Shani Dowell, Possip’s Founder and CEO, spent time between the business, education, and nonprofit sectors. She was also teacher and organizational leader and has seen the need to hear from students, families, and staff. Shani also saw the many barriers to students, staff members, and families like time, language, and knowledge. Her experience in this field has allowed her to create these top 7 family engagement tools!
The past 3 years have created a broken trust between families and the schools where they send their children. The only path to rebuilding is in partnership and trust.
So, here are 7 family engagement tools that can help rebuild trust.
1 – Open Doors:
When trust has been fractured, more transparency and connection are needed. Determine an open door policy that works for your school. Is there a weekly event or meeting that parents can be invited to? Is there a weekly time of the week where you schedule tours? Can parents come and eat with their scholars? Because of the pandemic, restrictions were and are necessary. But use the restrictions as a problem to solve around, not as the end.
2 – Email or Paper Newsletters:
When my kiddos in elementary school got paper newsletters I would run into their backpacks on Friday like they had gotten a gift. Now sure it may not have been the most environmentally friendly, but something about holding those papers that summarized what had happened in the past or was coming in the future made me feel tangibly connected to the school. With the pandemic, those newsletters have shifted to an email newsletter. They can be hard to do well but as a parent, it’s great to get a weekly and routine newsletter. Avoid the newsletter being only logistical. The newsletter also should include:
- Calendar updates and reminders
- Any policies you want to reinforce
- Themes you’re hearing about through feedback channels
You can either use good old-fashioned emails – or there are some technology tools including Peach Jar, Emma, Mail Chimp, or Constant Contact that you can use.
3 – Texting Platforms:
There are two types of texting platforms – schoolwide or district-wide texting platforms, and platforms for individual teachers to communicate. Text messages are quick – and our data shows that parents engage more with text messages than with email messages.
You’ll want to have a method to send text messages to your families. Standard platforms like School Messenger and Blackboard help.
You’ll also want teachers to have a way to text with parents. They can use a Google voice number. You can also layer on tools like Talking Points so that you can communicate
4 – Feedback Platforms:
You’ll need systems to hear from your families. Possip is a one-of-a-kind tool that allows schools and districts to engage with their families through routine feedback text message surveys. Possip allows families to share an overall sentiment, share open-ended questions, feedback, and needs, and give our customers an easy-to-use platform to digest this information. If a tool like Possip isn’t in your budget priorities, you can create a system with a Google survey. Without Possip you will need a team member who can regularly comb through the results. But you want to make sure you have a feedback system for your families to share praise, feedback, and needs routinely, easily, and in multiple languages.
There are also ways to put links on your district or school website to collect feedback and products like K12 Insight. They do require a higher level of web and digital access and are more passive methods of collecting feedback than prompts through text. But they can provide another system of feedback.
5 – Social Media Platforms:
Social media can be a school or district’s best friend or worst nightmare. There are a few best practices we see with social media platforms. Firstly, use different platforms for your purpose.
- Use Instagram to profile videos and pictures that will reach parents
- Use Linked In to share job opportunities that you want families to see and consider
- Use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share calendar updates based on weather. Decide if you want to turn off comments. If you have a feedback platform you can also direct commentary to the platform as opposed to the Facebook page
- Use Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram to cast any meetings that are relevant for families such as school board meetings, PTO or PTA meetings, etc.
6 – Parent Communication Apps:
The utility of these apps depends on the culture and demographic of your school, as well as the resources you have to manage these apps. Parent Communication Apps tend to be one app that parents have to download that can include update notifications, calendars, and house other resources for a school or district.
While these can be helpful for parents, they are only as good as they are updated. Sometimes schools or districts get overwhelmed keeping them updated, and once the information isn’t up to date or relevant, parents stop trusting the app. This can prompt a bit of a vicious cycle of parents not trusting or using the app.
Parent communication apps can also be tricky if you don’t have a demographic with steady access to smartphones or wifi. They can be a bit complex to navigate and require a steady connection.
While there truly are no one-stop shops (nor should there necessarily be) this is a close one and therefore having some way – whether a website or a Facebook group or elsewhere – where parents know they can go for up-to-date information, is important.
7 – Website:
Having the apps and tools to engage with families is just the first step. Know that money should never be a barrier to having the tools to engage with families. Firstly, family engagement is well worth a significant investment. Secondly, there are many free tools you can use, but they may take more time.
You’ll notice that while some of these top 7 family engagement tools are technological tools, many of them aren’t. A hammer is still one of the most effective tools out there- and it has been around since (reportedly) 30,000 BC. That is to say, the best ways to engage don’t always have to involve the most technology.