District Resources / Feb 18, 2021

How to Build a District-Level Parent Engagement Strategy

How to Build a District-Level Parent Engagement Strategy

As modern communication methods and modes continually shift and advance, this can cause all school district stakeholders’ attention to fragment into a myriad of different directions. Often, this overload can result in an undesired yet unavoidable effect for all: checking out. If parent engagement is to survive amongst these swiftly moving shifts, coupled with the bits of chaos surrounding their “new normal,” then your district will need to implement an effective and targeted parent engagement strategy. 

Highlighted below are nine steps to guide your district’s communication strategy, so that parent engagement remains an integral part of your planning:

STEP 1: Aligning Your Mission and Parent Engagement Strategy

Is your mission in sync with your strategy?

Your district’s parent engagement strategy should start with the primary first step of articulating your well-planned, thoughtful, and intentional mission to all stakeholders; this includes parents. Your mission reflects what you, as a district, stand for, what you value, and it represents your standard for behavior for everyone serving under its umbrella.

Indeed, you likely have your mission in place already, but it’s good practice to review it every year. This re-evaluation will make room for revision, ensuring that it resounds with everything you do, and this includes your parent engagement strategy. If your mission doesn’t coincide with everything you do, then you run the risk of damaging your brand, tarnishing your image, and worse, your mission may come off as meaningless. 

 

STEP 2: Set Achievable Goals Backed By Strategies

What communication goals will you set, and what strategies will you utilize to ensure their success?

While a  great communication plan starts with a clear and aligned mission, it should then be followed by achievable communication goals backed by strategic tactics. While a general plan calls for broad goals, this topic-specific communication plan will be more targeted. With that, as you shape these goals, parents should remain at the forefront and never slip into the recesses of your mind. Also, to see these goals reach their full potential, it is essential to have everyone’s full support at every level of your entire district.  

Some examples of communication/engagement goals are:

  • Develop meaningful, two-way engagement with parents and assure they are heard.
  • Increase opportunities to share the good news about the district, schools, staff, and students. 
  • Deliver targeted content on important district-level, school-level, and classroom-level information to parents. 
  • Decide which communication tools and methods will be the most effective in reaching your parents.

Be reminded that while it’s excellent to set these goals, you cannot expect to go about attaining them without a plan. Therefore, once they’re established, develop specific strategies for each goal, the “how we will achieve this specific goal” tactics to help your district see each through to success. During the planning, keep in mind what the best practices will be to obtain and maintain parental involvement.

 

STEP 3: Know Your Audience and Know Them Well

How do the parents in your district want to interact with communication, and what barriers are present that may impede your messages?

After you set goals and establish tactics to achieve them, you must remain cognizant of who your target audience is. At times, this can get lost because, as a district, you exist to provide service to many different parties. So, to best serve the parental portion, you need to know them and know them well.

Given our heavy digital environment, it’s necessary to offer parents both appropriate tools and modes of communication in the ways which they prefer. If you plan your parent engagement strategy blindly without gathering input from your intended market, then you will have equivalent results: a blindly-driven communication plan. To combat this, gain parents’ perspectives to understand their communication needs and potential barriers. 

During this quest, some questions, of the many, to ponder are:

  • What type(s) of communication technology do your parents have, or not have, access?
  • Do parents prefer text messages through your district’s communication app? 
  • Does your communication invoke an action, create community, and evoke buy-in from parents? 
  • What language(s) does your district communication need to be conveyed? 

There are various ways to collect this information and other necessary data, including e-surveys, parent interviews, advisory panels/committees, analyzing website analytics, and as highlighted in the next step: “Observe Others.” 

 

STEP 4: Observe Others

What are nearby districts doing well and not so well?

As you’re learning your target audience, you’ll find that the need for effective communication with them grows, as do the number of tools and tactics used to do so. Therefore, it’s a great measure to check out what nearby school districts are doing to reach out to their parents and what’s being done to evoke two-way communication.

Observe all of their communication means, from perusing their websites and social media platforms to learning what communication app is utilized. From these observations, see what seems to be working well and, also, not so well. Borrowing something that’s operating smoothly from another district and tailoring it to suit your own is a smart practice. It helps eliminate guesswork for something established as tried and true.

So, check out the “competition,” if you will, and it will make your task of generating excellent parent engagement strategies one step simpler.

 

STEP 5: Understand, Embrace, and Stay Current with Communication Channels

What are the best communication channels for your district’s parents, and how do you embrace and stay abreast of them? 

