How Technology Enhances Effective Communication in Exemplary Schools

  • by: Fred Cohen, Head of Information Technology, Vancouver Talmud Torah School

About the author:
The author has taught in a private independent school for the past 26 years. He holds Bachelors of Education degree from McGill University and a Masters degree in Educational Technology from City University in Washington. The following article based on his research and experience is designed to share teaching strategies and methodologies.
The article discusses the importance of effective communication in exemplary schools.  It outlines the writer’s views on who the important stakeholders are and communication modalities used to keep these stakeholders informed. The writer offers examples, using technology as a tool, to facilitate effective communication and shares ideas that have been tested in the field.
Superlative communications is the vehicle that helps create an exemplary school of excellence
Today’s teachers must be equipped with not only advanced teaching methods, but also a myriad of creative communication skills. Schools on the cutting edge utilize many modalities to communicate with all its stakeholders and its 21st century teachers must be well versed in their use.
Before looking at communication methodology we must investigate to whom we are passing on this information and more important, what information is crucial to be shared.
This author recognizes four main categories of school-based stakeholders. In order of importance they are students, faculty (teaching staff and administrations), parents, and community (district office, trustees).
Acknowledging that our first priority must be our students is the first step to the creation of a school of excellence.  With our curricula changing and expanding rapidly and the necessary time to teach the vast amount of information diminishing, we must augment our existing communication arsenal with new and exciting techniques. Knowing that students learn in different ways and at their own pace, is not a liability but an opportunity to use the technology available to us to individualize learning.  Students of the 21st century are not only responsible for the three R’s but must be able to think critically and creatively. Our roles as teachers have changed from disseminators of information to facilitators. With this in mind, we must offer students the tools to research topics and find the answers to questions independently and then give them presentation tools to allow them to share their findings with a variety of audiences. This author believes that in a school of excellence, students communicate their research to peers, faculty, parents, and peers in other schools and countries. By using tools such as: the Internet, PowerPoint, Hyperstudio, IMovie, Email, and many other technology based tools, information can be conveyed effectively and efficiently.
The following are some examples of student-teacher, student-peer and student-parent communication strategies in my school:
Teachers communicate with students via e-mail and vice versa. If students are having difficulty in a subject area or require help on a project, they often write to their teachers who respond quickly. This is not to say that teachers do not meet with students, but as class sizes grow and time becomes a factor, e-mail is one more tool to help students and teachers communicate.
Every student from grade two to grade seven has an active e-mail address. Since the format of each email address is the same throughout the school, everyone in the school knows everybody’s address allowing students to easily share work and ideas with other students.
Parents often e-mail teachers with questions about their children and vice versa. These regular reciprocal communications usually result in more productive parent-teacher school meetings.
Another example of seamless communication between home and school which is very helpful: students start projects in school, email it to a home e-mail address and continue their work at home. They then e-mail their work back to the school where they retrieve it and complete their assignments.
Many cross-subject projects are being completed on the computer. Teachers have access to their student’s computer folders, correct and mark their work and communicate helpful comments on the same documents. Once corrected these finished works remain in the student’s folders, which create an on-going portfolio that they can share with their parents and their peers. These portfolios are very helpful during parent/teacher interviews.
Using a word processor and spreadsheet, Grade 7 students learn how to create a word find puzzle using Grade 2 student’s spelling word lists. Once the puzzle is created they print and share it with Grade 2 students who complete the puzzle as part of their language arts curriculum. This new spelling drill and practice activity improves the spelling results in Grade 2 and teaches the Grade 7 students to use a spreadsheet and word processor.
Grade 6 and 7 students in their fine arts curriculum research a musician and song. They incorporate this with a dance component and create a video. Five students per video production work closely together using video editing tools.  They must communicate within their group and collaboratively produce a finished product that is then shown to their classmates and is peer evaluated and assessed by teachers. The video is presented on the computer during a parent video evening and is posted on the school’s web site for students and parents in other cities and countries to view.
Students in a variety of grade levels have used the computer to create a collaborative on-going story. Each student is presented on his or her computer with the same starting paragraph of a potential story and is given two minutes to type a few sentences extending the story. When time is up the students save their work and physically move to the next computer, where they read the story written by the previous student and then add their two sentences in order to continue the story. This process continues until we have twenty-five stories that all the students in the class have contributed to. The goal of this project is to have students read and communicate their thoughts in an orderly manner and then share the fruits of their labor by reading a story aloud to their peers.
Students work hard to produce quality projects, which they then publish on our school website. This work ranges from creative writing, in two languages, to advanced video productions. These published works are an excellent device to communicate to parents and extended family living outside the city, what students are learning and accomplishing and what is happening in our classrooms.
We at Talmud Torah are also committed to global communications communicating on a regular basis with a sister school in Israel and a local school with a strong Chinese culture. Students at multiple grade levels e-mail letters to the students in these schools to learn more about global issues and lifestyles in other countries. They share activities and events from their respective schools and support each other when situations get difficult in their own locations. Locally, the author’s school and a community public school write to each other and culminate their communications with a visit to each others school.
The final stakeholder in the lines of communication is the community. This includes the school board and trustees and the community at large. Web authoring tools from our information technology department are used to post our regular newsletter on the school web site. These newsletters are archived so back issues can be easily accessed. Twice monthly e-mails are sent to the entire parent body with an active link to the newsletter. When the email is opened, an automatic reply is sent to the school alerting us that the parents have opened the e-mail.
These electronic communiqués save tremendous amounts of paper and time. More importantly, more parents are reading the newsletters. In addition, more extended families outside the city are keeping up with the events at the school. Newsletters are also sent to alumni of the school thus keeping lines of communication open to past parents, students and board members.
Communication with the community is an extremely valuable asset. We as teachers and administrators can never share enough information about the terrific events, projects, student and school wide accomplishments happening daily in our schools. Technology is the tool that can help us get the word out to the powers to be, that we are alive and well and doing a superlative job. This impacts positively on more volunteers, financial supporters and harnesses political support for what we are doing. If we truly are a community of learners, we must communicate at every level.
Technology is rapidly altering the way teachers and schools pass on information. Teachers, administrators, students and parents must keep up to date and continue to learn how to use these wonderful tools. In this way we will surely see more exemplary schools moving from strength to strength.
I invite you to see some of the examples referred to at . Please browse through our school web site and write a comment in our guest book. Or write me at I would be happy to share any program ideas we have tried and look forward to hear your successes.