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Making Parents Part of the "In"-volved Crowd

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Curriculum CenterParents can be invaluable partners in their children's education, but many take themselves out of the equation because of mistrust, misunderstanding, the demands of work and home, or other factors. Learn how you can overcome those obstacles, get parents involved, and promote better home-school communication! Included: What you can do to increase parent involvement and improve home-school communication.

During the first week of school this year, Kelly Anderson told her students that they didn't have homework that night -- but their parents did. Anderson then gave each student a piece of paper containing the following assignment:

Dazzling Dawg Request
In 1,000,000 Words Or Fewer, Please Tell Us About Your Child

Anderson asked her seventh and eighth grade language arts students at Raymond B. Stewart Middle School in Zephyrhills, Florida, to return the page by the end of the week. What she learned about her students from that assignment has had a lasting positive effect on her relations with them and with their parents.

Tips to Make Parents Part of the "In" Crowd

* In-form
A recurring theme among classroom teachers and school leaders who have achieved high levels of parent involvement is the importance of spreading the word about what is going on at school through newsletters, phone calls, e-mail, Web sites, and more.
* In-vite
Don't wait for parents to come to you. Many will not! Extend regular invitations to parents to join in school activities, through classroom visits, participation in school events and activities, and assignments they can do at home with their children.
* In-clude
Encourage parents to become active partners in planning classroom events, assisting with field trips, and helping out whenever their particular skills are needed. Invite parents to volunteer to listen to children read or help them write. Parent helpers can provide children with the kind of personal attention a busy teacher's schedule doesn't always permit.
* In-struct
Be a resource for parents by supplying them with information about the best ways to support student learning at home. Share information about the curriculum, your expectations for homework assignments, and tips on how to facilitate their children's work without doing it for them.
* In-novate
Look for new and creative ways for parents to become involved in the classroom and at school. Ask parents to complete a questionnaire about their hobbies and occupations and then use the information to utilize their unique talents throughout the year.

"Almost all the parents took the request seriously," Anderson reported. "About 90 percent of them returned the paper, and I learned more than I could possible have learned from simply having their children in class. I have approximately 145 students, and it's tough to really get to know each one individually, no matter how hard I try. Parents will always know things that the kids won't share with me."

In Anderson's opinion, the assignment also improved parental involvement with her team in many ways. "First, the parents are more likely to see us as people who really are interested in, and want to know more about, their children," she said. "We are no longer perceived as strangers who do nothing but dole out grades. I also feel that when we do have conversations with parents, there is a shared knowledge that lets us communicate better. We know more about our students -- their good and bad qualities -- and can make better judgments about the requirements we set for them."

Anderson revealed that one of the most telling responses to the assignment came in the form of the only negative statement that she received. It read, "He walks, talks, and sometimes listens."

"That was tough," she recalled. "This kid brought in the paper to me knowing what was written on it. I felt so awful for him. It gave me loads of insight into this child and what he deals with in his home. He really tried to do his best in my class and always aimed to please me. He also needed lots of attention. I doubt if this did much for parental involvement, but it did much for my responses and dealings with this child."

Anderson knows that many issues in the lives of students affect their schoolwork, yet teachers often are not aware of them. The parent writing assignment let her in on some of those issues so her teaching could be more specialized.

"I know when and for whom I need to alter some assignments, especially for those with little support at home," Anderson explained. "Our students come from a wide variety of family situations, and because of the candor of their parents, I now know some of the challenges facing them. I also see the depth of love and caring that most of these parents feel for their kids. When there are difficulties with either the parents or the children, I see them through a new, more open lens."

RECIPROCAL COMMUNICATION

Somewhere, saved in a box, Anne S. Robertson has a ten-year-old "reciprocal journal" belonging to her daughter, who is now 17 years old. Robertson, coordinator of the National Parent Information Network, still has fond memories of the activity and of how it helped she and her husband stay involved in school activities.

"Each week, the teacher provided each child with a 'curriculum wheel' that briefly listed the subjects and content studied in the classroom that week," recalls Robertson. "The children stapled the wheel onto a page in their journals, wrote about one of the things they had studied, and then took the journal home for the weekend. Parents learned what was being studied from seeing the curriculum wheel, read what their child had written in the journal, and then responded to the child by writing in the journal as well -- perhaps relating an incident from their own childhood when they studied the same subject."

The reciprocal journal informed parents about curriculum topics, invited children and parents to communicate with one another, and supplied children with writing opportunities without the pressure of a grade. The activity encouraged creativity and sharing of ideas between parents and children and provided the teacher with insight into each child's family. Robertson feels the journal also provided the teacher with a chance to view the parents in a more positive way.

"The method was especially helpful for getting my husband involved," Robertson said. "He worked very long hours during those years, and didn't have the option of volunteering or attending many school events. He could participate in the journaling, though, and he did most of it, although occasionally I added some of my experiences. My husband also immigrated to this country, so his school experiences were significantly different from our daughter's; that gave her a unique opportunity to learn what school might be like for children in other countries."

MORE GREAT WAYS TO GET PARENTS INVOLVED

The reciprocal journal and Dazzling Dawg Request are just two examples of ways in which teachers can encourage parent involvement in their children's school activities. Here are a few more:

  • Frequently use the lines of communication in positive ways.
    Increasing Parental Involvement: A Key to Student Achievement suggests that teachers telephone parents regularly with good news. Newsletters, class Web sites, and e-mail are other means of putting out the good word about positive classroom developments. If there is a consistent flow of good news coming from a classroom, parents are less likely to cringe when the teacher reaches out for assistance in other matters.
  • Distribute information designed to help parents facilitate student learning at home.
    Many parents want to be more involved in their children's learning experiences, but don't know where to begin. Homework is an obvious place to start. "Helping Parents Support Schoolwork at Home" from the Innovative Parent Involvement Toolkit for Middle and High School Teachers suggests that teachers provide parents with tips on how to help their children get the most out of their homework -- by setting up a quiet workspace and a reasonable homework schedule, checking work thoroughly, listening to their children's homework concerns and questions, emphasizing their strengths, and assisting them in developing ways to overcome their weaknesses.
  • Make house calls.
    In an effort to improve home/school communication, teachers at Susan B. Anthony Elementary School in Sacramento, California, began visiting the homes of their students. Making Connections Between Home and School tells the story of how those visits revitalized the school and broke down barriers that had been preventing parents from joining in school events.
  • Share classroom moments.
    Every classroom has memorable moments that can be captured on film. Make a class photo album and allow students to borrow the album on a nightly or weekly basis and share those moments with their parents. Students beyond the early grades can be responsible for taking photos, placing them in a classroom scrapbook, and writing captions to describe the events.
  • Make the most of the most important meal of the day.
    Morning is a great time to meet and greet parents as they drop off their children. Why not invite them to stop in for coffee and a pastry? Whether you serve muffins, doughnuts, or eggs benedict, breakfasts with parents draw a crowd and encourage relaxed communication between parents and teachers.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Explore these Education World resources for more information about promoting parent involvement and helping parents help their kids.
Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2003 Education World

01/13/2003
Links Updated 01/24/2008

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