Time and again, studies1 have shown that parental involvement equates to improvements in student attendance, behavior, and achievement. School districts everywhere are trying to find ways to keep parents active and interested in the educational process, especially throughout middle and high school, where involvement typically decreases as students get older. We are seeing some highly effective strategies throughout the country and have summarized common themes in this article. Read on for four specific steps you can take to keep parents engaged.
Set Clear and Measurable Goals
Your school leadership teams need to know that parental engagement is high on the district’s priority list. The chances are good that you already have the infrastructure in place for effective school-home communication and all that is missing is the buy-in or focus of your staff. Teachers and support employees should have a clear idea of how often they are expected to communicate with parents and which tools they can use to do it most effectively.
As is the case with any initiative, objectives should be both measurable and transparent, with very specific metrics in place at various organizational levels. Teachers should be able to see their own data, including which parents are most involved, how often communications are being sent, and whether or not those communications are having a positive impact on individual students. Effective school administrators include family engagement in evaluations and professional development offerings in order to give less communicative teachers the resources they need to improve. At the highest level, district leaders should be able to compare results by school and identify the correlation between parental engagement initiatives and achievement in order to make decisions regarding future endeavors.
Provide a Diverse Range of Opportunities
The fact that a parent wants to be more involved does not necessarily mean that they have the means or comfort level to do so. Instead of relying solely on electronic communications and standard brick-and-mortar activities like parent-teacher conferences and open houses, the best district leaders go out of their way to proactively arrange collaborative events and get the word out to parents.
If, for example, your district has large pockets of non-English speaking families that are uncomfortable communicating with teachers through traditional means, it can be beneficial to partner with community liaisons in order to facilitate communication and arrange for meetings or home visits. Active recruitment efforts should touch on the whole community, resulting in less homogenous parent volunteer and chaperone groups that are more representative of district demographics. This will ensure that parents and students from all walks of life feel more comfortable in cooperative situations while subsequently increasing the opportunities for involvement from underrepresented families.
Get the Most out of Existing Technology
Your student information system’s teacher, parent, and student portals should serve as a centralized, accessible forum for communication between the key stakeholders in the education process. The best technology solutions are built with a messaging platform at their core, making it all but impossible for any new messages to be missed when a user logs in. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many instances of this valuable tool being underutilized in school districts, with family engagement ultimately suffering because of it. As a district leader, you can take a number of steps to ensure that all of your schools are using these portals to their fullest potential, including the identification of additional training opportunities or support where needed.
Due to varying levels of internet access and/or technical literacy among families, some teachers have turned to cell phones as the primary means of communicating with parents and students on an ongoing basis. Online messaging tools, like the Facebook-style “wall” available in Skyward’s Family Access portal or the class discussion boards found in the Course Learning Center, support safe, secure, and appropriate communication practices at the classroom level. Notification and alert systems, like those provided by SchoolMessenger, typically include an option to send out and tabulate parent surveys at the district level, which can be a great tool for soliciting feedback on existing or future educational processes.
It is important that all such communication technologies provide accessible analytics, so you can point to very specific data when evaluating your initiatives, instead of relying on inaccurate, outdated, or even anecdotal information.
Give Parents the Resources They Need
It can be difficult for parents to understand exactly what their role is in the school-family-student relationship. Some parents, afraid of being perceived as overbearing, are hesitant to step in at times when their input could prove valuable, while others feel the need to overcompensate by micromanaging their child’s activities in a way that is harmful to the school’s efforts. It can be in your district’s best interest to clearly communicate the objectives of an effective family-district partnership while providing tips and guidelines for parents to reference.
The goal of such an initiative is not to tell parents how they should raise their children, but to make sure that your district and its families are on the same page. We have come across multiple school districts and state agencies that have developed valuable resources to support parental involvement, including handouts, organized meeting agendas, and event ideas. By providing such resources and actively reaching out to your community, you can demonstrate the importance of parental engagement in pursuit of a higher level of educational quality.
1Henderson & Mapp (2002) conducted one of the most thorough studies on the subject, which has been summarized here by Redding, et. al. (2004). Pate & Andrews (2006) also offer a helpful, concise review of similar research here.
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