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Parent Engagement needs to be easy if it's going to work

The importance of parental engagement in achieving the best educational outcomes for our students has been well documented.

However, it can be a struggle to find ways to engage parents in the learning conversation. If you consider the juggling act that has to take place, balancing work commitments alongside homelife, then it is no surprise that some parents struggle to find the time (and energy) currently necessary to take an active interest in their child’s education. Add to this the busy schedules that schools have to manage and our capacity to actively engage parents with school starts to become increasingly tricky.

If we are going to use technology to facilitate this engagement we need to consider how we go about working with parents and the nature of the technology we use. In his book Inside the Nudge Unit, David Halpern identifies a framework of strategies to help ‘nudge’ people into desired behaviours. Along with colleagues, he developed the EAST framework and believes that if you want to encourage a behaviour, you should think about making it:

  • Easy
  • Attractive
  • Socially normal
  • Timely

Let's start with how we can make things easy for parents. In 2016, Ofcom reported that smartphones were the most popular route for internet access, with 71% of all adults claiming to own a smartphone, more than any other connected device; among adults under 35, this figure rises to 9 out of 10.1 If we wish to make it easy for parents to interact with their child’s school, then it would appear that using mobile technology offers us a ready-made solution. 

If we can agree that mobile devices are the easiest way for parents to access information, what other hurdles do we need to overcome? To start with, passwords are an increasingly common cause of angst, with the average person having at least 19 passwords for logging into computers, email, online banking, social media, internet shopping and work servers; the concept of ‘password rage’ is now well-known. 2

One way around this is through the use of apps. Whilst these do require you to log in initially, once that first step has been carried out then you can remain logged in to the app, removing this particular hurdle. Remember, what we are trying to do is give parents fast and easy access to information, so if we can streamline this through the use of an app, once again they are more likely to engage with us.

Now we need to make it attractive for parents to engage with the school, and this means talking to them about their child. Personalising messages and making sure they are relevant to the individual means that people are more likely to read them in the first place, and open further communications in the future. Most parents have three questions we need to answer for them:

  • What is my child doing?
  • How is my child doing?
  • Is my child happy?

If we are addressing these on a regular basis then parents are more likely to stay engaged with the school. The best solutions will work with a combination of web browser and app access. Essential day to day information can then be presented via an easy to use app, meaning that parents experience very few obstacles to regular updates and information. If they wish to have more detail then the ability of an app to link through to a corresponding website means that they can get more information if and when they need it. 

To make communication and engagement socially normal then we need to make sure that we launch our strategies appropriately. Find out how parents want to engage with the school, and what are their preferred methods of communication and then incorporate these into your strategy. Once this is done, it is important that all parents are aware of the new strategy and the fact that everyone will be using it. A failure to engage then becomes the outlier, rather than the norm meaning that it is harder to ignore communications when they come through.

It is important that this line is held throughout the school. Whether you are the teacher or office staff, you must keep to the agreed strategy and constantly point parents towards it. Any new strategy or process takes time to embed, so stick at it!

Our last point in the framework is Timely. To address this we need to consider what we communicate and when. It is normal for people to prioritise actions based on their urgency. There is a danger that if we send out information too far in advance then it gets shelved and ultimately forgotten. Only send out communications that are pertinent to the moment - yes you need to give parents enough time to react and respond, but this is generally a matter of days, rather than weeks or months. 

It's also important to identify what aspects of their child’s educational experience is most important to the parent and make sure that this is presented foremost within the app. By understanding what parents want and then meeting that need we are better able to work with the ‘timely’ aspect of Halpern’s framework.

If we are to find effective ways of developing parental participation in the educational outcomes of their children, then effective use of technology is something that we must consider moving forward. The tools are all there, it is up to us as educators to make best use of them in order to ‘nudge’ parents and help our students achieve their true academic potential.

“You cannot force commitment, what you can do…You nudge a little here, inspire a little there, and provide a role model. Your primary influence is the environment you create.”

Peter Senge


If you would like to see what schools are doing to help their parents support learning at home then download our free report for further information. 


Further reading

 1 Ofcom, The Communications Market Report 2016, 2016

 2 Scott, B., Rage Against the Machine — Are Passwords Driving Us Mad?, 2015

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