Reach Every Parent / Sep 05, 2023
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If you’re researching how to empower parents in schools, we would like to take a moment to appreciate you. You’re focused on one of the most important ways to help students in your school or district to thrive both in the short term, and the long term.
Effective communication is essential for building strong relationships between schools and families. The multiple benefits of parental involvement are documented by several studies on student achievement (Catalano & Catalano, 2014; Haskins & Jacobsen, 2017; Jeynes, 2016; Ricker, G., Belenky, D. & Koziarski, M. (2021)), social-emotional health (Epstein & Salinas, 2004) and social functioning (El Nokali et al., 2010). However, numerous invisible barriers often hinder communication and prevent any meaningful engagement from taking place.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to identify and address these barriers to create a culture of open and productive communication as a school leader or teacher.
In this blog post, you’ll identify the different barriers to engagement, assess your communication culture, and get solutions to overcome the obstacles your school or district faces.
This blog is part of our six-part series on tips for an effective Family Engagement Plan.
Read The Complete Family Engagement Plan Series
Table Of Contents For How to Empower Parents in Schools and Remove Barriers to Communication
Most educators and parents start the day with multiple digital devices and information blaring at them from every direction. According to pbsng.org, the average adult makes 35,000 remotely conscious decisions daily, so it’s easy to understand how information falls through the cracks.
The truth is that there will always be a lot going on in the life of a parent or educator, so it’s important to recognize and address communication barriers to facilitate engagement between them.
Communication barriers between families and schools can manifest in various forms, both physical and attitudinal.
Language barriers, limited access to technology and resources, cultural differences, and conflicting schedules are the most common physical barriers that impede effective communication. Conversely, comfort zones, intimidation, values, cliques, and perceptions often create attitude barriers, leading to misunderstandings and missed communication.
Firstly, parents who speak a different language than spoken in the greater community or at school may need help understanding the information shared by teachers or school leaders. Conversely, teachers may hesitate to contact parents due to these language barriers.
Resources and Technology Constraints
For the most part, lack of technology and resources often impede effective communication. But, of course, not all families have the same technological literacy nor the same access to technology or resources. Teachers, too, often need help with their technological constraints and lack of necessary resources.
Time and Schedule Constraints
For most, time and schedule constraints usually pose significant barriers to communication. Parents have demanding work schedules and family responsibilities, leaving them with small pockets of free time, while educators’ availability for meetings can be limited. As a result, finding mutually convenient communication windows can sometimes feel like nothing short of a miracle.
What is more, reachability constraints can cause huge problems. These challenges arise when parents and teachers face difficulties physically connecting or being accessible to one another. They include geographical distance, transportation issues, work scheduling issues, and socioeconomic impediments that limit access to the school and/or necessary resources.
Finally, cultural differences can be a significant physical barrier to parent/teacher engagement. When parents and teachers come from diverse cultural backgrounds, variations in communication styles, expectations, values, and norms can make establishing effective lines of communication and collaboration challenging.
These differences may include communication styles, perceptions of authority and hierarchy in the parent/teacher relationship, expected roles of parents in education, degree of assertiveness, and more.
Cliques refer to exclusive social groups or networks that may form among parents or teachers within a school community. When cliques form, they can create divisions and hinder inclusive engagement.
Parents or teachers outside of these cliques may feel excluded or find it difficult to establish meaningful connections and engage in open communication. Cliques can limit collaboration and prevent the formation of a supportive and inclusive parent/teacher community.
Values encompass personal beliefs, principles, and priorities that guide individuals’ actions and decision-making. When parents and teachers have differing values, it can lead to conflicting perspectives on education, discipline, or aspects of a student’s education.
These differences in values can create barriers to effective engagement, as parents and teachers may need help finding common ground or understanding each other’s viewpoints.
Comfort zones represent the psychological boundaries within which individuals feel safe, secure, and familiar. For example, parents and teachers may have different comfort zones regarding communication and engagement styles.
Parents may hesitate to approach teachers or initiate conversations due to shyness, lack of confidence, or cultural norms. Similarly, teachers may have comfort zones regarding communication preferences or teaching methods.
You are probably hoping to start addressing these issues right away.
Before implementing any solutions, assessing your communication culture is crucial. Understanding the existing challenges and potential areas of improvement from the school and district is the first step to removing barriers.
Questions to consider when evaluating your communication culture:
Reflecting on these questions will provide valuable insights into your communication culture and the areas most in need of the following solutions. (Okay, start addressing those issues now!)
While achieving perfect communication is challenging, various solutions are available to help overcome the physical and attitudinal barriers that are sure to crop up. Some easy solutions to consider include auto-translation, multi-channel reach, collecting connectivity data, streamlining clear and concise communication, taking the time to tailor messages for families, and more.
