• Therese

It Takes A Village #1

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Communication to Create Unity in Community

The interactions my Mum had with school were first days, nativity plays, sports days, and the annual “parent interview”. Mum was a spectator in our education, I’m one of seven children so for that, I think she was grateful.

Fast forward a few decades and research tells us that “Communication between teachers and schools fosters parental involvement that has been shown to increase academic success” (Epstein, 2005), “as well as improve student behavior.” (R Roger and V Wright, 2007) Maybe if my teachers knew this, my parents might have been spared the visits to the principal’s office to discuss the smoking behind the bike sheds!

School communication in this digital climate is a constantly moving target with ever-changing variables.

Maybe less is more. We have replaced the annual parent interview with student-led conferences, emails, Facebook pages, class dojo, student email, websites, face to face, initial meetings, Zoom, Seesaw, phone calls, letters in the post, school apps, eTap, and much more.

According to Bernstein (1998) “Technology has been shown to increase the means by which parents and teachers communicate” Davenport & Eib, (2004) and Furger, (2006) would support this statement. Increasing the means by which we communicate doesn’t necessarily imply best practice. We want to ensure that the use of technology is being optimised to improve student outcomes, a robust communication strategy will require constant adjusting, removing some tools, introducing more and clarifying the purpose of others.

We work in a special education setting. Communication and collaboration are key components of any effective school. Indeed it is vital and no less vital in a special education setting.

  • Special education is as unique as it is ordinary, we have the same expectations as in mainstream, we recognise and meet the learning needs of all students and gain equity through adaptation. Same but different.

  • Students rely on others to adapt their learning day to assist them in accessing the curriculum. As above, different and the same.

  • Our students come to school to learn, in wheelchairs and taxis. As above

  • We celebrate diversity. Same.

  • Our school community is parents, students, teachers, learning assistants, leadership, specialists, reception staff, physiotherapists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, office staff, caretakers, mentors, staff from the satellite and host schools across six different locations. Almost the same.

Special education relies on adaptation, we will need to make our communication strategy our own.

Having a child with significant learning, behavioural and/or health needs is often a first for parents and caregivers while staff have pretty much “seen it all before”. Parents and caregivers navigate the daily challenges, they are required to advocate for their children, so it is imperative that they are informed. Often, schools have that information. This suggests that communication needs to be more robust, more engaging, more targeted, more tailored to specific needs and more current for the school community than in Mainstream schools.

School communication requires an audience and audience participation. Our communication strategy will want to see whanau and school willingly engaged in online interactions and dialogue. For example, a digital coffee group that provides support and a sense of belonging.

Many advertisements claim that school websites can improve communication and collaboration, engage parents, and build a solid, trusting reputation within its community. While information can become global with the touch of a button, safety and confidence in the process is key.

What online safety looks like at “Our Place” needs to be clear before change is introduced. What “safe” means to you, most likely looks very different from what “safe” means to me. We want all learners and their whanau to trust that we will ensure the dignity of all our students through respectful interactions.

Research tells us that online interactions with emotional content lead to higher arousal than threads with neutral content. (D Garcia, ‎2016) We want all interactions to be presented with integrity and sensitivity. Considering the relevance of emotion in online communication with parents/whanau of differently-abled students will require adaptation.

We are part of a wider community, in which our students need to be visible. Reaching out to people beyond our school community provides certainty about the future for whanau. Meaningful relationships could sustain the ordinary. The reciprocal nature of relationships relies on a willingness to meet, social media creates visibility and invitation.

There are far greater expectations for parents to be more than spectators in their child’s education. Supporting a child with special needs relies on bringing the right people together. Parents are involved with therapeutic, specialist and educational elements of their child’s learning.

Maybe if we get the communication right, we will have the right people around the same virtual table, collaborating digitally to support students to as our motto suggests, “be the best they can be”.

It takes a village they say..


Johnson, J. (n.d.). Getting Your Message Out (and Why It's Not Enough). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educationalleadership/apr15/vol72/num07/Getting-Your-Message-Out-(and-Why-It's-Not-Enough).aspx

Rogers, R. R. (2007). The role of communications technologies in facilitating parental involvement in middle schools.

Furger, R. (2006). Secret Weapon Discovered! Scientists Say Parents Partnering with Teachers Can Change the Future of Education. Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse.

Sheninger, E. C. (2019). Digital leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Rogers, R. (2007). Assessing Technology's Role in Communication between Parents and Middle Schools. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://www.academia.edu/5585155/Assessing_Technologys_Role_in_Communication_between_Parents_and_Middle_Schools

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