parents gen z

Teaching Generation Z? Start by engaging their parents—here’s how we did it

A principal reveals how his school got over 200 families signed up in one night to actively participate in student learning and school culture.

[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.

(Next page: The future of parent communication)

As the principal and the leader of this school community, I’m expected to set the tone for home and school communication by reaching out directly to parents, and also by modeling this behavior for my teaching staff. I am building bridges between the school and families, and also showing teachers how to do the same on the classroom level. School leaders need to lead not only the education of students, but also the education of teachers and parents.

I use Bloomz nearly every day to post candid pictures of the kids (and sometimes selfies) for parents to see. It’s amazing how something so simple has gotten such an exceptionally positive reaction from parents. They love to see a glimpse of what their child is doing throughout the day. Nothing can beat seeing a picture of your child’s face pop up on your phone while you’re at work.

I also use the app to send reminders about special events and request supplies for school-wide activities. For example, one day at 9:00 a.m. I posted a request for root beer float supplies for our 50’s Day. Before 2:00 p.m., parents had delivered more than 500 cups, 20 gallons of ice cream, 10 two liter bottles of root beer, and 500 spoons were delivered to my office.

The Future of Communication

Parents want to be partners in the education of their children. The idea that parents don’t have time to get involved with their child’s school, or don’t care about their child’s education, is a myth.

Max Larsen had more than 200 students represented at our 2016 Data Night and more than 95 percent represented at our parent teacher conferences.

Since the dawn of smartphones, we are used to receiving information immediately, we get updates sent automatically our phones for nearly anything, and when we have a question, we expect to find answers with just a few taps on our screen.

When it comes to technology, I believe content is the key to success. We need to share a steady stream of classroom updates and useful information, while at the same time making sure that parents are seeing only the most relevant posts, so they don’t become desensitized. This balance will be crucial in maintaining families’ enthusiasm for school participation.

Our school culture at Max Larsen Elementary is in the midst of a communication revolution, and Bloomz is a huge part of that. Parents are starting to see that communication can be quick, effective, and accessible.

When it comes to our students, we feel it’s our responsibility to get families as involved as possible, so students have the best chance for success.

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