As technology advances, methods in which people communicate have become immediate: mail takes seconds instead of days, a phone is now mobile, and the internet is always on. With various options of communication, how is anyone ever able to be unavailable?
This past year, my school decided to change the way we communicate student progress to parents – we decided to email home monthly updates. Surprisingly, the technical hiccups of bounced back emails due to incorrect addresses or full inboxes were not what frustrated me the most. Rather, it was that, as a school, we spent so much time carefully writing a universal comment that instructed both the parents and students as to how to contact teachers if there were any questions. The line read, “If you have any questions about your child’s progress, please contact the teacher directly at (xxx)xxx-xxxx”. I even went a step further and included personalized comments for each class explaining due dates for missing work and what to expect in the next month. I thought I was doing a great job.
Unfortunately, parts of this system backfired. Most notably, parents didn’t read the comments at all – probably because they were at the bottom of the report, after the parent viewed the marks. Instead of reading the well-drafted paragraphs, parents merely clicked the “reply” button to ask questions that would have been answered in those comments. Also, parents began asking for copies of missing assignments attached to the email. After several discussions with administrators, I still felt like hitting my head against the wall because every month, I would have 10 – 15 emails from parents wanting to communicate over email. I even had one refuse to answer the phone when I called and then email me right after to tell me that! I was lost, and the situation kept getting worse. Students started “paging” me through D2L in the evenings and emailing me on weekends. If I did not answer, the following class, they would reply “well, I tried to contact you” – I began to feel like this new system was beginning to put more of the onus on me, rather than the learner.
I made it through the year, but was quite worried what would happen this fall. With administration insisting that report cards will continue to go home paperless, to which I do see the benefits of and agree with, I knew something in my practice needed to adjust. Today, in my EDER 677 class, I found a possible solution. While presenting on the topic of Policy Issues Related to Teaching at a Distance (Simonson, Smaldina, Albright and Zvacek, 2012), the topic of how to address this same concern arose. Dr. Eugen Kowch shared an example from his experience where he encountered a similar situation. From this arose the need to teach students “Respectful Use of Time”, and I intend to do exactly this in the fall. In order to avoid a repeat of last year, while I introduce my students and parents to my course, I will also establish clear boundaries for appropriate communication. How do I plan to do this? First, I will revise my course outline. On this document, I will list my email, office hours, and phone contact information. From there, I will add a section titles “Respectful Use of Time”. Here, I will clearly state when and how students and parents can contact me. I will also clearly state a time frame for responses, including my availability on weekends. Next, I intend to post this information outside of my door as well as in the first newsletter sent home to parents. Last, I will ask administration to suggest other teachers follow the same format. Following these steps, I hope to see not only my communication between parents and students improve, but also for my colleagues as well.
As technology moves forward, educators must adjust to new methods of communication. However, if a policy as to what constitutes appropriate communication is not in place, the teacher leaves him/herself open to having frustrated parents and students if they feel the communication is not what they expect.