Utilize tools that can automatically translate communications to bridge language barriers. Platforms like ClassTag Connect provide seamless translation capabilities, enabling two-way communication between districts, schools, teachers, and parents in different languages. As a result, vital information reaches all stakeholders, fostering greater understanding and engagement.
Pro Tip: Figuring out the preferred language for parent communications should take place in the first interaction with the parent. Store and circulate this information to the other educators if you aren’t using a platform that does it for you, and make sure the information carries on to the following year so that communication is assured from that point forward.
Recognize that not all parents rely on email as their primary communication channel. Implement a multi-channel approach to reach parents through text messages, push notifications, mobile apps, social media, school websites, and printed materials. By diversifying communication channels, you increase the chances of reaching all parents effectively.
Pro Tip: Some parents prefer face-to-face meetings, while others prefer email or phone calls. Take the time to understand individual preferences and make a note of it, or program it into your parent-teacher engagement platform. Personalized communication shows that you value each parent’s involvement and are willing to meet them where they are comfortable.
Perhaps you are sending out a lot of information, and it’s just not getting opened or read. Would you know?
This data empowers you to identify families who may need additional support or alternative means of communication. In addition, you can find out the types of communication families open to better formulate messages. The open rates may surprise you!
Pro Tip: Tools like ClassTag Connect provide valuable connectivity and engagement data, allowing you to track who is opening messages, responding, and signing up for events.
Pro Tip: If you are in the market for a parent-teacher engagement platform, choose one with an intuitive interface. That makes it easy for parents to navigate the platform without extensive training.
Foster a culture of communication by housing everything in one easy-to-access location. This will eliminate some of the information noise that happens across multiple channels. School leaders and teachers can build trust and strengthen relationships. Look for a platform where parents can access important events, deadlines, and updates regarding their child’s progress.
Pro Tip: Effective communication involves not just conveying information but actively listening to parents’ concerns and feedback. Encourage parents to share their thoughts and ideas and be responsive to their inquiries and suggestions.
Pro Tip: Regularly share newsletters, school calendars, and timely reminders. Ensure that communication is consistent and timely, using various channels to reach parents effectively.
Teachers and school leaders should strive to be clear, concise, and focused when communicating with parents. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may confuse parents. Instead, use simple language and provide specific information relevant to their child’s education and well-being.
Set aside dedicated time for teachers each week for proactive check-ins with families. In addition, educators should use this time to reach out personally to those who have yet to be more engaged or are at risk of falling through the cracks. You can foster stronger relationships and boost engagement by taking the initiative to connect and address their needs.
Pro Tip: By employing proactive strategies such as block time weekly and proactive check-ins, educators can create dedicated time slots for communication.
These practices demonstrate an additional commitment to open dialogue and help establish strong parental connections.
Don’t wait for parents to initiate communication—be proactive. Regularly check in with families, offering support, addressing concerns, and providing updates. Furthermore, this proactive approach demonstrates your commitment to open lines of communication and shows parents their involvement is valued.
Communicate the district’s or school’s expectations for communication and establish boundaries. Let parents know the school’s preferred communication channels (if there are any) and response times. By setting these expectations from the beginning, you can manage the flow of communication effectively while maintaining a healthy relationship.
Pro Tip: Organize workshops or information sessions for parents to enhance their understanding of various educational topics. These workshops can address common concerns, provide guidance on supporting their child’s learning at home, and offer strategies for effective parent-teacher collaboration. Empowering parents with knowledge makes them more engaged partners in their child’s education.
Create a welcoming and inclusive environment within the school community. This will help to foster a sense of belonging for parents from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Make it clear that communication will be respectful, considerate, and free of bias. Encourage parent involvement in school activities.
Unquestionably, for effective communication to occur, an inclusive and welcoming environment must encourage all stakeholders to participate actively.
Pro Tip: School leaders can foster a supportive culture by addressing these concerns head-on. Don’t ignore them, as that is when they can become an issue. Instead, seek to promote cultural awareness all year long and take action to open up any existing cliques or barriers within the school community to every parent.
Pro Tip: Recognize and celebrate the achievements of students AND parents. Highlight positive news, accomplishments, and milestones through newsletters, social media, or school-wide events. Celebrating successes creates a positive atmosphere and encourages continued engagement.
There are many ways to address how to empower parents in schools. Without a doubt, it is crucial to remove barriers to communication for the success and well-being of students, so the time to start is now.
In the end, schools and districts can create an environment where parents feel valued, engaged, and actively involved in their child’s education. They can do this by addressing physical and attitudinal barriers, utilizing appropriate tools and strategies, and promoting open and inclusive communication practices.
To empower parents and improve communication, educators can implement various solutions. They range from added planning at every level to utilizing tools that ensure information reaches all stakeholders to streamlining information in the way that is best for the parent. Finally, leveraging parent and student data provides insights into parent engagement to identify better families needing additional support.
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