George Lucas Educational Foundation
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For Kids' Sake, Let's Connect Parents and Schools

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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At the end of my street sits an aging elementary school. Brick and boxy, it's no architectural marvel. But it's the reason we moved to this neighborhood many years back. And even though my own kids have long since outgrown grade school, I can't help but do a quick scan of the playground whenever I round the corner. I don't recognize many faces anymore, but the scene still brings up a wellspring of fond memories. I can close my eyes and remember my kids' Halloween parades, violin concerts, and an authors tea where a class of second-graders were the featured writers. Attending these events, I always felt like a welcome participant.

Families and schools belong together. Research tells us so and so does common sense. I've visited schools all over the country, from one-room schoolhouses in Montana to urban academies in New York. They're all strengthened when parents come inside, get acquainted with teachers, and get involved in their kids' learning. In the recent noisy debate about the state of public education, nobody argues that it makes sense to strengthen ties between school and home.

Unfortunately, those ties can get stretched to the breaking point. Parents can feel too busy or too stressed to find time to connect with their children's teachers. Messages can get lost on the way home. Some families don't hear any school news unless it's about trouble. Parents who struggled with school themselves may not feel eager to step inside the schoolhouse as adults.

To encourage stronger ties between home and school, Edutopia has just published the Home to-School Connections Guide, a free download. As the subhead promises, it's packed with "tips, tech tools, and strategies for family-and-school communications."

In assembling this latest guide, I drew many suggestions from Edutopia community members who responded to my inquiries with a host of good ideas in blogs, online discussion groups, and on Twitter. Schools are getting more creative about connecting with parents, and we've shared examples of how they're using Facebook and other social media to open conversations with families. Some tips offer new takes on old-fashioned ideas, such as making reading a family affair. And, of course, many ideas come from the reporting that Edutopia has done about what works in education.

More than a decade ago, experts took a look at the reasons why parents become involved -- or not -- in their children's education. Researchers Kathleen Hoover-Dempsey and Howard Sandler narrowed their focus to these three key factors:

  • How parents view their "job description," including their responsibility to their children's learning.
  • How confident parents feel about their ability to help their kids.
  • Whether parents feel invited and welcome at school.

That third factor is the one that educators have the greatest opportunity to influence. How welcoming does your school feel to parents? (Have you ever asked them?) When you communicate with families, do you tend to pass along announcements and due dates, or invite parents to be real partners in their children's education?

Let's continue the conversation about how to connect school and home. And let's keep finding new ways to bring parents inside the school doors.

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Erika Burton's picture
Erika Burton
Teacher, Founder of Stepping Stones Together ,and Educational Entrepreneur

Getting parents involved in schools and participatory in academic happenings around school is the first step. My hope is that parents what to help their children with literacy skills and if given the right resources with realist implementable steps more would be actively involved. If you are one of those parents with a young child in Kindergarten or ready to read and want to be a part of the process please check out the valuable resource I created. You can become empowered to teach your child literacy skills and become confident readers. Check out Stepping Stones Together today at

Susan Mulcaire's picture
Susan Mulcaire
Author, The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!

(So much focus lately on on school reform. Oh how I wish we would open the dialogue to include parenting reform!) When my kids were in elementary school it was my observation that it was often all or nothing: the helicopter parents or the absentee parents. What is the parents' role in education? I see it as providing: Support for learning (help but don't hover); clear, consistent and high expectations (about grades, effort AND behavior), and reasonable advocacy on behalf of your child.

As a teacher (I teach work habits, time management and organizational skills) I know that there is a huge advantage to bringing parents on board, particularly with regard to these skills. They are often very stressed about their child's underachievement due to poor organizational skills. In my class, I have students complete a short note to parents at the end of each lesson. They describe what they learned that day and how the parent can help support that skill at home. That little bit of communication goes a long way.

Larry's picture

Sometimes, if parents knew what to do at home for students, they might get more involve at school with teachers to help students

Students and parents need a study system (not just study skills) to help students with school graduate and prepare for higher education after high school - and to help them succeed in higher education schooling and college. More students need more than a high school diploma

Check out for a good study system that has help for students and for parents - study skills, suggestions for parents - internet help - web 2.0 apps and tools - articles, audio and video clips, etc.

Heather Widener's picture
Heather Widener
Consultant, educator, parent of 3 boys

At my sons' school, we are creating a greater sense of community by engaging teachers and parents via a school newsletter - I will be sharing your resource there! We've also turned blogging on it's head by creating an arts blog where the kids post comments (with parental oversight) each time they experience cultural enrichment outside of school - we have partnered with the local cultural arts center to make this happen on a $0 budget (and it's paperless).

Sonta reid's picture

I enjoyed this article very much. Initialy, when I began as a Kindergarten Teacher, I did not like parental involvement. As I began teaching other grade levels, I desired parental involvement. In high schools it is almost non-existent. I wish ll schools would utilize the guide. Let's continue this discussion.

Catherine Romano's picture

Check out the materials and resources available through the National PTA at There are terrific support materials for parents, communities and school leaders (read teachers here).

Mr. Medley's picture
Mr. Medley
Vice Principal

Hello everyone,

Does anyone have any ideas of how to bridge the gap between the parents in the urban/ innercity districts. We struggle heavily with ways to get parents invovled in their childrens education. Many of our students would do better than what they do if parents were invovled, especially in the discipline area. Has anyone had any ideas that have been effective in getting parents into the school. We have instituted an phone call-out system that will call each student's household to inform them of what is happening in the district. Our parent conference night's produce maybe 100 parents over two nights and we have a student body of 550 students. These is just an idea of how invovled the parents are and more times than not, it is parents who are already invovled that come out.

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

[quote] Does anyone have any ideas of how to bridge the gap between the parents in the urban/ innercity districts? [/quote]

I've seen a variety of strategies in urban schools for connecting with parents--ranging from something as simple as a parents' lounge that creates a welcoming space for families to connect to more ambitious programs that train parents to be paid paraeducators. You might want to check out the resources at the National Network of Partnership Schools:

Iris Barlow's picture

Does anyone have any recommendations about getting low-SES parents involved in their childs education. How do we make them realize the importance of a good education and the opportunities available for them.

Susan Mulcaire's picture
Susan Mulcaire
Author, The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!

You might find this WSJ article interesting:
Column: Head Case
Why Rich Parents Don't Matter -- Jan 22, 2011

Sorry, I tried to provide the link, but it wouldn't copy.

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