How to Communicate with Families During COVID-19

As many preschools and childcare centers temporarily close their doors due to COVID-19, providers are quickly having to adapt and find ways to stay connected with families while physically apart. On the other hand, families are anxiously waiting for updates from their center that are informative and relevant. 

We’ve collected input from crisis communications experts in the early education industry, our community of providers, and parents of early learners, to help providers effectively adapt their communication strategy (including messaging, frequency, and methods). We hope this resource will help providers stay connected with families and better meet their needs during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Developing a strategic communications approach
- Anchor your communications on topics families care about most
    Topics to consider 
    How to identify the right topics for your center
- Establish a predictable cadence
- Explore new channels for communication
3 easy steps to get started
- Templates to help

Developing a strategic communications approach

Strong communication is essential to ensuring families feel supported during times of uncertainty. Doing this right will help you retain families so you can emerge stronger on the other side of the crisis. 

There are several key objectives a strong communications approach should help deliver, such as:

  • Increasing family loyalty by addressing topics your families care about most 
  • Maintaining engagement with your center (including fellow families) by thinking through the right frequency and channels of communication
  • Strengthening trust by welcoming transparent and frequent dialogue

 

Regardless of what you’re hoping to accomplish by upleveling your communications strategy, continue to keep families, their needs, and circumstances in mind to improve your effectiveness.

Anchor your communications on topics families care about most 

Topics to consider


We surveyed parents of young learners to understand which topics they want to hear about most from their preschool and childcare providers. There were several themes that emerged, such as: 

  • Updates to their center’s operating plan, including the duration of the closure and the steps they’re taking to re-open. 
  • For open centers, the precautions and measures they’re taking to keep students and staff safe.
  • Changes to tuition, including how decisions are made and where the money is going. As one Colorado-based parent shared,I appreciated learning about the guidance they were receiving [from the board] so we could understand why decisions were made and how our tuition payments were getting spent”. 
  • Distance learning programming and tips for occupying children at home. As one Texas-based parent shared, “Providing a simple daily schedule for my daughter to follow or age-specific activities would be incredibly valuable”. 
  • Ways to stay connected with teachers and fellow families
  • General best practices and words of encouragement 

 

How to identify the right topics for your center


Some providers we spoke with have sent a survey to families to get a pulse on which topics they wanted to hear about most. It’s a great way to narrow in on your families’ specific needs and circumstances. If you’re interested in surveying your families, here are some best practices to consider: 

  • Keep your survey short and succinct. Creating multiple choice or scale-based questions will make it easier for parents to answer and will increase your number of responses. 
  • Create questions that will help you to take clear action and make better decisions once you have responses.   
  • Make sure you let families know their feedback was heard and communicate how you plan to implement changes based on your learnings. 

If you’re considering sending out a survey to families, here’s an example to help you get started. When framing your survey to parents, remember to share what you’re hoping to learn and accomplish, and the deadline they need to submit their responses by.

After you’ve collected responses, we suggest thanking your families for their participation and setting expectations for when they’ll receive an update on the changes you’re making and by when. See below for email templates you can repurpose.

Establish a predictable cadence 

Nearly every parent we spoke with highlighted proactive communication as one of the things they’ve appreciated the most about how their providers have been handling COVID-19. 

We suggest creating a regular touch point with families, ideally with the same frequency (e.g. day of the week), so they know when to expect updates from you. This helps reassure families that they have the most up-to-date information, especially in such a fast-changing environment, and may also help minimize the one-off questions you get throughout the week. 

Our crisis communications experts suggest sticking to your communications cadence, even if you don‘t have any updates to share. “No news is also a worthwhile topic, and people will still appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of them and the situation.” If there are major updates you need to share outside of your regularly scheduled communications (e.g. news of an extended closure), you should share it. Many providers in our community use brightwheel messaging to send these types of updates. Whichever channel you choose, the goal is to be as transparent and proactive as possible, while creating structure where you can.

Explore new channels for communication

Many providers have implemented effective one-way and two-way communication channels to stay connected with families during COVID-19. One-way communications are pre-created messages that you or a member of your staff sends to families, while two-way communications are channels where families can react or respond to your messages in real-time. Here are some channels you may want to consider for your communications strategy, if you haven’t done so already.  

One-way communications: 

  • Email or newsletters - This channel is especially useful for detailed updates and for sharing links to websites and documents. Many parents we spoke with appreciated regularly scheduled newsletters, as it helps them easily refer back to the content later. Through brightwheel, you can easily create a polished newsletter in minutes using our pre-made template. 
  • Video - Some providers and staff have been sharing weekly video updates through platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube to bring a more personal and human element to their communications. Keep in mind, the production quality doesn’t have to be perfect, so recording your video from a smartphone or laptop will work well. Video is an opportunity for families to hear from you directly, and can also be valuable for students who miss seeing their teachers every day. 
  • Texting or brightwheel messaging - For time-sensitive updates, text messages or notes through brightwheel messaging are a great channel. Remember to reserve these for major news, as sending frequent one-off messages may create a negative perception among families. One California-based parent shared, “we were getting tons of one-off emails and texts from our center. It felt very frenetic and too frequent.” 

 

Two-way communications: 

In an effort to keep communication as open as possible during times of uncertainty, you may want to consider communication touchpoints you wouldn’t normally explore. 

  • Office hours - Consider blocking off a couple of hours in the week for dedicated office hours. You can create a spreadsheet for parents to sign up for a 30 minute time slot that works best for them, and meet with them over a tool such as Zoom Video Conferencing. 
  • Town halls -  Similar to office hours, town halls give families an opportunity to connect with you and each other. Consider focusing on one or two themes and invite families to join for an informal discussion and Q&A.

 

We understand these are new communication channels for many providers, so we advise picking a couple to start, and incorporating others as you find a rhythm that works for you. 

3 easy steps to get started

All of this may seem like a lot of work in the midst of everything else that needs your attention, but there are few easy steps you can take to get started.  

Step 1: Schedule a 15 minute brainstorming session with your staff to discuss the following:

  • How do you want your families to think and feel when they receive communications from your center? (5 min)
  • What topics do you want to communicate to families? (5 min)
  • What frequency and communication channels do think will work best and what can you realistically commit to? Do you need to make adjustments to your typical communication channels to adapt to COVID? (5 min)

Step 2: Consider sending a short survey to families to learn about what’s top of mind for them and what channels they prefer. This will help you focus your efforts where it matters most. We recommend creating a survey (here's an example) with questions you want insight into. You can use this email template to frame your ask to families and this email template to follow up with them about next steps.

Step 3: Based on the feedback you get from families, select two or three communication channels, decide on your frequency of communication, and assign owners to each touch point. 

Templates to help

As shared throughout the article, we’ve created templates to help you take immediate action towards improving your communications with families during COVID-19. 

Survey template: This template was created using a Google Form and is intended to serve as a starting point for you. You can easily create your own here. 

Survey email template: Use this email template to ask your families for feedback on topics to communicate, frequency of communications, and preferred channels. Be sure to include your survey link in the email. 

Survey follow up email template: Use this email template once families have submitted their survey responses. This email outlines what you plan to do with their feedback and by when.

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach for how providers should communicate with their families during the COVID-19 crisis, keeping families and their experiences at the heart of your decisions will serve you well. We are here to support you through this time and hope this resource provides some clarity and guidance as you’re deciding what’s best for your center. We are in this together as an early childhood learning community, and our top priority is supporting your needs. If you have any feedback or ideas on what else we should cover, please let us know by emailing us at resources@mybrightwheel.com.

 

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com