Who’s In Your Hive: The School’s Role
(Check out the previous post, The Secret to Successful Students: Who's In Your Hive)
The honeybee has been around for millions of years. Why? One theory is that unlike many other species, bees operate as a team, making collective decisions based on what is best for the entire hive. And research shows the “group” makes the optimal decision 80% of the time.
Bees have mastered what many organizations have yet to realize: collaboration is key. However, a culture of collaboration, where all members of the hive partner with one another to achieve a mutual goal, starts at the top. This is as true in schools, if not more so, as it is in other organizations.
According to research from Education Week, 56% of school leaders believe culture and climate have the greatest impact on student engagement and motivation. In other words, student success is a product of the culture fostered by the school. This begs the question: how do school leaders define culture, and how important is communication to reinforce that culture among the hive?
Step 1: Set the Tone
The Harvard Graduate School of Education says that culture starts with connections. Strong collaboration between all members of the school’s hive, including staff, students, and parents, is the backbone of a positive school culture. That’s because collaboration drives knowledge about a school’s unique identity, resulting in a community that understands the vision and how they can contribute to it.
By offering consistent messaging across a variety of platforms, schools can define their culture and help the members of their hive understand what makes it unique. Tell parents where and how they can get involved in school activities. Show them the impact of their contributions. Equip them with the knowledge they need to become an active member of their school community. As people become fully engaged, they will help to build the hive further by “pollinating” others with the core values and messages that pull others into your culture and community.
When a school has successfully engaged its hive and established a positive culture, you can feel it everywhere. In the lobby, in the classroom, in the collaboration between staff, teachers, students, and other members of the school community. The positive culture becomes self-evident, and over time doesn’t always need to be verbalized to be understood, which contributes to student success.
Step 2: Define Expectations
When a school community understands the core values of the organization, they fundamentally understand what it’s like to be there (Shafer, 2018).
Schools have multiple policies covering attendance, safety, discipline and a whole host of items designed to facilitate student success. However, it’s not enough to simply identify these policies; schools must define how policies are enforced and how that influences their cultural identity.
By setting expectations, identifying consequences, and reinforcing messages whenever possible, all parties know what type of culture to expect and are better equipped to not simply exist within that culture, but to execute it. This in turn creates opportunities for positive interaction, resulting in a collaborative culture.
Remember, while policies that define the culture must be clearly communicated throughout the hive in order for members to become fully engaged, a feedback mechanism must also be in place in order to achieve collaboration. When that doesn’t exist the culture can’t operate as a partnership.
Step 3: Invite Communication
Communication is defined as “sharing and exchanging ideas.” Too often communication with the hive is reduced to sharing, such as a weekly newsletter, a calendar reminder, or urgent notices about weather, security, or student safety. These are all important items, but unless you are also exchanging ideas, you aren’t really communicating.
Hive members are unlikely to exchange ideas unless you invite them to do so. Without a clear invitation, they may assume you don’t want to hear from them. Parents, students, and staff should all contribute intentionally to the culture of the school, but they may not fulfill that contribution if they aren’t asked.
Tell staff what procedures are in place to receive requests, such as professional development opportunities they’re interested in or new materials for their class. Show parents how to reach school leaders to discuss opportunities or concerns. Ask students in the hall how their day is going.
A simple gesture indicating your willingness to listen is often all that’s needed to invite communication. When principals and other leaders invite communication they become more mindful of the needs of students, teachers, and parents, building a collaborative atmosphere where all parties feel included.
Step 4: Promote a Collaborative Culture
Many teachers report feeling unprepared to engage parents (Ferlazzo, 2015), which school leaders can address by educating teachers on engagement strategies and incorporating tools to facilitate collaboration.
Schools can support the exchange of information between parents and teachers by incorporating policies and tools to facilitate dialogue. They can also offer recommendations for the frequency and type of information to share to help teachers and parents find ways to communicate. School-sponsored programs and activities to encourage relationships between parents and teachers can also help.
For example, teachers in Sacramento, California, have been trained to participate in structured visits to their students’ homes. The visits help establish trust, surface ways parents can support learning, and are credited with a reduction in discipline problems, increases in attendance rates and achievement gains, all key elements of a positive cultural identity.
Another program, as recorded by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, is Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork (TIPS), which forges a three-way relationship between teachers, parents, and their children through a creative approach to homework. The program, created at Johns Hopkins University, encourages parents and children to interact and share ideas about schoolwork.
School-sponsored programs like these help teachers develop the skills to interact with and engage students and parents. By providing staff with the tools and resources to help build connections within the hive, a collaborative culture is achieved, ultimately leading to student success.
Join the Conversation
Though all hive members bear responsibility for engaging with one another, staff, students, and parents will take their cues from the school. By proactively seeking a relationship with all members of the hive, schools can make the most of their time with each member of their community.
How does your school encourage collaboration through communication?
About Hive Digital Minds
Hive Digital Minds is the creator of SchoolBzz, a cloud-based platform for whole-school communication that streamlines how schools share information with everyone involved in a student’s learning journey. The SchoolBzz team is comprised of parents, educators and communications experts who built the platform with the specific goals of addressing parents’ needs and schools’ frustrations, to eliminate barriers to effective communication and foster a thriving school culture. Hive is a member of AWS EdStart, and a certified partner of Schoology.
About The Author
Jennifer Larson, is the Co-Founder, CEO and visionary force behind Hive Digital Minds. As a mother of four she is passionate about finding innovative ways to engage parents and supporters in their child’s learning journey. Her company’s flagship product SchoolBzz is the culmination of Jennifer’s 15 years in education – working with thousands of educators and parents on their communication and engagement strategies.