Parent Communications

How to Keep Today’s Mobile Parents Connected to Schools

Pritchardville Elementary has built parent engagement on three pillars: consistency, frequency and accessibility.

Family engagement is at the heart of education. When families are engaged, they are not only better able to support their student’s work in the class, but in a better position to extend that learning into the evenings and weekends at home.

Like the rest of us, though, parents are busy people, and even those who are most invested in their child’s education might fall out of the loop if schools don’t take steps to make communication clear and easy. At Pritchardville Elementary, we’ve found that the keys to successful communication and an engaged community are consistency, accessibility and frequency.

Creating Consistency with Tools and Tactics

Communication in our district used to be very inconsistent. Our district uses a school messaging service, so I would send out weekly schoolwide blurbs through that. If something needed to go out to an entire grade level or more, I would send that out for them as well.

Teachers were using whatever they were comfortable with. Some would create email newsletters; others used group chats to communicate with parents; and some others were creating Facebook groups for each class. The frequency, the type, even the medium of communication all really depended upon the individual teacher.

These days, we have a single communication tool, Bloomz, that our teachers utilize school-wide. We don’t need to worry about whether or not a teacher is diligent about checking family emails or how we’ll communicate with family members who aren’t on a certain social network anymore.

We give parents a classroom code and explain how to get enrolled in a class, and they can get up and running immediately. Some teachers might give kids an extra 15 minutes of recess if, say, 75 percent of their parents enroll right away, but usually the enrollment percentage is even higher than that because everyone has a smartphone on them these days. Not only is the process streamlined, but now it’s the same from classroom to classroom and across grades, so parents just have to turn to one app for all their child’s classes — and it follows them from year to year.

It’s also consistent within the class. Homework assignments, calendars and announcements are all hosted on the same app. Sign-up sheets or permission slips for field trips, volunteer opportunities, conferences, or anything else at the classroom or school level are all accessible through the same interface.

How Frequency Builds Trust

I think it’s important that we send out messages regularly. It helps teachers get into the habit of sending out messages and gets parents into the habit of looking for them. When there are frequent, regular messages being sent back and forth, it also just makes the conversation feel more natural and normal.

I still send out weekly messages to the whole community myself, and I encourage family members to provide feedback. and come to me with any questions they have. It’s important the community sees the principal working on communication. It also helps keep our teachers from becoming inundated with questions from student families.

To ensure frequency, we have agreed that teachers will send out at least one class message each week. It’s not really something we need to enforce — our messaging system makes it easy to send messages or pictures right in the middle of class, so our teachers use it often — but I am enrolled in every class to make sure it happens.

I may have enrolled in the classes to ensure frequent communication, but that visibility has also provided the opportunity to help teachers, especially newer ones, better develop their parent communications skills. Since I can see what’s going back and forth, it creates an opportunity to talk about how to strengthen their skillset in responding to parents.

Virtual Accessibility Yielding Real Results

In the age of smart phones, using a mobile app for communication makes it easier to get everyone to sign up, but it’s also important for ongoing usage. Nearly every family member we’re trying to reach has a smartphone — 81 percent of American adults own smartphones these days, according to Pew Research — and using a mobile app means we get to deliver every picture, note and request for volunteers directly into their pockets.

Messages are not just readily available wherever they happen to be — both family members and teachers also appreciate that the app provides automatic translation. When parents sign up, they simply tell the app their preferred language for future messages.

Accessibility also means having everything easily available. Our parent participation in conferences is very near 100 percent, and I chalk that up largely to the fact that scheduling is done via a communication tool that’s easy for parents to use. Parents can see in real time what appointments are open and sign up accordingly. If they need to reschedule, there’s no need to send paper back and forth trying to nail down a new time.

We’ve had similar success with our Watchdog Dads program, where we try to have two volunteer dads come in each Wednesday to greet kids as they arrive, visit classrooms, eat lunch with the students and more. We’ve had 100 percent participation this year, and I attribute that to ease of scheduling.

Creating strong communication throughout a school takes some persistence, but the community that it enables is more than worth the work.

About the Author

Brenda Blue is the principal of Pritchardville Elementary School. She can be reached at [email protected].