If your school is returning — or has recently returned — to in-person education, you may be facing a large number of anxious parents. Indeed, many people are still confused and scared about their loved ones’ safety as they hear mixed news about the positive impact of vaccines and the worrisome prevalence of new COVID-19 variants. These fears are especially prevalent amongst parents worried about sending their children back to school without the pandemic being entirely over.
Nevertheless, you can assuage much of this fear by communicating clearly, frequently, and effectively with your school’s community. In order to accomplish this, we’ve laid out the top seven ways in which you can reassure anxious parents through comprehensive school communications.
1. BE SELECTIVE WITH THE CHANNELS YOU USE FOR YOUR SCHOOL’S COMMUNICATIONS.
The most important aspect of this section is that you make good use of your school or district’s website. Your website is the best place to share all information pertaining to your school’s reopening plan because it is a centralized hub and is easily accessible for most parents. While social media platforms also offer great methods of communication, not all parents are on social media. Because of this, you never want to post announcements solely on social media. Instead, use those platforms to support and spread the word about notifications already posted to your school’s website. This will ensure that awareness is as widespread as possible.
You may also want to consider sending out an email newsletter or a robocall to inform parents of your school’s plan, because this can add a more personal, direct touch. If your teachers are open to it, they can also give anxious parents a phone call to discuss pertinent details. These phone calls can help smooth over any worries and clarify any confusion in advance of a return to in-person classes. No matter what, your main goal in selectivity with communication channels is to simplify parents’ and students’ lives. Assess your community’s needs and meet them appropriately.
2. DEVELOP A DETAILED ACTION PLAN AND DO NOT WAVER FROM IT.
One of the best things you can offer your school’s community during this time is stability. You can accomplish this by creative a comprehensive and detailed reopening plan. Walk parents through exactly what their students’ days will look like. Outline procedures for daily temperature checks, hand washing and sanitization protocols, and social distancing within the classroom. The more information you can provide, the better, as each detail will provide an answer to a question most parents likely have.
You’ll also want to include a detailed contingency plan in case of an outbreak. Instead of exacerbating parents’ worries, a contingency plan will show them that you’re fully prepared for all outcomes, and it will increase their confidence in sending their children back to your school. While you may need to be flexible in some regards, your best course of action for keeping parents calm is to show strong leadership by sticking to your school’s plan.
3. ENSURE THAT ALL OF YOUR SCHOOL’S COMMUNICATIONS ARE SUPPORTED BY THE LEADING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.
There is a lot of misinformation floating around the internet these days, so make sure you use only verified sources and scientific data when sharing your school’s plans. You can do so by referring to information from local and state health departments, as well as the CDC. By relying solely on facts, you will show that your school is well informed and trustworthy. This will, in turn, continue to bolster parents’ confidence in sending their children back to school.
You may also reference studies and quote public releases from medical and scientific groups, as these are other reliable sources of information. Just make sure to double — even triple — check any details shared with parents to ensure that it is all authentic. Facts put people at ease, but misinformation exacerbates tensions. You’ll definitely want to stick with the former!
4. PROVIDE TRAINING MODULES FOR PARENTS WHO WILL BE HELPING THEIR CHILDREN WITH A HYBRID MODEL OR CONTINUED REMOTE LEARNING.
These can be filmed by your school’s IT professional or another tech expert to further ease any worries parents might have about partial online instruction. With a hybrid model, students are in school half the time and at home the other half, likely with a parent. If you haven’t released any guidelines to online learning yet, now is a great time to do so, focusing on hybrid instruction if that is what your school is progressing towards. If you need to adjust your information accordingly, you should also do so as soon as possible. You want parents to be trained and prepared so they can support their students and help everyone’s experience go smoothly. Just one child having a technical difficulty can hold up the whole class. With that in mind, caregivers must have access to training modules that will allow them to guide their students within the home.
On a different note, they may be unsure of how things will work if other students are returning to school and they’ve decided not to send their child back. The worst thing you can do in this situation is make a parent feel like their child will be left behind. So, even a brief video outlining the procedure for students who will be continuing with remote learning could make the difference between them feeling stranded versus feeling comfortable and cared for. During this confusing time, it’s often the little gestures that truly count.
5. BOLSTER YOUR SCHOOL’S COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE SUPPORT OF ONLINE RESOURCES, EDUCATIONAL ARTICLES, AND PARENT-FOCUSED ORGANIZATIONS.
Before drafting any messages to your school’s community, make sure you are well versed in all the latest information in education. You can do this by checking sites like Edutopia and Edweek. These are great resources with cutting-edge news in education, tips for parent engagement, and information surrounding all current school issues. Keeping up with these resources will educate you on the proper language to use in your community outreach and show you which hot topics you need to address in your communications.
You can also use sites like Education World, EdSource, and Learning for Justice to stay up to date on all things education. The articles on those sites can help guide your communications and provide tools to teachers as they transition back to in-person classes. In addition, you may also want to utilize organizations that specialize in parent engagement. The American Psychological Association, for example, has a host of resources addressing things like mental health and school connectedness. The National Parenting Education Network is another excellent organization that connects parents and educators within each state. By sharing the articles and resources offered by sites and organizations like these, you will be providing much-needed support to anxious parents.
6. LISTEN TO YOUR COMMUNITY’S CONCERNS AND ADDRESS THEM ACCORDINGLY.
While the output of your school’s communications plan is vital, so is outside input. Stressed parents will continue to feel the way they do if they feel unheard. So, to best deal with this, you’ll want to be open to receiving feedback from parents and guardians. This may seem scary if you fear backlash or harsh criticism, but it will be a crucial element of any school’s reopening. Parents want to know that their concerns are valid but that they will be addressed effectively through your school’s reopening plan. They’re going to want their questions answered, too, and there are sure to be many.
One great way to streamline this type of communication is to release weekly or monthly parent surveys. These provide a centralized space for parents to share their worries, ask their burning questions, and give positive feedback. Not only that, but surveys will also provide a wealth of information to your school, which could potentially help with the development of your long-term reopening plan. All in all, the goal of this is to give anxious parents an outlet for their thoughts and feelings, as well as a space for you to acknowledge those thoughts and feelings. Through both things, parents may find that many of their fears are assuaged.
After you’ve completed all six of these steps, you’ll want to continue to affirm and reiterate to parents your priorities and the reasoning behind your school’s reopening action plan. Essentially, this means that you should be reminding them of your school’s ultimate focus often: the health, safety, and mental wellness of students. Remind families that you’re on the same team and that everyone wants the same thing: a safe return to school.
If it seems that some parents are still unconvinced, share with them all the social and emotional benefits that come with schools reopening. Focus on how returning to in-person classes will likely uplift their child’s mental health and support their development. The pandemic has been confusing and upsetting for most students, and a return to school can signify to them a return to normalcy and raise their spirits. Reassure parents that all these benefits outweigh any potential risks, as outlined by science and health professionals. In hammering this home, you are likely to — eventually — satisfy even the stubbornest of parents.
We hope that this list of the six best ways to reassure anxious parents helps you handle your school’s communications effectively. By using this as a guide, you can minimize harm and maximize the confidence parents have in sending their children back to school. Make sure, also, to read our other recent blog posts, as they address similarly pertinent school communication topics like school safety protocols awareness and regular social media audits.