Tag Archives: communication

Virtual School External Communication

Virtual School External Communication

by Mark Sivy

This is a continuing report of a recent research study’s findings.

Effective unambiguous external communication is essential to the operation of a virtual school. Recent research indicates that for virtual school leaders, the means of external communication are more conventional than for internal communication (see previous post) and usually involve email exchanges or phone conversations. The leaders also engage in a variety of face-to-face external interactions including one-on-one conversations, private group meetings, and public events. The findings associated with this topic have been categorized as general external communication, guardian communication, post-secondary education communication, school district communication, vendor communication, representing the virtual school, feedback and input, and marketing.

Communication Land line Communication

 

General External Communications

Even though internal staff receive training and mentoring to engage in intentional and meaningful communications, the individuals who are outside of the school do not. This means that special attention must be given by leaders to ensure proper perception of both outgoing and incoming messages.

Prepared leaders have communication plans and staff responsibilities in place for the schools’ external communications. This includes planning regularly scheduled communications as well as making preparations for unscheduled communications in cases such as virtual school related news, service disruptions, and emergencies.

Guardian communications

Given the diversity of students who attend virtual schools, it’s helpful in addressing the needs of the learners if leaders ensure communication and collaboration with parents (Belair, 2012; Garland, 2011). Communication with guardians is often intended to provide one-way sharing of information. Some leaders receive responses from these broadcasts that are either questions or expressions of appreciation. Two-way individual communication usually resulted from guardians having some concern about a student’s performance, a course, or an instructor.

Parent CommunicationSome issues with communications resulted from the guardians having too many options for communication. The first task was for them to determine with whom they were to communicate, whether it be someone at the home school, the virtual school instructor, or some other virtual school staff member. The next challenge was for the guardian to determine how to communicate with these individuals. This was usually either via email or phone, which often required the guardian to locate an email address or phone number. The school leader’s task was to have these processes streamlined as much as possible.

Post-secondary education communications

As the virtual schools expand their offerings and advantages, some leaders have started to communicate and form partnerships with colleges, universities, and technical schools. Typically this is to arrange courses to be delivered with the purpose of offering dual credit.

School district communications

This was the most common form of external communication that was discussed by the participants. As the leaders moved forward with the growth and acceptance of their schools, the student’s physical home school districts seemed to be the best venue to establish a virtual school’s brand and to gain virtual school champions. Depending upon the purpose, these communications were either with the home school (teachers, counselors, principals, or other assigned contact persons) or district offices (district coordinators, superintendents, etc.). These communications ranged from regular updates and announcements to being conversations about specific topics such as ensuring the local schools that the virtual school courses were aligned to standards. Depending upon the purpose or message, these virtual school leaders either communicate directly with the home districts or had a staff member make contact. The leaders typically are personally involved in communications with higher level school district representatives such as school principals or district office administrators.

Vendor communications

The leaders of some schools, typically the ones with smaller enrollments, deal more frequently with vendors. In the larger schools the leader has less frequent dealings with vendors, either because the leader has staff to perform the needed school services in-house or staff who communicated with the vendors. The leader’s role in vendor communications is to ensure that the virtual school provided the most reliable services they could afford.

Representing the virtual school

Virtual school leaders are involved in an assortment of meetings, conferences, committees, and other gatherings external to their schools. Depending upon the function, these could include their peers, vendors, media, government officials, school district administrators, special interest groups, and persons with an interest or stake in virtual schools. During some of these events, leaders find themselves educating participants on the nuances of a virtual school. At other events, the leaders contribute to peer conversations, leveraged the expertise that was present, and advocated for their schools.

Feedback and input

Virtual school leaders use outward facing surveys, assessments, and evaluations for the purpose of enhancing their schools’ operations and offerings. The data are acquired from different sources, such as parents, home school districts, and advisory groups. The tactics included random emails, public forums, annual school surveys, and receiving input from advisory groups. The general sense from leaders is that response rates are lower than they preferred and that they sought ways to improve this.

MarketingMarketing

To a certain extent, virtual schools are a business that must promote themselves to remain sustainable. Each of the leaders presented an ongoing concern for the acceptance and growth of their schools. Getting the messages out extended from simple word of mouth to having marketing representatives who traveled a state. Their efforts involved branding their school, advertising school offerings, maintaining a positive public image, making press releases, and pushing out communications. Brand recognition takes time to develop but it serves as an important tool in the marketing of a school (Berridge, Henry, Jackson, & Turney, 2009).

