Last year, Digistorm, along with our integration partner, Schoolbox, hosted our first Virtual Forum where we discussed all things relating to communication with parents. One of the big takeaways from the forum was that despite all of the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to schools, there is a silver lining: it has made families become more engaged in their child's learning. For the first time, busy parents have been able to sit 'in the classroom' with their children, and as one of our expert speakers noticed — there is no going back.

However, this kind of parent engagement can't be expected under ordinary circumstances. Instead, schools will have to try different and unconventional approaches to achieve a similar result. Here are five strategies that your school can evaluate for engaging parents.

1. move to online parent-teacher interviews

The Educator posted an interesting article about the benefits of online parent-teacher interviews. They interview teachers in the article, and also cite research from the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) about the positive gains from holding parent/teacher interviews by phones or digital platforms. They do acknowledge the value that schools find from meeting in person and suggest balancing in-person interviews with online interviews. 

Similarly, a recent article by Parents Network called online interviews a "welcome change for many parents". In the article, St Andrew's Anglican College Principal, Chris Ivey, noted, "We had much higher engagement from parents who don’t normally attend because of the travelling time to get to the school or because of work commitments interstate."

2. Rethink your events strategy

COVID-19 has forced many schools to postpone or cancel in-school events for the year. Because of this, many school events have been transformed into virtual experiences — from open days and seminars to professional development and, yes, parent-teacher conferences. Successful virtual events give families the chance to interact with staff and teachers, talk to current members of the school community and see your school facilities for themselves — all from the comfort of their own home. 

But, just like with parent-teacher interviews, online events have the ability to engage a wider audience than standard events. If your events are on during school hours, it's hard for working parents to take time away to attend. If your events are on the weekend, you're asking parents to give up their precious free time to invest in their child's schooling. Online events are often far shorter than in-person events, and can be accessed from anywhere — a work lunchroom, a living room couch or even from an airport terminal. The opportunities for busy parents are limitless.

3. Start blogging

There is a myriad of reasons that your school should be blogging. We outlined the three most important in our post, 3 Reasons Why Your School Should Be Blogging. In a nutshell, the post explains that not only does a solid blog strategy help your SEO efforts and help you build your school's reputation, but it also boosts parent engagement!

Blogs are a great place for you to share information about all of the goings-on at your school that parents might otherwise miss out on. Think of your blog as providing a behind-the-scenes look at their child's day, and you can be confident that it will offer parents plenty of value.

4. Bundle volunteering opportunities

Harvard Business Review offers this gem for working parents: give them the opportunity to complete a number of volunteering commitments on the same day. Often it's far easier for parents to take a day off work and dedicate it to their child than to take a number of mornings or afternoons off.

Here's what they propose: "Maybe you’ll be the 'reading helper' in your daughter’s second-grade class in the morning, walk the school’s neighbourhood safety patrol in the afternoon, and take the minutes during the PTA fundraising committee meeting at 5 PM. When the day is over, enjoy knowing that your yearly contribution has been made in full — and efficiently."

5. Keep communication channels simple

Finally, consider consolidating your communication with parents into a few channels. After all, who wants to be checking in six million places to find out when Awards Night is on? As we've mentioned previously, today's generation of parents are more connected than ever before, meaning that they place high expectations on schools when it comes to effective communication. 

If you're finding yourself with a communication gap — that is, the need for a singular source of parent communication that brings all of your other channels together — you could consider implementing a school app. Apps give your team the ability to easily share information, events and updates with parents and move them away from the reliance on traditional information delivery (paper notices, newsletters, emails, etc.).

An alternative, offered by many school management systems and website providers, is an online parent portal. This provides parents with an online space where they can engage with different members of your school community and keep engaged with their child's education.

Published 21 October 2020