In a recent webinar on increasing family engagement, we were joined by Gigi Schweikert, CEO of Lightbridge Academy! Gigi shared her expert tips on how to provide high-quality childcare that will entice families to stay with you long-term! She highlighted her learnings on the impact that well-organized family events can have on parents’ impressions of a center, how to form strong relationships between educators and parents, and the top parent communication strategies educators need to know for the back-to-school season.
Here’s what she had to say:
I will never give up on helping a parent, just like I would never give up on helping a child.”Gigi Schweikert
Parent engagement is all about relationships. Building relationships with parents is critical to the success of your center. I have had my share of challenging parents. I know how hard it can be. I even once hid in my closet to avoid one!
What I have found over the years is that once you tackle difficult conversations head-on, they get easier the next time as you build the skills and experience to deal with them. The hardest part of this is ensuring that we do the right thing, even when a parent doesn’t.
Essential roles of parents
Parents have many roles in a childcare center:
- They are the Experts on their children, so we should seek to understand parents, not judge them.
- They are also Evaluators through polls and surveys. Parents are our customers, and we need to know how they are feeling about the services we are providing.
- Parents can also be Promoters of your center. This means they are loyal, and they believe in you and what you do, even if they are not satisfied at the moment.
- They are also Advisors about policies, procedures, staff, and curriculum. You can lean on them as you make decisions about your center.
It is so important to know the names of each family member that comes in and out of your center. Greeting them by name and forming relationships helps to build trust. This in turn increases engagement. If you are having trouble pronouncing some names, take the time to learn, it demonstrates respect.
We learn so much about how to care for children when we prepare to become an educator. However, not as much time is spent learning how to care for parents. The majority of parents are a little nervous when they start at your center. They want to be liked, respected, and embraced. They want to be successful in parenting. Your acknowledgment of their important role as a parent and efforts to understand and support their needs will create a successful partnership.
Deep down, they are trying to do their best with what they have.
Tips to care for parents:
- Try not to judge them. Accept them for where they are and who they are.
- Know their personalities can be different from their children’s personalities. There are all types of children and all types of parents. Think about how you can connect to that parent based on their personality.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Just listen, even when they are angry. Try to let them vent. Often times emotion comes before logical thinking.
- Help them more than you really want to. You will naturally connect with some parents easier than others. But you have to ensure to help them all. When you help families, you help children.
- See each child with the beauty they have and share those pieces with the parents. They love to hear that you know their child and see their special gifts.
How to learn what families are thinking:
- Just ask! Stand in the hallway during drop-off and pick-up and ask how they are doing.
- Jump on a quick call if you need clarification. More problems get solved over the phone or in person than by email, but remember to say that their child is fine before anything else!
- Have a parent feedback group.
- Provide a way for parents to provide ongoing feedback and at the very least, have an annual family survey. These can provide very valuable feedback.
- Conduct family/educator conversations often. Not conferences, just casual conversations.
- Call families to check in after they leave the program to gain constructive criticism to help you improve your program and also receive accolades to share with your team! Sometimes families worry that if they express criticism, it will impact their child’s care. This is not correct, but unfortunately, it does mean that they are often more honest once they have moved on.
Increasing family engagement at your center means partnering with families, and not giving up on them. It is important to see and understand parents as the experts on their children and bring their voices into the center through parent feedback surveys and polls. When we view parents as experts, evaluators, and advisors for our center, they will become promoters and long-lasting clients.