Schools are taking parental engagement more seriously

Have you heard the news?

The Los Angeles Unified School District has just hired its first Social Media Director, who will be responsible for updating the district’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, uploading YouTube videos, helping some schools create websites, and more (according to the Daily News).

Here’s what we think:

  • This definitely marks a new era in school communications. Schools are recognizing that they need to embrace the technology around them in order to get the results that they want.
  • It’s a great idea to use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging to improve communication with parents who may not be comfortable speaking English.
  • On a similar point, it’s interesting to note that school-based “training for parents” is becoming more widely instituted. We’ve touched upon this trend before, and it seems to be a good example of a great way to help families and school communities. That being said, is this something that could realistically be instituted in a small-school setting, without the (relatively greater) funds and support of a larger school district?
  • The use of social media to communicate with parents is a subject that’s still being debated (We’ve covered both the pros and the cons on this blog, in case you’re curious).
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District is one of the largest in the country, and all of the social-media using schools mentioned in the article were public. Would it ever be possible for a smaller school to conduct a similar type of program?

Do you think the LAUSD’s decision is an revolutionary new strategy? A waste of money? None of the above? Let us know in the comments!

Here’s why parents aren’t engaging with your school

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Whether you’ve found yourself desperately searching for fundraiser volunteers or are simply wondering why parents don’t seem be very involved in their children’s academic lives, you’ve probably noticed that parents at your school aren’t as engaged as you would like them to be. Though there are many different factors that can contribute to this, we’ve tracked down some of the most common reasons for low parental engagement. 

  1. They don’t have the time. Many parents are busy these days, dashing from one job to the other, unable to find the time to meet with a teacher or attend PTA meetings. The solution? Make it easier for parents to schedule appointments far in advance; try to use emails and other methods to reach parents who can’t physically be at school.
  2. They feel like the teacher doesn’t want them to be involved.This is a common misconception among many parents- that the classroom is the domain of teachers, and many schools wouldn’t want them to get involved in a place that’s not their job. Schools can combat this by encouraging parents to call whenever they have any concerns. A welcoming attitude can go a long way.
  3. They don’t know how to be engaged, or what parental engagement really is. A lot of parents, especially first-time parents or those in underprivileged areas, aren’t sure about what is expected of them, or what they can do to best help their child succeed. Many schools have found great success by offering free (sometimes bilingual) informational programs aimed at helping parents out.
  4. You’re boring them. It’s easy for parents to simply stop paying attention when schools send them the same updates, the same information over and over again. Schools need to be able to make things exciting in order to get parents involved, and they need to make their messages clearer in order to avoid getting lost among all the words.
  5. Their child is already doing fine. Why fix what isn’t broken? Like we said above, some parents don’t know why or how they can be better engaged with their child’s school, or that parental engagement doesn’t only benefit kids- it helps parents and teachers as well. Again, informational sessions, where parents can ask their questions of administrators and faculty, are always invaluable resources.
  6. It’s hard for them to communicate with schools. It can be difficult for parents to have meaningful communication with school faculty, especially when parents don’t know how to contact schools.. Bilingual parents in particular can find it difficult to communicate with school officials, a problems many schools are taking the initiative to solve by providing specialized options for parents who may not be comfortable speaking English yet still want to play a role in their child’s school life.
  7. They’re always traveling.Things can be tough for parents who want to want to help out with their child’s school experience but can’t, due to frequent travels. Developing alternatives aimed at engaging commuting parents, such as more flexible conference scheduling, creating personalized school mobile apps, or allowing parents to have “virtual conferences” on the phone or through Skype, can all help parents be part of their child’s school experience, even if they aren’t always able to be physically present.
  8. “My child keeps losing those information sheets!” The paper packets and pages that schools usually send home with kids often may not make it back to the parents they were supposed to reach. To avoid messages getting lost in translation, schools should try using more direct methods of communication with parents: text messages, apps, websites, even social media like Twitter are much better solutions for parents.

Revamping School Communication-A Necessary Pain

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We’ve found that the most successful schools are those who aren’t afraid to change. Though your school might be taking basic steps to improve parental engagement- by creating a website, for example-such small improvements often go unnoticed. Many of the most successful schools we work with are already ahead of the curve: Some have begun using mobile phones to communicate, and some have altered their business model, increasing investments in social media and mobile services. Though it might take time and effort to revamp your school’s communication system, the benefits of this “necessary pain” far outweigh the costs. It’s an important step to take in making sure that your school doesn’t fall too far behind. Schools need to stay ahead of the curve, especially when their parents and students are already embracing new technologies.

What do you think? Do the long-term benefits of improving school-parent communication outweigh the short-term pain?