What if you could get your school’s parents more engaged in their child’s education? You’re undoubtedly aware of the research results on the benefits to student learning when parents are engaged in their child’s education. Some of those benefits include:
- better student attitudes about learning;
- higher grades and students who do better on tests, particularly in reading and math;
- improved social skills, better behavior, and decreased truancy and skipped assignments;
- higher expectations for students;
- increased student self-confidence and feelings of acceptance and respect; and
- lower dropout rates and increased graduation rates.
And beyond the benefits to students, more engaged parents also provide:
- increased teacher morale;
- improved school reputation;
- higher opinion of parents by the teachers; and
- increased parent confidence (feel more capable of helping their child, more comfortable being at the school, and increased confidence in their parenting skills).
Benefits of parent engagement include:
- helping their child to set educational goals and encouraging them to achieve their goals;
- staying informed about their child’s progress (through academic scores, visiting the parent portal, communicating with teachers); and
- supporting and advocating for your school with the local school board, federal, state, and city governments.
As you can see, engaged parents create a win-win for everyone involved, from the student to the school staff. However, the most significant impact comes from the expectations or aspirations parents have for their child. Parents’ attitudes and influence within the walls of their own homes effect generations.
The level of impact engaged parents have is powerful, regardless of the parents’ education, income, or other socio-economic factors. When education is encouraged at home, that influence is greater than any other single factor (teachers, social group, peers). So, why wouldn’t we, as educators, do everything we can to help parents become engaged and help them feel included as part of the support team so vital to a student’s success? Of course, we would. Our goal is to put every student in a position to be successful, right?
So, before we look at specific ways to encourage parent engagement using our school websites, social media, and one-on-one events, we must make sure parents feel welcome and valued, or our other efforts will fail.
How to make parents feel welcome and valued
First, we must acknowledge that every parent brings a variety of attitudes about school, based on their own experiences growing up, with them. That baggage, good or bad, has very little to do with our school, but perception is the reality, so we must begin by showing parents respect and begin to earn their trust.
Begin by looking at your schools’ customer service toward each customer group. How do you welcome prospective parents, newly enrolled parents and students, existing parents, and new staff members? What is their initial impression of your school and your culture? These interactions—whether online, over the phone, or in person—must be consistent with your desire to get parents engaged in their child’s education.
Customer service breaks down barriers
If your customer service levels are lacking, fix it quickly. If that means training your staff in the customer service standards expected at your school, make sure your next few months of professional development training does just that (and include all your staff, not only teachers). If you are interested in on-site customer service training for your staff, we can help with that, too.
Need some ideas to improve your school’s customer service levels? Here are a few articles to get you started:
- Is your front office helping or hurting your school enrollment?
- From good to great: school customer service
- Tell them thank you
- Parents: raving fans or raging foes?
- Roll out the welcome mat at your school
The following are some ideas that will help with your customer service, as well as inviting parent engagement:
- Create a welcome packet for new families. PTO Today has some great welcome packet ideas, but the basics would be to provide the types of information new parents would need to know to be informed while being welcomed into the fold. It could be a single sheet or a fancy brochure, but what matters is what it says and shows. Be sure this information is also available from your website, and share it on your social media at regular intervals. Also, ask current parents to share it with friends and neighbors who are looking for a school for their children. Provide your welcome packet to local churches, real estate offices, chambers of commerce, and other community organizations who see new move-ins.
- Establish a welcome committee. This could be as simple as a phone call to newcomers to welcome them into the fold. The call should not be to ask for help, but to offer support and find out what the parent’s interests, needs, and concerns are and offer to provide resources to address them.
- Plan casual parent-friendly events. When you keep face-to-face events casual and fun, you are encouraging increased participation. These can be a way to overcome fear or negativity by parents whose previous school experiences have been poor. Holding a BBQ, potluck, or ice cream social can provide an opportunity for parents to get to know one another and school staff in a relaxed, friendly environment. These can include parent/teacher conferences, home visits, meet the teacher events, open house activities, family fun nights, bring your parent to school days, game nights, heritage buffets, and movie nights. For many more ideas, take a look at these Parent/Teacher ideas.
