“I didn’t know that event was coming up!”
“Oh, the school changed their policy on that?”
“How do I sign up for (insert program here)?”
Do your school faculty and administration members get comments along these lines from parents?
Let me guess…your most common response to these types of questions or statements is, “We sent an email about it!” Or maybe, perhaps, “It was in last week’s email newsletter.”
Your parent community’s apparent lack of knowledge about your school’s programs and happenings belies a fact that we can’t ignore any longer: people don’t read your emails.
I’m not saying that all of your parents aren’t reading your painstakingly composed email messages. True, many are. Some of our clients boast a 60%-plus open rate for many of their email communications. But even with that high of an open rate (which is atmospheric, considering the industry average of about 32%), that still leaves nearly half of your parents in the dark about your school happenings and updates.
So, while we’re not saying that email is dead – it is still a viable and effective means of communication – we’d like to give you some other tools to consider adding to your parent communication arsenal that may help get your messages across.
Here are 7 ways for private schools to communicate with parents other than email:
Everyone texts now. In fact, texting is now most parents’ preferred method of communication. Brief, accessible, and powerful, they are a quick and easy way to reach parents right in their pockets.
Use text messaging for short and sweet reminders, emergency or safety notifications, and weather-related closings, or to let parents know when a new e-newsletter is published (with a link to the webpage version of the issue). Texting can also be used with discretion to remind parents of upcoming events and programs with approaching deadlines.
There are several texting platforms from which schools can choose to provide texting services. All have similar basic service offerings, with different twists, features, and pricing structures to meet various school needs.
There are two important notes to remember regarding the use of texting in your parent communications. First, use them sparingly. Try not to send texts more than once a week (with the exception of weather and safety/emergency notifications). Don’t annoy your parents with daily, inane announcements.
Second, segment your audience! Most of the platforms offer the ability to categorize your contacts, so that you don’t send a middle school basketball practice cancellation to the high school and elementary families.
Allowing certain leaders, faculty, and coaching staff the ability to group text the classes, teams, or organizations they are in charge of can add to the convenience and practicality of this tool so that every text doesn’t have to come from the administration office. Delegating out the texting responsibilities and privileges can have many benefits, but you will need to train these leaders, faculty, and coaches on expectations and frequency for this type of communication.
- Mobile App
Most of your parents have smartphones. An app can provide a convenient one-stop shop for information and tasks for both your school staff and families. If you’ve got the budget for it – or maybe even some tech-savvy parents or alumni – develop your own custom app, or sign on to a school mobile app developer.
Parents can use your mobile app to:
* Get important announcements via push notifications. As with texting, be careful not to over use this feature to not dilute your message and be sure to segment the audiences who receive certain notifications.
* Pay for events, field trips, lunches, tuition, etc.
* Check grades and student progress
* Sign up to volunteer or for other classroom duties
* Give school feedback (consider offering an electronic “comment box” to allow anonymous suggestions or concerns to be voiced)
- Social Media
For all the buzz that social media receives, please know that this should not be your first line of communication, nor one that you rely upon heavily for tangible effectiveness. While a well-managed social media presence can boost the feeling of school pride, involvement, and community in general, it is not a parent’s preferred method of practical school information.
That being said, social media does still have a place in your school’s communication mix. Remember, of course, that different platforms serve different purposes. We suggest that our clients focus on no more than one or two social media platforms and do them well. Don’t stretch yourself too thin; an abandoned or sparsely utilized social media page may do your school’s online reputation more harm than good.
- Written and Printed
Sometimes, having something palpable in your hand is the most powerful way to receive a message. While our days of printing out hundreds of packets, brochures, and flyers are mostly gone for many schools (and the forests are thanking us), written communication can go a long way in reaching your parents.
Some examples of wise use of printed or written communication include:
* Academic progress – notification if child’s work is slipping, as well as praise for good things
* Behavior & social updates
* Curriculum information and foresight
* Important event promotions
* Crucial school policy changes
* Financial or tuition information
* Handwritten thank-you notes to volunteers, donors, or simply to thank a parent for their trust in and general support of your school.
- Phone Calls
Just as with written communication, the more antiquated method of phone calls can be an effective way to get parents’ attention and also to provide a much-appreciated personal connection that doesn’t come through mass emails and texts.
To best utilize phone calls to communicate with your parents, try:
* Automated phone calls (“robo-calls”). Similar to mass texting, these can work for time-sensitive, quick notifications.
* Personal calls from teachers and administrators. As with teacher-parent communication, you may want to have a schedule for teachers to call parents and chat about their students’ progress.
* Parent-to-Parent to calls. Whether you have a class phone tree or room mothers, have some trusted parents call their peers to pass on class and school announcements and the like.
Your online storefront to the world should also be a go-to resource for both current and prospective parents. As such, ensure it is frequently updated, intuitively organized, and comprehensively populated so that your community knows they can trust it to have what they need.
Keep these items easily accessible for parents on your website:
* Events on your calendar
* Handbooks and forms
* Breaking news and press releases when applicable
- Face to Face
Lastly, don’t neglect the classic, most basic and yet most powerful form of communication: face-to-face conversation.
Provide intentional forums and moments that parents know are available to connect with school faculty and administrators. Consider posting specified open office hours, when parents in your community know they can stop by to chat with the Head of School (bonus if you offer coffee and snacks during those hours, as well).
Make sure your key administrators are visible and accessible at school events, mingling and connecting with parents and making an effort to talk to those who they don’t know as well.
Bottom line: Let parents know you value their friendship, their trust, and their ideas by being an open and available listening ear.
Ralph Cochran is president of Schola Inbound Marketing, a marketing agency deeply committed to helping private schools become financially sustainable by strategically growing enrollment, www.schoolinboundmarketing.com.