3 Ways to Effectively Communicate Your Student Handbook

Vol. 14 No. 1

academicleadership eletter Vol15 No1 MegaCommunicate

Student handbooks contain all the policies, rules, and regulations that outline expectations for everyone at your school. However, they’re often notoriously dry documents that can be dismissed by folks not paying attention. Sure, you can send home a “contract” stating that the student (and his or her parents) have read the handbook and will abide by the policies, but that’s hardly a guarantee of painstaking attention to every detail.

So for our September 2016 issue of The Source for Academic Leadership, let’s take a moment or two to discuss your school’s plan for policy dissemination to your students.

1. Keep the “legalese” to the full-length handbook.

Handbooks are designed to cover every eventuality and establish the procedures for just about every imaginable situation. Consequently, schools can have multiple handbooks: a parents’ handbook, one outlining faculty and administrative policies, and one for students. Or, they could have just one handbook that covers every policy in the school.

Expecting students to read (and understand) comprehensive documents that are (in part) written to help protect the school in potentially litigious situations can become burdensome.

Therefore, consider creating a more plain-spoken document that covers the most common situations students may encounter. Give this document to students in addition to the “full length” handbook that contains all the required details. Doing this will help students be aware of the most important parts of the school’s policy and better absorb this information.

2. Emphasize only the most important policies.

Part of keeping your handbook digestible for students is not only simplifying the language, but also parsing your policies to its most need-to-know components for that plain-spoken document we talked about earlier.

If everything is listed, then nothing is emphasized. Following this logic, your abbreviated list of need-to-know rules could be summarized through organizing groups of related policies under certain parts of your school’s mission or code of conduct. (For example, if part of your school’s mission discusses nurturing honor in its students, group rules related to academic integrity and bullying underneath that header.)

To keep things short and sweet, avoid listing the punishments for every infraction in the shorter, plain-spoken document. Emphasize what students should do to be part of the constructive, positive school community—not on how they could possibly be “in trouble.”

3. Tell your policies in pictures.

And by "pictures," we don’t (necessarily) mean in comic form or picture books.

Graphic representations of written codes are quick, easily absorbed reminders of the policies the students must remember throughout the year. They could be something as simple as logos, symbols, or other basic images placed in strategic locations around the school halls and classrooms that remind students of the policies. You could decorate a bulletin board in a major public area with thoughts and images related to a policy, rotating it out on a biweekly or monthly basis.

If you feeling like stretching your creative muscles, infographics could be a neat way in which to communicate policies—and would enable periodic reminders to the whole school community through online social media sharing. You could also recruit some students and teachers to film a video on a phone camera for showing online, or as an introduction to an in-person presentation.

How will your school deliver its policies to the student community this fall? Let us know what your plans are in the comment section below!

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 8 No. 6 Your Summer Homework: Guidelines to Creating a Great Employee Handbook
The Source for Private School News
Vol. 9 No. 7 Employee Handbook Fixes You Can Make in a Jiffy (and Those That You Shouldn't)

Additional ISM resources for Gold members:
I&P Vol. 34 No. 14 School Head and Board Roles in Shaping an Effective Employee Handbook
I&P Vol. 32 No. 6 Review Your Employee Handbook: Protect Your School and Promote Your Culture

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