As the new school year launches in August, teachers and administrators have the opportunity to once again invite and train parents to become actively engaged in their children’s classrooms. The research of the effectiveness of using parents to support student learning has consistently indicated that parents and their children benefit equally from these partnerships (see Developing Community Empowered Schools by Mary Ann Burke and Lawrence O. Picus and Preparing Children for Success in School and Life by Marcia Tate). To ensure that your school has created sufficient policies, procedures, and training support programs for parent volunteers, consider the following guidelines:
- Ensure that your school facility is a warm and welcoming environment for culturally diverse families. Families must be greeted by staff members who can accommodate each family’s home language with access to relevant written materials in the family’s home language and the availability of interpreters and translators. Office bulletin boards and facility signage should be culturally sensitive and highlight the school’s primary programs, services, and locations for various meetings and resources for families.
- Create policies and procedures that support school and community partnerships. When using parents at the school site and in the classroom, develop policies and procedures that ensure school safety, volunteer recruitment, monitoring and supervision of volunteers, and training support to adequately prepare parents and families in their volunteer roles.
- Provide parents and family volunteers with classroom management and curricular support training. Traditionally, parents and family members will assist teachers with preparing art projects, grading papers, and providing general supervision of students during recess and at field trips. With the proper training, parents and family volunteers can assist teachers in the classroom with academic support activities, playing educational games with students, and helping the students create project-based learning activities. Parents can sign an agreement that they will work cooperatively and collaboratively with teachers and staff to create a child-centered environment that supports student learning.
- Provide grade level teachers with training on how they can effectively use parents in the classroom and effectively manage several parents at a time in classroom learning center activities. Most colleges minimally teach prospective teachers in how they can effectively partner and use parents and family members in the classroom. Training can be provided to teachers in how to create an effective classroom parent volunteer program. Key components can include how to create volunteer assignment work cards, how to organize the classroom into volunteer support learning centers, how to manage difficult volunteers, how to effectively recruit parents and family members, how to integrate culturally relevant learning experiences into classroom activities, and how to support volunteer career development opportunities with parents and family members in a school-wide training program.
- Nurture the cultural experiences of individual students and their families. Teachers can recognize the various cultures of students in their classroom by sending home newsletters in various home languages that include student work. Teachers can host curricular programs at back-to-school nights and academic information workshops that introduce parents to curricular content and train parents on how they can play games and encourage their children to read to them with a family member supporting their English language development. Parents and family members can be encouraged to share various cultural customs and performing arts activities as academic enrichments units of study at these events or in the classroom.
- Support parents and family members in their own volunteer career development and cross-training for added school volunteer opportunities. Schools can create monthly parent and community volunteer programs that include training on effective communication skills, cultural diversity, critical thinking, health and wellness, self-esteem development, stress management, career guidance, and leadership development. Parents and community volunteers can network with local libraries in literacy development classes and local colleges in career path training and mentoring opportunities.
- Aid parents and family members in building community collaborations for added resources. Parents and family members can support the school community by organizing school beautification work days, creating fundraising activities, participating in community service learning environmental activities, or serving food at a homeless shelter. Fundraising activities can include expanding educational experiences for families through read-a-thons, book fairs, family math game nights, science fairs, travel study programs, partnering with community agency public awareness events, convening auctions, hosting sporting camps, and organizing events with professional sports teams.
- View schools as economic solutions for communities. As teachers expand their partnerships with their students’ parents and families, they will find that they have tapped into a limitless resource of partnerships for added services within their classroom and the school community. A community-empowered school contains a school of learners nested within a community of partnerships to ensure that all students can succeed by providing families with basic services, literacy support, and mentorships for access to added services. The nesting of schools within their community can contribute to the overall economic development of a community. Through these partnerships, parents and families are able to stabilize and increase their own job skills and earnings. Their children are then able to attain greater academic success that supports career development and employment success.
The potential for working with parents and families in schools through parent leadership programs has been documented as a highly effective prevention and intervention strategy for supporting student growth and achievement. When school communities expand their partnerships with the greater school community, the potential for added resources and coordinated service delivery grows exponentially. The greatest challenge to teachers and school leaders is managing these added resources to ensure that a school is able to support this expanded community of service delivery. In future blogs, we will discuss how to achieve this balance of serving students while engaging community partners in a school’s service delivery.