There’s an old joke that says there are five kinds of fear: Panic, Terror, 15 Missed Calls from Mom, User or Password Incorrect and WE NEED TO TALK. We need to talk; it’s one short sentence that can make you remember every questionable thing you’ve ever done in your life.
But all joking aside, we do need to talk. Communication may be the most important subtext in the successful operation of any school district. In the fifteen years I’ve served as a superintendent, the most consistent feedback I’ve received has been to improve the communication practices of our organization. I can also say it has been the most consistently challenging aspect of my job; a job that has been made inherently more difficult by the advent and popularity of digital communication and social media.
While digital forms of communication have certainly increased our capacity to communicate, they have created a whole new spectrum of challenges as well. What used to be three or four well-recognized channels of communication has now become a broad mosaic of options. Inherently, these digital forms of communication have begun to blur two distinctly different concepts: information and communication. As Sydney Harris noted, the words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. In simple terms, information tends to be one-way and communication tends to be two-way.
For school districts, finding ways to engage in large scale two-way communication has always been an enormous challenge. Face-to-face meetings and phone calls have always been the bread and butter of our two-way communication strategies, and I personally hope they will remain as our core strategy. We will always “need to talk”, but we also recognize that we now live in a different era and including digital strategies for two-way communication is critical to our overall communication plan.
Like most districts, we have experimented with the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. These platforms pose several challenges. First, they are great at providing you with information, but not very good at two-way communication. Second, it’s hard to decide which one we should use. Choosing the right platform to fit the needs of every user is next to impossible, and managing multiple platforms requires a level of staffing and knowledge small districts like ours just don’t have. Lastly, and most importantly, many of these platforms ultimately serve to cloud the communication process rather than clarify it. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It might seem like posting a comment on Facebook or Instagram is communication, but it’s not. At best, it’s information posing as communication. At its worst, it’s misinformation, sophistry, or diversion. Collectively, all of these issues result in a digital communication environment for school districts that give the illusion of communication, but one that I believe ultimately sows seeds of frustration on both sides of the communication equation.
The partnership between a school district and its parents/guardians may best be described as a relationship with a shared vision, and relationships succeed when obstacles are met with communication and a pathway to resolution. A major weakness of our current digital communication platforms is the absence of a pathway to resolution. To that end, SCSD 1 is making a significant change in the way we communicate digitally to specifically include a pathway to resolution.
In the near future, you will begin to see the addition of sidebars and a landing page on our website that will allow you to communicate directly with district staff regarding your questions, comments, suggestions, concerns or compliments. Here are a few important things to know about this change in communication strategy by SCSD 1.
We’ll Be Asking You To Use a Single Platform to Communicate
Candidly, the landscape of digital communication and social media has become just too expansive for us to manage with any type of effectiveness. We receive and respond to communication on multiple platforms. This has resulted in a slowly eroding ability to be effective and efficient in our communications with you, and we recognize this. Will we still respond to calls, emails, and texts to provide information? Absolutely. Will we still use Facebook to celebrate the great things that are going on at SCSD 1 and keep you up to date on events? Yes, we will continue to share information in that way. But in terms of communicating with us, we will ask you to use our new platform, appropriately named “Let’s Talk!“. We recognize this will be a big change for many of you, but we think the features provided by this platform will make the change worth the effort.
24/7 Access to Provide Your Feedback and Input
Let’s Talk! makes it easy to be involved in your student’s education when your schedule allows. Now, you can send your comments, questions, concerns and compliments directly to district leaders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. The platform is organized by interest area and your communication is directed to the SCSD 1 staff responsible for each interest area ensuring your communication gets to the right person the first time.
Personal Responses with a Defined Timeline and Feedback on Our Support
Tell us what’s on your mind and, in return, we’ll send you a personal response. When you contact us through the Let’s Talk! platform, we start a clock on the response time, literally. We will be measuring how long it takes us to respond. We’ll also send you a survey to let us know how helpful you found our support.
An Option to Remain Anonymous
The Let’s Talk! platform asks users to include their name, email and telephone number so we can personally respond to their communication. We do understand that there are times when you want or need to communicate anonymously and you will have the option to do that. It’s important to note, however, that while we will receive the anonymous communication, without the contact information, it may limit our ability to provide to you with a personal response.
Accountability for All
We’ve all been there at some point. That “he said, she said” moment. Sorting through a messy, broken email or text chain. That’s why we think these formats don’t work well work for stakeholder engagement at scale. Let’s Talk! eliminates gaps in communication by ensuring that all feedback and responses from both parties are stored in one place, on secure servers. All messages, or dialogues, are automatically routed to the right team members in our district to ensure the most accurate response in the least amount of time, as well as being preserved and easily accessed for future reference.
There’s No School Like the Old School
I think it’s important to note that our top priority will always be resolving critical issues in person. But we believe that the Let’s Talk! platform will allow us to more quickly identify which issues would benefit from a face-to-face meeting as well as identifying issues that are trending across our district and may require communication on a large scale.
We hope to have the Let’s Talk! platform in place in a few weeks. A screenshot of the Let’s Talk! tab is below. If you have questions about Let’s Talk! or the district’s overall communication plan, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.