7 Ways to Engage Parents in Your School Community
James Cross, 4th Grade Teacher, Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary
When parents and teachers come together as a team, students are supported from all sides and can thrive. As teachers, we’ve seen the incredible things that happen when educators and families build lasting partnerships. So, we wanted to join in on the conversation of teachers helping teachers by sharing our tips with you.
1. Start with Home Visits and Communicate Regularly.
One of the first touchpoints teachers and leaders have with families is an annual home visit. Every fall, our teachers and leaders visit the home of every student we serve to learn more about their family, life, and experiences outside of school. During school closures, teachers set up zoom calls with every family. By changing the dynamic from parent in a teacher’s classroom to teacher in a parent’s home, we are able to develop much deeper ties with our parents that carry through the school year and beyond. We also strongly prioritize parent-teacher communication by texting and emailing parents throughout the week about their child’s progress, as well as inviting parents in for three parent-teacher conferences throughout the year. These combined efforts help build keep communication consistent to help every child stay on track and get the support they need both in the classroom and at home.
2. Host Distance Learning Tech Orientations for Parents
Universal virtual learning wasn’t something anyone predicted, but it was something that we had limited time to adapt to. Once we knew that our schools would be returning virtually, we knew that it was our role to make sure our families had the resources they needed to make virtual learning a success. After providing all of our students with a personal Chromebook and wireless hotspot, we knew the next step was to help families become comfortable with these tools. We hosted virtual orientation sessions to acquaint students and families with the technology and tools that we would be using virtually. Based on the results, we highly recommend other schools do the same. Here, parents were able to troubleshoot programs, ask questions, and become ready for the school year. Families left feeling empowered and prepared for the start of our virtual school.
3. Connect with Families through Weekly Community Meetings
At Rocketship, we know that our greatest stakeholder will always be the parents and families that entrust us with their children every day. This means that as educators, we must prioritize time listening to and learning from these families whether it’s in-person or virtually. These principal-led meetings help the leadership team connect with families, learn what’s working and where we can grow. Families join to stay in-the-know on school updates and learn new ways to help their children thrive. We recently held a Parent Coffee that not only served as a time for our families to connect with the school team but also as an opportunity to remind families their voice matters and encourage them to register to vote. Adding a theme to these weekly or monthly gatherings can not only help improve attendance but also help build school culture by focusing on subjects that are important to the school community. If you’re looking for tips to host your own community meetings, this resource offers a step-by-step guide to get started.
4. Get Creative with Multi-Platform Communication
It’s our role as educators to ensure that families have access to all the important information that impacts their children. This is why we use as many tools as we can to customize our communication approach to match the needs of the family.
In addition to standard phone calls and text, we use ClassDojo and its communication system frequently. Parents receive real-time updates on what’s happening in class and we can send messages to all parents at one time. Another teacher’s favorite is Talking Points. Talking Points allows teachers to send a message to parents that automatically translates into their home language. Parents don’t even need to sign up because the program will translate the message on its own.
Facebook might be the last thing you thought you’d hear in a post about engaging with families, but why not meet parents where they already are? Parents join their school’s private Facebook group and educators are able to post important information, send messages, and share student work and shoutouts. Our private group has really become a staple to our school during distance learning times and it’s a practice we highly recommend to other schools.
5. Celebrate Your School’s Diversity with Multilingual Read-Alouds
Whether you’re on campus or distance learning, it’s important for parents to feel involved in their child’s education and share their culture, even if they don’t speak English. Every month, Rocketship parent volunteers come into the classroom to read bilingual stories to students – a program known as “Los Dichos.” Los Dichos started as a Spanish/English reading program to teach students about different cultural values and instill a sense of positive cultural identity and pride. Each Los Dichos lesson has a “dicho”, or saying, that reflects the story and guides the lesson. This program is so popular during the school year that kept it going during distance learning. Check out this page to see what the virtual experience looks like.
6. Create Opportunities for Parent Leadership
Ensuring parents have a voice at their school is a critical component to any successful educational community. At Rocketship, we have an entire Parent Leadership & Organizing team that ignites, organizes, and propels parent power to advance educational equity, excellence, and options for their community. Each school has a parent organizing committee and the members of this group build skills and knowledge about the local educational climate and how they can use their voice to create campaigns that spark meaningful change. This ranges from getting new sidewalks added near the school to advocating for a bigger campus or ensuring their school stays open when it comes time for a renewal hearing. Check out this blog to learn more about this work and generate ideas for your own school.
7. Support Families When They Need It Most
During these trying times, teachers and school leaders are more than educators, they are sources of critical stability and emotional support. In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, we heard many of our families were struggling. So, we launched an initiative called CareCorps to support our most resilient families.
At the start of COVID-19, every morning, the CareCorps sent a brief wellness survey to all families to ensure everyone felt safe at home and identified any needs in the school community. With the start of the 2020-21 school year, check-ins moved to twice per week and are now optional but still providing space for families to ask for help where they need it. This added layer of personal outreach is critical right now. Learn how to launch a CareCorps for your school by following this helpful guide. Here you’ll find tips for building out effective teams, system protocols, and sample outreach messaging.
Curious what Rocketship parents have to say? Hear a wide range of perspectives in these videos.
Published on November 2, 2020
James Cross, 4th Grade Teacher, Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary | March 15, 2021
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