Communicating Effectively with Families: Tips for K12 Schools
June 7, 2017
The Importance of Family Involvement in K12 Education
Parents and families play a critical role in their children’s education. Research shows thatthe more involved parents are, the better their children perform at school. In order to increase parental involvement in the educational process, it’s important for schools to build strong relationships with families, which starts with good communication. Not only does effective communication make specific processes like enrollment and registration easier for families, but it also builds trust and advocacy—something that becomes critical when problems arise or policy changes are being considered. Both parents and schools are pressed for time, making it challenging to keep the lines of communication open during the year. This blog discusses a few ways that schools can foster better communication with families and build strong relationships in the communities they serve.
Clarify Expectations for Family and Student Involvement
Outreach is a key part of building a strong foundation for communication between the family and the school. If you are planning on hosting an open house before the start of the new school year, consider offering a special welcome packet to parents/guardians that includes a personal greeting and shares key information that they need on what to expect during the coming year and how to get support should they need it.
Be sure to share your expectations of what success looks like at your school, and how you expect both parents and students to be involved in the educational process. Make use of technology where you can, by distributing written materials online and sharing updates so you can make the most of the in-person events that happen offline. Online, the parent experience will often begin with the enrollment and registration process. Offline, you can engage parents through conducting workshops during enrollment season. Ideally, you want to invite active, involved parents to speak directly about their experiences with your school. Empowering parents and families to share their knowledge at these events not only gives them a great opportunity to stay engaged with your school, but it also demonstrates to new parents that you are really walking the walk when it comes to welcoming family involvement.
Establish Open Lines of Communication
Make it clear from your first engagement with families exactly how they can be in touch with the administration to get support and answers for any questions or issues they may have—whether this be via phone, email, text message, or weekly office hours. Share this information again at regular intervals throughout the year, not just during enrollment.
Teacher visits and regular weekly or monthly updates, as well as monthly parent/guardian coffee hours, are a great way to keep strong communication going throughout the year, particularly if you make it a point to solicit feedback and questions from parents as a regular course of action. This becomes even more important at junctures when students are transitioning between schools (from elementary to middle school, for example) and expectations on both parent involvement and student performance are likely to change. It also is especially necessary when something of potential concern to parents, like a proposed policy change, may soon be under consideration.
Consider using technology such as a mobile app to help families keep up with school updates. According to a survey from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA),parents prefer to receive updates and regular communications via electronic methods, such as email, e-newsletters, district websites and parent portals, rather than by phone or postal mail. As schools move toward paperless systems, they can offer convenient mobile access to school and student registration information, as well as online payment forms for field trips, classes, and other important school events. Likewise, messages such as event reminders and announcements regarding fundraising initiatives can be sent to parents via text, email, or automated calls; making it easier for schools to contact parents more often and helping schools meet parents where they are most comfortable communicating. Gone are the days of depending on the student backpack messaging system for getting important messages to parents.
Give Families Resources to Strengthen Learning at Home
Parents are always looking for ways to support their children’s learning at home, and your school can play a valuable role in supporting at-home learning. A weekly newsletter featuring regular updates as well as photos and pictures of classes is a great way to engage families. In it, you can also give families resources on how to develop their children’s study skills or hone certain emerging talents they may have in specific subject areas. For example, there are plenty of terrific educational resources available online and via mobile apps; you can share curated lists of some of the best ones with your families. Consider linking parents with resources in the community that directly connect to student learning, such as summer programs and other special educational opportunities. In addition to a newsletter, you can also share news and resources on Facebook. Families can easily follow what’s going on with your school, and they can share updates with their friends and relatives too. Ultimately, however you choose to share updates, make sure that families know your purpose is to be of service to them and support their goals in ensuring that their children receive a comprehensive, quality education.
Engage and Empower Families
Finally, consider ways in which your parents and families can play an even more active role at your school, taking them from a stage of involvement to engagement, in which they are fully invested as stakeholders in the school and proud to help it succeed. This could include serving on an advisory committee, participating in governing bodies that set educational policy, and supporting the school’s student recruitment efforts. Another option would be to conduct a volunteer survey, inviting parents to share their unique talents and skills at the school in a variety of ways. Or, if parents don’t have time to go to school meetings in person, perhaps they can remotely stay engaged through technology by contributing their talents to the school newsletter or other digital publications. If families are able to contribute directly to the life of your school and its students, they will also be proud representatives and ambassadors to the larger community as well.
By fostering good communication and close family involvement, schools can improve educational outcomes and create strong, long-lasting relationships with the families they serve. Inviting parental empowerment allows parents to share their feedback, insight and expertise with schools, contributing to a positive educational experience for everyone.