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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Parent Involvement: Asking for Classroom Supplies

How to get parents to pony up for classroom expenses without putting them on the spot.
By Maya Payne Smart
Credit: Christina Ung

Too often, teachers dig deep into their own pockets to pay for classroom supplies and activities. But there's a better way: Ask for help from the people who care most about students -- their moms and dads. Here's how.

Build Relationships

It seems obvious, but the best way to set the table for any partnership is to get to know one another. Take the time to say hello, learn parents' names, and show interest in their lives and in their families. The more you communicate, the more parents will trust that any requests you make are with their children's interests in mind.

No Pressure

Make your classroom needs apparent to parents. On parent conference nights, Los Angeles middle school teacher Carolyn Jacobson writes a wish list on her chalkboard so that parents can read it while waiting for appointments. There are no direct requests for money, which can create awkward feelings, and distributing requests to everyone creates a sense of community. Most parents end up donating.

Oakland, California, high school librarian Julia Haverstock loads book titles onto wish lists with online booksellers and puts a notice in the school newsletter linking to the lists. Parents scroll through, make purchases, and click to ship the books to the school. (It's important to update the online wish lists as newly purchased books roll in.) In return, the parents' and students' names are put on a dedication sticker bookplate, and Haverstock follows up with thank-you notes.

Give Parents Choices

April Flood, an assistant education professor in Illinois and mother of two, appreciated when her daughter's kindergarten teacher displayed a "giving tree" on her door and decorated it with Post-it notes describing items the class needed -- CDs, baggies, and wiggly eyes for craft projects. Parents who could afford the items removed the Post-its and purchased them.

A Parent's Perspective

Cheryl Bowman, mother of two in El Paso, Texas, offers this advice for winning over parents.

  • Be specific and make it easy for parents to help in a variety of ways. Reaffirm the ways in which the project will help children learn a particular skill or lesson.
  • Send home a handwritten thank-you note from you or your students.
  • Recognize the project's results and project supporters in your newsletter, bulletin boards, and parental meetings, but don't publicize dollar amounts.
  • Don't take "no" from other parents personally. Not everyone will help all of the time, and not everyone will share why. Saying no isn't a personal rejection or a judgment on the project.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Linda Sciaroni's picture

I am an affluent parent with 20 years experience teaching in the inner city at high poverty schools. The very premise of this article is that families can make their kids schools better and the parents should make that happen and the best way to make that happen is for the parents to do it.
Can you back up the truck a minute and realize that those of us that work in high poverty schools do not have this luxury.
School as reinforced by Brown vs Board of Education stated that schools need to work towards an even playing field for our kids. We need to provide a quality school for ALL of AMERICAs children.

Allan R. Fluharty's picture

I agree with Linda that[quote]"...those of us that work in high poverty schools do not have this luxury..."[/quote]. I live in a well-to-do suburb but teach in a large inner-city district. My two children attend an affuent school where there are trimester lab and book fees that can be up to $150. Field trips are also financed by the parents. Higher revenues from property taxes allows my affluent district to spend thousands of more dollars per student over the urban district where I work. Many of the families of my students could not afford to finance lab fees, material fees, lab breakage fees, ect... What is needed is fundamental reform in how public education is funded. Are you listening Arnie?

AutismClassroom.com's picture

Some people can support with their time or a talent rather than money. It may be helpful at the beginning of the year to ask parents if they have any special hobby or talent. They may already have the supply for that particular thing and may be willing to do a lesson or spotlight on that for the students.

RMC's picture

I have taught all over the socioeconomic spectrum in public and private schools. I completely agree that our country to needs to reform the funding system for public schools. The current system pushes schools away from the middle and further into the extremes from which they already represent. Also, it creates a cycle that is very difficult to break. By the way, in low-income situations it is very hard to get parents to value the needs of a school or classroom. Parents in these situations see the school as responsible for meeting their needs rather than the mutual partnership that should exist. I have learned over the years that the phrase "...but I can't afford it" actually means "...but this is not that important to me. I would rather spend my money elsewhere."

GR Gustafson's picture

I have taught elementary school and parents helped if they could. I now teach 7th grade and it almost seems as if parents think that their older children do not need supplies, or any other education-related support. Most kids bring a pack of paper, 10 pencils and a notebook on day one. That's it. No more will ever be brought. If parents are asked, they bark that they already bought supplies. That those are consumed or lost or used for other things is irrelevant to them. I spend more money than I'd like to admit on supplies for "my" kids. And, I don't mind the money part. What gets me is that "my" kids see that their parents don't find it necessary to invest in their childrens' education, rendering education a worthless endeavor. There is almost nothing I can do to change that mindset in my kids and that really bothers me! These are MY kids and their parents do not have the right to steal their education through neglect, or any other thing.
The real problem is that nobody at home thinks learning is a good investment. Unless we get our kids' parents involved in valuing education-- paying for necesseties and actually looking at school work, our kids will never understand how priceless and necessary an education is. And the USA will continue our fall into ruin.

Cheryl Babbitt's picture

Parents who care about their child's education will do whatever they can to help support their child's teacher and classroom success; for some it may be time, others money. No matter what the economical situation, all parents must take a look at what they can do to enable their child to reach their highest potential in life and citizenship. Supporting their education should be one of their greatest priorities. As a parent, I have supported my children's classrooms with money, my time, my "talents" and whatever I can find to offer. And I will do the same in someone else's child's classroom as an elementary school teacher soon. However, as a teacher, it shouldn't be my sole responsibility to finance that classroom, for I have the same right as the Wallstreet employee to take home my paycheck at the end of the week without having to give it back to my employer. The system needs overhauling and parental responsibility needs to be vamped up around this country for the sake of all our children.

Cheryl Williams's picture

The inequities here are mind-blowing. I have seen schools have wine tasting parties and auctions and other events so that they raise more money than they can spend. On teacher appreciation day, the teachers are given massages at aluxurious spa and gift baskets. Conversely, I have worked at a school that has two members on the PTA. They did the work of twenty people and provided a buffet on teacher appreciation day. The teachers had no budget for supplies and spent a small fortune.
What is the answer??? How about putting money raised into a pool, which is then distributed throughout the district? I know the kids would go for it -but what about the parents?

Ovidiu C - 25299's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Huge thanks a lot for such a wonderful information about parent involvement in classroom. I was actually looking for these information for quite a long time and i believe i have landed at the right page. I really liked your ways of expressing thoughts. You write too well. Moreover your article contains some worthy information which i guess will help lot of people. Thanks a lot one more time for publishing these nice posts and keep up publishing ones in the future too. Sincerely, Kenny Peterson ( rezultate live fotbal ) from Montana

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