There is a not-so-new strategy in town shown – in numerous studies – to lead to the following outcomes:
- Improved achievement for students
- Improved classroom behavior
- Improved school attendance
- Improved emotional well-being among students
- Increased commitment to your school’s mission among parents
Now as the leader of your school, you would probably want to use that strategy… and get everyone else in your school to use that strategy too, right?
So what is this strategy? It is simple. It is about involving your students’ families in their children’s learning and in the ongoing activities of your school. It is about engaging families, making them feel good about your school, and excited about helping their children do well in school.
There are indeed many other members of your school’s community who can be important partners for you – local businesses, civic organizations, service providers, etc. But the most important partners in your school’s community are the people who can have the most profound impact on your students’ learning – their parents.
Forms of Parent Involvement
There are numerous ways that parents – and other members of your school’s community – can become more involved in your school. Johns Hopkins University’s Joyce Epstein has identified six broad areas:
- Parenting: Helping families to improve their parenting skills by better understanding child development and creating a supportive environment for their children’s learning. Examples include offering parenting workshops at your school and having more frequent dialogues between teachers and parents.
- Communicating: Improving the two-way communication between your school and its families is essential. This can include large-scale meetings and workshops, but also entails the nuts-and-bolts infrastructure of daily communication; families are provided with all relevant phone numbers and email addresses; they receive school newsletters regularly; and they are offered structured and ongoing ways to communicate with the school and its staff.
- Volunteering: Offering families and others meaningful ways to engage with your school. Examples could be in classrooms, such as helping young students with reading, or outside of class, such as chaperoning field trips and becoming members of planning committees.
- Learning at Home: Supporting families in helping to promote their children’s learning once they leave school each day. Examples include helping children with homework, but also bigger-picture activities like working on goal-setting with the children.
- Decision Making: Giving families the chance for involvement in roles and activities in which they can actually help to make key decisions with an impact on the school community. Examples here include participation in school improvement teams and parent organizations.
- Collaborating with the Community: Connecting families and students with other elements of your school’s community – businesses, agencies, cultural organizations, etc. – and encouraging them to contribute in some way to these important community entities.
Engaging families in these activities is not a job that you – or any other principal – could ever hope to achieve on your own. You need your teachers and other school staff to be on-board in these efforts. For more details click here.
Parent Involvement at Its Best
To build the most meaningful kind of parent involvement – the kind that will lead to improved student achievement – it is essential that you infuse the following qualities into all aspects of parent involvement at your school. It should always be:
- Systemic – Parent involvement should be treated as one of the foundational tools that can promote student learning. If you treat it as an afterthought, so will everyone else at your school. All of your teachers and staff must treat parent involvement not as an “extra,” but as a core part of their jobs, everyday.
- Integrated – Parent involvement must be considered in all of the school’s processes. For example, when working with data, your team should evaluate what data would be considered valuable to students’ families and how to deliver that data to them; when considering professional development needs, your team should evaluate how you can promote improved teacher-family communication.
- Sustainable – Parent involvement will yield the best possible results over the long haul. You and your team need to provide the ongoing support that will keep parents involved in your school during their children’s entire careers there. Offerings like on-site day care and help with fund-raising are only two of the ways that your school can do this. (To learn more, check out the School Leader’s Role.)
Did you know…?
There are more non-traditional families today than ever before. So when we say “parent involvement”, we also mean including all caregivers and other family members who may be involved in a child’s life.
Back to the Foundation
As you and your team think about how to enhance parent involvement, consider your school’s vision and culture. Is promoting parent involvement part of the vision? Can you create a stronger school culture by engaging your students’ families? How can you bring it all together?
Especially for Parents of Students with Disabilities
One of the key ways to more deeply involve parents of your students with disabilities is to support them in their children’s IEP process. Some of the benefits include:
- Building the parents’ understanding of the child’s world at school and the teachers’ understanding of the child’s world at home.
- Improved overall communication between home and school.
- Building a collaborative culture in which all parties feel a part of the child’s team and consequently work together on the child’s behalf.
Learn more in the article, “Involving Parents in the IEP Process“.