Increasing Parent and Community Involvement in Local Schools
by Ann Luginbuhl, 2014 Washington County Teacher of the Year 6th-8th Grade, Charlotte Elementary School
On December 5, 2104 Educate Maine held the Pipeline to Prosperity Symposium in Portland to honor Maine's best educators and business leaders. In addition, break out sessions were held to foster communication and collaboration between educational and business leaders. I moderated a session on fostering parental and community involvement in local schools. All of the participants agreed parental and community involvement in schools represents a win-win for all parties and many ideas to increase these interactions were discussed. I collected some of those ideas here as well as a few others I found among the multitude of great ideas online.
If you are interested in some research that supports the value of parental involvement you can read an article here: http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf
- Shift your mind set: Make yourself believe parents are doing their best. Even when their behavior seems incomprehensible or completely opposed to their children’s interests, parents really do want to do what is best for their children. We, outsiders, have no idea what challenges and struggles are influencing their behavior. Do your level best to project a feeling of respect and support, for people always do their best when they feel others believe in them.
- Communicate: Promote regular meaningful contact with parents.-Focus this contact on positive comments. Consider how many good things happen everyday in your classroom- how many do you share with parents? A quick note home is the easiest way to share- students will give positive notes to their parents! Don’t forget to include separated or divorced parents. Paper newsletters, phone calls, face to face contacts, school and classroom websites, email, text messages and even some forms of social media are also vehicles to increase communication. Be especially wary of online communications as many are governed by school board policies. Check with your principal about your school policies concerning online communications.
- Welcome visitors: Make sure your parents and community members feel welcome. Invite them to participate. Call or write EVERY parent and invite them to participate. Consider having students write their parents to ask them to be involved. Encourage parent volunteers and chaperones. Project a feeling that volunteer support is needed and appreciated.
- Expand the types of volunteer activities to include things like playground clean ups or other outdoor work: Remember to thank your volunteers after they have helped. Some interesting and creative ways to use volunteers can be found here: http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin437.shtml and http://www.greatschools.org/improvement/volunteering/19-easy-ways-to-help.gs
- Use interactive assignments: These are assignments that include adult involvement. For example, an older student might be required to interview an adult about how society has changed since they were in high school. A primary student could be asked to go on a number hunt with an adult and list ten places in their home where they found numbers. The simplest form of this can be a requirement that an adult check and sign a homework paper. Some examples of interactive assignments can be found at this website: http://www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/tips/subject.htm
- Invite an audience: Organize an evening when your students can present a culminating project. Have part of the project be to create invitations to adults they will invite. These can be science fairs, public speaking projects, individual learning projects or social studies presentations. Just remember to invite a broad audience.
- Shift parent teacher conferences to student led conferences: Instead of meeting with parents alone hold student led conferences. Allow the students to share what they are working on, what goals they have and how they might need help to meet those goals. Studies have shown that participation increases dramatically when students are involved in conferences. An article on student led conferences is here: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/apr96/vol53/num07/When_Students_Lead_Parent-Teacher_Conferences.aspx
- School family nights: Design activities at school that include parents, like game nights or movie nights. Many schools now own the audio visual equipment to present high quality movies. To avoid copyright violations be sure to purchase movies that allow for large audience viewing. You can order a planning kit free from the PTO here: http://www.ptotoday.com/sfn
- Open House: Hold an open house the night (or several nights) before school opens. Let students come, chose their desks, fiddle with their lockers, stash their back to school materials and meet their teachers and friends. Not only is this a great way to meet families and community members it cuts down on the loads students have to carry in that first day of school.
- Collaborate with your parent organization: Consider having a staff member assigned to attend these meetings. This assignment could represent another “duty” and fulfill the teacher’s duty requirement.
- Offer child care for important events: When it is very important to have your families attend events, like town meetings where budgets are discussed, set aside a room in the building where out of town teachers and older students can entertain younger children.
- Survey: Want people to be involved? Ask parents and citizens about ways they might be interested in participating in the school. Survey monkey is a great online site to design your own surveys: https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/harvard-education-surveys/
- Submit news about your school to the local newspaper: Many papers love to print the good news from schools- honor rolls, fun events and awards given. Older students can learn to write these columns and experience the thrill of a byline.
- Collect resources to loan to parents: Many organizations offer free brochures that could be gathered to share with parents or citizens. Books on parenting, child psychology and teaching methods may also interest some in the community. Teachers and schools have many of these resources that could be gathered and added to a lending library.
- Help meet basic needs: you may be able to collaborate with local food pantries and develop a backpack program for families in need. This provides bags of basic foods that are carried home by students in backpacks to help stretch tight food budgets at home.
- Bring back board games: Put fun family games in your library to be borrowed by students and played at home with their families. An excellent source of inexpensive board games is Goodwill or other re-sale shops.
- Share your MSLN connection: Make the school’s internet connection and some computers available in the evenings for parents and community members to use. Many families are not able to afford an internet connection or a device to connect to the internet.
Scientists and researchers can study questions about the effect of parental and community involvement. They can question what is cause and what is effect, but we, as educators, know that it REALLY does take a village to raise our children. We know that the more people we have on our team the better off we and our children will be. The better we know our communities and the better they know us the better we are able to cooperate and work together to accomplish the highest of societal goals, educating our youth.
"Mrs. L" teaches 6, 7, and 8th graders at Charlotte Elementary School in all academic subject areas. She has been in this position since 2013. Prior to that she spent over ten years as the Resource Room teacher at the school. She also serves as the school's Technology Coordinator and Robotics Club Advisor. Ann holds a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College and a Master of Arts in Education from George Washington University. Ann spent two years in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corp volunteer.