Years of research and practice show that connecting with families positively impacts student achievement. Check out 10 realistic and ready-to-use ideas to help teachers and administrators actively engage parents as educational partners from my new book, 201 Ways to Involve Parents.
#1: Begin the school year with a celebration of families.
Convert your traditional September parent-teacher meeting into an evening where the whole family is invited. Include any event or activity that helps parents understand the importance of the family relationship with the school. Consider hosting a barbecue or organizing a flea market. Make sure to have a sign-up booth for school volunteers. Invite the whole family. Make the evening inclusive, not exclusive.
Take this opportunity to determine if there is an interest in establishing or extending support groups for families with specific interests. For example, you could initiate groups for children with special needs, families new to the community, single-parent families, and families learning the English language. The list should be reflective of your school community needs. This is a win-win opportunity, as you will learn more about your families and community as you support the whole family.
#8: Ensure there is a positive and accepting school climate.
Welcome parents in various languages and make certain to offer all community and school information in the reception/office area and counselor’s office. Ensure that all staff participate in developing and implementing an open-door policy.
#46: Encourage and facilitate the gender balance.
Encourage the male members of the family to become involved. More men are involved in caring for their children and should be specifically requested to volunteer. Check out this National PTA article for ten very specific and relevant ideas to promote additional ways to involve men in PTA programs: http://www.pta.org/programs/content.cfm?ItemNumber=1116
#84: Make sure nothing is secret.
There are software systems that have a parent module that allows families with children in different schools to access all of the children’s reports, homework, discipline, teacher comments, class and school announcements, and even what is on the menu in the cafeteria on a daily basis. The technology is available, but the challenge is for educators to be ready and willing to share that much information.
#87: Provide opportunities for input.
Have a suggestion box posted in the school and encourage feedback from the parents, staff, students, and community. Use a telephone tree that operates on a systematic basis to seek as well as share information. Have a mechanism in place so that parents can contribute to the school’s newsletter or website.
#104: Help families access resources.
Interagency support has long been a part of the community school philosophy. Acting as a community center and outreach for families will enhance the quality of family life for those who need support. Facilitate contact with social services, mental health services, government agencies, and parenting workshops.
#120: Use the school as a student employment center.
Offer student services, such as painting, gardening, babysitting, and pet sitting. Use the school newsletter, website, and the local media to advertise the services. Have students prepare a résumé as part of the program.
This service can be coordinated by career preparation or work experience programs at the secondary schools. At the elementary and middle schools, work with the student council and the parent council to coordinate the services. Student safety must be ensured when this type of program is established.
#128: Promote family literacy through book fairs.
This is an obvious strategy that aligns district, school, classroom, and parent goals. The best way to start this process is to contact publishers or local bookstores. Coordinate the event with the school librarian and contact any local authors to see if they will add their expertise to enrich the event. Adding authors and book signings to the fair increases interest, and therefore attendance. Schedule the fair after school. (My suggestion would be right at dismissal time, as many families pick up their children.) This is also a good opportunity for teacher librarians to add family volunteers to their roster.
#135: Visit parents’ job sites on field trips.
Government offices, retail stores, hospitals, factories, universities, farms, banks, schools, and nursing homes are just some examples of trips that align well with curriculum. Have the involved parent conduct the tour when possible.
#190: Make parent development a regular part of advisory council meetings.
Designate a member of the advisory council to implement parent education programs. Open council meetings with a guest speaker or close them with an open forum on an education topic. Have faculty or administrative staff act as resource speakers or discussion facilitators.