One only needs to pop the words “communicate”, “parents,” and “school” into a search engine to see the barrage of information and expert advice on the topic. Clearly, the one thing that cannot be disputed is that parents want more engagement with their child’s school. An array of research supports the notion that increased involvement from a child’s family can positively affect achievement, improvement, and overall experience at school.
So in theory, this should also be something that schools want as well. And in doing so, schools must ask themselves how do parents want to be involved and what do they want to know? Perhaps most significantly, how can schools deliver in a way that they are not required to hire another FTE or redirect other resources to manage this project?
We all know technology has a rising role in our day to day activities, particularly when it comes to communication. Schools are no different. Hobsons APAC’s recent research reveals that 89% of parents want to engage digitally with their child’s school. The majority in favor of e-communication also reflects the desire to have information accessible whenever we want it, and as current as possible!
We acknowledge communication should be facilitated via the internet, but the options are still vast. In many cases, the communication channel needs to reflect the message – for example, an urgent message about a school emergency is most effective with an en-masse text message, followed up with an email broadcast in order to reach as many parents and caretakers as possible.
For more ‘business as usual’ communications, parents have shown a number of preferences with a parent portal becoming increasingly popular (Hobsons APAC research, Jan 2014). This feature, employed by more and more schools, facilitates the building of a community around a child’s education with three-way communication between teachers, parents, and students. Often viewed as a ‘student dashboard,' portals can include an array of information ranging from Noticeboard features about sporting fixtures, to academic reports, and real-time class and assessment progress and insight. Encouraging open dialogue between student and parents can be a challenge that only gets harder as the student grows older. Parent portals can really help to overcome this.
Emails, e-newsletter and school websites (with up to date information!) were all also cited as preferred means of communication from school to parent and vice versa. Whilst the days of school paper notes sent home may not be completely behind us, we have certainly come a long way from an excursion note with 3-day old squishy banana all over it (sorry Mum!)… not to mention ‘lost’ mid-term reports… oops!
The most popular response here from our research, which may not come as a surprise, is the need for regular updates on progress and insight into areas of improvement. Also, right up there, was timely notice for any deviation from normal performance and results. All of these aspects require continuous and on-going communication between schools and parents, and would not be appropriately addressed in traditional semester reports or bi-annual parent teacher interviews. The ability to engage the parent in their child’s education encourages a partnership between the teacher and parent, allowing them to work together to ensure the child remains the focus, and the outcome is a positive education experience – whatever that means to each unique case!
Also of interest to parents is information on curriculum and content being taught during the semester; homework and grading policies; behaviour insights for younger students; and the best way to communicate with teachers for older students. What I notice here is that most of this content (with exception to some policies) is unsuitable to be disseminated through a traditional newsletter or to be hosted on a school website.
So a nice segue into…
So how can schools deliver a communication plan that is timely and reliable? We all know how much is expected of teachers, executives, and administrators already. We know many schools are effectively communicating with parents through email, text message, or by phone already. The trouble here is efficiency. Teachers need more time to teach, period. Whilst in a perfect world all lesson plans would be done weeks, if not months in advance, the fact of the matter is that learning and teaching is dynamic and often needs readjusting throughout the learning cycle. This alone (for a moment ignore all of the other administration) puts immense pressure on teachers before they even think about sharing progress or insight with parents in real time. Often ‘emailing Simon’s mother’ becomes a thought stuck in Period 3 of last Monday and never actually makes it into existence. This is where current academic management technology can really come into its own, adding value to the relationship-building efforts by instantaneously connecting a teacher’s observations with parents.
A strong academic management system, focused on learning and student outcomes, allows a teacher to make notes on a student against their secure, central record in real-time in order to:
- follow up later
- communicate immediately with parents, care-takers, and even students themselves
- post academic results with conditionally released grades dependent on student reflection (enter Prof. Hattie’s research here)
- and generally allow parents a window into what is going on at school with information broadcast specific to their family (sense a student-centric theme here?).
Parents are then able to easily connect to their child’s progress and achievements, as well as engage in the wider school community in their own time, becoming a valuable partner with teachers and an influential stakeholder in their child’s education.
School websites are also crucial in engaging prospective parents… however this is a whole other ball game (and blog post). The two used cohesively together – academic management systems and school websites – can be a comprehensive communication tool for all members of the school community, from prospective parents to concerned caretakers.
Certainly worth mentioning here is that nothing will replace the personalised phone call or the in-depth parent teacher interview. However, Hobsons’ research supports that complementing these efforts with continuous and reliable communication will foster the partnership between school and family that helps to ensure a more engaged student, a happier school experience, and improved student outcomes – a win for everyone!