INTRO: This week we’re on episode 34 of the show. We discuss the role of parent communication technology in preschools with Tiffany Torres, Chief Creator of Opportunities for the Preschool Marketing Group. We talk about the importance of showing parents the hard work that educators put into teaching young children on a day-to-day basis. Tiffany emphasizes the importance of using available tools to build relationships that increase parent satisfaction and teacher appreciation. As parents gain insight into children’s developmental progress, the connection between home and school becomes stronger and so does the brand of the school.
If you’re a director or owner looking to learn about how parent communication technology can complement your face-to-face interactions and give you a competitive edge, then stay tuned for this episode of the Preschool Podcast.
Tiffany TORRES: Thank you.
SPREEUWENBERG: So we’re here today to talk to you about parent communication in preschools. Why is parent communication important in preschools?
TORRES: There are so many reasons. It runs the gamut between word-of-mouth advertising, increasing tours and increasing enrolments, and getting your families to really promote your program.
SPREEUWENBERG: What’s your experience in working with preschool programs so far? What do they see as the main benefits?
TORRES: A lot of my schools that really love it and use it see a couple of different benefits. It ranges from things like word-of-mouth – where the parents are sharing the moments that they’re able to see with their children, through this amazing technology – to parents actually becoming promoters for the school. And in sharing those special moments they can really express the quality of the program in a way that you can’t really get if the children are just coming home and maybe telling you a little bit here and there about their day.
SPREEUWENBERG: Got it. And so you’re referring to parent communication technology. How does that play a role with face-to-face communications?
TORRES: It can really improve face-to-face communications because the parents have something to talk about. They’re not starting from in the dark, where they’re just trying to tease this information out of their children who are maybe moving on to the next task. So when you have a family that understands what’s going on, on a daily basis, they can continue that conversation with the teachers. They can continue lessons with the children and really add overall benefit to the entire early-childhood education experience, which is really everyone’s goal.
SPREEUWENBERG: And what would you say to those educators or parents out there who say: “ what, we prefer face-to-face communication. We think it’s more real than interfacing through a technology platform. Maybe we consider ourselves to be a little bit more traditional.” What would you say to them, in terms of the benefits of using the technology?
TORRES: There are a lot of really great benefits. I do have some schools that really want to rely on parent-teacher conferences and really just talking to the parents at pickup. But there’s so much competing for their attention at that point. The children want the children want their attention. They’re moving on to what’s next: going to the supermarket, running errands. It’s not the same as the parent being able to sit down at the end of the day – or at any point during the day – and really absorb what the children have been learning and what the children have been doing throughout the day.
Also when you’re just dealing with face-to-face – which is really important – you don’t have that opportunity for the shareableness. I’m a mom of a 4-year-old. And if I’m out on a play date with somebody – maybe that doesn’t go to my son’s school – I can literally open something up, open an app up, and show what my son’s been doing and say: “Oh look, isn’t that cute?” We’re parents and we all love showing off what our kids are doing.
One of the other things is that you can’t you can’t encapsulate all of your child’s experiences in a face-to-face communication. There’s so much that goes on with teaching children, and the little moments throughout the day. And it would take you a very long time during pickup to kind of cover all of those elements. So we really like having our schools for the marketing benefit, for the retention benefit of making sure the families know all the hard work that’s going on into teaching their children and exposing their children to a variety of crafts and activities. We really like the idea of being able to engage the parents on a level in addition to the face-to-face.
SPREEUWENBERG: So it sounds like you’re saying that technology is beneficial to complement the face-to-face interactions, is that right?
TORRES: Yeah, it doesn’t replace it. I mean, nothing in technology is ever going to replace face-to-face communication. But it can do more. If a mom sees that her child is learning about sight-words for example, she can take that and introduce it later on during the day. This isn’t the kind of conversation that can happen at the end of every school day for preschool. So it just adds benefit for the families who are curious about what’s going on, and that also adds benefit for the kids because they get to continue that education throughout the day instead of having be three hours, or maybe a full day.
SPREEUWENBERG: Now let’s take on the point of learning and development, and how parent communication technology might help support improving learning and development outcomes for children. So one of the things you touched on was that the parents can continue that learning and development at home because they are more in tune with what’s happening in the classrooms. [Are] there any other benefits from learning and development perspective, do you think?
