By Valarie Pearce, Director of Content Development- Friendzy
Cultivate a working relationship and partnership with parents and families to strengthen community, student success, and academic outcomes.
There are many avenues for student success and academic achievement within the educational framework; however none are as effective, tried, and true as the gold standard, parent engagement.
As a working definition, parent engagement can be defined as, “a good flow of communication between school and home. A communication that encompasses every stakeholder: including parents, teachers, administrators, specialists, club leaders and coaches, and the parent-teacher organization.” (Getting Smart, 2019).
Parent engagement in addition to one of the SEL core competencies, relationship building, is synonymous with student success. When we hear the word relationship as it relates to the classroom, it is often seen as a cover for lack of authority or inability to manage the classroom successfully. However, according to educator James E. Ford, “the relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect.”
“The relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect.”
– James E. Ford
When students enter the classroom they are not blank slates. They enter with beliefs, values, customs and ways of making meaning that are directly in line with their homes.
The ability to reach out, establish and maintain healthy relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals is key to parent engagement.
A certain foundation has to be laid before true learning can take place. The ability to reach out, establish and maintain healthy relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals is key to parent engagement. This foundation builds parent connection, establishes trust, fosters rapport, makes for positive student attitude, and reaps academic benefits.
Here are four tools you can employ to begin engaging parents:
COMMUNICATE EARLY & OFTEN
Communicate early. At the beginning of the school year introduce yourself by dropping a paper in their backpacks, email, text, or phone call, or maybe all three. It not only lets parents know right away you’re accessible but you’re also willing to use diverse communication methods in order to connect.
Communicate often. Let parents know all the great things that are going on in your classroom and the school. Brag a little! This keeps them in the know and allows them to feel connected with what is going on.
- Introduce yourself through a paper newsletter, email, or text/phone call.
- Take the time to brag about your student’s achievements.
COMMUNICATE POSITIVELY & WITH A SENSE OF WELCOME
Communicate positively. Let parents know when their child has had a big moment in class or a great day overall. This positivity builds excitement for how their child is doing as well as trust that they won’t only hear from you when things are tough.
Communicate a sense of welcome. Invite parents into the classroom. Literally. Just say, “Come on in!”. Some may feel shy or may not have had relationships with previous teachers. The ability to be a class art docent, provide snacks, or classroom supplies always gives parents a sense of involvement and connection. But also note just as family make-ups are diverse, so are family schedules. Some of your families may work during the school hours. Finding additional ways they can support and feel a part is key.
- Make sure not all communication with parents is when a student needs support. Share when a student has a great day!
- Invite parents/caring adults into the classroom.
Not only in race and culture, but also family make-up of your students. Each of your student’s homes will be unique with its own features including work schedules and support networks. When you have a question or concern you may be speaking with a care-giver who is not your student’s parent, but an extended support unit for the student. These will be valuable class supports for field trips, special class projects, and fundraising as well.
- Remember: the home environments and cultures of every student are unique.
- Support networks may include caring adults who are not your student’s parent.
PRACTICE TEAMWORK AND COLLABORATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING
It’s important to note that parents are preeminent stakeholders in their children’s education. They are experts as well in the joys, attitudes, and predispositions of their children. Operating from a lens of mutuality transforms parent engagement to partnership. This is where the real “wins for all” takes place.
It’s important to see parents as a wealth of knowledge and mutual partners in co-creating the best learning environments and outcomes for their children and, “When parents, teachers and students work together, they form a powerful connection between home and school—a partnership that can change a child’s life.” (National Heritage Academics, 2016).
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