More talking, less teching
When parents are involved in their children's education, everyone benefits. Research has shown that engaged parents have better attitudes about their child's education, their children have better academic, behavioral, and social outcomes, and schools receive better ratings on measures of climate and culture. Effective communication is key to building trust and increasing high-impact family engagement.
The Center for American Progress (Feb. 2020) conducted surveys on parent and family engagement in schools prior to the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, the National PTA with Edge Research (Oct. 2020) conducted similar surveys after the pandemic hit. These surveys aimed to assess the level of satisfaction and involvement of families in the education of their children.
The findings provided valuable insights into the experiences of families and the ways in which schools can better engage and support them. By comparing pre- and post-pandemic surveys, a clearer picture can be drawn of the impact of the pandemic on parent and family engagement and the changes that need to be made to better support families and students.
Parents want individual attention
The CAP survey covered communication systems used by parents, teachers, and school leaders. Most respondents valued the communication systems, with parent-teacher conferences and personalized emails/calls being the most used. Social media was the least liked and used system. The most liked systems were those that gave individual attention, with or without technology. Teachers reported the systems they use and their school uses. The survey shows the importance of all systems and the need for better communication between school administrators and staff.
Schools are welcoming, parents positive
The findings showed a general positive outlook from families towards their schools and the communication they receive from them. Families believe that family engagement has value and for the most part, feel welcomed and respected by their schools. However, there is still room for improvement.
Not many families see their schools as doing an "excellent" job in all aspects of family engagement. In particular, Hispanic families, families who primarily speak a language other than English, and families with disabilities had a different, less positive experience. The surveys also showed that middle and high school families had significantly lower ratings compared to other families on key metrics like feeling welcome, feeling like they belong at school, two-way communication, and engagement with teachers and staff.
Less technology, more conferences, collaboration
One area where schools seem to be falling short is in their efforts to communicate effectively to support student success. The surveys revealed that parents and families would like to see less reliance on technology such as apps and texting, and more honest face-to-face conversations about their children. Additionally, there is interest in more and better parent-teacher conferences, as these are the top engagement channels that parents and families report. However, it is possible that these opportunities are underutilized for real conversations between schools and families.
Strengthening collaboration between schools and families is essential to support student success. The surveys found that most parents and families are not confident in knowing where to turn when they have a question, and many feel that reaching administrators and teachers could be easier.
Schools also received relatively low scores when it came to asking parents for insights about their children or offering transparency in decision-making. Although most families feel that their input is welcome, there are signs that it is not necessarily sought out by schools. To improve two-way communication and share power with families, it is important for schools to actively seek out and incorporate the perspectives and insights of parents and families.
The findings from the PTA show that only 25% of respondents believe that the communication they receive from their child's school is actionable and personalized. Nearly 70% of the respondents believe that the communication is relevant to them or their child. The communication was seen as pretty well-scheduled and consistent by 59% of respondents and only 24% felt that the communication was proactive.
Survey findings from the PTA indicate that nearly half of the respondents agree that the school relies too much on technology for communication, and that the teachers could be more honest in their feedback to parents. Additionally, many respondents feel that there is a lack of consistency in the level of engagement from different teachers. The agreement was higher among Black respondents, those who speak another language at home, and those living in urban areas.
The findings suggest that sharing thoughts with school administration can be difficult for 31% of respondents, especially for middle and high school parents and those who speak another language at home. Sharing thoughts with teachers was seen as easier with 78% finding it either easy or providing some opportunities, but 22% still felt it was difficult. There were higher percentages of respondents with difficulties in sharing thoughts among those with disabilities and those with high school children.
Recommendations for schools and districts
School districts can help build systems and policies to simplify communication efforts at the school level. They should:
Effectively use Title I parent engagement funds to set strong, consistent school-parent communication expectations within a district and create the infrastructure to facilitate communication within individual schools.
Hire technology advisers to support high-impact family engagement efforts and help schools select communication tools that fit their capacity and community.
Reinforce parent communication as a central responsibility of every teacher and every school, and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that teachers and other school staff have the capacity and tools to communicate with parents.
Prioritize the importance of parent communication and ensure that schools allocate adequate resources to support teachers and facilitate the sharing of information.
Set norms for all schools and create professional development opportunities to help teachers provide key information.
Adjust staffing to ensure that teachers and other staff have time to use effective communication methods.
Project Appleseed's Parent Engagement Pledge offers a solution to communication problems by providing a clear and consistent expectation of communication between schools and families. By using the Pledge, schools can ensure that they are communicating effectively with families and fostering engagement that benefits everyone. The Pledge includes a short quiz for potential volunteers about the talents, skills, and time they are willing to share using the Inventory of Volunteer Interests. This helps schools to effectively match volunteers to opportunities that best utilize their skills and talents, such as leading lunch-time walks, weekend games, and after-school exercise programs.
Here are some resources for promoting effective communication between parents and schools:
National PTA (Parent Teacher Association): The National PTA provides resources and tips for effective communication between parents and schools, including suggestions for holding parent-teacher conferences and ways to stay involved in your child's education. Website: https://www.pta.org/
Edutopia: Edutopia is a website that provides resources and information for educators and parents on a variety of education-related topics, including effective communication. They offer articles and videos on topics such as how to build strong relationships with teachers and how to effectively communicate with your child's school. Website: https://www.edutopia.org/
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): NASP provides resources and information for parents on a variety of education-related topics, including effective communication. They offer guidance on how to communicate effectively with teachers, how to handle conflicts, and how to support your child's success in school. Website: https://www.nasponline.org/