Most modern and forward-thinking schools are working really hard to come up with new and innovative ways to engage parents about their children’s learning. Schools are trying to come up with strategies to get the parents in the door (or at least reading documentation) so that they can share the school’s philosophies on a variety of topics. So why are few schools successful?

I think that parent communication in schools is such a hot-button topic because three (potentially) divisive perspectives all intersect to create mayhem and confusion:

  • generational attitudes about technology and the internet
  • school’s desire to showcase what makes them special
  • personal opinions about privacy

But the iGeneration children, the one’s we’re teaching right now, are being raised by GenX parents who are still “catching up” with how rapidly technology is moving. Just reflect on how (and where) you get your news, entertainment, and learning–it’s vastly different than it was just a decade ago. You can get information instantaneously from your handheld mobile device. And though the information is instant, it can often be conflicting while also being hypnotically engaging and lead one down a hole of more information gathering. My social media platforms are quick ways to get an overview about a menagerie of topics and any information I deem worthy, can be expanded upon as I click through blogs, videos, articles, or examples from the classroom.

A Side Story

Reflecting back on the year when I had the best parent engagement– it was the year I took our classroom’s learning to Facebook. After a Learning2Africa session with Jeff Utecht, I took the risk and made a closed Facebook page for my class. Each day, I logged the class in and students would share things they were learning and wondering about throughout the day. We started with 26 parents in February and ended the year with over 50 participants (after grandparents, aunts, and uncles were invited to join our group).

At the end of the year, I met with a few parents to ask why they thought it had been such a success and the results were simple–the parents were already using Facebook. It wasn’t another tool they had to learn in order to communicate with our classroom learning. They also were pleased to see their child’s learning in “real time” and they felt part of the learning as they shared their own thinking with the class.

So now that my COETAIL 2 journey is coming to an end, I want to reflect on past engagements with my parent communities and my hopes for the future.

Where I’ve Been

Newsletters: I think all of us have been (or are currently at) a “newsletter” school. Once printed, now digital, many schools feel compelled to inform parents about teaching, learning, and upcoming events through the ever passé newsletter. Those same schools often require teachers to do the same… but most newsletters (at least from my experience in various school environments) go unread. Parents are inundated with too much (and often irrelevant school news) from the school as teachers are often expected to write a classroom newsletter as well.

Social Media: Schools of old don’t share learning in real time. Social media has been overlooked as a fad rather than an informational tool to get small bits of news out to the community quickly and in chunks our “newly rewired” brains can process.

Websites: Sure, a school’s website brags about it’s mission and vision, has an overview of school philosophies, programs, a calendar, tuition breakdown, and some static photos. But there needs to be more.

1-to-1 Programs: When the trend started, 1-to-1 laptop programs were the future of education. Now, in most schools, it’s the norm. If your school website is still touting it’s amazing new laptop or tablet initiative… your school has a lot of room to grow.

All of these archaic trends can lead the parent community, future applicants, and potential recruiting teachers to the same conclusion–this school is happy being itself and is not forward thinking.

Where I WANT to Be Going

During recruiting season, my husband and I were most excited about schools that we had been following on social media for years. We followed schools, teachers, tech directors, and HR departments that were sharing great student projects, amazing videos of learning, thoughtful educational discussions, exciting PD opportunities, and challenging blog posts that made our brains swoon. These are the schools that have inspired us personally and professionally… and these are the schools we wanted to be part of.

The schools I’m talking about have dynamic communication models: they blog, tweet, post, hold professional development events, have rich and transparent student-teacher-parent-administrative discussions about where the school is and where they want to be. The schools also have great videos, photos, and comments directly from the mouths of babes.

And Here’s Where I AM Going

So I don’t know how to solve the problem, but I’m happy to be part of the solution. Here’s where the future is taking Rob, the kids, and I… to our dream job at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB)! I have been learning about them for years because they have taken the risk to publicly share their successes and challenges. They have lured us in… and we couldn’t be happier!