Is parent engagement the secret to school marketing success?
My role as a parent of school-aged children is my number one job. Advising schools on their marketing is my other main job. So, when I blend the two together it has become very clear to me that parent engagement is intrinsically linked to a school’s success. In fact, it could be the stand out factor that gives a school THE winning formula of success.
So, what do I mean by success? I think there are three main areas to look at:
By this I mean, parents having enjoyable and proud experiences with their child’s school. Parents helping and wanting to help their children with their homework, helping children prepare for their school day/week, attending school events. In short actively being part of the journey of their child’s education. Knowing that their child enjoys school, wants to go to school, is ready to learn – and the feeling that your child is going to a good school – is all part of the experience. This all makes a difference to the child’s confidence, self-esteem and overall, their learning development.
Schools that engage with parents via informative and appropriate communication that helps parents be ‘engaged’ in their child’s learning, teacher, class, school and school community can make a world of difference. This engagement is aboutl delivering on the ‘partnership’ that is the child’s learning journey. The school can’t do it on their own – they need parents to step up and in many ways BE thoroughly aware of their role in their child’s education. The parents also can’t do it on their own – especially if they don’t know what they are supposed to be ‘doing’!
Evidence of successful parent engagement is when your school’s reputation is glowing – and it is all to do with word of mouth. Your parents are your biggest marketing advocates and your biggest brand champions. They will sell your school for you. You just need to back it up with appropriate branding, messaging and the right marketing tactics. Evidence also stems from results – great results on your school satisfaction scorecard when market research is conducted with parents, staff and students. Evidence of on-track academic results is also demonstrative of a school that has parents engaged.
6 Tips on engaging with parents
So, what does effective parent engagement look like in practice? My number one piece of advice for schools on this is to ‘put their mindset into that of a parent’. Here are my 6 top tips:
1. What do parents need to know and why?
Give them information BEFORE the school year starts, provide them with information that is timely and relevant. Give them the information about your school that is important e.g. Our values/code of conduct – what is expected at our school for both students AND PARENTS – behaviour education, uniform standards/policy etc. Ensure your communication is forward planned, not reactionary, e.g. event calendar updated with sports carnivals, school camps, free dress days, P&F events.
2. Parent-Teacher engagement is key to an individual child’s success.
Parents want to know how their child is going. In today’s world, they want to hear stories/pictures of their child’s week. They also want to know about successes, behaviours and learning ups/downs. Teachers need to be given the time in their schedule to communicate weekly with parents (as a group) to update them on their class activity, important dates, things they can help with, but they also need to understand the importance of informing parents of children who need some ‘parenting’.
Teachers also need to be explicit and thorough when outlining homework requirements, i.e. give instructions for students and parents so they both understand the tasks. Lastly if a parent emails a teacher, then there needs to be a response! In my opinion schools need to establish a parent communication policy standard that all teachers in the school should abide by. Too many schools are inconsistent in this approach.
3. What is the best way to communicate with parents?
Find out if it is via email or Facebook or an APP. Unfortunately, it might be all three. if so, determine the strategy for what information goes where and who is responsible. Ensure urgent things are sent out to parents.
4. Understand how parents talk
Schoolyard/carpark/Facebook chatter is where a lot of word of mouth happens about the goings on in a school. Understand who are your ‘parent champions’ and get them on side/working for you – ask them to help communicate to others, get them to help moderate Facebook posts. Also understand who are problem parents and deal with them in a professional way. They should be treated no different to students from a behaviour management/education perspective.
5. Get parents involved
Encourage and ask parents to volunteer in classrooms / at events / fundraising and more. This isn’t just about asking them to help out or do their fair share. It’s about setting an example to their children – and understanding that children see that as an extension of supporting them. Children notice and feel the loss of absent parents. The more parents feel part of the community, the more they will want to be part of the community. Make them feel excited about this and share in the joy of their involvement/attendance. Photos in newsletters, website and Facebook are a great way to demonstrate this.
6. Educate parents too!
Providing ways to educate parents so that the child’s learning and development partnership is a successful one is one of the best things a school can do. There are many providers out there willing to run courses, programs, seminars on helping parents navigate parenting. Such programs enable parents to have a huge influence on their child’s confidence, attitude and behaviour. It’s about both the parents and child receiving insights and advice on personal development, tailored to their stage in life. The flow on effect to their child is a student ready to learn!
We regularly conduct focus groups with parents as part of the work we do with schools.
In the past 12 months, the feedback from two focus groups we did with parents attached to schools on both the north and southside of Brisbane was uniformly negative.
The common element was the school’s communication was ‘shocking’. It was not consistent, not timely nor relevant and there appeared to be no strategy about what got said in what channel.
Communication to parents is something all schools need to prioritise and focus on. An effective parent engagement strategy that encompasses all of the above – and more – is something all schools need to develop and enact.
It is a hidden marketing advantage that many schools could well use.