COMMUNICATING SCHOOL MESSAGES TO A WIDE AUDIENCE
There is not a singular tool that can be universally prescribed as the best to reach a wide audience. It truly depends on the purpose of the communication and the audience receiving the message. One must look at their communications from the various points of view in their community because “perception is more powerful than reality” (Warner and Mathews, 2009, Dealing with Perceptions section, para. 3). There are three solutions to consider: mass-text-messaging systems, web-page builders, and my most preferred option (and likely the most used option) school learning management or classroom management systems. There are ‘best of’ lists for recent years provided by Business News Daily (2020), Wilson (2020), and Softwareworld (2020) respectively. Technology both has and has not improved the way in which stakeholders are communicated with, effective use comes down to the user. Often, technology creates one-way communication, contrary to the goals of an educational system; “the two-way flow of ideas and accurate information is essential to school improvement” (Kowalski, 2011, p. 23). Technology may create the illusion of better communication, because the data that is shared efficiently and gives families and students a window into the day-to-day progress of the student; this is an important piece of the communication chain as Kowalski (2011, p. 23) points out that “school administrators are accountable to the public” and “the public has a right to information about schools.” However, human to human communication over the phone, video conferencing, and in-person conferencing remains the most effective communication, though this can be difficult to do in large groups; it allows for two-directional and symmetrical information to be exchanged. Technology options have dramatically changed in the past ten years, since the publishing of Kowalski’s (2011) research. Regarding the best tools (over methods) for communicating to a wide audience, there are three options to discuss for education today.
First, mass-text-messaging: In a school system where poverty is high and families cannot be expected to have regular access to a computer, a mass-text-message system may be the most beneficial. Families in poverty, earning less than $30,000 per year, are more likely to have a phone at a rate of 71% over a personal computer at a rate of 54% according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center (Anderson and Kumar, 2020). Additional considerations for school administrators should be the rate of poverty in the United States. The amount of children in poverty increased, from 1995 to 2001, from 20% to 28% respectively (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004, p. 169 as cited by Kowalski, 2011, p. 31). Further, “in the last decade, this rate has risen from 18% in 2007 and 2008, peaked at 23% in 2011 and 2012, and returned to 18% in 2017 and 2018.” (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2020). In a school system with a wide range of home-languages text-messages may be also beneficial, messages can be sent out in groups with the preferred language selected. The home language is an important consideration for administrators. Kowalski (2011, p. 32) notes that large populations of immigrant students have reshaped the school system; schools already strapped for resources have additionally had to customize portions of the education system to accommodate the needs of these students in regards to time, money, and legitimate attendance. This tool is effective for quick short messages relating to school operations; links to web-content can be included for more details. Similar to the connections made through mass-text-messages, email messaging (perhaps for a school newsletter) and social media tools such as Facebook and Instagram can be accessed through smartphones to distribute school messages. These too can be linked to a school website. Tufts University (2021) has compiled a listing of the top platforms including Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn for communications along with user guides that emphasise connections and the ease of access.
For a general population, in an average school district, a Management Information System would be the one singular tool that I would most rely on as an administrator because it has so many functions within the system. These systems vary in use and pricing, examples include Google Classroom, Schoology, Class Dojo, PowerSchool, ManageBac, Canvas, and Seesaw. Kowalski (2011, p. 135) does warn that the system selected does limit the effectiveness of the public relations efforts based on the functionality of the system. In general, these systems provide on-line learning options, messaging to parents and students through email, documentation and retention of demographics, homework submission and grading, as well as other features. The benefits of these systems include the ability to communicate to general groups, classes, and individuals. Many include language preference integration so that communications are automatically translated to the target home language. They also can help users to track their individual information with the school and give the school access to global data about their population and performance. Teachers and administrators can even use some of these tools to track, manage, and support good behavior in schools. This would be a significant benefit to teachers as they communicate with both students, parents and other teachers. Not only would it have the potential to improve the school community but it may increase school attendance retention. Negative student behavior often results in school suspensions, expulsions, and grade retention levels; the No Child Left Behind Act allows for students to transfer from “persistently dangerous schools” in favor of “safer schools” (Kowalski, 2011, p. 33). Tracking the data could support the communications with state and federal departments regarding the safety of the school. These systems are no better than the data put into them and how they are effectively managed. While they are powerful tools, they are continually being updated and users (teachers, students, parents, and administrators) need to be educated on the updates. Kowalski points to the “information literate educator,” one who can form questions about information needs, identify where to find the information, access the information through computing systems, evaluate the information, organize the information in a practical method, integrate information into an existing database, and use information to solve problems (Doyle, 1992, as reported by Kowalski, 2011, p. 134). In the workplace, and certainly the classroom, of today, information and technological literacy is nearly a given which is why this powerful tool would be my first choice tool.
Anderson, M., & Kumar, M. (2020, May 30). Digital divide persists even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/07/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/
Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020, January). Children Living in Poverty in America. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.aecf.org/blog/children-living-in-poverty-in-america/
Business News Daily. (2020). The Best Text Message Marketing Services of 2020. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15044-best-text-message-marketing-solutions.html
Softwareworld. (2020, December 31). Best Learning Management System (LMS) Software With Reviews & Comparison. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.softwareworld.co/top-learning-management-system-software/
Tufts University. (2021). Social Media Overview. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://communications.tufts.edu/marketing-and-branding/social-media-overview/
Warner, C., & Mathews, J. (2009). Promoting your school: Going beyond PR (3rd ed.). (Kindle, E-book)Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
Wilson, J. (2020, December 16). The Best Website Builders for 2021. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-website-builders?test_uuid=001OQhoHLBxsrrrMgWU3gQF