Communicating During COVID-19: How Schools Inform Communities

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Administrators across the nation are trying to decide what to do about the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year. Many are planning to hold in-person classes using social distance measures and face coverings whenever possible. Others are going virtual and asking students to log in to platforms such as Google Classroom to take classes. Some schools are doing a hybrid form of both of these options.

No matter what choice a school district makes, administrators will have to figure out how they will communicate with students and parents during this time. Making a plan to communicate assignments, grades, and classroom expectations is important. Handing out school schedules, hosting Meet-the-Teacher night, and having an all-school open house will all need to be reconfigured to fit the parameters of staying safe during a pandemic.

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What can administrators do to help streamline this communication process?

General Communication

First of all, it is critical that the school district keeps the community informed about all school decisions. This is always important, but it is more important now than ever before. Parents and students are on edge about staying safe and avoiding risks, so it is crucial that the school informs parents immediately of any risks of infection that their students may have come into contact with and any other important information about their child’s educational situation.

Schools need to put into place multiple channels of communication for parent and student updates. Email chains that inform the entire district need to be active. Text messaging and voicemails should also be sent simultaneously to ensure that all families can access the important information. School district and school building websites need to be updated often to keep everyone informed. Communication is a crucial component to keeping the community safe and aware of any situations happening in the schools.

Teachers, Parents, and Students

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Administrators need to make sure that teachers also have a plan in place to easily reach all of their students and their parents whenever necessary. Teachers can use an app like Remind or Class Dojo to send immediate messages to parents. They can also communicate through Google Classroom or BlackBoard to make sure all student daily assignments are posted.

If a student needs to quarantine, how will they make up their missed work? Each teacher needs to have a clear plan in place for students to access the in-class work online. If a teacher needs to quarantine or becomes ill, how will this be communicated to students and parents? An emergency communication plan needs to be in place for each teacher so they can get information to students and parents even if they are unable to physically be in the classroom.

The administrative team can help guide teachers through this process and make sure they have backup plans ready to go.

Schedule Pick Up and Orientation

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Many schools host schedule pick-up days where students find out what classes and teachers they have in the fall. Students get a chance to walk their school schedule to practice getting to classes on time. The students get a feel of the school’s layout and try to get comfortable with their new schedule. This year’s schedule pick-up day will probably be different for most students.

Administrators can decide to cancel this event altogether and simply post schedules online or mail them to students. This eliminates the need to reorganize the event and keeps parents and siblings out of the building. This option, however, doesn’t allow students a chance to check out their school before the first day begins. This might add to student anxiety and make them feel more worried about the first day of school.

If the administrative team decides to host this event, modifications will need to be put into place to make this as safe as possible. Perhaps students can attend in small groups based on their last names. Parents and siblings could be asked to stay out of the building to reduce the number of people in the school. Masks could be required, and schools could be cleaned and sanitized before the next group enters the building.

Any school offering a new student orientation (for kindergartners or incoming freshmen, for example) could follow a similar protocol. Divide into smaller groups and allow students to tour the school for limited time periods. The accompanying family members would need to be limited in number and social distancing would need to be enforced.

Meet the Teacher Night

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It is traditional to host a night where parents can come meet their child’s teachers. For the upcoming school year, this might be impossible without risking the safety of the parents and the teachers. School administrators will have to come up with a creative plan to make this happen.

One thing they can do is set up one-on-one meetings with parents and teachers that is similar to a conference model. Parents would get ten to fifteen minutes to meet and greet with the teacher. This could also be combined with orientation where the student meets the teacher at the same time. Elementary schools would be more successful with this plan as they have fewer students than secondary teachers.

Administrators could decide that teachers will hold a virtual meet the teacher night. This could be done via a Zoom or Google meeting. Parents could log in and listen to the teacher describe the upcoming curriculum. This live option can be done safely from each family’s home and offer a chance for interaction.

Another option would be to pre-record all teachers introducing themselves, their classrooms, and their curriculum. These videos could be uploaded to the school website, and all parents and students could meet their teachers when it works best for their families. This option is the least personal, but it is the most convenient for schools and families.

The bottom line is that administrators have to stay on top of communication with parents and students now more than ever. Different methods of communication will need to be explored because many of the old methods involving large group events are not conducive to this COVID-19 environment. With clear and up-to-date communication, parents and students will feel more at ease. Administrators can help ensure that information reaches families in a timely and safe manner.

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