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Are you a school, paediatric unit or childcare centre looking to communicate with the parents of your charges better? Let us tell you a secret…. parents are humans too! No really, they are. Which means the question we should really be asking is, how do we communicate better?
When it comes to effective communication there are two main areas: message and delivery. The message refers to what you’re trying to say, whereas the delivery refers to the method by which you say it.
In this post, we’re going to discuss ways to better communicate important information to parents more easily.
Once upon a time a printed newsletter popped in a child’s bag was the only method of communication between teacher and parent. But as we all know, time’s have changed. According to studies, the average person will spend nearly two hours (approximately 116 minutes) on social media everyday.
As a result, social media is almost certainly one channel where teachers and childcare centres are able to reach parents. But how should you use the channels and how do you know which one to choose?
Choosing a social media channel for parents
Facebook is by far the widest reaching social media channel, reported to reach 79% of all internet users. It also spans the widest age gap, reaching:
By comparison, Instagram reaches 32% of internet users and Twitter 24%. However, public Twitter feeds and Instagram profiles can both be accessed without a user requiring a Twitter or Instagram account, which could make them accessible for all parents, not just those on social media.
Lastly, most social media channels are now a victim of the algorithm, which affects how and when content is seen. This means that relying on a Facebook post or tweet to tell parents about something occuring in real time, might not be effective as they may not see the post until hours later, if at all.
Using a social media channel to communicate with parents
When it comes to using social media to communicate with parents, you’ve probably already guessed that privacy may be a concern. Ask yourself; what type of information do you want to share? School opening times, general notices and anything else which would usually be shared on a website, could probably also be shared on social media.
Private information such as names of specific children, or photos, may need a more ring-fenced solution. Here’s an example of how you might set different social media parameters to communicate with parents via Facebook:
Level 1: Public Facebook page - this will be viewable by anyone using Facebook, therefore could be used to share public notices and information.
Level 2: Open Facebook group - viewable by anyone, but only members can post within them.
Level 3: Closed Facebook group - this can be found by anyone on Facebook but only members of the group can view the content and other members there. You can also choose to only admit new members once they have been approved.
Level 4: Secret Facebook group - this can only be found by current members and anyone invited by a member, which keeps information secure but means that new members could only be added if the admin is already friends with them or knows their Facebook name.
Best for: social media is best for communicating public information with parents and providing them with an up-to-date channel to check for updates and real time news.
If you wanted to find a more creative way of engaging with parents in your organization, in-person meets and events could be a good place to start.
If we take inspiration from the world of corporate communications, meetings have had a shake-up and your standard format of teacher talks, parent listens is no longer the only option. Here are a few ideas for how you could better communicate with parents using in-person meets:
This works primarily for smaller groups or one-on-one meetings but why not take a parent, or group of parents, on a walking meeting? It’s a method that’s been championed by business leaders and philosophers, including Steve Jobs and even Sigmund Freud. Walking while talking is supposed to increase endorphins, provide higher energy levels and even breakdown boundaries. Particularly useful for difficult conversations, as walking side-by-side is said to reduce hierarchy and put everyone (quite literally) on a more even footing.
Use the “yes and” meeting game
If you’re hosting a parent meeting to try and find a solution, why not introduce the “yes and” meeting game. This is where every point raised is followed by “yes and…” which fosters further conversation and allows everyone to contribute positive thoughts and ideas for resolution.
Changing the scenery
Rather than always having your meeting set within the classroom or office, why not change the scenery? Heading to the school field, the lunch hall or even the gym, will provide a welcome change of context which may foster more creativity, interest and openness within the communication.
Best for: one-on-one engagements or times when you want to creatively solve a challenge with a particular child or parent.
The parent’s bulletin board is something we’re all familiar with and yes, it serves a purpose, but what if you swapped that bulletin board for a digital one?
Enter digital signage. It sounds fancy we know, but it’s really just a TV screen, powered by something simple like a $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick and a $20 ScreenCloud subscription (don’t forget your 25% educational or NFP discount too!).
There are even more powerful devices like our ScreenCloud OS device or the Intel NUC Celeron that can run your content all day, every day with no interuptions. For more tips on which device to choose, check out our helpful hardware selector tool for more guidance on which device is best for you.
Now onto the good bit: what happens when you have a digital screen in place for communicating with parents?
Ability to update information instantly
We’ve all had that time where we’ve sent something to print, only for the information to change the next day, rendering all that paper irrelevant. Not on digital signage’s watch. When you’re sharing your important bulletins via screens, you can change and edit content as often as you need to. Less errors, less cost and more accurate information.
Repurpose content you already own
If you’re strapped for time, digital signage is a way to make the effort you’re already channeling into other channels go further. The school photos you’ve spent weeks organizing? Share them on screen. The Twitter feed your English department has been so carefully managing? Share it on screen. The email messages you’ve sent to parents that you know they haven’t read? You see where we’re going with this - get them up on screen!
Involve children and/or parents
Who says you have to do all of the hard work? Digital screens can also be used to display children's work and knowledge or support from parents. This fosters community within your school and changes the teacher-tells-parent cycle, by creating a two-way portal for communicating.
Best for: sharing notices and important information that you don’t want parents to miss.
Having visual and creative methods of communication is important but often, you want to share a message with parents quickly and without bells and whistles. When this is the case, email and text can both be a good way of fostering communication.
A few things to remember when communicating with parents by email or text:
No “reply all”
If you’re broadcasting an email out to parents make sure you mention, or even disable, the “reply all” feature. This will prevent parents from replying to ask a question, or from a round-robin series of email chains to take hold. Don’t forget to “BCC” parents in, so that you’re not breaching data protection laws.
The most common error to make while communicating by email or text is to make an error. Following up one email or text with another to correct your mistake doesn’t make for the best method of communication so avoid where possible by proofing your communications before you hit send.
Level of urgency
Emails and text messages especially, convey a sense of urgency. For that reason, it’s probably best to keep anything non-urgent to a monthly newsletter, or as suggested above, to share on your physical digital signage screens. That way, when you do send a message by text or email, parents are far more likely to “tune in” to what’s being said.
Best for: communicating news, events or updates urgently.
Most schools or childcare centres have a website, but do many of them use it well? Probably not. If you’ve ever landed on a website, only to find that everything from opening times, to the date in the footer, doesn’t reflect reality then you aren’t the only one. Frustrating? Definitely. Especially when you’re there to find out a specific piece of information.
So how can you communicate with parents better through your website?
Once your website is live, set a reminder in your calendar to check the content again at least within three months. If you have time to read through every page to check for relevancy that’s great, if you don’t, use a tool such as Browserling to run your website across all browsers to see how it performs, and Dead Link Checker to see if and where any broken links are, so you can fix them.
Optimize for mobile viewing
Most websites are viewed today via a smartphone or smart device and Google often looks at mobile-first indexing to see just how well a website is optimized for the small screen. For that reason, it’s crucial that your website works on a device of any size, so that parents can use it effectively.
Think about the parent journey
Often we think of websites as being for our organization, to hold our information. The truth is, they’re agents for our parents. This means every part of your website, from the language you use, to how the pages are structured, should focus on providing value and ease of information. If you’re in doubt about how your website racks up, why not create a small focus group of parents and ask them to navigate through and give you feedback? You may be surprised at what they come up with.
Best for: keeping parents informed of school policies and communicating with potential parents.
The relationships educators and business owners have with parents is crucial to the success of how the child learns from, and interacts with, that brand or school. Like any relationship, the methods you use to communicate will change and grow over time. Hopefully this guide has given you some new ideas and insights into how better to communicate with parents in this modern age.
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