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Parent Engagement Mistakes: 5 Common Pitfalls Schools Should Avoid

When it comes to student achievement, effective school and parent communication is vital.

And, that’s not just an opinion of most school leaders–recent research confirms the positive effect involved parents have on student performance.

In a summary of research on the importance of school and parent partnerships, K12 Insight senior director of research and business analytics Dr. Alisha Martinez writes:

When schools build partnerships with families—responding to their concerns and honoring their contributions—they create a range of benefits for students. Benefits include better academic performance (Henderson and Mapp, 2002); higher reading scores, language growth and development, motivation to achieve, prosocial behavior, and quality work habits (Harvard Family Research Project, 2006/2007); higher graduation rates and reduced alcohol use and antisocial behavior (Michigan Department of Education, 2011); improved school readiness, higher student achievement, better social skills and behavior, and increased likelihood of graduating.

Research from other sources confirms the transformative power of strong parent engagement in schools.

In a study of Title I schools conducted by the Flamboyan Foundation, growth in reading test scores was 50 percent higher for students whose teachers and schools reported high levels of parental outreach versus those that reported low levels. That same study found that students whose families received a home visit from school personnel had 24 percent fewer absences and were more likely to read at or above grade level compared to similar students who did not receive a home visit.

While the data demonstrates the impact parent involvement can have on student performance, many districts still struggle to bring parents into the conversation.

In many cases, districts face significant obstacles–ever-present language barriers and budget shortfalls, to name a few. But external factors are only partly to blame. Unforced errors can play a significant role in ineffective parent communication.

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Here are five common mistakes most school districts make when working to engage parents and families. Any of these ring true in your schools?

1. Too many messages go unanswered.

Parents and families often don’t know what phone number or email address to use when contacting a school or district. When they do send messages, calls and emails often go unreturned—usually because people have left the district or changed positions, and no one follows up.

2. It’s hard to reach the right person.

Parents and families often don’t know who to call or email when they have a particular question or concern. Instead, they search the website and bounce from person to person, often failing to find the information they need.

3. There is little collaboration between departments.

Because emails and phone calls exist in different communication “silos,” it is difficult for school leaders to share information and collaborate to provide answers that are timely, accurate, and complete.

4. Responses lack consistency.

Multiple communication “entry points,” combined with a lack of customer service and community engagement training in schools, means parents and others often receive different answers to the same questions, which is confusing.

5. Extracting meaningful learning is difficult.

Absent an easy way to effectively track and monitor all the many different forms of inbound communication in a school system, school leaders struggle to evaluate the state of communication and customer experience in their schools. This knowledge gap contributes to problems going unaddressed.

Any of this sound familiar?

Learn how school districts across the country are overcoming these failures through an emphasis on better customer service for parents in the exclusive guide, “The power of family and school partnerships.” Get the guide here.

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