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Increasing Parental Engagement Takes More Than Email

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Almost 90% of today's parents have smartphones, but only 20% are fully engaged with their children's schools. How can educators bridge the gap?

A guest post by Chaks Appalabattula

As a parent of two kids, ages 6 and 10, in the high-tech community of Seattle, I frequently wonder how it is that schools still depend on old, sometimes archaic, methods to communicate with families. Whether it's an email or the good old paper-in-the-backpack, these methods make communication feel impersonal and passive. I have often felt that the school community was something distant and somewhat unknown, and only those participating in the PTA have full access to.

Many parents I talk to think that communicating with teachers is mostly a twice-a-year event, during parent teacher conferences, and getting ahold of other parents in their kids' class only happens by chance and awkwardly. Staying on top of what happens at school is always an elusive goal. Even while attending school events and reading the many emails and newsletters, parents like me often fall short when asked the question that we always have in mind: "Am I connected enough to my kids' world?"

Research Proves that Parents Matter

The concept of parental involvement is not new. More than three decades of research and evidence show how important family involvement in education is in children's success. This research has found that starting in the early years, parental involvement helps kids get off to a good start in their education. In grades K-3, parents' participation in school activities helps children "have high-quality work habits and task orientation compared to children whose parents do not participate. Moreover, parents who provide support with homework have children who tend to perform better in the classroom." And this trend continues through elementary school and into preparation for college.

In 2002, the National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools published an extensive paper detailing the connection between parental involvement and student achievement, but it was not until recently that school districts and local governments started paying attention to parental engagement as a factor in students' success. The recent Every Student Succeeds Act also preserves the major requirements of districts and schools to engage parents and families.

parental involvement.png

Figure 1: The impact of parental involvement on grades. (From SEDL, "A New Wave of Evidence," 2002).

Using Today's Methods to Reach Today's Parents

As I mentioned before, I have seen teachers try to connect with parents via paper communications and email, as well as newsletters and blogs. Having teachers sample all of these tools only adds to their work overload: In addition to classroom hours, teachers may have other responsibilities at school, plus day-planning, grading, professional development, etc. Schools need to take into account teachers' already-crunched time and find a way to grab the attention of today's connected parents.

According to Comscore, 86% to 89% of parents between 25 and 44 years old in the U.S. have a smartphone. Today's parents are the most connected ever, but there is a clear disconnect between the way teachers are trying to reach us and the way we consume information. A recent study by Gallup found that only 1 in 5 parents are fully engaged with their child's school, experiencing a strong sense of pride and serving as the school's advocates with friends and neighbors.

This means 80% of parents are either indifferent to or actively disengaged from their kids' school. This is where messaging apps, calendaring or signup-only services fall short. They are all looking at one piece of the puzzle, but not at the whole.

At Bloomz, we took on the challenge to connect the class community and empower parents to participate in class activities by making it easy for them to sign up for parent-teacher conferences and volunteer opportunities. To appeal to both teachers and parents, we took cues from popular social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn that offer a friendly, familiar experience--and don't require users to learn yet another social media platform.

New tech tools like Bloomz are not intended to replace face-to-face communication with parents, but to enhance that experience by keeping parents and teachers in sync throughout the school year, making their few physical interactions richer and more productive. And as we see more schools take on new approaches to face-to-face parent communication, it is time technology takes an active role in helping these interactions flourish, allowing parents to actively participate in their children's education and come together as a community to help schools succeed in what must be the common goal for all: students' success.

Chaks Appalabattula is the CEO of Bloomz, a new app that connects teachers with parents, creating an engaged parent community in classrooms and schools. 

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