3 Simple Ways School District IT Departments Can Help Improve School-Family Engagement

The role IT plays in K-12 education has changed dramatically in just the past few years – and not least when it comes to school-family engagement. 

As school districts scrambled to support remote learning during the COVID pandemic, they looked to their IT resources to save the day. IT directors and their teams quickly procured the take-home devices, technology solutions, and edtech tools needed to provide some semblance of normality for teachers and students.  

This marked a pivotal shift in the role IT plays in K-12 education. No longer just the “techies” who manage the computer lab, the technology team is now a critical contributor and key problem solver, helping to shape and enhance the learning experience.

IT Can Help Solve Many K-12 Problems, Including Improving School-Family Engagement

Some of the biggest challenges K-12 districts currently face include declining student mental health, learning loss and recovery, school and student safety, teacher shortages, and digital inequality. 

In each case, technology teams can help. There are technology tools available that directly address these problems or help alleviate their negative impacts.

Low family engagement is another significant challenge. Cultivating school-family engagement is essential to positive student outcomes and building a strong school culture. Yet, school districts are struggling to make meaningful connections with families in their communities.

“Research has shown a consensus that family and parent involvement in schools leads to better outcomes regardless of a family’s ethnic background or socioeconomic status.”

Source: “Does Parent Involvement Really Help Students? Here’s What the Research Says,” EdWeek, July 25, 2023

Like remote learning, the challenges of building family engagement came to the forefront during the pandemic. And they still persist today. 

Again, the IT department is a unique position to help. But before we explore how, let’s dig deeper into the problem.

The Critical Importance of Family Engagement to Student Outcomes

Family engagement is proven to be a critical driver of student outcomes. This is true regardless of cultural background or socioeconomic status. When schools and families are working in partnership, students’ grades improve, as does their attendance, their behavior, and their motivation. 

Despite the host of positives that result from strong partnerships between school and family, low school-family engagement is widespread. School districts across America have identified improved family engagement as part of their strategic priorities and improvement plans.

The Department of Education announced in February 2023 its plans to help address the issue through a Family Engagement Learning Series available to state and local education agencies. This is in addition to more than $100 million invested in family engagement improvements since 2018.

Barriers to School-Family Engagement in K-12 Schools

If family engagement is widely recognized as being so important, what’s coming between schools and families? There is no single answer, but rather several factors that can inhibit family engagement in school. Some of these include:

  • Time constraints
  • Lack of resources, like transportation and internet access
  • Language barriers and cultural differences
  • Negative former school experiences
  • Lack of trust and safety
  • Insufficient or ineffective communication channels

Overcoming these barriers requires a multi-faceted approach. Taking steps like providing multilingual support and cultural sensitivity training, and providing a variety of ways to participate, will put your efforts on the right path.

Beyond the tactical aspects, also critical to your success is building trust and security. For those who’ve felt marginalized or had negative personal experiences in school, you’ll need to be thoughtful in how you help them work through understandable fear and skepticism. Taking a collaborative approach and actively involving families in shaping your initiatives and decision making will help you repair and rebuild strained school-family partnerships. 

Ultimately, for these efforts to be fruitful, many diverse stakeholders need to be involved. This includes the IT department. There are several ways that technology teams and tools can facilitate family engagement efforts, as well as address important gaps.

How Technology Teams Can Improve School-Family Engagement

1. Provide Technology Education

Technology and devices are now pervasive in K-12 classrooms. Yet, many parents or caregivers may have a lack of knowledge about and comfort with technology use. This can lead to misgivings and mistrust about how technology is being used to teach and support students.

IT departments can take the lead on this by educating parents about the technology their children are using and how these tools are used to support learning. Your training should also address topics like data security and student data privacy. You could explain the safety and security measures you take—such as using firewalls, a school web filter, or student activity monitoring software—to safeguard students.

This type of family engagement initiative could include in-person live Q&As, pre-recorded virtual trainings, and/or physical and digital dissemination of information. Better yet, involve families in determining what they want to learn and how best to deliver the information. Doing so will not only generate goodwill, but also increase participation and ensure that language and other accessibility needs are addressed.

2. Support Improved Communication

A lack of consistent communication is an often-cited problem that hurts family engagement in school. Research validates that families often complain of being unaware of school events and opportunities to get involved. This problem is even more frequent among families who are non-native English speakers.

You want to make information as accessible to families as possible. But while it may seem counterintuitive, the answer is rarely adding more communications or complexity. The better approach is to develop a comprehensive communication plan that lays out a predictable schedule for when communications occur, what they include, how they’re delivered, who’s responsible, and how they’ll be measured.

While a cross-functional effort, IT can facilitate communication planning and ongoing management by supporting technology needs related to:

  • Surveying families to identify the communication channels and types they prefer
  • Setting up websites to deliver communications
  • Implementing automation where possible to support consistency and sustainability
  • Procuring translation and multilingual support tools
  • Monitoring communication engagement to identify how to refine and improve

3. Give Parents Device Control and Insight

Parents and caregivers effectively become the stewards of school-issued devices at home. Understandably, they may be concerned about the amount of screen time their kids are spending on those devices, as well as want insight into what they’re doing on them. 

Transferring control of school devices to parents when devices go home can ease their concerns. You can give them this peace of mind with a parent control app. 

With a parent control app like Securly Home, you can give your families: 

  • Equitable access to student device and internet controls
  • The ability to set screen time schedules
  • Visibility into students’ online learning and activities
  • Shared responsibility for student safety

You might even be surprised to find that sharing this responsibility with families not only improves their engagement but also strengthens your culture.

Explore Even More Ways IT Can Support School District Priorities

There’s always more work to do than hours in the day, right? But by implementing even one or two of the ideas shared here, your IT department can help drive your district’s family engagement initiative forward and foster your own community of trust. 

For more information surrounding this topic, why not check out our interview with Eric Benedict, the Instructional Technology Manager of the Madison Metropolitan School District. In this interview, Eric shares his experiences and strategies for enhancing school-family engagement as an IT leader.

To stay up to date with helpful ideas about how your IT team can support your school district’s priorities, subscribe to the Securly YouTube channel today.

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