schedules for each week that have synchronous meetings and support opportunities as well as start dates for the use of each kind of avenue of communication.


5. Provide asynchronous support

Sometimes the work that your staff, students, and families are doing won’t happen during the “regular” school hours. Provide access to chat apps so that your email doesn’t overload, and assign staff members to “man” during different times based on when your students and staff are working. In the background, have resources readily available for these “on-call” people to provide quick support to those that ask for it.


These avenues could include different avenues for each of the below:

  • Technical support

  • Instructional support

  • HR support

  • Health support

  • Wellness support

Check out our Newsletter Templates!


We hope this helps you start your school year off strong!

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