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Education World asked principals to tell us about ways their teachers involve parents in the classroom and the school. Dozens of ideas flooded our e-mailbox. Here we share some of those great ideas. Included: More than 30 practical ideas for including parents across the grades.
Recently, we asked the principals who are members of Education World's P-Files team (see Calling All Principals) to tell us about ways their teachers involve parents in the classroom and the school. Dozens of ideas flooded our e-mailbox! Here we share some of those great ideas!
You know it in your heart. Open communication between home and school -- between parents and teachers -- can only help the kids in your classroom. Informed parents are willing participants; students who know that parents and teachers communicate are more likely to communicate too.
You also know that involving parents with schools can be difficult.
Mary Ellen Imbo makes extra effort to involve parents -- to coax them if necessary -- in their children's school. Imbo is the principal at Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She and her staff bend over backward to involve parents in life at the school. "Any activity that involves parents enhances ownership in the education process and directly contributes to the achievement of children," Imbo told Education World. "Openness and good communication are essential elements to a positive learning environment."
At Westwood, communication starts in August, before the opening bell. "Our teachers either call or drop postcards to their students before the first day of school," said Imbo.
As the school year gets underway, efforts to draw in parents continue.
All of those events are publicized in the PTA newsletter.
Drawing a big crowd on PTA night isn't a given either. "We have found that in order to get parents to attend, we have to have kids involved somehow," said Imbo. Westwood Elementary's fourth and fifth grade choir performs at some meetings. An exhibition of work by third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade artists, hung in a gallery-like environment -- complete with string quartet! -- draws people to another meeting.
"I make sure that our first graders perform at every April meeting," said Imbo. "That's when PTA elections take place for the following year." That strategy can pay big dividends. Parents of younger students may commit to the PTA and the school for years to come!
"We go to great lengths to have involved, informed parents for educational reasons, but that isn't all," added Imbo. "We want them to feel involved and to have ownership in the school so they will vote in favor of badly needed annual bond issues. [Bond issues] are much more likely to pass when parents have a real understanding of the needs of the schools."
THE THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO!
Dee Anna Manitzas also subscribes to the anything-you-have-to-do philosophy. She is principal at the Accelerated Learning Middle School in San Antonio, a school for 125 at-risk, middle-level students. The staff invites parents to school every time progress reports are issued -- every three weeks at Accelerated!
"At first, the parents were really enthusiastic about this," Manitzas told Education World, "but as the year has gone on, the parents seem a little harder to find. We continue to have 100 percent participation, though." Manitzas and her school counselors and teachers make home visits to deliver reports when parents don't show up!
"We even have raffles and prizes for students whose families come in," Manitzas reported, adding, "It takes [the commitment of] an entire school to pull off something like this."
DIRECT COMMUNICATION BETWEEN HOME AND SCHOOL
Many other schools are committed to direct communication between home and school. "My teachers and I use the Internet to communicate with parents," Marie Kostick, principal at Goodwyn Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, told Education World. "We use Schoolnotes.com to relay important messages or to post homework assignments. E-mail is frequently used to communicate with parents about issues relevant to their child.
"Parents enjoy having a direct line of communication with the principal or teachers, when phone calls or conferences may not be convenient," said Kostick.
When a Goodwyn student works on a long-term project outside the classroom, the teacher sends the student's parent or guardian a contract that details the project and its important deadlines. When students have trouble completing class work or schoolwork, parents and teachers work closely together to track that work in a student logbook. "Teachers and parents initial the log on a daily basis. That way, parents know what students have been assigned and are afforded the opportunity to follow up on their child's work," said Kostick.
Teachers at Oak Hill High School in Hineston, Louisiana, also use student assignment books. The students fill them in daily, and parents can watch the books for teacher comments about progress. Every three weeks, the school sends progress reports home. Parents and students can check homework assignments on a telephone hotline. Involving parents of middle and high schoolers in their children's education is not always easy, noted Marguerite McNeely, the school principal, but it can be done. "We also make personal phone calls to parents about one positive thing every six weeks," she added.
