Research clearly shows that students perform better academically when schools build positive relationships with their families. That’s why parent engagement is a key part of our strategic plan in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools. Although building a strong connection with a group that isn’t present in school every day can be a challenge, there are strategies to make it easier for both teachers and parents.

A large part of strengthening parent engagement is meeting families where they are, which is increasingly online. Students, and their parents, spend a great deal of time on social media websites checking for updates and sharing information, and we wanted to create the same type of highly engaged online community for our schools—like a Facebook for academics.

When our team went through the process of identifying an online parent engagement platform in 2013, we had unique needs to meet the demands of a 215,000-student district. For us, the Edsby learning management system (LMS) was a strong fit to meet privacy and equity concerns, while supporting a wide range of functionalities.

For any district, getting teachers—and parents—to use an LMS can be challenging. However, with the right strategies in place, you can get your community closer to all being on the same page. Each year, we have seen increase in use; we now see active use from 80 percent of our staff, 45 percent of students, and 23 percent of parents.

(Next page: 3 ways to engage your community)

Here are three secrets to our success in using a social learning management platform to boost student and parent engagement.

1. Convenience
If the system isn’t easy to use, the stakeholders won’t use it. It’s that simple. So, it’s important to choose a platform that is easily accessible to staff, parents, and students, no matter what technology they have available.
As we searched for a new system, we kept access top of mind as a key factor in our purchasing decision. It’s important that users can log in from any web browser or mobile operating system. For some families, a desktop computer might not be readily available at home, so mobile functionality can encourage greater engagement.
Be sure to communicate these functionalities to parents and students. To limit any hesitation parents might have in using the new technology, inform them of the ease of use and of all of the places they can access the platform.

2. Consistency
If teachers aren’t updating the system and communicating with stakeholders on a regular basis, then parents and students have no reason to check it. School and district leaders must set clear expectations for how often, and in what manner, their teachers should be using the social learning management system to post grades or assignments and otherwise engage with stakeholders.

3. Community
Think beyond grades and homework information when targeting parent communications. Give parents a reason to talk to students about classwork when they are at home. For example, teachers might share an image or video of a student project with comments to parents.

Additionally, teachers can create groups for internal class discussions and collaboration. This way, students can continue classroom conversations beyond the school day and build social learning communities that their parents can connect with them about.

To create a real community within a classroom and among a district, educators need to think beyond the immediate teacher-student dynamic and consider how to loop parents in. By keeping parent needs top of mind in the use of an LMS, schools can build the bridge from the school day to home life.

About the Author:

Since 2011, Gregory Hart has been manager of web communications for Hillsborough County Public Schools, a district of about 215,000 students in Tampa, Florida. In addition to being responsible for the district’s public website, he helps Hillsborough use web technologies to make job processes function more efficiently.