The Nature of Middle Level


By: Dru Tomlin

Recently, I spotted this utility marker in the middle of the sidewalk in my neighborhood. The word “COMMUNICATION” was pressed in the center ages ago, and the marker itself has remained fixed in that spot despite obvious changes in the concrete around it. This vision made me think about how we communicate in our middle schools. In fact, the image brought forth two diametrically opposed viewpoints about communication in education.

The first perspective is a positive one. Just like this fixed utility marker, it is critical that every school have a solid communication plan that responds in a consistent manner with every stakeholder, even when stakeholders and the community change. But how do we make this happen?

First, every faculty and staff member needs to know that language is the binding agent that holds together the school-to-home relationship and builds trust with the community. There needs to be an individual and collective commitment to that unwavering fact. Once that commitment has been made, everyone also needs to know the school’s expectations for written, spoken, and nonverbal communication with students and stakeholders. What does caring and consistent communication sound like? What does it look like? What does it act like? Uncovering the answers to these questions starts when we assess the solidity of our school’s communication plans.

It is a task that needs to be done at the beginning of the year with the involvement of every grade level and staff member and then revisited throughout the year. If you already have communication templates to help faculty and staff document and capture their conversations, take a look at them to see how accurate and user-friendly they are. If you don’t have templates, it’s time to develop them.

In addition, if you provide faculty and staff with suggested scripts (words and phrases) to help them communicate with care and consistency, it may be time to reread them and see how accurate, culturally-sensitive, and customer-friendly they are. If you don’t have those scripts in place, it’s time to develop those, as well.

This is also relevant to how we communicate with each other in the hallways, conferences, team-meetings, the cafeteria, and in e-mail messages. Obviously, we don’t need to document all of those conversations, but we should start paying attention to them. Do we use language with care and consistency with each other like professional educators modeling good communication skills? Or do we pass each other in our haste without greetings or salutations? Do we rattle off e-mails without regard to tone? Students will pick up the communicative behaviors we show them. Therefore, all of this work about communication is necessary because language is critical both outside and inside the school walls.

While the picture above did make a positive impression on me, it also conjured up a negative thought about how we tend to communicate in our middle schools. The utility marker is, as aforementioned, solid and consistent in the midst of change. However, if our communication plans are inflexible and do not adjust to the communities around us or their communication needs, then they are fundamentally flawed.

Many schools have changed, and those changes are remarkable. Weekly newsletters are now on the web. Teachers are writing blogs to keep students informed. Principals are using Twitter and Facebook to tell families about upcoming events. All of the new ways we communicate with our stakeholders show that we are adjusting. However, there is always room for improvement, and here it is with school-to-home communication: Where can stakeholders communicate back to us? Where can they openly share their ideas?

We talk about an open door policy, but how is that put into action besides PTA meetings, school board discussions, and the occasional principal’s chat? We should keep using Twitter and Facebook, but instead of reporting events and posting pictures, we can start asking questions. We should continue blogging, but instead of informing, we can infuse inquiry. We should keep on using Google, but instead of sharing documents in Drive, we can set up Communities in Google+ where everyone can dialogue in the space. The possibilities are endless and boundless.

Just as the COMMUNICATION utility marker has a solid fixed wall around it, we must be sure that we don’t have walls around our school communication plans that keep stakeholders out. If language and communication are the glue holding us together, everyone must have equal and reciprocal access to that critical binding agent.

This We Believe Characteristics:
  • The school environment is inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive of all.
  • The school actively involves families in the education of their children.

Language is a tool
Shimmering blossom that blooms
Who tends the garden?


4 comments on article "The Nature of Middle Level"

I really appreciate the idea of emphasizing effective communication in our school. Especially having a set protocol for this is what communication should look like. Not that we don't know these things, we do know how to communicate but having a set standard is best for everyone. As I future teacher I really value the ideas of using technology not just as a way to present information but as a medium to have conversations with. Also I really think it's important for us to model this proper communication as much as we possible can for our students as it talks about in the article. Students will see our actions and mirror them.

11/6/2014 9:33 PM

I like that you suggested that we use Twitter and Facebook to start asking questions. Social media is a crucial part of students lives. In order to stay relevant we need to use these platforms to encourage classroom dialogue. Colleges and Universities have used discussion board posts for years know. Thus, this is setting the student up for success in the future.

11/10/2014 7:56 PM

Quality communication is very important in schools. Because of this, there needs to be procedures and guidelines for how to communicate between faculty members, parents, students and the community. In general, people have different styles of sharing information. This can create inconsistency, confusion and misunderstandings in a school. Therefore, I think it is beneficial for everyone to have a plan for how to communicate with each other. I agree that this plan should be flexible and open for improvement. When I am a teacher, I am sure there will be times when I need to let parents know what is going on in class or inform them of some announcements. In order to do this successfully, I have to think about the best way to reach the parents. It probably wouldn't be best to use the methods from when I was in school like sending a note home or sending emails. Because of changing technology, there are many parents who don't check their email on a daily basis. Instead, it might be more effective to use a text messaging app or the school's social media accounts. This article was a good reminder to me of why it is important to keep up with new methods of communication such as Twitter and blog posts. If I want quality communication, I need to be willing to try new things. Communication is an important topic that should be addressed and planned out. It is a factor that can make a big difference in schools. Dru Tomlin, thank you for sharing your thoughts about this issue!


2/22/2015 4:17 PM

Communication is extremely important especially within a school system. The beginning of your article really got my attention and got me interested. I have never really thought about there being more then one perspective when looking at communication. I found it really interesting when you discussed how communication is a binding agent and holds key components together. These components are extremely important to have a successful school system. You have really good discussion points on the ways that communication is essential with schools. The language that is used about staff and people with the school needs to be positive. Having good communication is essential to start with from the very beginning of the school year. I really found it creative in your article how tied in the image that you started the article with. This really made your article interesting and made it flow together really well.

4/12/2015 3:03 PM

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