TORRES: They can also have input on things. So if, for example, a mom sees that her child is learning about science, if there’s some special experience that child has had with that element of science or learning about the planets or something like that, they can actually introduce that to the school as well continue that engagement by providing feedback for the teachers. “Hey, this worked really well for me. This is where my son is up to you on this.” So it kind of goes both ways, and that’s why it’s not enough that it’s just a broadcast of, “Here’s what’s going on.” It has to be communication going to ways: “Here’s what’s going on with my child,” and: “Here’s what they’re learning,” and, “How can we also add to that in the classrooms, add to that in the activities that are going on?”
SPREEUWENBERG: And that’s one of the frequent points of conversation on the podcast, is just that importance of respecting and valuing and requesting that parent input. Because at the end of the day, as educators, we’re the experienced folks at working with the children in the preschool environment. But the parents know their children best of all, and so going their input is quite important. So I think that’s a good point.
TORRES: And then from the marketing perspective on that, when you have happy parents and they feel like you’re listening to them as an educator, as a director, as leadership for a school, that’s hugely important. Retention is not just about, “Are they staying with the school?” Because then that child’s family is just staying with the school. Retention is really about making these families so excited and so happy that they are singing your praises to everybody. And when they feel listened-to they’re going to do that more often.
SPREEUWENBERG: Now touching on the point of marketing a little bit more: parent communication, super-helpful with learning and development. What about the marketing aspect for preschool? How’s that going to help me find the owner or director of a preschool program?
TORRES: Again, a lot of different elements. Simply the word of mouth, right? We’ll start there. I’m a mom. I’m playing with a whole playgroup of kids. Maybe there’s a lot of competition – a lot of my schools are seeing competition. How do you set yourself apart as a school? So if you were able to kind of browse through the activities that a child’s doing or things like that, you cannot talk about the value of your school; you can actually show it. And showing is always more important than telling.
So we’ve got the whole word-of-mouth area. Then, when you already have an inquiry – you already have somebody calling in a school and saying, “I’d like to learn more about your programs,” – one of the key things that you can do at that point, we always coach our schools to do, is ask: “What’s important to you in a daycare, in a preschool, in some kind of early-childhood education field?” Whatever terminology is natural. And depending on what they say, it could be education, the quality of the education. It could be the quality of the care, how much one-on-one interaction that teachers are having with the children. It could be security And making sure that their child’s safety is a priority. All of those three things can kind of play into the parent communication technology that’s being used.
With the quality of the education, that’s something that, again, you can show. Children – especially young children – do not run home and say, “Here’s what I learned today, and here the way the teacher showed me how to do it.” So for my schools that come to me and they leave the parents completely in the dark, they may be doing great, rich, wonderful activities with the children… and parents have no clue. That is an element where, during that question, “What’s important to you in a preschool?”, you can touch on that and say: “Hey, our quality of education – Montessori, Reggio, play-based, inquiry-based, whatever –the school is great. And we show it to you every day. And you get to see what your children are doing every day. And you get to give us input.”
So that’s the quality of education. Quality of interaction with teachers – again, it can be documented. Security? You’re looking at technology that is super-secure, that pictures aren’t being shared universally with Facebook or something like that. I do some schools that come to me and they say: “But I use Facebook for my interaction. And that’s great, and it’s wonderful to be engaged in social media. That’s hugely important. But what about those kids that opt out? Where are their parents going to get the information of the pictures of what their children are doing?
So those are three kind of huge things where, when you ask, “What’s important to you? What are you looking for?”, you can respond with that.
SPREEUWENBERG: So, a lot of things to touch on there. But I know at HiMama, at least one very frequent piece of feedback we get is exactly what you said, where the parents actually don’t know all the hard work and creativity and effort that goes into the programming in the childcare and early-learning programs. They’ll say: “Oh, I had a sense that you guys were doing some stimulating activities with the kids, but wow, I had no idea all the hard work that went into your programming.”
TORRES: And if the parents don’t know that – and there’s another school that does show them – they’re going to be torn. They’re going to say: “Where do I think my child’s going to have the best experience?” And the ones that show, the ones that demonstrate it day-in and day-out, they’re going to have an easier time convincing parents that the efforts are there. Even though another school that’s doing a great job, they could be doing twice the work. But because they’re not communicating, that the parents miss out.
SPREEUWENBERG: And I suspect that’s probably a frequent conversation you have in your role with Preschool Marketing Group, sort of telling the childcare/early-learning program directors that showing is very important, in addition to delivering the quality programs. Because I do think, in the podcast so far, a pretty big theme is we’re always focusing on educational quality. But I think, in my own opinion, it’s very important to communicate, not only to your parents – because through your parents you’re also communicating to the world the value that you’re providing through quality preschool.
