16 Jul The Genie Is Out of the Bottle: Family Communication is Vital to Fall Term Success
COVID-19 will go down in recent history as the game-changing moment for higher education. The virus and its consequences have not only forced us to rethink instructional delivery, but it also can be the catalyst to improve and deepen our relationships with parents/families who are pivotal to our success for the fall term.
Here’s some key questions to ask now to determine if your campus is on the right course with your parents/families:
- Is our opening plan easy to understand? This may seem like a logical question. But, as a former Cabinet-level strategic communications counselor to chancellors, presidents, and other academic leaders, I can attest that many of the action plans presented to me by my academic colleagues were simply too complex and confusing for the average person. Be vigilant about communicating only the most salient points.
- Are we over communicating or under-communicating? Some campuses are working to collaborate and coordinate communication. But many are not. This is the perfect time to be working more closely together to streamline communication to minimize saturation and confusion. If you find that your campus needs a project manager to produce and oversee parent/family-specific communication, you may want to consider contracted support.
- Are we meeting and managing expectations? This is the million-dollar question. Our credibility is on the line with each communication and with each passing month. Our son is due to return to his campus this fall. The onslaught of emails this week and the confusing messages within them have left us questioning whether his campus is really prepared and can keep him safe as a residential student. Even if your campus did a terrific job communicating about the need for campus closures and migrating to online instruction this spring – that was then, and this is now. Managing expectations is an ongoing necessity in this volatile climate.
- What is our strategy for parent/family communication moving forward? It’s simply too late to put the “genie back in the bottle.” Parents/families are even more heavily invested today in their student’s success and safety due to COVID-19. In my 30 years in education, I have never known so many families who are strongly considering pulling their student out of college until a vaccine is available. And, those who normally would be sending their student off to college in the fall are strongly considering whether a gap year is a viable option. If your campus doesn’t have a strategic communications action plan specific to parents/families, you may jeopardize any trust and goodwill you have been able to foster over the past few months.
There has never been a more important time to prioritize parent/family communication. Just as we are vested now in building and strengthening a sense of place and belonging with students through online communities and forums, this too is the time to rethink the role of our parents/families in our campus communities.
Laurie Weidner, APR, M.A.
CEO, Parent Education Partners
About the author
Laurie Weidner, APR, MA is a national award-winning higher education strategic communications and reputation management consultant who is also the CEO of Parent Education Partners. If your campus needs immediate, expert assistance, Parent Education Partners will design a customized strategy and solutions to ensure your parents/families are educational partners, allies, and advocates. Learn more at www.parenteducationpartners.