Being a parent* is hard work. Being a teacher is also hard work. Parents are primarily responsible for their children’s well being and education. Teachers are also responsible for their students’ well being and education. See the similarities? Teachers and parents want students to be happy and successful. They have the same goals and desire to help students learn better.
From this perspective, a low level of parent engagement in school simply does not make sense. In fact, studies have shown that parents’ increased involvement in their children’s school life drastically improves student performance. In addition, students are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking. Their parents' guidance is still a crucial factor in their academic performance all the way up to college and beyond.
Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world where it is possible to communicate with parents at all times. There are many reasons for this, such as scheduling conflicts due to work commitments, the parents’ own experiences with school and other variables that teachers cannot control.
However, there is one thing that schools can do to improve parent engagement: effective communication. In other words, learning can flourish when teachers and parents agree to work together as a team.
What does effective teacher-parent communication look like?
To answer this question, schools need to take into account the various challenges that parents face, including busy schedules, struggles to keep up with new technology, or even speaking a different language than the main language of instruction. Here are some basic guidelines for effective parent-teacher communication:
Keeping it simple and to the point makes it easier for parents to cut through the noise of information overload. It is also good to know which facts to communicate verbally and which ones are better to be left in writing. For example, if you need to communicate factual information, do it via email. Parents also need to know from the beginning which will be the primary ways of getting in touch, whether it is calls, emails, newsletters, or messages. They should also know what to expect and when to expect to be contacted.
As Kraft and Rogers have concluded in their Harvard research paper, “[...]These findings underscore the importance of incorporating actionable, improvement information because this information enhances the productivity of parent-child interactions.” Since the goal is to work as a team, it is far better to include both positive and constructive feedback. For example, a student can be praised for their reading progress and given suggestions for improvement on their equations.
Consistency doesn’t mean that teachers should be running a 24/7 call answering service. In fact, there are certain boundaries that teachers need to set for their own sake, and there are certain things that they can do to improve their relationships with parents. For example, science teacher and TEDx speaker, Megan Olivia Hall, suggests that by reaching out to one parent per day, teachers will have created twenty positive interactions with her students' families at the end of the month. Consistency is also about knowing that they will be updated frequently on their child’s progress in school, receiving a newsletter at the same time each month, and so on.
Sometimes the barriers that are in the way of communication have nothing to do with being very busy. It can also mean that parents are overwhelmed by the number of tech tools available and are struggling to teach their children how to use them responsibly. In addition, teachers might also encounter a language barrier, in which parents do not speak English or the main language of instruction in your country. That is why schools should be prepared for these situations and act accordingly, whether it is by translating some school materials or by adopting edtech tools that enable multiple language use.
4 Great ideas for boosting parent engagement through edtech
Schools have been using edtech for many years now as a way of improving the learning process. They can find tools that are exclusively designed for engaging parents, as well as tools that include school staff and parents. Here are some of the ways in which edtech can boost parent engagement:
Edtech tools need to be intuitive and easy to use. In addition, a good platform has all the tools you need to communicate, whether it is by messaging, chat, notifications, and more. Groups are also a nice feature to have, since you can send information that concerns parents of an entire class, for example. Ideally, schools would also use one platform for everyone so that teachers would not have to switch between different means of communication, which can be very time-consuming. Keeping up with school events and even extra-curricular activities is an added bonus. Video conferencing can also be great in some circumstances since teachers can actually make a connection even with the busiest parents and it shows them that the school cares to adapt to some of their needs.
Show parents how to use the tools
Teachers need some training themselves before using new tools. Parents should also benefit from the same guidance, especially at first. For example, during a parent-teacher meeting, you can set up a session in which to explain which tools you plan to use for the entire school year and what are the benefits for students. Parents should also receive information about the accounts that their children will be using, such as Microsoft 365 to log in to the school system. In addition, they should be informed about privacy matters and how the school plans to protect students’ online safety. Giving them the how, when and why will make parents actually excited to learn more about edtech and how they themselves can use it to help their children succeed.
Read more: Ensuring online safety in schools is everyone’s business
Find edtech that includes parent accounts
Sure, as students grow older they value their independence more so this is not a requirement for college students. However, setting up parent accounts should be almost a must for K-12 schools. And edtech companies have taken notice of this trend. For example, a good learning management system will also include parent accounts in which parents can see upcoming school events, their children’s grades, projects or portfolios. Plus, an LMS can also include accessibility features and multiple languages so that parents will be able to use it in their preferred language.
Read more: How to create accessible e-learning design
Build engagement through real-time data
Edtech enables schools to intervene in a timely manner should a student fall behind or need extra help with an assignment. Instead of end of year reports that are complicated and full of data, features such as competency-based learning give teachers and parents more insight into student progress and the main areas for improvement throughout the school year. It also opens a path towards an open and honest conversation about changing the focus from academic achievement at all costs to building measurable and concrete skills.
Building strong teacher-parent relationships takes time and patience. As with any successful team, schools might need to prepare the ground for clear communication, expectation setting, and even conflict resolution. However, finding the right edtech tools can have tremendous benefits, especially when it comes to supporting students in their learning journey, which is, after all, why we are all here in the first place!
*Note: I use the term “parent” to include parents, guardians, foster parents, carers or anyone who is primarily responsible for the care of a student.