Parental engagement is a key ingredient in the recipe that produces pupil achievement. No one would deny that encouraging enthusiastic parents to become more involved in their child’s education is a good thing, but teachers are increasingly finding themselves buried under an avalanche of parental emails, and feeling the need to respond to them out of school hours.
If your teachers have inadvertently opened the floodgates, what can they do to keep their heads above water?
Organise your inbox
First, decide which parent emails are genuinely urgent and which can wait until you’re back in school tomorrow – but that can be easier said than done. Some teachers find that sorting incoming messages into separate folders can help them sort the high priority emails regarding an unhappy child in their class from less pressing concerns.
A good habit for preserving your work/life balance is ‘batch checking’, whereby school emails are checked at several set points during the day, rather answered all in one go during the evening.
School communications software enables personalised messages to be sent to specific parents, classes or clubs. This will allow you to pre-empt many parental enquiries and reduce the overall volume of your email activity by deploying different methods of communication and modes of messaging that work more effectively for certain sets of parents.
More importantly, this type of personalised approach will enable you to set and better manage parents’ expectations of when they can expect to receive a reply. It’s no longer necessary to distribute blanket communications to the whole school, an entire year group or class – an approach that can tie up valuable resources without addressing everyone’s concerns.
Instead, sending out a message regarding that week’s additional reading support to a small group of parents, or reminding the families of the after-school rounders team to bring their kit with them, can answer parents’ questions for them, before they even feel the need to ask. Some communications systems also allow for the inclusion of links to external information sources, such as reading lists or useful websites for helping children practice their times tables.
Another effective way of cutting down your email traffic is to deliver relevant messages directly to parents’ smartphones and tablets. Some schools will ask parents to download a mobile app that provides ready access to all forms of information they might need over the course of their child’s time at school. With all those details in place, parents will, in theory, have less need to email in specific queries.
Rather than bombard parents with permission slips to sign, attendance forms to fill out and numerous other data requests, and then waiting for them reply, schools can use mobile apps to capture this type of required data directly. Once parents are able to book seats for the Christmas production, pay for the museum trip and submit their consent forms via a few taps and swipes, you’ll likely see the volume of routine parental emails plummet.
Adopting a more streamlined way of sending rich, relevant and targeted information to parents will help schools dramatically reduce their incoming emails, and enable their teachers to attain a better work/life balance. As Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke puts it, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Winston Poyton is education, charities and commercial product director at IRIS Software Group; find out how ParentMail, part of the IRIS Software Group, can help improve home/school communications at parentmail.co.uk