The positive connection between parent involvement in the classroom and a child’s academic success has been well-documented. In fact, according to the 2002 report, “A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement”, parental involvement has been identified as the single most important aspect of academic success at every grade level – regardless of race/ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education. Put another way, every child can and does benefit from having their parents involved in their classroom. Despite these findings, too often a parent’s level of involvement in the school does not exceed the summation of parent-teacher conferences and the beginning of the year open house. Which prompts the question, why the disconnect? The issue is twofold – teachers who feel attacked by over attentive helicopter parents and parents who don’t know how to begin the relationship. In Strong Families, Strong Students, a report that reflects on thirty years of research on family involvement in education, they state “the (sad fact is that) in many instances parents don’t feel as if we welcome them in school. Educators need to be willing to recognize the extent of this disconnection as a precondition for involving families in their children’s education.”
For educators, taking the first step towards establishing an environment where parents feel empowered to engage in their schools can be a daunting one. After all, the reasons that parents don’t involve themselves in schools are varied and not always forthcoming. Thankfully, the National PTA, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting parent involvement in schools and impacting the educational success of students has identified eight major “roadblocks” that commonly prohibit parents from engaging. While these roadblocks are far from encompassing, they’re definitely something to bear in mind while crafting your parent engagement strategy.
- Not Feeling Welcome: This is a big one, and, as we mentioned earlier, a common theme among parents. Schools often feel like an alien place to parents, who spend so little time there. Consider posting welcome signs around the school in multiple languages and having a designated parent’s center with resources that they can access on their own.
- Not Knowing How to Contribute: Unless you send out a very specific request asking for volunteers for a field trip, parents often feel uncertain about how their talents can be utilized and worried about overstepping their bounds. Work with your school’s administrator to put together a list of specific volunteer actions that are needed from parents to give them actionable items.
- Not Understanding the School System: This is especially true of first-time parents or parents who have moved school districts. They don’t know what their rights are or how they’re able to get involved, so they end up just taking a passive approach to the entire experience. Putting together a simple resource packet that parents take home after the open house goes a long way to explain everyday policies, procedures, and school rules.
- Parents In Need: Not having adequate resources to send their child to school with the things they need is daunting enough. For many, the idea of taking additional time out of their time to get involved in their student’s classroom when they don’t know where they’re going to find the money to buy groceries is laughable. Identifying these students and connecting the parents with programs to help close the gap to unmet needs goes a long way to ameliorating those stresses.
- Childcare: This is primarily for after-school functions, like becoming involved in the PTA or helping to plan a fundraiser. Childcare isn’t always offered at those functions and children are definitely not encouraged to attend. For single parents (or even busy parents) this is enough of a challenge to prevent them from taking the extra time to involve themselves.
- Language Barriers: For immigrants who don’t speak English (or who aren’t confident in their English speaking abilities), newsletters, emails and flyers requesting help many not be understood and consequently ignored. Ultimately, you will have to decide how to best address this issue within your community – whether through the use of a translator or by creating smaller groups by ethnic community to build connections.
- Special Needs: While children with disabilities are almost always considered in school settings, parents with disabilities are often a different story. As a result, they may feel uncomfortable or have previously unencountered difficulties in getting involved. Take the time to understand their unique situation and explore how accessible your school is for their disability.
- Transportation: Think about it – how often does parking factor into your decision to visit a certain restaurant or event? The same holds true for parents and school functions. If transportation isn’t available (if needed based on your community), or parking is inadequate, parents will more than likely decide that it just isn’t worth the effort. By establishing carpool groups or working with your school to block off a larger portion of the parking lot for visitors, it increases the likelihood that parents will attend.
In addition to helping to identify these obstacles (which again, should be applied situationally and with the understanding that they’re not hard and fast reasons why parents aren’t choosing to engage), the National PTA has also set the following National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs:
- Establish regular, meaningful communication between home and school.
- Promote and support parenting skills.
- Encourage active parent participation in student learning.
- Welcome parents as volunteer partners in schools.
- Invite parents to act as full partners in making school decisions that affect children and families.
- Reach out to the community for resources to strengthen schools.
These guidelines should be taken into account whenever activities are planned to promote parental engagement.
With that in mind, how do you actually go about reaching out to the parents in your classroom to express that you would love to get them more involved with their student at school? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite activities and suggestions from industry experts to help:
Start the School Year With An Open House: As Gwen Pescatore, President of the Home & School Association reiterates, “It’s key that the teacher extend their hand and open the door first.” By beginning the year with an open dialogue, in which parents can learn about your teaching style and classroom, as well as your opportunities for involvement, they are more likely to be receptive to getting involved throughout the school year. It’s also a great opportunity to ask parents to share their concerns and opinions about school, and then address those concerns, ensuring that you start the year off on the right foot.