Ideas to encourage parents to get involved:
I happen to love lists (check-lists, to-do lists, bucket lists, grocery lists), so here is one for you with some ideas you can implement to encourage parent involvement. Most of them include using your most powerful publication assets—your website and your social media channels:
- Video or article parenting series. Develop a series of videos or articles, hosted on your school websites and linked to from your various social media channels, that provide parenting information related to helping children succeed in school. Be sure you use your series to create enthusiasm and provide practical examples. Involve your staff for content, presenters, writers, and video production (you’ll get higher quality content and massive buy-in from staff that will improve the viral spread of your series). Example topics could include: homework helps for parents, where to get help if your child is struggling, helping build your child’s character strengths, reducing barrier to parent engagement, how to help your child prepare for tests, talking to your child, help your child use the internet properly, fun ways to read with your child, how to get involved in your child’s school activities, how to help your child succeed at school, setting your child up for a great school experience, family dinner conversation starters for parents, etc.
- Use online surveys to learn parents’ interests. Often we believe we know what our parents’ concerns are, but the realities are often quite different. Why guess? Just ask them by providing an occasional online parent survey to find out. You can post these on the school website and use your school social media channels and parent notification systems to invite parents to complete the survey. You can also use creative ways to encourage participation (most completed surveys in a classroom or grade level are rewarded with a pizza party, etc.)
- Provide current, engaging website and social media stories. Your school website is your school-controlled media outlet. Are you using it as such? It should continually be updated with age- and grade-specific articles, student and staff success stories, event descriptions, pictures of activities, current event calendars, and relevant social media posts. Important Tip: All of your communications should include the “why behind the what” so your parents understand the purposes and benefits for what happens at your school. This builds trust and confidence and strengthens your school brand.
- Post online sign-up forms for easy parent participation. Make sign-up a convenient process for parents by providing forms online through your school website. Whether it is a volunteer sign-up, a field trip chaperone form, a classroom parent interest form, or parent permission forms, make the information available 24/7. It shows parents you are considerate of their time and busy schedules and that you care about their involvement (and value their help).
- Invite guest speakers. These can be guest bloggers, webinar hosts, classroom presentations, or for a video you are creating. You can also post them online so those who might not be able to attend could still view them later on your website. Consider using formats like Facebook live, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Every community has amazing resources among their parents. Use those resources and see your parent engagement increase.
School Websites: use them well!
Your school website, used in conjunction with your social media channels and parent notification systems, can help parents engage in their child’s education. Take a look at yours now, and see if it is designed with parents’ needs in mind. Make their needs a priority for your website design and architecture.
- Dedicated parent section. Create a dedicated area where parents can quickly find the information they need most often. On our schools’ websites, we call this area the Quick Links navigational area, and we dedicate one of the categories to parents. It should include the common forms parents require with links to other pages important to parents.
- Website accessibility. Make sure all forms (including attachments and PDFs) are accessible by those with disabilities. This means remediation for forms and website navigation that meets WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Your website should also be responsive (mobile-friendly) for easy access from all devices, including smart phones.
- Current calendars and events. Keep parents informed with current calendars, events, and articles. Use your social media channels, newsletters, and parent notification systems to remind parents about upcoming events, and link your social posts back to the detailed information posted on your website. Keep them in the loop with all scheduled events, including early release days and time, holidays, testing dates, parent/teacher conferences, kindergarten enrollment windows, and all events that affect parents and families. Use calendar programs that parents can synchronize with their personal calendars on their phones or computers (iCal, Google calendars, Outlook).
- Highlight successes and promote greatness. Write follow-up articles with images and photos and outcomes on events and activities so that parents unable to attend scheduled functions will still feel involved, informed, and included. Schedule regular highlights that share successes and progress for students and staff. Share your school’s stories and create enthusiasm and school spirit at every opportunity.
Helping parents get and stay engaged, even when they might be hesitant or fearful, will help them help their child succeed. And helping their child reach their potential is what all parents want. Use all communication channels, including your website, social media, newsletters, and parent notifications to help parents support their children. When you do, everyone wins—especially your students!
Additional references: NEA Policy Brief, Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Children’s Academic Achievement, Parental Involvement and Students’ Academic Achievement, Parental Involvement in Education
Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.