The amount of marketing is in large part determined by operational guidelines and the missions of the virtual school. Those schools whose charter limited their scope or that received sufficient funding were less involved in certain aspects of marketing than those that had a broader scope and a greater latitude in determining their own operations, or were seeking additional sources of funding.

Reflection Point – ““The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw

 

References

Belair, M. (2012). The investigations of virtual school communications. Tech Trends, August, 26-33.

Berridge, D, Henry, L., Jackson, S., and Truney, D. (2009). Looking after and learning: Evaluation of the virtual school head pilot.

Garland, V. (2011). Leading an Online School. S. Huffman, S. Albritton, B. Wilmes, & W. Rickman (Eds.), Cases on Building Quality Distance Delivery Programs: Strategies and Experiences (pp.109-121). doi: 10.4018/978-1-60960-111-9.

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Virtual School Internal Communication

Virtual School Internal Communication

by Mark Sivy

As the leader of an online, virtual school, or cyber school, attention to communication between co-located and geographically separated individuals requires a heightened level of importance and skill. In a recent study I performed on leaders of virtual schools, the participants’ continual return to the communication topic throughout the interview process highlighted communication as one of the most essential and influential components of their leadership. The data analysis revealed two differentiated areas of communication – internal and external.

virtual school communicationThis blog post examines aspects related to internal communication, which were categorized as being general internal communication, central office employee communication, and at-a-distance employee communication. Almost all study responses involved at-a-distance and electronic forms of communication through emails, phone calls, online meetings, learning management systems, and instant and text messaging. The leaders involved in the study said communicating through the various media presented challenges in terms of ensuring that they were done correctly, clearly, and effectively. If these criteria were met, the leaders indicated that contemporary methods of electronic communications were seen to be advantageous over previous in-person ones. The participants also cited having face-to-face conversations, typically when employees were within a short walking distance of each other, such as in and adjacent office or cubicle.

General Communication

The means of and approaches to communication in a virtual school are different than in a traditional one. In a traditional setting, general internal communications are often done Technologyaccording to a daily schedule, are commonly unidirectional, and are often asynchronously viewed, heard, and given response. The majority of the participants felt communication that occurs in a virtual school is more immediate, dynamic, frequent, and closer to real-time than in a traditional physical setting. The leaders were able to leverage at-a-distance electronic communication in a manner that promoted the overall importance of communication, the need for clarity of communication, the unique uses of communication, and the value that communication has to the school team and community. The media used for internal communication were varied and depended upon the geographic relationship of those who were in contact and the purpose of the communication.

Most leaders alluded to the fact that there is a heightened sense of importance placed on communication within an online school due to the geographic distances between staff. One profound comment that sums up the feeling of many was, “Communication, communication, communication. I don’t think we can communicate enough.”

Central Office Employee Communication

The leaders reported communicating with co-located staff in a variety of ways that were purpose specific. There were standing times set for face-to-face meetings with all central office staff, with these typically happening on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Many of the leaders supplemented these meetings with the use of online meeting systems to connect with those staff who were unable to attend in-person.

The participants also used various means to communicate with those staff that they were more dependent upon and had to speak with more frequently. Each relationship developed a favored online meeting systemform of communication. Being dependent upon proximity, time, and purpose, the common avenues of interaction would involve walking to an office to talk, calling someone by phone, sending an email, using an online meeting system, or using instant messaging. Even in a common physical setting, the sense from the leaders was that the availability of these at-a-distance electronic communication often allowed more responsive and frequent communication and a greater openness than they experienced with in-person discussions.

At-a-Distance Employee Communication

Communications with these employees (typically faculty) involved some sort of electronic medium, most commonly email, instant messaging, and content sharing via intranet. When compared to a single location organization, there were more frequent and more random communications with employees, both individually and as teams. Some leaders noted that at-a-distance communication increased the amount of communication between employees, thus creating a greater sense of support and team effort.

virtual team leadershipMany study participants described communication strategies as being based on the importance of the messages and types of information. The leaders wanted to manage communication in a manner that reduced the burden on employees to keep up with the volume of communications. Messaging systems were used for quick input from an individual, content management systems typically served as a repository for both reference materials and current information. Emails were often used as a means for personal and team communication or specific requests.

Reflection Point – “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Tony Robbins