Make The First Contact Positive: It’s human nature to base your perception of an individual off of a first impression. If the first time that you’ve ever heard from your kid’s teacher is when they’ve misbehaved or are performing poorly academically, you’re unlikely to be the first in line when they send out a request for parent volunteers. As an educator, if you aren’t able to meetup with parents at the open house, take a few minutes to send out a quick email introducing yourself. Try to include a quick academic achievement from their child and above all else, communicate with parents straightforwardly and simply, avoiding educational “jargon.”
Initiate a Classroom Volunteer Program: As was previously mentioned, not knowing how to get involved is a major roadblock to parent engagement. By recruiting parents for designated tasks (acquiring supplies, posting bulletins, etc.), you can offer an easy, tangible way for parents to wrap their head around what they can do to help out. Create sign-up sheets with a wide variety of tasks to allow parents in different circumstances (i.e., working vs. at-home, able to offer time after school versus during the school day) to find what works best for their schedules, giving everyone who wants to participate the opportunity.
In addition, Project Appleseed, a public school advocacy organization, has created two helpful resources that should be given to all parents to help with accountability and to explain the importance of their involvement.
The Parental Involvement Report Card – This self-diagnostic tool (comprising of 31 questions in an easy online format) helps parents rate their current contributions to their child’s success. It’s an easy way to remind parents who might not be doing as much as they could to look for ways to improve.
The Parent Involvement Pledge – A short pledge, centered around reinforcing the importance of the public school system and how we are able to impact it, also helps teachers to identify any special skills a parent may have (i.e., bringing in a baker to help make gingerbread houses around the holidays). Parents appreciate the opportunity to utilize their special skill set and are more likely to get involved.
Communicate Often: Kevin Jarrett, a K-4 Technology Facilitator, shares these insights “My tip: be sure your school talks openly and often and the need for and importance of parent volunteers. Our school definitely does, and even has periodic ‘visitor & volunteer training days’ that communicate school expectations, rules and procedures for everyone’s benefit. The meetings are always well attended, and we have a steady stream of parents helpers…. I’ve come to rely on parent help and really miss it on the days no one comes in!”. By constantly reinforcing the need for volunteers, parents will understand the expectations for them and engage accordingly.
Create Opportunities to Connect: As with any relationship, it needs to be fostered to bloom. In terms of parent engagement, this can manifest itself in many ways. Suggestions include:
- Create a parent resource center. Provide materials on issues of concern to parents, such as child development, health and safety, drug education, special education, and so on
- Invite parents to attend group classroom presentations. Be sure to communicate that the invitation is during regularly scheduled classes only and that presentations won’t be delayed by parent tardiness.
- Create a classroom website with a parent page. Even a short blog, updating parents on what’s going on in the classroom can also help to alert parents to opportunities to get involved.
- Showcase what students are learning. Apps like ours at PreciouStatus are an easy way for teachers to show parents their child in action and reinforce the positive relationship.
- Plan Events and Workshops. Topics can range from family nutrition to constructive (and non-constructive!) ways to help with homework to the importance of sleep. Alternatively, following conferences or report card season, the focus of the workshop can shift to ways to get grades up.
- Call Home. When a kid has done something really exceptional, make a point to highlight it to the parent, even if it’s just in a quick email.
- Work Together: Invite parents to share their goals for their children and work as a unit to help turn those goals into a reality throughout the school year.
Take the suggestions that feel most doable to you, in whatever combination that presents itself, to help develop the bones of your strategy to increase parent engagement in your classroom.
Continue To Maintain A Strong Relationship: Outside of the aforementioned touchpoints, keep the communication channels open by ensuring that all parents have regular access to clear, concise, and easily readable information about their children’s school and classroom. This includes an awareness of parents work schedules, as well as any potential language and cultural differences.
However you decide to bridge the gap in your classroom, any improvement in parent involvement will only benefit student’s academic success. Just remember to keep trying new things as you work with the families in your classroom and community to continue to support a culture of engagement at your school. The resulting healthy, effective school environment that comes into being when parents and teachers are able to work together makes it all worth it.
Looking for more resources?
In addition to these activities, Education World has assembled the following resources to print and end home to help support your efforts to promote parent engagement in the classroom on a month by month basis.
- In September: As a Parent, I Promise
- In October: Coping With High-Stakes Tests
- In November: How to Make Parent-Teacher Conferences Work for Your Child
- In December: Help Your Student Get the Most Out of Homework
- In January: A Grade By Grade Guide to What Your Child Should Be Learning in School.
- In February: Parent Involvement = Student Success
- In March: Education World’s Tips for Involved Parents
- In April: 10 Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference
- In May: 8 Ways Parents Can Promote Reading at Home