How to accommodate and manage increased parent engagement in school life
There were countless unexpected consequences of the pandemic, and one of those was that COVID-19 ushered in a new era of parental involvement in schools. Not only were parents thrust into a new role as semi-teacher and classroom manager during remote school, but they were also forced to take a side in debates about school closures, mask mandates, and social distancing protocols at their child’s school. Not to mention recent controversy over curriculum and the discussion of Critical Race Theory.
This new, enthusiastic participation is – first and foremost – a beneficial development for student success. We know that increased parental involvement in school has positive outcomes for student performance and can even be used to battle inequities in the classroom. But, it also creates a new landscape of opinions, personalities, and attitudes that need to be managed in order to be effective. All parents are different and will have different wants and needs for their students. It’s up to school administrators to navigate these differences.
Here’s how you can help parents channel their energy into compromise so that the school community remains whole and united.
Capitalize on the interest in school board meetings
Nowhere was increased parent engagement more visible than in the sudden influx of parent voices at school board meetings, which was accompanied by interest in running for these elected positions.
The risk associated with this increased interest and participation is that school boards, which are supposed to serve students, become yet another platform for political divisiveness. While some feel that partisanship has no place in school board elections, it’s important to remember that school boards are a place for parents to have their voices heard and often, it’s a school’s job to listen.
It’s becoming necessary for districts to establish a policy on how you want school board elections to play out and whether or not partisanship will be permitted or relevant to your school board elections. It’s up to school and district administrators to set the parameters for these elections and the role of the school board in their community. A clear understanding of the board’s function will be crucial.
Likewise, it’s important for school board meetings to be well-managed and civil. The only way for this board to serve its purpose is to ensure that everyone participates by following some basic, playground rules. This might seem simple, but it’s not unusual for parents to feel heated when it comes to the health, safety, and education of their child. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be up to the school board members to maintain civility in a meeting — the district should provide management staff when necessary and make all attendees aware of the expectations.
Leverage social media for positive engagement
Your school’s parents are on social media. Even if they weren’t hyper-social before the pandemic, there has been a marked increase in social media engagement since the start of COVID-19.
The key to any successful school communications strategy is meeting your target audience where they already are. Since you have a captive audience already present on social media channels, you need to leverage that presence to your advantage by providing content that audience will want to engage with.
You have a wealth of channels available where you can interact with parents. Create a Youtube channel where you can share school videos or an Instagram account for sharing photos or get the conversation going on Twitter.
Whichever channels you choose to focus on, you’ll need to consistently monitor your social accounts, post new content, and respond to parents who are engaging with you. Engagement is an interactive process!
Focus your school-to-home communications
For those parents who aren’t attending school board meetings or engaging with your school on social media, you need to perfect your other channels of school-to-home communication. This might include e-mail, text messaging, and phone calls, or even face-to-face meetings or a school-specific phone app with push notifications.
These channels are crucial to your school communications strategy and parent engagement because you have to provide ways for all parents to be involved — not just the tech-savvy and time-rich. Face-to-face meetings and even hard-copy letters sent home have to be a part of an inclusive parent engagement approach because not all parents will have easy access to digital channels. Your school-to-home communications need to be, above all, inclusive and accessible.
Can parents be over-involved in school life?
Parents want a voice in shaping policy especially as it relates to their student’s safety and health, and this voice is their prerogative. School administrators have a responsibility to accommodate and direct this increased participation from parents for the betterment of the entire school community. There weren’t very many silver linings to this pandemic, and increased parent engagement is one of them – make the most of it.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com.