by Kate Pechacek
Strong partnerships between schools, districts, and families are the heart of a positive, collaborative school culture. Site and district leaders set the tone for creating a welcoming environment and supporting staff in building trusting relationships with families so that students get the support they need. In planning engagement with families, here are 3 steps to enable effective family engagement:
1. Let the classroom lead the way
School- or district-wide messages will be better and more equitably received by families if they are sent in the same ways teachers communicate with families. When families hear from their child’s school, they hope for specific information about their own child. What families find most valuable tends to be the kinds of information shared by the classroom teachers and school staff who work directly with their child.
School and district leaders also have information they feel is important to share with families but don’t always have a holistic view of how that information is landing with any one family, much less across different communities within the district. Sometimes messages received from “the school” or “the district” can be seen as containing generic information that feels less pertinent and personal to families; this kind of communication can fall into the less important, spam-like category for some families.
Use this toolkit to create a family engagement plan at the start of the year so it’s simple and easy to execute all year long.
2. Keep it simple
Consider consumability and frequency. Families are overwhelmed with communication, especially email. Too much communication can cause families to tune out. Families have become particular about how they want to receive information and what content they will engage with. They are less likely to read messages from senders who send too many messages OR send messages that are long and time-consuming to read.
For the best chance at engaging families, messages should be limited in size (600 character count or less). If larger amounts of information need to be shared, consider sharing it as linked content within a short, engaging message, and clearly articulate the value to clicking on the attachment to read the additional information.
Additionally, consider sending no more than two messages per month at the district-wide level and no more than four messages per month at the school-wide level.
“I absolutely love TalkingPoints. I’m able to reach my son’s teacher throughout the day. She always sends me pictures of them doing activities which I love. It has opened more doors for teachers and parents to communicate everyday, and that’s one of my favorite parts. Also whatever announcements the school needs to get to the parents and guardians, they can do it instantly. I like that I can interact by putting a thumbs up or a ❤️emoji. I overall love the app ever since the school implemented it.” – Karen, a parent in Boston, MA
3. Meet families where they are
Families are busy. Many families, particularly newcomer families and those with the fewest resources, may not have ready access to a computer and are far less likely to use email. Additionally, for families with limited or no English, phone calls and voicemails left from the school in English may be intimidating or inaccessible.
To ensure your messages reach all families, tap into the device used by most: their mobile phone. Texting is the common denominator for engaging all families; it’s effective, works with family schedules, and delivers your message via the device families already use to manage day-to-day activities.
Remove barriers to entry for families by adopting a default opt-in system that pulls from your SIS into a platform you can use to seamlessly message families without requiring them to download or sign up to get started. Make it simple so that all families need to do to engage with their child’s teacher or school is read or respond to a text message.
Finally, help all families access and understand the important information you share by communicating with them in their home language. TalkingPoints’ proprietary translation solution uses human- and AI-supported translation in 150 languages. Built-in education glossaries ensure that words with multiple meanings are used in their K-12 context so they make sense for families. By removing barriers to engagement, system leaders help foster a welcoming environment for families and establish trusting relationships that will support student academic achievement and well-being.