Communicating with Parents
Oh, how the times have changed.
I remember when I was a first year principal. Every Friday, I’d send home a flyer with all of the school events, and celebrate student and teacher accomplishments. I had envelopes full of little pieces of clip art that I would tape on (remember how to do that so the edges didn’t show?), print on a color of my choosing, and mass produce 600 copies.
Yay for technology! Now, the hours I’d put in each week back then can be reduced to a matter of a few minutes per day, but figuring out where and how to communicate with parents takes a little more thought. There are so many communication channels! We know the importance of parent engagement—not least of all for our Local Control Accountability Plans—but to get parents into our schools and involve them in decisions, we have to get the information to them in the first place.
A recent infographic about home to school communication brilliantly lays out a comparison between various tools principals use and parents’ perspectives about the effectiveness of each one.
Personal emails? Bingo! Both agree: effective and specific.
Text messages? Only about 50% of both agree. Hmm, and here we are in my current district looking to invest in a system to quickly text to communicate with parents. Maybe the regional competencies and expectations might be a little different? After all, here in the Silicon Valley, parents are letting us know they want more, more, more; but I digress.
App message updates to phones? School portals? Auto phone messages? Parents are saying not as effective. Maybe it’s because the survey focused on parents and teachers. I’m not sure. But the startling piece of the infographic that stands out to me is the effort we put into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Parents think this is a much less effective way to get information about their school or district.
In my district, we recently encountered an interesting scenario. At middle school release at the end of the day, we “heard through the grapevine” that a fire had broken out less than a mile from the school. Multiple times we reached out to the local agencies for updates, but little was available. We had no information to rely on to make decisions about contacting parents or releasing students. In an era of information at our fingertips, we could find nothing.
Within a few hours, our district was getting slammed by a number in our community regarding our lack of sharing information (that we didn’t have, by the way). We wanted to be responsive, but also knew that accurate information was essential. In a subsequent debrief with other agencies, we were told they were communicating via Twitter.
We could not get a person to give us information in an emergency. We were supposed to rely on Twitter updates. Welcome to the 21st century.
Don’t get me wrong. I use social media. I love Twitter and Facebook. They are quick and effective for disseminating information. But perhaps a survey to parents in our own communities about what they prefer to use would benefit us in our communication plan.
In this day and age, there is no catch all, but finding that healthy balance in a way that enables us to respond in an informative, timely, productive manner is certainly the way to go.