From the Principal – Parent Communication and Feedback

Late in Term 3 after a discussion about communication from St Thomas a parent kindly sought input from parents about this area. As the communication from St Thomas is shared by many individuals and groups I have attempted to list the issues raised and the responses generated from the many members of staff responsible for this area.

Feedback received:

  • 21 responses from families
  • parents had children in kindergarten, year 1, year 2, year 3, year 4 and year 6

The issue and some possible solutions are in bold. School responses are in nonbold. Some responses to the issues raised have been actioned or the action taken prior to the issue being raised has been listed in our response.

My leadership team and I are grateful for the flow of information to us as we can’t solve a problem if it has not been raised with us.

Too many methods of communication

  1. Emails
  2. SchoolStream
  3. Compass
  4. WhatsApp (I added this even though it is not a school communication mechanism)

Emails are automatically sent if the parent hasn’t a Compass account. Use of Compass has been monitored and the number of parents not using it is extremely low therefore it has been decided that we will cease using Schoolstream at the end of the school year.

As is the practice for all class parents any information to be sent out to parents is to come to the school and be sent out through Compass. This way the administration team can fact check it and also be aware of what is being said in the school’s name.

There is an implementation team for Compass at the school of which Peta Herschderfer is the head. She was doing daily reports to CSO, now those reports are on a needs basis regarding implementation. Changes must be approved by Cenet as they will be made to all schools in the state’s implementations of Compass.

Peta updates parents through the fortnightly Newsletter, the school website has information and Compass Parent Handbook, the St Thomas Parent Handbook and the P&F A –Z Guide.

It is unclear from communication from the school

  1. Why there has been a partial move to Compass
  2. If all communications will move to Compass and when
  3. which method of communication parents should still be checking
  4. why messages are being duplicated in both SchoolStream and Compass
  5. what information is on which platform (eg. SchoolStream (some forms crossing road/IT/lunch time clubs), Email (Gala Days), Compass (excursions)

 This has lead to:

  • parents missing communication as they hadn’t yet installed/logged on to Compass
  • parents missing communication as they no longer check SchoolStream after the move to Compass
  • difficulty for parents in quickly finding important information again trying to recall which application information came from SchoolStream/Compass/email/newsletter
  • difficulty sifting through noticed that now appear to be duplicated in SchoolStream / Compass from week beginning 9/9/19. No clear understanding of what might have been missed

All comunications have been sent out on both Schoolstream and Compass until now.

  1. In the interim as the school moves towards streamlining communication it may be helpful to communicate to parents
    1. WHY there are multiple platforms. This was communicated to parents by Peta H.
    2. WHAT information will be found WHERE. This may help parents to locate information more quickly.
  • Calendars Both Schoolstream and Compass
  • newsletter Both Schoolstream and Compass
  • contacts Both Schoolstream and Compass
  • forms for events Now only Compass
  • other forms Both Schoolstream and Compass
  • reports As communicated to parents in Term 2 – only on Compass
  • notices Both Schoolstream and Compass
  • etc etc Both Schoolstream and Compass
    1. It would be helpful if this summary is communicated to parents and is be posted where it is easily accessible for future reference (not buried in old notices).

Our school community is reporting far more difficulty in moving across to Compass than other schools. Possibly our communicated decision to continue using both platforms has inhibited this rather than facilitated keeping parents informed.

Discontinuing Schoolstream should facilitate this and alleviate the need for a document listing where things can be found.

Newsletter

The newsletter format is very “clunky” and difficult to navigate

  • initial message is received via SchoolStream and Compass
  • this then directs you to the internet
  • on a smart phone clicking in to each section directs you to a separate tab
  • you cannot easily move backwards and forward using the next / back arrows as this does not go in order of the newsletter
  • this makes it cumbersome to ensure each time that parents have actually read the entire newsletter as it doesn’t show if you have read a section
  • many parents expressed a desire to include a section for “Upcoming Events” as had been included in newsletters a few years ago
  • many parents expressed a desire to return to class parents weekly emails showing what is coming up

 

As mentioned at P & F meetings the current newsletter is the method the Diocese would like us to use as it provides google clicks. Parents need to click on a link and then click on each story as they read the one before. The title of the next story appears at the bottom of each item. It is just like reading an online newspaper. Every click raises our profile up the Google ladder and places us higher when schools in the area are searched. This saves advertising money.

