Think back to the last conversation you had with a parent about
your school. Was it confrontational or positive? Do most of your
conversations with parents involve crisis situations or do they
focus on meaningful discussions about how to improve student learning?
Do parents leave feeling as if their opinion doesnt count?
Or do they feel respected and heard even if you agree to disagree?
How do you know? In what ways do you follow-up with parents?
Communicating with parents regularly is an important way to engage
them in the life of a school. But too often contact with a parent
occurs only when a student is in trouble or does poorly in class.
Instead, work closely with your colleagues to develop strategies
for communicating more often with families and community members.
Whether its greeting parents daily as they drop off students
or regularly involving community members in decisions about student
learning, you are making an important connection with parents and
asking them to help shape the schools direction.
Thats not to say this effort is not without its challenges.
In lower-income neighborhoods, struggling parents may juggle two
jobs or care full time for young children with little time left
over for school activities or meetings. Some families may be wary
of public schools because their own experience in school was bad.
Still others face language barriers.
How do you overcome these obstacles as you reach out to families
from lower socioeconomic and linguistically diverse communities?
By getting smarter about how and what you communicate.
Rather than rely on students to convey information, develop strategies
to reach out directly to parents:
Neighborhood walks: Walk door-to-door in your community
with two to three teachers representing different grade levels.
Talk to parents whose children attend your school and hand out
Phone home: Ask school volunteers to call parents and
personally invite them to a school event, set up a telephone
hotline for parents and place phones in classrooms so parents
can talk directly to teachers. For homeless families, visit
shelters and talk with parents in person.
Tap different media outlets: Promote school events
and community meetings in neighborhood newspapers and on community
Create a school newsletter: Keep parents and community
members apprised of the most current information with the help
of a weekly or monthly newsletter.
Camera! Film! Action! Create short videos for parents
focusing on the issues they care about most such as helping
their child with homework or how to volunteer as a teachers
Develop parent folders: Compile important informationsuch
as the schools mission, goals and policiesin a folder
and distribute widely to parents and community members. Consider
adding a school calendar (see box), tips for parents or volunteer
activities for community members.
Visit families: Help place some parents at ease by meeting
them where they are most comfortablein their home. Be
aware that some families may feel uncomfortable with this idea
so be sure to find out what is most appropriate.
Send home a district calendar: Design a calendar in
languages reflective of your community that highlights important
contact information and district dates such as parent-teacher
conferences and early dismissals. Highlight student art throughout
Successful schools vary the way they communicate with parents and
community members. And, many communicate both in print and verbally
because some parents dont take the time to read information
or may not read at all. They also identify staff members who are
fluent in languages reflective of the community.
Core to this effort is keeping parents and community members up-to-date
on whats happening in your school. Provide information about
school curriculum, student achievement, new reform efforts, events
and ideas to help children learn. Whatever information you provide,
make sure its relevant to parents and community members.
One district in Tulare, California, has created
an annual calendar jammed with student work and lots of helpful
information for parents, including safety tips, arrival and
dismissal times, and information on how to directly contact
the superintendent and school board. The district invites
parents to meet with their childs teacher at any time
during the school year. It also includes a tear-off sheet
that parents sign and return to the school noting they have
talked about the information in the calendar with their children.
You may want to consider designing a similar district calendar
that collects all the important information parents need to
know in one place.