The shift to online learning and uncertainty as to when schools will open and what that will look like has generated a lot of worry amongst parents. It is crucial that school leaders use their communication channels to get across messages that matter to their communities. Here, we explore 5 key messages that all school leaders should consider.
Get Ahead of the Message:
The first, and most important thing school leaders need to do is Get Ahead of the Message. These are uncertain times, made all the more uncertain by leaked news reports, WhatsApp conversations, overheard rumours and Facebook posts on expat forums. Will schools open up after Eid? Will online learning continue for the rest of the year? What happens in September? Will I still be charged fees? What is happening to the teachers? These are all concerns that parents have now. The problem is that a report in the local press is often the first parents hear of changes or continuations to the current situation. These reports, scant on detail, spark rumour on social media and add to the stress. As school leaders, you have a duty to get ahead of this. Clarify where needed, reassure at every juncture, bust myths or simply be honest and say you don’t know what the future holds but you are committed to working with parents and students to confront every eventuality.
The key thing here is that the message needs to come from the school. Timing is of the essence and as soon as anything new breaks, clarify the source and push it out on your social media and formal email channels. If this happens, parents will see the school as the main reliable source of information which in turn fosters trust and confidence amongst the school community.
Emphasize Process not Product:
As educators, we know it is not the destination but the journey to get there is what matters. For parents, juggling the demands of working from home and ensuring their child(ren) is learning, it can be easy to get caught up in the trap of perfection. Emphasize that getting the right answer is only a small part of learning. Parents need to be reassured that it is ok to see their child struggle as long as they are actively engaged in their own learning. Perfection is almost unattainable at the best of times, but in these circumstances it is impossible- and that is ok. If your students are actively engaged at home and can make sense of the online material and activities, this is what counts. Parents may struggle to see their child not getting the right answer all the time but remember they are not trained to see the nuances that educators count as progress.
The Growth Mindset theory has been used by schools and many parents may be familiar with it from school coffee mornings and workshops - now is a good time for a refresher. A few simple tips that parents can use will go far. Consider getting your teachers to post one tip per day via social media on topics like questioning, enquiry, recall, feedback, how to start and end a lesson etc. Keep it short, bright and breezy and be sure to celebrate the feedback you get.
Flexibility is the Key:
You have probably been communicating to parents about the importance of keeping a routine- and this is great. Routines are important as they give students expectations and also a sense of security. However, flexibility is also key. It is ok to have bad days. This is important so I’ll say it again. It is ok to have bad days. Affirm this to parents and give them some tips on what to do when it just seems impossible. Sometimes, it’s better to close the laptop, quit while you’re ahead and engage in something different. Work set on the day, does not have to be completed on that day. In a similar vein, impress on parents the need to have a clear demarcation between the school day and home time, albeit both occur in the same environment now. Lisa Ripperger, Principal of Clarion School in Dubai, outlines to parents the benefits of this flexible approach “If over the next couple of months, children are given more unstructured time across the day and week, to build a fantasy world, to devour more books of their choosing, to use measuring tools to create a playhouse, to sew puppets from torn clothing, to negotiate all of this with their siblings, they will for sure come out of this more prepared for a world expecting them to be multi-faceted, innovative, risk-taking and well-adjusted.”
Wellbeing, Wellbeing, Wellbeing:
In so called normal times, taking care of student wellbeing is the most important thing that a school does. The challenges the current situation have thrown up in this regard are unparalleled. For the first time, children have gone almost three months without seeing their friends face to face. The most proactive schools have deployed their inclusion teams and counsellors to support parents on a one to one basis. There are also some fantastic webinars that schools are running with their counsellors and child psychologists. Keeping your finger on the pulse, checking in with students and parents on their emotional wellbeing and showing empathy are what the best schools are doing in this regard. Most importantly, being honest about the current reality and listening to the worries of your student and parent community is paramount. Having your counsellor support your parents on how to engage in the endless amount of difficult questions the Covid situation has thrown up for kids is a great starting point.
Build on the community:
The phrase “we will come together by staying apart” has come to epitomize the time we are living in. Never before has a sense of community been more important and schools are at the fulcrum of this. Building on your already vibrant school community and celebrating what is going on has never been as vital. Stressing the message that this is a team effort; commending students and parents on their resilience and adaptability so far, helps people to realize they are engaged in something greater than the individual. Take every opportunity to celebrate milestones and successes in the community. Schools at the moment are heavily involved in organizing virtual graduations. These should be celebrated by the whole school community and not just the students and parents of the graduating class. Other examples include involving the community in online activities for the whole family. Emma Dawson, Assistant Head/Head of House at North London Collegiate School in Dubai explains one initiative that her school is spearheading “At NLCS, we have a number of initiatives running to bring the wider community together. A prime example is The World Outside Our Window initiative which is an online creative arts exhibition for the whole school community. We celebrate it through our social media channels and in online assemblies and this brings the community together through a shared understanding of our mutual experiences. We feel that it helps to strengthen our community at this time”
This is an unprecedented situation in our lifetime. As with every other facet of life in a crisis, the organizations that will survive will be the ones that are the most responsive, and the most adaptable to change. Schools are no different and when this passes, the parent and student body will not forget how schools made them feel in these uncertain times. As school leaders, the messages you send out now are key to that.
Special thanks to Rory Galvin for this article
Rory Galvin is Managing Director of Galvin Global Education, an education management consultancy specializing in recruitment, school inspection support, training and leadership development. He is an accomplished educator with 18 years experience working in international schools in a range of teaching and leadership posts, spanning UK, American and International Baccalaureate programmes.
Rory’s last post was as the founding Head of Secondary at a leading IB school in Dubai, a position he held for 5 years prior to establishing GGE. Rory is an alumnus of the University of Bath Centre for Education in an International context, where he completed his MA in Educational Leadership and Management with an explicit focus on recruitment, retention and safeguarding in international schools.