Why Have a Portal? ... Because it's Not The 1950's.
Too often, we found ourselves asking questions, looking for answers, and finding the parents with whom we were speaking had the same questions. We were asking those specific parents because they were the more senior and who had been at the school longer. Three years into it, we still have simple questions for which we seek a quality answer, or two, or even a head nod from someone.
We look to the school and find that they are still acting as though it's the 1950's, where one member of the family worked, usually the father, and one stayed home, usually the mother. One mother, per class, would take on the task of being the keeper of the phone tree, the email list in today's world. That mother would then be responsible for communicating with other mothers and by herself she would be the arbiter of the conversations. In the end, some decisions would be made and some actions would be taken. If you weren't an involved mother, you would be shunned and lowered on the calling list and at times not involved at all. The same exact thing happens today. The main difference being, we can't be involved because both parents work. Or, we can't be involved because we are ill informed, over scheduled, not on the calling list hierarchy, or in some cases not agreeable with the class mother.
Less often, but still occurring at an alarming rate, we find that we wish to give of ourselves, in the form of time and resources. We make an offer and never hear back from anyone. Is it personal? Are we the only ones? We could only wonder. On the other hand, maybe it’s just an inefficient process, and the school and parents are just out of sync.
We think it’s the school [parent] communication apparatus. It’s dysfunctional. Here is how most schools, including ours, communicate. They send out one-way bits and pieces of information at [to] us, by way of twitter, text messages, emails and newsletters. This “one-to-many” model doesn’t allow for responses and collaboration, nor are the responses transparent. Yes, we can each call, email, and tweet back, making our thoughts heard. However, what if dozens are thinking the same thing, have similar ideas, and wish to do something. How would we/they know? We’re not proposing to have all interactions be transparent, but those that are consequential to a larger base, and that involve our children, should be open to evaluation. The once a month PTA or other meetings, where a handful attend and when, if at all, the minutes are published, are not the solution.
There seems to be a culture of dread, fearing the loss of control, authority and ownership. If I could only control the information, I could control the masses. There will be times that one wishes to control the out-of-control parent, to stop them from being agitators and to minimize disruptions. These times will be hurtful and time consuming, but it is price well worth paying for the benefits of having an open “many-to-many” model of communicating.
If you want to truly be a technology oriented school, use technology not merely as a broadcasting tool (e.g., twitter, texting), but use it as a collaboration tool, and bring everyone into the fold.
The community portal, with its forum and communications structure, allows for rapid, timely, inclusive, all-encompassing collaboration and problem solving. The portal will help a community of parents to raise and nurture what’s most important, their children, in the most informed manner.