By Richard Mills: CEO/Founder (Digital Schools) In my opinion, engaging parents in the education of their child and your school has never been easier! With the rise of the digital and information age – more than any other time, it’s so easy to know where parents attention is. I’m sure I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know by reminding you that your parents are probably attached to their mobile device and their attention is on social media and other digital platforms – all day, every day. In fact – their attention will be on whatever digital platform is entertaining them or educating them the most – at any given moment. Prior to the rise of Facebook (and now YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat), it was so much more difficult to know how to attract attention. But today – we spend approximately 5 hours per day on our phone and across a lifetime that equates to about 5 years of our lives staring at a screen. What I can say for certain is these stats up going up every year. Here is a breakdown of where the attention is as compiled by Hackernoon in 2017.

 1. Share ‘learning & educational games’ that you use in the classroom in the digital format

I’m not here to encourage more social media usage for the sake of social media usage. In fact – at the time of writing this – the Digital Schools social presence is very, very limited and we want to keep it that way. We believe in a life that is far richer than what a screen can ever offer us -and knowing the in’s and out’s of the lives of long and distant acquaintances will never bring us the joy and meaning we all striving for! But there is one exception for us in terms of our digital presence: sharing helpful and beneficial information that educates, informs and can cause change. Education is the key to all of the great revolutions and change that has happened across the course of humanity – as teachers, we know this. Schools have an opportunity to delve deeper into their social presence – and provide more value than posting pictures of kids on school camp or holding up a piece of writing. Schools have the ability to educate parents directly from a device in their classroom and capture the attention of parents in real time.  I recently attended a “learning walk” with Tony Dalton (former principal and now an expert consultant in community and parent engagement) and we went on a journey around the school with some parents and watched ‘learning in action’. One of the key things to come out of this experience for me is that parents want access to tools and strategies that can assist them in the education of their children. We walked into a classroom and they were playing a game of greedy pig, a maths game using adding on skills and risk that most teachers are probably familiar with. The thing that amazed me was that the parents were so excited to see how fun this all looked. They commented that “maths was not this fun when we were at school”. Whilst this is a truly valuable experience, and one that all schools should consider offering as often as possible, unfortunately, it’s generally only ‘non-working’ parents that are able to experience this. At Digital Schools, we work with schools to get these educational messages out quickly and easily by documenting them digitally and placing them on a school platform for parents to access and learn from. Even if you don’t hire professional content creators such as us, you can very easily walk into a classroom with an Ipad, iPhone or whatever device you have and record it. Upload it to your YouTube channel or Facebook page and share it with the community. Everyone wins – you get the all-important engagement, the parents learn something new and the kids will benefit by having parents armed with better information and greater engagement in their child’s education.

2. Have a LiveStream day and broadcast lessons live to a private Facebook group or YouTube channel for the parents to tune in and watch

Parents see their child in the same context – day in, day out. They watch them get dressed for school in the morning, pack their lunch and head off for school. They watch them come home, do their homework, eat dinner and play with their siblings. All of these moments are valuable and is what makes up life – but it’s not going to draw tears of emotion after watching it every day for 12 years – is it? In between these before and after school moments we spend with our kids, there is a huge gap that parents don’t see (unless they are a classroom helper – which is obviously the vast minority). It’s what those children are doing in the classroom. It’s how they answer a question, how they interact with a peer, how they work to ‘figure something out’ that doesn’t come easy. These are the moments that as parents we are not witness to – but wouldn’t we love to have an insight or be a fly on the wall every now and again to see these beautiful moments unfold? Live broadcasting has never been easier. All you need is a device, internet connection, and a social media account. Consider having an “Open Digital Day” (brand it as you wish) but make the whole day about going ‘live’ for the parents (and grandparents) so they can see how your school actually works! If you don’t know the benefits of Facebook Live – read this Be prepared for overwhelmingly positive feedback. They will all say “we didn’t get to do that when we were kids”! Can you imagine how excited dad would be if he knew that at 1230pm his son’s PE lesson was going live for him to watch at his desk or on the job site? What about mum who is at home with the younger kids or also at work? Wouldn’t they be so excited to watch a lesson live and see their ‘pride and joy’ in a completely different context? Have some fun with it and prepare the kids to each give a special ‘shout out’ to the family members that they know will be watching. Mum, dad, a sibling or even a grandparent. Even if they can’t watch live – it can stay on the platform and they can watch the replay. How excited will the kids be to go home and watch it and re-live the learning experience? I don’t know about you – but if I had a dollar for every time I picked my daughter up from school and asked her what she did at school and she replied “nothing much” – well – I’d probably not be writing this article. I would have retired a rich man long ago! A live broadcast at the very least is evidence that something is happening that is of value! This live stream thing can even be a spontaneous thing – announce it on your school facebook page that you are going live in 1 hour and will be visiting the 3 Prep Classrooms! Tell them to tag the other prep parents in the post or text or call each other. Generate some excitement and suspense. Make it fun! It doesn’t even have to be a learning experience. Just get every child to say a special message to mum and dad – just for the sake of it. “I love you mum and dad” and blow a kiss. Wouldn’t this melt hearts? You bet! It takes next to no time, very little effort – the technology is available and ready for you to plug and play but the engagement benefits will be huge! Oh – and you may be thinking what about those kids who are not allowed to be filmed or photographed… well…. give them a camera and let them help create the content with you. They will be behind the camera so safe from that respect. They can even hold a light, a microphone or some type of prop which will make them feel important too.

Conclusion

Community engagement expert Tony Dalton says “Different, Not More”. I couldn’t agree more. It always has to be about getting smarter with how we apply engagement strategies. If engaging your parents in an issue – I would encourage you to consider Albert Einstein’s philosophy: ” If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”. In business, I live by the mantra  – “success comes from doing things differently” and as the owner 5 succesful businesses it pays handsome dividends to stand out.  Try these practical measures and watch your engagement go through the roof! By Richard Mills: CEO/Founder (Digital Schools)