Sometime in September, schools will open their doors to parents for a “Back to School Night” or Parent Orientation. Teachers will fill the room with anxious parents and deliver the year’s academic, social and emotional goals and expectations. These meetings are important to let the parents know about the arrival and dismissal schedules, the availability of bussing, the filling out of emergency and Title I forms.
These meetings let the parents get to see who their child’s teacher is and what the homework policy will be. They will get the name of the curriculum the teacher is using and the assessments the children will take.But how can we move our interactions with parents from being passive recipients of information to true teaching and learning partners. How can we be more inclusive of parents so that we can harness their willingness to support their child’s learning at home and in school? How can we engage families so that their partnership has a positive impact on student learning?
Starting in September and October consider the impact of teachers inviting the parents and student for a one-on-one meeting. Before arriving, give the families an interest survey to complete so that you and the parents can talk about the child’s interests, learning style, strengths and challenges. Having teacher getting to know the parents and the child and the parents getting to know the teacher in a face to face conversation, develops a better school and family relationship. “When families can work closely with teachers, their children adjust to school better, attend more regularly, and stay in school longer. They also earn higher grades and test scores. In addition, families are far more likely to be satisfied with their children’s school (and school district) when they feel it is easy to be partners with their children’s teachers.” For those families that cannot make an afternoon meeting, consider meeting parents using Facetime, or skyping.
Many parents are willing to help their children, but many feel unable to do so. With the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards, many parents feel confused and intimidated. In many cases, this is simply because the parents’ educational experiences were so different from what their children are experiencing.
As a former principal, I have heard parents say they need help understanding the Common Core Learning Standards and the Curriculum being used. If we want parents to be able to help their children at home, we must offer parent education in the Common Core Standards and the new curriculum.
One of the best ways for parents to understand a standards-based lesson is to have the experience early on. Parents need to come into the classroom and participate as a learner to understand what their child experiences. During the school year, inviting parents into the classroom to be “students” can build the parents’ understanding and capacity to help their child. As they walk through the hallway they can view high-level standards-based work. During classroom visits, parents will be introduced to what a teaching point is, the standards addressed, the task required of students, and the rubric used for assessing the task.
Having parents in the classroom as students is an opportunity to explain what a common core classroom looks like. Teachers can demystify why the desks are arranged in groups rather than rows, how the library is organized, why there is a carpet and how the smart board promotes more student engagement than a chalkboard. They can use this visit as an opportunity to go over what happens in the centers, and how technology can be used both in school and at home to extend a child’s learning.
For those parents who are unable to attend a classroom visit during the day, find a teacher who would be willing to be videotaped and post the lesson on the school or class website.
Nothing brings a bigger smile to a parent’s face than watching their child perform. Whether it’s a musical concert, a school play, a class celebration, watching and recording their child is a moment many families look forward to and come willingly to school for.
Create opportunities for parents to celebrate the work that’s done in school every day and include the children in the planning. The extra time and efforts pays off as parents can see the benefits of their work at home with their children. Writing Celebrations, Science fairs, STEM exhibitions, STEAM exhibitions, Art Shows, Music Concerts & Dance Recitals are all celebrations of the teaching and learning going on in your school.
Use Your PTA or PA meetings and capitalize on having an interested audience. Link a portion of the meeting to learning. Invite your staff to share best practices on how families can support children at home, as well as introducing the Reading, Math, Science or Social Studies curriculum. Vary your meeting times to include as many families as possible and provide food, babysitting and translators.
Inviting parents into the school more frequently develops a culture of shared responsibility and accountability. By inviting parents in more frequently, teachers, parents and students can all share in the success of a new school year.
Mentoring Tip: Have teachers plan a few opportunities throughout the year for parents to come to school to either create a relationship with the teacher, learn about the Common Core Learning Standards, or to celebrate the work that the child is doing.
Anne. T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2007).