Ask any public school district about what makes their community so special, and their answer is: the families.
Ask any parent what their biggest gripe with their district is: it’s the school-home communications. Awkward…
Whether you realize it or not, so much of a relationship relies on effective communication and your district’s ability to create a space for communicating with parents in ways that resonate.
Many parents want to be active participants in their children's education, and by emphasizing clear, timely, and tailored communications, your district can create an environment of trust, understanding, and collaboration — a better relationship.
That means meeting parents on their own terms and using their preferred methods of communication is crucial. By being receptive to parents' preferences and using your schools’ communication tools more effectively, your district can strengthen its relationships with parents in a more meaningful, comprehensive, and engaging way.
1. Using Parents' Preferred Communication Channels: Tailoring to Individual Needs
Not all parents have the same preferences. Differences in age, demographics, and lifestyle can heavily influence how parents prefer to be reached.
For general information, over two-thirds of parents across all four generations say these are the most effective ways to disseminate general information messages to them:
- Email: 82%
- Online newsletter: 79%
- Social media post: 79%
- School website update: 77%
- Mobile app post: 68%
If you're wondering how to get parents involved in schools, your districts must reach parents where they are, and understanding and adapting to parents' communication preferences can significantly enhance relationships with families.
These days, there are multiple channels to consider:
1. Parent Portals: The Digital Bridge Between Home & School
Parent portals are powerful communication tools for schools. The beauty of parent portals lies in their ability to provide personalized content and the latest school updates, ensuring parents are engaged with information that truly matters to them.
- Relevant School Updates: Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, portals can ensure that parents receive only the news and events that pertain to their child's grade division. For instance, parents of lower school students won't be inundated with updates about the varsity sports team scores. On the other hand, parents of high schoolers won't be notified about the latest lower school lunch changes.
- Direct Communication Channels: Portals allow parents and schools to communicate announcements relevant to their child's grade, and that avoids confusion and ensures more streamlined communication.
2. Mobile Apps: Keeping School Updates at Parents’ Fingertips
As compared to a class portal, research shows more than a third (39 percent) of Millennial parents prefer a mobile app, and since nearly 85% of American adults use smartphones, mobile apps are great for districts to improve parent communications and meet parents where they're most active.
- Push Notifications: No more missing out on crucial information — parents are always in the loop. Instant alerts ensure parents remain informed about school updates or emergencies.
- Synced Calendars: Parents lead busy lives, and integrated event calendars allow parents to seamlessly merge school events with their schedules.
- Staff Directory: An in-app directory enables swift and easy communication with teachers or staff.
3. Text Message Alerts: Instant Alerts for Busy Parents
For time-sensitive information, text message alerts are the perfect tool for communicating with parents. Not everyone reads an email or listens to a voice message, but text messages get read.
- Event Reminders: Whether it's a parent-teacher meeting or a school trip, timely text reminders can prevent last-minute chaos.
- Emergency Notifications: Crucial updates are delivered promptly, keeping your parents in the loop during urgent situations.
4. Email: The Cornerstone of Mass Notifications
Email has also stood out as one of the best communication tools for schools. As a trusted and established method for mass notifications, email's reach and familiarity make it a "must" for building relationships with parents and families in schools.
- Popularity: Nearly everyone has an email address.
- Detailed Communication: While text messaging is fantastic for brief alerts, email allows for deeper communication. Schools can send branded newsletters, event details, academic updates, and more, all with images, links, and attachments. Plus, they’re perfect for sending information parents might need to reference later, such as event dates, permission slips, or school updates.
- Engagement Metrics: One of the advantages of modern email platforms is the ability to gauge engagement. Schools can track open rates, click-through rates, and more, giving you valuable feedback on the effectiveness of your communication.
5. Automated Voice Calls: The Direct Line to Parents
Automated phone calls have become a popular tool in mass notifications for schools. While emails might be ideal for conveying detailed information or reminders, voice calls capture immediate attention, making them particularly effective in engaging parents and families about time-sensitive communications.
- Immediate Impact: The sound of a ringing phone is hard to ignore. Automated voice calls ensure that important messages reach parents promptly, especially when every second counts.
- Personal Touch: Even though the calls are automated, hearing a human voice (even prerecorded) adds a personal touch. They can be comforting, especially in situations that might cause concern, such as emergency notifications.
- Multilingual Capabilities: Automated voice calls through Messages XR offer multilingual support. This is great for diverse communities, ensuring that all parents, no matter their background, can understand the message.
3. Email Newsletters: Regular Insights into School Life
As one of the most traditional — but practical — school-to-home communications tools, email newsletters offer comprehensive updates. True, newsletters share important updates and reminders, but don’t forget to include good news, like student and teacher accomplishments, highlights from the classroom, and critical moments throughout the year.
- District News and Events: Regular insights into what's happening across the district keep parents engaged and informed.
- Student Achievements: Showcasing student successes strengthens your community's bond.
- Educational Resources: Sharing articles or resources empowers parents to participate in their child's learning.
4. Translation for Schools: Embracing Diversity
School communicators must be inclusive. Diversity is your strength; your district and school communications should reflect that.
- Translated Mass Communications: Providing updates in various languages ensures every parent, regardless of their primary language, remains informed and can participate in their child’s education.
- Translated Webpages: By providing essential translation across your website, your district will welcome a wider audience and engage even more families.
5. Setting Expectations Early: Clear Communication from Day 1
Your schools should inform parents about the communication tools in place, ensuring transparency and clarity in all interactions. Establish a positive relationship at the start of the school year to build rapport for those hard talks later in the year.
- Set expectations for communications: Let parents know when, how, and why they’ll receive communications from school. Clarity is important, whether it's the frequency of newsletters or the features of a new app, so establish a schedule for how frequently messages will be sent. Explaining your intentions and expectations upfront can eliminate confusion later.
- Send positive updates. Once you nail down a successful strategy with your teachers and parents, open up the opportunity for two-way conversations with coaches, room parents, assistants, and aids. Even if they are about small achievements, parents may feel more comfortable contacting teachers and your school later on if there's been a positive foundation already set.
6. Feedback: A Two-Way Street
Soliciting feedback underscores your district's commitment to continuous improvement. Whether via a quarterly survey or an open feedback form on your website, by simply asking parents about a recent event, a communication tool's effectiveness, or general observations, your parents’ insights are important for improving. Listen to the feedback, and your district can tailor its strategies.
The strength of the school-parent relationship hinges on the quality and effectiveness of your communications. By using a mix of communication tools and strategies and being receptive to feedback, your school district can strengthen its bond with parents and improve the experience for students.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.