This was a decision by the administration team as they felt the dates were in the parent calendar on the Schoolstream and that should suffice. Unfortunately the calendar on Schoolstream has had some glitches which we continuously try to get them to work on. Moving to Compass will eliminate the issue with the school stream calendar.

Parents are still learning how to use and navigate around Compass. For example a message to complete recent Year 2 form for excursion:

  • when the app message is clicked it does not go to the form in the app
  • parents needed to open Compass in a browser to complete the form
  • after as parents go back to the notice to try to find information closer to the event Compass now says “Unfortunately, this news item no longer exists….”
  • parents have to search to find where the relevant information is in the app or via a browser

For example parents have tried to revisit information regarding chicken pox notices to find “Unfortunately, this news item no longer exists….”

Parents are reporting any glitches to us directly. We thank them for bringing them to our attention and report the problem.

Also we will happily ask parents to ring us when there are issues just like when we were informed by a parent that no notification was going out to say a form had been loaded on COMPASS we then raised a request for that to be provided.

At the moment that is being looked at by CeNET the state-wide provider. Some of what we do with COMPASS or want it to do no other school does yet.

For an app that is designed to be used on your phone it does not have mobile friendly viewing. Compass is a web-based system that is accessible on any modern web browser (internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) or by using the Compass iOS or Android Apps.’ While we are continually asking for the view of Compass to be improved on a mobile it is not advertised as being mobile friendly.

  1. Provide feedback to Compass

As already explained this was and is being done. Changes that are requested go through a long loop à CSO à the provider/ developer à CeNET. This takes time. We are not the customer CeNET is.

It was very helpful to have emergency contact details already pre populated in the form.  This is very helpful for quick completion and families with multiple children.

As far as we are aware emergency contact details are not prepopulated but we no longer collect them as they are in compass for teachers to access 24/7. The outside agencies/companies (Swimming Pool/ Camp etc) do still need these added. We have asked if we can send the information we have on behalf of parents but have received a resounding no from these organisations.

Parent Calendar

Parents commented that:

  • calendar is difficult to utilise
  • hard to read in month format in app
  • unknown when events change or how frequently the calendar is updated

times don’t reflect the actual event times

  1. Depending on which platform the calendar ends up in the calendar should be reviewed for
    • ease of use
    • accurate times
    • communication of changes

The calendar is a live document and is constantly updated as we are not the masters of our own timetable. Other schools, our staff illness and the holidays of diocesan staff & our wonderful parish staff also impact on the need for changes.

Reviewing the existing calendar is continuing and has been in process for over 6 months while we facilitate improving the Compass facility.

We are exploring having a link to a google calendar on the website. As well as the possibility of using the Google calendar app.

WHATS APP (WA)

Use of WA

WA appears to have originated at a time when St Thomas tried to restrict the communications Class Parents could send parents (presumably in an attempt to reduce comms and privacy issues??)

Parents have likened WA to conversations you would have at the school gate at drop off and pick up.

Parents have commented it fosters a community group where quick questions can be asked and replies given.

Some quotes:

  • “The removal of the weekly class parents info email has been a huge loss. It gave us all the info and ONLY the info that was pertinent to us in a digestible format (as opposed to saturation and sifting through irrelevant info). It also built community, it enabled us to bond as a group, it was personal, there was a face and a name to go to/ask, and you felt obliged to help/offer/contribute, because a person was asking, not a faceless, nameless email.”
  • “The most effective communication has ironically been through WhatsApp”
  • “I would be totally lost without WhatsApp”
  • “I find the WhatsApp very useful and ends up being the source of truth.”
  • “There’s a lot of communication through WhatsApp (too much at times!) but I think because a lot don’t know what’s happening and where to look so easier to just ask.”

At no time did the school try to restrict parents communicating. We just asked that it be sent to the school and checked before being sent out. The school has a right to know what is being said on its behalf.

