School communications plans & strategies

For the past three years, I’ve been looking at how school leadership teams use digital technologies. Before that, I worked in schools, as a teacher & regional support staff for many years. Consequently, I know first hand how difficult it is to effectively communicate within school communities, even in the best of times.

In 2020, I’m launching an auditing service to help school leaders, leadership teams and teaching teams communicate in time-saving digital-savvy ways. Here’s an interactive infographic to show you how it works. I’ve written a series of small books focused on winning communications strategies for school leaders. They are downloadable for free, and they each come with a short email course designed to put the strategies into practice.

The booklet is the first in the Innovative Curriculum Leaders series which we are bringing out in 2020. It introduces the main idea that as curriculum leaders, principals and assistant principals ‘win’ in the art of school communications by doubling down on their pedagogical expertise.

Dr Josey De Rossi

It’s all about an engaging curriculum

Curriculum Rules is a small book with a big message. School leaders already have access to research and frameworks on how the big picture of digital communications in schools works for improving teaching and learning (see Sheninger, 2015, 2017, Fullan et al. and Selwyn, 2007, 2013).

What they need now is practical, hands-on support. They need to know what should be done as schools remain online 24/7/365. To that end, this book looks at the key concepts of digital communications with a pedagogical focus. 

It includes an understanding of content strategy, content marketing and the design of dynamic user experiences. These have been used in the business and software industries for the last decade. The good news is that in order to be differentiated on the information-dense internet, school leaders must hold fast to their ‘point of difference’, their expertise.

Many critics lament the disparity between the promise of digital technologies and how they really improve learning.

Dr Josey De Rossi

So, school leaders will need to know what they will not do as they adopt internet communication processes that contain elements of marketing and public relations, together with technology tools with artistic wizardry. 

I find myself thinking about the potential for digital technologies to show us more truth of our imperfect humanity and to offer the courage to build an egalitarian society. 

I had this thought when I read an impressive white paper produced by the now-defunct ideasLAB Victoria. Written in 2011, the then director, the much-respected educator Bruce Dixon introduces the article with the lament that the ubiquity of technology problematically sits alongside optimising learning in schools.

Forgotten white paper: a hidden gem

The writer of the paper, Richard Olsen, then structures an exploration of how the use of digital technologies in education challenges educators to view teaching and learning as a collaborative endeavour. By applying the theoretical framework of the Collective Knowledge Construction model, he encourages “teachers, school leaders and other stakeholders to reimagine the pedagogical, technical and contextual consequences that arise from teaching and learning in technology-rich environments”.

Olsen then graphically depicts four strategies that influence how we learn and the way we behave online: Connecting, Communicating, Collaborating and Learning Collectively.

Olsen, Richard (2011) ‘Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning’

When I viewed such a progressive vision of digital learning, I reconsidered the meaning of the phrase ‘digital disruption’. I agree with Neil Selwyn’s view that the phrase should alert us to “the significant but uneasy relationship between education and digital technology that has developed over the past three decades” (2013, p.2).

[There has been a] significant but uneasy relationship between education and digital technology that has developed over the past three decades.”

Neil Selwyn, (2013) “Discourses of digital ‘disruption’ in education: a critical analysis” p.2

The topics I highlight in this small book offer ways of navigating between the school’s physical environment and its ‘web presence’. Today, schools own social media platforms, learning management systems (LMS) and digital media publications. Government and business also represent schools on their websites by listing them on aggregate sites such as the Australian Curriculum website My School.

I acknowledge the challenges school leaders face providing meaningful learning experiences to students in the context of an information or ‘knowledge tsunami’, a term which is now part of discussions around Cognitive Load Theory and existentialist threats in the search for truth. How it will affect the school leader’s ability to perform their epistemological function as ‘knowledge managers’ is not at all clear. However, the question was much on the mind of school principal Ray Trotter, of Wooranna Park Primary School, when he discussed with me how he sees the problem for himself and his leadership team:

For now, I just want to emphasise that the proliferation of online content dominates curriculum management by offering the promise that ‘if it’s written and put on a digital device, they will absorb its educational value’. However, as Neil Selwyn’s cautionary tale of ‘New Labour’s Curriculum Online and Digital Curriculum’ shows, the danger may be that digital learning remains rooted in the structures and power dynamics of education policies that reproduce (or even reinforce) existing inequalities (Selwyn, 2007, p. 239).

Today’s students are living in a world vastly different from the one in which their parents grew up. The shelf life of education is shorter than it has ever been. Simon Torok and Paul Holper in their 2016 book Imagining the Future write that at the start of the twentieth century, the amount of human knowledge doubled every 100 years. It now doubles every year and by 2020 it could double every day. Despite this explosion in human knowledge, our school curriculum is still primarily based on the same principles that created compliant workers for factories.

Ray Trotter, Principal, Wooranna Park Primary School

On the other hand, I want to offer a reading of education and technology through a longer view, the Longue Durée, as Norman Friesen’s history of the textbook and the lecture illustrates. Using a 4000-year perspective of specific technologies around speech, writing and printing, he goes beyond ‘game changers’, ‘hot’ technologies (like phone and tablet apps today) and buzzwords (like ‘MOOCs’ and the ‘flipped classroom’) to focus on the game itself. From there, he argues, educators may more productively view the rules, limits and possibilities of technology in education.

This is also the message which Eric Sheninger gives when in 2015 he described in Educational Leadership how he came to understand his role as principal and digital leader. His story is most inspiring because of its humility and integrity in showing the power of a committed educator to affect change.

I summarise his 5-step message towards digital leadership in the infographic which follows as a concrete example of how the decision to make one small change transformed a school through more transparent, flexible and accessible forms of communication.

Ultimately, what matters is that every school should have a way to affect the quality of their communications to enable great learning in classrooms and build productive community relations.

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