So, if you’re following the steps so far, then you’ll be prepared to survey your parents to learn what their preferred methods of communication are. With the understanding that today’s communication channels present districts with boundless possibilities, equal are the limitations and risks that come with some of them. Therefore, it’s vital to stay abreast of the avenues that are currently available and to understand and embrace the ones that will serve your district and parents best. 

Here are a few means of communication that you may see within your survey results:

  • District and school websites
  • District and school mobile apps
  • All-in-one communication apps 
  • Social media
  • Email
  • Video channel
  • Blog
  • Podcasts

Now, understand that traditional avenues such as take-home paper correspondences and in-person meetings are not a thing of the past as they can still fare well with parents. However, your district’s driving communications force should be digitally influenced as most parents’ communications exist within 21st Century technology.

Consider catering to a hybrid approach with these aforementioned traditional methods, such as incorporating your district’s communication app for those take-home letters and utilizing videoconferencing for parent-involved meetings. Overall, how your district uses its chosen platforms can contribute to a successful communication plan that speaks to parents, or the contrary: one that has gone silent.

 

STEP 6: Harness the Power of Social Media or Engagement Platforms

How many followers does your district have?

Now that your district is organized, and staying on top of the communication channels available – hone in on one that should be implemented immediately: social media. Or, if you’re already using it, elevate its usage to a higher level. While most people are familiar with this platform for personal use, many districts miss its utility as an excellent communication tool to engage parents. Social media adds a visually engaging way to get news, information, and highlights to your parents. 

Alternatively, many districts opt for the all-in-one platforms that combine all social media capabilities and improve upon them. Platforms like ClassTag Connect help bring parent engagement to your district while giving leaders actionable data to target at-risk families. 

Social channels and parent engagement platforms open up a shared, two-way communication method that many parents gravitate to. Both should be a priority consideration in your communication planning as your school district becomes more mobile.

 

STEP 7: Choose Your Communications Wisely

Is what you communicate essential, pertinent, and necessary according to parents?

As indicated, your district should use social media, but keep in mind that not everything is post-worthy. Along the same vein, not every single message ever thought of by each district member needs to go out across your communications app or into an email home. Doing these things will overload your parents and potentially cause them to ignore your important messages, whether this is done inadvertently or worse, occurring on the contrary. Choose your communications wisely so that you maintain parental engagement and elicit their involvement. 

Also, remember that a district parent engagement strategy is about more than just news and announcements. Choosing what content goes out requires you to know what your parents want to hear and when they want to listen to it (refer to Step 2). From delivering time-sensitive news through your communication app to posting human-interest stories and images on your social media pages, these efforts help shape who you are as a district in your parents’ minds. 

 

STEP 8: Recognize the Legal Aspects of your Parent Engagement Strategy

How will you consider all legal aspects pertaining to your strategy?

You’ve made your way through six steps so far, but in them, have you considered the legalities of all that are involved with your communication strategy? Protecting your district is of great importance, ensuring that you stay entirely aligned with the increasing legal aspects involved.

There is a multitude of communication laws to remain mindful of during the process of drafting a plan, some of which include:

    • Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)– an FCC regulation regarding district use of automated voice and text messages 
    • Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)– a family’s right to request and receive their child’s academic records through using an online submission form or email
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)– in addition to all that this act initially covers, it now also applies to your district’s websites; they should be easy for a screen reader to scan
    • The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)– districts must consent from parents before asking their children about certain personal information; extends to electronic surveys, polls, and other questionnaires.
    • The Freedom of Information Act (FIOA)– districts must respond to any copy requests within ten days about all records, transcripts; includes emails, blog posts, etc.

 

STEP 9: Measure, Adjust, Repeat

How did that all of that work for you?

Now that you’ve made it through here to the last step, the final measure is to do precisely that: measure. Just as in Step 1, where your mission should endure annual review, essentially, the same concept applies to your parent engagement strategy. If parental engagement strategy effectiveness is at stake, it just makes sense to continually assess just how well things are, or are not, working for your district.

Evaluation is the continuous portion of your communication strategy that enables you to keep your planning and execution responsive and flexible. For example, you want to pause at certain checkpoints to gauge various parental involvement goals’ success or failure. As well, make it a habit to observe how your district is performing, communications-wise, compared to other local districts.

This evaluation process, coupled with adjustments, will only help your district achieve its overarching goal and produce a meaningful communication plan that evokes parental engagement.

 

In Summary

These vital steps should be taken to create the most fitting, inclusive communication plan for your district. Keeping in mind that modern communication seems to twist at every turn is of utmost importance as your plan may need to adjust accordingly. If your ultimate goal is to design a strategy that truly connects your parents, one of your key district stakeholders, then get to know them well and communicate with them in ways that elicit involvement, engagement, and interest. 


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