Although I have often heard the phrase, “Organization is the key to success”; I would argue that communication (including within my definition are empathy and an ability to manage relationships) plays a much bigger role in reaching success. Communication is a very complicated thing in that it requires effort from both the sender and the receiver. To compound the problem, a number of factors impact the mere words we utter. Our tone and our level both impact someone’s perception of what they are hearing. Body language also plays a very big role in communicating with others. You would think that written words, carefully selected, may be a better way to communicate, but even those absent level, tone, and body language can easily be misinterpreted. How many times have you read an email and felt the other individual was implying something other than what was being stated clearly?
Although communication can happen in a variety of ways, my personal preference is a face to face conversation with an individual or small group. I can judge misinterpretations through the body language of those I am communicating with and make clarifications prior to further confusing what I am trying to communicate. A phone call would be my second choice as it still lets one hear the emotion in the other’s voice. Email and text have become very popular forms of communication due to the fact that they are asynchronous meaning the sender and the receiver do not have to exchange information in a volley but rather leave long periods of “silence” between exchanges. I use email a great deal in my job and have found that it is an efficient and effective way to convey just pure information to an individual or group. I have also found that it is a terrible way to communicate with someone concerning a problem. Texting has also become very popular, particularly with teens. It provides them an opportunity to communicate things silently and thus have a second conversation going on with someone not in the immediate vicinity. Personally, I do not like text but there are those who will send text rather than answer the phone when they receive a call. It provides teens an opportunity to communicate things they may not have the courage to say. That can be a positive or negative as in “I love you” or “Why don’t you jump off of a bridge?” Both of these statements come from strong emotions and definitely illicit strong emotions from the receiver. Texting, Facebook, Twitter etc… can be wonderful ways of keeping in contact with friends and family, but they can also be used to hurt others as well.
This year we have made it our goal at the high school to improve our communication with the parents of our students. We have been increasing the number of phone calls we make each week and making not only calls sharing concerns, but those praising accomplishments as well. Parent teacher conferences have provided our parents an opportunity to meet with their child’s parents, but with only occurring once during the middle of the semester were not as effective as we would like them to have been. Our attendance was scarce, having only about 20-25% of our students’ parents attending. The conversations were shallow, generally falling into one of two categories: grades or behavior. The grade conversations were generally around how the student could get a better grade and little of any discussion about how well or what the student was learning. If the student had an A, teachers praised the parent and if the student had a poor grade, the discussion was on what they could redo to bring the grade up. Some of these grade discussions even became adversarial between the teacher and the parent both wanting the other to do some things differently to improve the students’ grades. The behavior conversations went along the same path; praise for the parent whose child was compliant and worked hard, and concerns for those who were not. We had long lines so the majority of a parent’s time was spent waiting to talk to a teacher not in the conversations themselves. With our goal to improve communication and relationships with parents we have modified the format of conferences. We hope for the focus to be on the whole child and their learning and away from merely grades earned or behavior problems in individual classes. Students and their parents have been contacted and 10 minute conferences scheduled with the student's Dodger Time Advisor. The conferences are being held at the end of the term witth hopes of reflecting upon learning and establishing goals for the next term. The student’s advisor will be providing each parent a list of e-mail and phone extensions for every staff member in the building. We also hope that in this meeting the advisor will establish a relationship with the parent and become a contact they have in the building who sees their child every day, all year long. The ultimate goal is to establish an environment in which parents and teachers feel comfortable making contact with each other anytime throughout the year and not just at a conference held at midterm. As organized as the student, parent or teacher may be, without effective communication, the student’s level of success will never reach full potential without effective communication between these three factions.