The United States has witnessed an unprecedented disruption of education due to widespread school closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While most schools have elected to conduct online classes during this time, they must also take steps to ensure that parents remain as involved as ever in their child’s education. Educators have long been aware of the correlation between strong parental involvement and student success. And while schools cannot force parents to get involved in their child’s education, they can certainly encourage and facilitate it.
Fortunately, we live in a digital age that offers a variety of tools to connect schools, parents and teachers, lockdown or no lockdown. Here are some innovative ways to spark (and maintain) parental involvement in school.
Embrace the internet
One of the best ways to promote parent engagement is to get parents to share their stories and experiences in a dedicated parent blog. This could be enhanced with social media presence and an event calendar that keeps busy parents in the loop. This encourages communication and forges connections between parents as they work with the school to create an online community. While Facebook groups are a popular social media platform for parent engagement, you could also try other outlets such as Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, basically whatever medium parents are most comfortable with.
Use social media to post links to your blog, calendar, announcements and other important information. Post pictures from your latest event (in a pre or post-COVID-19 world) on Instagram so parents can see what they missed and let them know how they can be more involved next time. With a large number of parents working from home during this time (and also spending time on social media sites), implementing a concerted social media outreach plan is bound to pay off. Remember – schools + online communication tools = greater parental involvement.
Another interesting (and underused) way of reaching out to parents is via online videos on your school website. Here, parents and teachers can exchange ideas, provide guidance and offer feedback about assignments or areas where a child may need extra help.
Parents are more likely to be involved in school if they feel their opinions are valued and their feedback can be surprisingly insightful. Send out parent surveys at regular intervals (beginning of the school year, after each quarter/semester). A good survey will generally contain a judicious mix of multiple-choice questions as well as free response questions that give parents the space to express their opinions. A short 5 or 6 question survey is enough to pique parents’ interest in important school decisions and spark a conversation in your online community. It could even make parents more involved in the outcome and prod them to attend meetings and be more involved in planning committees. Use services like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create and disseminate surveys; email, social media or the school website work well for outreach. Here are a few sample topics you can put in a parent survey: classroom goals/expectations, dates for school activities, methods of contact, volunteer opportunities for parents, concerns or suggestions, etc.
Do’s and Don’ts for Improving School-Parent Communication
- Provide clear direction to teachers on which tools to and define protocols regarding communication with parents.
- Keep communication brief but frequent to keep parents updated on a regular basis.
- Offer parents the option to personalize the information they wish to receive as well as the method of delivery. This keeps all communication relevant and prevents information overload.
- Provide actionable information that parents can use to support or prepare their child for class assignments, extra-curricular activities or special events.
- Find opportunities to communicate positive news along with regular updates regarding homework assignments, daily schedules, upcoming events, etc.
- Reach out to parents to share information about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, the kind of support system available to the child and any relevant information that may impact their behavior in the classroom.
To sum up, communication between schools and parents is the glue that helps bind (and nourish) a thriving school community, especially during these difficult times. While most schools in the U.S. had already embraced online methods of parental involvement (as opposed to twice-a-year PTA meetings), the current pandemic has forced schools to hastily adapt to the realities of social distancing and hand sanitizers.