Communication + Confidentiality: Web-based Tools

It’s been a  busy week here at Diving for Pearls…and such great fun meeting so many new friends who have stopped by! I’m so glad you were here.There’s still time to enter this week’s contest. Entries are due by 6 pm EST. I’ll announce our winner this evening…along with Five Facts for Friday.

As we wrap up this series, I want to share a few web-based tools that other ministry leaders use with their teams. Please have a look at these and see what might be of use to you and your team.

  • Ning     Mike Woods, Director of Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando uses Ning with his ministry volunteers. He says, “It’s a social networking site that for our ministry page is an invite only. We can talk, share information, post training videos and keep it only to members who are invited.”
  • Google+  Another way to create online group communication
  • Facebook  Facebook has an option for “closed” groups; this application might be helpful for GENERAL communication between parents, volunteers and Sunday School staff (e.g. posting Bible memory verses, links to curriculum activities or videos, outlines of plans, upcoming events.)
  • FreeConferenceCall   Another recommendation from Mike Woods: “We’ve been able to have volunteer or Buddy meetings from the convenience of everyone’s home.”
  • Yammer  Laura Haas who works in Children’s and Inclusion Ministry at Faith Family Church in Canton, OH recommended this resource (and, along with Mike Woods, helped with this series!)
  • Wiggio   Our friend and colleague Sara Moses suggested this tool; she used it for several groups, including an inclusion ministry.
  • LiveBinders  Recommended by Michelle Thomas-Bush, Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. This site allows you to upload documents, power points, links, forms and other information to share with your team.
  • Google Docs  Another method of sharing information, including training materials, spread sheets, presentations, even brainstorming lists. Google also has a calendar feature that team members can access and edit.

Remember, you can use these tools for a variety of different reasons; one web-based tool need not fit all of your needs. As you peruse these sites, keep in mind that the privacy is paramount. In your ministry, you’ll be privy to sensitive information about children and their families. As such, you cannot rely not only on the privacy capabilities of social media sites…your volunteer and staff training MUST include in-depth discussions about handling information with care. (including a rule that forbids volunteers from sharing ministry site passwords with friends, family or colleagues who are not directly involved in the ministry.) Privacy settings are only as sensitive as the people who are using them.

This post is NOT an endorsement of any site or product…please use the information as a springboard for research and discussion.   Find what works in your church’s unique culture (and what doesn’t work!)…and then tell me about it! I’d love to hear what you’re learning.

One final note…God created people long before computers ever appeared on the scene. People first. There isn’t a high-speed connection anywhere that can ever replace human relationships…and while technology, used well and wisely, can enhance communication, it won’t ever replace community.

Stay tuned: Contest winner announced tonight, along with Five Facts for Friday!

Communication and Confidentiality: Building Trust

Before we dive into our next topic, here is a little news: Our communication contest has been extended until FRIDAY, January 27 at 6 pm EST. I spoke with a ministry leader yesterday who would like her volunteers to take a crack at this, so we’re giving them a little extra time…which means YOU have some extra time, too! I’ve gotten some great entries, and look forward to reading YOURS as well…email me!

During the past week, we’ve discussed ways to communicate positively and effectively about children with special needs. Whether we are sending emails, having a Skype conversation, or talking face-to-face, our communication needs to be above reproach; every single child about whom we’re talking is treasured by a parent. (just like God treasures us!)

Every child is unique…and so is every parent. Thus, parents’ communication styles and expectations may vary widely. Some parents might come to you with more information than you think you need. Others will drop off their child without a word…just a weary look of relief. A few might even show up on Sunday morning and, with palpable frustration, say, “Here. You deal with him for a while.”

Research about parent-teacher relationships tells that shared expectations leads to more positive, collaborative problem-solving (and higher rates of learning for children!) That’s why it’s important for us to communicate clearly about our plans for kids’ programming, rules for behavior and also our own need for information. One way to do this is by providing a covenant like this one, which clearly lists the rights and responsibilities of everyone (including the child!)

Inclusion Ministry Covenant

And now…a little problem solving! Last week, I received an email from a colleague with this question:

In the past, a parent was upset that we had talked about her child in a Buddy meeting without her present. We thus changed our meeting agendas to be general topics like how to calm an upset child rather than how to calm “James”. We do communicate with parents about any concerns after service. Would you as a parent be upset that this group exists and you are not part of it?

My answer:

It’s hard for parents sometimes when they feel like people are “talking behind their back…” even though your purpose is NOT gossip, but rather, good, solid problem-solving. I think that you can be honest with all parents and say that you, as a ministry team, have regularly scheduled meetings during which you plan, pray and problem-solve. Including parents in these meetings isn’t necessarily appropriate, as you’ll be discussing LOTS of kids’ needs. If a parent expresses that he/she would like to be included, by all means, find a way to include the parent…through email, a separate meeting, a phone call, etc. Also, reflect on the parents’ feelings, if possible: “I can tell from what you are saying that it’s uncomfortable to have people planning for your child when you aren’t involved.” See if this helps the parent to express her feelings about this, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship –and trust–with her.

