The engaged parent is your best salesman. These are the parents who love the school and tell all their friends what a great place it is and actively sell your school.
But how do you engage your parents more deeply? How do you get them to the point where they are singing your praises? One of the key strategies to building an engaged parental base is to improve the richness and quantity of the communication that your school uses with your parents.
In many cases, school leaders think they are over-communicating and parents feel like the school doesn’t communicate enough. How do you bridge that chasm? At the end of the day, it is up to you, as the school, to ensure that your message is being heard. Here are some ways to improve communication and increase parental engagement:
Have you selected the appropriate communication channel(s)?
Getting a share of voice in the social media world may seem like a daunting task. From social media, to texting, to website updates and emails – there are a multitude of ways that you can communicate. You are not going to be able to cover all of these (and you will not do it well if you try). One of the best things that you can do is to set a communication strategy and then communicate it to your parents.
For example, you may send out a simple list of the different channels that you will use to communicate and what that communication would contain. For example:
- We will use text messaging for early closures, transportation issues and other emergencies
- We will email a monthly newsletter from the principal that is also located on the website under the principal’s blog. This will include a discussion of the events that are coming up this month.
- We will have an updated calendar and lunch menu on the website
This might seem basic but telling where parents can go for information is a key step.
Are you making it easy for parents with multiple children to understand the classroom assignments?
There are many different classroom communication tools that teachers use. From Remind to ClassDojo to S’more, to good old-fashioned email newsletters, teachers use many different tools to communicate with parents. This flexibility is great, but as a parent it can be maddening! Ask your teachers what they are using to communicate with parents. You might find that the first grade uses one tool, third grade uses another, and junior high teachers are each using a different one!
Though teachers have their own individual preference, this can be frustrating for a parent with multiple children at your school. By standardizing the tools that teachers use, you can improve parent’s knowledge about what is happening in the classroom and ensure that parents don’t need to learn a new tool every year. You might get some resistance from your teachers if they love a certain tool, but at the end of the day, it is about making it easy for your parents.
Are you telling them about the whole experience?
A parent’s perception about the school is generally limited to the grade that their child is currently in. With summer fast approaching, many parents are wondering what “does the next grade level have in store for my child?” A simple but appreciated communication would be for each teacher / grade to provide a “what to expect next year” message to the upcoming parents. This would provide highlights of what will be covered, some fun things that the kids will be doing and anything special that occurs in that grade. Plus, if you are having challenges with retention, this preview of things to come might help entice a parent to stay. An engaged parent is going to talk up your school, but you want them to be able to speak to more than just a single grade or experience.
Are you personalizing your communication?
Parents want to know about what is happening at their kid’s school, but most importantly, they want to know how their child is doing. For a third of the day, their child is in your care and any small vignette or story about something that their child did or experienced. This can be a small note or quick email, but parents love this and allows for a richer conversation at the dinner table rather than, “What did you learn today?”. One of my clients made it a point to gather positive student stories from her teachers. Then, she would leave a voicemail for the parent saying “Hi. This is Ms. Attencio of Pikes Peak Prep, I wanted to share a story about your son X and a really great thing he did today . . .” What a small but meaningful call to make! It didn’t take her much time, but this went a long way to making each family feel special and not just a number at the school.
Is your communication just transactional or talking about the brand?
It can be very easy to fall into the trap of just giving the dates of upcoming events. Things like the lunch menu or when the permission form for a field trip are important, but they don’t help to develop the connection that you want to develop with your parents. Help parents to understand the character lessons you are teaching. Explain to them why you chose Singapore math and why that is the best approach. Talk about the philosophy behind your education. Engaging with parents on a deeper level will make them feel more confident in your school and better able to explain it when a friend asks about sending their child to your school.
Are you giving them some value add?
Finally, are you a resource for your parents? As educators, you have a deeper and broader understanding of some of the resources out there for kids. Share some of this knowledge! Have each teacher put together a list of favorite authors for their grade level. Have the technology teacher write a quick guide to parents on how to secure your computer so kids can’t watch things they shouldn’t. Maybe the Athletic Director can talk about the benefits of dual sports. You and your staff have a ton of knowledge that most parents would love to hear about, but most parents won’t ask. The bonus on this – is once this is created, it is great material for social media and or your website.
Communication is only one piece of creating engaged parents. But improving your parental communication is the critical first step into deepening that relationship.