TORRES: If you do a good job… I mean, moms, dads, we talk a lot. We’re big talkers about what are our kids’ experiences are. “I had my birthday at this place and it was great. My child went to this museum and it was wonderful.” You have to give the parents something to talk about and some understanding of what’s going on.
SPREEUWENBERG: Now, another thing that you touched upon was this relationship between teachers and parents, and that two-way communication being quite important for the learning and development. What sort of feedback have you received from teachers and educators who use these types of programs?
TORRES: Honestly, sometimes it can be a bit of a learning curve, and especially for my schools that are more established. They’ve been around for 30 years, and now we have to walk around documenting everything. At first it can sometimes seem like a hurdle. And they’re really not quite sure what to do with it. So there is a learning curve. And then they get to using it. And then they get the feedback from the parents. And again, most people go into E.C.E. [early-childhood education] because there is a passion for it; there’s a drive for it.
My schools, the schools in this country, are teaching the leaders of the next generation. One of the things that drives me to do what I do and help these schools is that the future astronauts, future doctors cure cancer and make true differences in this world, can be sheep. Their minds can be helped to grow in these schools, in early-childhood education. And that’s where all of our passion comes from. It’s important to remember that when parents are happy they’re going to give that positive feedback back to the teachers: “I saw that you did this. I saw that my child came home with this yesterday and now I understand what went into making it.” Because a lot of schools will send take-homes with no insight into what was taught during that. “What book did they read?” You know, “Here’s your artwork. Go home.”
So it’s just a matter of having the teachers then, when they are meeting with the parents, get that positive reinforcement too. “This was awesome. When I was able to discuss having the talking points and having not known what was going on, when I was able to discuss that with my child, oh, they wouldn’t stop talking about it.” As opposed to starting from, “What did you do in school today?” Which is a dry answer that usually ends with, “Can we play toys?” So that positive reinforcement from the parents back to the teachers about how awesome this activity was is, it’s important for teacher morale. [A] learning curve at first, but then the positive elements that come as a result of giving it that effort are great.
SPREEUWENBERG: Now I just want to dive into that one notch further. You say that the positive reinforcement that the parents provide to the teachers is excellent because it’s providing teachers with increased morale. Why is that important?
TORRES: Because teaching can be difficult, because you don’t always get to see the child thrive and be that doctor and be that astronaut and be that leader for another 30 years. So there’s not a lot of super-instant gratification when it comes to that long-term view. Of course the teachers thrive off of the daily interactions and those little moments here and there. But when they meet with the parents and there’s no insight into the learning activities it’s harder to have that conversation of, “Okay, this is what we’ve accomplished so far.” It becomes a bullet list; it becomes very, very dry. Not a lot of understanding and insight that goes into it. When you have those teachers that get to interact with parents in a more meaningful way because of the fact that there has been this open communication going back and forth, not just twice or three times a year for parent-teachers, it leads to better relationships.
And again, marketing is about relationships. Marketing is about communication and marketing is about making sure that you’re meeting the needs of your families and that you’re finding the right families for you.
SPREEUWENBERG: So the frequency and regular timing of the communication and the interactions is also important in your view?
TORRES: Yeah. Just making sure that that communication is open. And like I said, I have some schools that were very, very hesitant. I think there was concern about just the overhead and not being sure what the parents were going to say. But the outcome has always been positive. And just making sure that that everybody knows what’s going on.
SPREEUWENBERG: Can you expand on that a little bit more? You said you had some schools that were hesitant or resistant and then the adopted technology for parent communications. When do you think it was that they realized, “Oh. wow, this actually is super-helpful, and our concerns were exaggerated”?
TORRES: I think it would vary per school. When I’m thinking about my schools it can vary. There are some that didn’t have any hesitation and they just jumped right in. And they still had that learning curve. But they knew; they had that vision of what it was going to be like in the long-term.
For some of my other schools that had that hesitancy that had that, “What if the parents complain? What if the teachers don’t like it and now the teachers are upset because there’s more things to do in the day?” For them I would say, honestly, it was probably about a month or two before they really kind of sunk in and said, “Okay, we’ve got this and this is a huge benefit to us.”
SPREEUWENBERG: And for the teachers who thought maybe it was going to be more work for them through the day, what do you think it was that got them over the line to realize that actually it was beneficial? Was it actually that it was saving them time or was it more that it was seen as a beneficial tool that was really helping with parent engagement which was making their job easier?
