Connecting with your Parents
In the third and final part of this series on Managing Your MIS, Greg Martin offers some practical advice about how a school can use its information management system to connect with parents.
Communicating with parents
International schools the world over face a challenge when it comes to communicating with parents. For expatriates, the range of language needs as well as demanding work commitments can make some parents difficult to reach out to. Local parents may have specific needs and sometimes a learning expectation quite different to that of the school. Needless to say, parents who have selected an international school have high expectations and keeping track of their child’s learning progress is generally a priority.
School information management systems can offer effective ways for schools to track, analyse and share data on a child’s learning progress with parents. Using a communication channel designed specifically for them, such as a parent portal, means that parents can be informed throughout the academic year. This is a benefit that could impact a prospective parent’s choice of school.
International schools are finding that regular communication with parents through a parent portal is beneficial for other reasons too.
Sharing learning progress with parents
Many international schools talk about the demands of parents; their need to know on a weekly, or even daily basis, about their child’s development and progress.
A parent portal that’s integrated within the school information management system can help a school to respond to these needs efficiently. For example, Anglo-Singapore International School in Bangkok uses its parent portal to deliver data on student progress in real time.
Superintendent of the school, Elvin Macatangay explains: “The advantage to our parents is that assessment data on their child is readily available at home. They don’t need to see the teacher to find out. Before having the portal, our parents wouldn’t know anything about their child’s progress until they met with the teacher. This access is very important for them.”
As well as providing regular feedback to parents, a parent portal can help a school to educate its parents about the school’s ethos to learning.
Will Percy, Secondary Division Deputy Headmaster at HD Ningbo, an international school in China explains: “We believe we should give our parents as much transparency and clarity as we can about what we are doing, to reassure them that they have made the right decision for their child. Giving them access to data about their child’s learning progress through the parent portal, gives our parents something to talk to the school about and helps them to engage with us and with their child in a meaningful way,” he says.
Shifting parents’ cultural expectations about learning
An increasing number of local families are sending their children to international schools because of the Western-style of learning they offer and, with this, the increased chance of achieving a place at a Western university. According to ISC Research, over 80% of all international school students today are from local families. For some international schools located in countries where state provision is still very much focused on teacher-led delivery of facts, or where a child’s rank in class is considered a crucial indicator of success, one of the biggest challenges for the school is to shift cultural expectations about what constitutes learning success.
Many international schools follow a personalised learning approach, focusing on each individual child’s learning progress. Moving parents from a mindset that performance is just about where their child ranks in the class to one that focuses purely on an individual’s development can be challenging for any school. Data can be a very powerful tool here.
It can help parents to develop an understanding of what the school values in terms of a child’s education. Rather than simply identifying grades, a student’s data can be analysed to show trends in their learning progress, so helping the school to demonstrate to parents, through a parent portal, how their child is developing.
Data representing progress in developing personal skills and qualities can be analysed and shared too, helping to emphasise the wider ethos of the school. In its selection of students for scholarships and summer schools, HD Ningbo uses both academic and holistic data from the school information management system to make its decision. As a result, teachers are able to show how the selection has been made, and use it to explain to students and their parents why they have or have not been selected. It’s an opportunity for the school to emphasise to students and the parents how progress is defined by the school.
Breaking down the language barrier
However effective it may be at sharing student data and trends, a parent portal only works if parents can use and understand it. Moving from paper to digital communication is challenging for some parents. Schools can follow a variety of approaches to encourage use including on-going training for parents, or using traditional forms of communication as a route to prompt portal use.
The Anglo-Singapore International School has a parent community of mostly non-English-speakers and several who are unfamiliar with communication technology. Regardless, they have managed to achieve use of their parent portal by 90% of parents. Elvin Macatangay explains: “Slowly, slowly, we went away from paper-based to the portal (which provided translations).
“We gave them clear, step-by-step instructions. We didn’t limit the way we reached out to the parents; we gave them instructions about it through the portal, through our website, and through letters Every time we had orientation session with the parents we showed them the system and how to use it, and we trained one of our IT staff to support the parents so they can receive the help they may need.
“Those having real difficulty are invited to come in and are given special attention on how to use the portal. There are still problems because some parents are not tech-savvy, but since the portal has been up and running, our parents are able to access the data; they’re happy to get data on their child at home, to immediately see timetables, attendance and school reports. Now, we don’t use paper and because of that, the parents have realised they have to catch up.” The school even uses the portal for major announcements, alerting parents through an SMS text message to visit the portal for news.
HD Ningbo has a bilingual portal for its parents, available in both Chinese and English. “We need everybody, including our parents, to access data that drives our ability to help students; that shouldn’t be blocked by language, especially in a bilingual school like we are,” says Will Percy.
Introducing a Parent Portal
Think about the following, when planning your parent portal:
- Get to know your parent community; their language needs and limitations, their expectations of their child’s learning, their use of technology
- Select a parent portal that offers bilingual or reliable translation facilities – more than just Google Translate options. Your parent instructions and content needs to be simple to read and easy for them to understand
- Select a parent portal that is intuitive for parents to navigate
- If you are selecting parent-accessible apps, make sure they will integrate seamlessly into your school information management system
- Plan both an introductory and an on-going programme to inform and support parents in their use of your parent portal. This may include tutorials, training manuals and videos, refresher sessions at parent meetings, one-to-one sessions and IT support
Greg is the Business Development Manager for Asia at WCBS which is a leading provider of information management systems exclusively for independent and international schools.