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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Home-School Team: An Emphasis on Parent Involvement

Students thrive when their parents become part of the classroom.
By James P. Comer, Norris Haynes
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Credit: Marc Rosenthal

Children learn best when the significant adults in their lives -- parents, teachers, and other family and community members -- work together to encourage and support them. This basic fact should be a guiding principle as we think about how schools should be organized and how children should be taught. Schools alone cannot address all of a child's developmental needs: The meaningful involvement of parents and support from the community are essential.

The need for a strong partnership between schools and families to educate children may seem like common sense. In simpler times, this relationship was natural and easy to maintain. Teachers and parents were often neighbors and found many occasions to discuss a child's progress. Children heard the same messages from teachers and parents and understood that they were expected to uphold the same standards at home and at school.

As society has become more complex and demanding, though, these relationships have all too often fallen by the wayside. Neither educators nor parents have enough time to get to know one another and establish working relationships on behalf of children. In many communities, parents are discouraged from spending time in classrooms and educators are expected to consult with family members only when a child is in trouble. The result, in too many cases, is misunderstanding, mistrust, and a lack of respect, so that when a child falls behind, teachers blame the parents and parents blame the teachers.

At the same time, our society has created artificial distinctions about the roles that parents and teachers should play in a young person's development. We tend to think that schools should stick to teaching academics and that home is the place where children's moral and emotional development should take place.

Yet children don't stop learning about values and relationships when they enter a classroom, nor do they cease learning academics -- and attitudes about learning -- when they are at home or elsewhere in their community. They constantly observe how the significant adults in their lives treat one another, how decisions are made and executed, and how problems are solved.

All the experiences children have, both in and out of school, help shape their sense that someone cares about them, their feelings of self-worth and competency, their understanding of the world around them, and their beliefs about where they fit into the scheme of things.

These days, it can take extraordinary efforts to build strong relationships between families and educators. Schools have to reach out to families, making them feel welcome as full partners in the educational process. Families, in turn, have to make a commitment of time and energy to support their children both at home and at school.

The effort involved in reestablishing these connections is well worth it, as many communities across the country -- including those we work with -- are discovering. Our experience is that significant and meaningful parent involvement is possible, desirable, and valuable in improving student growth and performance.

A Starting Point

The communities in which we are involved -- mostly inner city neighborhoods -- tend to start with relatively poor relationships between schools and families. Many of the parents experienced failure during their own school days and are reluctant to set foot inside their children's schools. Teachers commute to work and often know very little about the neighborhood outside the school. Before they can develop effective partnerships, educators and families in these communities first have to learn to trust and respect one another.

Although it is less obvious, the same is true in more affluent communities. The lack of trust and respect can be seen in the growing numbers of parents choosing to enroll their children in private schools or educate them at home, and in the growing reluctance of voters to approve school-bond issues. At the same time, relatively few schools have open-door policies allowing parents to visit at any time, and parents who insist on playing an active role in their children's education are often branded as troublemakers.

The starting point in any community is to create opportunities where parents and teachers can learn that they both have children's best interests at heart. We applaud the growing trend to decentralize decision making from central offices to individual schools because it creates opportunities for parents and educators to work together, making decisions about school policies and procedures. Some may see this arrangement as shifting power from school staff to parents, but it's not power shifting; it's power sharing. It is empowering all the adults who have a stake in children's development.

Participation on school-based planning and management teams gives parents a chance to learn about the professional side of schooling -- to understand the inner workings of curriculum and instruction. It also allows them to educate school staff about the community and demonstrate that parents have much to offer if provided the opportunities to do so.

Working together as full partners, parents, teachers, administrators, businesspeople, and other community members can create an educational program that meets unique local needs and reflects the diversity within a school without compromising high performance expectations and standards. They can foster a caring and sensitive school climate that respects and responds to students' differences as well as their similarities.

A Wide Variety of Roles

Besides participating in governance, parents can be involved in schools in many roles. There are the traditional ways: encouraging children to complete homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, and being active members of their school's parent-teacher organization. Other roles, however, require more commitment: serving as mentors, teacher aides, or lunchroom monitors, or providing assistance to schools and students in myriad other ways.

At a time when schools are adopting curricula based on real-world problems and information, families can make a valuable contribution by sharing first-hand information about work, hobbies, history, and other personal experiences, either in person or via a computer network. Perhaps most important, parents can simply take the time to go to their schools and observe, learning about what their children and their children's teachers are doing.

