How many times has your school sent flyers filled with important information for parents not made its way home? Or you got no responses to surveys or questionnaires sent home?
SOME PARENTS JUST NEVER GET THEM.
Most of us understand how to send text messages, send emails, make telephone calls and send handwritten notes addressed to parents about their child’s learning performance at school. But, is this the extent of our parent communication strategies for well-informed 21st Century schools? Are we reaching all or most parents at home?
Students are diversely represented and families are diversely structured. The primary caregivers in schools today are a range of ages and cultural backgrounds. Today’s parents are Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers.
Within each of these groups, there is a preferred communication vehicle. Many parents get their information from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, just to name a few. Social media reigns among the best forums by which schools should be communicating with parents at home. Are our schools effectively using these various forums to disseminate important school-related information to parents?
Millennials are 3x more likely to turn to Snapchat for information. The types of messages we send each have parent preferences associated with them-crisis, general information and child-specific news and updates. For example, when communicating crisis information, parents prefer the automated phone messages and text messages. In these ways, we are pushing information into a parent’s hands.
For general information, email updates, auto-phone messages, and Facebook/mobile apps work. Regarding teacher-parent communication, preferences are personal emails and text messages. 64% of parents prefer text messages to telephone communication.
To effectively inform and engage parents in school-related activities, events and their child’s education, schools must not only understand, but keep up with the trends in communication. Certain parents have preferred modes of communicating with their child’s school- that they find most comfortable. Younger parents are most comfortable with social media and mobile apps.
How many schools or school districts have a mobile app to put information into the hands of parents? Most schools and districts have websites, but engaging parents most effectively suggests that there be dedicated mobile apps, as well. Parents wear smartwatches today. No longer is a laptop the most used device for on the go information exchange.
Up to the minute, real time information means we should be completely mobile.When a parent wants information about school discipline guidelines and codes of conduct, they do not wish to, or have time to visit the school itself or surf the web for that content. They want to have an app to provide the information they seek, without having to navigate or perform a Google search. Schools need all of their information available to parents in one place.
Baby boomers tend to be unfamiliar with much of the social media forums, and consider themselves ‘beginners’, although most have smartphones. To most effectively reach them, text messages and telephone, even emails may be their preference. This informs us that school related or child specific communication should be sent through these modes.
Text messages have a certain universality. All parent groups have some familiarity with sending and receiving texts. In order to help older parents learn to navigate the more recent forums, schools will need to coach them accordingly. Nonetheless, they have their preferred method. Schools need to know and use the methods that ensure ALL parents are informed.
Depending on the nature of the school’s message, the type of communication method differs among parents.
Just as differentiated instruction is utilized in the classroom, differentiated communication with parents applies. This highlights the importance of knowing who your students’ parents are. For parents with limited English language proficiency, it’s important to communicate and provide information in their native languages. Children should not be the school’s translator for their parents; they’ve got homework to do.
It is still important that schools, teachers, personalize the information sent to parents. A personal touch is best to give parents a feeling that they matter and their child is not just a name and a number among many. Send personally addressed messages to parents if child specific. General information about emergency school closings, test dates, even lunch menus can be sent with a generic school-wide or district-wide tone.
Engaging parents IS personal and every parent takes the information sent from their child’s school personal. It is imperative that teachers send personalized messages to students’ families.
What schools mustn’t do is contribute to a ‘digital divide’. Avoid disenfranchising parents, particularly those who have been historically disenfranchised. For instance, all homes do not have internet access, although many school districts have online instructional components. The digital divide exists for parents whose go-to mode of information-gathering may be through an app or social media, and the school uses email or automated calling.
Don’t forget that every smartphone[including smart watches] has apps, and information exchange can take place that way, too. If information is not transferred in their preferred forum, then they will be left out of the information-sharing process, and will be less engaged, less informed and less likely to partner with their child’s school.
Understanding the demographics in your community, and understanding their preferred modes of communication means that we must offer multiple avenues through which we connect to parents. The aim is to push information to parents. This way, we may pull them in to sharing their expertise with schools while becoming actively engaged partners, leaders, influencers and collaborators in learning excellence.