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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Parental Involvement

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            The new school year is about to begin. As a teacher, I always love this time of year. I spend my summer taking classes and mentally preparing for the upcoming year. I always feel very excited and hopeful at a fresh beginning. I feel lucky to be able to start fresh each and every year. I have many wishes for the upcoming school year. I wish for a classroom full of motivated students. My greatest wish is to have a group of students that have parents that stay involved all year long. I tie parental support directly to student achievement. We give parents many opportunities to become involved. The year starts with a meet and greet. This gives the parents and students a chance to see their classroom and meet their teacher in a very relaxed atmosphere. The following week we have Back to School Night. This night is combined with the first PTA meeting and a look into the classroom, the procedures, and the curriculum for the year. At these two events, I average less than a third of parents participating. The parents I would love to meet do not come to these events. In November, we have parent conferences. This is when I share academic and behavioral information about the students. Many of my parents make appointments but do not show up. I am very flexible with my times that I will meet with the parents. Many of my parents do not have the opportunity to take time off work. I make myself available from 7:30 in the morning until 7:30 in the evening. If they cannot meet at these times, we can do a phone conference. I would much rather do a face-to-face conference; I feel they have more of an impact. With a face-to-face meeting, I can get my point across better and the parents can see that I really do care about their child and his or her education.

            As a teacher, I spend about 7 hours a day with my students. We get to know each other very well. However, I have no control with what they do when they walk out of my classroom at 4:00. I am not there to tell them not to play video games or not to stay up until 11:00. I cannot force their parents to monitor their homework or to read with their child. I cannot force the parents to assist them with math. I cannot force their parents to look through their backpacks. So many things are out of my control. I believe that if we solve this problem, the nationwide problem of education will improve. There is nothing better than to see a student light up when their parent comes into school. They are on top of the world. The message being given by the parent is that school is a priority. If this message were given to all of our students, they would make a greater attempt to do their best. Both the teacher and parents will hold the students accountable. If we set the bar high, the students will grab it.

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Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Donna...I fully agree with you - educating our children does truly take a village. That means we not only need our teachers teaching them for the 7 hours or so during the day - but we need parents to support the learning outside of the school day...and then also the support and involvement of the community.

I don't know your school, but below are a few things we have done at our school. Honestly...I am always asking parents outright. Why they do or don't do something and where do they get their information from? Many are very candid. Most common responses I find: schedule (so we need to offer a variety of options as far as time), welcoming environment (both the building and people), and relationships (do they feel like an appreciated, valued member of the community or have someone they can connect with when needed).

Welcoming environment: I think it is extremely important that we (parent leaders, teachers, admin) continuously talk to parents and look at our entire school community from an outsider's perspective. A welcoming environment is a necessity - otherwise many may not even step foot in the school. Everything from the building entrance and check in experience, to how the teachers and principal interact with families, to the PTO and bus drivers personalities.

Relationships. Build them and now people are interested in attending because they have a familiar face that they respect and can connect with.

We have an extremely diverse population at our school, so we have some of our signage in the building written in the top 4 languages spoken in our school. We take our PTO meetings off-site to places our families are most comfortable, in their neighborhood, such as the local mosque and Boys and Girls Club. We also live stream our PTO meetings, so parents are able to check out the warm personalities (of parents and staff) from the comfort of their home. After a few meetings, they then make the transition to attend in person. (These meetings are 1hr, and are info packed with edu-voice and stu-voice segments) (I know this isn't a classroom - but once they're comfortable coming to school, I think it is easier to get them in the classroom.)

From these meetings (and conversations with parents) we saw a lack in parents understanding what "supporting learning" truly meant or how to go about it. So we have begun providing tools, definitions, discussions and examples of how to support learning (which is more than signing a paper saying your child read for 20 minutes).

Some steps we've taken:
Defining edu-jargon. A parent cannot (and chances are will not) participate in a conversation that makes them feel inferior or that they don't understand. So take a proactive approach and share the common vocabulary with them in advance. Our PTO spent a meeting discussing these words. We then shared a collaborative Gdoc that was built during a #PTchat discussing the same topic (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtchsZvkwBUidGJ5OTE4TDlGSnN...)
This year, I'm hoping to add a grade level list of key vocab words students should understand. We are looking to share these lists at Back to School Night for parents to then have at home as a reminder to use them in their conversations at home.

Build informal discussions around topics such as literacy, testing, specific curricula, technology and social emotional issues. We have hosted guest speakers on the topics, a parent-teacher book chat and then we also host ParentCamp which is a morning full of these conversations.

We use our social media accounts to not only share upcoming events, but also share educational resources, tools, websites and articles. Helping to build the capacity for parents to participate in these important conversations with their children, teachers, schools and districts.