The hectic pace of modern life can make this kind of involvement seem out of reach for many parents. But there are positive signs that it is becoming more feasible. Employers, concerned about the quality of the future workforce, are starting to adopt policies that allow parents time off to participate on a school's planning and management team or volunteer time at regular intervals. And more schools are offering either day care or preschool, which makes it easier for parents with young children to spend time at an older child's school.

This level of parent involvement in schools allows parents and staff to work together in respectful and mutually supportive ways, creating an environment in which understanding, trust, and respect can flourish. At the same time, students get consistent messages from the important adults in their lives. When children observe that home and school are engaged in a respectful partnership for their benefit, they are likely to develop more positive attitudes about school and achieve more, compared to situations in which school and home are seen as being worlds apart.

Better Lines of Communication

Regardless of a parent's direct involvement in school activities, it is vital for parents and teachers to communicate effectively with one another. Each has a piece of the picture of a child's development, and each can be more effective when information is shared. Constant communication helps ensure that both schools and homes are responsive to students' unique needs and therefore support children's overall development.

Some of this interaction should be face to face, either at the school, at home, at a parent's worksite, or at another convenient location. It must be considered an integral part of schooling, and adequate time must be provided during regular working hours for school staff to carry it out. At the same time, this communication must be recognized as a critical part of parenting, and parents must make the commitment to meet periodically with their children's teachers.

Technology can allow educators and parents to be linked into a sturdier web of mutual support than ever before. Schools and homes can be connected through computer networks that allow them to freely share information, via email and bulletin boards, twenty-four hours a day and year-round.

It's not hard to imagine a time in the near future when all parents will be able to quickly call up information such as a student's schedule for the week, current assignments, and suggestions from teachers about what they can do to support learning goals at home. They'll be able to review what the child has been doing by looking at actual samples of schoolwork that have been collected in an electronic portfolio.

To ensure that everyone, regardless of income or other circumstances, has equal access to such electronic tools, some schools work with businesses and other partners to create computer-lending programs for families. All schools should consider creating similar programs. The needed computers should also be available to parents at a variety of public settings such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, and there should be free or low-cost classes to teach educators and parents how to use them to foster learning.

The establishment of computer networks linking schools and homes fits neatly with another positive trend we've noticed: More and more schools are broadening their mission to provide educational services for their entire community.

Lifelong learning is rapidly becoming a requirement for success in the modern world. Parents and other community members can either attend classes at a school or study at home using distance learning technologies, with content supplied by their local school or by one far away. Through these networks, parents can not only advance their own education but also demonstrate for their children that adults need to keep working at learning, too.

But the biggest winners are the children. When we walk into a school and see parents and teachers working together, in all sorts of roles, it's a sure sign that the school challenges the very best in students and helps all, regardless of race, class, or culture, realize their fullest potential.

James P. Comer is Maurice Falk Professor at the Yale Child Study Center, associate dean of the Yale Medical School, and director of the university’s School Development Program.
Norris M. Haynes is an associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center and Yale University’s Department of Psychology and director of research for the university’s School Development Program.

Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are some grants available to pay for home visits during non school hours. My school in California just recieved such a grant. The funding from the grant may be used to pay the teacher, an outreach/parent liason person,and an interpreter for the time spent in a home visit situation.

Joelle J.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This article is one that should be read by all parents, students and teachers it covers the key to a child success. It's the best article I've read so far it covers all grounds and leave no room for excuses for not getting involve. Parents these day don't realize how important it is to be involved in a child's academic performance. To many parents that I talk to, they say that it's the teacher's job to make sure the child learn. They fail to understand that in many cases it's not that the teachers are not teaching and trying the very best for the child, but it's the home invironment, that cause a child not to be interested in learning.
In our society these days we see that fear, rejection, loneliness, hate, greed, indiffence dominate and overcomming our youth. Parental involvement can help our youth today overcome those challenges. By getting involve in a positive way it allows the parents to spend more time with their children, learn about them, understand them better, help the teachers find more effetive ways to respond to the child learning styles to help them to excel, they create a voice for the child, and in doing so the child is more confident, more empowered, they feel cared for and listened to. Parents need to understand that when they work together with their child's academic educators it's the best way to produce impeccable model citizens that will lead us tomorrow. This article go above and beyond the key to seccessful education. It not only mention parents to teachers involment as a key factor in a child education but also teachers to teachers interaction plays a very important role.

