George Lucas Educational Foundation

Educating Teachers: The ABCs of Parental Involvement

Emphasizing the importance for teachers to include parents in the classroom.
Edutopia Team
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National PTA President Ginny Markell and her organization promote programs that train teachers to forge more productive parent-teacher relationships

Credit: National PTA

"Until we're willing to spend the time and do the training to prepare teachers to work with parents, parental involvement for many will continue to mean someone who comes to school to run the Xerox machine."

Ginny Markell understands the importance of meaningful parent involvement in our schools.

As the National PTA president, Markell has crisscrossed the country touting the benefits of an active, engaged community of parents. And as a high school teacher, she has experienced firsthand the difficulties of connecting with all her students' families and helping them become leaders in her class and in the school.

"Just because you're a great classroom teacher doesn't mean you feel comfortable working with parents," says Markell. "That's the great fallacy of the system."

Rather than assuming teachers will intuitively know how to facilitate a partnership with parents, the National PTA has been working with the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) to add curriculum for aspiring teachers that includes a discussion of strategies for facilitating parental involvement. To date, seven states have participated in the pilot project: Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

Through its support of The PARENT Act, the National PTA is also lobbying to have parent involvement included as a necessary component of all staff development activities funded through the Eisenhower Professional Development Program for current teachers.

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Holly Bailey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel it's very important for parents to get involved with their children education. I think the more they know hopefully the better the parents understand. Parents always have their opinions about you and how you run the class, but until they come in and see the real thing then they have no business saying anything. Majority of the parents may think your harsh but when they see your world they start to have understand why you do things a certain way.

Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree it is very difficult to have parents volunteer their time at school. I currently am trying to coordinate a walk-a-thon for the whole school and it seems that the parents with the younger children are more eager and willing to volunteer than the parents with children in older grades. One thing that we do at our school is provide incentives for parents who volunteer. When a parent comes in to volunteer they sign in and out. At the end of each month depending on how many hours they volunteered their name is put into a drawing. The winner will receive money off their tuition (I work at a private school). They also provide luncheons and breakfasts for the volunteers during the year to thank them for their time. I think sometimes parents need to be treated like your students. Think of ways that you get your students to complete things and just maybe that will work for the parents as well.

Sinim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you about how we execute information to parents. This is my third year teaching, and I still get intimidated by parents especially when I have bad news to share with them about their child. Last year, I created my very own recording log of whenever I make any communication with parents. I find this very helpful for when parents come back to school stating that they were never informed of something. As for getting parents involved in the classroom, I have yet to accomplish this goal I've set for myself. I find it difficult because the majority of my students' parents are Spanish speakers, so I have a difficult time communicating with them. Also, parents need get a background check, fingerprinted, and TB tested prior to working with any children at the school. Some parents don't want to go through all the process, so they just don't do it at all.

DeAnna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the past I have worked at a school that required 30 hours of parent involvement per year. In the beginning I was very nervous because parents were in and out all of the time. I became used to them coming and going after awhile. I tried very hard to have them let me know when they were going to come in so that I could provide something for them to do; however, you always have a few that just pop in unannounced. I learned to always keep on hand jobs for parents to do. I kept the jobs in a basket in a certain place in my classroom. The parents would come in and know right where to go. Also, I had parents who wanted to help the children, so, I would have them take a group to a corner or the hall and let them read together. This allowed some of my lower readers to get even more reading time in. Of course you will always have a few parents who come in to check on you as the teacher. I will say that after working in that school and then going to a school with hardly any parent involvement at all, I would gladly have parents in my classroom any day of the week. I have found that my students perform better in the classroom when their parents are involved.

Sarah D.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree that the key to a students' success is parental involvement. I worked in a school that significantly supported parental involvement in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, the teacher sent home a note that invited parents to sign up for certain weeks during the school year to be a helper in the classroom. The parents would come into the classroom and help with the lessons as an aid. Each day, during the morning or afternoon, the teacher would have a parental helper, not to grade papers or do tedious tasks, but to help them with lessons and offer incite. The teacher also set up a system of communication with the parents sending home a folder each Friday with a behavior report and any work that was graded or missed. The teacher also commented to the parents, good or bad, and the parents commented back any questions or concerns. This helped the parents keep track of what was, and was not, being done by the student.
As a newer teacher, I would greatly appreciate strategies and suggestions on how to communicate with parents. Although I feel at ease teaching students, I do not always feel comfortable confronting a parent on what their child may need help on, or getting the parent to participate in my classroom. I think it is vital to integrate parental involvement strategies into the training of new teachers because even if teachers don't know what to say, if they know a better way to say it, the outcome might be more beneficial.

Leia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was fortunate to learn from my cooperating teacher about having parents help out in the classroom, never had a problem. I had many parents in and out of my classroom for two years. Then I moved to a different district and had a horrible experience. Parents owned the school! Everything I did and said was questioned, the children never were. Parents wondered why I had students coloring. (Because it was a requirement on the report card) Their "little one" scribbled. It was stated to me that her daughter would prefer to meet the requirement some other way. It always boggles my mind how parents don't correct their children, instead they correct the teachers. I was also asked to change a child's grade (February of kindergarten!) They couldn't understand why he was just developing on the continuum. It was an unbelievable experience for me- I was shocked! Then I learned that I was the topic of conversation at several houses that held the local book club discussions. If parents are going to be involved they should be as professional and respectful.
After my experiences last year I was very cautious about having parents helping out in the classroom again. This year I am at a different school. I have more experience. I am more confident, and the parents assist and help on my terms. I do think it is important that parents are involved and that they are a part of the school/classroom community. I returned to my former belief because I was not about to let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch!

Alison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have also started keeping a log of parent communication. It is beneficial to both you and the parent to know when you have last talked to them or even what you discussed. I find it very difficult to get in touch with many of the parents, but I will still write it down in the log as an attempt for the record. I am also having difficulty getting parents involved in their child's work. Similiarly, I am having this problem because of language barriers or because the parents are always working. I am continually trying to get them to get interested in their child's homework or studying. Since I teach 8th grade math, I think that many parents may have trouble with the work themselves and cannot help their child. I am hoping that as I get more experience, I can help give the parents more support so they feel more inclined to get involved.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to agree that I feel the level of parental involvment is a crucial part of student success. Having experienced various school settings ranging in level of parent interaction truly opened my eyes to how important that relationship is. Students react positively when parents participate in their school, class, cooperate with teachers, and volunteer their time in any way possible. I think its a valuable lesson for teachers to develop a relationship with parents, which may not always come natural. It is imperative for teachers to become comfortable establishing a positive relationship with parents and utilizing that relationship to benefit the students.

Delores Coward's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally support the idea of parents' playing an active part in their child's education. I can't stress enough the importance of such an alliance. I think most of us are concerned about what happens when the child goes home. Does the learning stop? This is not always the case, but we all know that it happens often enough to cause alarm. I would love to have more parent involvement. I'm sure we would welcome parents' who are willing to invest their time, and be willing to sit-in, watch and work with the teacher. Providing the best learning experiences possible for children is our first concern. If we work together, there is no way we can fail.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

yeah I think that schooling in general has gone way down. not really by means of not having parental involvement but the teaching methods have gone down. its seems back when a high school diploma was actually worth something and colleges were nearly impossible to get into. I'm talking way back in the past. back when paddling were considered a good punishment. My friends and I study so much and it feels like it gets us nowhere because no one can really remember anything after the semester is over. I think we need to step back and analyze where things started to go down hill and back track to that point. but that will never happen because people are to concerned about rights and other things like that.

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