Communicating with parents is a critical as well as a challenging task for schools. Despite the fact that advancements in technology make it that much easier for schools to connect with parents these days, that doesn’t mean communication has become easier. Quite the contrary. These days, with everything parents have to juggle, including the seemingly endless amount of information they are bombarded with daily, it’s easy for your messages to go unread and unheard.
Despite the fact that it was all spelled out in your most recent email or newsletter, do you get comments along these lines from parents:
“I didn't know that event was coming up!”
“Oh, the school changed their policy on that?”
“How do I sign up for (insert program here)?”
Your parent community's apparent lack of knowledge or awareness about your school's programs and happenings belies a fact that we can't ignore any longer: people don't read your emails.
While we can’t conclude that all of your parents aren't reading the email messages you’ve painstakingly composed, the truth is, many are. In fact, some of our clients boast over 60% open rates for many of their email communications. Even with that considerably high open rate (which is atmospheric, considering the industry average of about 32% as per Hubspot), it still leaves nearly half of their parents in the dark about their school happenings and updates.
We're not saying that email is dead, it is still a viable and effective means of communication despite its shortcomings. However, we would like to present to you some other tools which you can consider adding to your parent communication arsenal, which hopefully can help get your messages across.
We often hear the argument that it's the parent's responsibility to open their emails if they want to hear from you. We also hear about how they have no room to complain that you're not communicating enough with them. But the truth is, we all get so many emails in a day. Our schedules and email inboxes are packed to the brim, with dozens of obligations, as well as organizations, vying for our time and attention. Your school messages can easily get lost in the shuffle.
You may think that it doesn't matter if many of your parents seemingly choose to be out of touch with your school. However, for most of these parents, it does matter. Keep in mind that your current parents have invested thousands of dollars into your school and they value communication, especially as normal, relational human beings. They value communication perhaps even more than they realize.
How many times have you heard these in exit surveys from families who have left your school:
- They felt like they didn't receive enough school communication
- They felt that they were sorely uninformed about what your school offered that might have made a difference in keeping them there.
When dissatisfied parents who considered leaving your school tell you that they haven’t received enough communication, you could pull up your email lists and show them all the emails you’ve sent to their email addresses. It could reveal that they never opened your emails. You may be proven right, but as a school administrator, when a family leaves due to their inability to communicate effectively with your school, does that help the school?
As much as you might want to simply wash your hands and move on, I challenge you to ask yourself and your school leadership team if you’re simply stuck in the old ways and need to change how you communicate with your parents.
Is Your School Over-Communicating Or Under Communicating?
There is a saying that I love:
“Over-communication leads to success, but a lack of communication makes a mess.”
I’ll say it again: yes, you can be right but you will still lose in the battle of retention. You will also jeopardize the overall morale of your current parents if you don’t figure out ways to connect with them where they are. There has to be clear and continuous communication with your current parents, through whatever means possible.
It takes real leadership to climb over this wall, and few schools have the desire to figure this out. I encourage you to take on this matter.
Match Your Media to Your Message
Always take into consideration the type of messages you need to communicate when determining the medium you plan to use to send them.
In general, most school messages are likely to fall into one of these categories:
- School events, happenings
- Individual students’ information, academic and behavior updates
- School policies or plans
- Time-sensitive information such as weather closings, safety notices
- Admissions, enrollment, financial information
- Human interest (fun stories about the school day, encouraging articles, etc.)
Take note that not all media is appropriate for every type of message. Alter your choice of delivery according to what you need to say. For example, text messaging is probably not the best way to announce an upcoming event next month, and email is not usually best to announce weather-related closings.
Be discerning about your communication medium choices. To put this in order, you can set up a group to be in charge.
As a school administrator, I recommend that you:
- Assemble your leadership team.
- Hold a meeting exclusively about this topic.
- Create a task group.
- Assign the task group to come up with Standard Operating Procedures for each of these types of communications.
