Building the Why, What and How: The Importance of Parent Communication in the Shift to Personalized Learning

by Jim McLure, Professional Development Specialist

As a parent, we want the very best for our children. During the early years, we want them to find success and happiness at home with family, in social settings and in extracurricular activities. For the most part, we feel a sense of control over the majority of those experiences. We decide what sports our children might be involved in. We have a certain amount of control over playdates and social arrangements our children participate in. If something goes wrong, we can be there to place the necessary band-aid or say the right words to make the situation better. As our children become school aged, we can certainly have a say about what school they attend, but once they are dropped off and we drive away, their happiness and success is largely up to the classroom teacher and the values and perspectives that we have instilled in our children.

For many parents, this lack of perceived control is a difficult thing to overcome. A drastic change to a learning structure can upset many parents and cause concern that their children won’t find the success they had hoped for. That being said, I think that many parents would agree that the structure of school needs to change in order to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace. I’d bet that most parents would be willing to accept some drastic changes to certain long standing school protocols if it meant that their children would be better prepared, more academically and socially successful, and would find a greater sense of joy in their school experience. As we have seen, this willingness to embrace change does not happen automatically. It is necessary to involve parents and stakeholders in the decision making process.

As educators we must help parents understand this change by developing a sense of why it is necessary, what the vision is and how they can take an active role in the education of their children. I recently visited a classroom that is in their first year of transitioning to personalized learning. The teacher team has done a masterful job of communicating with parents and stakeholders about the shifts in practice. Here’s what I learned from their insights and experiences.

Top 10 Parent Communication Tips for Shifting to Personalized Learning

  1. Be sure to start with the “WHY”

    Parents and stakeholders need to recognize the need for a change. There is significant power in seeing that the legacy model of education that led them to success will no longer lead their child to a similar level of success.

  2. Share the change model & your vision

    Telling the story of the many other school districts that are on a similar journey and using a united regional approach to change will set many parents at ease. That being said, sharing your particular vision for how you plan on moving forward on that journey builds even greater confidence in the changes that you are making.

  3. Be available & open to tough questions

    Parents and stakeholders may have some tough questions for you. By simply being available to answer them, you are demonstrating a willingness to work through and provide insights on why something may seem different and how to best address the problem. Your openness to questions also demonstrates a refreshing level of transparency.

  4. Invite parents & stakeholders into the learning space

    The best way to ease fears and doubts regarding change of any type is to show parents what learning looks like in real time. When parents are invited to come and experience how learning feels for their child, they are more likely to be committed to supporting the shift.

  5. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers

    Although confidence in personalized learning and the shifts you are making are key to having parent and stakeholder support, admitting that you don’t have all of the answers is still the best policy. Do not be afraid of explaining that this is an iterative process and course adjustments will be made along the way as experience is gained, just as you expect your learners to do the same.

  6. Utilize technology to keep parents in the loop

    Technology enables parents to receive real time updates on their child’s learner profiles, customized learning paths and where they are in regards to meeting a specific learning goal. If used appropriately, a personalized learning environment will lead to parents knowing more about their child’s learning and who they are as a learner, than ever before.

  7. Have parents communicate with each other

    The best advertisement is a story from the mouth of a highly satisfied customer. Once you have done the hard work of informing and educating parents on the “why, what and how” of personalized learning, have the parents from last year’s class speak to the upcoming year’s class. They will have a unique perspective and explain the process in a way that only a parent can. You will still have to follow all of the same communication channels, but you’ll begin with a big leg up!

  8. Meet parents where they are: Utilize social media to share highlights and bright spots

    Although many parents might not have the time to read every newsletter that comes home, they likely will take 5 seconds to notice and view a social media notification. Use social media sites that allow for closed groups to regularly post accomplishments, highlights and brightspots to share with parents. By meeting parents where they already are, you can continue to paint the picture of the positive changes that are happening in your learning environment. Parents will also enjoy being able to talk with their children about what they saw in the pictures that day. They will finally be able to avoid the, “How was your day?” conversation and be able to ask about specific instances.

  9. Provide specific opportunities for parents to be involved in helping their learner succeed

    One of the most important and meaningful ways that we can engage our parents is to regularly make them aware of ways they can help their learner succeed in school. Through sharing learning goals and pathways with parents, as well as any resources, parents can feel empowered to take part in the process.

  10. Give parents an opportunity to share their side of the story

    If parents are willing, sharing their side of the story as the school year progresses is vital to larger community support. Many enthusiastic parents have been willing to speak at school board meetings, write testimonials, or even be video recorded for an informational video. In providing parents with an avenue for sharing their story and positive changes that they noticed in their child, you are involving them in the change process. In regards to parent communication, that may be the most important tip of all.

A special thanks goes out to Kim Ferguson and Rebecca Wypiszynski, teachers from the Muskego-Norway School District, for their hard work, dedication to their learners and parents, and willingness to share their expertise.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Lvnel