The Flip Side of Parent Communication

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Well, you can’t be trying to achieve success of any kind in this business without accepting that there’s going to be a flip side to it.

—Jennifer Garner

EU quoteBy Sarah McKibben

Admittedly, it’s a stretch to compare the challenges of education to acting, but it’s not a stretch to understand that there’s a flip side to what you do in any profession. In schools, flipped classrooms, flipped faculty meetings, and even flipped parent communication show that we can engage audiences differently, innovatively enhance instruction, and build relationships without taking a complete departure from our roots.

Peter DeWitt, principal on leave from Poestenkill Elementary School in New York, began flipping parent communication nearly two years ago after trying flipped faculty meetings. He stumbled across the idea during a tense meeting between a kindergarten teacher and the parent of a new student.

The meeting “had gone so quickly in a negative direction,” says DeWitt, that he stopped the discussion in its tracks. When he did, the parent broke down and revealed that she felt guilty about not being actively involved in the school. Her work obligations prevented her from taking time off to volunteer in her child’s classroom or attend field trips.

The simple revelation shifted the tone of the meeting, and empathetic to the situation, the teacher gave her phone number to the parent and said “text me every single day and I will tell you how your daughter is doing.”

The meeting ended on a high note, but left DeWitt scratching his head. “They walked out and I thought, I’m spending a lot of time flipping my meetings for teachers and trying to figure out how to engage them, but am I engaging my school community enough?”

DeWitt started documenting school events and introduced parents to the concept of flipped communication. Some of the videos he shared recapped the week’s activities (e.g., 11-26-13 and 11-18-13) and others chronicled bigger occasions such as Fire Prevention Day, which brought together fire departments from two communities (Poestenkill welcomed 100 new students when a nearby school closed, making the collaboration especially significant).

“It literally took five minutes to pull together pictures and do a Touchcast video,” says DeWitt.

The effort to relay the information paid off. “I started to get unbelievable feedback from parents that I never really talked to before saying, ‘I can’t get to school like other parents can. Thank you so much for doing this.’”

As parents became better informed, DeWitt encouraged them to use the videos to spark conversation with their kids. The videos also improved the quality of discussions taking place during school events. The first video DeWitt e-mailed to parents in fall 2012 provided them with an update on the Common Core standards and an overview of what was going to be covered at an open house.

When the event rolled around, “Parents were actually raising hands and asking questions,” says DeWitt. “It was the best discussion we’ve ever had at an open house.”

Sensitive to the fact that not all parents have Internet access and it takes multiple forms of communication to get a message across, DeWitt still sends home a monthly print newsletter (or as he calls it, a “refrigerator” page). He keeps it short and simple, however. “If a newsletter is over two pages, parents aren’t reading it,” says DeWitt.

DeWitt isn’t the only administrator flipping parent communication: Melinda Miller, principal of Willard East Elementary in Missouri, created this short video ahead of parent-teacher conferences. For Miller, too, flipping parent communication was a natural segue from flipping faculty meetings (see the January issue of Education Update for more on “Mastering the Flipped Faculty Meeting”).

When it comes to building relationships with parents, flipping is just another piece to the engagement puzzle. For DeWitt, however, the technology is the icing on the cake.

“It’s not replacing how I communicate with parents,” says DeWitt, “it’s enhancing it.”

 

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