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Thinking About Texting Parents? Best Practices for School-to-Parent Texting

Feb 01st, 2018 @ 02:30 pm

Recently, we've noticed a growing interest in using text messaging as a means for improving and expanding parent outreach in schools. It's a reasonable strategy given that the vast majority of parents, educators own a cell phone. In general, texting can be a great way to quickly, cheaply, and easily communicate with busy parents. In fact, survey, the Support R&D has utilized text messaging to engage more than 1 Lac parents and other educational supporters.

Through our interventions, we've learned quite a bit about how to efficiently text messages that are personal, useful, and actionable.

Find a texting platform that meets your needs. There are many platforms to choose from--some of which are actually geared towards educational purposes. If you have the opportunity to choose yours, take time to think about the features you want (we'll suggest some in this post). If you don't have the luxury of choice, get to know the strengths and limitations of the platform you have.

Include an actionable and immediate action for parents to take (when possible). Actionable: Updates are nice, but become easy to ignore if it isn't apparent that there is something to do with the information. You can suggest to parents to talk with the child about the information you're conveying or provide a reading tip to try that day.

Immediate: Texting is an instantaneous form of communication that is easily forgotten seconds after receiving. This is a platform for short-term, immediate steps and information. That is, it's great when discussing tonight's homework, but it's probably not the best way to engage parents about the importance of doing one's homework, in general.

Introduce yourself. An introduction letting recipients know who you are and why you're texting them may reduce the number of parents who unsubscribe from your text messaging. It's also simply more courteous.

Personalize your messages. In our texts, we often greet parents by name, include the students' names, and use appropriate gender pronouns. Here's an example of the difference personalization can make:

How? Some texting platforms allow for variable text fields, which work like the mail merge feature in Word. If this is a feature you want, check to ensure that your platform will allow for variable text fields.

Don't overload parents with too many messages. We intend to study the optimal frequency, but for now, we generally send no more than a few messages per week so as not to overwhelm busy families.

Try to keep messages under 160 characters. If you go over this limit, your long message will be split in two--possibly in the middle of a word. Many phone carriers will reassemble the two parts correctly at the receiving end. However, not all phone carriers provide this service and you may end up with disordered multi-part messages. If you're personalizing messages, make sure to allow space for the longest names on your list.

Texting in a language other than English and Gujrati, Hindi.. can be challenging. While it would be ideal to do parent outreach in a parent's preferred language, once you utilize a character that isn't on a standard cell phone, the text language switches from standard English to unicode. The character limit drops to just 70 characters per message when texting in Unicode. Also, there is no guarantee that the recipient's phone will correctly receive the non-standard character.

Have a plan for your outgoing messages. Text messaging is sometimes seen as a strategy in and of itself, but it's just a tool for communication. The real strategy is centered on what you want to communicate, to whom, and when (date and time of day).

Platform Tip: Look for one that allows you to pre-schedule the date and time your messages are sent, so you can program several weeks' worth of messages in one sitting.

Add your own phone number to the messaging list. This is an easy way to monitor your outgoing messages. Also, be sure to use your number to send several test messages in advance to make sure you're using your software correctly.

We hope these tips will be helpful as you think about how to expand your parent engagement efforts in an efficient, inexpensive, and productive way. If you have other tips to share, please do add them in the comments section below.

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