The Communication Clearinghouse


Email Sandra Nichols

  "There are times in a school's busy day when calls come in, messages are taken, and mail boxes become stuffed with call-back requests. The people want a response! And, of course, many of them get one. Unfortunately, some calls go unreturned. "

ere's something I am happy to report!

On August 18, I wrote to you about schools that foster a better home-school relationship through improved communication. I ended my column with this, "Let us put better, real communication skills into our goals."

The school district now has an official goal which reads as follows: "Improve school-to-home communication and timeliness." I think it's a marvelous goal. Let's work on it together! I need your help.

Let me explain why such a goal is needed and how you can help bring it to fruition. There are times in a school's busy day when calls come in, messages are taken, and mail boxes become stuffed with call-back requests. The people want a response! And, of course, many of them get one. Unfortunately, some calls go unreturned.

Naturally, there are excuses, some legitimate. Messages occasionally do not reach the intended party, or do so with a significant time lag.

However, if you wish to speak with school personnel, I expect it's important. Please give it another try. Allow a couple of days for your response.

Still frustrated? Proceed up the chain of command, starting with the person's immediate supervisor and moving up. Your school board trustee is also a resource. I, for one, am very interested in hearing from you about communication barriers and success stories. You may call me at 763-1895. I call this project the Communication Clearinghouse, the concept of a "buck-stops-here" communicator! Let me know how it's going!

Now I wish to report to you on some great parent-school communications that I have had a chance to observe recently.

Kudos goes to Freedom Elementary School. The Freedom parents and school staff, in addition to district staff and community members, came together a week ago Thursday evening. A real conversation was had. It was a group of about 100 people, all Watsonville-Freedom folk, and all wanting to deal effectively with emergency situations at the school.

There is an undercurrent at Freedom School. It is an undercurrent of love, hope and caring. It permeates everybody's comments about student safety. Our parents love fiercely. Our school people feel deeply that love and concern. We feel it in English and Spanish together.

I noticed a particular dynamic happening in the group which merits some attention. It was quite obvious that while a few parents were expressing dissatisfaction, most parents were strongly defending the school's actions in safely evacuating children during the recent emergency on campus.

This was a problem-identification session. One devised as a vehicle to inform, to field questions, take comments, consider different opinions. My perception was that the school people heard the complaints and responded in a non-defensive way.

A problem identified is a problem en route to a solution. Let's not shy away from the complaints. Let's hear them. Let's ponder the validity of the complaints. Let's consider the seriousness with open minds. We can deal with the true feelings of all of our community.

I applaud you, Freedom Elementary School community, with a special thumbs-up to your Principal, Bob Rasmussen. Your school is beautiful inside!

Also, thanks to Mayor Carter who attended the meeting and consistently shows his support and interest in our schools.

As we improve communication between school and community, we can buff out our skills on a personal level with our own children, too.

Here's a traditional after-school conversation that may have happened at your house. The parent asks, "How was school today?" The kid responds, "Fine." Short conversation. Kind of boring!

Some parents — in an effort to really get to the bottom of it — ask the follow-up question, "What did you learn today?" The kid responds, "Nothing." This is a conversation going nowhere!

Let me propose a different way of engaging your son or daughter in a real conversation about his or her day at school. Ask an open-ended question, one that requires at least a little thinking and a response of more than a single word. Here are some examples:

"What was the thing you liked best at school today?" "Did anything funny happen today?" "What do you and your friends do during break?" "What's it like riding on the bus?"

A single question every day works better than lots of questions all at once. Requests like "Tell me about your science project," are a good way to begin.

I wish you a good Thanksgiving, and hope that your holiday is filled with joy and many wonderful and rich conversations. There is a great deal for which to be thankful.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Nov. 17, 2001. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001