Parents are at the heart of the school community. They are the ones that help with fundraising, refer other people to your school, and at the end of the day, they are the ones who entrust their child's education and growth to your care.
Keeping the parent community happy and informed is a priority for all schools and colleges, so here are some ways that your school can engage and empower your parent community.
Communication is key
No one likes being left in the dark, especially parents. Like any relationship, if there's no communication then it is doomed from the start. Therefore, good communication from both teachers and the school is the number one way to engage your parent community.
The key to forming great relationships with parents, especially via online communication, is making it personal and two-way. People don't want to feel like just another number in a database, and there's nothing worse than receiving generic communication with an initial impression like "Hi Parents". Where possible, address parents by their name, include other personal information and always allow them to respond to emails or comment on social posts.
This kind of personal, open dialogue can make a world of difference for parents, who want to feel seen and heard.
However, you don’t need to type out individual emails to make them personalised; it can be achieved in bulk through systems that support the use of database keywords and tokens, almost like a mail merge but better.
Access to information
In the modern online era where quick access to information and streamlined services are ‘the norm’ we have adapted to expect things instantaneously, meaning the days of parents having to check school notice boards, rely on children to relay information or handle forms and newsletters shoved into the bottom of backpacks are over.
Parents should have quick, easy access to the resources and information when and as they need it. This is why it is a great idea to provide parents with a dedicated online channel or portal where they have the autonomy to access up-to-date notices, events and information.
Already have a Parent Portal? Ensure your parents know how to access it, and continuously encourage them to make the most of it. Also, consider ways you can enhance your portal to suit the needs of busy parents (e.g. self-service tools and automated functions such as fees and payments.)
Cater for complex families
Communicating to the right people is just as (if not more) important than the quality of communication itself. In the case of complex or split family situations ensuring the correct parent/guardian is contacted can be an underlying stress for staff; given that the school's reputation and relationship with the family can be damaged if the wrong person is accidentally contacted or someone is missed.
A student's primary contact is not always mum or dad; sometimes, it could be a grandparent, guardian or multidirectional in the instance of large, blended families. That is why it is crucial to understand exactly who the primary contacts are in complex families and ensure this information is readily available to those who need it.
Finally, many schools are taking strides to support and promote an inclusive school environment for gender diverse students and families. Schools can help cater for their gender diverse community by ensuring people's preferred genders are recorded in the database and that the correct pronouns (he, she, they) are used in communication.
Studies have shown that home-based involvement and certain kinds of parental behaviours (also known as Academic Socialisation) can positively impact academic outcomes. However, sending a report card home with a student once a term does not particularly encourage parents to be academically involved.
Visual analytics, dynamic data, and academic progress trend reports are terrific ways to keep parents in the loop and promote conversation and collaboration at home.
Making this type of information readily available also removes the need for consistent updates from teachers; saving staff time and giving your parents confidence that the school is aware of academic trends and is being transparent with the information.
Adopting a process of continuous reporting where parents have constant insight into assessment, homework, and teacher feedback, is also a great way to increase student accountability and invite parents into the child's academic journey.
Help support parents
Due to the global shift towards online learning, parents need help supporting their child's learning from home now more than ever.
Take the extra step by providing parents with online resources, blogs and videos – transferring your school’s knowledge and experience in teaching and learning, and giving parents the guidance and confidence to support their children at home.
Consider sharing resources on topics such as “Strategies to boost learning conditions” or “Tips to monitor schoolwork at home”.
Get parents involved.
Another great way to engage your parent community is by inviting them to be actively involved in school activities and decision-making.
Including parents in decision-making conversations such as new school policies in particular, can not only allow your school to access and leverage parent's expertise and perspectives, but also ensures that the school's actions and decisions represent the wider school community and is respectful of all members and cultures.
Many parents would also love the chance to actively contribute to the school and will jump at the chance to help out, so make sure you provide parents with opportunities to be involved in the coordination and participation of school-based activities and events (i.e. excursions, fundraising events, open days etc.).
There's no magic trick to keep parents happy; it's all about creating and fostering meaningful relationships between them and your school.
However, the main factor in creating stronger school-family connections should be this; don't make parents hunt for information, show that you care by providing them with everything they need at their fingertips. This will keep them engaged, informed and involved with the school and their child's academic journey.