Setting the right tone when it comes to keeping in touch with parents can be a tricky issue for schools. Sending too much information can stop parents taking any notice of news, and place a heavy burden on teachers, while too little runs the risk of alienating these essential allies, making them feel ‘out of the loop’. For the best methods to ensure effective communication we spoke to Geoff Jones, a parent communications expert, for his advice. Here are his top tips
Simplify your communication strategy
Although it is important to take parents’ wishes and feedback into account, schools that try to appease everyone and cover all angles – social media, newsletters, WhatsApp, emails – often find that it gets both them and the parents into a muddle. Which source contains the most up-to-date news? Are parents only receiving an abridged version because you are restricted on characters? Who has read what?
The best way to cut through the confusion is to decide which communication routes suit your school and then simply tell parents how this will work. A pared back approach eliminates confusion and is also more time-effective for schools.
The, not so social, media
Social media are great bulletin boards for newsflash announcements but do remember that the information you broadcast there is in the public domain. Anyone could be reading it, which means there are limits to what is appropriate to post. For example, although it might be a quick way to let parents know that year six have safely arrived at their residential week, is that something you want the wider world to know? If the answer is no, investigate more private options such as email and texts. However, social media can be a good place to share and celebrate student work, school achievements and events.
Make it relevant
Schools which get into the habit of sending everything to everyone – ostensibly because it is quicker to implement internally – do themselves quite a disservice. In an environment of information overload, parents will soon stop opening emails if they are continually irrelevant. Instead, look to technology that can support you in tightly targeting messages just to parents of the hockey team, or chess club, for example. This ensures people know that, whenever they see a message from the school, it’s worth opening it right away.
A weekly, detailed newsletter is a good way to tell parents about school successes and upcoming opportunities – as long as it gets read. The trick here is timing. Is Friday after school a time when parents are winding down and, therefore, have time to read a longer missive, or are they frantically trying to finish work before the weekend? Would a different day and time encourage better engagement?
A quick poll can help schools gauge what is most convenient. You might find that a ‘little and often’ approach, sending out just a couple of punchy paragraphs every other day, more effectively keeps parents in the loop and parental engagement tools can ensure this is easily organised.
Good school-parent communication relies on messages being read at the right time by the right people, so tracking what’s working – and having the flexibility to modify things if need be – is crucial. Think about the bigger picture too, when evaluating success. Does your system make it easy for parents to update contact information? Can they immediately pay for the school trips they have just been told about? Did they respond well to an invitation to the Christmas concert? The answers to questions such as these can help you assess if you are getting your messages across in the best way.
All these strategies aim to show that regular and effective communication can be done in a way that is easy and accessible for parents – and also for schools. After all, the secret to the best communication is that it is a two-way street.