Back at Westwood Elementary, Imbo and her staff use assignment books (in grades 4 and 5) and many other methods for keeping in touch. All teachers send home regular newsletters about classroom activities. Telephones in the classroom, a school fax machine, and e-mail have really helped parent-teacher communication too, added Imbo.
PARENTS AS TEACHERS AND TUTORS
Parents can contribute to the classroom in many ways. Parents put up bulletin boards, laminate learning activities, sort papers and on and on. Generally, parents will do anything that helps teachers. Some parents are also ready and willing teachers and tutors!
Barbara Wood, principal at Marshall Elementary School in Lewisburg, Tennessee, saw a perfect opportunity to involve parents a few years ago. The school counselor had persuaded the community to provide the McGruff anti-drug and anti-crime materials and puppets for each classroom. "As the year went on," Wood recalled, "we realized that for the teachers this was one more thing to do. Many were not planning to use the curriculum as it was meant to be used because they didn't have the time."
"So Susie Comstock, our counselor, asked for parent volunteers," continued Wood. "Those volunteers were trained by her and given suggestions on what and how to teach curriculum objectives."
"Now, each year we ask for and train new volunteers, and each week a team of mothers -- and a few dads -- arrives at school, activities and lessons prepared," Wood said. "It has been wonderful for our school, our students, and it brings a group of very positive supporters into the building on a regular basis. Several other schools in our district have adopted the idea."
Wood uses additional parent volunteers as tutors for the school's 700 K-2 students. Parents and friends of students are encouraged to volunteer on a regular basis to read to and with students. "With parent help, our students have tested on more than 30,000 books a year [in the school's Accelerated Reader program] for the past several years!" reported Wood.
Assistant principal at Pleasant Ridge School, a K-8 school in Cincinnati, Bonita Henderson also uses parents as tutors. "Our teachers use parents as volunteers in our HOSTS (Helping One Student to Succeed) reading program. Parents volunteer at least 30 minutes a week to help the 45 children in the program improve in reading."
Teachers at many schools call on parents who have special expertise.
At Hearn Elementary School in Frankfort, Kentucky, parents fill out information cards at the start of each school year. Among the things listed on those cards are parents' special talents, said assistant principal Jeffrey Castle. "As teachers plan units, they can call on those parents who specialize in fields related to the unit."
Hearn has gone a step further than many schools in trying to recruit parent participation in the school. Many barriers -- including work schedules, other time constraints, and the parents' self-concepts -- keep parents from participating in their children's education, said Castle. "We have developed several opportunities for parents to be part of the school that attempt to alleviate those measures that prevent parents from volunteering."
A classroom assistance program offers one of those opportunities. "The program is sponsored for parents who are unable to volunteer during the day," explained Castle. "Weekly volunteer sessions are held in the evening. Teachers who need materials photocopied or laminated or cut-and-pasted provide detailed instructions. The parents are provided with the equipment to complete the projects."
PARENTS AS DECISION MAKERS
"Parents at Hearn Elementary also participate on school committees and as elected members of the school's site-based decision-making council," added Castle. "Those parents are involved in the intricate dealings of strategic planning and curriculum implementation."
Such is the case at Zavala Elementary School in McAllen, Texas. "Parental involvement is one of the major initiatives on our campus," said Yolanda Z. Ramirez, the school principal. "We have two parents who serve on the site-based leadership team. That team focuses primarily on student achievement. The team is composed of teachers, parents, the administrator, and community members. Meetings are held every month, and decisions on curriculum and instruction are made."
Several years ago, Nancy Ondrasik, principal at Jefferson Elementary School in Warren, Pennsylvania, helped her district develop a VIP (Volunteers In Partnership) program. "We now have a very active VIP group in most schools," Ondrasik told Education World. "Parents sign up to tutor, run papers, hang up bulletin boards."
Among the many activities that program spurred was this year's Sparkle Day, held at one of Warren's high schools. Parents organized the whole event. "Local businesses donated all kinds of items, students painted walls or murals, outside landscaping work was done, desks and equipment were repaired," reported Ondrasik. Everyone contributed to make the school shine!
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
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