November 9, 2013

We’ve Got a Communication Problem

This post was last updated on May 6th, 2014 at 10:33 pm

This week a story emerged out of British Columbia about a school that was banning students in Kindergarten from touching each other. Like many, I tweeted it

The usual banter online occurred where most people shook their heads in disgust about a school’s over reaction to a problem that might better handled without resorting to such extremes. After wanting to learn more about the fallout I did some searching today and found this video

After hearing the side of the school district I realized a few things:

-If it sounds absurd there’s probably more to the story. This is where I felt a little shameful for tweeting the story. While I did manage to keep my mouth shut for the most part on this one, I too assumed the district was nuts. In reality, they handled  the situation very well as their spokesman shares. They aren’t banning touching but rather teaching these students, beginning from scratch. I should know better.

-Some people take advantage of the media. In this case, the parents, instead of expressing their concerns to the school jumped to the media and created a fuss. I don’t know why they didn’t have conversations first with the school but they didn’t. We see this time and time again with some people’s desire to avoid conversation and immediately want to vilify or cast blame. It would seem to me that a candid conversation between the school and parents should have made this a non-story. Some want to immediately bypass discourse. This is an ongoing problem. Most teachers can tell stories of parents who went to the principal about an issue before they discussed it with their child’s teacher. In some cases, people are looking for someone to be punished, not for a problem to be solved. At times this is an isolated relationship issue but if this is happening often, there is a cultural problem that schools might need to address.

-Schools need to continue to manage and tell their story. The district shouldn’t have needed the media to ask them questions before they responded. They have a website but there’s no mention of this story. I’m guessing that as of last week, they had hundreds, if not thousands of people googling them and checking out their website looking for a policy or some reference to this ruling. It would have been a great opportunity to say exactly what was said in this interview and put it front and center of their website. They did, however, use their twitter account to link to a parent’s blog who eloquently defended the school. It’s great to show parents who do support schools, but they could have been more active.

Having more access to communication is awesome but we obviously have a lot of work to do. I need to be smarter about what I read and tweet. I work with schools and districts and should know they are almost all well meaning folks and I should have taken the time to dig deeper. We need to help and remind people to engage in conversation. I’m not sure who to blame here and that’s not the point. We just need to make sure the conversations begin with each other before the media gets involved. Finally, and I’ve been preaching this one for a while, schools and districts need to own and tell their stories.