From the time students arrive on the school bus to the moment the last bell rings, teachers play a critical role in how students learn, think and act. But a child’s learning doesn’t stop at the school walls, and student development isn’t solely a teacher’s responsibility.
As the team at education website HundrED explains, “Parents, who have the largest effect as any person on their children, are therefore the most important teacher in their lives.”
Even for parents who realize the important role they play, it can be hard to know where or how to start. Fortunately, there are many resources available to parents in this situation.
These expert tips offer ideas on how to improve teacher communication and create a school involvement strategy, so you can lend a hand where it’s needed most.
Communicating Student Performance
It’s important to remember that parent involvement in schools is a two-way street. Teachers and educators must first facilitate an open environment where parents feel welcome to get involved.
Parent and education expert Gwen Pescatore says that some parents may not feel comfortable making the first move, so it’s important for teachers to make this clear upfront. The best way to do this is to create an open path of communication with parents, starting from the first day of school.
The first step in keeping parents involved is making sure they’re updated on student performance. Traditional methods of communication such as agenda books, flyers, and test folders can still be effective for keeping parents in the loop, says teacher Lisa Mims. This connects teachers and parents because it allows teachers to write comments about a student’s greatest successes and challenges each week.
Simply asking your kids about the school day is another way to see how they’re doing in school, but it can be a challenge when they just get home and need to refuel.
Teacher and author Paul Solarz suggests teachers can start a daily photo journal in their classrooms to make it easier for both parents and students. “Now, even when a child ‘forgets’ what (s)he did in school that day, parents can check the website and ask specific questions about what they see.”
There are even startups trying to bring this kind of classroom visibility to parents. For example, Class Dojo lets teachers track student behavior and share it with students, parents and teachers in real-time. The app also has a number of clips to teach parents about the growth mindset, which EdSurge writer Tony Wan describes as “the idea that intelligence and abilities are not innately fixed, but can be developed and strengthened over time.”
These clips are accompanied with a discussion guide to engage teachers and parents in this alternative learning style.
Making a Plan for Classroom Involvement
Playing an active role in your student’s education requires time and patience — it’s not something that can simply be completed in a day. That’s why it’s important to get involved early.
Education.com founder Danielle Wood found that the best opportunities for involvement occur when students are younger, as this is often when teachers need the most in-classroom support.
So, what exactly does teacher involvement look like?
Joyce L. Epstein of the Johns Hopkins School of Education outlines six types of parent involvement that are key to student success in schools: parenting, communicating, volunteering, student learning, shared decision-making and collaborating with community.
Here’s how a few of these categories play out in the real world.
Small, everyday routines at home can have a big impact on how your student feels about school.
Bestselling author and education expert Dr. Michele Borba offers a number of ways that active parents can support student involvement. This includes creating daily rituals such as asking what happened in school, and being a role model for hard work and commitment.
Borba says it’s also important to encourage a student’s participation in extracurricular activities, which will further involve both the parent and student in relationships at school.
Communication is the thread that holds strong student support systems together, but it can go by the wayside if it isn’t tended to carefully.
Parents and teachers seeking more fruitful conversation might consider following a certain model of engagement. As exemplified by Larry Ferlazzo, the most effective parent engagement strategy requires that teachers first listen to parent challenges.
Then, once parents discuss these challenges with other parents, a potential solution and action can be developed. This is effective because it involves everyone’s opinions and helps each person feel valued.
One example program for promoting teacher and parent relationships exists in California, between the Sacramento City Teachers Association and the school district. The Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project is a partnership that brings teams of educators and parents to student homes in order to build relationships and share tools. This serves as a model for other parents and teachers who want to improve the relationships between families and schools.
SignUp.com founder Karen Bantuveris says that although parents often want to volunteer in schools, they sometimes aren’t sure where to lend a hand. That’s why parents should work together with teachers to find out exactly where and when they are needed.
Holding a monthly meeting with other parents can be a good way to support the teacher’s needs and announce your willingness to help. Volunteering as a class parent, offering to be a class reader or working as a lab helper are all easy ways to get involved and help out.
Another way parents can volunteer is through afterschool and summer programs. This has been an effective method in Clinton, Iowa. Clinton Community Schools afterschool director Loras Osterhaus explains that the primary goal of this initiative is “to give parents the opportunity to be involved in their child’s educational growth outside of the regular school-day classroom and to see some of the enriching things their child is learning.”
Some critics have described the negative impact of parent involvement in homework, saying that it can disinterest students in the learning process. And as Erika A. Patall points out, “Parent help can backfire when it involves providing instruction on homework content.”
If parents want to help with homework but are afraid of interfering too much, they can help by creating a homework schedule, says parent advocate Amanda Morin. This will create a daily routine that will help students keep track of studying and make long-term projects more manageable.
There are also a few core subject areas, such as reading and math, where parents can support the needs of their students without disrupting their lessons.
Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan says it’s never too early to help students with literacy, and that any help with reading will always be beneficial for growing a student’s skills. Shanahan says it’s important to listen to your child read, which will allow you to correct phonetic mistakes and give them oral reading practice. Shanahan adds that parents can make reading a regular routine in the household to help grow children’s appreciation for books.
Math is another core subject area where students tend to struggle. Elizabeth Green, co-founder and CEO of Chalkbeat, says parents who want to help with math must first determine what their children don’t understand. Instead of immediately providing a solution to a wrong answer on homework, it’s important to ask the child to explain his or her thinking behind that problem. Addressing the thought process helps students understand their mistakes so they can improve in future situations.
Lastly, building relationships with other parents is a key way to stay involved in school issues.
English language learning resource site Colorin Colorado recommends joining a parent organization such as a PTO or a PTA. This is a great way to discuss challenges and successes in the classroom, and share new ideas for improvement.
By joining your local PTA, you can work with other parents to host family activities that further facilitate parent involvement. According to The Virginia Department of Education, this includes activities such as community day, international night, family reading night, parent orientation and parent leadership nights.
Another powerful way to make a mark on education in your community is to voice your opinion on local and state education boards. Frances Frost, family ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education, suggests writing letters, placing phone calls and attending meetings to have a say in issues that matter.
Equipped with these parent involvement tips, you’ll have everything you need to show your student you care and to make a difference in their schools.