It is imperative that your leadership team acknowledges ownership of this project. This will make them work more diligently on a process and a system that makes sense for your school. Likewise, they should work on a solution that is customer-focused, and not school-focused. This simply means that they should not choose what is most convenient for your staff. Instead, adopt a mindset that seeks out what is “parent-centric”, or what is most convenient for parents.
And now, here are 7 ways for private schools to communicate with parents other than just through email:
1. Text Messaging
Everyone texts now. In fact, texting is now most parents' preferred method of communication (source: eSchool News). Text messages are brief, accessible, but powerful means of reaching your parents straight to mobile phones in their pockets.
Use text messaging for:
- Short and sweet reminders
- Emergency or safety notifications
- Weather-related closings
- To let parents know when a new e-newsletter is published (with a link to the webpage version of the issue).
- Texting can also be used, with discretion, to remind parents of upcoming events and programs.
There are several texting platforms from which schools can choose to provide texting services:
All of these tools have similar basic service offerings with different twists, features, and pricing structures to meet your various school needs.
There are two important notes to remember when using text messaging in your parent communications:
Use them sparingly.
Avoid sending texts more than once a week (with the exception of weather and safety or emergency notifications). Don't annoy your parents with daily, inane announcements.
Segment your audience.
Most platforms I mentioned above offer the ability to categorize your contacts. For example, don't send a middle school basketball practice cancellation to the high school and elementary families.
Allow certain leaders, faculty, and coaching staff the ability to group text the classes, teams, or organizations that they are in charge of. This will also add the convenience and practicality that every text doesn’t have to come from the administration office. Delegating the texting responsibilities and privileges offers many benefits, but you will need to train these leaders, faculty, and coaches on expectations and frequency for this type of communication.
2. Mobile App
Most of your parents have smartphones, especially millennial parents and millennial moms. A mobile app provides a convenient one-stop shop for information and tasks for both your school staff and your current families.
If you have the budget for it, you can design and develop your own custom app. Otherwise, you can sign-up with school mobile app developers like School Messenger, Blackboard, or Campus Suite.
Parents can use the mobile app to:
- Get important announcements via push notifications.
As with text messaging, be careful not to overuse this feature as to not dilute your
message and be sure to segment the audiences who receive certain notifications.
- Pay for events, field trips, lunches, tuition, etc.
- Check grades and student progress
- Sign up to volunteer for other classroom duties
- Give school feedback
Consider offering an electronic “comment box” to allow anonymous suggestions or concerns to be voiced.
3. Social Media
For all the buzz that social media receives, please remember that this should not be your first line of communication. You should also avoid relying heavily on it for tangible effectiveness. While a well-managed social media presence can boost the feeling of school pride, involvement, and community, in general, it is not a parent's preferred method of practical school information.
On the other hand, social media should always have a place in your school's communication choices. Just keep in mind that different social media platforms serve different purposes.
We suggest that our clients focus on no more than one or two social media platforms, and to do each of them well. Don't stretch yourself too thin, as an abandoned or sparsely utilized social media page may do your school's online reputation more harm than good.
Here are some suggestions on how you can use some of the most popular social media sites:
- Post videos and photos from your school day
- Use hashtags to create conversation and enhance community
- Create memes and stories to add a dose of fun, humor, or inspiration to your families' feeds.
Post ideas from teachers about:
- How to extend classroom learning at home (articles, suggestions on products or toys to buy, encouraging resources)
- Favorite devotional links
- Printables that can aid with student learning, or have words printed for elementary school memory songs.
Facebook and Twitter
- Post Pictures and videos from your school day and events (don't forget about Facebook live!)
- Links to upcoming events, blog posts, announcements.
Even if it requires an opt-in by parents, there are convincing statistics that show how people open and respond to a Facebook Messenger conversation at over 80% open rates! (source: neilpatel.com)
While this may be a gold mine for parent communication, be aware that it hasn’t been explored comprehensively yet by most schools. Sure, the reality is not all of your parents are on Facebook, but this tool can be helpful.
