[Editor’s Note: This story is Part 1 of our month-long series on “What it means to teach Gen Z.” Check back every Monday in April to read the next installment!]
A huge body of research shows that parental involvement in a child’s education results in higher student achievement, both academically and behaviorally. I’ve been in K-12 education for 22 years, serving in roles from teacher to superintendent, and my students have always shown greater success when their parents are involved in the educational process. However, parents today are busy people, so connecting with them can be complicated to arrange.
I currently serve as the principal at Max Larsen Elementary, a K-1 building with 516 students. Nearly 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and we have a significant Arabic- and Spanish-speaking population, with about 30 percent of our students speaking a native language other than English. Of that 30 percent, approximately 90 percent have been in the U.S. less than a year.
I believe we desperately need to communicate with parents—especially those who are new to the country—and the best way to reach them is through processes that they are familiar with.
The way many schools communicate with parents hasn’t changed in decades. For example, hard-copy weekly newsletters look the same as they did 40 years ago, but parents have changed the way they stay in touch.
This was confirmed by a parent poll we took, where only 6.8 percent of parents who responded said that they preferred hard-copy newsletters. Parents are becoming more tech-savvy as the years go on, and these ancient methods of communication are simply not in step with the parents of Generation Z. We need to communicate in ways that fit with how parents access and consume information in 2017.
Harnessing the Age of Apps
In our efforts to find new, relevant ways to communicate with parents, we discovered Bloomz, a parent-teacher communication app. Bloomz offered direct messaging between parents and teachers, photo and video posting, volunteer and supplies sign-ups, a translation feature, and a behavior management feature.
Before this, we had been using Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Bloomz took the most important parts of those platforms, made them accessible on any mobile device, and refined them in ways to target parents specifically. It works on both mobile devices and desktops, increasing the number of our parents who could access it.
During our annual Title Night, well over 200 families signed up through the app.