Parents Are Changing. Is Your Early Learning Service?
Regulators, early education experts and provider quality assurance agencies are placing more and more emphasis on parent engagement to lift early education outcomes. And for sure, engaged parents are happy parents, and likely loyal supporters of your service. Parent engagement is one of few win wins in education.
And yet, engaging parents is not getting any easier. You don’t need a bunch of stats to tell you that today’s parents are:
- Juggling increasingly complex lives, and
- Short on time
However, the early educational stakes are rising. New parents are better informed about the value of early education. They care more than ever about the educational trajectory of their preschooler. And they want their child to have a leg up heading into school.
And so, they do want to engage. The question is how can your messages cut through, how can you not only engage, but also educate parents on your approach and partner with them to their child’s educational outcome.
The Value of Parent Engagement
Communicating well with parents is an important way for preschool teachers to support children’s learning and well-being. If your communications engage parents, you will build a stronger partnership. This leads to a better understanding of the child, more feedback from parents on how things are going and ultimately, a happier and more successful learning experience for the child.
It starts as parent engagement, but managed correctly, it can morph into authentic parent collaboration where the parent is a true partner, and active participant in your educational team.
Furthermore, the more you keep parents informed, the less likelihood of misunderstandings that can lead to problems in future.
In its guide for preschool teachers, the US Department of Education says parent engagement in early education plays a vital role:
- It gives parents a better understanding of how you are helping to prepare their children for success in school.
- Parents learn how well their children are progressing in developing the building blocks of learning.
- Parents learn ways to help their children at home.
- You will have a better understanding of children’s background and experiences.
Children will see that the adults in their life care about them, and their learning and development.
All around the world, service quality systems include measurements of family engagement. Experts and regulators see parent engagement in early childhood education as one the most powerful drivers of better educational outcomes.
Navigating the Digital Divide
But even with the best intentions, teachers sometimes find it easier to communicate with children than their parents!
Stress, financial worries, time pressures, conflicting values and experiences, language barriers and different views of a child’s needs can get in the way of developing an open, honest and trusting relationship between teachers and parents.
However, as an educator, you have an incredible advantage. Parents really do want to hear from you, they do want to engage. Your challenge is just to get their attention.
Here are four ways to cut through, to engage parents and make them part of your extended learning team:
- Make sure your passion shines through in your communications
- Treat messages differently
- Involve parents
- Focus on two-way communication for the educational messages
#1. Communicate (& Educate Parents) With Passion
Your teachers are passionate about their kids. Every time a child makes a step forward, your teachers are thrilled. It’s the kind of passion parents of any generation will respond to.
Does that passion come out in your communications with parents? Face to face communication about a growth moment is hard to beat. Checklists and reports don’t voice this passion. Neither do text emails.
Use Photos To Make Your Messages Compelling
One way to communicate with passion is to send updates that brings the learning to life. Every parent will respond to an update from you that includes a picture that catches their child in the act of learning something.
Share Your Goals & Provide Context
A parent who understands your approach is likely a more enthusiastic supporter and a more active partner in the learning. If a parents understands and is excited by the value of an activity at your preschool, she is more likely to continue the learning at home. And more likely to provide feedback that will might improve the way your teachers run that activity the next time.
The way to provide this educational context to each activity is to connect the photos and stories a child’s individual learning goals and/or to state guidelines. It’s not just play. For instance, play doh activities could be connected to fine motor skills.
This context resonates for parents, it gives them confidence in the learning that goes on at your service. And, when they better understand the value, it encourages to continue the activities at home, the ultimate sign of family engagement.
The need to inject passion into the parent communications in early education is part of the thinking behind the concept of learning stories, a narrative assessment method that uses a story-telling approach (about the child, or written to the child) to describe learning progress. The beauty of learning stories is that a teacher’s passion for the child, and excitement over the progress made, is much more likely to shine through.
Learning stories with photos speak the language of millennial parents. That passion a teacher feels for a child is something parents will respond to — they will read, learn, give positive feedback and respond to any suggestions to extend the learning at home.
#2. Different Messages, Different Mediums
For a teacher, finding the right way to reliably communicate is daunting, especially as the channels of communication keep evolving. The way a parent consumes information and relates to her providers, and that includes you, is also changing.
Today’s parent has a jammed inbox. And a jammed Facebook feed. Resist adding to the digital clutter. Ask yourself: in each case, what is the best form of communication for this message? Another email blast or is there a better option?
If you do have an important message, we do know this. Communications should be:
- Quick and easy
- In real-time, and
- Preferably on a private channel on the phone
There’s still a place for paper notices — upcoming events, for instance, where a paper notice can go onto a board at home. However, these days important communication needs to go to the phone in a private channel, not to s cluttered email inbox or a crowded Facebook feed.
#3. Involve Parents
Part of parent engagement in early education is parent involvement. The more comfortable a parent feels with your service and your approach, the more likely they are to engage and collaborate in the learning. Here are a few suggestions:
- Make sure parents know you and your staff. Announce new staff hirings, talk about any awards earned by staff members.
- Encourage parents to volunteer. Do they have a passion or talent they would like to share?
- Create an ePortfolio where parents can see their child’s progress whenever they want.
- Provide resources helpful to parents, and make them available in a private website, a parent portal.
- Recommend activities at home that build on the learning during the day, to extend the learning.
#4. Make It a Two-Way Channel
Sending a steady stream of one-way emails or updates that do not invite a response is so 2009! Yes, there is a place for news updates, FYI emails and the like.
But for instance, when it comes to anything to do with a child’s learning, a channel that provokes a response is going to be much more effective. These days, parents expect two-way communication. They are looking to engage and respond if the invitation is there.
And so, when sending updates or stories consider adding a question, inviting a specific parent response. The goal here is authentic family collaboration, where engaged parents and teachers work together to create better learning outcomes.
Using Technology to Engage Families
In recent years, technology has revolutionized ways for teachers to engage in two-way communication with families.
Technologies such as welcome videos for new families and individual private digital portfolios enable teachers and parents to work together to provide children with the best possible start.
Our software, Educa, gives preschool teachers a way to document the information they gather about children’s learning and development, and to share that information with the people who matters most in a child’s life. With no extra work, in one click. And in a compelling, photo-rich format that younger parents expect.
Feedback from parents and teachers over the 6 years Educa has been operating has been uplifting:
80-100% of our parents are logging into Educa every day to engage with their child’s learning. We get wonderful feedback, home observations and input into our learning program. Educa creates such a rich and holistic learning experience for our children
— Amber Enright, Educational Leader, Edge Kids Life.
Bridging the gap between home and preschool makes families feel more engaged with their children’s development, with many studies suggesting strong parent-teacher partnerships can help children develop positive self-esteem and be motivated to learn.
In the words of a report by researchers AC Baker and Manfredi Petitt for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Young children do best – now and later – when they are nurtured within a tightly woven web of love”.