The need for a strong partnership between schools and families is extremely important, but it can be challenging to figure out the best way to handle home-school communication. When parents, caregivers, community members, and educators work together, children are more likely to develop a positive attitude about school. Students with involved families complete homework more consistently, have higher grades and graduation rates, and have higher self-esteem. Here’s how four districts are making the most of the home-school connection.

Ask the people what they want
As we get more connected, it becomes more complicated on how schools should communicate with parents. We used to send home mailings or give students a parent packet to bring home. So much simpler!

Today, social media, email, phone calls, and text messages are the norm. How do you get principals, central staff, and superintendents to embrace this change of communication? You start with a communication plan that surveys the community to see which platform or platforms they prefer. You will find out very fast they want all of it!

We use phone calls for weather only, social media for events and news, bi-weekly principal emails for updates in each school, and our website for the hub of information. Our superintendent, Dr. Susan Lloyd, @ojrsd_supt, has been a leader in our district using social media, especially Twitter. She has set the bar for all staff to use Twitter and to better communicate to our parents and community.
—Paul Sanfrancesco, director of technology, Owen J. Roberts (PA) School District

Address language and equity issues
Effective communication is one of the trickiest goals we work on each year. We understand that many of our parents have cellphones, iPads or computers, but we cannot always be certain the information will be delivered to them in that way. To assist with this concern, we have purchased Kajeet mobile hotspots for students to check out from the school library to ensure a device and wifi are available to the family. This initiative has proven to be effective, especially for the folks that speak a language other than English. With more than 40 languages spoken in our district, we have found that having a device and Google Translate enabled, parents are able to understand the communication being sent to them. We make sure our student information system and our robocalling system are translated as well.

Each of our schools and our district office maintains a presence on social media and a website. We also send home paper copies of newsletters if parents request them. We hold parent nights to discuss technology and digital citizenship. Parents are given a refrigerator poster with tech tips for parents, the help desk phone number, and digital-citizenship websites. This school year, we will participate in the community safety fair to discuss student online safety.

We have two communication directors that gave an extensive report on school communication at our last board meeting. The report includes research that shows where people get their news and how social media is used in our district.
—Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent, Lawrence (KS) Public Schools

A multi-pronged social-media strategy
Our school district is located in a small, tight-knit community where news can travel fast. This makes it even more important for our message to be communicated clearly and correctly. In collaboration with our new superintendent, as well as encouragement from our board of education, we saw the need to get our story out clearly and consistently so our community feels engaged.

We felt a multi-pronged approach was best. Like many districts, we use our website, mobile app, and mass messaging system. However, our most powerful tool is our social media management platform,  SchoolMessenger K-12 Social Media Management. For a modest yearly fee, we can post to multiple social media outlets at once, live or on a schedule. We can also allow multiple users to post as well as require approval before some posts are sent out. The platform takes the pressure off of wondering what is being said and instead gives us custom feeds, as well as email alerts and updates. With the popularity of social media, these tools are a worthy part of your home and school communications strategy.
—Frank Pileiro, supervisor of technology, Linwood (NJ) Public Schools

Provide resources for parents
We understand that family engagement is integral to our students’ success. That means administrators, teachers, and parents all need to work in partnership to increase the success of students in the classroom and beyond. From preparing for kindergarten to planning for college, we develop relationships with families to help their children thrive. We use text alerts, emails, and social media to keep families up to date on immediate events and news, and through the district’s family engagement department, Guilford Parent Academy, we offer a number of workshops and events to keep families informed and empowered about their children’s education. Finally, we know that teachers and school leaders aren’t always available, which is why we offer families free 24/7 online services to help with homework, address difficult emotional subjects, and encourage family engagement.
—Lindsay Whitley, director of the Guildford Parent Academy, Guilford County (NC) Schools

About the Author:

Ellen Ullman is editorial director, content services, for eSchool Media.