Professor R. J. Starratt Email: starratr@bc.edu; office tel. 617-552-1961

Meeting dates: Jan 14; Jan 28; Feb.11; Mar. 4; Mar.18; April 15; April 29; May 6


OUTCOMES: By the end of the course, participants will

a) understand how to recognize effective communication and describe its essential variables;

b) complete various assessments of communication processes and messages in a school or school system;

c) Develop a plan to improve communications in that school or school system, including an organizational structure to support quality communication throughout the school or school system.


1. Analyze current communication processes and messages among teachers and between teachers and students and propose major improvements.

2. Analyze current communication processes and their messages for parents and propose major improvements.

3. Analyze current communication processes and their messages between central office and the schools and propose major improvements.

4. Analyze current communication processes and their messages between the schools and the community and propose major improvements.


1. Elements of effective communication: who, what, to whom, why, how, when and where, response from audience; sender, message, audience, purpose, medium, context of communication, feedback. Communication-- from Latin com and unio, meaning "one with", to unite. Message as information, as persuasion, as motivation, as command, as influence, as direction, as gratitude, as affection, as response to prior message. Obstacles to communication: language; symbolism, tone, clarity, timing, mixed message, double message, disposition of receiver, inability to respond to message, etc. Some themes that cut across all topics: politics of entitlement; politics of excellence; politics of meaning; politics of community; Control vs. Participation; authority-accountability issues; authorization to speak; who defines categories of the message (e.g., at-risk children, disabilities, achievement, etc.).

2. Coordinating teacher-to-teacher communications: common planning time; departmental, grade-level, or cluster meetings; administrative council; grievance procedures; union meetings. Coordinate teacher to student communication: instruction suited to learning styles and readiness; curriculum is appropriate to learning styles and readiness and connected to students' sense of the "real world"; assessment enables students to show what they have learned. Teachers' communications communicate a respect for the students' sense of their identity; multicultural issues, gender issues, class issues.


3. School-parent communications: report cards; parent-teacher meetings; parent association handbook; parent-school contracts; parent newsletter; parent homework involvement. Parent volunteers; parent involvement on school council; family services; adult education. Parent to parent communication: parent leadership development; welcoming and orientation of new parents; parent newsletter; center for family services; parent peer education; coalition building among multicultural stakeholders.

4. School-school district internal communication: personnel policies; student welfare policies; public relations-media relations policies; district-wide core values; budgeting process; site based budgetary discretion; policies on communication with school board; district wide meetings; teacher professional development programs; reporting procedures; data collecting and retrieval procedures; legal liabilities and legal referrals; state mandated procedures.

5. School-community communications: authorization for media contacts; multiple avenues for telling school success stories; emergency/crisis chain of communication (gang violence in the school, teacher sexual abuse, etc); policies governing privacy of students, parents, teachers, etc.; politics of communication; influence of politics on communication; using media to build coalitions of interest groups in the community.



Additional topics to be explored by individual students

Administrative communication with students: core values of membership in the school community; safety issues; academic expectations; school spirit; responsibilities and rights; functional procedures; student handbook (yearly calendar, weekly & daily schedule, clubs, rules and sanctions, who is in charge of what, etc.).


Administrative communication with teachers: orientation and induction; supervision process; tenure process; professional development; school-wide policies and procedures; collective bargaining procedures; contractual obligations; faculty handbook; daily announcements; faculty meetings.

Coordinating student to student communications: student newspaper; peer coaching and conflict resolution; student government; student leadership development (run by older students).




Class Meetings

Jan. 14. Housekeeping details. Policy on 30 hours for graduate courses. Initial discussion of appropriate topics for the course relative to the background and experience of class members. Voting revealed a concentration on topics 4 (a & b), 7, 8, 9, & 10. Remainder of class dealt with parts of topics 1 & 10, namely, focusing on the large message of school renewal, and using the themes, Entitlement, Excellence, Meaning, and Community as ways to unpack and to shape that large message. Assignment: in preparation for discussions about teacher to teacher and teacher to student communications, read chps 4, 7, and 9 in Gallagher, Bagin, & Kindred, The School and Community Relations. Participants should also bring in six copies of their student and faculty handbooks, student newspapers, faculty newsletters, and other printed communications that illustrate how information and commentary is shared among teachers, among students, and between teachers and students. Keep in mind that we want to look at these documents as, beyond their functional purpose, expressing somehow the school's larger sense of identity, mission, purpose. Do they deal with the politics of entitlement, of excellence, of meaning, of community?

Regarding communication among teachers, does it express a culture of collaboration or a culture of separation, focus on turf issues? Does it primarily concern itself with student learning and growth, or more with teacher welfare issues? What is celebrated in their communication? How does communication from administrators influence teacher to teacher communication? In teacher to student communication what are the primary messages sent to students? What are the primary messages students send back to teachers? Dennis Doyle suggests that there is a quiet conspiracy between students and teachers that students will cooperate as long as the teachers do not ask too much of them. Any signs of this conspiracy? Are the politics of meaning addressed in the two way communications between teachers and students? The politics of excellence? The politics of community? How does administrative communications influence the teacher-student communication process? Do multicultural and gender issues affect teacher-student communication? If so, how? Assignment for higher ed participants: Check the ERIC data base for communication issues in higher education. Check the Journal of Higher Education, the Review of Higher Education, The Journal of College Student Personnel, and the Journal of College Student Development to see what communication issues, themes, dilemmas are touched upon.

