Ask families these 5 questions to rebuild trust and engagement

The right questions asked in the right way go a long way to strengthen the connection between schools and families.
By: | May 19, 2022
Joanna Smith-Griffin

Joanna Smith-Griffin

The pandemic has loosened the connection between schools and families. One analysis estimates that 1,268,000 students have left public school since the start of the pandemic.

Where did these families go? Some were lured to alternative education options like private schooling or homeschooling. For many, the reason stems from a loss in trust that public school is a safe, welcoming environment for learning to take place.

To keep families in public schools, education leaders must reimagine family engagement efforts which research shows can improve overall student outcomes. Family engagement centers around treating families as co-creators of their child’s academic success. This can be in the form of strategies for monitoring their child’s performance in school, communicating high expectations, supporting learning at home, guiding their child’s education, and advocating for their child.

A powerful place to start engaging families and rebuilding trust is by asking questions. My company, AllHere, helps schools run smart texting campaigns to equitably communicate with families, and the highest-performing messages are often question-based. By understanding individual family situations and making them feel heard, schools can start to provide the personalized support each student needs to thrive.

Based on millions of text messages to parents, these simple prompts typically drive the greatest engagement, and ultimately, trust.

Need help with academics or anything else? Call/text us, we can help!

The simple act of sending a personalized invitation to ask for help is the first step to establishing a trusting relationship with families. Make these communications friendly and casual, and most importantly, end the offer for help with a call to action. A simple “text us” or “call us” is the key to getting a conversation started. It’s also critical that the call to action is easy and in line with how parents prefer to communicate, whether that’s via email, a phone call, or a simple text message.

How does your child feel about school?

This question does really well with families because it’s open ended and invites the parent to consider how things are going for a child at school that may not be related to academics. For example, a parent might respond that their student was on the honor roll until they started getting bullied, and now they’re not doing well. This gives the school the information needed to take action and provide the support that the student needs.

Jane has missed 3 days of school recently. Is there anything we can do to help?

The topic of attendance is tricky during a school year with continued COVID-related disruptions. Throw away punitive approaches to attendance intervention and replace them with informational “nudges” and offers to assist.

Research at Columbia University shows that most parents overestimate their child’s attendance and academic achievement. By simply closing the information gap in a way that’s empathetic, schools can improve attendance and grades. This is about treating parents as an important part of their child’s education and giving them the knowledge they need to support their child’s success in school.

Have you set any goals for your student this year? Let us know how we can help you achieve them!

Asking about goals prompts a parent to do some self-reflection. What has their student accomplished or not accomplished this school year? Goal-setting increases accountability and helps parents drill down to what important skills they want their child to ultimately graduate school with to become successful adults.

Thank you for getting your student to school every day. Keep up the great work!

The last prompt isn’t a question at all but always results in a flood of positive responses from parents. It’s an acknowledgment of the work parents do every day to support their students. Simply getting students to school each and every day is no small task. A little recognition goes a long way to build trust.

 Joanna Smith Griffin is the CEO and Founder of AllHere, a company that combines conversational AI, behavioral science, and interactive nudges to foster attendance and engagement in K-12 education. AllHere’s AI-powered chatbot provides families and students with 24/7 support through personalized text messaging.

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