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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Take a Risk...Flip Your Parent Communication!

By Peter DeWitt — July 07, 2013 5 min read
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The Flipped model can clearly be a fad, but it doesn’t have to be if it is done with integrity.

Old model of parent communication - Monthly newsletters with important dates & info.
New model of parent communication - Classroom websites, district Facebook pages, school Twitter pages...and monthly newsletters.

But what about flipping communication?

Most schools are looking for new and innovative ways to engage parents. Connected leaders have been flipping their faculty meetings in order to model the method for teachers who want to flip their classrooms. Some leaders are doing it because their teachers who flip their classrooms have influenced them and inspired them to take a risk. Yes, risk-taking is reciprocal.

Unfortunately, due to outside influences such as increased accountability, or to inside influences such as...well, staff and school leaders that don’t get along, some school leaders are nervous about flipping anything.

They have a fear that the reaction to flipping will look something like this...

(iStock Photo)

Last year I posted a blog about flipping parent communication and there were mixed reactions. I get it! There are educators who hate discussing technology because they believe it is a fad or feel that techies inflate the need for technology in the classroom. I have written numerous times about finding a balance, so even though I feel like it’s implied when I write, I will say it again...it’s about finding a balance (Finding Common Ground) between being old school and being...well...new school.

To many educators, flipping faculty meetings or parent communication sounded like an odd thing to do and I received the following questions.

• Was I just trying to put a twist on an old form of communication?
• Was it really necessary to flip communication with parents?
• How many parents actually viewed the videos?

The answer to questions 1 and 2 are both “yes.” The answer to question three is a bit more complicated. To my surprise many parents responded positively. I noticed that the videos I flipped were viewed a lot in the first 24 hours. We can’t say the same thing for our paper communication (although we always need to send that because some parents don’t have computers). We don’t know if the paper we send home gets thrown away without being looked at or hung up on the refrigerator (We call ours the Refrigerator Page).

When it came to flipping communication, parents contacted me to say they liked the way that I flipped some big events, important information (DASA, Common Core State Standards, etc.) and just a regular day in the life of our students (i.e. in music, using netbooks, in gym, etc.). To be perfectly honest, I now feel as though I did not flip communication nearly enough.

Why Flip Our Communication?
Parents are really busy and some of them just can’t get to school. They miss out on volunteering or have to work when we have night events. Flipping communication allows them to see what they missed. It helps them feel a little more engaged even though they had to work.

If it is a flipped communication about something that happened in the school day, and the school leader sends it out that day, it is quite possible that parents can view it before their child even gets home from school. This, of course, can lead to a dinner conversation. When parents ask, “What did you do at school today?” their child may have a better answer than...”Nothin.”

According to Business Insider, “There Will Be 1.4 Billion Smartphones In Use By December (ABI Research via VentureBeat). By the end of this current year, 1.4 billion smartphones will be in use: 798 million of them will run Android, 294 million will run Apple’s iOS, and 45 million will run Windows Phone, according to a new study by ABI Research. With the world population at 7 billion that will mean one phone for every five people in the world.”

That has staggering implications for schools. Most of our parents, and many of our students, carry a Smartphone with them wherever they go. It’s important for them to disconnect but it’s just important for schools to get with society and upgrade their communication.

Flipping communication can clearly be a fad, but it doesn’t have to be if it is done with integrity. Unfortunately, too many school leaders will not take the chance because they are worried about taking a risk or looking foolish to parents. I guess I wasn’t worried about it as much because there are times when I do look foolish and I’m kind of ok with that. However, I also trust our parents because we have a really special community and I figured if it was a flop they would let me know that they didn’t like it.

Images Can Evoke Strong Feelings
Over the past year I have taken a great deal of time to figure out why flipping is important. I don’t have any long-term longitudinal studies that state the importance of flipping. There is just too much data in my life these days and I didn’t need any more. However, I looked at flipping communication from two different viewpoints.

They are:
Viewpoint #1 - As I incorporated pictures or videos into the flipped communication I had parents and teachers stop to tell me what they thought about them. Perhaps the video inspired them in some way or they thought the information was important. The flipped video was something they could watch on their own and it inspired a conversation.

Viewpoint #2 - I attended an edtech conference in Boston and the keynote presenter used a medium to present that was short on narrative and heavy on pictures. I was completely enveloped into what she was saying because the pictures drew me in. Pictures have a way of doing that, especially when they are of our students. They get us to smile and we feel more engaged.

Schools can continue to use a newsletter and do nothing else. However, if that is all they use, they can’t walk away wondering why parents aren’t as engaged as they should be. School leaders, much like the staff they lead, need to take risks. Sure, they might fail once or twice, but if the flipping is done with integrity, it may lead to a new format to engage parents, and we all need that.

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On Friday, July 12th at 7:30 a.m. Peter will be giving a presentation called Flipping Communication Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference in Baltimore.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.