Would I be upset if the group existed and I wasn’t part of it? Hmmm…I think the upset would come from finding out the group existed and I didn’t know about it. This happened to me once…a group was talking about my kid and I had NO idea she was being observed. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call that someone was going to “take Annie out of the class and work 1:1 with her because she needs help.” That was VERY hard…because everything had been going so well, and I had no idea she needed help. As it turned out, the call was made from a new, overly exuberant volunteer…in fact, my child DIDN’T need extra help at all. However, it took a while for me to re-build my trust with the ministry team.

After receiving my email response, my colleague sent a note back to me and summed up this week’s theme beautifully:

Good communication builds trust.

Stay tuned…Tomorrow: A few online sites to facilitate communication + Five Facts for Friday.

Communication and Confidentiality: Say THIS, not THAT (+ win a prize!!)

I love those segments on the “Today” show featuring David Zinczenko, author of Eat This, Not That.  It’s fascinating to me that a few changes in a meal can transform it from gluttonous to good-for-you. It seems that the main idea (based on good, common sense) is to focus on what is nutritious and necessary to the body, and leaving out the excess ingredients that promote disease. By doing this, you end up with a healthy body and a good taste in your mouth.

What a good word-picture for communication about children and families…

When working with kids and families who have special needs, we must choose our words carefully. We want to include accurate descriptions of behavior that inform, rather than judge. Our communication with parents is a time to build up relationships and offer solutions.

A few guidelines:

  • Report what you SEE and HEAR, not how you FEEL
  • Don’t editorialize; leave your opinions out.
  • Focus on working together and finding a solution
  • Pray before you speak. Ask God to guide your words
  • Remember that parents of kids with special needs are all-too accustomed to hearing negative reports about their children. And it hurts. Try to focus on a positive aspect of the student’s character.

SO…let’s play “Say THIS, not THAT..”

Instead of this…

We were playing a Simon Says game after our Bible story today. Eric didn’t get the first turn to be “Simon” and he just started having a big old fit. He had big crocodile tears running down his face and then he started being a really bad sport about the whole game. It just ruined it for everyone else, so we took him out in the hall. He really needs to learn to take turns…he’s old enough to know how to play a game!


Our class played a game of Simon Says after the Bible story. Another student was chosen to be the first leader. Eric appeared frustrated and started to cry. During the game, he began to yell while the other students were playing. After three minutes, his buddy took him into the hallway. He calmed down after two minutes, and chose to draw a picture instead of playing. I can’t wait to see him again next week; he adds so much to our class’s community!”

Can you see the difference? Same “ingredients” but a much healthier description.

Here’s another example:

Instead of THIS…

Jillian showed up for tonight’s youth event in a foul mood. During our break-out session, she kept sassing me as I led the discussion. Every time one of the other girls made a comment, she totally trashed what they said. I had to make her leave the group. We really like Jillian, but she can’t keep ruining the discussions for everyone else.”


“When Jillian arrived at youth group, I noticed the expression on her face immediately; it appeared that she had been crying, and her brows were furrowed. During our discussion, she rolled her eyes when other girls made comments, and she also used phrases like “Yeah…I see how you treat people in real life…” or “Seriously?” four times. When I asked her to please be quiet, she said that she doesn’t like following our rules and she doesn’t like church. I asked that she take a walk with one of our other volunteers, which she did. I wonder how we can work together to help Jillian feel more comfortable in our group; she has a tremendous sense of fairness, and that is something some of the other girls need very much.”

The emphasis is on working together, and using the student’s strengths for the Body.

Okay…now YOU give it a try…and win a fabulous prize!

Here’s how to play:

  1. Read the “Instead of THIS” quote below
  2. Create your own “Say THIS” revision
  3. Email it to me at by THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 at 6 pm EST

I will review all entries…those that meet the criteria for Body-building communication will be entered in a drawing…and the winner will receive a $10 gift card to Panera or Starbuck’s (winner’s choice!)

SO…instead of THIS…

” Robert showed up at our respite event in a really bratty mood. He totally didn’t want to be here, and he was using the nastiest language I’ve ever heard…right in the church building! He got away from his buddy and ran around trying to make everybody really mad. Then he went in the games room and knocked over everyone’s board games just to make them mad. We just can’t have that kind of behavior here…he knows better than to do that! My volunteers are completely frustrated.”

Okay…give me your “Say THIS…” entries!

Looking for words that build a healthy Body…

Stay tuned: Confidentiality and Communication that honors parents of kids with special needs.