Student-staff communication re-examined

Andreea Sabau, Executive News Editor

Rain on the day of a tennis match is a bad omen for senior Allison Miller, interrupting her process of mental preparation for the game. However, the lines of communication set up between her and her coach through text messaging and GroupMe allow her to instantly know whether a match is on or off, alleviating stress and anxiety.

“[Digital] communication with teachers is so key, even with classroom teachers,” said Miller. “The problems that would arise if we couldn’t communicate with our teachers would be really challenging.”

Starting this year, athletic coaches have been advised to emphasize email over text messaging as the primary means of communication with team members, according to John Catalano, assistant principal of athletics. Group messaging applications like Remind or GroupMe can still be used to inform about last-minute changes to practice or bus times, but Catalano has recommended that coaches use those applications to direct team members to check their student emails for less-urgent team updates.

According to Michael Tarjan, assistant principal of student activities, there has not been a recent shift in communication guidelines for clubs and non-athletic organizations. He has continued to encourage Google Classroom as the preferred means of communication between students and club sponsors, although GroupMe, Remind and text messaging can also be acceptable methods of communication.

Ed Solis, associate principal of curriculum and instruction, said one-on-one communication between students and academic teachers should be limited to school-sanctioned email accounts or face-to-face contact. In these interactions, students and teachers should consider the timing, tone and subject matter of communications to ensure appropriate etiquette.

Carolyn Riehl, associate professor of education policy and sociology at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in a phone interview that she does not believe students and teachers should communicate over personal devices beyond school email accounts due to the potential lack of accountability on private channels such as social media. Although teachers should know their students well, these relationships can have fuzzy boundaries, and she does not believe they should be formed over digital methods of communication.

“If you have a sense that you don’t want anyone else knowing what you and the student are talking about, you’ve probably crossed the line,” Riehl said.

Tom Rosenbaum, head girls lacrosse coach, said he mainly uses his school email to communicate with the lacrosse team. Although he occasionally uses group messaging applications like Remind for emergencies, he believes limiting student-coach communication to email would not negatively impact the lacrosse team. For example, if a student texts him about an injury, he will reply through email instead, directing the student to use email in the future.

According to Tarjan, an issue with limiting student-teacher communication to mainly email is, in his experience, many students do not check their email frequently. If SA Board members text him on a weekend, he holds himself to a standard of professionalism that he encourages all club sponsors to adhere to.

“I have to decide if I’m going to respond,” said Tarjan. “Let’s say it’s 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and they’re meeting off-site somewhere working on an assembly script and they have questions. … I have to decide, ‘Do I want to engage in that conversation via text message right now?’ and, ‘If I do, can I give it 100 percent of my concentration?’ And I think where misjudgments or mistakes are made are when people can’t give [the conversation] the concentration it needs. … [If] I can’t give you my concentration, I’m not going to respond.”

Catalano said although a shift toward email may feel slightly inconvenient at first, especially for students, he believes that athletic teams will easily adapt after an adjustment period.

Tarjan said he believes a core responsibility of educators is to teach students about the appropriate ways to communicate with adults in order to adequately prepare students for the world outside high school.

“The world does not operate on text messaging,” said Tarjan. “It doesn’t. Will I get text messages from my boss sometimes? Absolutely, if there’s some sort of emergency. … But for the most part, it’s emails. And [we all] need to know how to respond to emails.

“Text messages aren’t going to rule the business world.”