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Let’s face it, this year has been “hand-wringer” for educators and families; full of worry, full of stress, and full of serious decisions that could impact children for decades. 

And while the pandemic has proved challenging for everyone, it’s also presented an amazing opportunity to communicate with parents and caregivers in a totally new way… virtually.

Virtual family engagement eliminates many of the barriers to school meetings and events. When parents don’t have to ask off work, bundle up their kids on a cold, dark night, or try to find a ride, they are more likely to attend these programs, especially if all it takes is clicking on a link or watching a recorded video.  

Virtual events are also easier on school leaders and educators. There’s no time and energy spent chasing down meal donations, finding volunteers, or assembling gift baskets. Virtual events don’t necessarily have to take place at school, you can “broadcast” from anywhere. And, they make it easier to focus on what really matters… bringing families into the learning process.

Of course, experience has taught us that virtual events can also be fraught with challenges. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure these programs deliver the kind of engagement you’re looking for. Here are five tips for  hosting a successful virtual event with families or members of your community.

  1. Keep it simple 

Virtual events don’t have to be complicated and they don’t have to require a great deal of planning. Take a simple  “open the phone lines” approach. Plop your principal, school counselor, or reading specialist down in front of a Facebook Live and take family questions right from the chat. Or, take a minute or two to model mindful breathing. Explain how you use the technique to help with learning and follow up with parents by texting or posting instructions on how families can do mindful breathing at home. It will not only be useful, it’ll help parents develop skills they can use with their kids. 

  1. Keep it short

Limit your virtual engagement events to 10 minutes or less. When you give information to parents and caregivers in bite-size chunks, they’re more likely to digest and use it. With the information swirling around during the pandemic, no one has the time or patience to truly pay attention through an hour-long Zoom presentation. Keep it short and practical.  

  1. Make it interactive

Here’s an idea: Encourage families to keep their cameras on and send home advance “kits” with flashcards or pictures on popsicle sticks. Ask families to hold up the sticks during the virtual meeting, Say, “Hold up the popsicle stick picture that describes how you’re feeling tonight.” If crafts aren’t your thing, simply ask families to sign in to the chat on the live video conference and participate for a chance to receive a free gift card. 

  1. Provide value

Share something meaningful and tied to learning. Give parents insight into what’s really happening in school… take them on a tour of new safety signs or demonstrate test techniques. If parents are going to invest their time in you, you need to make it worth it for them. 

  1. Involve families in planning and wrap-up

If you’re going to host a virtual event, take some time prior to the event to ask families what they’re curious about or what they’re worried about. Then plan your program around those ideas. Or, when your live event is wrapping up, toward the end, ask parents to post their take-aways or their ideas with the next session. Follow up with an email or newsletter that includes key takeaways and links to relevant resources or tools that they can use. That way, each event becomes an opportunity for deep, relevant and meaningful conversation. 

Along with these five keys, when you are planning your virtual event, ask your parents if it’s okay to record it. That way you can send the video to parents who can’t attend live events due to work schedules and other conflicts. And you can post to the school website and social media pages.  

Nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face communication — every school needs to plan for and make available face-time — but virtual events give schools and families yet one more opportunity for meaningful engagement. And we need all we can get right now.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to plan or conduct meaningful virtual events with parents this year, I’d love to connect with you. My custom school communication workshops were created to empower staff and engage families. 

Check out my site to learn more and sign up for a free consultation. It never hurts to talk.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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