School communication strategies during remote working

What does good school communication look like when staff and pupils are working remotely? Karen Dempster and Justin Robbins explain what to consider when communicating with staff, parents and pupils

Author details

Justin co-founded Fit2Communicate in 2014 and is passionate about good communication. He is a highly experienced communication expert (and Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications) and passionate about making a difference for future...

Karen co-founded Fit2Communicate in 2014 and is passionate about good communication. She is a highly experienced communication expert (and Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications) and passionate about making a difference for future...

For the vast majority of school staff, lives have changed almost beyond recognition overnight. Gone is the daily journey to school. Gone is the daily physical interaction with other teachers. Gone is the daily opportunity for teachers to inspire pupils from the front of a classroom. In their place is a screen and an internet connection to the outside world.

As a school team, short term goals may have shifted from ensuring pupils are ready for exams to ensuring they keep their minds active.

But that still sits beneath the overall school vision and culture that exists under any conditions. Communication with the school team needs to be consistent, planned and two way.

It needs to keep them on the same journey, even if this is a different route. It also needs to consider their personalities and how they will be dealing with such rapid change, especially as under stress, some of their fears are likely to be exaggerated.

The drivers

For the more direct members of the school team, those who tend to drive things forward, and lead from the front, the opportunity for some ‘quiet’ time might initially be welcomed.

But they will get frustrated at their perceived inability to drive things forward quickly, especially without being able to go and speak with someone immediately in person.

They still need to see results and progress, and feel like they are able to make an impact. Regular meetings and sharing of snapshot information will help them to feel more comfortable and less out of control while isolating.

They will appreciate to the point meetings that are well managed, and a quick phone call to address any issues to ensure nobody loses sight of the goals.

The creatives

The creative, more social individuals, those who never miss an opportunity for a chat over coffee in the staff room, will find it difficult being cut off from the human connections upon which they thrive.

While this opportunity to take a moment to pause, reflect and breathe, will do them good, they need to still feel connected.

Less formal catch ups, virtual drop in coffees, and just an open offer to have a chat are all simple tasks that will help them feel more at ease right now. Video with lots of smiles is the best way to address specific challenges with these people.

The team player

Then there are those who will appreciate the quiet time, but miss the human element and find the rapid change of circumstances quite difficult to handle.

They tend to like to have a support network who can help them make decisions and with whom they can have deep conversations.

Now is a chance for them to grasp the opportunity of being slightly more independent, without worrying about their actions upsetting anyone else around them.

They need human connection though, so one to one video calls, where they feel listened to will help them to continue feeling valued.

The lone rangers

Finally, there are those who prefer to be alone and work independently, who are likely to thrive under these conditions of social distancing.

They are likely to seek to find structure in the new way of living, and may appreciate a routine they can follow, rather than trying to work in a reactive manner.

They will appreciate having scheduled meetings, where documents are shared in advance and they have time to prepare for them.

They will prefer to communicate mostly by email or chat messages, and will be less responsive if they are called out of the blue.

Communication with the school team needs to be consistent, planned and two way

Parents

Like the school team, parents are adapting to the new normal of having their children at home.

They are likely to be following the news, regularly on social media, working from home if they can and trying to support their children as they isolate at home.

Many people won’t have time to read long emails, search the school website for the latest information or newsletters. They will also not appreciate being sent a multitude of emails from every teacher their child has at school.

What to tell parents

Parents should be kept up to date with a regular, ideally weekly, messages from the headteacher. This should include:

  • any specific school issues
  • provide some positive human stories
  • be written in an empathetic tone
  • linking to relevant materials should parents wish to read them
  • focus on reassuring parents
  • give them options to get support when they need it.

Any emails to parents should be coordinated to not all arrive in the same afternoon, or have to go through a central point, so they can be managed sensibly.

This might also be the time to establish a protocol for communicating urgent messages to parents. For example, if they are used to receiving lots of emails, urgent messages could be differentiated simply by having ‘URGENT’ in the subject line.

A parent communication app or text messages could be used, as long as these tools are not over used, and urgent suddenly becomes lost in a sea of information. It is best practice to have these protocols in place anyway.

Hosting a school-led and well-managed virtual Q&A for groups of parents may be a good way to help them share their ideas for best supporting their children, alongside what is being provided by the school.

It’s also important to monitor what is posted on social media – both official school channels and the unofficial ones. Avoid engaging in conflict through social media. Instead address any issues quickly, ensuring that the social media is followed at all times.

If fully engaged and on side, parents are likely to be a school’s best opportunity of ensuring pupils stay healthy and focused, and will be ready to continue learning when they are able to get back to school.

Pupils

The younger generation are most likely going to adapt to the new world of ‘online only’ better than most.

With that said, schools can take positive steps to keep pupils motivated to learn, as well as supporting their mental and physical wellbeing.

Ensure that pupils receive the same information as their parents wherever possible. They will appreciate interactive channels, videos and group chats, as well as pupil-created stories and content.

However, there will still be children with the different personalities mentioned earlier. Those that just get on with it, those that like to talk, those that listen and those who need instructions. It’s important to communicate in ways that ensure all personalities are catered for.

Stay positive

It’s important to maintain a positive, planned and considerate approach to managing school communication. When this is all over, and the world goes back to ‘normal’, the challenge will be to learn from this experience and shape a better future, which includes how we communicate.

fit2communicate offer more practical guiance to help schools communicate during Covid-19 and throughout the school year.

Last Updated: 
02 Apr 2020