For Class Parents

  • no guidelines for the establishing or use of WA in the past some Class Parents have used the school contacts list to add parents to WA Groups (presumably a privacy issue).

At no time were class parents asked not to send a weekly update to the class, they were asked to send it through the school office.

There are no guidelines for using Whats App as it is not official. If its use is going to continue we will provide guidelines. The issues which need to be covered would be:

Only those who request access are put on a Whats App group. Any question raised through WhatsApp is passed on to the school so that we can assess why the answer wasn’t available to the parent in order to improve our communications in the future.

For Parents

  • unclear that it is not an official method for school communication
  1. It would be useful to see a short message outlining:
  • WA is not an official form of school communication
  • WA members may not include every family in the class group (as it is an “opt in” group)

SPECIFIC EXAMPLES

Semester 1 reports

  • Notified at 5pm on a Friday that Compass would be used for the first time to distribute reports.
  • Parents that had not yet downloaded or logged in to Compass left with no avenue to request help so late
  • Reports for 4Y not laded until 11.30pm but no communication to those parents about the delay in one example, for separated parents reports were only loaded for one parent.

Where there is a change in a method of communication for important information it would be helpful for the school to give some notice of the change.

The need to load the App was communicated twice in the couple of weeks before it went live and then parents were informed the week reports went home that we would only send them through Compass in order to force parents to load the App. The reports were generated in Reporter Pro the old method and sent out on Compass hence the time taken to send was due to Reporter Pro not Compass. They were all loaded early in the afternoon and we were not aware of the time taken till the Monday morning. This semester reports were written on Compass and loaded through Compass and available to parents 24/7.

Cluster Athletics Carnival

  • Original forms communicated 8.15am arrival at school
  • Principal verbally communicated to children at departure those attending should arrive at 8.00am the afternoon before event

On the day of the event a SchoolStream message at 7.59am sent telling parents to arrive at 8.00am

Unfortunately an error on my part, I was informed by a staff member that students needed to be here at 8am but the note was written by another staff member stating 8:15. When we discovered the error the next morning at 7:59 we sent a message out in the hope it might mean those thinking 8:15 may be able to get here shortly after 8am.

Teacher absences or additional teachers

  • 2019 KY recent teacher absence for two weeks not communicated to parents nor whom would be in the class room during that time
  • 2019 KY additional teacher in classroom term 3?
  • 2018 1Y teacher extended absence at the beginning of the year was not clearly communicated to parents nor whom would be in the class room during that time

These may be examples where there is sensitive information that does not need to be communicated to parents.

  1. Regardless of the reason for an absence it would be appropriate to communicate with parents if another teacher is in the classroom for extended period eg. more than a week.

If a qualified teacher (we only hire qualified teachers) has been employed to teach the class, parents do not need to be informed as it impinges on the absent teacher’s privacy. The teacher’s class program will continue to be taught in their absence.

When a teacher is going on LSL for more than a week this is done.

When a teacher is on leave for any other reason, even protracted leave, we usually only get told the day before they are due to return. As was the case both last year and this year. In both cases I was able to provide continuity of placement for the casual teacher. Every fortnight parents were notified as soon as was possible.

Communication with teachers, mixed feedback

  • feedback that communication with three teachers was fantastic.
  • feedback that communication responses are one line responses from other teachers.

Teachers receive many emails as do all professionals. At times a one line response is adequate but this feedback has been passed on to staff.

Emails are usually respond by reply and if sent from one person will be replied to one person. I will inform teachers that this is a request from parents and we will discuss as a staff. It will require that fathers who do not wish to be included can respond and be taken off the list.

The Diocese constructs the enrolment form so I will pass this on to them for their feedback and the fee billing.

Assumed knowledge

  • many comments relating to assuming parents already know information and that this is challenging for Kindergarten or new parents at the school

For example

  • What are Open Classrooms, who goes, how frequently held?

The second last Friday of all terms except term 2. Already in the A-Z

  • What is Grandparents Day?

A chance for grandparent to visit the classroom of their grandchild. Already in the A-Z

  • Mufti days?

