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Communication Between School and Home Critical

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I was recently in a meeting where parents voiced concerns that teachers failed to respond when they made inquiries about their children and developments at school. The parents said they tried to connect via email, phone calls, letters and handwritten notes sent to school with their children. But some of them never received a response from teachers or other school staff members. The frustration was clear - and understandable.

One teacher commented that some older teachers don't use email, so that could have been the problem. I was shocked by that statement and so was another teacher who said it was her job to use all available modes of communication to stay in contact with the families of her students.

I shared with the group that when I served as a superintendent, our district instituted a 24-hour return policy on communications. This meant that no matter what form the message took (email, phone call, letter, etc.) we had 24 hours to respond. There were 38,000 students in the district, and when we started the policy I didn't realize that I would receive 800 emails a day. But I knew I had to respond within the 24-hour window if I were to be a role model for others. (Survival was also a factor, since failing to respond to 800 emails would mean 1,600 waiting on me the next day!) This policy changed the communication culture of the district. Even when we didn't provide the answer that people wanted to hear, they appreciated that we got back to them quickly.

Customer service may not be what it once was, but we still expect good communications as consumers - especially when we buy something and then have a problem with it. Failing to respond to consumer complaints means a store will have fewer consumers to worry about as time passes. It is the same with families of school children. They will stop showing interest, fail to get involved or take their children out of public schools if we don't provide strong customer service.

Many school districts understand the importance of customer service and have programs in place that address this issue. These districts understand that customer service is critical to being competitive and keeping students in school. In the book, Who Cares, Middleton and Petitt talk about improving schools through better relationships and customer service. This book is definitely worth a read for any school or district leader thinking about moving forward with a project of this nature.

Many schools, districts and states are finding ways to improve the way they communicate with families. These include using technology to provide students' daily grades to parents, notification systems that call and text about announcements, Twitter, Facebook, and home visits, etc.

How is the customer service at your school? Would a customer service program help improve the student outcomes? Talk with your administrators about ways to systemically address this issue. In the end, kids and their families will be the beneficiaries!

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