Home & School Meeting 2.0

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Image from a recent Home & School 2.0 Mtg

How do we get more family participation at monthly Home & School / PTA / PTO meetings? 

This question comes up often. Last year as a home-school team, we brainstormed what we could do differently to engage a greater number of families during these meetings.  In the previous year we had attempted to flex schedule our meetings, holding them in the morning after the students arrived. However, in multiple sessions, it did not produce greater numbers or a different cross-section of school parents.  The one thing the morning meetings did do was draw more staff to participate with it occurring during the school day. 


Then our team thought outside of the box. What if we brought the meeting to the families? With the partnership of the parent group, we agreed to try web-casting our monthly meetings using some free social-networking websites. Even teachers chime in from home, greet parents and participate in the dialogue from where they areThe following sections include the eFACE (electronic Family and Community Engagement) steps we took to grow our monthly participation from 10 to 58 participants over just a few monthly meetings. 

We built a case for change with knowledge of our population’s needs. 

Our school has a high population of working moms and dads, and many of them possess two or more jobs.  We wanted to provide an option for the busy parent to be able to tune in from home or work, and the option had to be free.  Taking into account recent survey data that suggested most of our families did indeed have Internet access at home or work, we decided to take a new innovative approach – webcasting of monthly Home & School Meetings.  We decided to bring the meeting to the living rooms and offices of our families by streaming the meeting from our school library, where the physical meeting typically took place. Enter Home & School Meeting 2.0.

We spread the word and asked parents to spread the word
Weeks and days leading up to the actual web meeting, we sent emails from our Gmail distribution list to join us on the special evening to try out a new effort to connect with more school families.  We sent home half-sheet flyers of with students alerting families of the meeting date and how to log on.  We passed out flyers in the car-rider line and sent out a phone message to all families over the automated School Messenger System we use to communicate out to all families. We utilized all of our familiar communication tools to build momentum toward the first webcast. 
We familiarized ourselves with the technology to be used
Knowing we would have parents would give this a try, we wanted to make sure we rehearsed ahead of time all of the technology we would be using to make sure there were no glitches. If the tech failed, we might have a hard time getting busy parents to tune in again in the future. 

We used three web tools to accomplish our goal without spending an extra dime.

  • Gmail – We used the distribution list we had already established to get the word out and send invitations to all contacts in our system.  (Sign-up is free)
  • Anymeeting.com – Interface we use to stream the meeting which provides features such as a camera option, conference call line, side chat bar and more. At first, we used the camera on the top of the laptop to stream the audio and video of the meeting using this site, but now use an external cam and mic to maximize the experience.  We tweak small pieces with each meeting according to our infrastructure and needs. (Sign-up is free and there are no ads that play during video. It is set up a lot like a webinar)
  • Powerpoint/Keynote – Within anymeeting, we run a presentation with pictures, announcements or other slides that support your meeting agenda/speakers. We broadcast the audio only with slide overlay. We have broadcasted meetings with live video feed but we find the slides more beneficial to the viewing audience at home. (Office or iLife)

A clip of a Home & School 2.0 meeting is included below.  The set-up of the room is very important to engaging all participants (live & virtual).  We typically host the meeting feed on a large pull-down screen for easy viewing of those comments coming in from virtual participants.  

The building blocks for this eFACE (electronic Family And Community Engagement) option were gradual and plentiful. After seven of these meetings, we continue to provide meaningful content and two-way communication (chat, polls, surveys, etc) options for continued participation during the meeting.

In reflection, there are many things to consider if you’re moving to add eFACE options to your school’s offerings.  Build your partnership by soliciting feedback to make these decisions. Build the necessary relational trust while being mindful of what your families are ready for and what resources you have at your disposal.  For us, it was very important to our school’s culture to continue raising the FACE bar by providing free, user-friendly opportunities to encourage further stakeholder participation. We even broadcasted from the local Mosque to engage more families last school year. 


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