One of the most critical components of students’ academic success is the relationship between home and school. It is just as important for schools to focus on the relationship with parents as they also focus on the instructional core of the building. It is essential schools are targeted in their approach for engaging parents in their children’s education. As we celebrate back to school month, here are some tips from my experience as a principal that has helped me to engage parents.
Tip 1: Develop a parent group in your school.
When my school looked at how we wanted to engage our parents, we created a parent group. We did not want the traditional PTO or PTA, but we wanted a group where parents could find resources on how to engage with the school. We wanted a group where parents could engage with one another and also help spread the message of the school to the masses. The group at my school is called PEAK (Parents and Educators Alongside Kids). Our group meets monthly and we discuss various issues, including what barriers exist that keep parents from engaging in their child’s education.
Tip 2: Craft a mission for your parental involvement.
After we created our group, we focused on how we would engage parents. Our mission is “We will be whatever our families need us to be.” The mission expresses our belief that engaging families is just as serious as educating our students. Our job is to ensure that if parents are not already engaged that we are creating spaces where they feel comfortable about participating in their children’s education.
Tip 3: Support parents who struggle with engagement.
We noticed in the early phase of our parent engagement approach that we had many of the same parents engaging. While we were happy to have an active group of committed parents, we knew we would not get the impact we wanted unless we got more parents involved. We decided we would reach out to more parents and invite them personally to events and meetings. We also shared tips on how to get engaged in the newsletter and connected parents with others who had already been active in the school.
Tip 4: Create opportunities for engagement.
We have events monthly if not multiple times a month. These events allow parents to be involved. We created a ‘Sip and Sob’. This event happens on the first day of school, where we provide a space for juice, refreshment, and tissues. It is meant to make the transition for kindergarten parents easier. We also have parents who have gone through the process there for support. Adult game night is a monthly event where we invite parents to the school to play board games and enjoy a night at the school without their kids. This allows them to engage with other adults and teachers in a friendly environment. We also hold parent and student events such as Family STEM Night, Fall Festival, and Polar Express, all to create a space for parents to be in the school and engage with their children. Our biggest event is our ‘Check Your Altitude’ Parent Engagement Day. This event, held twice a year, is a time where we invite parents to participate in the school day and volunteer in the classroom and around the building.
Tip 5: Don’t be put in a box.
The last part of our mission for parental involvement is “don’t try to put us in a box.” We do not want our parent involvement to be placed in a particular box. We are willing to try anything or do anything to engage parents. One of our school-wide goals is to ensure that we engage at least 80% of families. We take this goal very seriously and even though our goal is 80% we push for 100%. If we can get 100% of families to participate in at least one event, then I know we have done right by our families.
As school begins this month, I implore schools to make it a priority to engage their families. Through this engagement, you also empower families. Empowered families are how we change the system and how we help students.