Parent Engagement Field Guide
Big Picture: Identify The Issue
- Figure out what is happening. Who are the key players? How is the information about your issue being shared by officials and/or policymakers? How do other stakeholders feel about this?
- Establish the timeline. What has happened, and what’s on the horizon? Are there any immediate deadlines for your issue? Examples include principal meetings, PTA meetings, school board meetings, Board of Supervisor meetings, state policy decision dates. Are there any scheduled votes for your issue? When and where will those votes be held?
- Identify like-minded parents and community members. Are there other parents or stakeholders who share your concern about the issue?
- Identify influencers. Can you identify key policymakers and which ones are your allies? What is the position of the Parent Teacher Association (the PTA), or local elected officials? Write to these individuals and ask them what their position is on this topic.
Get Established: Create Your Organization
- Build your crew. What parents, staff and community members are with you? Find like-minded parents and talk to them via phone or video conferencing.
- Create a name for your group. Do a trademark search. Choose a name that will attract people to your group with a positive vision, being for a cause, not just being against a problem. Add your local school or school district or regional name to give your organization’s name your local identification. Some possible choices: Coalition for __________. Parents for ___________. Education First in ___________. One ________ (school district or county name). Voices of ____________ (school district or county name). Voices for ___________ (name your issue). Then send the name of your group to Parents Defending Education so we can add you to our database!
- Select a social media handle. Your social social media handle should be the same handle across all platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Twitter has a limit of 15 characters for its handles. Again: make them the same across all platforms!
- Register the domain name for your group. Don’t share your organization name until you have registered the domain for your group (using both .org and .com addresses, if you can get them both)! It’s usually fairly inexpensive to register a domain name, and you’ll want to hold it so other people can’t use it. You can register the domain through GoDaddy, where you can also buy website services with templates and other useful tools.
- Design a logo for your name, profile graphic and header graphics. Register a free account at a platform like Canva.com and create a logo for your group there. It’s not difficult or time consuming – really! Choose a color palette for your organization and brand all of your content with those colors, including the social media graphics you will later design.
Organize: The Nuts and Bolts
- Meet with your core group. Assign responsibilities to your core group leaders as co-leads. Most folks doing this work are volunteers. Having co-leads makes sure that the responsibilities are shared and the work is done faster–and it’s helpful to have someone else to vent to sometimes!
- Establish an organizational structure. This might include:
- Leadership – meeting facilitator;
- Membership – outreach, membership engagement;
- Communications – website, social media, public relations, op-ed and letter writing;
- Research – FOIAs and data analysis;
- Fundraising – donor outreach and engagement.
- Document meeting minutes so your group is on the same page.
- Set up a central email address where people can communicate with your group. You can use Gmail for this purpose. Share access to this email with key leaders in the core group.
- Sign up like-minded members. Ask them to sign up for your community organizing efforts using a form to collect information in one place. Google inputs the information into a spreadsheet for easy organizing.
- Communicate.You can use GoogleMeets for free. Zoom is also free for calls up to 40 minutes. You will need a professional account to avoid the 40-minute limit. Get an account for the organization so that many members can use the account.
- Organize parents, students and community members through effective internal communication (like Telegram, Signal or WeChat), direct action (protests, both in-person and virtual), and public events (like webinars). Create subgroups for your various working groups. Telegram allows an unlimited number of members added to a group, whereas WhatsApp has limits. Signal automatically deletes messages. Be sure to vet members before adding to primary communication channels. Some of us have used Google forms for people who want to sign up for our internal channels and called each prospective member personally.
- Share group documents internally. Upload all documents for your organization’s work to a shared Google Drive linked to your official email address. Organize your documents in folders. Suggested folders might include:
- Organize your membership. Register your members. Get new members to fill out a form through MailChimp, Google Form or some other platform where they are automatically organized into one database.
Raise Funds: Expand Your Reach
- Help your community raise money. There are various platforms available to assist in fundraising like GoFundMe. If you’re so inclined, you might consider applying for tax-exempt status with the IRS as a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 – but this process is by no means necessary (it can be time-consuming and expensive!)
- Consider selling swag like bumper stickers, shirts, and hats to raise funds.
Educate: Inform the Wider Community
- Educate the community. The community will need to learn more about your issue to support it and join your cause.
- Create a one-page fact sheet stating your issue. Use plain language, and make it approachable!
- Invite speakers to discuss topics of interest – and consider holding these meetings regularly. Keep them short, because people have busy lives – for example, under one hour via Zoom call on the same day/time each month or every two weeks. That might include:
- Divisive Ideologies 101: Many people aren’t familiar with terms like Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Culturally Responsive Education, or Anti-Racism. Break it down and show what these terms really mean.
- Opposition Research: How to research using the school provided website and to find materials that can be disseminated to the community to increase awareness and understanding. Importance of identifying who each school board member is and their voting record. Research each school board member on FB and Twitter. Often, you learn more truth about these people (postings, pictures, images, etc.) that way.
- Public Relations training: How to effectively write op-eds, letters to the editor, and school board speeches. How to effectively do media interviews and use social media platforms.
- Meet with community groups. Raise the issue at events held by other organizations where there might be overlap, such as a PTA meeting.
Supersize: Win in the Court of Public Opinion
- Write op-eds and letters, always including your website link in your bio section.
- Set up accounts with free content platforms, such as Medium, Substack, and Patch, with your organizational name, so you can publish content regularly. Publish your letters to policymakers, links to your activities, announce your activities, and keep followers informed.
- Create a direct email newsletter, using a free platform like MailChimp.
- Create a Twitter group in direct messages with all accounts that are like-minded, so you can share your information.
- Develop your social media presence. Create graphics for social media. You can use Canva.com for free templates. Use the color palette you selected for your logo. Choose one template that you will use for your various platforms, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to use graphics properly sized for Instagram and Twitter. You can use either one.
- Write press releases. Get your message to the media. Send pitches to media outlets. Here is a link to pitch a story to Bloomberg Quicktake.
- Identify parents who will do media interviews. They will need to use their real names for TV interviews. And practice before speaking to reporters!
- Promote yourself. Create bumper stickers and lawn signs.
Act: Direct Action Works!
- Organize a public event. There’s no better way to show your community that there’s a groundswell of support than to get together as a group! This might be in front of your school, school administrative building or school board meeting venue.
- Publicize the public events through social media, email blasts, local media, and local parent groups!
- Encourage all participants to bring handmade signs with slogans and your logo.
- Invite local media to cover your event. Local media includes print journalists, and local television stations.
- Hire a professional videographer to film the event. Hire a professional photographer to take high-resolution photos of the event. Post the videos and photographs on your website with this note: Available for free use.
- Secure a speaker system with a good microphone so all of your speakers can be heard!
- Event Feedback. Create an Event Feedback form to request feedback on your event.
Investigate: Uncover Truths About Your School
- File FOIA requests. Most email communications made using public school communication channels are subject to Freedom of Information Acts requests. There may be a nominal fee for making a FOIA request.
- Identify whether there are external actors that are promoting divisive topics in your school. Does your school district have “equity” partners or vendors? If so, research each one of the partners to understand what they are offering. Some common sources include The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, now rebranded as Justice in Education; Embrace Race; the New York Times/Pulitzer Center’s 1619 Project; and the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate.
- Research how your school is teaching hot-button topics to students. These might include: white privilege, privilege, whiteness, Asians, implicit bias, white supremacy, social justice, Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, white fragility, implicit bias, victim, victimhood, victimization.
- Tell Parents Defending Education! Document your issue so it can be added to our database and map.