Communication Challenges During the Strangest Year Ever


July 9, 2021 by Dr. Robbie Barber

This post is Week 5 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. The prompt for this week is: Describe what improved or challenged communication this year.

The challenges to communications in this past school year are myriad. They are also not going away. If anything, this points to the most embedded issues our society has when it comes to communication including too much noise, lack of instructions on using a tool, and no real training in organization or management of it. In short, we’re buried with words.

We need to repeat information and instructions so that it rises to the top. On the other hand, too much repetition and it becomes noise. We need to teach students (AND teachers) how to use their email. We need to review how to write an email to your teacher every year! And, we need to learn how to cull our email (delete and/or move to a folder). But communication is not limited to email. In addition, there are website updates (generally, but not always, static), instant messaging including WhatsApp, Remind, and Slack, social media including Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, etc., and phone calls including Google Voice. Let’s be clear, even schools are sending messages on various social media sites (and repeating others) to ensure the messages get to all of our stakeholders.

And, education makes this much, much harder. I need information from a teacher, but get this, their first priority is, well, teaching. Calling into the room on the loudspeaker or phoning the teacher to find a student is interrupting their first priority. They may not read emails during the day because they are focused on teaching. Ditto messaging, etc. So at the end of the day, the teacher is suddenly faced with potentially hundreds of messages from the district, the school personnel (guilty!), Google Classroom or other LMS (please use mail rules to handle it!), and students and parents. That is not accounting for the personal messages that come in during the day from friends and family.

There are a series of problems communicating with teachers, students, parents, and community members. Some are similar and some are different. But we need to work on teaching best practices. Yes, we should set up some rules handling communications. Some schools have rules that require teachers to check their emails before classes begin and before they leave at the end of the day. Do those same schools direct teachers on where to get information (and save themselves an email)? Is it on a master calendar? What are the directions to accessing that calendar? Who do I ask? Part of a good communication plan is knowing where to find the information.

Every school needs a clear, informed communication plan. Below is a table suggesting some of the questions to consider in creating a communication plan and some solutions. This is by no means complete. But you need to start considering these questions and how you personally will handle them. With or without a plan, the deluge will continue. How will you take charge?

Questions to ConsiderStakeholder EffectedSolution Suggestions
Where do we send messages that need an immediate response?Teachers, Students, School AdminPhone, Email or Text messaging except for class time. School immediate responses must be tempered with school (not personal) priorities.
Where do we send information you can look at or manage later?Teachers, Students, Parents, School Admin, Community membersWebsite, email, social media
How do we handle the sheer volume of communication?AllTraining on software packages; Separate personal from school/ professional communiques
How do we organize for future reference?AllWebsite calendar; School internal master calendar; Personal calendar; Organizing information within folders or separate streams (including emails)
Where do we send information in a crisis situation?Teachers, Students, School AdminInternal announcements; parent phone tree
How do we use communication tools to actually work smarter, not harder?AllTraining on software packages; Separate personal from school/ professional communiques; Planned time for reviewing/ sending communiques; ask for feedback from all stakeholders – is the plan working?
Questions towards Creating a Communication Plan (© Robbie Barber)

What makes communication effective? An effective communication system is where the goal for the communication is met (Sanina et al., 2017).  You trust when you send a message it will be seen and acted upon. Others trust you for the same response. In the end, communication is all about relationship building.

This is an infographic shared in another blog post about taking control of your email. Originally intended for students, this is valid for everyone. Take control of your communication life!

Postscript: Internal school communication was the subject of my doctoral dissertation and my research area of interest. Unfortunately, there are always more questions than answers. If you have ideas, suggestions, interests, please contact me.


Molla, R. (May 1 2019). The productivity pit: how Slack is ruining work.

Sanina, A., Balashov, A., Rubtcova, M., & Satinsky, D. M. . (2017). The effectiveness of communication channels in government and business communication. Information Polity: The International Journal of Government & Democracy in the Information Age, 22(4), 251–266. 

Tyler, D. E. (2016). Communication behaviors of principals at high performing Title I elementary schools in Virginia: School leaders, communication, and transformative efforts. Creighton Journal of Interdisciplinary Leadership, 2(2), 2–16.

Weng, C. H., & Tang, Y. (2014). The relationship between technology leadership strategies and effectiveness of school administration: An empirical study. Computers and Education, 76, 91–107. 

One thought on “Communication Challenges During the Strangest Year Ever

  1. Denise Krebs says:

    Wow, Dr. Robbie, that is quite a post. You have definitely thought about how to fix this problem that we all face. I tend to be a little more techy than many of my colleagues, and I know how much trouble I have managing my inboxes. Some of my colleagues really struggle, so your call for training is spot on.

    “In short, we’re buried with words.” Your post was filled with details that had me shaking my head in agreement. The infographic is very helpful. My friend these days has been the “unsubscribe” link!

    Liked by 1 person

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