Saturday / April 13

10 Strategies to Engage Parents

When celebrating Teacher Appreciate Week activities, teachers can reflect on the very successful partnerships they have formed with parents during the school year. Here are several best practices shared by teachers and parents during thirty years of providing parent engagement support to school communities:

Best Practice 1: Be Human

Although teachers may spend hours preparing for parent-teacher conferences, parents can become anxious when discussing their children’s academic and social-emotional challenges. The anticipated meeting outcome for teachers and parents is to create a healthy family-school connection. This outcome ensures that both parents and teachers can openly discuss a child’s successes and challenges in the classroom and at school. When meeting parents informally, effective teachers provide parents with daily feedback about their child’s performance. Ongoing formal and informal dialogue with parents can validate the parents’ efforts to support their child’s growth at school and in the home. Informal conversations with parents can also provide teachers with insight about changes in the family that may impact a child’s performance at school.

Best Practice 2: Keep a Balanced Perspective

When parents meet with teachers at parent-teacher conferences, they may be excited, anxious, and eager to learn about their child’s behavior and academic performance at school. Effective teachers focus on the positive behaviors of a student while also discussing any areas of concern for growth. When teachers provide parents with examples of healthy growth and an overall portfolio of the student’s work, parents feel validated for their efforts in supporting their child’s learning. If there are areas of concern, parents will be more receptive to hearing a teacher’s suggestions for their added support in the home.

Best Practice 3: Create a Portfolio of Each Student

Portfolios can include a student’s best work and also demonstrate a need for added academic support at home. A variety of portfolio samples can include art projects, creative writing, mathematical problem solutions, and the use of common core standards in science and social studies projects. Added documentation can include student observations completed by teachers with quoted conversations of students working together and videos of student projects.

Best Practice 4: Create a Reflection Form for Parents

A reflection form in the parents’ home language can be given to parents before their conferences. These culturally sensitive forms can help parents prepare for their discussions with teachers. The forms can include listing areas of child growth, observations of the child’s behavior at home, academic learning questions and concerns, and a note taking section to capture agreements they have made with teachers for next steps. If parents are not able to complete the form, a friend or older child can interview the parents to help them prepare for a conference.

Best Practice 5: Create an Open Door Policy

Teachers can coordinate with the principal’s office to identify optional days and times that parents can visit their classroom to observe their child. A parent visitation can include having parents formally observe their child when completing an observation form or sharing their observations with the teacher after their visit. Parents can observe small groups of students learning together to reinforce how they can support their child’s learning at home. Parents can also participate in playground sports activities, grade level projects, and assemblies.

Best Practice 6: Create a Parent Observation Plan

Culturally sensitive parent observation forms can be provided by teachers when parents visit the classroom. These forms can include having the parents write what their child is doing in a small group learning activity. Parents can capture the dialogue between students, record their child’s reaction to others, reflect on their child’s classroom behaviors, and note what learning strategies are being used in an activity (i.e. discussion, listening, reading, working on a group form, completing an individual worksheet, playing a game, helping construct a project, or observing changes in the environment, etc.). After parents complete their observation, they can meet with the teacher and other parents to discuss and reflect on what they learned about their child and grade level learning strategies.

Best Practice 7: Collaborate with Grade Level Teachers for Parent Workshops

Teachers can partner with grade level teachers to create parent education workshops on age appropriate child development, healthy social-emotional growth, games and activities to support student learning at home, and how parents can incorporate play as a learning activity (e.g. building containers for a garden and planting vegetables, writing a family history, shopping weekly with a fixed budget for the family). Free culturally relevant parent education handouts can be downloaded for workshops at This multi-generational resource blog was created by credentialed educators to support parents, grandparents, and families in using effective parenting strategies when serving as their children’s first teachers in their social-emotional growth, literacy readiness, and in academic play activities. Teachers and professionals in education and health can use the blog’s resources to support their school’s families.

Best Practice 8: Create a Parent Classroom Volunteer Program

Effective parent classroom volunteer programs include a sign-up schedule, policies, and procedures on how parents can participate in specific classroom activities in small group observations, instruction, or by leading a project that incorporates art and academics (e.g. performance productions, writing and illustrating grade level books, creating science experiments, or researching historical events with artistic and culturally sensitive products). Parents can initially be invited into the classroom to observe other parents working with students in small group activities. As parents feel more confident about their ability to assist students, the teacher can assign parents to parent mentors who will help them feel successful in their classroom assignments. If a parent does not speak English, a bilingual mentor or student can provide the parent with translation and interpretation services. Trained and mentored classroom parent volunteers should keep discussions about individual students confidential, abide by the school rules at all times, and consider the needs of the students first.

Best Practice 9: Develop a Parent Leadership Program at School

School-based parent leadership training programs can be created by school site teacher leadership teams. Parents receive training on how they can academically support students in specific academic content areas. Trained parents may initially volunteer in their child’s classroom. Through parent mentors and added teacher support, parents can be trained to become effective school leaders and serve on the school’s site council, the English learner advisory committee, the school’s safety committee, the P.T.A. board, or as a district leader to support state and federally funded programs and school board advisory committees. Resources on how teachers and administrators can support parents in schools can be found in two Corwin Press publications:

  • Developing Community Empowered Schools by Mary Ann Burke and Lawrence O. Picus provides sample culturally sensitive school-based parent leadership training materials. The book also includes sample parent volunteer policies, procedures, needs assessment questionnaires, and grade-level parent education curriculum.
  • Joyce Epstein’s School, Family, and Community Partnerships provides a plan on how to create Action Teams for partnerships at schools and school districts that can sustain inclusive, goal-oriented programs.

Best Practice 10: Create a Parent Appreciation Program

As parents increase their leadership at the school site, principals can initiate parent coffees to encourage added dialogue with families and increased partnerships in their school community. At the end of the school year, the school’s leadership team with teacher support can host a parent volunteer recognition event. This event can include a family dinner with student entertainment and recognition certificates for parents who have volunteered in their child’s classroom, at the school site, and for the school district. School districts can also recognize outstanding volunteers at a board meeting and distribute the classroom parent volunteer certificates as part of the superintendent’s information update. Effective and inspirational parent-teacher partnership programs ensure that parents are actively engaged partners with their children at school while also successfully supporting their children’s social-emotional growth and academic success at home.

Written by

Mary Ann Burke is the co-founder of the Generational Parenting Blog. Dr. Burke presents effective parenting and school engagement strategies at numerous state and national parent engagement events. She creates Common Core State Standards kits and S.T.E.A.M. activities for parents to use at home and in their child’s classroom to support children’s literacy and academic readiness skills. Dr. Burke is an author or editor of four Corwin Press Books on parent and community engagement in schools. Mary Ann is an active grandmother of five grandchildren that include seven month old twin granddaughters, a four year old preschool grandson, a six-year-old kindergarten granddaughter, and a nine year old third grade grandson. She supports her grandchildren’s literacy and academic development activity play at home and at their schools. Mary Ann is a credentialed parent educator for over thirty years in California’s schools and a former adjunct professor. Dr. Burke previously led the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Parent Engagement Initiative that is a state model for best practices in parent engagement for culturally diverse families.

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