Parents can be a school’s biggest supporter or biggest obstacle when it comes to technology for learning. Getting parents to understand the value that technology adds to learning is essential. But how do you engage them? How do you get them to use the learning technology in their homes? How do you share the great things your school is doing around tech?
One way is to host a digital parenting event. This event can be virtual or in person, but either way, the goal is to establish better relationships, communication and trust between parents and school.
I’ve taught many digital parenting nights over the years. The topic of tech and digital citizenship is one that can bring out strong feelings and opinions, both positive and negative. I’ve had classes where the parents were happy with what I shared — or upset I didn’t share their views. But whether they agreed with me or not, I know that the parents appreciated their school offering the option to come together and talk about this topic. Here are three tips for school leaders who want to host their own school digital parenting event:
At the beginning of all of my presentations, I take the time to ask parents, “What do you see?” This is a question that gets lots of responses.
At one presentation, a parent complained, “My daughter never looks up from her phone when I talk to her.”
Another said, “He’s always playing video games!”
If a parent takes the time out of their day to attend this event, they usually have plenty to say. In fact, there’s been a few times I’ve had to cut responses short in order to finish the presentation in time!
Parents need to be heard so it's important to build in lots of time for discussion and feedback. When I’ve taught smaller groups, it’s easier to have a discussion with everyone. If it’s a larger event, split the parents into small groups to talk among themselves. If hosting a virtual digital parenting class, split the parents into virtual rooms of no more than seven or eight participants. Assign a moderator to each room who can keep the conversation flowing, on topic and report back to the larger group.
Split up the presentation into short bites, then break it up with discussion. Research shows that the optimal focus for adults is about 10-15 minutes. By having parents talk and discuss, you not only validate and respect their thoughts, you keep their attention better.
Principals and teachers are busy. They may not have the time to put together, advertise and host a digital parenting event. This is where school and community partners can come together. They can share the workload and help advertise the event. Some suggestions of partners include:
Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). PTAs are already invested in the school and often host their own events. They have contact lists of parents and can help reach out to them.
School councils. Many schools have school community councils composed of school personnel and parents. These volunteer councils may already plan events throughout the year and some have funding for advertising or other incentives for the event.
Student councils. Parents need to hear what the students are saying. Getting student councils involved in planning and putting on an event not only helps the parents, it provides leadership opportunities for students. There are various student groups that can be included. Consider inviting a student panel to share their experience with the group.
As a working mom, I often struggle to get to school activities. I want to volunteer or go to various school nights, but schedules get packed or sometimes I’m just too tired. Parents are busy. They may be working multiple jobs or handling everything at home without a partner. Schools need to work hard advertising and incentivizing their events. Some ideas to increase parent attendance include:
Hold a raffle. Earlier this year I attended a high school parenting night where the school counselor graciously put together gift baskets for attendees. Each parent got a raffle ticket and the prizes were awarded at the end. Having that incentive helped get parents to the event and stay the entire time.
Advertise. Mention the event in school newsletters, handouts, school social media pages, intercom announcements and promote the class at earlier parent nights.
Give enough notice. Schedule the event far in advance and include it on school calendars that are distributed during the beginning of the school year. Alert parents two weeks before and remind them again two days out to give them time to plan.
Provide snacks. Most of my digital parenting events have been in the evening because that’s the time when both rooms and parents are available. But this means that the event is happening around dinner time — and people are going to be hungry. Parents are more likely to stay for the entire event if you offer a meal at the end.
School digital parenting nights don’t always have to be at schools. You can hold a virtual event on social media or in a virtual conferencing or webinar platform. Consider using software that allows the event to be recorded and archived so those who could not attend may watch another time. And then share the link to the recording in school newsletters and on social media.
I have taught many classes in public libraries, which are free and open to everyone. Other options include churches, community centers or even parents’ homes if the group is small. If schools don’t have the space or don’t want to be an official sponsor, they can work together with other organizations to host an event.
Parents need to be part of the conversation around digital citizenship. I wrote an earlier ISTE article on suggestions for parents to talk with their kids. ISTE also offers Change the Conversation with tips and conversation starters for educators to talk to about tech in schools. When schools offer opportunities for parents to learn and share their experiences and thoughts, that line of communication opens, and trust between schools and parents grows.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability and the author of Digital Citizenship: Teaching Strategies and Practice from the Field and the upcoming title from publisher Routledge,Becoming a Digital Parent: A practical guide to help families navigate technology.