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:
- 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.
- 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
- announcements, newspaper articles and ads
- emails, SMS
- Twitter feed
- Facebook Page
COMMUNICATING WITH – CREATING DIALOGUE
- face to face meetings –LISTEN
- parent phone calls
- emails that encourage replies
- website/blogs with comments enabled
- Twitter that encourages @ replies and dialogue
- Facebook pages and discussion boards that are open (and moderated)
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.