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Principals Share Parent Involvement Ideas

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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.

  • The day before school opens, parents and students are free to come to school between 1:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon to find their classrooms and meet their teachers.
  • During the opening weeks, the school hosts an ice-cream social for families new to the school and parents of kindergarten children.
  • Parents are invited to a school Rise & Shine assembly every Friday morning. The school showcases a different class each week, and every student in the class gets a turn at the microphone. Most parents love sharing their children's moments in the spotlight!
  • The school holds an awards assembly on the first Friday of each month.

All of those events are publicized in the PTA newsletter.

DOZENS OF IDEAS

So far, we've shared a handful of great ways schools involve parents. Education World's Principal Files principals shared dozens of great ideas. Here are a few ideas from principals Yolanda Z. Ramirez, Marie Kostick, and Mary Ellen Imbo.

We hold a R.I.S.E. (Reading Is Surely Enjoyable) in the Morning program. Parents sit in the hallway and read to a child or groups of children.

Parents remind other parents of meeting times or special events. Those reminders can help motivate parents who are reluctant to participate.

We have a Parent Center. Parents can spend an hour or a day. Our parent involvement specialist plans workshops for parents on topics of interest.

Parents serve as tour guides to parents who are new to the school and the area; they welcome new students to our campus.

Teachers send students to my office and ask me to call the parents at home or work to celebrate a specific success.

Parents act as classroom monitors when students take standardized tests.

We hold a Grandperson's Day on the Friday before Mother's Day. A "grandperson" in a child's life (not necessarily a grandparent) attends a special performance and goes to the student's classroom to work on a project. Then the grandperson accompanies the child to lunch and recess. One year, our fifth graders presented a USO show -- as a culminating activity related to their study of WWII -- for Grandperson's Day.

Parents are invited to our media center Monday through Thursday to watch our in-house broadcast of morning exercises.

We hold a Technology Showcase night for parents. Students demonstrate the technology they've learned to use and show off projects they've completed.

Parents help at book fairs, field days, school-picture days, car washes, bake sales, rummage sales, and other school events.

Our school nurse organizes a health screening for all students each year. Parents help at each of the screening stations.

Parents remind other parents of the importance of student attendance.

Our science teacher sends "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" progress reports to parents every two weeks.

The state of Alabama has implemented a statewide Discover Your Schools Day to build ongoing, productive relationships among community leaders, PTAs, businesses, churches, and government and to promote parental involvement in education.

Parents can help schools acquire needed supplies, equipment, and services, such as landscaping, carpeting, painting, and more.

Our teachers call on parents whenever special help is needed. For example, a teacher might want help with activities that involve sewing Colonial costumes, dissecting frogs, or making gingerbread houses.

Parents assist with our school breakfast program. They deliver the food chests to classrooms and pick them up.

A group of parents sewed Christmas stockings for every single child on our campus! They made 376 stockings and handed them out to students at an assembly.

We have a district chess tournament that involves parents and students.

Teachers send home postcards to share good news with parents.

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 Goodwyn Junior High, "parents have been a tremendous help in the design and coordination of the computer lab network," said principal Marie Kostick. "Their expertise, patience, and resources have proven to be invaluable." A couple of Air Force bases located nearby provide Goodwyn with a ready supply of parents of many cultures. They make presentations about their countries, religions, and cultures.
  • At Asir Academy -- a K-9 school in Khamis Mushavt, Saudi Arabia -- principal Bruce Hudson reported that one teacher has used community experts during the past two years. "We have several pilots in our community who are flight teachers," said Hudson. "They have been willing to speak to classes about flying a variety of airplanes and about their experiences as pilots."
  • At Westwood Elementary, principal Mary Ellen Imbo tells about a grandmother from Louisiana who travels to Westwood around Mardi Gras time each year to teach about that annual celebration. "She brings all kinds of Mardi Gras gifts for the kids," added Imbo.

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."

PARENTS SHINE!

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!

From the Ed World Library


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 02/28/2000
Links last updated 08/26/2008

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