Schools are responsible for staying light-footed in the face of rapidly changing technology. Not only is it the responsibility of educators to make sure students are prepared to be competitive in the working world with the right tech skills, but schools themselves have to brand and market themselves to parents effectively to ensure they’re keeping their stakeholders interested and engaged. Just as a good brand knows their customer’s communication preferences and meets those needs, schools need to do the same with their parents.
How parent communication preferences are changing
It might seem like a daunting task to try to determine some universal rules about parent communication preferences. After all, your school’s parents probably come from many walks of life. They likely include a wide range of ages, backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and racial and ethnic groups. So how does one determine the best course of action when their stakeholder base is diverse?
Luckily, there are some universals around preferred communication methods for parents of students in elementary and secondary schools. In some of their research last year, marketing data firm Data Axle confirmed that there are a lot of generational similarities in how individuals want to interact with brands. This includes their preference for personalized, one-to-one communication, and that emails are still preferred from vetted products and services we use.
School leaders are also learning that one-to-one and email are preferred by parents. In a recent survey conducted by one school district, parents indicated they prefer to receive urgent or emergency information by text message. For general non-urgent information, the survey revealed that emails were preferred, but many parents want to receive an email and a text.
That same data also revealed an important lesson that schools should remember when planning parent communications: with newer communication methods, school communicators must balance their communications mix, so as not to ignore parent age groups.
So essentially, using a more cutting-edge social media tool like TikTok, Twitch, or Discord is likely to appeal to your younger parents, but might alienate parents from older generations. That doesn’t mean you should ignore these channels completely, but use them sparingly and in the right context to ensure you aren’t leaving out any parent groups.
It’s also worth noting that age is not the only demographic characteristic of your parents. When choosing appropriate ways to communicate with individual families, you’ll also need to consider factors such as language barriers, internet access, and personal attitudes and behaviors.
Tips for using parent communication preferences to increase engagement
Here are some general tips to help you nail parent engagement by using the right communication channels at the right time and for the right people.
1. Ask your parents how they want to receive communications
Don’t sit in a vacuum and try to use market research and data to understand the way parents want to hear from their school. While general information can help you shape your communications strategy, there is one, tried-and-true way to learn exactly what your parent communication preferences are: ask them.
This can be as easy as an email survey that asks, “How do you want to hear from us?” While you could offer a blank form for parents to indicate what they want, it’s probably best to make it as easy as possible with multiple choice options.
Be sure to consider inclusion when you design your survey. Some parents might need their communications in a different language or won’t have regular access to email or the internet, or even a reliable cell phone. Offer a variety of communication options that will meet the needs of all of your school’s families, so parents don’t feel singled out if they can’t find a communication method that works for them.
2. Be personalized and strive for two-way communication
Hopefully, by engaging with parents through the communication tool that is most convenient and functional for them, you can reach higher levels of engagement through two-way communication. Ideally, any communication with parents will offer a way for them to respond and engage – whether by replying to an email, commenting on a social media post, or reacting to real-time updates on an application. This has the potential to start a robust back-and-forth conversation that builds the relationship among parents, school staff, administrators and teachers, ultimately creating a strong, supportive team for every student in your school.
3. Don't forget in-person and digital face time
While all parents will have their chosen method of communication with a school, that preference does not negate the importance of face-to-face time between parent and teacher. Personal, one-on-one engagement will be much easier for some parents than others, but it is just as crucial for every student to have their team engaged with one another. Some parents might be able to swing in-person parent-teacher conferences and open houses, while others will need carefully coordinated Zoom meetings to fit their schedule. Either way, make it happen – just because a parent prefers text messages doesn’t mean that will always cut it.
Avoid buzzphrases and be concise
When communicating with parents, perhaps nothing is more important than ensuring that you are clear and concise. As we’ve seen with the recent uproar at school board meetings about critical race theory and mask mandates, it’s important that every parent knows exactly where your school stands on individual issues.
Clear wording has the power to prevent (or inspire) dissonance in your school community, so don’t hesitate to lean in to clarity. You might even consider including a glossary in your newsletter that defines various terms that are familiar to educators but foreign to parents (i.e., “blended learning” or “accessibility”).
Parent engagement is crucial to student success
We know that parent engagement improves success outcomes for students, and schools are responsible for doing everything in their power to make that success happen. One crucial way that districts and administrators can support their community is by learning parent communication preferences and using them effectively to increase that engagement and ensure student success. Consult your parents today about their preferences, so you can apply them effectively tomorrow.
Emma Castleberry is an education writer and contributor to the Campus Suite Academy blog. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.