Parents are a vital part of your school community, and effective communication with them is of paramount importance to your smooth day-to-day running. In this article, we will address the benefits of good school-to-home communications, as well as look at what parents want to hear from you and how to improve your school’s interactions with them.
When Communications Improve, Everyone Benefits
It is important to begin by remembering that good parent communications are not just for the benefit of the parents themselves; they benefit the whole school community, starting, of course, with the students. Joyce Epstein’s research into school-to-home collaboration is widely cited, as referenced here, with one key finding being that:
“…when the schools conduct frequent communications and interactions with the families and communities (Epstein 2009, Epstein 2001) more children stand a chance to receive common messages from various stakeholders about the importance of the school, working hard, thinking creatively, helping one another and of staying in school.”
Indeed, other research suggests that “Strong communication between teachers and parents contributes to overall improvements in students’ attendance, behaviour, and grades” (Nagro & Stein, 2016).
Meanwhile, good parent communication – and in particular digital communication – also has a positive impact on the parent-teacher relationship and on the well-being of teachers, as discussed in Finnish research entitled The Role of Digital School-Home Communication in Teacher Well-Being. This study concluded that “digital communication can be one positive factor building parent–teacher partnership and enhancing teacher well-being” and found that “respectful and trusty digital communication that also supports teacher well-being contains the elements of frequency, clarity, prudence, proactivity, and encouraging feedback.”
So, with parents, students and teachers all benefiting from good school-to-home communication, how can your school improve yours?
Understanding How Families Access the Internet
It is helpful to think about communication from the point of view of the parents who will be receiving it, and one of the key considerations in communicating effectively is understanding how they typically access information.
Firstly, it seems safe to assume that they will have internet access, with 2019 Eurostat research indicating that in Europe, it is almost universal for households with children (98% on the EU average). Interestingly, other research shows that parents are also more likely to use digital technologies than adults without children (Kildare and Middlemiss, 2017).
A survey from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) found that email and online parent portals were top of the list of preferences when it came to medium of communication. It is also worth noting, however, that one thing that has changed in recent years is the devices used to access the internet. Desktop is no longer king, with 81% using a smartphone for regularly checking emails and 21% using a tablet. According to Adobe’s 2018 ‘Email Use 2017’ report, smartphones are the most common device, particularly for those aged under 35 years old and women.
This suggests that schools should ensure that content is mobile-friendly to ensure parents can read it easily – or even better, offer a mobile app to facilitate easy communication.
What Parents Want From School Communication
Having understood how parents access information, the next aspect to consider is what they actually want to hear from your school. The NSPRA survey showed that the top priorities were progress and performance updates for their children, and information on the syllabus, homework and grading. They also expressed a desire for a calendar showing events and meetings, as well as curriculum updates and safety information.
Importantly, the aforementioned Finnish study acknowledged that there are limitations to what parents want to hear about via digital communications versus face-to-face or a phone call:
“Parents want to have information about their child’s conflicts at school (Kuusimäki et al., 2019). However, according to the present study, both parents and teachers felt that sensitive issues with pupils, like constant conflicts and health issues, should be communicated face-to-face or by phone. Choosing the right channel to communicate is essential because parents and teachers should have open and proactive communication about sensitive issues affecting children’s well-being (Juniu, 2009).”
Of course, you could run a parent survey of your own to find out what your specific school community wants to hear. This will give you the opportunity to rethink your communications strategy from an informed starting point, allowing you to tailor your messages to your own community.
Improving Your School-to-Home Communications Journey
To improve the way your school communicates with parents, the next step is to consider all the potential touchpoints you may have with them. These could include:
- Attendance – keeping them informed on their children’s attendance records, ideally in real time so that they immediately know if their child has not turned up for a class or activity
- Reports – end-of-term and end-of-year academic and behaviour reports
- Consent – obtaining consent for trips and other activities
- Transport – pick-up times and locations, and updates about delays or changes
- Events and ECAs – signing up for and receiving updates about activities, wrap-around care, parent-teacher conferences and so on
- Cancellations and alerts – for instance, closure due to snow, or a Covid outbreak in a particular class
- Fees and payments – making payments for trips, kit and activities
The simplest solution to addressing all these potential touchpoints is to use a school-to-home management system, which keeps all your parent communications in one place. Systems like these allow you to send messages relating to the whole school, to specific year groups or to other segments of your school community, such as a specific class, a football team or those who signed up for a particular swimming lesson slot or trip. This means that parents only receive what is relevant to them and their child, making them more likely to read them.
The benefit of this kind of system is that parents know that all messages from the school will come from a single source, using push notifications (saving money on expensive SMS messages) to ensure that they are less likely to miss them. This also means they no longer need to check multiple systems for updates on their child, as well as have the ability to store a personal calendar of all the activities their child is attending (or each of their children, if they have more than one child at your school) – tapping directly into the desire expressed in that NSPRA survey we touched on earlier.
So, while some parent communications are best left face-to-face, for everything else it makes sense to house as much under one roof as possible. This keeps things simple for busy parents, giving them just one place to receive information and complete any of the other tasks they need to do, such as providing consent or making payments. With the benefits of good communication to all in the school community clearly documented by a range of research, a comprehensive school-to-home management system could be the best investment your school ever makes.