Martin Temple is a true industry expert and can be credited with much of the evolution of parental engagement over the last 20 years. Martin has worked in technology all his working life, from the birth of commercial internet at PIPEX in the early 90’s to co-founder of ParentMail in 2001 where he was Payments Director and Development Director until the sale of ParentMail in 2017 to IRIS software. Since leaving IRIS, Martin has been working with education software and technology companies, schools and multi-academy trusts to help improve parental engagement.
In the following article, Martin will be discussing how schools can implement the best practice when it comes to communicating with schools and how that has changed due to the complications of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, over to Martin!
As you are aware, schools have been burdened with an ever-changing landscape over the last year. I am sure that in the future, we will look back as this being a key period for schools where they ‘re-calibrated’ their attitudes towards technology. In our discussions with schools, we have noticed several key areas that create hesitation amongst school staff, parents, and students. Before we get into the details of this, it must be stated that if schools wish to form a strong foundation of a positive relationship with parents, they must first begin by ensuring that all forms of communication are planned and optimally dispatched.
The objective of all parental messaging systems is to enable effective communication, engage with parents and ultimately ensure that messages are read and actioned when required. Post-Covid, with potentially more parents working from home, ensuring that messages stand out has become more important. As a result, making the right choice of medium when communication has become even more important.
After 20 years of working directly with schools, I have observed many different plans schools adopt when communicating with parents. There is no one size fits all when deciding on your communications strategy to ensure you get the most from your investment but let’s take a look at some of the different plans I’ve seen:
Considering the varied subject nature of school communications and the challenge of getting noticed, a combination of all the above gives the best chance for your message to achieve its desired impact. Take into consideration the content of the message, the time available before the event/notice takes place and most importantly, the importance/urgency of the message. This will help you decide how and when to send the message.
Each plan has its own relative merits but also potential downsides. So, let us look at just one of these, the SMS only method.
As not all SMS messages will be urgent or important, from a parent’s viewpoint receiving repeated SMS messages runs the risk of being similar to the sound of a faulty fire alarm going off frequently. The first time, it gets attention, ‘It’s a fire alarm! Is everyone safe?’. At the second occurrence, doubt begins to creep in, ‘It’s still a fire alarm, but it’s the second time this morning!’. The third time, the alarm will start to transition to ‘It’s that alarm again!’, the fourth time and the alarm becomes potentially irritating ‘I wish that alarm would stop!’. Ultimately each false alarm decreases the effectiveness and urgency. As a school it’s important to not waste your ‘fire alarm’ messages.
Like the fire alarm, sending a message by SMS will initially grab attention, the phone bleeps/vibrates and displays a message from school. It’s immediately viewed as important; the school has taken the time and the expense to send a message and needs attention now. Assuming the contents are urgent and important, the recipient will be grateful and likely to do what has been requested. Conversely, If the contents are not urgent or do not relate to something that’s happening very soon, there is a danger that the parent subconsciously downgrades SMS as an urgent/important means of communication meaning your route to an urgent reply may be lost.
Email is free, so you can use it as often as you like without any worry of financial ramifications. Similarly to SMS, over-use of Email slowly decreases its effectiveness. Therefore, I’d recommend sending no more than one email on a daily basis, detailing any updates or news. If you wait to send out one weekly roundup, this can lead to overly long emails which quickly makes it hard to read. It’s important to look at the contents, importance, timescales etc. and take a moment to think about how its best to get the message out that will achieve the maximum impact and chance it is read and actioned.
To help schools implement best practice, here are my 6 key takeaways for schools to improve their parental communication: