Imagine visiting your neighborhood school and being greeted by
a security guard and a metal detector. You walk through drab hallways
to the main office. The secretary is preoccupied. All in all, the
experience leaves you feeling unwelcome, a bother. Its not
the kind of school environment most of us would want to return to
any time soon. Schools can be an intimidating place to visitfor
parents and community members.
Contrast this scenario to a school that goes out of its way to
welcome families and community. A big welcome sign greets visitors.
The hallways are filled with colorful student work. School stafffrom
the security guard to the principal to the custodiangreet
visitors with big smiles. School staff, who speak languages other
than English, are available to translate. Visitors are immediately
made comfortable. They feel appreciated and valued. They are part
of the family.
These two descriptions demonstrate an important point: its
up to school staff to help visitors feel welcome and at ease. The
more families and community members feel welcomed in the school,
the more likely they are to come back. Everyone in your school,
including the security guard, is an ambassador for the school. Slowly,
parents will take more ownership and pride in their childs
school and the role they play. Whats more, they deepen their
understanding about the critical role they play in helping their
Successful schools create good reasons for parents to come back.
Parents who lack formal education or speak a foreign language understand
little about the public school system. They are less likely to reach
out to their childs school. Still others encounter other barriers.
For example, in some cultures, teachers are viewed as authority
figures and parents are less likely to ask teachers questions. These
parents will rely on educators to explain their opinion which is
valued and respected.
Schools can help build bridges by:
Alleviating language barriers by identifying staff who can
serve as translators during parent-teacher meetings, school
events, parent workshops, training sessions and home visits.
Hiring a community liaison who can promote cultural understanding
among school staff and has strong ties to the community.
Assisting parents with little formal education by showing them
how to work with their children in ways that do not require
literacy such as asking their child questions about school assignments
and school-related events.
Conducting interviews with families and community members about
their beliefs about how children learn and what role families
and schools play in childrens lives.
Inviting families to share their cultural traditions, crafts
and knowledge with school staff.
Some schools have a designated room where parents can meet with
teachers, check out resource materials such as books or videos,
visit with other parents and conduct workshops tied to school issues
or volunteer activities. A community bulletin board posts job listings,
social services information, library hours or a schedule of upcoming
community events. Some schools film parent workshops so parents
who are unable to attend can later watch the session on video. Consider
creating a parent and community room in your school.
Honoring and validating families and community members who support
your school is critical to encouraging and sustaining meaningful
involvement. It is not only an important way of thanking them, but
these efforts create an atmosphere of recognition and inclusion.
Tips for Involving Parents and Community
- Explain to parents
what volunteer opportunities are available in your school.
- Be specific about
what help you need from parents and community members.
- Invite parents to
fill out a volunteer form when they register their child
- Find a reliable parent
to serve as a volunteer coordinator who will develop a data
base of information from completed forms, arrange for training
and prepare a day-by-day schedule.
- Provide a comfortable,
friendly space for volunteers with tables, a coffee pot
- Show your appreciation
by recognizing parent and community volunteers in person
or at different school events.
- Kick off a school
meeting with a childrens performance or hold a raffle
afterwards and give away door prizes, perhaps a free trip
to the zoo or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
These tips are designed to reinforce the importance
of parent and community involvement, help schools meet their
goals for improving student achievement and build relationships
among parents, community members and schools.
Adopted from It Starts on the Frontline (April,
National Public Schools Public Relations Association