I am no authority on the true science and conjecture of generational differences, but I know that there have been some big changes in what parents expect from schools and how schools deliver on those expectations.
Here is an example: In the 1990s and 2000s, the internet was big and everyone scrambled to get a website together. Businesses created websites, and eventually schools did, too. Then individual teachers had web pages. And it was good. It was a very awesome way for schools to communicate to parents, students, and the community. As was typical of the era, this was a very one-way form of communication. It was plenty for someone to go there, get what they need, perhaps even download a file, and then leave. GenX parents were the big consumers of this kind of communication, and they (we) loved it.
And then the millennials came along with all their social media and interactivity and ruined it.
Millennials, who came to age in the 00s, are now parents of schoolchildren, have been immersed in web 2.0 since they can remember. The have always had Facebook accounts. They are on Twitter and instagram. Their primary computer is their smartphone. They don’t check their emails. Dynamic information and social connections are, for them, an assumption. Accessing info from the web ceased to be an event (like the web-pages Gen-Xers love), but emerged as a steady, interactive stream built by many contributors. Not even email can compare with that kind of robustness.
Hence the emergence of tools like Schoology, Edmodo, SeeSaw, and Class Dojo. Parents are increasingly less interested in the weekly email and the updated website, but would like to see a flow of ideas and artifacts, even if it isn’t the teacher or school sending them. I find this shift to be particularly hot among parents of those in the primary grades and emerging among parents of the middle- and even high-school grades.
What that means is that soon we will have the majority of our parent corps completely uninterested in the static pages and communications we may have traditionally provided. How are schools, teachers, and students changing? What supports are happening to help the story that is coming home from school be that rich, dynamic, multi-textured story that a new generation of parents prefer?
It’s time to fully embrace social media as a vehicle for school communication. Not because it is trendy or fancy, but because at some point, we will be willfully ignoring the wants and needs of a majority of our parents. To build community and cohesion with parents, we need to meet them where they live, not where we are comfortable. Gen-Xers, fear not. Even if we have to part with our greatest websites ever, we still have the best music!