What Communication Apps Got Wrong About Parent Engagement
The following guest post was written by Vlada Lotkina
Educators know that family support is vital to a student's success. Studies show a strong and powerful correlation between parent involvement and their child's GPA, graduation rate, test scores, and social skills. Teachers themselves rate family support in education as the most important factor in a student's success, ahead of their own teaching skill, according to our recent survey.
To create effective family support in education, parents and teachers need trust and a real person-to-person connection. Unfortunately, most of the purpose-built communication tools that have recently emerged do not enhance and support the parent-teacher relationship. While they are effective at replacing piles of paper flyers and email communications with real-time digital options, they don't address the heart of the issue - building strong relationships between parents and teachers.
The U.S Department of Education released a framework, "A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships", suggesting we need programs that meet several opportunity conditions to establish effective family-school partnerships. One of these conditions is the opportunity to build trusting relationships. The SEDL report says, "No meaningful family engagement can be established until relationships of trust and respect are established between home and school."
Despite growing adoption of communication tools, parent engagement appears to be going in the wrong direction in recent years. According to data compiled from various sources by Child Trends DataBank, "Parental involvement in school, as measured by attendance at a general meeting, a meeting with a teacher, or a school event, or by volunteering or serving on a committee, rose significantly between 1999 and 2007, but fell on most measures in 2012." Have we been limiting the personal connection with the adoption of technology versus trying to find ways to enhance it instead?
Improving parent engagement requires a deeper person-to-person connection. Tools that offer parent-teacher communication can help keep parents better informed, but they don't provide the needed connectivity to get parents engaged in their child's education. These applications serve as a news feed or bulletin board of events rather than a platform for building sustainable relationships.
Schools need to fully engage parents by showing they care and building relationships based on the parents' interests and needs. Parents want to feel that they have opportunities to contribute that are meaningful to them. They want to know that there is a real person behind the app that cares about their child's education as much as they do.
People to People Connections
Real world education requires real world interaction between teachers and parents. That is why programs such as "The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project" have been so successful. They are building trust and respect, instilling cultural competency and increasing personal and professional capacity for all involved.
Technology does have a powerful role to play if it can contribute to building a deeper relationship between parents and teachers. For example at ClassTag, parents can share their interests and skills, helping teachers learn more about them and invite them to the classroom to share their stories with the students.
Ewelina, a 1st-grade parent, shared her frustration of being called upon to participate in her daughter's school activities. "It was never anything I had an interest in or that fit my talents, so I begrudgingly participated or skipped altogether," says Ewelina. After sharing her interests, Ewelina was asked to visit his daughter's class one morning to discuss her occupation. Ewelina is a brand manager and was delighted to participate and talk about the power of storytelling. Ordinarily, parents are asked to participate in activities that are out of their area of knowledge or comfort zone. But when teachers know a parent's interests, they have the opportunity to involve them in a way that benefits the children and is meaningful to the parents as well. Every parent has something unique to contribute, opening new realms of possibilities and role models to the children.
At its core, effective parent engagement is about helping children learn and grow in the classroom and at home. It is about bringing everyone closer together by making it easy for parents to know what the child is learning and opening up meaningful opportunities for parents to participate. It is about building a warm and caring environment where parents and teachers are partners. Isn't that what we all want for the children.
Vlada Lotkina is the CEO of ClassTag, a simple and powerful communication and scheduling platform that brings research-based practices to help teachers turn parents into partners and improve the quality of family support in education.