Are for Tombola see below.

  • Tombola – what is this, what is required to contribute, what are toys used for, does money go to school or charity?

Tombola is run by the parents doing the Art & Craft Show Tombola Stall I will send the feedback to them. A message was sent out each time on Schoolstream explaining the what, when and why.

  • Crazy days?

These are organised by the student Mission Team and staff leader I will forward the feedback to those concerned.

  • Kindy participation in sporting events (cross country, athletics, swimming)

Parent Handbook given to every parent.

  • What colour house your child is in (no one knew this was on Compass before the Athletics carnival). I didn’t know it was on COMPASS before the carnival.

The school practice has been that the class teacher lets each child know. Compass has simplified this

  • School musical

Again this is communicated early in the term in which it will occur and is in the diary from the commencement of the year. The need for anything from parents is communicated by the class teachers or myself with a couple of weeks’ notice. At the most that will be black or white leggings and a t-shirt (but we usually provide these). Unsure if that is what this one is about if I missed the point then let me know.

  • Wellbeing Week?

Every Week 6 is Wellbeing Week for the children. We don’t see any need to clutter up communications with things that parents do not need to know about.

  • when school uniforms change over from summer to winter

Communicated in the newsletter and through schoolstream/ Compass with a grace period for parents to decide based on weather and also in the Parent Handbook.

  • school bus

In both the parent pack with details for obtaining an opal card and parent handbook for parent to refer to as school starts.

  • before and after school activities eg. coding and drama

Full information sent out every term and now forms are on Compass

  1. Consider a brief pack be developed for Kindergarten parents or added to the A-Z guide containing
    1. brief explanations on matters noted here that happen throughout the year
    2. ways to get involved (eg. gross motor, reading, carnivals, A&C Show committees etc)
    3. one page calendar suggested in #17

I will ask the parent who updates this each year to add these things to it. I have taken over updating this as there is now no parent with this responsibility and suggestions have been incorporated.

  1. Consideration be given to the best timing to send or re-send this information. things read in an enrolment pack will not be recalled as the child starts school and a reminder might be appropriate.

Consideration is given to this and individuals are contacted if they have not followed through. This is usually only one or two. We have also made all parent information available to parents on Compass.

What happens and when – A number of parents, particularly new Kindy parents commented that a look ahead at what happens throughout the year would be very helpful with either the month or term things happen.

  • teacher meet and greets

Specific timely information is sent home regarding this.

  • opening night

Welcome Party?

  • Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day breakfast and Grandparents Day

Posters are put up and emails sent out.

  • Trivia Night Posters are put up and emails sent out.

P & F run so I will send info on to them.

  • Cross Country

Specific timely information is sent out.

  • Athletics

Specific timely information is sent out.

  • Swimming Carnival

Specific timely information is sent out.

  • Open class rooms

While information is sent out I believe we probably need to brief Kindy parents more.

  • School reports

Parent Handbook and school newsletter.

  • Parent / teacher interviews

Parent Handbook and school newsletter.

  • Staff development days

This information is distributed early in each year and is in the school calendar. I then send out an offer of childcare and reminder about 3 – 4 weeks out.

  • 100 day party

This was mentioned in the Parent Information Session and in the class termly newsletter from teachers and is just students. Reporting after the event is in the newsletter.

  • Swimming Program

A note is sent out regarding the program and to get permission for students to attend.

  • A&C show weekend

I will inform the A & C Show about this one.

  1. Consider a one page calendar summarising significant events during the year.
    1. Dates not to be included so it doesn’t require admin after. Either term or month information.
    2. Notes indicating staff development days, year masses on a Sunday or during the week etc etc are planned and the school calendar (on which ever platform) contains details.
    3. Notes suggesting other activities like play in the park, parent nights out etc are organised on a year level by Class Parents separately.

A Yearly Overview document is now available on Compass and provided to all new families listing generally when all of these things occur. The specific dates are also in the Compass Calendar and the google parent calendar which is soon to be available on the website.

May the blessings of the Lord be with you and your family as you celebrate Christmas this year.