Whether they’re chaperoning a field trip or making cookies for the bake sale, parents play an irreplaceable role in student success. Most teachers would agree with this statement. They would also agree, however, that soliciting that help can sometimes be a challenge.
Here’s how you can get more support from your students’ parents throughout the school year.
Determining Your Needs
Getting parents involved in the classroom can be difficult — for teachers and parents alike. Being specific about what you need help with can make any task feel more manageable for parents, especially those whose children are new to the school and who aren’t sure how to get involved.
To get ramped up on this process quickly, TED-Ed editor Laura McClure outlines 17 action-driven ways parents can help teachers in the classroom. Teachers noted everything from donating art supplies and tech tools to organizing a community weekend and tutoring after school.
Communicating Your Needs
We’ve already discussed the importance of parent-teacher communication in the classroom, and how modes of interaction have changed in recent years. This topic remains important for soliciting parent help because the ways in which you communicate can determine the responses you get.
Of course, there are certain standards teachers should expect from parents and should not be considered volunteer activities. For example, English teacher Rebecca Rosen says parents need to respond to voicemails and emails from the school promptly. Attending parent-teacher conferences and checking in with class activities from time to time are also mandatory if parents want to stay informed.
Setting communication expectations for parents can help them understand how you’d like them to be involved. Vlada Lotkina, CEO and cofounder of the parent teacher communication tool ClassTag, uses the example of homework to show how teachers can set expectations. She points out that most parents don’t know that teachers want to hear from them about student homework progress and overall family life.
For that reason, at the beginning of the year teachers should clearly explain how they would like parents to be involved with homework. Be specific about what type of communication you’d like to receive and how often you expect it, plus how and when how you’ll respond.
Creating an open door policy is another way to make parents feel more comfortable communicating with you. Technology teacher and author Jacqui Murray says that an open door policy is about being available. Make parents feel welcome, and recognize that speaking with you might be challenging and intimidating for them at first.
Generational Parenting blog cofounder Mary Ann Burke, Ed.D., agrees that getting involved in school can be overwhelming for some parents. That’s why she stresses the importance of both informal and formal conversations. Conferences provide an opportunity to have formal conversations about grades and academic progress.
At the same time, informal conversations allow teachers and parents to openly discuss a child’s successes, challenges and wins. This opens up communication lines to establish a healthy school family connection. And once you cross this barrier to make parents feel more at home in the classroom, they’ll be more likely to participate.
Effective parent-teacher communication boosts student accountability too, former high school Jeffrey Knutson at Common Sense Education writes. This is because the strong family-school connection increases touch points on the student’s learning process. And when clear expectations and support are being given from both sides, students are more likely to take control of their own learning process.
Understanding Parental Classroom Support
There are many ways that parents can be involved in student learning, but such engagement can be mostly separated into two categories: school and home.
Engagement at School
Teachers need to be specific when asking parents for classroom help, Edutopia’s Samer Rabadi says. Rather than making a general statement about how more help is needed, create a direct call for volunteers. Make a list of specific tasks that parents can do, then distribute it and post on your classroom’s blog or website so it’s easy for parents to access.
Creating a specific list allows parents to think about where their skills can be helpful in the classroom. Knowing that they can help with something they’re good at can boost their confidence and make them more likely to engage.
Another idea is to assign already involved parents to assist with certain tasks. Teachers shouldn’t try to assume all the responsibilities of classroom management on their own, Lily Sanabria-Hernandez, creator and host of the Master Leadership podcast writes. Instead, delegating tasks to parent volunteers can establish effective parent-teacher partnerships. Some parents might also have a wealth of experience in the areas where you need help.
This shows that just one simple request can have a long-lasting impact on boosting student learning and decreasing teacher stress and anxiety.
Parents might also feel encouraged by workshops and skill-building events. These get-togethers are a great way to introduce parents to the tech tools and apps that you’ll be using in the classroom. It also gets parents acquainted with communication platforms you expect them to use, education consultant and author Shelly Sanchez Terrell explains. Amp up these events with welcome bags, ice breakers, refreshments and daycare so that parents can truly immerse themselves in the learning experience without worrying about other things.
Engagement at Home
Parents don’t even have to come to the school to help. They can improve student morale and learning in the classroom by encouraging healthy habits at home. For example, getting to bed on time and eating breakfast helps students have the energy they need to learn, education columnist Maureen Downey explains. She adds that parents should be checking their child’s homework daily to ensure it’s completed.
Parental involvement at home is equally important and possibly more effective than at-school engagement. Educational leadership lecturer Dr. Janet Goodall deems it a critical element in boosting student achievement. Examples of parental engagement include talking to their children daily about what they’re learning, showing an interest in these topics. This demonstrates that their parents value the school and what their children are learning.
Moreover, parental engagement is less about knowing the right answers to homework questions and more about putting in the time and effort to help students find the answers. Despite the importance of engagement at home, however, many parents neglect to fully engage students because they feel uncertain about or intimidated by their child’s work.
Alice Farrell at Behavioural Insights, a London-based consulting firm, suggests providing parents with materials that can guide them in helping students with their homework. Giving parents a syllabus, for example, can help parents feel more prepared regarding what lessons are coming throughout the year.
Another idea for engaging and empowering parents to take action at home is asking them for responses and reactions to student assignments. This might include communicating upcoming projects and soliciting input from parents regarding enrichment resources, according to former eSchool Media editor Dennis Pierce. The idea is to find concrete ways that parents can get involved in learning.
To help parents have a greater say in their own involvement, teacher Ambereen Khan-Baker offers the idea of hosting a community-wide meeting. This is an opportunity for parents, teachers, families and other community members to unite in a common goal towards student success. In turn, this helps everyone reach a shared vision for what student success looks like — and how it can be achieved.
Lastly, educating parents on the importance of at-home involvement can help them take more ownership of their child’s learning. To do this, education consultant Abigail Steel recommends showing parents the impact of reading practice at home. A chart or infographic can be used to compare the reading growth of students who don’t read at home with parents in comparison to those who do. This side-by-side contrast can help make parents fully understand the power of their at-home help.