TORRES: It was really the parents. That feedback from the parents – that joy of not only seeing the children at the end of the day but also seeing the teachers that interacted with their children – it’s just friendlier. And I think, from their perspective, it just made their jobs that much richer because now they weren’t just getting the feedback from the kids. And parent-teachers goes easier because there’s not as many very basic questions about what goes on during the day.
So overall I would definitely say that it’s the parent communication there. And that helps me for my end because, like I said, one of the things it really ties into everything [is] making sure that parents stay happy. I’ll have some schools where they’ll report the kids are really happy, they want to come to school everyday, but they’ll lose kids anyway. And they sit there and they scratch their heads and they wonder, “Why? And we’re asking the families, “What’s going on? What made you want to leave? What made you want to choose another program?” And it really comes down to communication. If the parents are not in that loop… I can’t stress it enough, it’s a really big blow as far as the rest of the marketing.
So schools will thrive off of online reviews, getting genuine, meaningful, wonderful online reviews. Things like video testimonials, making sure that those are on the website. And if you take a family that you talk to indepthly, just during parent-teacher conferences, and then you go, “Hey, can you take time out of your day and do something for me?” Maybe they’ll do it, eventually. Maybe you’ll have to really convince them and really get after them. But if you take that increased-communication family where they’re hearing about what their children are doing and they feel so happy with what’s going on they feel indebted to you for the impact that you’re making. “Sure. A video testimonial? What else can I do for you?” So it’s not just word of mouth. It’s also getting them to help you find more kids that you can make a difference for.
SPREEUWENBERG: What I often come back to when we talk about parent communication is just the idea that, in any relationship in our own personal lives, communication is always so, so important. And the transparent, frequent communication about what’s going on in our lives is the key to any relationship. And why look at it any differently when you’re talking about the relationship with teachers and parents, right?
TORRES: And that’s a really important point, because for a lot of my school, and sometimes my childcare centers that have an educational component… when you’re dealing with first time moms – and I was one, trust me, I know – this is the first time they’re handing over the most precious element of their life to somebody that’s not usually a family member. This is a nerve-wracking experience.
SPREEUWENBERG: It’s huge. Huge.
TORRES: And to have that and not have any insight into what’s going on in the day – and depending on the age of the child it can vary. But from my schools I’m primarily working up to preschool. And up until like [age] four or five they’re sometimes still not sharing very much with you because it’s sunny out, because it’s snowing, because, “Oh look, there’s a toy,” and they’re moving on with their day.
So just being able to reassure that first-time mom – “Hey, we’ve got this. Look at what your child’s doing.” – making sure that they know what to talk about with their child depending on the age afterward, it gives moms that that security that they’re really looking for. And second-time moms, third-time moms, you won’t see that same level sometimes of concern, shall I say? It’s really those first-time moms. But if a center is able to really get a first-time mom to fall in love with them they’ll usually get the second child and the third child. First-time moms can sometimes be the most difficult to convince, but they’re also the most beneficial when it comes to having the entire family be with the school.
SPREEUWENBERG: What I find really energizing about the conversation with you is that you’re oftentimes taking the viewpoint of the parent because you are one yourself. And oftentimes on the Preschool Podcast we’re focused more on the educator’s side. And so it’s really great to have the parent view in terms of how that’s influencing you, and just having that different vantage point, because we’re always looking to make sure that parents are engaged for the betterment of children’s outcomes. But sometimes it’s helpful to have that different perspective. So thank you so much for bringing that to the table here today. And thanks for coming on the Preschool Podcast.
I have one more question for you, Tiffany, which is: If I want to learn more about parent communications, parent communication technology or marketing for my childcare preschool program, where would I go to find out more about what you’re up to with Preschool Marketing Group?
TORRES: You can find us at Preschool-Marketing.com.
SPREEUWENBERG: Awesome. And what kind of cool information can I find on your website?
TORRES: You can find information about how to improve enrollment through smart marketing, and not just looking at driving inquiries but really all along that path: looking at inquiries, increasing the number of people that come into tour, looking at how you handle that tour and how you walk them through the process of seeing your school. And also looking at retention, which has a big part to play in increasing inquiries as well.
SPREEUWENBERG: Wonderful. Thanks, Tiffany, it’s been great having you on the show today.
TORRES: Thanks, Ron. It was wonderful being here.