My One Word: Connected: Communicating effectively

In my last post, I began a series focused on My One Word: Connected. I used the National PTA Standards for Family School Partnerships as a framework. Today, I continue the discussion, looking more closely at communicating effectively.

At one time, when we thought of “communicating effectively” with parents, that meant sending out a beginning of the year letter, greeting parents at parent teacher conferences, and sending out a monthly newsletter. To be sure, all of these efforts have merit, but if we truly have in interested in becoming connected to our families and communities, we have to do different and we have to do more.

Different can mean simply changing the format for communication. My friend Jay Posick introduced me to the mobile newsletter Smore, and it has fundamentally changed the way we can reach out to our families. Smore allows schools to create a mobile newsletter that constituents can view on phone, tablets, and computers.


For those parents without the ability to access the newsletter, we can print it our for them. Those parents who can access our Smore can watch videos of student performances, “peek” into the school by viewing pictures and reading write-ups about activities and field trips. Smore also gives school leaders metrics so they can analyze the reach of their communication and see which newsletters had the most impact with parents and the community.

Facebook has emerged as important aspect of our communication efforts. I wrote about the “rebirth” of our Facebook page back in February of 2015; at the time, we had few people who even knew CMS had a Facebook page. As of today, we have 351 “Likes,” and parents and extended families look to Facebook as the best option to follow their children and know what is happening at the middle school.


Once again, metrics allow us to know from where our readers hail, and we can even tell which posts have the most reach, engagement, and impact [Hint: If you want to see a spike in engagement, post video of your students doing AWESOME in the classroom]. I truly believe this is a case of “If you build it, they will come.”

We also use tools like the mobile app we built using the awesome, and School Messenger. Lately, though, we have started to work even more closely with families to shape our communication avenues.

Many of our families lack a computer, and many also do not have internet or wifi at home, but they do have smart phones with data plans. We have had parents communicate to us that they would prefer text messages to phone calls or emails, so we have begun developing PD to help our staff utilize Remind as another way to connect with parents. It would be difficult to say we communicate effectively if we did not provide communication in the format they request.

I have a final thought about communicating effectively. While all of these tech tools provide excellent options to communicate with parents, families, and the community, they cannot replace good old fashioned face-to-face conversations in many cases. In creating an app or establishing a social presence, our goal remains to have parents and the community view Clintonville Middle School as “their” school. Ultimately, we hope these different ways of connecting with our parents and families welcomes them into the building and deepens our conversations about how we can best serve them and meet the needs of their child. I know that many who know me might find it strange that I would advocate for non-techy communication, but sometimes it is the best way to form real partnerships with the families we serve.

What forms of communication do you use with your school community? How effective are are the tools, traditional or otherwise, that you use to communicate? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


My One Word: Connected: Welcoming All Families

As a teacher, I thought I knew the value of good relationships with parents. In truth, though, I focused on relationships with students; if possible, I tried to make sure parents understood I had their child’s best interests in mind.

As a principal, I have learned the true value of family engagement. When I interviewed for my position, I talked a lot about the importance of bringing in families and helping them see the school as their school. I held that as a core value, but in reality, I never had to put it into practice.

The National PTA shares information about Family-School Partnerships. The PTA even shares National Standards for Family-School Partnerships:

  • Welcoming all families into the school community
  • Communicating effectively
  • Speaking up for every child
  • Sharing power

Over the last year and a half, I have learned what those standards look like in practice. In August of 2014, Clintonville Middle School had a negative image reflective of its toxic culture. From day one, we worked to make the middle school a place that welcomes all families into the school community. We worked with staff and a fledgling PTO to spread the word that the middle school was safe for students, and families started to ask about enrolling their students at CMS. Before we knew it, private school students started walking through our doors on a regular basis – and many of them stayed.

Welcoming all families also included working with students and families who had not had positive experiences at the middle school. Some of that negative experience stemmed from the fact that the middle school originally served as the high school, and some of that negative happened inside that walls of the middle school.

My principal, Scott Werfal, and I greet families at the door and always want to know “How can we help you?” It seems simple, but an office design focused not on the adults in the office but on customer service for students and parents has made a world of difference. The change seems subtle, but parents now have room when we ask them to wait, and the new flow in the office allows us to have a friendly face greet all comers. Students, parents, subs, and community members have all commented on how friendly the school and particularly the office feel. We are proud that people don’t automatically look at the building or the office with distaste and disdain.

I strongly recommend that educators read Beyond the Bake Sale.  You will start to see the importance of trying to form true school-community and school-home partnerships. Joining Twitter chats will also afford you the opportunity to collaborate with people who have already made inroads to become more connected with families. You may even develop your own cohort who will go through the process with you.

What do you think? What experience have you had with trying to cultivate positive connectedness with home?

My One Word For 2016: Connected

I cannot even remember my One Word from 2015. I know I shared it with my Varsity PTCamp Voxer group, but it says a lot about my commitment to my word that I cannot even recall what I chose.

I want to commit this year. I want to go beyond “dabbling,” so instead of just uttering my word to my PLN, I created a graphic and chose to write a post.

When most people hear the word “connected” coming from a principal, they probably think about Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator. And certainly, educators using Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to the broader world has much merit. I try to get my staff connected all of the time.

But if our definition of “connected” stops at the internet wall, we do not give enough credit to the power of being “connected.”

In the summer of 2014, I met a group of people who have become some of my nearest and dearest friends. While I have only met one of the face-to-face, I talk to all of them nearly every day. We began our journey together reading Beyond The Bake Sale, and we talked about ways to improve our efforts at Family and Community Engagement. Once we all realized how diverse, yet common, our experiences were, our conversations quickly moved beyond just how to improve family engagement.

Jay Posick, a principal from Merton, WI has not missed a day of running in more than 10,000 days. Back when our group first met, though, Jay was approaching the 10,000 day milestone and Geniene Delahunty, our “cruise director,” planned a special day for Jay. She orchestrated a project where many members of our group “ran” a copy of Beyond The Bake Sale from Australia to Merton, and Geniene delivered it to Jay in a special ceremony that Jay’s school and district kept secret from him. When I tell people about that event, they just stare, unbelieving.


After all, who drives over six hours to deliver a book and a hug to someone they have never met? When you become “connected,” you’ll understand what kind of person does that. Our group connected with more than just digital tools. We care about each other and we want to help each other succeed. We understand the importance of relationships to the personal and professional well-being of everyone. Most of all, we remember what is was like before we connected, and we never want to go back there again.

This year, my “One Word” blog posts will talk about a number of different ways I strive to stay connected. From digital to analog to face-to-face, I hope I find ways to become more connected to my family and friends, my school, my peers, and my PLN. I have committed to these connections, and thanks to a nudge from Don Wettrick,  I have committed to writing about this year’s journey.

I hope to become more connected to those of you I see in my Twitter feed. If we have never met in person, I hope to change that.

Here’s hoping that we connect…and stay connected.