Until last year, our district was using a number of different websites and platforms for school-home communications. Many of those platforms weren’t supported by our district, which takes a hands-off, lenient approach to approving websites and other tools for use across its 31 schools.
For example, teachers will sometimes find free tools and then jump in and start putting student data in them. We’re trying to reel that in because this approach tends to create inconsistencies across the district. If I'm a parent that has multiple children in our schools—or a parent with one child and multiple teachers—I need consistency in my communication.
We needed a communications tool for our high school athletics program, which relies on a team of coaches and staff that aren’t necessarily full-time school employees. These individuals were using social media platforms like Twitter and their own cell phones (for texting) to communicate directly with students and parents.
Fortunately, as we were looking for an opportunity to improve our parent communications, we came upon a complete solution. The implementation project, which was initially sidelined due to COVID-19, took place in late-2021. We then did a soft launch during our Summer Academy last year.
Our 4 Steps to Success
Here are the four steps that we took to ensure a successful rollout and high usage rates for our new school-home communication platform:
1) Build the hype. We communicated directly to our staff and parents about the new program, what it was going to do for us and when it was coming. This helped us build the hype. We worked directly with our instructional technology specialists, who trained teachers on how to post, manage their classes, build groups, and use direct messaging. We called on our instructional techs for help with this because they’re already assigned to the buildings and have established relationships with the teachers—versus having that information come from the district itself.
2) Transform your trainers into cheerleaders. It was really important for us to train the instructional techs first because we don't have enough staff to go around. I spent a lot of time getting them behind the product; I knew I needed them to serve as the “cheerleaders” for the rest of the staff. Once we got the teachers trained on the communications platform, the instructional techs would become those teachers’ support contacts. That way, it's more than just the district pushing out a new technology solution; many different people and departments are involved in the initiative.
3) Don’t just spring it on your staff. We did the training on our new school-home communication platform in the spring with our secretaries and office staff at the schools. Then, we did refresher training in the fall. We did this because we’ve learned that launching a new platform at the beginning of the school year is really tough. So even before everyone returned for the new school year, I was emailing them with links to information and our training sessions. I also went around personally to every school and worked with the office staff there, answering their questions and walking them through how to use the platform.
4) Get parent buy-in early. We also communicated with parents about the new platform and what it meant for them. For example, we added information about our new communications platform to our public-facing website and included information about how to opt-out, if so desired. For students in grades 6-12 we’re using an additional tool, so we shared information with parents about that opportunity as well. We printed information about both platforms on large sandwich board signs and dropped those signs off at our secondary schools for parents night and other events. We also made handouts and flyers for parents.
Getting Everyone Onboard
Going a step further, we also worked very closely with members of our parent teacher organizations (PTOs). We trained them and gave them sneak previews of the platform. At the start of the new school year, we held another training session with those PTOs, got their buy-in, encouraged them to download the application, and then showed them how to use it. These folks are in our school buildings all the time, talking to a lot of parents and getting the word out for us.
Jobs in education have changed dramatically over the years, especially since COVID-19, but even prior to that. We're being asked to do so much, and we need to be able to offset that somehow. Our communications partner helps us respond to that in a world where you can’t just keep doing the same things you've always done—like mailing paper newsletters to parents—just because those approaches have worked in the past.
About the author
Karl Weinrich is the coordinator of web services at Rockwood School District in Eureka, MO. The district uses ParentSquare.