[Disclaimer: These are my opinions based on personal experience a non-traditional college student with a fairly recent degree completion and as a parent of children in both a traditional high school and an early college high school.]
Although we talk in terms of PK-20 in the world of education, the secondary and higher education systems do not align. The registration processes, course equivalencies, and terminology are vastly different. There is a huge opportunity for professionals on both sides of the divide to build a bridge through personalized advising appointments with students as well as streamlined communication with families.
I believe advising is really about an ongoing, personal conversation…. which is rare when high school counselors are swamped with high caseload and college counselors function on a drop-in capacity. High school students in particular need parental input into the advising process. And parents need an opportunity to learn what is available so they can give educated feedback to their children based on their knowledge of their child, the family financial situation, and a host of other circumstances that staff may not be able to take into account.
As such, it is vital that secondary guidance counseling offices place a high importance on effective parent communication. Here are some ideas using the general marketing rule that it takes seven points of contact to make a ‘sale’…. which can be translated to sharing information with parents- it may very well take seven contacts to communicate to your parent base.
7 Points of Parent Contact
- Student assembly- Often information is initially disseminated through large group settings where students retain a fraction of what is shared…. and much of what they do bring home may be incorrect. Invite parents to attend these events. Publicize, publicize, publicize. (see #2, #3, #4)
- Social media- Go where the parents of these millennial children are… which for a large percentage is on Facebook. Information shared on these platforms allows you to get specifics out to parents in a format that they see regularly and can use to share with each other.
- Mini-handouts- I know that paper is out, but it is still needed. Rather than large sheets that get crumpled to the bottom of backpacks, try mini-handouts that are business card size or interesting shapes. Have students in a design program help create an interesting graphic and use a URL shortener like tinyurl or bit.ly to link to your website information page.
- School generated email- Most schools have the option to send parent communications via email. This is a great opportunity to share with parents information that was shared with students about post-secondary options. Include links- the more information, the fewer phone calls you will receive from confused parents which will allow you to spend more time on the important things- your students.
- Post-secondary options night publicity- Many schools already offer an evening dedicated to sharing options. However, families are often forced to choose between three activities or meetings on the same night… make yours sound like the most important! Use marketing terms like “free college”… parents may not know what ‘concurrent enrollment’ means and then choose to go another event. You are vying for busy parents’ time- sell them on your event using all of the first 4 parent contact points.
- Informal follow-up coffee- Parents can be actively following your communications, yet still have more questions than answers. Take advantage of these questions by hosting an informal coffee or two in your local coffee shop to answer follow-up questions in a group and allow parents to network. More information is shared by parents in passing or at evening events than you can imagine… harness the power of that network and let them help you communicate. Have resources and links available- you can use the same mini-handouts from #3 here if you have a generic URL and customize your landing page.
- One on one advising meetings with families- This is time consuming, but vital for student success. Early colleges often block out 1-2 hours per student, per semester (with parents) to do advising and enrollment for the following semester. Find a way to make this happen. Use an online scheduling app, allow parent volunteers to take on tasks… whatever it takes to make room in your schedule to personalize your advising information.
These points of contact should be in addition to and augment any newsletters or other parent web programs. Crosspost mercilessly. Obviously, having a quality and engaging website with links to social media is vital to the success of your high school to college advising. You are in the business of preparing students for their futures…. treat your counseling office as such. Ensure you are contributing to parents electing to remain at your school over other choice options in your area. Translate program names into parent friendly terms. Ask parents for feedback on your ‘translation’- what is still confusing? Be proactive, try new things, and adapt to the communication means that your families are using- text, email, social media, etc. Invest some time to prepare quality information so that you can decrease impromptu meetings and increase those planned one-on-one advising meetings.
Although I don’t want to take this bridge metaphor too far, I think parent communication is one of the first supports as we build a bridge from high school classes to college coursework (either during or following secondary), followed closely by student engagement and systems alignment…. and probably a few other things I’m going to think through in this ‘series’.
What is the most effective parent communication tool you use? What did you find was surprisingly successful? Have you tried anything that bombed? Parents- what school communication method has had the biggest impact? What do you want to see?