In fifteen years of teaching K-8, I have learned that one factor provides a reliable barometer for student success: Parent involvement. In fact, it’s crucial. According to the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education Research Review and Resources, no matter income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school. According to the School Community Journal, “There is a sizable body of research literature supporting the involvement of parents in educational settings and activities”.
The data is so overwhelming, one of our important jobs as teachers must be to facilitate the involvement of parents in their child’s education. There are as many ways to do that as there are parents who need alternatives to the traditional parent-teacher conference and back-to-school night. Here are some of my favorites:
Be available when parents are. The National Association for the Education of Young Children reports that parents are more likely to attend conferences when teachers offer a variety of scheduling options. That means before school and after quitting time, via email or Google Hangout, even a phone call. Sure, you can’t do that always, but be flexible. For some parents, the only times they have are outside of your traditional work hours.
When they arrive, greet them as you would a guest in your house. Remember how intimidating it is to walk into a teacher’s classroom. Be sensitive to that and do your best to put them at ease.
Create a Family-friendly Environment
Encourage parental involvement in the classroom. Make family important in your class. Welcome parents to volunteer in or out of class. Show them you value their time by explaining the best way they can help as a classroom volunteer. Provide guidelines so they don’t wonder why they’re there or get embarassed because they ‘did something wrong’.
Invite parents to share their expertise. For example, if you’re talking about geology, invite a parent geologist to make that science topic real to students. If you’re talking about culture, invite parents who are from outside the country to share their treasured activities. You might even invite parents to eat breakfast or lunch with their child.
Make getting involved easy by putting as much as possible online for parents. That includes sign-up sheets, using programs like SignUpGenius or Google Forms.
Offer parent classes in topics either 1) they want to learn about, or 2) their students are learning, as a way to help parents understand or assist their children. These can be offered while parents are waiting for students to finish afterschool activities or as a brown bag lunch program. These can also be online via Google Hangout or Skype. Be aware of the different needs of varied parents. Some get home too late to make activities during school hours, so plan around them if possible. I like taking a poll before a class starts to find out what time works best for parents.
Here are some topics I have used that have been popular:
- show how to log onto and use the school website
- show how to log into the school online grade reports
- demonstrate how to use the school online library/lunch order system (or similar)
- review what is being covered in K-5 classes (depending upon who is in the parent class)
- review your philosophy (teach students to fish rather than provide the fish, encourage exploration and risk-taking, you don’t jump in to help every time they get stuck). Model this philosophy as you teach parents
- provide skills parents want, i.e., making a flier for the school soccer team
- answer tech questions they have from non-school problems–even if they’re about a home system
- help them understand Common Core math, or the school’s math program (i.e., Everyday Math)
Communicate with Parents
Be transparent in your communications. Be open to questions, concerns, and take them in the spirit they are intended–a parent who cares about their child’s future. Let parents know your goal is the same as theirs: the success of their child. Whatever your decisions, they are made with that goal in mind.
Open your classroom to parents in as many ways as possible:
- offer a classroom newsletter
- have a class Twitter feed
- have a class blog that discusses big ideas, happenings, posts pictures
- have an online resource center for parents. This can be on a blog, a wiki, or a class website. Have all the materials freely available there that allow the student to succeed in your class
- use email, but not overwhelmingly.
Help in/out of the Classroom
Make it easy for parents to access required materials at home via a blog or class website. Also, make it easy for parents to extend a child’s interest on something that happened in class to home–share their excitement with parents. This often happens in my class when we use a website or a free program that students want to use at home–say, Google Earth or Starfall. I make those easy for parents to find by collecting them all on a class internet start page. This page includes lots of child-friendly links that the parent can feel safe allowing their child to visit. Here’s an example of mine. A lot of parents make this page their child’s home page on their own computer. They are familiar with it from school and know exactly where to find websites that they used in school.
Help parents with their questions. This sounds obvious. Most parents come find you because they have a question about their child in your class. Be available for more than that. Be a parent resource. For example, as a tech teacher, I often get questions about how to fix home technology. Often, I can help. Sometimes, they even bring the misbehaving computer into the classroom and we sit together, trying to decode its ailment. Those turn out to be precious time when I get to know the child’s family, which provides valuable insight into the child.
How do you involve parents in your classes? How successful is this effort?
More Parenting ideas:
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.