By Jessica Vician
One of the first communications you send to parents this school year should focus on your dedication to their children’s education. That’s the primary message parents need and want to hear. But the secondary message you should convey is that you need their help for their children to succeed.
Each parent-facing employee or volunteer at the school should have a plan to engage parents from the beginning of the school year, including teachers, coaches, administrative staff, principals, and superintendents. Here are five ideas with examples of how to communicate for better parent engagement.
- Send messages to parents from teachers.Teachers can start the first month of school by choosing one or two children a day and sending an email or text message to their parents with a positive message about the student and how the parent fits into the student’s achievement.For example, “Matthew had a great first week! He is very attentive in class and caring towards his classmates. Thank you for encouraging him to pay attention!” or “Madison seems very eager to learn French and I’m looking forward to seeing her progress this year. Please let me know how her studying is going at home, as I’m happy to help her wherever I can.”
- Principals set the tone for parent engagement.The principal should send a communication to students’ parents at the beginning of the year or include this message during a back-to-school speaking engagement with parents. The message should set expectations for parent involvement at the school and at home.Provide volunteer opportunities for parents in the classroom, at fundraising events, during field trips, etc. Talk to them about the importance of supporting their children’s education at home by providing a clean, quiet place for studying and homework, by asking questions about school, etc. Ask them to sign up for parent workshops to identify parent leaders who can help you meet your parent involvement goals.
- Set expectations for positive parent engagement.Teachers, coaches, and extracurricular activity leaders likely see various forms of parent engagement taking place throughout the year. Sometimes it is welcome and other times it’s overwhelming. These professionals should set expectations at the beginning of the year, season, or activity, communicating the best ways for parents to be involved (and if it’s been a problem in past years, some examples of when parents should back off).For example, a theatre director might suggest parents help their children read lines. A coach might suggest a special diet the parents provide for the child at home while also requesting that parents cheer from the sidelines but don’t get involved in game-day coaching decisions.
- Empower parents to use their unique skills to help.Just as each student has unique strengths, so do parents. Some parents don’t work, so they have time to volunteer in the classroom. Other parents might be great at hosting fundraisers. Some might work late hours and can’t attend events but can rattle off an e-newsletter in under an hour.Assure these parents that each of their skills is valuable and helpful to the school. Create and distribute a list of needs to parents and ask them to indicate areas of interest. You can then distribute the tasks and responsibilities to get the help you need.
- Consider all parents in communications and activities.If you have any English Language Learner (ELL) students or parents who feel more comfortable communicating in their native language, accommodate the parents’ needs by having a translator available for in-person meetings and written communications.Additionally, don’t leave these parents out of parent-focused activities. The YOU Program is available in English and Spanish, so parents can attend parent, parent leadership, and training workshops in either language. By including these parents in your engagement efforts, you broaden your reach to other non-English-speaking parents by training and enlisting their help.
Edutopia has an extensive list of additional ways you can engage parents this year. Find the right suggestions for your role at your school and ensure parents feel welcome to help. Define the help you need so they can jump in when they’re available and use their skills to help the students succeed.