Keep in mind that I am using ”parents” as a general term in this post to refer to anyone who is in charge of your students, whether they are grandparents, other family, foster family, guardians, and the like.
Educators must start by asking, “Why do we need to think about parent involvement?”
There has been a great deal of research and media attention given to the question of what makes a student successful. Parent involvement is cited over and over as a critical ingredient to student success, and, by extension, the success of schools. Educators know this, but how can they encourage parents to become more involved?
1. Set expectations with students’ parents
Children need to know that their teachers, their school administrators, and their parents are on the same team. An open communication plan with parents builds mutual trust and deactivates assumptions on both sides of the classroom door. An established communication plan and articulated roles and responsibilities create the foundation for a team approach. This gives helicopter parents a framework to follow, and parents who struggle to be involved a place to begin.
2. Contact parents early and often
Make sure to reach out to parents on a regular basis and ensure that they know how to get in touch with you. Research shows that children do better in school when parents are involved in the school and talk often with teachers. Educators may need to instigate these conversations and provide an avenue to meet the communication needs of parents. However, we know that this effort pays off, as close communications between parents and teachers can have a huge impact on student success.
3. Connect the classroom to time at home
When speaking with parents, it is important that educators share what is happening in the classroom as well as what is happening with the individual child. This gives parents a place to begin their side of the conversation. It gives them concrete topics to ask their child about. By providing parents with insight into the larger world of the class as a whole, they can, in turn, help their child understand and respect their experiences in the classroom. Think of how powerful it would be to teach a concept in the classroom that is then carried into the home. Better yet, consider the expression on a child’s face when he or she is asked about and can teach his or her parent about that concept.
4. Work smarter, not harder
Educators should think about creating a classroom website that can be updated rather than recreated. Putting together a class website allows teachers the flexibility to build it once and modernize as needed. Class schedules, policies, and instructional snapshots can be easily and automatically shared with parents. Website templates have become very easy to use; by spending several minutes at the beginning of the school year to create a website, educators can save themselves countless hours during the year.
5. Share progress
Traditional report cards with letter grades have a place in our world (their value is a topic for another day). However, these letters provide limited information to parents. Sharing smaller successes or struggles can identify a child's interests, breakthroughs in understanding, and growing mastery of skills. Narrative reports like this are useful for parent conferences, year-end reports, and your own routine recordkeeping.
6. Get parents in the classroom
There are unique dynamics occurring in every school and classroom, and there is value in breaking out of the traditional or comfortable. The National Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) National Standards for Family-School Partnerships has some outstanding suggestions for getting families involved. The Three for Me program is centered on a “three-hour promise” that parents make to volunteer just three hours of their time throughout the school year in their child’s school or classroom. This can make a significant impact by providing parents with concrete reasons and ways to play a role in their child’s education. Remember, volunteer opportunities don’t have to be limited to the school day, especially for parents keeping nine-to-five office hours. Hours outside of class may provide a perfect chance to get help with classroom organization or preparation projects.
7. Understand why parent engagement matters
There is research showing that parents of high-achieving students tend to set higher standards for their children’s educational activities than parents of low-achieving students do. It is essential to empower parents to believe in, challenge, and encourage children throughout their academic careers.
8. Empower parents to be teachers
A great way for educators to encourage parent involvement is to help parents help their children. Parents are often unsure of how to best help their children to be successful in school. So, educators should give parents some simple starting points and remind them to spend time reading with their children. Homework can be assigned in a way that encourages parents to be actively involved, like having students conduct interviews or go on “treasure hunts” with their parents. Educators can give “interactive homework” to parents in which they are tasked to:
- Ask what their child did in class that day
- Ask their child to share something new learned that day
- Check to see if their child has homework and what it is
- Ask about upcoming tests or quizzes
9. Let technology be a friend
Face-to-face meetings are a critical way for educators to develop personal rapport with parents. However, many parents have work or other obligations that don’t allow them to make time to visit their child’s classroom, which can cause a lot of stress and guilt. Tools like FaceTime or Skype can be a great alternative. Imagine the power of using these kinds of virtual interactions to support such parents, build relationships with them, and connect them to their children’s educations.
10. Share your best practices
There are numerous ways to encourage parent involvement. Educators must be creative and then share their best practices with their teams and administrators in order to determine the most effective methods for their unique classrooms and schools.
We at Edmentum are always looking for solutions to build on this critical challenge as well. Have some great strategies to get parents involved? Share them with us in the comments section! Want to learn more about how Edmentum’s solutions can connect parents to their student’s education? Check out this resource on parent engagement!