Beyond the Newsletter: Parent Engagement Strategies for Administrators
When you picture your ideal school community, it's probably one in which all the players are active participants in making sure students get the best education possible. You'll have bright-eyed children with shining faces, of course, as well as smart, caring teachers who always go the extra mile. As an administrator, you see these groups every day and already have a sense of who they are and what they need.
But what about parents?
Though the parents of younger students are often in and out of the building at drop-off and pick-up time, your contact is likely to be limited to rush hour on most days. For parents who work during the school day, it's even harder to get the face time that allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of these important community members.
Parents may be flying under the radar of your awareness during busy school days, but it's absolutely critical to keep them up to date on school happenings and encourage their engagement in the school community. Fortunately, modern technology provides plenty of ways to do this.
What the Research Shows About Parent Engagement Strategies
It makes intuitive sense that students with involved parents do better in school, and the research backs this up. When schools reach out to parents and parents are committed to helping students learn, studies have found that attendance, grades and test scores all go up. In some cases, health outcomes are better as well, as parent engagement is associated with lower levels of teen pregnancy and substance abuse.
Unfortunately, not all parents are closely connected to their children's schools. There are plenty of barriers to engagement, including language and cultural differences, attitudes about schools and the availability of transportation. Your mileage may vary on these issues, of course, but the number one barrier to parent engagement affects everyone: time. A full 87 percent of schools perceived this to be a serious problem that keeps parents from becoming more fully involved in their child's education.
4 Ways to Achieve Effective Parent Communication
To tackle the time pressures, the first rule of parent engagement is to make communication as seamless as possible. Try these ideas to provide regular updates while meeting parents where they are:
Instant Messaging: Almost everyone texts, so be sure that parents sign up for mobile notifications for important system-wide messages. This will be crucial for emergencies, snow days and other big news. Your LMS should accommodate mass updates and in-platform messages, so this is an easy first step.
Automated Emails: Your LMS can also help keep parents notified about administrative details like overdue library books and missed homework assignments. Automating this kind of information makes it easy for parents to stay in the loop and keeps kids from falling through even the smallest cracks.
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all hugely popular, and they offer a more lighthearted way to keep parents apprised of classroom and school-wide activity. Photos are particularly powerful ways to show active learning, so make it a goal to update your account daily or weekly (just be sure to keep an eye on the privacy settings, too).
Robo Calls: A well-timed automated call can actually be a time-saver for commuters. One Massachusetts principal records a message highlighting important news and student successes for the week. The friendly call goes out on Friday afternoon during rush hour, when many parents can simply listen to it in the car while stuck in traffic. (He sends a written copy via email as well.)
Popular Types of Communication
This week, we asked our Twitter Community what their favorite way to communicate was in a poll. We received 238 votes! It was clear what the most popular communication type was, but the remaining three were all fairly close.
Here’s what they thought:
Why do you think face to face communication is still the most popular way to communicate?
Increasing Personal Contact Between School and Parents
Once you have a solid messaging system in place for both your must-have and nice-to-have communications, it's time to work on strengthening the school-parent connection and increase personal contact.
Ask Parents What They Want and Need: You can't eliminate barriers to engagement until you understand what they are. Survey your community about best times and methods to communicate, preferred volunteer opportunities, and what they need help with. As you peruse the results, look for patterns to guide your adjustments to include everyone—not just the group that is comfortable with the status quo.
Add Family Programming: In districts with high poverty levels, turning the school into a community center can support families and bring more parents into the school for positive experiences. Look for opportunities to host public health clinics, educational workshops, art installations, and any other program that appeals to the tastes and needs of your community to get people in the door.
Host Interest Groups: Just like instructors, parents need opportunities to talk to each other, share ideas and collaborate on carpools and other projects. Traditionally, only parents who had time to meet each other during school hours could reap the soft benefits of volunteering, but you can help build a more inclusive community by providing space for parent interest groups to come together. You may keep the library open into the evening for parent meetings about the school play, or you might set up group chat rooms via your LMS so that parents can communicate about a topic on their own time.
Keep the Doors Open: The more opportunities parents have to see their children's work, the better. Be sure to publish a calendar of events that include open houses, coffee talks and your personal office hours so parents know when they can drop in. Be sure that listening is on the agenda by offering parents opportunities to express their views and opinions throughout the year.
Not every one of the parent engagement strategies is right for every school. To find what works for your community, you'll have to do some research into parents' needs and test several options to figure out how to reach more people. This may take time, but the effects on student success are well worth it.
What parent engagement strategies are you using? Let us know on Twitter @Schoology