Your school’s messaging should be relevant and accessible to your parent population
There’s a myth that sometimes surfaces that parents just don’t care about being engaged in their child’s education. “They don’t read anything” is a phrase sometimes heard among staff…but is this really the problem? As parents and teachers, we know it to be a basic truth that all parents want the best for their children. When it comes to engaging and communicating with parents, not only should your school examine how you send school communication, you should examine whether it’s the right material for your parent audience.
The first step, of course, is to get parents connected. Chances are, the majority of your parents use a smartphone, so finding an electronic platform for sharing school communication is a benefit to parents and schools alike. Many of our partner schools include a table at August registration or at Back to School Night in order to help parents sign up or get connected on the spot. It’s especially helpful to find a communication tool that allows parents to choose their preferred notification methods once they’re connected. If your parents require language translation, have a plan for providing information in any represented languages from the very beginning. If your communication is accessible and equitable, parents are more likely to feel welcome and valued.
Once you have parents connected to your communication platform, consider how you will engage them. Parents are extremely busy, and may not have the time or the ability to come to the school very often. Despite some families not having the capacity to volunteer during the school day or perhaps not quite feeling comfortable in a school setting, they most likely still want to be involved in their child’s education. Their communication should be relevant to their reality. Keep messages short, simple, and specific to their child. Parents want to hear directly from teachers and principals. They may not be able to join a weekly event planning committee, but they may be willing to bring a dish to a weekend carnival or volunteer to run a game at a festival.
Place Bridge Academy, one of our partner schools in Denver, serves a large population of refugee and immigrant students. Many parents work long hours or multiple jobs and may have less time to serve on the school accountability committee, for example. However, every spring the school holds an annual International Night, a celebration of the 50+ countries represented among the student body. The school reaches out to parents in several languages to invite them to participate in the celebration and the potluck. Every year, the event is a phenomenal success, with hundreds of families proudly wearing their native attire and contributing food from their respective countries. This particular form of engagement is successful because it’s culturally relevant, specific and welcoming.
Deciding the best way to meet your population of families where they are will pay off in the long run. Though it may take time, crafting messages that are simple, relevant, and approachable will add to a positive school climate and culture.The more we can track how parents engage electronically, the more we can find areas to further develop a relationship into something more meaningful. Parents who are actively engaged online may be the first to become more actively engaged in person and eventually develop into leaders.