January 28. (Plan to start at 1:45 pm and end at 5:15pm) Discussion of teacher-teacher communication and the culture those communications reflect. Explorations of administrative influence on these communications. Likewise for the teacher-student communication. Presentation on Fullan's What's worth fighting for; Starratt's communication as script and scripting, Bollman and Deal's Frameworks. Case study and analysis. Assignment for Feb. 11: Read ch 8 in the text; read Hoffman's essay on Diversity in Practice; read Coleman's essay Families and Schools; with those two essays in mind, read Beck's essay, Cultivating a Caring Community and be prepared to comment on how the principal reflected concerns expressed in Hoffman's and Coleman's essays, analyze the various ways she communicated, and what messages she was careful to send, and how she established a communication process that enabled the school to transform itself. Reflect on what lessons you learned from these readings, and how, specifically, you can apply any of this to your own practices of communication. Then read the two brief cases and be prepared to respond to questions such as the following: What assumptions lie behind the assistant principal's perception, behind the parent's complaint about multicultural studies? Apply double-loop analysis to both of these cases. What messages need to be given? What messages received? Use the functional categories of communication to suggest ways people can communicate in these cases.

Feb. 11. (Continue to plan to start at 1:45 and finish at 5:15.) Sharing of reflections on the readings of the text and Hoffman& Coleman and the application of their ideas to the Wilson High School case. Analyses of the two brief cases. Assignment for March 4 Read essay by Mary Henry on the Social Context of Parent-School Relationships. Then read Ch 1 & 2 in Epstein et al's book. Then go to ch 5 in that book and review the inventory on pp. 122-125. Discuss this inventory with an appropriate group in your workplace (e.g., the site based school council, PTA officers, the faculty advisory committee). See how they respond to the inventory. Then have them brainstorm around the three year planning form (form A); use the form as a discussion starter, rather than something that has to be filled out entirely. Read Comer's material on the School Development Program. This seems to take Epstein to a new level of involvement, although school councils may approach this level. Discuss this model with an appropriate worksite group. Bring in samples of communications that reflect Epstein's 6 types of parental involvement.


March 4 Sharing of reports on assignments. Reflections on what was learned and implications for improving communications and partnerships with parents and families. Assignment for March 18: read chps 3 & 9 in the text; read Wilson & Corcoran's essay, Public Involvement; read Smith & Piele's essay on Building Coalitions; Iannaccone & Lutz's essay on The Crucible of Democracy ; Clark-Lindle and Steffy's essay on Getting The Partners' Act Together and Black & English's essay, What they don't Tell You in Schools of Education…. In the light of these readings, what suggestions have you come up with to understand better how the school-community partnerships' communication procedures and messages work or do not work, and how you might improve those communications. Identify which of these issues are school district issues, which are school based issues, which belong to both levels. Take a hard look at how your school or school district works with other community agencies that provide services to your children and their families, and be prepared to ask intelligent questions of our guest speakers.

March 18. Guest speakers, Wanda Speed-Franklin and Cathy Pinkham from the Needham Public School s will speak about their district wide efforts to collaborate with other agencies in the community to provide improved services for their children and their families. Discussion of ideas generated by the readings and the presentation. We may have a tv film of community spokesperson offering a negative critique of schools, and will explore ways to respond to these attacks. Assignment for April :15: Read ch 8 & ch 11 in the text. Interview the district's public relations person, or if there is none, interview the person responsible for dealing with the media. Find out what procedures are followed, what district guidelines or board policies guide that process; what major problems arise in communication with the media, etc. How would you improve the district's/ school's activities with the media? Perhaps the recent involvement of the media in publicizing the MCAS results provide a good focus for these considerations.

April 15. Presentations by media representatives. Questions and discussion on issues with the media and strategies of improving communications through the media. Assignment for April 29: Evaluate whatever Communications process for emergency or crisis situations are in place. Analyze district to school and school to district communications ; district to school board and school board to district. Interview appropriate people. Using the frameworks of Bolman & Deal, as well as the categories of communication and the "politics of..", identify areas for improvement and suggest specific improvements, focusing especially on improving the culture of communication, and policy issues that may be involved.

April 29. Review of within district communication. Use of Bolman and Deal's four frames to analyze issues and problems; use of the categories and "politics of" to analyze issues, and to make recommendations for improvements. Assignment for May 6: In your final paper, identify an area of communication where there are problems in your workplace. Analyze the source and nature of those problems; propose a plan for improving communications and specific steps you will take in the next six months, including feedback and assessment.

May 6th. Sharing of communication plans. Reflections on major learnings of the course.