When it comes to raising children, we’ve all heard the saying, “it takes a village.” That saying also applies to a child’s academic success, and what makes that village run smoothly is effective communication. When everybody is on the same page, student achievement improves tremendously. It is simple, but it is not easy. What can schools do to ensure their communication reaches parents whose attention is constantly pulled in every direction? How can parents know that their opinions and concerns regarding their child’s educational experience are heard and valued? District communications specialists understand the importance of clear K‑12 guardian communications and have outlined some best practices to help you along the way.
Know Your Audience
Minimize Communication Platforms
This may sound like the opposite of what makes sense. After all, if you have your information available everywhere, it’s more likely that all of your district parents and guardians will see it, right? That’s actually wrong. In reality, the more information people get from multiple sources, the more likely the chance that fatigue sets in and the information is ignored all together. Choose no more than two communication methods (in addition to your website) to streamline your messages and help them break through the noise. Here are some examples:
- A newsletter and a Facebook page
- A Twitter account and automated phone calls
- A texting app (like Remind) and email
Think of your communication as a standing meeting with your district parents and guardians. Set a day and time when you will send your most important communications so that parents know when to expect to receive an update. Any communication outside of those times goes through your secondary communication method. For example:
- Emailing a weekly newsletter every Tuesday morning and sending reminders through an automated phone call.
- Posting a link to your latest blog post every other Wednesday on your Facebook page and sending reminders through a text.
- Updating your website News page every month and sending reminders through email.
The frequency that you choose is customizable. You can do whatever works for you and your school community, but making it consistent alleviates any guesswork for parents.
Make It Pop
Parents receive a tremendous amount of emails, texts, and other notifications on a daily basis. In order to cut through that noise, make your messages stand out with recognizable branding and structure. Here are some ways to easily pull it off:
- Use district letterhead and branded fonts to make your messages easily identifiable.
- Use clear, concise headings so parents know what your message is about and know what to do with it.
- Put all of the important information at the top so that parents who are quickly glancing between other responsibilities don’t miss anything urgent.
The key takeaway here is that less is more. One way to accomplish consistent branding is to have templates ready to go so that anyone in your district can add a quick message.
Provide Excellent Customer Service
An article by K12dive explains that “As school districts look to build trust and engagement with families and the larger school community, having a ‘customer service mindset’ is an important part of building effective communication with families, and creating an affinity toward the district. The article also states that 60% of K‑12 public school parents and guardians feel that there is “room for improvement in helpfulness, timeliness, and courteousness of the customer service experience with their school district.”
- Get ahead of the game and put parents’ needs first. With school waivers ending in September, communicate the benefits of a family portal to parents. Remind families of the ability to easily submit applications for free or reduced meals online.
- Keep them in the loop. Use social media to quickly communicate updates and changes in your district. This will help parents to easily identify the right person to help them which also combats the number of inbound calls and emails you may receive during peak times like Back to School.
- Go above and beyond. Communicate to families that you are dedicated to growth as a district and have the support of innovative solutions to better serve them.
Build Trust Through Transparency
Transparency is what parents value the most. Students are away from home and involved in school for seven or more hours each day. Parents and guardians want to know what’s going on during that time and, as their children get older, they rely more and more on the school to keep them in the loop.
Create a Feedback Loop
Ask your parents and guardians for their feedback at the start of every year. Let them give their input regarding their preferred method and frequency of communication, and then build a system around the top two requests. This way, you communicate in a way that they prefer and show them that you value their input.
Have an Open Door Policy
Communication goes both ways. It’s important to send messages and updates to parents, but it is equally important to be open to receiving communication and demonstrating that it is valued. Parents need to have a way to easily communicate questions, concerns, or appreciation regarding their child’s educational experience. When people feel heard, they are far more likely to be open to listening as well. For districts that are struggling to get input from parents, it would be a good idea to tap into the channels where parents are likely to share ideas – Facebook groups, Parent-Teacher Associations, volunteer committees –these are all good places to check in for valuable parent input.
Staying on top of parent communication in K‑12 schools is essential to student success. Establishing and nurturing relationships will help you understand your audience and choose the communication methods and frequency that works best for them. Parents who receive consistent communication will also feel more involved in their child’s academic life, which will lead to greater trust within the community. In the long run, students, parents and school staff alike will reap the benefits of these best practices.