With all its challenges, the pandemic brought to light the need to either rethink or improve various aspects of practice. When it comes to leadership, the importance of effective communication skills to engage and empower families moved to the forefront. There are many reasons for this, but the most pressing was the need for information related to COVID-19, especially during the early months of the outbreak. The move to remote learning, then a hybrid model, and frequent back-and-forth changes necessitated the need for timely and accessible information.
Over time the emphasis shifted to getting messages to families that student engagement had become a critical issue as the pandemic raged on, even with the approval of two vaccines. Headline after headline acknowledged that tens of thousands of students had yet to log on to any remote classes during the school year. Overall attendance was a major issue as concerns over increasing learning gaps grew. If things weren’t challenging enough, the added stress of a lack of engagement by remote learners on video calls compounded things further. As I write this post, leaders are still currently dealing with these issues.
There is a need to embrace an all-hands-on-deck approach to engaging families right now. A focus on solely traditional methods will not cut it, unfortunately. The same old thinking typically leads to the same old results. Right now, time is of the essence, which is why leaders need to critically reflect on their actions in order to improve the outcomes of any messaging strategy. Below is a quick list of ideas to consider:
- Social media
- Video streaming (i.e., Facebook Live)
- Notifications (SIS, email, Remind, LMS)
- Virtual events
- Infomercials and public service announcements
- Yard signs
- Town Halls
In Digital Leadership, I wrote about the fundamental need to meet stakeholders where they are and engage them where they are using a multi-faceted approach. Herein lies why social media has to be a critical component of any strategy. However, leaders must also look beyond Twitter and Facebook and begin to utilize more popular tools now being used by families such as TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest. Each of these has the ability to harness the power of images and videos to capture attention while delivering powerful messages. Any tool with video capacity can be used to push out infomercials that highlight both positive aspects of current school culture or pain points. Consider having students help you create these. Many leaders have turned to live video to not only get information out but to engage families on a weekly basis through the facilitation of town halls where questions are answered.
Testimonials from students and parents on successful remote or hybrid learning practices can also be shared using social media. With virtual events, leaders can provide insight into how remote and hybrid learning is just as meaningful and challenging as face-to-face. Consider using this strategy as an open house of sorts. Another tried, and true technology option is messages sent through both your student information system (SIS) and learning management system (LMS) as well as Remind. Each can be set up to send out both email and text messages. Back when I was a principal, we embedded critical information on student report cards using our SIS.
The list above also includes some non-tech options to engage families. It is important to note that digital equity is still an issue, and we cannot assume that everyone can be reached using email or social media. Paper flyers still have value. Sending them through the mail is always an option, but those whose students continue to either not attend school or be disengaged try taping them to the front door. I know this might seem a bit unconventional and a hassle. However, the fact remains that all options need to be on the table. Some schools have gone as far as installing yard signs to hammer the point home that kids need to attend classes and complete schoolwork. Another idea is to use games such as bingo with incentives such as school swag for families that participate. The example below could be adapted in such away.
The list I provided outlines a variety of strategies leaders can use at any time to improve family engagement. Keep in mind the importance of creating messages that resonate. In BrandED, we outlined the importance of promise, result, and image when developing an engagement strategy.
... A compelling core connection to the value we guarantee to our community
...A consistent reason to believe by our community
...Identity that grows awareness of the good we accomplish
As you work to craft both a communications and public relations plan that includes the above elements remember to use the power of stories. Storytelling impacts the brain in ways that make it easier to remember critical messages by tapping into emotions. It also aids in getting important information out to diverse audiences. Beyond the emotional connectivity, strategic thinking about messages shared enables leaders to set measurable goals that establish and ensure long-term trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. There is no better time than now to become the storyteller-in-chief!
As I work with leaders across the globe, family engagement is consistently one of the top challenges that they face. The ideas in this piece are only suggestions. When it is all said and done, it’s how these and other practical ideas are put into practice and lead to success. For more strategies, consider getting your hands on both Digital Leadership and BrandED.