Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

We must understand the difference bewtween communicating To and communicating WITH. Photo from http://bit.ly/pvuhJa

As our school moves to attempt to add another stream of communication to parents via SMS (text messaging), I have been asked – “how many ways do we need to communicate with parents?”  Should parents not just try harder to stay informed of their child’s education?

My responses are twofold:

  1. We need to differentiate our parent communication so we meet families where they are.  Each family has a varied level of involvement and engagement due to time availability, access to technology, and ability to exchange in dialogue.  Some families have the cultural capital (non-financial social assets like time, money, confidence, etc) to engage in ongoing face-to-face dialogue with the principal, teachers and staff at their child’s school; others prefer to use technology (email, blog comments, Facebook, etc) to communicate while some families are content (or due to family circumstances, it is the only option) to receive information from the school.
  2. We need to be clear of the difference between communicating TO families and communicating WITH families.  There is a purpose for both but we need to be very clear that TO and WITH serve different needs for our families.  Communicating TO families is a way of broadcasting information while communicating WITH families is a way of exchanging in dialogue.

So with the understanding that we need to meet families where they are and we need to use a number of different tools to communicate both TO and WITH families, what are some ways we can do this?

COMMUNICATING TO – GETTING THE INFORMATION OUT THERE

  • newsletters
  • reports
  • announcements, newspaper articles and ads
  • emails, SMS
  • Website
  • Twitter feed
  • Blogs
  • Facebook Page

COMMUNICATING WITH – CREATING DIALOGUE

The key with parent communication is clarity of PURPOSE.  We cannot say that we communicate WITH parents effectively if we are not visible in the public and our technology does not encourage feedback and dialogue.  Technology is not a replacement for face-to-face dialogue but can be used in a way to increase the likelihood of these meetings through developing confidence and better school-family relationships.

Schools have traditionally worked to improve communication TO parents and families. In today’s system this is not enough. We, as educational leaders, need to increase dialogue and communication WITH families by not only making ourselves more visible but also by embracing the available social media tools to meet parents and families where they are.

Cross posted at The Wejr Board blog – please click here to see further comments. Twitter: @mrwejr

5 comments for “Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

  1. September 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    You’ve raised a very valid point regarding the difference between TO and WITH in school-parent communication. Some schools tend to favor one for the other (or worse, simply fails to differentiate between these), which results to both parties (school and the family) losing valuable opportunities to come together.

    Also, regarding the question posed to you multiple times, I would have answered, “as many as possible”. I would rather err on the side of overcommunicating things than leaving people out of the loop.

  2. Penny Lindballe
    September 11, 2011 at 2:50 am

    Chris,

    Very timely article as I was just having a conversation tonight around enhancing parent school communication with a good friend. You make a good point in clarifying the “with” and “to”! The other thing I would like to see fleshed out a bit more is the difference between what the school wants to tell parents and what the parents want to know. Sometimes I think there is a disconnect there …. what are your thoughts? Do you actively engage parents in the discussion around what type of things they would like to see in these communications?

  3. September 12, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Interesting article. Many of our schools try to focus on parental engagement – not just an outbound supply of school information, but a method of involving parents in certain aspects of schools through feedback, discussion and effective management.

    Technology is constantly improving to allow more online paperless ways of communicating which many schools have effectively used to improve child well being and learning through greater parent involvement.

  4. Larry LaPrise
    September 25, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Great article. I am a principal of a 1:1 Jr. High in Arizona. I send 2 to 3 parent emails per week. I always end my emails with “if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please reply back.”

    This is an easy way to receive parent feedback.

  5. M Jordan
    September 27, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Great article and very timely for me. My team were discussing only a few weeks ago the effectiveness of our school’s communications with families. Issues discussed included the different opinions among staff on the responsibility of the parents to stay in touch and the different methods we use to communicate and the success rates of these various methods. Your point about different families wanting (for various reasons) differing levels of communication with the school takes a new angle and one which our team needs to look at and recognise, rather than just blaming some families for not being more engaged.
    We would like to consider SMS and Facebook communications and do better in sending communications that actually encourage replies and feedback. Lack of replies is feedback that our systems are not encouraging dialogue so we need to look at alternatives.
    Thankyou for this food for thought!

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