Contributed by Calvalyn Day
There is a common complaint from educators.
They need more support from home.
Between shrinking budgets and expanding achievement gaps, educators feel an intense amount of pressure to meet the needs of all their students. Many feel that this goal is nearly impossible without strong support from home to make gains toward improving outcomes. They are correct.
However, you wouldn’t know this by looking at the standard program requirements for educators. You won’t find one class designed to help teachers support, improve, or even maintain parental engagement in the classroom. With years of training, in and out of classrooms, first year teachers may find that connecting with students comes easily. However, connecting with parents of various ethnic, socioeconomic, or cultural backgrounds can be more challenging. There is great data to show that the rewards of this connection can be monumental. Parent engagement clearly correlates with improved outcomes; students learn more, graduate at higher rates, and are more likely to attend higher education institutions.
So what can educators do to improve parental engagement? Creating a climate of community in and around the school requires the commitment and support of all stakeholders. Here, using Epstein’s framework for fix types of parent involvement, we will look at suggestions for incorporating these strategies in your classroom from day one of the school year.
Six easy tips for increasing parent engagement in the classroom
Focus on providing information on child development, parenting practices, and structuring the home setting for optimal learning conditions so that parents feel more secure in supporting student learning. Schools must also show an interest in the family system.
In practice: Teachers can provide each student with a chance to showcase their family culture and history in a project for class, as well as providing parents with the proper tools to complete the project, with detailed instructions, and access to support.
Communication is critical. Schools must be willing to use a variety of forms of communication. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for parents to regularly change phone numbers, or have limited access to email.
In practice: Think beyond standard. Use Twitter, Facebook, texting, or other social media tools to communicate if necessary. Old fashioned notes home are still reasonable, but can’t be the only means of communicating.
PTO participation may not be achievable for all parents. Schools should provide viable ways for all parents to contribute to the learning environment that requires minimal money and time.
In practice: Do you have tasks parents can do on the weekend or during the evening? Pick three things that can be done to help your classroom and regularly request those through your chosen forms of communication. Can you have parents save toilet paper rolls for the science project? Improve parent attendance by giving sufficient time to make arrangements for sitters or work schedule changes.
Not all parents feel comfortable helping with homework, or have the time to contribute.
In practice: Incorporate learning into routine activities that families are already doing. Provide a life skills lesson on budgeting and meal planning that can double as a math lesson students can do for credit.
5. Decision Making
Improve engagement in key areas of decision making by communicating with more than the few parents that make it to the monthly or quarterly meetings.
In practice: Allow parents to vote by proxy, or provide links to surveys about key items that can give insight into community desires. Utilize multiple strategies to gain parent response on critical areas of curriculum or program content decisions.
6. Collaborating with community
Providing community resource access at the school is an excellent way of promoting connection between school and community.
In practice: Community health screenings, social service program enrollment, and referral information can help them see the school as a positive part of their life, thereby increasing the likelihood that parents will not see the school as an enemy. In addition, often times the social needs present as barriers to success, so making these services available help students in the long run.
By getting the whole building on board, there are ways to improve parent engagement and see lasting results in the achievement of your students. Adding parent engagement to the school improvement plan or creating a committee to support the initiative goes a long way to encouraging all building stakeholders to see all school processes with a lens of engagement.