Test the waters and see for yourself!
4. Written and Printed Materials
Sometimes, having something tangible in your hands is the most powerful way to receive a message. While our days of printing out hundreds of packets, brochures, and flyers are mostly gone (and the forests are thanking us), for many schools, written communication can go a long way in reaching your parents.
Here are some examples of how you can use printed or written communication materials wisely:
Teachers should have a schedule of when each student's parents will receive written communication (perhaps twice a month – one being a general class update and another a personal note about the student).
These messages can include:
- Academic progress – can be used to praise a child’s progress or as a notification if a child's work is slipping in quality.
- Behavior and social updates.
- Curriculum information and foresight.
- Important event promotions.
- Crucial school policy changes.
- Financial or tuition information.
- Handwritten thank you notes to volunteers, donors, or simply to thank a parent for their trust in and general support of your school.
5. Phone Calls
Just as with written communication, the more antiquated method of phone calls can be an effective way to get parents' attention. It can also provide a much-appreciated personal connection that doesn't come through mass emails and texts.
To best utilize phone calls to communicate with your parents, try:
Automated phone calls (“robo-calls”).
Also known as “robo-calls”, automated phone calls are similar to mass texting, and can be used for time-sensitive, quick notifications.
Personal calls from teachers and administrators.
As with teacher-parent communication, you may want to have a schedule for teachers to call parents to discuss their students' progress. We mentioned the power of a personal call from the Head of School in an earlier blog post about retention; you can't deny the immeasurable value of that kind of personal connection.
Parent-to-Parent to calls.
Whether you have a class phone tree, “room mothers,” or if you utilize your Word of Mouth team ambassadors, you can have some of your trusted parents call their peers to pass on class and school announcements, and the like.
You can learn more about Word of Mouth marketing with our infographic.
Your online storefront to the world should also be a go-to resource for both current and prospective parents. As such, ensure that it is frequently updated, intuitively organized, and comprehensively populated, so that your community knows that they can trust it to have whatever they need.
Keep these items easily accessible for parents, on your website:
- Events on your calendar. Be sure that your calendar offers a feature that allows parents to subscribe and receive automatic updates on their mobile calendars.
- Handbooks and forms.
- Breaking news and press releases when applicable.
Lastly, don’t neglect the classic, most basic and yet most powerful form of communication: face-to-face conversations.
When you meet parents in person, remember to:
- Provide intentional forums and moments that parents know are available to connect with school faculty and administrators.
- Post specified open office hours when parents in your community know they can stop by to chat with the Head of School (it’s a bonus if you offer coffee and snacks during those hours, as well).
- Have your key administrators visible and accessible at school events, where they can mingle and connect with parents. They should make an effort to talk to those who they don't know as well.
Bottom line: Let parents know that you value their friendship, their trust, and their ideas by being an open and available listening ear.
Now, we did say this post would cover communication avenues “other than email,” but realizing that schools will (and should) continue relying on email to communicate with parents, we'd like to offer one important tip to make it more worth your while.
Your school should use a reputable email marketing platform (such as HubSpot or Constant Contact) to enhance security, deliverability, and metrics. Not only do these platforms help you not get flagged as a potential spammer, but they also possess incredible insights you can use to study your parents' habits and interests.
With the immediate open and click rate results, you can find out:
- What times are best for sending.
- Which types of emails your parents are opening.
- Which parents are engaging with your emails.
Finally, we realize that each community is different, so find out what your parents’ preferences are. You can do this by conducting a survey, a focus group, or simply talking with your involved parents. You may end up discovering how much they want to hear from you, as well as talk with you. You can then follow through to ensure that your messages are received. After all, good communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship!
We at Schola are here to help you as you take on this challenge of effective communication with your families! We encourage you to engage on our Facebook page to comment on this article and if you have some ideas that might help other schools who struggle with this issue.