Schools and school systems have to work hard to balance the needs of creating student-centered learning environments, leading efforts to shift teacher mindsets and skills, and understanding and implementing efforts to prepare students to be productive contributors to society.
New initiatives come from multiple sources: the federal government, district offices, and building leaders. While all stakeholders have the best intentions, these efforts can compound work and frustrate teachers who have to implement them on a daily basis.
We devote significant energy to helping teachers and students know and understand these new initiatives. We educate staff members about these requirements during professional development experiences, revised faculty meetings, and informal conversations.
While we have the benefit of hands-on time with staff, with parents, our opportunities for communication are limited to the resources of outreach we use and the number of opportunities we create for parents to visit our building.
Digital tools make outreach messaging convenient and potentially powerful. Tools like Remind, blogging, and social media help make connections meaningful, reach groups through creative means, and provide real-world examples of our accomplishments.
Though digital tools can be a consistent and frequent means of communicating, face-to-face communication is even more critical. We have to do our best to ensure that our face-to-face time is impactful. These four guiding questions can help you introducing new educational initiatives to parents:
How can a new initiative be presented in a way a parent (or guardian) will understand? We should communicate with parents in plain language. Parents are often intimidated by educational lexicon, similar to when you visit the doctor and she explains what afflicts you using medical vocabulary. Try to eliminate the education jargon or be clear in your explanation of the educational jargon
Why is the initiative important? Parents are more likely to buy into a new initiative if they have a concrete understanding of the initiative. Help parents understand the benefits or rationale for the new initiative. The most practical means of accomplishing this is to provide real-world examples of the relevance of the initiative. For example, if there is a new 1:1 rollout in your school, be sure to show pictures of students appropriately using the devices and tie in why this is important for their future in the workforce.
What does class look like today? Being able to see a new initiative in action can be a powerful strategy when teaching parents about the initiative. Provide examples of what the initiative looks like in a classroom. For example, upload a model lesson to YouTube and annotate the important things about the lesson that stand out. Create ways in which parents can experience the new initiative during activity nights for specific content areas (e.g., Algebra Night, STEM Night, Technology Night). Schools can readily create simulations for parents to experience a day in a middle school English/Language Arts class
How can social media/digital tools be used to illustrate a new initiative? This is your opportunity to be more transparent in your efforts to connect with parents. Parents are using social media more to connect and stay informed. Showcase evidence of the success your school is having with digital tools. As you visit classrooms capture images and video to communicate the needs and rationale for the program or change—choose your language carefully—and how it is changing learning and teaching in the school. Messages to your community should be purposefully succinct, but offer a picture and a descriptive caption to help them know that your efforts are deliberate and making progress.
Derek McCoy is the principal of West Rowan Middle School in Salisbury, North Carolina and a 2014 Digital Principal of the Year.
Norman Edwards is assistant principal of Blake High School, Silver Spring, Maryland.