The Multipurpose Room hosted Dillon Kalkhurst, author of Generation Everyone!– a guide to generational harmony at work, school, and the home – to share tips on how to effectively communicate to the multi-generational audience of the PTA, PTO, or school.
Over the last decade or so, the generations within the school system have broadened. There are five generations actively participating in today’s economy. The elementary, middle, and high school stages are seeing an influx of Millennial and Gen X parents. In contrast, kindergarteners bring a concentration of Gen Z parents – individuals that are barely 25. There’s also an inpour of Boomers and the Silent Generation, mainly seen in the form of grandparents who’ve become primary caretakers for their grandkids.
However, a generational disconnect exists, which is most apparent in how we communicate. This disconnect can result in various challenges, mainly because there is a difference in how one generation likes to receive information from another. For instance, many legacy brands use print material as their main communication medium, which, if used alone, doesn’t resonate well with busy, high-tech parents. Ensuring we are resonating with all those generations is important in the school and/or parent-teacher association’s mission of children’s advocacy and advancement of their education.
Navigating Generational Differences in Communication Styles in School
While many generations are present within the educational system, K-12 education is primarily dominated by Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Naturally, there’s going to be a difference in the way that these generations communicate, so here’s a short breakdown:
The grandparent generation will be most comfortable – and familiar – with face-to-face communication. Nine times out of ten, you’ll come across a person who would prefer a personal phone call over a text, with the latter even bordering on offensive. Of course, COVID has brought about some changes, namely in the face of Boomers now using Facebook and Facetime to stay connected in a world wrought by social distancing and lockdowns.
These people are known as the generation of emailers, and often you’ll find that the Gen X portion of your school community has a separate folder for all things school-related. But it’s also interesting to note that Gen X is flexible in communication. They’ll respond to emails, use Facebook, be up for phone calls, and texting is right down their niche. So, in that aspect, they’re easy to reach.
With millennials, you really need to break them up into two categories since they encompass such a large age difference. With the older of the lot – the elementary and middle school parents – Facebook is a great tool for communication. After all, these people are the certified over-sharers, so they’re unlikely to miss a message or notification sent on there. Schools should try their hand at Messenger or a simple, quick text, so best to keep your emails short and sweet if you opt for them.
As for the younger millennials, they’re app-based. From TikTok to Snapchat to Instagram, they’ve covered all the platforms. However, they tend to be Facebook-averse, particularly because of the connected privacy restrictions.
Learning the Art of Engagement
Knowing what mediums to use for communication is the first step, but engagement is just as important. Again, with engagement, the method varies according to the group and purpose. The key idea is to approach each individual using a communication medium and language they are most familiar with.
So, let’s take a look:
Parent Teacher Organization Volunteers: Millennials
PTAs are always trying to get more parents to volunteer, and you’d be surprised to find out that most parents that don’t volunteer don’t do so because they say they were never asked! This is where the medium makes a comeback, as it’s important to ask yourself what platform you were using to communicate. Was it one that hit your target audience?
Generally, when asking parents to volunteer, it’s best to do so in as many ways as possible so you can get a higher reach. Recognizing your volunteers is also great, as it incentivizes parents to participate. And, of course, parents want to know how their volunteering will help their child, so it’s best to narrow the communication process. Why not have class teachers reach out to parents instead of sending a blanket school notice whenever there's a need for volunteers?
Timing is also of the essence, and it’s best to reach out to potential volunteers all year-round instead of just near the event. And along with that goes the way you speak. Your language needs to match your audience. For instance, avoid ‘boring’ words like meetings or responsibilities if you're addressing young parents.
PTA/PTO Volunteers: Gen X
Gen X parents are much more straightforward. They like communication to be short and sweet; tell them what to do, and they’ll get it done. Gen X is also surprisingly busy, which means that while they want to give their all to their child’s school, they would love a flexible schedule. So, that’s something to keep in mind when reaching out to Gen X volunteers.
Student Volunteers: iGen
Once you enter high school, PTAs, PTOs, and other organizations communicate directly with students. This is yet another generation to take into account. Today’s high schoolers are a lot more educated than the previous generation was at their age. They have access to more resources and information channels; the best way to engage with them is by empowering them. Let them contribute and take the initiative; you’ll soon see how much they have to give.
Although this is a lot of information, there are a couple of key takeaways to ensure you’re resonating with the broadest possible audience:
Embrace the differences
Communicate on multiple platforms
Keep the children as your primary focus
If you do all that, you’ll have effective communication under your belt quickly.