Without effective communication, even the best family engagement activities will fall short of desired outcomes. Educators must engage in reflective practices to ensure we’re not using any of these five family communication roadblocks.
Roadblock #1: Not listening to parents’ perspectives
Roadblock #2: Not responding promptly
Roadblock #3: Talking at instead of with parents
Roadblock #4: Sending home irrelevant information or sending critical information through students
Roadblock #5: Expecting parents to find their own answers
Family Communication Solutions
Pause and ask yourself if you or others at your school are falling upon these roadblocks. Even if you’re not, it’s best to consider action steps you can take to prevent communication blocks or family disengagement.
Solution: Listen to parents. We must pay attention to what is said, value what is said enough to process it, and then think about how to respond. When educators listen to parents, they aren’t thinking about their next meeting, what else they want to say, or how they will respond. They’re openly listening, thinking, and trying to take the parent’s or family member’s perspective. Make the conscious decision to focus exclusively on the parent and what they are trying to communicate. We can learn much from families if we pause and listen.
Solution: Establish a system that supports prompt family communication. Like their children, parents are used to communicating electronically. Leverage these experiences to provide prompt parent responses without adding additional demands on school staff. For example, include intuitive website designs that make it easy for parents to find information, connect with teachers, and network with other families. Provide a customer-service type of chat like you often see on consumer websites. Establish a plan for front office staff to use when parents call the front office or send an electronic message (via text, email, or chat) that requires follow-through.
Solution: Plan family communication opportunities. Remember, family communication works best when it is two-way. You’re working together to support the child. That can’t happen when one person feels shut down, undervalued, or rushed. Plan your family communication opportunities so that there is plenty of time to share vital information with parents, allow them time to process the information and ask questions, and include time for parents to share their own information and engage in authentic dialogue.
Solution: Provide relevant information in accessible ways. Technology allows us to use communication tools that educators only dreamed of a short time ago. No longer must we rely on printed papers shoved into a student’s backpack, mass emails that go to junk folders, or robocalls that go unanswered. Instead, educators should focus their efforts on providing information to families in relatable and informative ways. For example, an automated chat feature on your school’s website can answer many parents’ questions without wasting valuable staff time. Filter who receives emails, texts, or phone calls so that families receive only the information that is relevant to their children and family. Sending relevant information directly to parents (regardless of the student’s age) in a format that parents choose helps them become more engaged as they no longer must sift through the messages to find those valuable nuggets.
Solution: Provide information to families in a variety of ways. While we don’t want to inundate families with too much information or information that is not relevant to them personally, we do need to ensure that information is readily accessible to families in various formats. For example, websites, chats, Q&A videos, family networks, and informational articles should be consistent and provide the information parents need. Then, when they go to their preferred source of information, they will be sure to find the answers to their questions.
We know that increased family engagement positively impacts student outcomes – socially, emotionally, and academically. But it also positively impacts the school with additional support, recommendations to other families, and increased retention of existing students and families. So are you ready to tear down roadblocks, facilitate family engagement, and recruit and retain more students?