Reviewing your association’s communications and how they might be perceived by new parents can help. It’s a good idea to consider:
With recent Supporting Parent Engagement grants on offer from the ACT Government, many P&Cs have been exploring ways to engage with families.
- Know yourself — be familiar with the association
- Know your audience,your association members
- Know the message objective - what do we want our members to know or do?
When applied to your association, ‘knowing yourself’ refers to understanding your fundamental purpose (see page 1!), values, governance, background and people. There’s a lot to know about the P&C and it’s a constantly evolving entity.
Understanding the association provides a foundation for the association’s communications and guides choices such as to whom, why, when, and how to communicate.
How does the community get to know their association? This depends significantly on your communication, culture and activities. Everything the association does is a potential opportunity, or missed opportunity, to tell members a little bit more and invite parents to get involved.
Don’t assume everyone will know about the association. While a complete background isn’t always necessary, there are things you can do to build familiarity and plenty of opportunities to point to further information.
Checking for clarity, validity of contacts, providing links to more information wherever possible, acknowledging an achievement, thanking and inviting participation (such as feedback and questions) should be a minimum.
Know your audience
For parent and community associations such as P&Cs, knowing the different characteristics within your community helps to create messaging that will engage a broader audience. While it might feel like a superficial exercise of putting people into boxes, describing smaller groups within a community, and finding ways for them to tell their stories, builds empathy and opportunities to improve communication.
While it’s not necessary to have a statistical analysis of population demographics, it can be useful to draw on some basic data or consider collecting and building data sets through existing opportunities.
Each school community has unique circumstances so parents and families that are new to the community come with various understanding of what a P&C is and does, or is not. While the beginning of the year is a good time to emphasise these messages, the information should always be readily accessible.
Helping families to feel genuinely welcome and valued can be difficult if you haven’t been new yourself for a long time. While to some degree parents become new every year with new routines for a new grade level, the newly relocated student and their families can arrive at any time.
Know the message objective
Consider parents in the communication loop. Will new parents understand it? Is there a message just for them? Is the information complete? Would someone who has no prior knowledge be able to make sense of it? Is there a useful link you could include? Would the information be better in a different format? Will some parents need to talk to someone about this and who should they contact? When knowledge is assumed or messages contain jargon or abbreviations then communication can leave parents frustrated and with more questions.
Try answering these questions about your association’s communication:
- What does the association want members to know or to do?
- What do our members want to know?
- When is this information required?
- Where do members look for the information?
- Where is the information currently available?
- Is there anywhere else it could be made available?
- What is required to create a welcoming community?
Existing points of contact
Consider all the points of contact or communication channels that your association has with parents and families throughout the year — letters, introductions, emails, notices, invitations, invoices, conversations, tours, games, guides, FAQs, face-to-face events as so on.
Are there times when parents come to the association seeking information?
Connecting with new parents
Families with children starting a new school or class may find the changes during this period of adjustment a time of anxiety as well as joy. Given the initial experiences of school often impact future responses to education, and following the year we’ve just had, P&Cs in partnership with schools can provide long-term benefits for school communities by supporting families through the stress of school transitions.
While new parents may not be considering involvement with the parent association initially, they’re more likely to be open to the idea if they experience the welcoming support of friendly, helpful, non-judgemental association members smoothing the way during the ups and downs of school transitions.
To support new parents, you might consider the concerns new parents have and the resources they ask for. We have gathered this information from our Transition to School parent forums.
New parent concerns:
- Will my child make new friends and cope with the changes?
- How do I communicate with my child's school or teacher?
- How can I support my child’s learning and wellbeing?
- Where do I go for information or if I have a problem?
Resources they request:
- what to prepare for school lunches and lunchboxes
- checklists to help prepare
- requirements for literacy and numeracy
- parentingresources relating to technology, conversations about behaviour
- information about school procedures and policy.
While new families will move beyond being new, transition experiences can leave lasting impressions. There will always be new parents so keep this in mind when constructing your association messages to providing information for parent and community members.