Communication and Involvement
This should be the easy part of your master plan for parent engagement, but it may require some adjustments to the way things have always been done. Communication means more than just a monthly newsletter or an occasional notification from the district office; it’s about opening up a window
into every aspect of a student’s schooling life and giving parents access to more than just their child’s comments at the dinner table.
Make sure your parents have access to information such as upcoming assignments, up-to-date grading history, and graduation plans through an online portal. In a 2010 meta-analysis
of existing parent involvement research, Nokali, et. al., put the academic consequences of involvement into simple terms: “if parents are aware of a teacher’s instructional goals, they may provide resources and support for those learning aims at home.” The researchers pointed to evidence “that these parenting practices are associated with higher academic achievement in the early grades.”
In other words, parent visibility should not be limited to past-tense communiqués such as progress reports. It’s nice to know what’s already happened, but by then it’s too late for parents to play a proactive role. Can your parents see what their child’s schedule looks like in the weeks and months to come within the larger context of how it all fits into the big picture learning goals? By having a better handle on what’s coming down the pipeline, parents can take measures at home to support students, whether it means rearranging a schedule or just talking about important concepts while on the road.
Your teachers are already working hard, but as a district leader, there are a number of ways you can support them in these efforts. First, lay down the expectation that every parent receives some form of communication about their child, whether long-form or light-touch, at least once a week. An easy-to-use messaging platform will make this a painless and productive process for teachers and parents alike. From an involvement standpoint, proactively seek out ways to get participation from traditionally underrepresented groups in volunteer activities (an outreach committee can help with that).
Communication and involvement are not limited to the classroom, either. Push out major district announcements and initiatives through a variety of messaging mediums. Your parents are far less likely to read the board minutes than they are to look over a Facebook post or a featured newspaper editorial. It’s no longer good enough to just put the message out there; you need to go the extra step to ensure it’s getting in front of as many of your stakeholders as possible. Constant and consistent contact is a critical ingredient in parent engagement. Consider appointing a communications expert to filter district messages and deliver them in a recognizable cadence that matches the culture you want to project.
This is a lot to take in, but we can't stress enough that parent engagement is not some abstract concept that may or may not move the needle in your district. The A/B testing has already been done, and the results are impossible to deny.
Take the case of the Solid Foundation Program
studied in Illinois from 2001 to 2003. For the study, 129 schools – disproportionately poor and serving populations made up of a large percentage of ethnic minorities – implemented 12 components of parent engagement after displaying low assessment scores on state reading tests. In only two years, the Solid Foundation schools went from 51.3% of students “meeting state expectations on the composite state assessment score” to 55.8%. That’s a statistically significant difference, and one that should serve as a real eye-opener, especially when compared to the negligible .1% gain on a statewide level during the same time period.
Is parent engagement a priority in your district? Do you have the technology to support the next generation engagement strategies that so many families are looking for? What steps are you taking right now to reduce the number of “actively disengaged” parents and turn your district into a future-ready destination? You don’t have to face this challenge alone. Here at Skyward, we’ve made it our mission to help district leaders turn parent engagement around.
If you’re ready to get started, understand that it’s not going to be easy. You’ll need to take things one step at a time while reviewing and adjusting along the way. You’ll also need to know where to start. The first step is typically a district-wide technology assessment.
Will your student information, learning management, and notification/alert systems be able to support the level of outreach you'll be asking of your staff, or do you need to look for some new partners? Is the look and feel consistent across these platforms, or will your teachers need to learn how to engage through different mediums?
Buy-in is going to be essential to the success of this initiative, and your team needs to be confident in the tools before they can dive into the actions. We can help with that, too.
There is only one SIS parent engagement tool designed specifically for administrators. Download the Proactive Parent Engagement Challenge