Sorry to babble so much. I hope you never give up trying to connect with your student's families. If it is coming from your heart and you make a positive difference in just one family, as a parent....I say it's worth it.

(3)
Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

Donna,

You wrote, "At these two events, I average less than a third of parents participating. The parents I would love to meet do not come to these events. I too have faced the same problem." I teach seniors and at that point many parents have been to years of open houses and no longer feel the need to attend.

Tech tools can help us, as teachers, take a more proactive approach. My district uses an online grade book (Infiinite Campus) and that allows me to send mass emails to parents. I have found that when I send a personal and inviting message before the event, encouraging them to attend, and this small step increases attendance dramatically.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I second Brian's suggestion to use email to draw parents in. I send mass "update" emails to parents about once a month, sometimes more often if we have a lot going on. Not only do parents tell me how much they appreciate the emails, but many times parents will use that message as a way to contact me. It's like they forget they can reach me any time, but when they get an email from me, they hit "reply" and ask about something that has been on their mind. Being proactive (sending those emails often) prompts many parents to communicate with me, which can really help address issues before they become problems.

(2)
Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

The mass emails that my son's MS latin teacher sent out were truly awesome! That little piece of info was a difference maker in staying "in the loop" while allowing some space AND it opened a line of communication that some might feel wasn't welcomed. So, yes...using tech, be it as simple as email or something like Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo, or even Voxer goes miles.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I second Brian's suggestion to use email to draw parents in. I send mass "update" emails to parents about once a month, sometimes more often if we have a lot going on. Not only do parents tell me how much they appreciate the emails, but many times parents will use that message as a way to contact me. It's like they forget they can reach me any time, but when they get an email from me, they hit "reply" and ask about something that has been on their mind. Being proactive (sending those emails often) prompts many parents to communicate with me, which can really help address issues before they become problems.

(2)
Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Donna...I fully agree with you - educating our children does truly take a village. That means we not only need our teachers teaching them for the 7 hours or so during the day - but we need parents to support the learning outside of the school day...and then also the support and involvement of the community.

I don't know your school, but below are a few things we have done at our school. Honestly...I am always asking parents outright. Why they do or don't do something and where do they get their information from? Many are very candid. Most common responses I find: schedule (so we need to offer a variety of options as far as time), welcoming environment (both the building and people), and relationships (do they feel like an appreciated, valued member of the community or have someone they can connect with when needed).

Welcoming environment: I think it is extremely important that we (parent leaders, teachers, admin) continuously talk to parents and look at our entire school community from an outsider's perspective. A welcoming environment is a necessity - otherwise many may not even step foot in the school. Everything from the building entrance and check in experience, to how the teachers and principal interact with families, to the PTO and bus drivers personalities.

Relationships. Build them and now people are interested in attending because they have a familiar face that they respect and can connect with.

We have an extremely diverse population at our school, so we have some of our signage in the building written in the top 4 languages spoken in our school. We take our PTO meetings off-site to places our families are most comfortable, in their neighborhood, such as the local mosque and Boys and Girls Club. We also live stream our PTO meetings, so parents are able to check out the warm personalities (of parents and staff) from the comfort of their home. After a few meetings, they then make the transition to attend in person. (These meetings are 1hr, and are info packed with edu-voice and stu-voice segments) (I know this isn't a classroom - but once they're comfortable coming to school, I think it is easier to get them in the classroom.)

From these meetings (and conversations with parents) we saw a lack in parents understanding what "supporting learning" truly meant or how to go about it. So we have begun providing tools, definitions, discussions and examples of how to support learning (which is more than signing a paper saying your child read for 20 minutes).

Some steps we've taken:
Defining edu-jargon. A parent cannot (and chances are will not) participate in a conversation that makes them feel inferior or that they don't understand. So take a proactive approach and share the common vocabulary with them in advance. Our PTO spent a meeting discussing these words. We then shared a collaborative Gdoc that was built during a #PTchat discussing the same topic (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtchsZvkwBUidGJ5OTE4TDlGSnN...)
This year, I'm hoping to add a grade level list of key vocab words students should understand. We are looking to share these lists at Back to School Night for parents to then have at home as a reminder to use them in their conversations at home.

Build informal discussions around topics such as literacy, testing, specific curricula, technology and social emotional issues. We have hosted guest speakers on the topics, a parent-teacher book chat and then we also host ParentCamp which is a morning full of these conversations.

We use our social media accounts to not only share upcoming events, but also share educational resources, tools, websites and articles. Helping to build the capacity for parents to participate in these important conversations with their children, teachers, schools and districts.

Sorry to babble so much. I hope you never give up trying to connect with your student's families. If it is coming from your heart and you make a positive difference in just one family, as a parent....I say it's worth it.

(3)

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