Family involvement is a pivotal element in determining students’ academic success. I’ve been in K-12 education for 22 years, serving in roles from teacher to superintendent, and my students have always had a greater chance of success when their parents are included in the educational process. However, parents are busy people, so connecting with them can be complicated to arrange.
I currently serve as the principal at Max Larsen Elementary, a K-1 building with 516 students. Nearly 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and we have a significant Arabic and Spanish-speaking population, with about 30 percent of our students speaking a native language other than English. Of that 30 percent, approximately 90 percent have been in the U.S. less than a year.
I believe we desperately need to communicate with parents—especially those who are new to the country—and the best way to reach them is through processes that they are familiar with. The way many schools communicate with parents hasn’t changed in decades. For example, hard-copy weekly newsletters look the same as they did 40 years ago, but parents have changed the way they stay in touch. This was confirmed during a parent poll we took, where only 6.8 percent of parents preferred hard-copy newsletters. We need to communicate in ways that fit with how parents access and consume information in 2017.
Starting in One Classroom…
About a year ago, we discovered Bloomz, a parent-teacher communication app. Bloomz offered direct messaging between parents and teachers, photo and video posting, volunteer and supplies sign-ups, a translation feature, and a behavior management feature. Before this, we had been using Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Bloomz took the most important parts of those platforms, made them accessible on any mobile device, and refined them in ways to target parents specifically.
To test it out, we first introduced Bloomz last year in just one teacher’s class. She became a champion for the app, and preemptively introduced it to more teachers before the trial period ended. We also found that parents loved getting updates sent directly to their smartphones. By the end of the school year, we’d decided to use Bloomz schoolwide.
…and Expanding to the Whole School Community
When introducing Bloomz to the whole staff, I used a video overview I made. I also sent an introductory letter to each teacher over the summer laying the groundwork for the implementation. We also ran an hour-long demo during our staff’s Opening Week PD.
We presented it to parents through many channels: they received an overview in the school registration information, it was included in the hard-copy school newsletter, we announced it on Twitter, school TVs showed it on loop, and it was talked about at each of the four kindergarten orientations that took place a month before school began. During our annual Title Night, well over 200 families signed up via email.
As the principal, I use Bloomz nearly every day to post candid pictures of the kids (and sometimes selfies) for parents to see. It’s amazing how something so simple has gotten such an exceptionally positive reaction from parents. They love to see a glimpse of what their child is doing throughout the day. Nothing can beat seeing a picture of your child’s face pop up on your phone while you’re at work.
I also use the app to send reminders about special events and request supplies for schoolwide activities. For example, one day at 9:00 a.m. I posted a request for root beer float supplies for our 50s Day. Before 2:00 p.m., I had in my office more than 500 cups, 20 gallons of ice cream, 10 two liter bottles of root beer, and 500 spoons.
The Future of Communication
Going forward, I believe content is the key to our continued success. We need to share a steady stream of classroom updates and useful information, while at the same time making sure that parents are only seeing only the most relevant posts, so they don’t become desensitized. This balance will be crucial in maintaining families’ enthusiasm for school participation
Our school culture at Max Larsen Elementary is in the midst of a revolution, and Bloomz is a huge part of that. Parents are starting to see that communication can be quick, effective, and accessible. When it comes to our students, we feel it’s our responsibility to get families as involved as possible, so students have the best chance for success.
Dr. Shawn Bishop is the principal at Max Larsen Elementary in Coldwater, MI. He has served in the role of principal in other districts, as well as teacher, curriculum director, assistant superintendent, and superintendent.