Getting Parents Involved
Make sure that your first interaction with a parent is a positive interaction
During the first week of the year, find one thing that you really like about each student in your class. Then, call the parents and share that with them. By doing this, you’ll establish the norm of regular communication and show parents that they are expected to be involved in their child’s education throughout the year. It also separates you from teachers past, because you are willing to get parents involved with positive news, not just when something goes wrong.
Middle school and high school teachers - I know it is a near impossible task for you to contact the parents of all your students by phone. While I have close friends who have made early contact with every family by phone, there are other ways to go about this task that are not as time consuming. For instance, try sending home a newsletter after the first week with a compliment for each student written on a Post-it. Every student will up sharing your kind words with their parents!
At the beginning of the year, host an event that will help gather students and families
I know that most schools host a Back to School Night, but after watching my dad try to argue his way out of going each year, I figured there must be something wrong with the event. My first year as a teacher, I found out exactly what it is that makes parents dread Back to School Night. While the night may be informative, it’s really boring. Spice it up and find a fun way to gather families together to share your class expectations and goals for the year.
I’ve had friends organize potlucks and barbecues at local parks for students and families to attend, all of which ended up with a very large turnout. In the middle of the event, ask for everyone’s attention for a few minutes to introduce yourself and share your plans for the year. By having students and their families gather together outside of the school setting, you are getting parents involved in two different ways. First, you are showing that you are willing to go the extra mile to accommodate families and plan activities are fun and inclusive. Second, you are showing yourself as more than just their child’s teacher, but as a human being. This human aspect is what will build relationships and increase trust.
Hold student success planning meetings at the beginning of the year
Once you have had the chance to informally introduce yourself to parents on the phone or at a fun gathering, it’s time to show that you mean business. Set up a time to have a student come in with his or her parents for a 15-20 minute “student success meeting”. This meeting should be structured around 3 key pieces:
What the student wants to accomplish in the future (goals, dream job, education, etc.)
What the parents want from their child’s education
What everyone at the table (parents, teacher and student) will do during the school year to ensure the student is on their individual path to success
Make sure that you take notes on everything discussed at this meeting, and keep them in a place you can easily reference throughout the year. It is absolutely vital that everyone at the meeting leaves with clear next steps - hold the student, parent and yourself accountable throughout the year!
Encourage parents to spend time volunteering in your classroom
A colleague and good friend of mine had a policy in her class that each family needed to have at least one parent volunteer in the classroom during the school year. While the policy was totally unenforceable, all families bought into the idea and the vast majority ended up volunteering more than once. When asked why she felt the need to have every family spend time volunteering in class, she said that she wanted the parents to see what their kids were capable of accomplishing, so that they would believe in their child’s ability as much as she did.
Like any teacher would, I stole this idea and tried it with my class. While I never did get every parent to volunteer, I came close a few times and what I discovered is fascinating. Once a parent volunteers their time, they always become more involved in their child’s education. Parents who had never previously shown an interest in their child’s progress began to help with homework, and showed up to ask me questions or for resources they could use at home to help. Whether it stems from the realization that they are an integral part of their child’s education, a stronger connection to the class, or a sense of belief in their child, parents that volunteer in class always get more involved.
Lead activities that make parents want to get involved
Early in my first year teaching, I noticed that I was getting a lot of support and help from the mothers of my students, but not nearly as much from the fathers. One of my goals for the year was to focus on getting all parents involved, so this was frustrating. After trying to determine why the dads weren’t showing up, I realized that I wasn’t providing them with a good reason to get involved. Much of the help I asked for was with crafts, decorations and organizing files - not your typical dad activities.
That first winter I decided to become the school’s basketball coach, and wouldn’t you know it - all the dads started showing up to help. Fortunately, their involvement didn’t stop at sports. Once the dads found a common interest with me, they felt more comfortable becoming involved in their child’s education. This group of fathers became my close friends and truly took to improving the lives of their children.
The key takeaway here is that not every person has fond memories of school, or wants to give up their precious time to do something they dislike. However, once you get parents to show up, you can use the time with them to form relationships and inspire them to get involved. All you have to do is find something that will compel the parents enough to make them want to show up. Ideas such as a computer lab for the community, coaching a sports team, leading a drama club, or hosting multi-cultural nights will fill your room with parents who are willing to step up and get involved.
Keeping Parents Involved
Maintain regular contact throughout the year, including progress towards success
Making initial contact and having meaningful conversations with parents at the beginning of the year isn’t very difficult - keeping that same level of communication throughout the year is where most teachers struggle. It’s important to keep parents updated on both individual student progress and news from the class throughout the duration of the year, but it can be quite time consuming.
If time is an issue, there are some new programs that you can use in class that will automatically keep parents updated on individual student progress. Both ClassDojo and Front Row will send periodic reports with detailed student progress to parents that sign up. In order to keep parents updated on what’s going on in class, start up a weekly newsletter or blog. It doesn’t take long to write a weekly update or record a two-minute video that you’ll post to your blog, but it can make all the difference. Remember that the more time you spend communicating with parents, the more involved they will be in their student’s education!
Send home parent feedback surveys every month
Asking for brutal, honest feedback as to how you can improve is the sign of a true professional. Every month, send home a detailed feedback survey for parents to fill out. Your goal is to determine what strengths you should build off and what you can do to improve, so design your survey accordingly. I always made sure to include questions regarding my teaching style, the happiness of my students, how well my students understood the material covered in class, and how I was doing with home-school communication. You should end every survey with a place for parents to provide a written response for any other feedback they have. On the day that these are turned back in, read all of them and make a plan for how you will improve based on the feedback given.
Including parents in your own development as a teacher shows that you value parental input and recognize them as an important part of the class structure. Being a teacher who cares about parents lends itself a group of parents who care about the teacher and the class. Once you have parents who care, you will see their involvement increase.
Be part of the community
At the NCEBC Summit in 2011, a renowned educator said, “If you aren’t willing to live in the same zip code as the school at which you teach, you should be teaching at a different school.” While there are obvious restrictions to all teachers living in the same zip code as their schools, he did present an interesting argument that we can all learn from - be a part of the community in which you teach.
If you want to get parents more involved in their students’ education, you have to be willing to get more involved in the community in which your students and their families live. While being a teacher is an extremely important part of building up a community, you shouldn’t restrict your impact to within the school walls. Whether you volunteer at a local homeless shelter, attend youth sports games or frequent local shops and restaurants, let it be known that you care about the community.
What about you? How do you make sure parents are involved? Let me know in the comments!