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Parental Engagement Innovation

Published on Nov 19, 2015

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Parental engagement starts with...

How to nurture community spirit

What does it mean to you?

  • School newsletters
  • Parents evening
  • Classroom Volunteering
  • Social & fundraising events
  • Home learning
Parental Engagement means different things to different people. At its simplest level, you might think it's just about sending emails to parents with school news.

Taking it up a notch, it could mean meeting with parents to discuss their child's progress, or holding curriculum evenings to explain what their children will be learning this term. This allows them to support their children with Home Learning.

Volunteering at school is another way parents often get involved, either in the class (more common in primary school) or for fundraising events.

Where can it lead?

  • Parents supporting their child's education
  • Contributing skills to school community
  • Being involved in joint decision-making
  • Partnering with schools
  • Family learning
There is a compelling case for getting parents more engaged, which is why OFSTED encourage it and report back on how effectively schools are achieving this.


outcomes for learners
Ultimately, encouraging parents to get involved and take ownership turns them into stakeholders and partners.

Making them more demanding of their schools (in a good way) raises standards and results in better outcomes for learners.

How do you do it?

At the heart of this lies a need for building a strong and collaborative community of parents and teachers (both online and offline). But how do you build that community? It's not necessarily easy.


Let's think about your school's communications system...

Unless the parents are actively involved and engaged, communications can be one-directional, and emails can remain unread.
Photo by Thomas Hawk


and built something the parents WANT to use
So we flipped it around, to see if we could build something the parents would *want* to use.

We thought about how to build an online community that they would willingly log onto frequently.

That's when we realised that there is already an organisation in most schools who make it their mission to get parents involved in school matters, and are generally an underestimated and relatively untapped resource....
Photo by failing_angel

Your PTA

Is this how you perceive them?
When you think of the Parent Teacher Association at your school, is your first thought about cake sales?

Dare I say that's just the icing?

As well as raising funds for your school, your PTA are instrumental in involving parents in school matters, representing their views, and building links with the local community.
Photo by ginnerobot

How do they do things now?

  • Usually: 5-10 people organising
  • Paper posters, flyers, reply slips
  • Email notice via school office
  • Page on school website
  • Social media: FB & Twitter
We looked at how they were going about organising fundraising events.

Typically a small handful of parents take the lead.

The school often supports them in sending out email notices, and lets them use the school photocopier to distribute flyers.

Many PTAs have started Facebook pages or twitter accounts to keep parents informed, proving that the school's facilities are not adequate to support their activities.

What problems?

  • Few volunteers, overloaded
  • Perception of 'cliques' forming
  • Lack of transparency
  • Lack of 'informed' opportunities
  • New volunteers are put off!
So doing things this way, what kind of roadblocks do they hit?

Well, the few people who do help tend to get overloaded, and -- seeing how much of a commitment it takes, new volunteers hesitate.

There can be also a perception that the PTA are a clique. We found that they tend to have a small email list of regulars they target over and over, simply because they've helped before, which is natural.

Parents are busy, they worry about what's involved in volunteering, that it might be too big a commitment, and so stay away from PTA meetings, although they would like to help.

... you are at their mercy

Parents also shy away from being put on email lists if it means they start receiving endless emails with PTA news.

Worse than that is being added to a group email where you cannot escape every reply filling up your inbox.

Social Media

Successful in increasing interaction with parents
PTAs using Facebook and Twitter to improve communications have generally been successful in raising awareness about events, volunteering opportunities and what the funds are spent on.

But there are a few pitfalls...

Problems with fb

  • Not all parents want to be on Facebook
  • Mixing personal / professional profiles
  • Social pressures - how many friends?!
  • Does not facilitate volunteer management!
Schools and even parents sometimes have concerns about being on Facebook.

There are concerns over eSafety or mixing personal and professional online profiles.

Facebook is something not everyone is comfortable using outside their close circle of friends, and by joining a school group, people may feel under pressure to "friend" even minor acquaintances at school.

It doesn't have to be a popularity contest - it just needs to be easy to see what's going on at school, and how to take part.

When it comes to volunteer management, although social media is great for drip-feeding news, and is mobile friendly too, really all it does is move the conversation from email to a message wall.