Mike Pappas-Denver, Colorado's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was an incredible article because it offers solutions to the challenge of how to get parents and teachers working together. At my school we continue to try a lot of strategies such as free literacy nights and fun carnivals with an emphasis on school projects being displayed in the hallways. Our efforts have helped, but still the overall participation of parents in our school is disappointing. I very much liked the idea of home visits in this article. As a teacher I can be pro active and make that happend. Do any of you have programs in your school that give you the time needed to make home visits? In addition, how do you get the parents to agree to the home visit that does not put them into a negative or threatened mode? I look forward to hearing some responses, we all have to do our part to go back as much as possible to the days of yester year when schools and communities worked together!

Mike's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for your comment regarding home visits, I think it is absolutely essential teachers make home visits, because the fact is that may be the only way to get some parents to start communicating..Would you happend to have the name of these grants or a web site we could check out? I will look forward to your response,,

Mike Pappas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I strongly believe businesses in our country have the power to really boost our education system if they will share some of their wealth and resources. It only makes sense, our students will one day be their employees. I liked the idea of the computer lending in the article to help parents have accessible technology at home. I think school web sites and individual teacher sites can be very beneficial in a non threatening manner to help with parent-teacher communication.
Do any of you know of actual businesses around the country helping in this type of manner? Look forward to any feedback you can provide.THANK YOU!

Mike's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think teachers need to always communicate with parents in a way that creates a base of caring. Plan ahead of time what you will say, and give examples of good and negative behavior and course work. Be a positive listener, hear what the parents have to say and then encourage them to work with you on action plans to support their child for school success.

Wendy P Oyster Bay NY's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree! I believe that communication and parent involvement is a crucial part in the growth of children. I work with children that have special needs, and I communicate with my students parents on a daily basis through the use of a communication notebook. Two of my students live in a residential program, so it is important for me to call these parents on the phone every week to notify them of their son/daughter's progress and behavior for the week. I also hold quarterly meetings with the each parent, so that the teachers and therapists can review progress or deficits in student work as well as the overall behavior of the student with the parent. Regardless of how challenging the information may be to communicate to the parents, it is crucial for them to become aware of the overall progress of their daughter/son in the classroom. I believe that it is important to listen to the parents because it allows the teacher to gain insight on their students. I am very comfortable relaying information to my students parents because of the constant communication I have with them. This constant communication in different forms provides consistency for my students both in the classroom and at home. When working with students that have special needs, consistency is a critical part in promoting success.

Karen J.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Graduate student at Walden University, I have been reading a lot about the importance of effective communication skills. I communicate with parents in several ways; parent-teacher conferences, weekly newsletters and graded papers, report cards and progress skills checklists, daily behavior charts and emails. I feel comfortable writing emails, but feel that they seem impersonal. I know I should call parents more often, but most times writing an email is faster. One of my goals this year is to improve my oral communication skills. I want to be more comfortable talking with parents about their children. I think in turn, they will feel more comfortable with me and we will be able to work together to support the child.

Beth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently a graduate student at Walden University. I find the article interesting on two levels, as a teacher and as a parent. Currently I am teaching at a preschool cooperative where we see parents each day in the school setting. There is ample time to communicate with parents when they drop their child off, pick up or work in the classroom. We also provide monthly newsletters and calendars to show what we are doing in class.
This is really an optimum setting for parent involvement.

On the other side, as a parent of middle and high school students, I would like to see much more parental involvement. Right now in the school system I live in parent/teacher conferences are limited to once a year and only to one teacher on a team if the student does not need extra assistance academically. This was the first year I was unable to sit down with all of my daughter's teachers and because of that, one of the teachers was unable of some of the physical problems my daughter has had.

In conclusion, while I believe the internet to be a wonderful tool towards teacher/parent communication, I would like to see teachers at the secondary level be cautioned to use other methods as well.

Kim C. (Walden U.)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I work at a public charter school created on the philosophy that parental involvement is crucial to the academic success of the student. We have a very strong parent organization, which are involved at a very deep level: from choosing curriculum to donating a set number of hours a month to some area of the schoool setting. I have several parents that choose to give their 3 hours a month to my classroom. This is wonderful for their child as well as for me. These parents do things like correcting papers, working with struggling students and planning and implementing all class parties.

I see the positive effect this has in our school on a daily basis. The relationship between student, parent, teacher, staff and administration is very strong. We are all focused on the same objective...academic success. We are an excelling school, which is the highest academic rating in the educational system in Arizona. I credit the parental involvement, as well as dedicated staff to our outstanding success.

I feel that this country would see the educational system turn around drastically if all schools had more parental support and involvement.

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