School administrators interact with a diverse group of parents, each bringing their concerns, perspectives, and ways of engaging. While it's important to avoid overgeneralizing or stereotyping, for practical purposes, we can often spot certain "types" of parents based on their behavior, the emails they send, and their interaction style (or lack thereof.)
As a parent and a former school communicator, I've been on both sides — communicating with families and balancing parent involvement can be tricky (#boundries). Still, the best method for communicating with parents is to approach each parent or guardian as an individual. Create a space for your school relationships based on mutual respect and shared goals.
Remember: How your school communicates with parents is just as important as when and why.
Here are five "types" of parents that many encounter and the communication tools for schools to turn any messaging challenge into an opportunity.
The Engaged Parent
How to Spot Them: They're actively involved in their child's education, frequently volunteer, attend school events and meetings, and are always in touch with teachers and staff. They're the ones who are likely checking folders, asking their kids about homework, and always eager for news.
The Challenge: They might sometimes have high expectations and can be demanding of your school's staff, seeking regular updates and feedback.
The Opportunity: Their involvement and support can be a valuable resource, so engage them directly and provide consistent updates.
Engaged parents and families love to be in the know about what's happening in school. They want regular updates throughout the school year and are eager to be involved in their child's learning. This is where digital newsletters and parent portals come in handy. The newsletters give them a quick snapshot of school events, activities, and other important news, while a parent portal or parent zone is like a special website just for them.
Think of this like giving engaged parents their school news channel — it's an organized way to inform them about school events, student achievements, and important dates. Parents and students don’t have to search for information — it's all given to them in organized bits, meaning they can stay on top of everything and feel like a real part of the school community.
The Helicopter Parent
How to Spot Them: These parents are overly protective and closely monitor every aspect of their child's life, often intervening and staying a little too involved…
The Challenge: They can sometimes overstep boundaries and make it difficult for schools to do their job. (If you know, you know.)
The Opportunity: Their deep concern for their child's well-being indicates a high level of engagement. Helicopter parents need to stay connected to every aspect of their child's life, and they're always on the lookout for any updates or changes.
- Weekly email updates
- SMS notifications & regular classroom and school newsletters
- Mobile app notifications, voice alerts, or texts for immediate notifications or event reminders
- Parent portals for a detailed view of school updates
Helicopter parents like to keep a close eye on everything related to their child. So, they appreciate getting frequent updates. Weekly emails act like a regular check-in, telling them what’s been happening in school. For urgent updates, voice notifications or SMS text messages are great because they get the message instantly, right on their phone and mobile app.
These tools ensure that they're always informed and can act immediately if they feel the need (and they probably will.) It reduces their anxiety and gives them confidence that they're not missing out on any crucial information.
The Uninvolved Parent
How to Spot Them: These parents show little to no involvement in their child's school life, and they're often hard to reach.
The Challenge: Regardless of their reasons, their lack of engagement can make it difficult for your school to address student needs or issues effectively.
The Opportunity: Re-engage them and ensure they receive essential information with minimal effort. Make it easy for them to sign up for emails and events, too.
- Automated voice calls for important or urgent announcements
- Text reminders for upcoming meetings, deadlines, or reminders.
- Emails for general updates, ensuring they're reminded even if they never visit your school's site.
Some parents, for various reasons, might not be involved in their child's life or student work. However, this doesn't mean they don't care. To boost parents' engagement, you must make things easy and direct. Communications need to be timely and easy to digest, and text reminders and mobile notifications that don't require them to seek out the information.
Automated email workflows are a great idea because if there's no engagement with one communication, reminders can be sent as a "friendly check-in."
The beauty of these tools is that they remove the hassle for uninvolved parents; they’re a nudge, a gentle reminder. Even if these parents aren't always proactive, they're kept in the loop with minimal effort and get the essential info without feeling overwhelmed. The best part is they can stay connected with your school or district without feeling like it's a lot of work.
The Challenger Parent
How to Spot Them: They often question school policies, decisions, or teaching methods. They're not afraid to challenge authority or advocate for what they believe is best for their child.
The Challenge: Constant opposition can sometimes drain resources, time, and energy.
The Opportunity: If addressed effectively and collaboratively, their perspective can lead to constructive feedback and improvements.
- Online surveys and forms emailed directly to gather feedback on various topics.
- Mass notifications (emails, texts) to announce meetings or feedback sessions.
- Parent portal for forums or discussion boards for ongoing conversations and feedback.
Challenger parents have opinions, and they're certainly not shy about questioning things. Offering channels like online forms is an easy way to provide feedback without face-to-face confrontation.
And when there's a school meeting, sending a mass notification ensures they know about it and can participate. Meeting reminders ensure they know how to voice concerns directly — it tells them your school is listening.
When these parents see a structure in place for their feedback, it builds trust. They know they have a place to go with their concerns, and they can see when action is taken based on their input. It turns potential confrontation into collaboration.
The Expert Parent
How to Spot Them: Experts often come with specialized knowledge or expertise, whether from their profession or personal experiences, and offer (sometimes unsolicited) advice or opinions on school matters.
The Challenge: They may feel that their expertise overrides that of educators or your school leaders.
The Opportunity: Their insights can be valuable if channeled correctly, and at the end of the day, that benefits your school and students.
- Personalized email invitations for guest lectures, workshops, or advisory committee meetings.
- Webinars hosted over Zoom or sent as direct links in emails.
- Mobile app or website notifications for announcing relevant events where their expertise might be welcomed.
Expert parents are unique because they bring specialized knowledge to the table. They're looking for platforms where they can share. Inviting them to webinars or roundtable discussions and notifying them directly means your school values their expertise.
When they get a personalized email or a notification on their phone app about these events, they know their expertise is wanted and appreciated.
These methods offer parents a two-fold benefit. Firstly, they get to share their knowledge, which gives them a sense of contribution. Secondly, they receive targeted, valuable content tailored to their interests. It's a win-win when they feel valued and informed.
By selecting the right tools and strategies, your school can ensure that its messages resonate with every type of parent, promoting a collaborative and informed school community. These communication tools are designed to meet the specific needs and preferences of each parent type, and by using the right tool for the right parent, your school can make every parent feel valued and included.
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.