There is no specific detailed breakdown of tasks, and it is still time-consuming to read through long-winded conversations, picking out offers of help and updating an offline rota.
Photo by Bart Claeys


Time for a new approach...
As a result, people are still reluctant to volunteer online and even clipboards in the playground are given a wide berth. PTA committees often struggle to get help, and can end up feeling unappreciated.

Some events get cancelled through lack of support, and in the worst cases, PTAs get disbanded when nobody is prepared to take the reins the following year.

However, it's only once it's gone that parents realise the benefits of an active PTA.

So we wanted to do something to make it more efficient to run a PTA, and have everyone contribute at their own level of comfort, making for a richer, more proactive community.

So what did we do differently?

To really add value, conversations need to meaningful and interactive.

We wanted to handle the volunteer management efficiently, but leave room for the social chit-chat that makes a community unique and buoyant.

Photo by mhumphrey

We created a hook...

  • Gave them a reason to log on
  • Made it easy
  • Took away barriers
We needed to appeal to PTA organisers by making it easier to organise events than it is now, saving them time and hassle.

We also needed to broaden their reach, so had to make it appealing and easy for parents to register or accept invitations. Inviting them to RSVP to PTA events via PTAsocial gave them the push they needed.

It also had to be fun and engaging, with a bit of personality and something in it for them...

For example, one thing missing in schools is a parent-to-parent messaging system. In primary schools, arranging class nights out or even playdates is suddenly easy.

We also addressed concerns that were stopping people from signing up, by giving them control to personalise their privacy setting and email notifications.

without needing to find email addresses.

Made it WAY better

than the next best alternative
Publishing the events and tasks in detail allows everyone to browse without pressure and dip their toe in! Rotas are instantly updated as volunteers sign up, and emails can be sent to the right helpers on each tasks

The logistics of managing hundreds of volunteers at a single event are taken care of for you.

It's just so easy that nobody wants to go back to the old ways of doing things.
Photo by judy_and_ed

Surely you don't mean me?

Erm, yes... we do!
What we are doing is effectively changing behaviour, even changing the culture of the school community.

Parents need to feel that volunteering is not just for "Other People". They may not be aware of the skills they could be contributing.

PTAsocial helps to broaden the view of parental involvement. Publishing all sorts of volunteering opportunities, makes them transparent and accessible, increasing volunteering from a wider cross-section of the school community.

We're also keen to work with all sorts of organisations that could benefit from parent volunteers either within schools or in the local community.

What can YOU bring?

So your cake-baking skills are not up to scratch, so what? Think about what you can contribute to the school community.

Software programmer? Start an after-school club teaching coding to kids.

Gardener? Help design and build a herb garden for the children.

Nuclear Physicist? Inspire the kids with an eye-popping careers talk!

The diverse skills and resources of the parent community provide our children with a richer, more-fulfilling whole school experience.

Success Stories

of PTAsocial customers
So having taken this approach and piloted across a number of schools in the UK last year we have now almost 200 schools trialing this across the UK and US.

Here are a couple of examples of how PTAsocial has helped them.

95% signup rate in 2 weeks

Dorset House School, West Sussex
Dorset House is a small independent school in West Sussex. They launched PTAsocial with a bang, literally, with a Fireworks event.

They were delighted with the reaction from the parents and the PTA Chair described it as "Absolutely fab!"

95 % of parents signed up voluntarily within 2 weeks. A great result!

100% volunteering slots filled!

Garden Fields JMI School, Herts
Garden Fields school used it for organising their Christmas Fair.

They also had very enthusiastic feedback, with parents finding it much more convenient than email or paper.

They reported that for the first time ever, they filled ALL of their volunteering rotas.

Easier for busy parents to make a small contribution

Organising becomes so easy, that more parents are willing to take on more responsibility.

Delegation is the key!
Photo by USDAgov

No nasty surprises...

If we learn lessons from the corporate world about how they have embraced social...

Having conversations out in the open builds trust, allows you to deal with issues up front.

So, you don't end up with nasty surprises when you least expect them.

Feels Great

to do one small thing, and make a BIG difference.
The upshot is, we're connecting your school community online,

increasing awareness of how they can contribute a little,

and helping them feel good about being involved!

Get in touch!

hello@ptasocial.com     @ptasocial